Happy Fourth of July! I'm celebrating by featuring Chapter Three, Four and Five of my brand-new novel REVENANT today.
If you're just now checking it out, you can catch up by reading the prologue, Chapter One and Chapter Two before starting if you'd like.
Here you go!
Earl Manning stepped reluctantly through the front door and into the living room of the creepy old home. He supposed when the house was new the room would have been considered a parlor—that was what his grandmother would have called it, and they were probably from the same era—but as a guy who did his growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s, it was a living room. The space was wide-open but stuffy, as if whoever lived here hadn’t opened a window in decades.
And it was empty. Not one piece of furniture had been set up. No TV, no couch, no rugs or carpets; nothing. Just a cavernous shell of a room.
Under different circumstances Earl might have found the emptiness unsettling, but not tonight. Tonight Earl Manning was suffering the early stages of a monster hangover, and smacking his head on the side of the Porsche hadn’t helped. Plus—and here was the worst part—Earl had no idea where the hell he was or what the hell he was doing here, although he had pretty much concluded by now that he wasn’t going to get laid by one of the most beautiful, sexy women he had ever seen inside the boundaries of Paskagankee, Maine. Or anywhere else, for that matter.
In fact, although he didn’t know what was about to happen, Earl guessed it wasn’t going to be good. He reached for his cell phone. It was gone. That traitorous bitch Raven must have appropriated it while he was passed out in the car. Or maybe he had left it at the Ridge Runner; he couldn’t remember. Damn, it’s hard to think when you’re halfway between drunk and sober.
But Earl knew one thing: he had had enough. He came here thinking he would be alone with Raven, and instead the shadowy-looking man had forced him inside this house. Looking at it now, he concluded that allowing the guy to push him around had been a mistake. He should have stood up for himself immediately.
Well, it wasn’t too late. He could still fix their wagon. He would simply refuse to move another inch until the shadowy man or, preferably, Raven explained to his satisfaction just what the hell they thought they were doing. Not one inch.
Earl walked roughly six feet into the living room that might have been called a parlor by his grandmother and stopped, turning to voice his objection to this whole charade, to complain about being treated like a sap by that little black-haired bitch. He spread his feet and set his shoulders, wobbling thanks to all the alcohol coursing through his system. He turned, ready to demand some answers, to know just what in the holy hell this was all about, and as he did, the shadowy man stepped up close, too close, violating his personal space.
The man whipped his right hand over his head in a circular motion like Pete Townshend making his guitar scream during the concert by The Who Earl had seen down in Portland in ‘96, only instead of holding a guitar pick in his hand like Townshend he held a large plastic bag. The bag fluttered through the air and down over Earl’s head and Earl immediately had two thoughts: 1) It really is true that alcohol dulls your reflexes, and 2) It appeared he would be doing the screaming instead of a guitar.
A heavy length of twine, almost but not quite a rope, had been threaded through the mouth of the plastic bag, and after yanking the bag over Earl’s head, the man pulled the ends apart like a garrote. The bag closed neatly around Earl’s neck just under his jawline. In his panic Earl drew in a deep breath to scream, knowing somewhere inside his Budweiser-addled brain that he was making a mistake, that it was the absolute worst thing he could do, but he did it anyway. He couldn’t help himself.
The bag sucked into his open mouth and Earl gagged and coughed it back out. He shook his head violently back and forth as if registering extreme dissatisfaction with this turn of events, which, in a way, was exactly what he was doing. He struck out with his fists, not punching as much as flailing wildly, and felt a millisecond of satisfaction when he connected solidly with some part of the man’s body, although which part he hit, he had no idea and didn’t much care.
After that tiny victory, though, things went downhill fast. Earl stopped flailing and grabbed with both hands at the twine/rope being pulled with steadily increasing pressure around his neck, cutting off his air supply and digging into the soft skin, but it was useless. The shadowy man had all of the leverage, plus he was younger, stronger and presumably sober to boot.
It ain’t a fair fight, thought Earl, realizing immediately it would be a stretch to call it a fight at all. Then all conscious thought departed. He thrashed and grunted and sucked the bag into his mouth again, coughing it out again, his lungs screaming for oxygen, his body weakening by the second, his panicked reaction growing even less effective.
He felt his extremities tingling, he was losing feeling in his hands and feet. All of a sudden he could feel his bladder release. Urine, hot and wet and humiliating, soaked his jeans at the exact moment he began falling toward the dingy hardwood floor.
His head struck the floor and he heard something crack and was surprised to discover he didn’t feel any pain. Didn’t feel anything at all, in fact, other than a warm, sort of fuzzy ambivalence. Turned out dying was a lot like getting drunk. Earl thought that in some ways it was a damned shame you could only do it once.
Panic subsided and serene acceptance took its place and Earl’s last thought before the blackness descended like a shroud was that he would never have imagined in a million years that he would die on a stranger’s parlor floor.
Max turned to Raven, whose gaze was glued to the prone body of Earl Manning. She was moaning and breathing heavily and a shudder wracked her body as she licked her bright red lips. Max smiled. He enjoyed watching Raven’s reaction to violent death almost as much as he enjoyed the actual killing. It was always the same and yet it never lost its appeal.
He stared until she turned her attention from the unmoving victim to him. A sheen of sweat coated her angelic face and her eyes were glazed. She swallowed heavily and Max said, “Shall we celebrate?”
Mike McMahon lifted his hat and raked his hand through his thick brown hair, shaking his head in frustration. He slid into a booth at the Katahdin Diner and placed the hat on the seat next to him before glancing across the table at Sharon Dupont. “I don’t know how many times we need to have this conversation,” he said. “Listen closely: You are a valuable member of this police force and I need you on it.”
The sun shone through the window next to the table and waitresses hurried back and forth carrying trays piled high with silverware, food and coffee, somehow managing to avoid running each other down. This was the breakfast rush, the Katahdin’s busiest time of the day.
Sharon shrugged. “You need me on the force? That’s bullshit. The truth of the matter is I’m more trouble than I’m worth, and you know it. I’m a double-whammy: a low-time officer with little practical law enforcement experience who is sleeping with her superior. The first half of that equation is an annoyance, but the second half will get you fired once the Town Council gets off their asses and decides to take action. They’ve looked the other way about us seeing each other to this point only because they wanted a steady hand to guide the department after last fall and the whole fiasco with Chief Court supposedly murdering all those people.
“I still can’t believe anyone in this town bought that load of crap, especially after everything Walter Court did for Paskagankee. The idea that he single-handedly ripped a bunch of people apart with his bare hands is simply ludicrous. But the point is, sooner or later the public fascination with the murders will die down—I think we’re just about there—and when it does, the council will decide our living arrangements are unacceptable, and they’ll move to terminate you.”
Mike sighed and placed his hand gently over Sharon’s arm. “I know you were close to Wally Court, and there’s no question his reputation took a beating in the official investigation, but what choice did the State Police have, really? Would anyone, anywhere have believed the truth—that the aggrieved spirit of a dead Abenaki mother had been reawakened and was wreaking havoc as vengeance for her baby’s murder more than three centuries ago? Hell, I was there, I saw the thing with my own eyes, fought with it, and sometimes I still have a hard time believing it.”
“—And don’t forget,” Mike interrupted, “Chief Court is dead and gone, so he can’t defend himself. Add to that the fact he didn’t have any close living relatives to demand answers to all the unexplained questions, and the result is that he’s going to remain the scapegoat, no matter how either of us feels about it.”
“Until Melissa Manheim’s book comes out, that is.”
Mike snorted, half in amusement and half in frustration. “Okay, Manheim the Maneater knows exactly what happened in that cabin out in the woods, but my question remains the same—who’s going to believe it? Her book is going to be viewed as the hysterical ranting of an attention-grabbing reporter trying to make a name for herself—“
“—which she is,” they said simultaneously, and laughed.
“But that doesn’t change the truthfulness of her account,” Sharon pointed out.
“Truth? The truth is whatever people want to believe,” Mike answered. “And most people aren’t going to buy the whole reanimated spirit angle that Manheim the Maneater is selling, whether she’s a star reporter for the Portland Journal or not. And whether it’s the truth or not.”
A young waitress cleared her throat and the pair looked up at her in startled surprise. It was clear from the confused half-smile on the waitress’s face that she had heard at least some of their conversation and had no idea how to react to it. “Are you ready to order?” she asked hesitantly.
Mike deferred to Sharon, who ordered a half-grapefruit with apple juice and coffee, and then Mike added, “A Lumberjack Special with a large black coffee for me, please.” The waitress wrote it all down on a small pad and walked away, clearly relieved to be hearing words that made sense again.
“Anyway,” Mike continued, “my point—which I don’t believe I made before we got sidetracked with talk about Wally Court and Melissa Manheim—was that I don’t give a rat’s ass about the Town Council. I think you know me well enough by now to understand that. And as far as being a ‘low-time officer with little practical law enforcement experience,’ how the hell do you think you get experience? You work the job! I was a ‘low-time officer with little practical experience’ at one point, too, but I worked the job, day after day, and you know what happened? Eventually I gained the experience and wasn’t viewed as a rookie anymore.”
He shot her an earnest look and she shook her head glumly. She appeared ready to say something then stopped and stared at the table as the waitress reappeared, her tray piled high. No one said a word as the young woman unloaded their meals and then walked away.
Mike blew on his coffee, sending tendrils of steam dancing away on an invisible air current. “Don’t quit the force on me,” he continued. “You’re going to be a damned fine police officer some day; you’re already much better than you give yourself credit for. Plus, I need somebody to watch my back around here. It may not seem like it with all that’s happened since I took this job, but I’m still the new guy in town, and I have no real idea who’s going to back me up in this department—besides you, that is—and who will throw my ass to the wolves the first chance they get. Don’t quit,” he said again.
“I’m not talking about quitting the force,” she replied quietly. “I’m passionate about law enforcement, I have been since my very first day at the FBI Academy, and I know some day I can be a good officer. I want to be a good officer. I want to be an officer like you,” she said simply. She looked everywhere but at Mike and he began to feel uneasy.
“Then what are we talking about? I thought you were worried about the Town Council. If you’re not thinking about quitting the force, then . . .” Mike grew silent as the impact of what she wasn’t saying began to dawn on him. “You don’t mean . . .”
Sharon nodded miserably. “Yes,” she whispered. “I think we should stop seeing each other. It’s the only solution that makes sense.” She raised her gaze from the plate on the table to look up at Mike. Her eyes were red-rimmed and moist.
“Shari, we can work this out, there’s got to be another way.”
“This town needs you, and it’s going to need you even more when Manheim’s damned book comes out and when filming begins on the movie being made out of the book. Once those things happen, every kook in the northeastern United States is going to trek to Paskagankee, Maine to see the place where the cursed spirit butchered a half-dozen people. We need someone in charge who understands what really went down and who has a good, strong head on his shoulders. That person is you.”
“Shari, let’s slow down a little, okay? Why don’t we wait until the Town Council makes a move and then try to figure out the best way to respond?” He saw the pretty young officer shaking her head, her short black hair framing her face in the way he loved, and stopped.
“No,” she insisted. “We can’t wait. If we wait for the Town Council to make the first move it will be too late. Once they fire you they’ll never reconsider. We have to head off that possibility now. Besides, the uncertainty is too painful. I can’t live this way, knowing that at any moment you could lose your job because of me.”
Mike sat unmoving, his hand hanging in the air halfway to his coffee cup. Things had seemed almost normal this morning as they dressed for work. Sure, Sharon had been quiet, but he assumed she was simply suffering one of the lingering headaches that had plagued her off and on since her emergency brain surgery last fall.
“Besides,” Sharon added, trying to smile but failing, wiping away a tear with the back of her hand. “I’ll still get to see you at work, right? We’ll still see each other pretty much every day. We’ll still have that.” A sob wrenched her tiny frame and she stood, jostling the table in her haste and sloshing her juice into her grapefruit. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I have to go.” She grabbed her hat and rushed out of the diner.
Mike watched her leave, stunned by the suddenness of this development, and then pushed his plate away, no longer hungry. Outside he could hear the door to Sharon’s cruiser slam shut and then the rumbling of the engine as she backed out of her space and exited the parking lot. The engine noise faded away and then Mike was alone.
Tomorrow will feature Chapter Six. REVENANT is a 75,000 word novel which works as Book Two in the Paskagankee series and also as a stand-alone supernatural suspense novel. It's priced at $3.99. Thanks for reading!