Over the next week or so, I'm going to publish the first several chapters of my horror novel. This is my first novel-length yarn that is not a western, and I'm very happy about how it's turning out…so far. I hope to have the book up and running sometime in June, definitely by July 1…along with my next western, THE DEVIL'S SEVEN, a new Lou Prophet tale.
BRENDA HELD HER THUMB and index finger an inch apart above the table in Denny’s. “I’m about that much jealous.”
“That’s too much,” Jake said.
Brenda slid her thumb and index finger a little closer together. “How ‘bout that much?”
Jake reached out and closed his hand over Brenda’s. “Still too much. You have absolutely no reason to be jealous of Kristen Whitfield.”
“How many times do I have to ask you to join us?”
“How ‘bout once more?”
Jake smiled, brought Brenda’s hand to his mouth, and pressed his lips to her knuckles. “Join us. Please join us. Please, please, please--oh, Brenda, won’t you please join us? The trip won’t be complete without you!”
An elderly couple sitting at a table to the left of Jake’s and Brenda’s booth gave him the stink-eye.
Jake smiled at them. “Sorry if I was being overly ebullient. It’s just that I really want my wife to join myself and my friends on our trek to Paradox Falls.”
The old lady looked quickly away. The old man looked at Brenda. A lusty gleam sparkled in his watery blue eyes behind his glasses, and he turned back to Jake and said, “How could you leave one like her behind?”
Jake felt his ears warm. Abashed, he glanced down at his coffee and the heavy, oblong platter containing the remains of his Grand Slam breakfast, and said, “Touche.”
“Three’s company, four’s a crowd,” Brenda told the old man, who looked dubious.
“That’s not true and you know it,” Jake told her.
Brenda slid out of her booth across from Jake. “Excuse me,” she told the old couple, and then slid into Jake’s booth, wrapping an arm around his neck. The old man lifted a corner of his mouth as he appraised Brenda’s ass, and the old woman snarled at him.
“I’m three-quarters joking,” Brenda said. “You three are old friends. I mean, you went to high school together, for God sakes! You’ve known me how long? Two years?”
“And your point is...?”
“My point is that whenever the four of us are together--Kristen, me, you, and David--I feel like one too many hands on deck.” Brenda shook her head to cut off Jake’s objection. “And that’s perfectly natural, honey! It’s not a whole lot of fun for me, but it’s only natural. And that’s why I will not under any circumstances join you three on your hike to the Falls. I know it’s a yearly tradition for you guys, and traditions are important.”
“It’s a bi-yearly tradition,” Jake corrected her.
Over the last few years, Jake and his childhood friends, Kristen and Dave, hadn’t been able to squeeze their traditional hiking and camping trip--a trip they’d started making together when they were all just sixteen years old--into every summer but only into every other summer. Jake was too busy with his writing schedule to take much time off these days, and Kristen had been taking summer school classes at the University of Colorado so she could move up the alumni relations ladder, and rake in a larger income.
Dave was kept hustling for his wholesale tea business. It took a lot of scrambling, Jake suspected, for his old pal Dave--now known as David--to keep him and Kristen and their two girls and matching black labs in their fancy digs up Boulder’s exclusive Four Mile Canyon. They shipped one girl off to a prestigious ballerina school every summer while the other one was bussed up to an equestrian camp somewhere in the wilds of Montana.
“Okay, bi-yearly,” Brenda said. “All the more reason I shouldn’t intrude. You three don’t get as much time together as you used to. Besides, I used up all my vacation time last winter.” She’d spent January in Pennsylvania, helping her sisters and brother move their dad into a nursing home.
“Now I feel guilty.”
“No reason to feel guilty.” Brenda kissed Jake’s cheek. “As long as you’re not still in love with her.”
“With who?” Brenda leaned away from him. “Now, I am worried!”
“Come on,” Jake said, feeling uncomfortable. “That was a long, long time ago.”
“Yes, but she was your first one. There’s no getting over your first. I know that as well as anyone.”
“Oh, you do, do you?”
The old couple looked at Jake again. He smiled and waved and turned back to Brenda, lowering his voice a notch. “Roy What’s-His-Name? You still got a thing goin’ on for ole Roy, do you?”
“Sure, I do. Just like you got a thing for Kristen. But you know what makes me happy?”
Brenda kissed Jake’s cheek again. “It makes me happy that David is feelthy steenking reech!”
Jake was incredulous. “What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
Brenda laughed. “It means I doubt very much that Kristen would be willing to give up her mansion and pool up Four Mile Canyon to live on your income in the Breezy Hills Townhome Estates.”
“Hey, I’m not that poor!”
“Your wonderfully poor. But don’t be offended.” Brenda brushed her nose against Jake’s chin. Her dark-brown Czechoslovakian eyes crossed slightly as she gazed up at him. “I’m madly in love with everything about you, including your poorness. I just hope you’re in as much love with me as I am with you. If not, I’m gonna put the hurt on you, pal!”
She tightened her fingers over his thigh. She had strong hands.
Jake held her close against him. “More.” Ignoring the old lady’s reproving glare, Jake nibbled Brenda’s ear.
“Stop,” she said, giggling and squirming. “You’re making me horny. Come on--let’s you get up Four Mile so I can get back to work.”
As Jake and Brenda made their way to the cashier, Jake glanced back to see the old man craning his neck to stare at Brenda’s ass. The old lady snapped him with her napkin.
Jake was sore.
He didn’t want to be sore, but he was sore about Brenda’s comment regarding his income. Or lack thereof.
