Revving up now. A little action today along with a little intro to characters for new readers. Let me know what you think, and thanks for all the kind notes, especially yours Richard :)
(CAUTION: The following contains unedited material that may be unsuitable for the grammatically inclined. Keep in mind that I don’t review what I write until after the first draft of the whole novel is done, so please keep your spelling and grammar fixes until the Beta Reader rounds.)
Cal and Daniel stuck around for breakfast. Patty Quinn put Cracker Barrel to shame. The full spread of pancakes, french toast, eggs and mounds of bacon left both men full. Tom and Patty barely touched their food. Husband and wife were not eager to see the Marines leave so Daniel did what he always did, he made things happen. A couple of phone calls and within fifteen minutes, a police cruiser was sitting out front. Daniel had a few words with the police officer and it was assured that the Quinn's would be watched night and day.
Cal and Daniel said their good-byes again. The Quinns thanked them profusely for coming. Tom offered to pay for their gas, but Cal refused.
"Give me a call if you need anything. Anything at all.”
“I feel like I'm imposing on your life," Tom said.
"You're family now," Cal replied, surprised that he really meant it. "Daniel and I like to take care of family, so like I said, if you need anything, call me."
Tom just nodded and went back into the house with his wife.
Daniel waved to the cop at the curb as they pulled away.
"Do you think we should get them a place to stay, at least until this blows over?” Cal asked his friend.
"I think they'll be okay with police for now. They got lucky, but maybe it is all just a coincidence," Daniel said.
They'd already discussed the break-in while the Quinns had slept. Whoever had gotten in was good. There was no sign of forced entry. According to the Quinns, nothing had been taken, but from careful analysis Daniel had detected that a couple pieces on the mantle and on the living room coffee table had been moved around. The months-long collection of dust had seen to that.
They were winding their way through town, headed back towards the highway, when Daniel said, "We're being followed. Maroon Ford Ranger. Four cars behind. One man in the cab.“
Cal didn't have to look. If anyone could sniff out a tail it was Daniel. “Since when?"
"Just after we left the neighborhood.”
“See if you can bring them in close. I want a better look."
So instead of making their way back to the interstate, Daniel took a circuitous route, meandering in and out of morning traffic.
Once they were one hundred percent sure that they were being followed, Cal said, "Make your way to the highway. He's not making much of an effort to stay hidden. Let's see where we can take this."
Daniel did as instructed and turned left. Suddenly they were out of the morning log jam. Sure enough, a few cars later, their pursuer followed.
"We'll take him at the on-ramp. You ready?"
Daniel nodded. When was he not ready? The truck was close now, probably concerned that maybe they'd make a quick getaway. Daniel let the cars behind get close and soon it was their car, a sedan, and the truck behind that.
Daniel's timing was perfect. He jammed on the gas and then slammed on the brake as if the engine had locked up on itself. By now the maroon pickup was sandwiched from behind with nowhere else to go so Cal made his move. He bolted from the car and caught the eye of the driver in the maroon truck. Mid to late twenties. Eyes narrowed. Blue ball cap. The driver didn't wait either. Instead of trying to drive his way out, he bolted from the truck and headed towards the highway and the steep embankment leading down to the four lane road. The guy was quick, but Cal was in fast pursuit.
Just as his quarry hit the lip of the hill, Cal dove, slamming into the man's back. Over and over they tumbled, neither man gaining the upper hand. Cal's hip slammed into something hard and he tried to grab hold of the man. End over end they went until they were at the bottom.
The man hopped to his feet first seemingly no worse for wear. Cal hopped up a split second later, too late to block the haymaker that clipped him in the left side of the face. He rolled with it taking some of the pain, feeling his head swim, but he'd taken worse hits before. The hit was hard, but would have been harder if his own reflexes hadn't been as fast. He finished his roll on one knee, bracing himself for a hand to hand match, but the guy was running again.
