The second book in the Rushed series is almost here! Join Eric Fortrell as he discovers that the Bizarre adventure through the mysterious and terrifying fissure the previous year was only the beginning.
Rushed: The Unseen should be available in December. For a preview of the fun to come, just keep reading. What follows is the entire first chapter.
Two dozen pink Gerbera daisies.Hailey’s favorite.
The girl at the flower shop smiled too much.Eric found it distracting.
It wasn’t an unkind smile.It
wasn’t even that there was nothing to smile about.It wasn’t a solemn occasion.The flowers weren’t for a funeral.Precisely the opposite, as a matter of
fact.They were for a baby shower.A celebration of happy expectations.The joyfully imminent arrival of a beautiful,
baby girl.There was no reason not to smile, really…but it felt a
little bit like she was laughing at him.
As she swiped his card, he eyed the bouquet.It was bigger than he’d expected.And so brightly colored…He might as well walk out of the store with
an armload of lit sparklers.
It was a silly thing, really.Stupid, even.Just some childish
streak of macho pride nagging at him, asking him if he really intended to be
seen in broad daylight cradling this big, pink bouquet of daisies.
It didn’t help that the girl was so young.She looked about the same age as his high
school students, barely old enough to drive a car.And it never failed to impress him how cruel
kids could be at that age, how easy it was for them to ridicule others.And they could be especially mean-spirited
toward adults.At that age, looking out
at the world, you knew everything.Looking back from that world, from
the other side of Eric’s thirty-two years, it was obvious that you really didn’t
know anything.Those differing
perceptions, from two completely opposing perspectives, sometimes made it
difficult to communicate.It created a
gap between them, a fissure of sorts.
Eric knew a thing or two about fissures.
His phone came to life in his pocket, buzzing urgently against his
thigh.That would be Karen.Again.Begrudgingly, he fished the annoying device from the depths of his front
jeans pocket and answered it:“Hello?”
“Did you get the flowers?”
“Paying for them now.”
“How do they look?”
The girl’s smile broadened.It
looked warmer now, friendlier, less mocking.Perhaps it really had all been in his imagination.
“Hailey’ll love them.Don’t you
“Definitely.Nothing celebrates a
new life like decapitating some pretty plants.”
The girl giggled a little at this as she handed him back his debit card.
“Out with the old, in with the new,” declared Karen.
“One way of putting it, I guess.”Eric punched in his PIN number and asked, “How are the cupcakes coming?”
“First batch is done.”
“Awesome.You girls having
“Yes, we are.”
Eric returned his card to his wallet and lifted the bouquet off the
counter.How was he supposed to even
hold this stupid thing?They looked so
delicate, yet they were heavy enough to demand a firm grip.And while he was talking on the phone, he
couldn’t even handle them with both hands.He’d never really developed that knack for holding the phone in the
crook of his neck like other people.He
always dropped the damned thing.
Maybe he had an abnormal neck.
He hated cell phones.He hated the
way people were always talking on them, as if everything they had to say was
far too important to wait until they returned home.Talking and talking and talking, in their
cars, at restaurants, while checking out in stores…like he was doing now…But Karen insisted he carry one.She was a firm believer that everyone should
have one on them at all times.In case
of emergency.Or, you know, in case she
just wanted to talk to her husband right
Personally, he’d rather just ignore the stupid thing.But if there was one thing he’d learned as
Karen’s loving and devoted husband, it was that she hated for her calls to be ignored.
“Diane keeps asking me to have you bring home tequila, though.”
“That doesn’t seem like a good idea.Won’t the cupcakes get more lopsided as you go?”
“That’s what I keep telling her.”
From the background, Eric heard Diane say, “Everything’s more fun with
Eric smiled at this.“She does
have a point.”
“Don’t encourage her.”
Karen met Diane Shucker at college, where they were roommates.They’d been best friends ever since.Today, Diane was helping prepare for the
shower.Although Eric had noticed on
previous occasions like this one that “helping” usually meant little more than
keeping her company.Karen always did
the vast majority of the work.Diane
would hand her things and help keep the kitchen tidy, but she would mostly just
sit with her, the two of them gossiping and giggling like schoolgirls.
Karen earned a fair amount of spending money as a freelance cake
decorator and caterer.Her cakes, pies
and cookies had won awards at every county fair for the past six years.As a result, she spent most Fridays and
Saturdays in the kitchen, preparing for one gathering or another.
Eric thought she should just open a business and hire some real help, but
she didn’t care at all for the idea of turning her hobby into a career.She was convinced it would take all the fun
out of it, and he supposed she might be right about that.
Satisfied that the bouquet wasn’t going to topple out of his grip, Eric
nodded goodbye to the overly-smiley, too-young florist and quickly made for the
“I just got off the phone with Hailey, actually,” Karen informed
“Oh yeah?How is she today?”
“Good.Her family got here last
night.”Hailey was his and Karen’s
sister-in-law.Her husband, Andrew, was
Karen’s baby brother.This would be
their first child, and the first grandchild for Hailey’s parents.It was a big event for the entire
family.They drove all the way down from
Northern Minnesota for this shower.
