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TWISTED SHADOWS


HOT ON THE TRAIL

AN EXCERPT FROM THE PROLOGUE AND CHAPTER ONE OF TWISTED SHADOWS BY JAMES SCHMERER
Reprinted here with permission


PROLOGUE


Shawn Parker sat up in bed and watched his lover cross the room to the chair where she had piled her clothes earlier that evening. He had promised himself that this time he would not try to stop her from leaving. Now as she picked up her jeans and started to wriggle into them Shawn knew he was going to break that promise.

"I really wish you wouldn't go," he said.

"Look at the clock. I've got to."

"Come on. Don't leave yet."

She sat down on the edge of the bed and slipped into her shoes. "Quit whining. I told you last night that I couldn't stay for breakfast. Don't worry. I'll call you." She stood, tucked her blouse into the jeans and blew him a kiss before she walked out of the bedroom.

"Next time we have dinner first," he yelled, but either she did not hear him or chose not to answer because the next thing he heard was the front door close.

Shawn hated that their relationship consisted of nothing more than two or three hours in bed together. He sat there and tried to figure out a way to move their relationship onto another level. A strange sound broke into his thoughts and he looked towards the bedroom door.

A man stood in the doorway, a sawed-off shotgun cradled in his hands. Shawn made a frantic grab for the .38 on the table next to the bed. His quick reaction surprised the man in the doorway but not enough to make a difference. He pulled the trigger and both barrels of the shotgun fired simultaneously; the sound deafening in the confines of the small bedroom.

Shawn Parker felt the twin shotgun loads tear into his body, blowing him back against the headboard. He hung there for a moment, then slowly slid down onto the bed, leaving harsh streaks of blood patterning the wall. CHAPTER ONE

Ginny Thomas, a rag-tag girl of fifteen, was wearing cut-off jeans and a tank top, both of which were worn thin from constant use. Her hair, like the wood piling she was leaning against, had been bleached from continued exposure to the brutal glare of the harsh Florida sun.

She had ditched school again and was now sitting on the walkway of the small marina wondering if she was going to go back tomorrow. She couldn't decide which she hated more; school itself or the kids in it, who walked around her as if she had leprosy or some other disease they didn't want to be exposed to.

So she had come to the only place in her world where she felt comfortable, where her only friend was likely to be. Only he wasn't there. The slip where he moored his boat was empty. With nowhere else to go, she had flopped down on the walkway to wait for his return.

Ginny looked up as the sound of an outboard motor echoed across the calm water of the inlet. Rising to her feet, she blocked out the glare from the sun with her hand and searched for the source of the sound.

Across the inlet, she saw a 24-foot boat barreling towards the outermost slip with no apparent let-up in speed. Fearing the worst, Ginny raced down the length of the dock and kicked two beat-up fenders over the side just as the driver of the boat spun the wheel hard over, which only managed to assure that the boat would neatly miss both fenders before slamming bow first into the dock, its still running props holding it fast.

Ginny jumped onto the boat, took three quick steps to the cockpit and pulled the emergency fuse cord out of the dash, whereupon the engine died. Turning, she looked angrily at the man standing at the wheel who had a can of beer in his hand and an embarrassed grin on his face.

Lou Parker, a week-old growth of beard on his fifty-year-old well tanned face, moved back from the wheel and sat down on the stern bench. He nodded at the emergency fuse cord in Ginny's hand and grinned. "I was just about to do that myself."

"Sure you were."

"Absolutely. I just lost my balance there for a moment."

"Like when the boat hit the dock." She pointed at the can of beer. "And that didn't help much either. Gimmee!"

Lou quickly pulled the can away, holding it over his head, out of her reach. He shook his head. "You're too young."

"And you're old enough to know better," she shot back as she leaned over, shoved one of the seat cushions aside, opened the lid to the storage locker and pulled out a rope, which she expertly threw over a cleat on the dock. Hauling in on the line she maneuvered the boat against the dock before securing the other end to a cleat on the stern.

Lou put his feet up on the remaining cushion and watched her repeat the process at the bow. Coming back to the stern, Ginny looked around the boat, and scowled at the mess at Lou's feet. A week's worth of empty beer cans were scattered among the remnants of uneaten food and unattended fishing gear. In short, the boat could have passed for a small garbage scow.

"How can you live like this?"