Then, as if out of nowhere, a black motorcycle swerved out of traffic and pulled off to the shoulder. The man in the blue cap hopped on. Before Cal was even to his feet, they were gone. Cal rubbed his jaw and then his sore hip. At least now he knew the thing with the Quinns wasn't a coincidence. It was no use second guessing what he'd done. He'd seen an opportunity and taken it. Maybe he could have shot the man, but for what? A hunch? And besides, the last thing Cal wanted to have to do was explain to the cops why he'd killed a man in cold blood. The Jefferson Group was made up of elite warriors who worked directly for the President, but even they weren't above the law when it came to working in the public eye.
Cal straightened his shirt and did a quick search of the area in a vain attempt to salvage something from the situation. And then there it was. In the grass, a piece of metal that didn't belong. When he reached down to pick it up he realized it wasn't metal. It just had a glossy sheen. It was rectangular and about the size of a wallet or one of those passport holders. He picked it up and turned it over. There was a zipper around the seem. Cal unzipped it and his eyes narrowed as what he saw. Inside was a stack of mini photos, the size kids get when they have pictures done for their yearbook. The picture on top was of Tom Quinn in his bathrobe going to get the mail. The second was of his wife looking out the window.
But what really made Cal's jaw clench was the next picture. It was a image of him from days before, squatting next to a wrecked Maserati cradling the lifeless body of Tommy Quinn.
Something about the Georgetown bar always reminded Master Sergeant Willy Trent of the movie The Firm. “Top”, as the former Marine Master Sergeant was called by his friends, could just see the young Tom Cruise playing Mitch McDeere, prowling the place as both a law student, shuffling pizza, and as a newly minted member of the firm that has ties to the mob. The upscale pub had that kind of intrigue. Students mingled with politicians. Money men sipped on martinis while college athletes downed pitchers of beer. It was a lively place and there was an unwritten rule that you never got in a fight at Hanrahan’s.
He’d come in for a drink and to watch the game. But it wasn't the game that had Top's attention now. It was a drama being played out at the other end of the bar. There sat a guy with a suit, tie pulled down to his third button, talking the ear off of a girl who would nod politely every once in a while. To Top's trained eye, it was clear that she was uncomfortable. The date, if that's what he was, kept buying drinks and the girl kept refusing. Nobody else seemed to take notice, but Top did. It was something about the body language. The guy kept getting closer while the girl inched away as far as she could.
Top downed his drink and stood. His near seven-foot frame towered above the rest of the crowd. Despite his size, he weaved his way effortlessly through the packed crowd until he was standing right behind the couple at the other end of the bar.
"Excuse me, miss," he said to the girl. That cut off the date's jabbering and they both looked up at him in surprise. Top registered disgust on the man's face, which quickly turned to feigned congeniality when he saw the size of the man looming behind. "I'm sorry miss, but I think I know you. I went to school with your father. You were about this high back then." Top motioned to his waist and ever so subtly, so only she could see, he winked and she instantly got his meaning.
"Oh yes, I'm so sorry. I didn't recognize you," she said, extending her hand.
"Yes, ma'am. The name's Willie Trent."
"That's right. How rude of me. How could I forget such a pretty name? How is your father these days?"
"Oh, he's fine," she said, playing along.
"Hey look man," the date said. "We were having a conversation. Do you mind?"
"I don't mean to be rude, but it seemed kind of like a one-way conversation."
"We’re on a date," the boy said, doing his best to salvage his pride. He was full of liquored courage, his words starting to slur.
"Well, Mary, I didn't mean to butt in, you know us old timers."
"Oh no, that's okay," Mary said quickly. “I was just leaving."
She went to rise, but her date grabbed her by the wrist. "We just got here," he said angrily. He wasn’t completely stupid because he realized what he'd done and let go of Mary's wrist. He did not back down. "Come on, just a couple more drinks. You said you liked this place."
"Mary, would you like me to call you a cab" Top asked.
The date didn't give Mary a chance to reply.
"Hey, Grandpa, why don't you beat it?"
Top winked at Mary again, just to let her know that everything was all right. She was tense now and boy wonder was just plain stupid.
