Authors: Creston Mapes
Published by David C Cook
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Colorado Springs, CO 80918 U.S.A.
David C Cook Distribution Canada
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David C Cook U.K., Kingsway Communications
Eastbourne, East Sussex BN23 6NT, England
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[Web disclaimer if necessary: The website addresses recommended throughout this book are offered as a resource to you. These websites are not intended in any way to be or imply an endorsement on the part of David C Cook, nor do we vouch for their content.]
This story is a work of fiction. All characters and events are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is coincidental.
[Bible credits—may need to place on separate resources page] KJV
[The author has added italics to Scripture quotations for emphasis.]
© 2014 Creston Mapes
The Team: Don Pape, L. B. Norton, Amy Konyndyk, Nick Lee, Caitlyn Carlson, Karen Athen
Cover Design: Nick Lee
Cover Photo: [Name]
First Edition 2014
Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.
—Publilius Syrus —
Courage is being scared to death … but saddling up anyway.
Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand,
the spines of others are often stiffened.
Jack could see his breath even inside the car as he dodged potholes on the Ohio interstate and maneuvered his way into Trenton City at daybreak. He blasted the heat but was getting nothing but cool air. The gun he’d bought three days earlier still felt bulky and foreign strapped to his ankle. He didn’t like keeping the gun a secret from Pam, but with Granger Meade out on parole, it was for her own good—hers and the girls’.
Wiping the moisture from the side window, he glimpsed one of the city’s sprawling industrial plants, its web of mechanical apparatuses and smokestacks silhouetted by the dawn’s red-orange glow. He put the windows down to clear the windshield. It was below freezing outside. “Shoot!” He laughed at how cold he was and how ridiculous he must look with the windows down in the dead of winter. Cars hummed alongside his, covered with clumps of snow and ice and white stains from the rock salt on the roads.
He’d been taking the cars to Randalls’ Garage for repairs on the east side of Trenton City for years. Galen, the elderly father, and his two fortysomething sons, LJ and Travis, knew cars like a cardiologist knows chest cavities.
He glanced at the digital clock in the dash: 7:17.
The fact that Granger had returned to Trenton City made Jack sick to his stomach—especially when it was time to leave Pam and the girls each morning. The man had come to Trenton City to track Pam down a year and a half ago because she was the only person who had ever cared two cents about his life. She had paid for that compassion—they all had.
Jack rested a hand on his chest. His sternum had been severely cracked that night when he slammed into the guardrail. The bone had eventually healed, but his heart had not. Jack didn’t care. It was his right to despise Granger. He had zero sympathy for the man, even though Pam—the real victim—had mustered the mercy to forgive.
He recalled driving hopelessly in the dark, through sheets of torrential rain, in search of any sign of his wife—then spinning out of control.
Jack realized he was clamping the steering wheel like a vise.
He tried to relax his hands, neck, whole body.
He shook away the disturbing vignettes of that night.
At the last second he spotted the Tenth Street exit sign, shot a glance back, and veered off the interstate. When Granger got into his head, the memories possessed him. Just like that—almost missing the exit.
He looped around the exit ramp, past the new soup kitchen, which was lined with dark figures—standing, sitting, sleeping—trying to stay warm on sewage grates billowing clouds of steam. He hit green lights for several city blocks. Once past the library, thrift shop, and triple set of railroad tracks leading to the east side, he slowed along the narrow streets.
The houses were shoeboxes whose colors had faded long ago. Many were trailers, yet almost every one supported a monstrous, leaning antenna or satellite dish. Smoke chugged from tiny chimneys, and he imagined the warmth inside. Beater cars and trucks were parked at all angles in the short driveways and right up against the shanties and shotgun shacks.
Jack’s phone chirped. He knew without looking that it was a reminder to attend an editorial board meeting at nine thirty. He had tons of work on his plate. He took a left on Pell Lane and a quick right at the Randalls’ place, easing the Jetta up to the large doors of the auto shop. It was a leaning, rusted silver metal building the size of a barn, sealed up tight with no windows or sign.
A hint of snow fell as Jack turned the car off. The Randalls’ one-story house was situated about fifty feet from the shop. It was faded green with a big metal awning over the back. Next to it was a rusting white propane tank that looked like a giant Tylenol capsule. Out back were a red tool shed, an ancient doghouse, and a broken-down sky-blue Ford Pinto.