Lou shrugged and polished off the last of his beer. He handed the empty can to Ginny and got to his feet, but too many empties had taken their toll and he swayed, fighting to keep his balance. Ginny watched as he slowly lost the battle and slumped to the deck, where he curled up, closed his eyes and promptly fell asleep.

Ginny stared down at Lou with a mixture of distaste and compassion. She liked this man who sometimes allowed her to sleep on his boat when she had nowhere else to go. She just wished he didn't drink as much as he did. But there seemed to be nothing else that interested him. He said he liked to fish, but she'd never seen him come back with a catch and most of the time he left the dock without any bait. He seemed to be a man who was just living out the rest of his life without caring how he did it. And she'd never heard him laugh and this troubled her. As did the gun she had found one day in one of the cabin's drawers. She'd decided that something bad must have happened to him but she could never get him to tell her what it was. In fact, there wasn't a lot about his life before he came down here and bought the boat that he'd talk about.

Ginny sighed, took another look at the shape the boat was in and resigned herself to the inevitable. Jumping onto the dock, she walked down to the end and picked up the small broom lying next to a hose. She tossed the broom into a nearby garbage can, grabbed the hose and dragged them both back to the boat. She took another look at Lou lying there and grinned. It would serve him right. She twisted the nozzle on the hose and directed the stream of water right at his head.

Lou moved as the cold water hit him. Twisting away so the force of the water coming from the hose hit him in the back instead of his face, he went back to sleep.

Seeing the water was not having the effect on Lou she'd hoped for, Ginny turned the hose on the trash laying in the rear well of the boat. She used its power to push the trash to one corner where it would be easier for her to pick up. She knew she had to work fast if she was going to get it cleaned before the sun went down and she couldn't see what she was doing anymore.

The local grocery store was sandwiched between a 2-hour dry cleaners and a "No Appointment Needed" barber shop. All three had seen better days and blended in well with the run-down look of the neighborhood.

Lou pulled a six-pack from the refrigerator at the rear of the store and carried it to the front counter. Sleep had become impossible while Ginny was cleaning the boat, so he'd dragged himself up and gotten away from her.

For a reason he really didn't understand, she had taken it upon herself to see to it that his boat was always clean and maintained. She had tried to do the same with him and so far, he'd been able to fight her off. He knew he tolerated her interference in his life because since she had attached herself to him he'd never had to worry about gassing up or emptying the bilge or any of those other cute things that they said had to be done when you owed a boat. Ginny saw to it all.

Lou dumped the six-pack onto the counter and looked up at Mrs. Owens, the overweight owner of the store, who'd been watching his every move from the moment he'd come in. Lou smiled graciously at her while grabbing a package of sugar doughnuts from the rack nearby and tossing it on the counter next to the beer.

Mrs. Owens made no move to ring up the purchases. Lou ran his hand over the stubble on his face and nodded. He knew what she was waiting for and rummaged through his pockets for the money to pay her. Finding none, he sheepishly looked up at her. "Couldn't you just add it to my tab? I'll come back later tonight and settle up."

Mrs. Owens had been through this with Lou too many times before. And too many times before, he'd forgotten to pay up and she'd have to continue reminding him before he finally did. Mrs. Owens had come to the conclusion that Lou never intended to cheat her out of the money, it was just that he didn't seem to care that much about money. But she had a store to run and couldn't allow customers like Lou to take things without paying for them. So she reached out for the beer and doughnuts and put them on the shelf behind her. "And these'll be waiting for you when you do," she told him.

"If I die from starvation, Mrs. Owens, it'll be on your head."

"Lack of beer and doughnuts never killed anyone, Mr. Parker."

"There's always a first time," he said as he turned away, pushed the door open and shuffled into the street.

Lou entered the courtyard of the stucco two-story building trying to remember where he'd hidden the key to his apartment when he'd left the week before. He knew that he hadn't taken it with him only because he wasn't that stupid. He'd already lost so many keys over the side of the boat that his landlord had finally threatened to charge him double the next time he lost one. So he'd taken to hiding the key when he left to spend time on his boat and was now facing the problem of remembering where he had hidden it.

He stopped in front of the door to his apartment and looked around. He knew the key had to be somewhere nearby. Reaching up, he ran the tips of his fingers across the top of the door jam and came away with nothing more than dust and grime.

