Monday, July 25, 2011

THE LONELY MILE excerpt - Chapter Four

We've reached the midpoint of my week-long introduction to my new thriller, THE LONELY MILE ($2.99 from StoneHouse Ink), the novel Dave Zeltserman says "will carry readers along..." Here is Chapter Four:


Martin pushed open the door and entered the rest stop, grateful to be out of the heavy, hot, summery air. Already, his light t-shirt stuck to his back uncomfortably. He mopped his brow with the palm of his hand, scanning the interior of the crowded building for any cops who might be sitting on their fat butts drinking coffee and eating donuts like some stupid, living cliché. There were none. He relaxed a bit and began the process of searching for a likely prospect. The plaza was set up like a shopping mall food court, with counters running in a long semicircle around the back of the room, beginning immediately to the left of the glass double doors and terminating to Martin’s right at the entrances to the men’s and women’s restrooms.

Spaced at intervals behind the counters were the usual fast food suspects: the pizza place, the fried chicken place, the burger joint, the coffee shop, the ice cream and frozen yogurt franchise. Tables and booths filled the spacious open dining area, with carts and stands more or less randomly scattered throughout the room hawking t-shirts, knickknacks and cheap collectibles.

The place was filled. Martin loved the bustling activity, the way all the people were so absorbed in themselves, in their own little worlds, that they took note of little else. Even now, after more than a dozen kidnappings in plazas like this one all along the eastern portion of I-90, most people remained blissfully ignorant, unaware of their surroundings, certain of their own safety, apparently believing that random tragedy would always strike the other guy.

Martin walked slowly toward the pizza counter, not because he was interested in eating, but because that vantage point offered the clearest view of the open room, and thus it offered the best opportunity to scan for potentials. He was reasonably certain he had already made one “withdrawal” from this particular plaza, maybe even his very first, but there had been so many over the last three-and-a-half years that they all began to blend together, a satisfying mishmash of pretty young things forcibly abducted in broad daylight in front of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of potential witnesses.

He regretted losing clarity in the memories of his earliest conquests, but it was inevitable, really. In a way, those fuzzy remembrances served as testament to his methods, to the fact that he was so good at what he did. He had been at it so long and taken so many girls that the details of all but the most recent kidnappings had begun to merge together into a kind of delicious, nostalgic stew. Perhaps he couldn’t recall the specifics of all of them, but, in total, the memories served to warm his heart, to cause a little tingle in his belly whenever he thought about them. You couldn’t ask for much more than that in this world.

Besides, it’s not like I’ll forget any of them, with my trophy case stocked with precious souvenirs, ready to display more. He thought about the collection of locks of hair and the rings, watches, and other jewelry he had saved from his conquests, and he knew that, as risky as keeping the prizes was—if the authorities ever searched his house, they would certainly be his undoing—it was well worth it. Besides, he was much smarter than the people pursuing him, so as long as he continued to exercise caution in his hunting, he knew he had nothing to fear. What exactly was the point of exercising his admittedly peculiar interest if he could not enjoy the fruits of his hard-fought labors?

Martin scanned the plaza, his practiced eye immediately zeroing in on a few potential targets, attractive girls in their late teens or early twenties. He was fortunate that he was mostly permitted to indulge his taste for slim blondes and brunettes; his contact only demanded that they be young and attractive. This process of selecting a companion was where things could get a little dicey. He had to be careful to choose a target whose family or friends weren’t paying too much attention to her. It was getting more and more difficult. With each passing success, the media coverage of the I-90 Killer became more and more sensational, causing nervous parents to pay that much more attention to their daughters.

At least for a while.

Then, time would go by, Martin would lie low, and the coverage would die down as other stories moved into the news cycle, picking up again only after Martin plucked another victim out from under the not-so-watchful gaze of her parents or friends.

Martin strolled past the pizza counter, moving behind the lines of people. He passed the line for the pizza and burger joints, taking his place in the crowd of people waiting to buy a cup of coffee. His heart hammered wildly in his chest and he practically quivered with anticipation. This was the hardest part: the knowledge that he was so close to his next plaything but would have to wait to enjoy her, but he forced himself to slow down and proceed with caution.

This sense of caution was exactly why he would never be caught. Others of his kind rushed in with little or no regard for the potential consequences of their rash actions. Or they were careful in the beginning but became sloppy after a few successes, leaving themselves open to committing the kind of mistakes that resulted in capture, humiliation, and, eventually, life in prison or even the death penalty.

Not Martin Krall. Martin Krall was too smart for that kind of carelessness. He knew when to take bold, decisive action and when to hang back and observe, and this was the time to hang back and observe. Scan and plan before leaping into action.

The line at the coffee counter moved slowly. Its length surprised Martin because of the stifling heat outside. Of course, like most coffee franchises, this one offered the thirsty patron all sorts of fancy iced drinks and frothy ten-thousand-calorie concoctions composed mostly of water and sugar, and Martin figured the majority of the sheep were probably purchasing those. He waited patiently, eyes continually scanning the crowd behind his mirrored sunglasses, keeping tabs on the pair of girls he had determined were the most promising targets.