The Randalls’ orange dog with the corkscrew tail was lying on the back stoop, which led to the rear entrance of the house. A cozy yellow light shone from inside. The instant the mutt saw him, it bolted upright and howled.
“Hello, Rusty.” Jack continued toward the back door. “It’s okay. I’m here to see the boys. Are they up?” Rusty quieted and sniffed at his coat.
Jack went up the steps slowly, still not used to the feel of a gun on his ankle. Through the screen door he could see Travis sitting hunched over an enormous plate of food at the small kitchen table. Jack knocked at the leaning screen door, and without any change in facial expression, Travis lifted a hand and motioned him inside.
Jack nudged the tightly sealed back door, scaring a gray cat away as he slipped in. “Morning, Travis.”
The kitchen was small and toasty warm, permeated with the smell of cigarettes and dotted with NASCAR posters, hats, and paraphernalia.
“Jack.” Travis nodded casually, as if Jack lived there and had just meandered in for breakfast. He sat with his right leg crossed and his right foot gently bouncing. He was distinctly bony, like a caveman, from his large hands and sinewy arms to his long, sculpted face. His fork tapped and cut and diced its way into a pile of yoke-smothered eggs, bacon, grits, grilled potatoes, biscuits, and white gravy.
“Could it be any colder?” Jack took his gloves off.
Travis continued to work on his breakfast, his elbows resting on the Formica table. “I guess it could, but I wouldn’t want it to be.” He chuckled at his own joke. “What’s the word at the
? Any new scandals? You can wipe your feet right there on that rug.”
“Nothing earth-shattering.” Jack wiped his feet.
“You still doin’ the city-hall beat?” Travis spoke slowly, in a deep voice. He wore faded jeans with a small rip above one knee, a soft brown T-shirt, and thick gray socks.
“Yeah,” Jack said. “And I’m the features editor now, so I’ve been doing some personality profile stuff. We ran a story about a neighbor of yours recently—Jenness Brinkman.”
“They live right ’round back, I think. Jenness is the handicapped girl, right?”
“Yep. Top of her class at East High. Got a full ride to Yale to study criminal law. Wants to work with the FBI in Washington.”
“I’ll be,” Travis said. “I missed that one.”
“The features usually run on Sundays.”
“Well, that answers that. Bo’s always runnin’ off with the Sunday paper. Uses it to clean car windows. You hear he’s detailin’ cars now?”
Bo was Travis’s seventeen-year-old nephew, who was always into something new.
“No, I hadn’t.” Jack heard a sound from the other room.
“Yup. Ask him ’bout it. He’s startin’ off really cheap.”
“I might do that.”
“You want somethin’ to eat? Biscuit? I got some a’ Daddy’s homemade sawmill gravy over there. A little go-joe?”
It all sounded good, but he’d had fruit and eggs with Pam. “No, thanks. I appreciate it, though.”
The smell of a freshly lit cigarette wafted in from the next room, but Travis didn’t seem to notice.
“What brings you out this mornin’?” Travis scratched his dark, sparse beard, which was peppered with gray.
“I’ve got my ’98 Jetta out there. The fan is barely working, and there’s no heat. Plus the muffler’s sagging.”
Just then LJ rounded the corner from the dark room, a lit cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, the usual black eye patch covering his left eye. He wore dark blue jeans, a white T-shirt, an unbuttoned blue and red flannel shirt, and white socks. “You want the good ol’ boy fix on the muffler, Jack, or you want me to get the parts from Volkswagen?”
“Hey, LJ,” Jack said. “The good ol’ boy fix, if you can.”
“What you doin’, boy?” Travis suddenly came to life. “Sneakin’ round here in the dark.” He looked at Jack. “He’s been doin’ that since we was boys. Ears like radar. Stickin’ that crooked nose into other people’s beeswax. Ain’t no such thing as a private conversation ’round here.”
LJ smirked as he stirred some grilled potatoes in a frying pan above a blue flame. With the cigarette pinched at the end of two fingers, he took a heaping mouthful. “Momma used to call me Ghosty. Remember, Trav?”
The most prominent feature on LJ, besides the eye patch, was his Adam’s apple, which protruded an inch from his long, skinny neck. He was about six foot four and balding. The blond hair he did have on top was long and thin; on the sides it was full and flowing.