Hello, Fire Enthusiasts. Now, don't say it! I know what you're thinking. Two posts within mere days of each other - just what's going on here? Well, I promised that I would get back to keeping this blog up, didn't I? Now that the manuscript for Dance on Fire: Flashpoint has been delivered to Vamplit Publishing, I intend to keep that promise.
It has been quite a while since the last time that I posted a teaser of my first novel, so I thought that I would give you another piece. This section comes directly after the Prologue which I have posted previously. I hope you like it...
May 5, 2008
“Are you sure you’re not going to get in some sort of trouble for this?” the young man asked for the third time. His shift at the glass plant began at 6:00 a.m. In the meantime, he was visiting his new girlfriend.
“No, Jeremy,” Kingsburg Police Dispatcher Lainie Bishop answered. “Will you please relax? We’re just talking! You’re over there, I’m over here, and nothing is keeping me from doing my job. Now let it go!”
“See,” she said, taking her hands away from her lap and presenting them to him, palms up. “I’m doing my job.” Lainie put one foot on the thinly tiled floor and pushed off, spinning her chair back around toward the microphone and keyboard which was her charge. She keyed the base microphone. “One-five-nine, go ahead.”
“Ten-ninety-eight, Draper Street doors.” That was shorthand police talk. The Dispatcher was being informed that the task of checking that all of the businesses along Draper Street were secure was accomplished. There had been no doors found to be unlocked, nothing amiss. “One-six-one and I will be ten-twenty at the fourteen hundred block of Draper.” More Police talk; very official.
“Has CPS arrived to pick up that minor?” the officer asked, still official-sounding, but less serious.
“That’s a negative, one-five-nine,” Lainie responded professionally, although the question had been far from it. It was an inside joke.
“What minor?” Jeremy asked, but not before his new girlfriend had released the microphone. CPS was an anagram for Child Protective Services. Jeremy was freshly nineteen years old, while Lainie was five years his senior: a fact which lent itself to much ribbing and sarcasm toward the woman by her co-workers. On her end of the line, she sighed quietly. On the other end, down on Draper Street between Marion and Smith Streets, laughter erupted.
“You,” Lainie answered, dropping her head dramatically into her left hand as if in defeat, her short blond hair falling forward. She couldn’t hear the laughter or see the faces twisted in glee, but she could certainly envision it quite easily. She looked back meekly at the young man, slightly embarrassed for him, but mostly for her. He wasn’t the one who had to work with these guys.
After having introduced Jeremy to some of the members of the swing shift who had found him visiting the dispatcher, some of the officers had begun volunteering to return before ten o’clock and drive the “boy” home before curfew. Others had been less charming. Lainie just knew that Officer Browning, the jerk partner of the voice on the other end of the radio traffic just now, had been the one to plant the pacifier into her lunchbox tonight. “Please, Jeremy,” she asked. “Don’t say anything while we’re miced.”
“Ten-four,” Officer Mancuso completed the conversation, still snickering about Jeremy’s pubescent-sounding voice coming over the airwaves.
“Man, Nicky,” Mancuso’s partner begin the tired argument. “I'm tellin' you, football is boring without Dallas kicking San Francisco's ass!"
"Mm-hmm!" Officer Nick Mancuso grunted, stepped near a yellow and green fire hydrant and spat a small wad of greenish, yellow phlegm into the street. It made an ugly unmistakable splat which he tried to ignore. He could not see the small mass in the dark, but had heavily evacuating his nose and throat for two days now, so he could well imagine it. The cold in his lungs was getting worse, he knew. Just exactly how he had caught a Spring cold, he still could not figure out. He had no allergies to speak of and was hardly ever sick. Yet, here he was. Sure it was 50 degrees outside and the Graveyard Shift in a small town where nothing ever happened. However, dressed in multiple undershirts, a Kevlar bullet-proof vest, black clothing and twenty-five pounds of equipment clipped to their belts, one could hardly tell.
Officer Lawrence Browning was the younger of the two and he sounded the part. Brash, often unthinking, he many times uttered an increasingly insensitive and stupid comment, realizing too late his mistake. They had been partners now for eighteen months. Eighteen long months.