“It is.But they all showed up.”
“Uh oh.”Eric stepped out into the
warm sunshine and squinted at the surrounding street.He didn’t see anyone staring at him with one
of those stupid smiles, but there was plenty of ground to cover between him and
his silver PT Cruiser.
“Uh huh.”They’d only been expecting
Hailey’s parents and maybe an aunt or two.“So I’m going to need you to bring home some more sparkling juice.”
“Sounds like a wild time.Red or
“Both.About four more bottles, I
“No.Four total.Two of each should do it.”
“That going to be enough?”
“I think so.Sounds like her dad
and uncles brought down enough beer to show the whole town a good time.”
“Now you’re talking.”
“Right.”He knew she was rolling
her eyes.It was a baby shower, not a
wedding reception.She hadn’t planned on
having any alcohol.She stood firmly by
her assertion that it simply wouldn’t be fair to the expectant mother.And he certainly couldn’t argue with
that.He wouldn’t want to be thrown a
party where he was the only one not allowed to drink.
Eric made it to the PT Cruiser without attracting a crowd and stopped as
he realized that he now had no idea how he was going to dig the keys out of his
pocket to unlock it.
So close to sanctuary…
Karen took a moment to think it over.Eric wondered if she was doing it on purpose.“I don’t think so,” she decided at last.
“Okay.I’ll see you in a little
Eric said goodbye and hung up.He
shoved the phone back into his left, front pocket and then awkwardly shifted
the bouquet to his left hand so he could retrieve the keys from his right, front pocket.A light breeze blew past him, threatening to
unbalance the daisies, and he had to rest them gently against the side of the
vehicle to keep from dropping them.
Once the keys were in his hand, he unlocked the PT Cruiser and glanced
around one last time.Still, nobody
seemed to be staring at him.Nobody he
could see, at least.That silly part of
his brain was convinced that there were dozens of laughing eyes hidden behind
all those store windows.But the only
person he saw was a man in a navy blue hoodie hurrying across the street with a
paper grocery sack in his arms.
Something about this man seemed curious.Perhaps it was the hoodie.It
wasn’t sweltering out, but it was
early June and plenty warm enough for shorts and tee shirts.
Eric watched this man as he hurried into a narrow alley between two
buildings.There, just beyond the
sidewalk, he turned to look back the way he came, pulling down his hood as he
did, allowing an unobstructed view of his face.
Immediately, the big, pink bouquet was forgotten.Here, right before his eyes, was a face he
hadn’t seen in over six years.In fact,
as far as he knew, no one had seen
this face in over six years.
The young man turned and scanned the street and sidewalk until his eyes
met Eric’s.Instantly, surprise washed
over him.Then panic.He turned and bolted deeper into the alley
and out of sight.
Eric hurried after him, but by the time he entered the alley, Aiden (if
it really was Aiden) was gone.
A high, chain link fence blocked the back of the alley.It was old and flimsy and didn’t look like it
would stop anyone sufficiently determined to pass through it, but it should
have been enough to slow someone down.And Aiden hadn’t been out of sight for more than a few seconds.
On the left side of the alley, between him and the fence, a door stood
ajar.It was much more likely that he’d
gone in there.
Cradling the flowers in his arms, Eric walked to this door and opened it
wide.It didn’t close.There was no latch and no lock.It swung freely on its creaky hinges,
practically useless.Inside was darkness
and silence.A shadowy set of stairs led
up to a second floor landing.
He hesitated.He didn’t like
this.He felt like a child standing at
the front gate of a haunted house.And
he had every reason to be apprehensive.He’d done this sort of thing before.And unlike when he was a child, he knew first-hand that monsters were
He glanced around once more, but this seemed to be the only place the
mysterious young man could have gone.
He didn’t have to do this.He
could walk away.He could just go
home.But…What if it really was Aiden?
Was it possible?After all this
If it was him, he couldn’t just
leave.It would haunt him for the rest
of his life.Aiden Chadwick was one of this
city’s greatest unsolved mysteries.
He looked back up into the shadows at the top of the steps and took a
deep breath.“Don’t worry,” he said to
himself.“You brought flowers.What could go wrong?”
But that was a poor choice of words.He’d always possessed a very vivid imagination and it was quick to bring
to mind several ghoulish examples of how things could go very, very wrong.
Mentally bracing himself, he stepped through the doorway and began to
climb the stairs.It was dusty in
here.The paint was peeling from the
walls.The handrail was coming
What building was this?The bakery
was next to the florist.Then that
little pet grooming shop, Sheltie’s.Was
that where he was?Or was this the next
one over?He couldn’t quite recall how
Main Street was laid out.He didn’t
frequent the shops here that often.Many
of them he’d never set foot in.He
didn’t have reason to.He didn’t own a
pet, for instance.
From this perspective, the building appeared to be deserted, except for
the footprints in the dust.Those were fresh.Someone had been using these steps very
recently.And frequently.A great many footprints had merged into a
path up the middle.