"Oh, I'll take off," Top said, said turning to the boy, "But first, you mind if I show you a bar trick?" He didn't wait for the clown to answer, reaching in his pocket and pulling out a single dollar bill. The date glanced furtively at the twisting bill in Top's hand. "I heard a story once of this guy, a young kid, just like you. You see, this guy met a girl. The only problem was that they lived on opposite sides of the country. So what does this guy do? He decides to take a trip. He jumps in his car and just starts driving. Now, back then he didn't have some fancy phone that gave him the father and told him a storm was coming. So on he plowed as the snow fell and the ice slicked the roads. The highways were clogged from the mess so he took out an old paper map and went the back way, over steep hills and black ice roads. He ignored all the signs and just kept driving, thinking about that girl. You see, he really, really, really wanted to see that girl.
On he went through the night. He somehow got through a couple of states. Luck, I guess. The storm still raged, but the poor guy ignored it. He thought he was safe in that car, safe in the memory of that pretty girl. He got tunnel vision, you see. Well, at some point, the weather just got too bad. I'll spare you the details, but that fine young man swerved off the road, crashed, and died right there in the middle of no where. But here’s the kicker. He didn't die right away. They say he laid there for hours, pinned against the wheel with broken ribs and who knows what else. He was barely able to breathe, and probably died thinking about that girl."
By now, Top had twisted the dollar bill into a tight cone with a pointy end. He held it up for a moment and admired it.
"What's your point?” the date asked with a huff.
"My point, sir, was that this poor young man failed to see the signs. He failed to see that he was walking into something he could not handle. He had never once driven in snow. He had never once driven more than 100 miles at one time. He was in unchartered territory, but he was young and he felt invincible and the thought of that girl kept him going."
The date snorted. "You're crazy, you know that?"
"Oh, I've heard that before, but I'll tell you what. You see this little dollar bill in my finger?" Top held it up so the man could see. "You know if you fold a newspaper this way you can kill a man with it? Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking. No way, right? But I've seen it. Now, I’ve got a bet with an old friend. I told him I thought you could probably do the same thing with a dollar bill. That's sturdy paper they make those dollar bills with. Gotta be sturdy to pass between all those hands. All you’ve gotta do it shove right up here.” Top show him the spot right under his jawline. “So yeah, I've got this bet, and well, I've got nothing but time."
Then, as if he'd remembered his manners, Top jammed the dollar bill back in his pocket. “But like I said, I’m so sorry I interrupted. Mary, it was a pleasure to see you again,” and then he pointed to the other end of the bar. "I'll be right over there if you need me. And, sir," he said to the date, clapping him on the back hard, "It was a pleasure to meet you as well." He gave the boy one final grin and then returned to his perch across the way.
No sooner had he gotten there when his phone beeped. Before he could type a reply to the text, Mary was there. Top glanced back to where she and her date had been. He was gone.
"I just wanted to say thank you, Mr. Trent," she said nervously. "I met him online and he seemed so nice, but when he showed up, he was already drunk."
"That's all right, Mary. I'm sorry you had to go through that. How about I walk you to your car, just in case.”
"My roommate dropped me off and he,” she pointed to where her date had been, “was supposed to be my ride home."
"Well, not to worry. Modern technology shall save the day." Top pulled up the Uber app on his phone. "Well, will you look at that. There's a car right around the corner."
"Oh, Mr. Trent, you don't need to do that."
"Mary, it is my treat. It is not often that I get to save the day for a young lady such as yourself.”
“That's very nice of you. If you give me your phone number, I'd be happy to pay you back."
"Completely unnecessary. Like I said, my treat. Now, my phone says that the car should be here in exactly one minute. Amazing this technology. How bout I walk you out and make sure you get there safe?"
Mary nodded and Top caught the eye of the bartender who slipped his tab across the bar. Top laid a $50 bill on top of it and then left with Mary at his side.
Once he explained to the driver that he was not coming along for the ride, he said goodbye to Mary. He waved as the car drove off, then he turned back to his phone. The text had been from Cal.
Need you back in Charlottesville. Something’s come up.
The Marine typed in his reply.
Sorry. I was just playing Captain America. I'll be home in a couple of hours.
Join me as I write a new novel LIVE with your input. Tell me what you like, what you don't like. This is a joint mission to write a kickass novel.