Finally, he reached the front of the line. A tall, skinny kid in his late teens with serious acne issues and long, greasy, blond hair looked down at him through bored, blue eyes. Pinned at a careless angle onto his shirt was a nametag that read “Jamie.” The shirt was wrinkled and partially untucked. “Help you?” he asked.

Martin was immediately turned off. He was no neat freak, not by any stretch of the imagination, but this kid reeked of grime and germs. It was disgusting. Martin’s first instinct was to turn away. He certainly didn’t want to drink anything “Jamie” had put his dirty paws all over. But then he stopped himself. Waiting all that time in line and then leaving without buying anything just as he got to the counter would be noteworthy. It would make him stick out. It would make people remember him.

That kind of reaction was unacceptable, especially considering what would soon take place here today. He reluctantly forced a smile onto his face, wondering whether it looked as insincere as it felt, and said, “Small coffee, please.”

The kid stared at him without moving, as if Martin had spoken in some foreign language. For a second, Martin wondered if maybe he didn’t speak English, but of course, that was absurd. He had been waiting behind a whole group of people, most of whom must have been speaking English, and no one else seemed to have had any trouble. What was this moron’s problem?

Finally, the kid asked, “Hot?”

Now it was Martin’s turn to stare uncomprehendingly. Of course it was hot; it was at least ninety degrees outside, for crying out loud!

Suddenly, he realized what the kid was asking. His earlier supposition that most of the people in line were buying those iced drinks was right on target, and this idiot wanted to be sure he understood Martin’s order correctly. “Yes, hot,” Martin said, trying and mostly succeeding in keeping the sneer he felt out of his voice. “I’d like hot coffee.” He said it slowly and deliberately.

The kid drew the brew out of a huge stainless steel urn set up on a counter behind him, then handed the cup to Martin and received payment without another word. Martin wanted nothing more than to stiff this loser out of a tip—his service was poor and his personal hygiene nonexistent—but of course that might draw the attention of some of the sheep, too, so he reluctantly dropped a quarter into the plastic tip jar, strategically placed next to the cash register, and moved away, grabbing a table near the front of the room where he would have a decent view of the entire place.

No sooner had he sat down, than he spotted, “the one.” There was no doubt about it. She was perhaps seventeen, tall and athletic, willowy, all coltish legs and youthful energy, with long, blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. She was perfect—just what Martin liked, and just what the others would like as well. The girl was entering the plaza, traveling with a man and a woman, presumably her parents. She was not one of the likely targets he had been monitoring, and he congratulated himself on his patience.

The family moved into the plaza and immediately split up, the girl turning right toward the restrooms and Mommy and Daddy staking out a spot at the end of the line for the burger joint all the way across the room. There were so many people milling about at the moment that Martin figured there was no way they could even see the restrooms from where they were standing. Perfect.

Martin left his coffee untouched on the table—just as well, he thought; he didn’t really want to drink it after that greaseball behind the counter had touched it —and meandered slowly toward the restrooms. The men’s and women’s rooms were adjacent to each other and featured open doorways with interior walls preventing anyone from seeing in.

He took his time, moving slowly. The plaza was busy and there was a pretty decent chance the girl would have to wait for a stall inside the restroom. Even if she didn’t, it would take at least a couple of minutes to do her business and wash her hands.

Stopping at a t-shirt stand a few feet from the rest rooms, Martin pretended to check out the cheap wares while he waited for the girl. Shirts with silly puns on them competed for attention with other shirts featuring scenic views of the Adirondack Mountains or one of the thousands of lakes dotting the region. The only thing they had in common was that they were all poorly made and overpriced.

Martin watched the restrooms surreptitiously, knowing he would get only one chance to do this right. Hopefully, the girl would exit the ladies’ room alone, but even if she didn’t, it would pose no more than a minor problem. The girl’s parents were still cooling their heels in line at the hamburger joint across the plaza, and anyone who happened to walk out of the ladies’ room at the same time as the target would undoubtedly be in a hurry to get her food and drink and head out, and so would be paying scant attention to the pretty blonde girl.

Martin Krall patted the Glock 9mm, jammed into the waistband of his jeans and covered with a long t-shirt, and waited. The girl would walk out of the ladies room any second now. He could feel it. He didn’t know how he could tell, but he could. He had done this many times before.

He stood at the display stand surrounded by the cheap t-shirts and all of the unsuspecting people and waited, unnoticed, a predator stalking its prey.


Chapter Five to follow 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.

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Julia Madeleine said...

Wheew! Great tension Allan. I found myself holding my breath near the end. It's really uncomfortable being inside this guys head. And that's a good thing. Well done :)

Al Leverone said...

Thanks a lot Julia - this was fun to write; probably too much fun, actually...