Day Six of my week-long introduction to my new thriller, THE LONELY MILE ($2.99 from StoneHouse Ink), brings us, appropriately enough, to Chapter Six. But I wanted to thank everyone for the positive response to the book in its first full week, so here are Chapter Six and Seven. Sometimes my generosity astounds even me...
Martin froze, instantly aware the shouted warning was meant for him. For perhaps two seconds, nothing happened—the silence was all-encompassing and unnerving—and then, like a dam bursting, chaos erupted in the plaza. A shrill, high-pitched scream echoed off the ceramic tiles in the big, open room. Trays filled with dishes fell to the floor, glasses shattering and dishes breaking as their owners spotted the guns and dove for cover. Tables crashed onto their sides, and the more physically gifted among the travelers vaulted the counters, thudding to the floor on the other side. Those lucky few near the plaza entrance simply ran out the door.
And still Martin did not move. He hugged the girl tightly, frantically calculating the possibilities. It could not have been a cop who shouted the warning—they were required to identify themselves. So it had to have been a citizen; an ordinary Joe who had seen the kidnapping go down and decided to play hero. That was good; he might still be able to get out of this.
Martin turned slowly and carefully, avoiding any sudden or unusual movements that his attacker might interpret as threatening. He kept his handgun firmly planted in the girl’s side, shoving it hard against her ribs in an unspoken warning not to do anything stupid, like running toward her misguided—and soon-to-be dead—savior.
In front of Martin, the girl whimpered softly, breathing hard, clearly terrified, her weight heavy on his arms as he pulled her tight against his body, using her as a human shield. He completed the turn, dragging her around with him, and found himself face-to-face with the same man who had bumped him just seconds ago. The man was crouched, his weapon held in a two-handed shooter’s grip, the barrel trained steadily on the center of Martin’s body, which meant it was now also trained on the girl.
Martin smiled, knowing that, no matter how powerful the man’s handgun was, it was useless unless he could shoot like Annie Oakley. The odds were that he would hit the innocent victim if he attempted to fire now, and, unless the guy was totally off his rocker, he would not do something so rash. The man had had his chance to take down Martin when his back was turned, and he had blown it.
If the busybody had just fired his weapon, then this would all be over, with Martin lying face down on the cold, plaza floor, blood and life soaking out of him. Instead, the fool had offered a ridiculous fair-play warning, like he thought he was Marshal Dillon patrolling Dodge City, and just like that, his only chance at taking the advantage away from Martin had evaporated. Now Martin was back in control.
His smile widened into a cocky grin. The buttinsky was dressed in a blue windbreaker with “Ferguson Hardware” stitched on the breast pocket. It should have been a dead giveaway to Martin that the dude was carrying. It had to be ninety-five degrees outside; there was no possible explanation why someone would don a jacket in this heat unless it was to cover a concealed weapon.
Martin mentally kicked himself, careful not to let the guy see his anger. He didn’t want the wannabe hero to know he was anything other than supremely confident. But there was no way he should have overlooked such an obvious warning sign—it was one of those careless mistakes he had sworn he was too smart to make. Well, he could still escape this disaster, and, when he did, he would chalk the episode up as a valuable lesson learned; one that was annoying and stupid and inexcusable, but one that he would never make again, that was for sure.
Martin knew he was in control. He continued backing toward the doors, pulling the girl with him. He smiled at the man with the gun, oblivious to the chaos around him as the sheep bleated pathetically, roused from their torpor and completely lost now, confronted with this frightening and confusing new reality.
The hero still had not moved. He remained in a crouch, holding the gun on Martin and his new girlfriend. Martin wondered if it had occurred to the Good Samaritan yet that he had lost control of the situation. Probably not, this guy was just another idiot. He was brave, Martin would grant him that, but he highly doubted this hardware store man could match Martin’s intelligence or cunning.
The idiot would find that out soon enough.