He turned and spotting the potted plant that stood just down from his door, he decided that it would make a good place to hide a key. He dug his fingers into the dirt and got nothing more than dirty fingernails for his trouble. His eyes then caught the emergency fire extinguisher recessed in the wall. Walking over to it, he reached into the well at the top of the extinguisher and smiled, feeling the key lying there. He pulled it out, walked back to his apartment, unlocked the door and pushed it open.

He walked in and pulled up short. The furniture that had come with the apartment -- couch, coffee table, easy-chair, lamps -- were all still there. Everything else was gone. None of his pictures were on the wall. None of his magazines were scattered about where he'd thrown them. There were no dirty plates stacked in the sink. In fact, it looked as if nobody lived there at all.

He heard a noise behind him and turned in time to see the apartment manager, Kaplan, a large man who was pushing seventy and whose body still carried the hardness of a lifetime of working out, come in and his bewilderment immediately changed to an uneasy understanding. Lou gestured around the room with a sweep of his arm. "Your work?"

"Yes it is. You're moving out."

"I am?"

Kaplan nodded. "I don't want you here anymore."

"Come on. I always paid my rent."

"Yeah and sometimes you even paid it in the same month it was due."

"But I paid it."

"You just don't get it, do you? Look, it's simple. You can't live here anymore. You give the place a bad name. You come in here drunk every night. Waking everybody. I can't handle all the complaints. I'm too old for this. I want peace and quiet and the only way I'm going to get it is with you gone."

"You're a prick, you know that?"

"That could be. But right now I'm just tired of making excuses for you."

"And where do you expect me to go?"

"Anywhere as long as it's nowhere near this place."

Resigned, Lou slumped down on the couch. "Where's my stuff?"

"Boxed and sitting in the alley out back, waiting for you to haul it away."

Kaplan looked down at him. Despite all the trouble Lou caused, he still liked the man. "Look, I know what you're going through. I retired myself ten years back. But sitting around drinking and pretending to go fishing isn't what retirement's all about."

"You know nothing about me."

"I know enough to tell you that you've got to find something to do. Something that interests you."

"There're things I'm interested in."

"Besides drinking."

"Anybody ever tell you to mind your own business?"

"Lots of people. Mostly those who didn't want to hear the truth. Leave the key on the table," Kaplan told him and walked out.

Lou sat there for a moment staring at the empty doorway before forcing himself to get up and over to the door where he turned back for one last look at what had once been his warm nest.

The aging Ford station wagon drove past the palm trees that had been planted when the first homes on the tract had been built in the late forties. The houses had originally all been constructed from a single set of plans but through the years different owners had attempted to make them their own and now they were as individual as their owners had been.

The station wagon pulled into the driveway of the yellow stuccoed home and stopped abreast of the green lawn. The driver, Diane Masters, an attractive woman in her early forties, dragged a grocery bag across the front seat and cradling it in one arm, grabbed her purse with the other and got out of the car.

She shut the door with her hip, walked around the front of the car and stopped abruptly when she caught sight of Lou sitting on the steps to her porch. She then saw the boxes stacked on her lawn. She shook her head and continued towards her front door. "No way, Lou. No way in hell."

"I thought we had something going," he said, getting to his feet and blocking her path.

Resigned, she stopped and faced him. "So did I. But I was wrong. You forget why I stopped seeing you?"

Lou frowned. He tried to remember but for the life of him couldn't and she saw that.

"I'll remind you. Maybe it'll sink in this time. I kicked you out because I couldn't stand you sitting around doing nothing. All day. Every day. From the time you got up until the time you passed out dead drunk at night. You did nothing. Not a thing. And that's not natural, Lou."

"I was thinking."

"I know. About the past."

"Sometimes."

"All the time. Well, I live in the present. The past's over and no matter how hard you keep thinking about it; it's not coming back. And neither are you."

She brushed past him to the door. This time he didn't try to stop her. When she got the door open she turned back. "And get that stuff off my lawn!"

She went inside, slamming the door behind her. Lou turned and looked unhappily at the boxes piled on the lawn.

Lou stretched out in his favorite position on the boat; legs sprawled on the deck, back resting comfortably against the rear deck with a can of beer in his hand.