Mancuso stared at him incredulously. "And yet it seems to me that we kicked your Cowboy ass the last time we played! Do I have that right?”
“When was that?”
“Funny you can’t remember!” he added, sarcastically. He half-choked on another piece of phlegm that suddenly broke loose, catching it quickly in his mouth before swallowing it by mistake and evacuating it, too.
Officer Mancuso was almost six years older than his partner with five more years of experience. He was five-feet, eleven inches tall; black hair; thin build. His partner was six-feet, four inches tall; blonde hair, blue eyes; muscular and fully prepared to call his own number on fourth-down and goal with a long two yards to go for the winning touchdown. Though both men hailed from California, Browning looked the part, while Mancuso looked as if he had just emigrated from New Jersey. He was 180 degrees from the type of character that Browning was. Quiet and reserved, he was often accused of being shy or introverted, a notion which could not be further from the truth. Instead, he was a people watcher. Where others might lose themselves with daydream, the detective within him was always analyzing others. While waiting for his wife in the Fashion Fair Mall up in Fresno, he would pass the time by studying the faces and mannerisms of everyone around him.
Mancuso reached into his shirt’s left breast-pocket for his pack of Winstons and offered one to his partner, which finally shut him up. Browning quickly accepted a cigarette from his partner and leaned close while Mancuso fished around his patrol car keys in his right pants pocket for his San Francisco 49ers lighter. When he had it he lit Browning's cigarette first and then his own. He hoped that the sight of the 49ers emblem and colors would not set his partner off again.
Browning’s eyes lit up just like the tiny flame when he saw the hated team come just inches from his nose. “Look,” he attempted to pick up the argument where it had been left off.
“C'mon, Larr!’” Mancuso quickly interrupted before exhaling cigarette smoke into the cool early morning air. “Don't you ever shut up? No wonder Alicia left you!”
Browning took a long drag and then pointed his cigarette at his partner. “Cold shot, Nicky. Alicia split 'cause I didn't make enough to support her decorating habit.” He paused. “Besides, I think she likes her men a little more...feminine.”
“Oh, hell!” Mancuso turned and spat again. “Here it comes.”
“No, seriously!” Browning continued, undaunted. “Have you seen that guy? What a wuss! You know, to tell you the truth, I'm not even sure he had a...”
“Well,” Officer Mancuso quickly cut him off before he was given the graphic details of the man’s genitalia. “I’ve met him before. I thought he was a nice guy.”
Officer Browning took another long drag and then grinned as he blew it out. “See, that’s why you’re not allowed near the junior high!”
Officer Mancuso raised his hand before his partner’s tanned face and thrusted one solitary middle finger upward in playful response.
“Ooo! Baby,” Browning went into his undersexed collegiate freshman girl imitation. After having spent so much of the past eighteen months together it was quite possibly the only skill that Officer Mancuso could identify his partner having.
“You're a sick man, Larry.”
“Pardon me, Officers,” a voice suddenly appeared behind them out of what had once been an alley but was now a small picnic area between Gino’s Italian Eatery and the Apple Dumplin Antique shop.
The police officers spun: Mancuso lighting his heavy Mag-lite flashlight, while Browning ripped his police issue Glock 22 from its holster and pointed the .40 caliber weapon in the direction of the voice.
“Gentlemen!” the man shouted weakly, offering his empty hands out before him to demonstrate to the men how unarmed and quite safe he truly was. Mancuso's flashlight bathed him in artificial light. He was a Caucasian male, standing at least as tall as his partner with straight long dark hair, probably black, framing a fair-skinned face. He had a better than average build, wearing a long brown leather coat, designer jeans, with large motorcycle riding boots to match.
“Put your frigging gun away, Larry,” Mancuso whispered, reaching out with his free hand and nudging his partner.
Browning immediately lowered his weapon. “What did you expect me to do, Nicky? He scared the... You know you scared the shit out of me, Sir!” Browning berated the man.
“I apologize for it, gentleman,” the man said with an embarrassed grin as he lowered his hands and carefully approached. “It was...inexcusable.”
“You're damn right!” Browning continued his assault. “You might get your ass shot off one day!”
“Thank you, Officer. I will keep that in mind.”