Bill kept the Browning trained on the kidnapper who still held the girl tightly in front of his body. The guy had a creepy grin plastered on his face, and the girl was wearing an expression of sheer terror. Bill was suddenly thankful for his long-ago military training and the hours spent firing weapons in the desert blast-furnace of Iraq, honing his technique until he had total confidence in his ability with firearms. He had been an expert marksman in the service, and he hoped the intervening years hadn’t dulled his accuracy.
The panicked noises in the food court—the sounds of screaming, cursing, running feet, and breaking glass—were dying down. Out of the confusion, came the plaintive sound of a wailing woman’s voice. “Oh God, he has Allie! He has Allie!”
Bill ignored the tortured voice, tuning it out along with all the other chaotic, background noise. They were distractions he didn’t need. He knew he had to remain sharp and focused, because the next few moments would determine whether this whole mess ended well or disastrously.
The kidnapper continued to smile, his eyes sharp and predatory. Maybe it was a trick of the harsh fluorescent lighting inside the rest stop, but his teeth appeared long and yellow—wolfish even.
He stared Bill down as he slowly edged backwards, the challenge in his eyes unmistakable. The kidnapper had regained the advantage, and worse, he knew it. There was no way Bill could fire on him now without risking hitting the hostage. For just a moment, he was back in Iraq, the intense heat and dust and life-and-death pressure returning with a vengeance, so real he felt that, if he opened his mouth, it would fill with burning desert sand. He hesitated, his hand beginning to lower, and then he shook his head, clearing it of the cobwebs, and once again raised the weapon, training it on the scruffy-looking man and his young victim.
It was a classic standoff. Bill knew he couldn’t fire on the kidnapper because of the hostage, but the kidnapper couldn’t shoot the girl either because he would lose his shield and open himself up to a bullet. What he could do, however, was shoot Bill and back straight out the door.
The kidnapper seemed to reach the same conclusion as Bill, and at the same time. His grin widened. It was unnerving. He slid the gun smoothly away from the girl’s body and pointed it at Bill, who rose from his crouch and began moving forward ever so slowly, matching the kidnapper step for slow step. The two handguns were now pointed almost directly at each other.
Now what? If he could move close enough to the girl, maybe he could grab her and pull her out of the scumbag’s grasp, using his own body to shield her from harm. What he would do after that was still a little unclear. As plans went, Bill knew it was pretty thin, but he couldn’t come up with anything better, and felt control of the situation slipping away, sliding inexorably toward a disaster involving death, tragedy, and regret.
He crept closer, neither man speaking, the girl sobbing quietly in the man’s arms, pulled tightly against his body. Under the circumstances, Bill thought, she was doing an admirable job of keeping herself together. From his peripheral vision, he was aware of the rest of the people in the crowded plaza watching the confrontation from behind overturned tables, peeking over counters and around booths and chairs. The chaos of a few seconds ago had resolved into a low murmur, a buzz of shocked excitement as the observers began to realize that they, at least, were not in any immediate danger.
The pair with the weapons pointed at each other were now eight feet apart…now six…four. The gunman holding the hostage shuffled steadily backward, dragging his reluctant companion with him, and Bill moved forward, steadily closing the gap.
Still, neither man spoke. Neither man fired. The tension was palpable. Something was about to break, something had to happen soon, but no one had a clue what it was, least of all Bill Ferguson.
He continued moving forward, finally reaching a point where he could smell the rancid stench of the kidnapper’s fear. Outwardly, the man appeared calm and in control, an arrogant smirk pasted on his face, but the sweat dripping from every pore revealed his tension. The odor was sour, and Bill nearly gagged.
He was close enough now. It was time. He stopped moving and pulled his left hand off the grip of the Hi-Power, leveling the gun with his right hand in the direction of the kidnapper and his hostage. Still operating mostly on instinct, Bill reached forward to grab the girl’s right shoulder and yank her toward him, to spin her behind him to relative safety, to shield her with his own body. He moved as quickly as he could, his hand flashing out toward the girl, and as he did—
The final installment of my preview follows tomorrow! If you like what you've read, please consider downloading a copy to your ereader for just $2.99 at one of the following purchase links:
My website: http://www.allanleverone.com/
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