The entire boat was filled with the boxes containing his belongings, as was the wooden walkway next to it. He'd left himself a two-foot passageway between the boxes and the water. Just enough room for him to get by if he ever wanted to go somewhere. Finishing off the beer, he tossed it to join the others that were piled up at his feet just as Ginny came down the dock ramp. She looked at the empty beer cans and frowned. "Come on, Lou, I just finished cleaning it."

"It's my boat. I can do what I want," he said, and reached for another beer from the cooler at his feet.

"Then you ought to think about keeping it clean yourself instead of my having to do it."

"Nobody asked you to do it."

Ginny sighed. He was right. He'd never asked her to clean the boat. Of course, he never objected either. She decided that she had nobody to blame but herself if he didn't appreciate what she'd done. "Mr. Langer says to tell you that you can't leave the boxes on the dock. You've got to stow them on board."

Lou looked around at the boxes of various sizes that filled every inch of space on his boat. "Where'd he suggest I put them?"

"He didn't say. Only that you've got to get them off the dock."

"Tell him I'm working on it," he said, and took a long pull from the can.

Ginny nodded. She'd expected an answer like that. She decided that the next time he left for a beer run, she'd straighten things out and get all the boxes on board. Having made that decision, she reached into her back pocket and pulled out a thick stack of letters and advertisements. "And he told me to tell you that he's no post office and for you to stop giving out his address for your mail."

She held out the mail to Lou who looked at it as if it was contaminated.

"I told him to just throw it out. That you wouldn't read it anyway, but he insisted I give it to you."

Lou looked up at her. "Don't you have anything to do? Like go to school or something?"

Ignoring his question, she checked through the mail. "There's a couple of your pension checks -- " She stopped and looked over at him. "You know, if you cashed these things once in a while you wouldn't always be short of money." She waited for a response and getting none continued to look through the mail. "There's the usual junk stuff -- and here's one that looks official -- from the police, the return says."

Lou frowned. He reached for the letter and tearing the envelope open, he pulled out a single sheet of paper. A chill coursed through his body as he realized he was reading a death notice. His only son was dead, murdered in his home. By assailant or assailants unknown. Although he hadn't gotten along with his son and hadn't spoken to him in months, the notice of his death seemed to drain whatever life was left in him.

Ginny had heard of people turning white but she'd never seen it before. Now she had. The man before her had turned a ghastly white and seemed to crumple before her eyes.

"What?" she asked.

He didn't answer and she saw tears forming in his eyes. She thought he was too old to cry. Only kids did that, yet here Lou was, years her senior, almost too old to be her father, with tears running down his cheeks.

Reaching out, Ginny gingerly took the letter from Lou's hand. When she finished reading it she looked over at Lou with heart felt compassion. The thought that he might've had a son, or any children for that matter had never entered her mind and now, according to the letter, that son was dead, murdered in his bed. She had never faced a situation like this and didn't know what to do so she just stood there and waited.

Finally, he turned and looked at the young girl standing in front of him. He drained the last of the beer from the can, tossed it to join the rest of the empties at his feet and got up. He took the letter from her and stuffed it in his pocket.

"I'm sorry," she finally said.

Lou didn't respond. Instead, he pushed one of the boxes aside until he found his jacket and slipped into it. He then began rummaging through the rest of the mail until he found his pension checks and stuffed them into the same pocket. Slipping into the cabin, he opened the drawer under the port side bunk, grabbed his old service revolver and shoved it into his waistband before returning to the deck. He looked at Ginny standing there and gestured around the boat. "Take care of her for me, will ya'?"

The request took her by surprise. This was the first time he'd ever asked her for anything and she liked the feeling it gave her of being a real part of his life, something she'd wanted for a long time. "Sure thing, Lou."

She watched him step onto the dock. "Where're you going?"

When he didn't answer, she tried again. "When you coming back?"

Lou looked around, at Ginny, at the boat, at the boxes scattered about, and shrugged before he turned and walked away.


Twisted Shadows by James Schmerer is published by Writers Club
(ISBN 0-595-09566-6, 269 pages, $24.95 Softcover)

Twisted Shadows is available in all good bookshops, online and off, or directly from the publisher: iUniverse.com, Inc.
620 North 48th Street
Suite 201
Lincoln, NE 68504-3467
(800) 376.1736
www.iUniverse.com




Click here for the interview with Twisted Shadows' author, JAMES SCHMERER!





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