“Give it a rest, Larry.” Mancuso ordered, turning off his flashlight. “What can we do for you, Sir?”
“I wondered if you might allow me one of those cigarettes?”
“Sure,” Mancuso answered, reaching into his shirt pocket for the Winstons. “It's probably the only way to keep the blood flowing this early in the morning.”
“Ah, but my Dear Officer,” the man began, taking the offered cigarette, “there are certainly more ways than this to keep the blood flowing, as you say, on such a beautiful and perfect night.”
“Got that right!” Browning said, in part still trying to calm down. He tossed his spent cigarette behind his partner and into the gutter. “I know exactly what you mean.”
“Do you?” the man asked, turning the officer’s direction, seeming genuinely interested.
Mancuso shook his head as he fished around inside his pants pocket for the lighter once again. If the stranger did not entirely guess where Browning was headed, he certainly did. Sex! It was the only thing Larry Browning ever had on his mind. He just wished that his partner would be more selective in deciding when to mention it. Locating his lighter, he raised it to the man's face and attempted to ignite it.
“Oh, yeah!” Browning continued. “There's nothing like an all-nighter to get my blood flowing.”
Suddenly, as if it were the most amusing thing that he had ever heard, the man standing before the officers threw back his head and roared with laughter. It echoed loudly around the rest area, the sound reverberating within the area there between the brick walls. It did not dissipate immediately, but seemed to hover there just like the Tulle fog that blanketed the Central Valley in the winter.
At first, Browning joined the laughter, thoughts of a pair of long firm lightly tanned legs locked around his waist still fresh inside his perverted mind. However, something quickly and decisively ripped the image from his head. There was something about that laugh that caused everything about the morning to suddenly feel much cooler than it was. As if he were just a simple child again and not a graduate of the Police Academy and Fresno State University with a degree in criminology, the sound seemed to haunt him down to his very bones.
Mancuso felt it, too. And now, bringing the cigarette lighter to life seemed all but impossible for him to manage.
“Allow me to assist you,” the man said, no longer giggling but using a tone dripping with both mocking amusement. He casually took hold of Mancuso's hand.
Officer Nicholas John Mancuso shuddered at the touch. He had never experienced any winter like this man's fingers. They felt cold and lifeless. He remembered one night during his first year while training with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department, when they had responded to the ranch of an elderly male who hadn’t been heard from in four days. This man's flesh was just as dead as Mancuso’s first corpse laying there in a heap on that bathroom floor.
On the man's first attempt, the lighter came. Both officers jumped as it flickered to life. “There we are,” the man said with a smile and then leaned close to the dancing little flame to light his cigarette. “You see, that was no trouble at all.”
Mancuso and Browning did see. They saw the impossible.
Mancuso looked deeply into the man’s eyes: they were black and cold and lifeless. They looked like a shark’s eyes right before he bites into you.
This man standing before them still clutching onto Mancuso's wrist was dead as well, with blemishless skin that appeared as smooth as a white satin sheet pulled tightly over a bed in a suite at the Ritz Carlton. Only this was no bed, but a grown man's face with holes cut out for eyes and a mouth. And gleaming teeth.
Mancuso was still thinking of that shark when he beheld the vampire’s incisors. Browning must have thought the same thing because he quickly went back for his gun. He got it as far as the top of his holster before the man's free hand sprang like a trip-hammer, cutting through the air between them. The attacking hand never seemed to get close enough to the weapon, but it obeyed him just the same and leapt out of the officer's grasp. Browning stood there dumbfounded, his empty hand held high as if he carried some new prototype invisible blaster, and was preparing to use it to vaporize this creature standing before them.
Mancuso's heart sank as his eyes followed after the fleeing Glock as it skipped into the shadows of the former alley.
He still had his gun, but apparently not the necessary courage.
“Now I've done it!” the man flicked the unsmoked cigarette into the deserted street in disgust. “I must once again apologize for my behavior, gentlemen. It seems that I have a flair for inspiring fear in the hearts of men.” He paused briefly with a sigh. “Ah! All is not lost. As we were discussing, before I made a most incredible mess of things, there are indeed other, I think, more splendid ways to get the blood flowing, as it were.”
And he roared with laughter again.
We'll talk soon,
By the way: REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR!