Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Two Excerpts

I'm down to the wire to get my Agatha-eligible stories presented here in December, since one just got published last week--a good problem to have!

So I'll give you a bit of the new one, HENRY, GINA, AND THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE, which appears in its entirety in GRIMM TALES from Untreed Reads. It's an e-book of stories based on fairy tales, a fun project!

At the end of this excerpt, I'll give you the whole story, DRIVING OUT OF DUMAS, since it's very short and is available free at Apollo's Lyre.

Be sure and come back here Friday when the editor of GRIMM TALES, John Kenyon, will be my guest.

Here's the excerpt first (it won't be hard to tell what fairy tale this is based on):

"Get in there and fess up, you little hoodlums." Vanessa shoved Henry and Gina toward the door of the Gingerbread House. "And quit sniveling, Gina. I know you're faking."

Gina leveled a cold laser stare at her stepmother. And quit sniveling. It hadn't taken the bitch long to figure her out, Gina reflected. The fake crying had only worked for about a month or so. Henry had had the same luck with his stomach aches. Except Gina knew those were real. That red-headed she-devil could give anyone a stomach ache.

A bell, shaped like a heart, tinkled innocently as Vanessa flung the door open and pushed the children inside the candy shop.

The blowsy bleached blond owner, Brenda Pritchard, ambled through the beaded curtains from the kitchen and squinted at them.

"Can I help you?"

Her voice was light and thin. Gina thought it was a nice contrast to the heavy, thick goodies in the glass cases, Brenda's heavy, thick body, and her heavy, thick glasses.

Vanessa put on her sweetness-and-light face, but it almost cracked under the thick makeup from the effort. "Yes, you can. The children would like to tell you something."

Both women waited and stared at the kids. Gina considered trying the snivel again. Henry bent over slightly with a pained look on his face.

Gina grimaced and stepped forward. "We shoplifted some crap. The old lady wants us to tell you that."

Brenda's eyes grew large in her smooth, bland face. "Such language from such a young child," she said.

Not all that young, thought Gina. She and Henry were ten, after all. Not babies.

"Yeah, well...." Gina jerked her head toward Vanessa. "She made me say it."

Gina could almost detect the steam rising from the top of Vanessa's red hair.

"I did not tell you to--never mind. The children stole from your store and need to make restitution."

"What did you take?"

Gina thought Brenda gave Henry a look of pity. He was bent over even further, pressing his small fist into his belly.

"Just some chocolate shit, a couple truffles," said Gina.

"And?" prompted Vanessa.

"Some turtles," Henry said through clenched teeth.

"You had half a dozen truffles left when I found you with them," sneered Vanessa. "And at least that many turtles."

"Yeah, well, you enjoyed ‘em, didn't you?" said Gina. She ducked, expecting a slap, but Vanessa apparently didn’t want to abuse them in public. It was the first standard Gina had discovered in the woman. What had her father been thinking, bringing that bitch into their home?


I'd been thinking of breaking up with Aldon, but I didn't know how to do it. Given his temper, I didn't think it would be easy.

That afternoon he picked me up from my job at the convenience store.

"Go for a ride?"

"Sure," I said. "Sittin in the car beats standin on my feet for eight hours." It wasn't too hot out yet, only getting up to the mid-80s during the day. Our Texas panhandle gets a lot hotter.

Aldon shifted through the gears on his ancient pickup, mashing in second like he always did, and we blew past the grain silos and hit the open road. The wind from the open windows felt good,
better than the AC in the store, which was always cranked down to a freeze-your-ass-off temperature. I took off the sweater I always wore to work and threw it behind my seat. Then I reclined the seat and let the air flow over me as I closed my eyes and relaxed.

After awhile I woke up. I watched the cloud-dotted sky skim past the window, then glanced at Aldon. He looked sorta grim.

"What's the matter, Al?"

"Nothing's the matter," he snapped. He was in a mood.

I sat my seat up. "Hey, where are we?" We usually drove out through the fields, dotted with irrigation circles, to Dalhart at the farthest, then turned around and headed back home to Dumas. I knew the local land pretty well, and this rough open rangeland wasn't it.

Aldon didn't answer.

"Where we goin?"

"I gotta do somethin. You sit tight. Don't worry about it."

Well, that wasn't gonna happen. I got a bad feeling that worsened with each mile. I snuck a peek at the gas gauge--we weren't due for a refill.

Then I spotted a gas station in the distance. "I gotta pee," I said. "Real bad."

Aldon looked at me for the first time since we'd started the drive. "Okay. I'll pull in. Make it quick."

I had second thoughts when I saw how run-down the place was. The bathroom wasn't likely to be too clean. But I needed to break up what was happening, somehow. Even if I didn't know what it was. I spent as long as I could inside. When I got back Aldon was scowling.

He took off before I got my door shut.

"Hey, you tryin to kill me?"

He didn't answer.

We eventually crossed the border into New Mexico. I wondered if Aldon was ever planning on returning home. Were we running away? From what? He was never an easy person to talk to. Today I was afraid of him. That grim look, this stupid car trip--I thought maybe I'd get out and stay out the next time we pulled over.

We slowed down, finally, for a little town a few miles across the border. I'd been dozing and missed the name of it. The sun was setting in front of us, shooting a blinding glare through the windshield off the blacktop.

"Can we get something to eat?" I asked.

"Later," he said. "I want you to do somethin for me. Just take a few minutes."

He headed down a curbless side street, turned around and pulled over. He left the engine on and climbed out.

"You get in the driver's seat," he said. "I want you to keep the truck runnin. When I get back, take off. Don't say anything, just take off, back the way we came from."

There was a convenience store around the block from where we were parked. Was Aldon going to rob it? Geez, I lived in fear of that every time I pulled night shift. I didn't want to help him rob a store, but what could I do?

I sat and fretted, trying to figure out how I could get out of this awful mess, but I was still there when Aldon came running back. He jumped in, threw a sack behind the seat and yelled, "Go!"

All I could do was react. I floored it and took off.

"What the hell did you just do?" I yelled while I ground through second gear. I got it to third and fishtailed a little. The truck didn't handle too well for me at high speeds.

Aldon had a big grin on his face. "I just raised us a little capital." He spit out the window. "Slow down to the speed limit. No one knows what vehicle to look for. If we don't get pulled over, we won't get caught."

"You mean *you* won't get caught. *I* didn't rob nobody."

"Sure you did. You're aiding and abetting, don't think you're not."

Damn, he was right. I was driving the getaway vehicle. "I think we better switch places pretty soon. I don't drive your truck all that good."

"You're doin fine. I need a nap." He put the seat back down, folded his arms on his chest, and was snoring inside of three minutes.

I kept driving--he'd wake up if I stopped--but I reached back to pull that sack into my lap. The sun had just set and dusk was falling, bringing a moist smell with it. It was a beautiful night.

My fingers fumbled inside the sack. I felt bills, but at the very bottom I struck something hard. And warm. A gun. That he'd fired. Shit.

Maybe he'd sleep till we got back to Dalhart and I could pull into the police station. I didn't know where the damn station was, though.

We were twenty miles out when he stirred.

"You never got me anything to eat," I said, wracking my brain for a solution.

"You can have steak when we get home."

"OK, but I gotta pee again."

"Hey, me too. Stop here. It's dark out. The truck can shield us."

Breaking up turned out to be that easy. He got out. I drove off.


Hope you enjoyed the stories!

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