He was a writer. A damn good one. Only, the reading public was slow to catch on. Five years ago, when he was thirty, he’d published the novel he’d started his sophomore year in college--a long, meandering comic tome about growing up in a dysfunctional home in a Denver suburb headed up by a mother with borderline personality disorder and a truck-driver father who’d died in a Wichita motel throwing the wood to a fifty-dollar-an-hour, underage hooker. The book had garnered rave reviews, and it had even sold a few thousand copies in its first month on the literal and virtual bookshelves.
Better yet, a couple of movie producers had bought an option for fifty grand.
But then sales had petered out. Supposedly, the producers had a finished script but with the economy tanking, acquiring funding for a dark comedy by a first-time writer with only modest book sales was an uphill battle. No major star was able to warm up to the script’s “depressing” gallows humor.
The last time Jake had heard from the producers, they were still fighting the good fight. That had been two years ago. In the mean time, Jake had started another book, but no editor he’d sent the first three chapters to had been able to sell it to the monkeys in business suits now running every major publishing company in America.
One editor, however, had liked Jake’s style enough to offer him a work-for-hire job penning adult western novels. Figuring that writing pornographic oaters while trying to throw together another comic masterpiece was better than driving a beer truck, which he’d done for too many years already, he’d jumped on the offer. So now he was writing four, short, formulaic novels teeming with sex and violence a year and working every other weekend bartending at a small neighborhood saloon called The One-Eyed Jack.
He was making enough for rent, but that was about all.
Brenda, his second wife whom he’d met at a gym that he couldn’t afford, was hauling in enough managing a King Soopers delicatessen and moonlighting as a personal trainer to keep them fed and clothed. In fact, Brenda was making nearly twice as much as Jake was. That was hard on Jake. While he liked to see himself as a progressive male who did not base success on income, in reality he knew that deep down he was not all that far from the old hunting and gathering days when the Cro-Magnon men hunted and gathered while the Cro-Magnon women cooked and sewed what was hunted and gathered and took breaks only to squat and grunt out more barbarians.
Driving up Four-Mile canyon with palatial, multi-million-dollar mansions sprouting from granite outcroppings every couple of hundred yards above the curving blacktop, Brenda suddenly pulled her old Subaru into a picnic area amongst the pines along Four Mile Creek.
“Hey, where you goin’, babe?” Jake asked.
Brenda smiled and kept driving, following the narrow blacktop around a small park area with grass and swings and monkey bars for the kids and up to a picnic table and an iron grill overlooking the creek. Sunlight winked off Four Mile’s impossibly clear snowmelt rippling over shallow rocks.
Jake frowned at Brenda. “We’re gonna be late.”
Brenda cut the engine. “The bitch can wait. You’re gettin’ a blowjob.”
“What?” Jake laughed. “Now? Why?”
Brenda hiked a shoulder. “My way of apologizing for bringing up the income thing again. You’d think I’d learn. And then I do it just when I’m about to throw you to her, and...I want us to part on a positive note.” She smacked her lips. “Come on. Lead the hog out of the barn. Show me the snake, Jake!”
“Ah, shit.” Jake unbuckled his belt. “We’re gonna be late.”
“She can wait for my man.”
Jake looked around. It was a weekday and the park appeared empty. The only other person he could see was a fly fisherman in waders fishing the creek about a quarter mile away.
Jake hunkered low and pulled his pants and underwear down to his knees. “Christ, we’re gonna get arrested...”
“Nah.” Brenda tossed her long, chestnut hair back behind one shoulder and went to work.
“You’re wrong about how I feel about her, you know,” he said.
Brenda shook her head and made a gargling, grunting “Nuh-uh” sound.
“Oh, yeah...” Jake said, running a hand through her hair.
He leaned farther back in the seat, relaxing, feeling the tension drain out of him. But then Brenda’s mouth became Kristen’s mouth--back when they were sixteen and dating before Kristen had started dating Jake’s best friend, Dave Whitfield, who’d lived just three houses down from Jake--and a weird sort of tension returned.
The tension of guilt over the way his thoughts were swinging. And the tension of regret over how things had turned out though he’d tried to tell himself over and over that she couldn’t have been his.
Both he and Kristen were better off now that Dave had her.
And it wasn’t like Dave had taken her from Jake.
Jake and Kristen had broken up just after they’d graduated from high school, and she and Dave hadn’t gotten together until their sophomore year in college at CU in Boulder. Jake had gone to the University of Denver so he could be closer to home and his mother whose health was failing because of the quart of vodka and six-pack of beer she’d consumed daily while reading, of all things, comic books out on the breezeway, a Virginia Slim forever smoldering in her bony, age-stained hand.
She’d loved Batman and Wonder Woman and, later, after Jake had turned her on to the indie comics, the Nexus series about the tortured superhero Horatio Hellpop who wore a lightning bolt on his chest.
Meanwhile, Jake and the girl he’d met in study hall, a shy, raspy-voiced, tawny haired beauty with a lush body and the brain of a geek, who also read comics, were experimenting with the witchery of sex in all its mesmerizing, frightening, thrilling, and beguiling shapes and forms.
“Ohh...ahhhh...Christ!” Jake screamed, thrusting his hips up and exploding.
“All better now?” she asked when she’d caught her breath, reaching into the glove box for some tissues.
“Yeah,” Jake said, sagging back in the seat, knees spread, heartbeat gradually slowing. “All...better. Damn, you’re good at that.”
“Just remember that, buddy--when you’re ogling Kristen’s ass on the trail to Paradox Falls.”