At the top was another door, this one unbroken and properly latched.He paused here and listened. Everything was quiet.He reached for the knob, but stopped
himself.He had no idea what was on the
other side of this door.Most of these
old Main Street shops had apartments over them.What if this was someone’s home?He couldn’t simply start rattling the knob, trying to break in.Best case scenario, someone would call the
police.Worst case scenario, he’d find
himself answering to a big, angry property owner with a big, angry gun aimed at
No, the stealthy approach was simply a bad idea.This was Aiden, not Hannibal Lecter.He closed his open hand, took a calming
breath and rapped his knuckles firmly against the door.
No one answered.He wasn’t
surprised.Aiden hadn’t looked overly
happy to see him, after all.
He knocked again.“Aiden?”
Not a sound.
“Is that you, Aiden?It’s Eric
Fortrell.Do you remember me?”
Eric tried the knob.The door was
unlocked.It creaked open, an eerie
sound in the silence.“Hello?Anybody home?”
A narrow hallway stood before him.Shadowy, dusty, with cobwebs in every corner.A kitchen was to his right, a cramped
bathroom to his left.He could see a
table in the dining room ahead of him.An
apartment, just as he’d predicted.But
it looked as decrepit and poorly kept as the stairs that brought him here.The paint was faded, peeling.There was water damage on the ceiling tiles
over the sink.There was no furniture
except an old gas stove and dated refrigerator.It was hot and stuffy.And it
smelled bad, like overflowing trash cans and dirty public restrooms.
Aiden was nowhere to be seen.
Eric felt his stomach sink a little as he recalled a similar deserted
home, a farm house with the same kind of empty rooms.Like this time, he’d even followed someone
right through the door, someone who vanished before he could catch up.
He could even remember a similar, narrow hallway.A bathroom.A bedroom.An old wardrobe…
Eric shuddered at the memory.
He forced himself to relax.This
was different.That place was far away,
unfamiliar, threatening.This was Creek
Bend, Wisconsin.His hometown.
And this place was far from deserted.Someone had been here.It was a
“Hello?” he called again.“Aiden? Is that you?”
Still cradling the daisies in his arms, Eric stepped into the apartment
and looked around.Garbage was strewn
across the kitchen counter tops and now that he was inside, he could hear the
buzzing of flies.Standing there with
the daisies in his arms, he felt a strong urge to turn and flee back down the
“Please, God,” he muttered under his breath, “don’t let there be any dead
bodies in here…”
On the counter, next to the sink, surrounded by crumpled soda cans, warm
bottles of Aquafina water, snack food wrappers and empty tequila bottles sat
the paper bag Aiden had been carrying when he entered the alley.Eric walked over and peered inside.It was filled with junk food.Snack cakes, mini-donuts, pretzels, some
cereal bars…He was reminded of long
nights cramming for exams in college.The only things missing were the Hot Pockets and microwave burritos.
Clearly, this was where Aiden went after he vanished from the alley.But where was he now?
Eric left the kitchen without searching it.It was obvious that no one was here.And he had no desire to check the fridge for
human heads.He returned to the hallway
The bathroom reeked.It smelled as
if no one had ever flushed the toilet.Covering
his mouth and nose against the stench, he leaned through the door and looked
around.There was no shower curtain and
a sizeable pile of dirty clothes lay in the bottom of the bathtub.A large package of toilet paper stood open
and half-empty on the floor within reach of the toilet.Beside this was an empty five-gallon
bucket.A toothbrush, a tube of
toothpaste, deodorant and a comb lay scattered on the counter around the sink
basin along with several empty bottles of water and one half-empty bottle of
He reached out and twisted the knob on the sink, but no water came
out.Clearly, the bottles of water were
for brushing teeth while the bucket served to manually flush the toilet.But only occasionally, by the smell of
The rum, Eric could only speculate, was the all-in-one medicine cabinet,
good for whatever ailed.
In need of fresher air, Eric withdrew from the smelly bathroom and moved
Next door was a small bedroom.A
pile of old blankets were arranged into a makeshift bed surrounded by
flashlights, empty soda cans, more water bottles and even more empty liquor
bottles.There were junk food wrappers,
fast food bags, napkins and other trash, as well as more dirty laundry.
His eyes washed over these clothes, examining them.Pants and shirts, socks, briefs…No women’s clothing.
Eric eyed the bed nervously.A
tightly rolled blanket lay in the corner, a makeshift pillow.Aiden wasn’t merely spending time here…he
seemed to be living here.And had been
for a while.It must have taken at least
a few weeks to make this much of a mess, perhaps months.
But how could he have been here this long without attracting
attention?The whole county knew about Aiden Chadwick.His disappearance was the stuff of urban
Now he was beginning to look a little
more Hannibal Lecter-y.
Turning his back to the bedroom, Eric glanced back the way he’d come,
half-convinced that someone was sneaking up behind him.But the apartment remained empty and
He had a bad feeling about this place.More and more, he was sure that what he found here was going to ruin his
He walked to the end of the hallway and stepped into the combination
living and dining room.Here, the walls
were decorated with maps and photos of Creek Bend and the surrounding areas.In the middle of the room stood the cheap
folding table that Eric had seen from the doorway.A large map of the city was taped to it.Several locations were circled in black
Sharpie marker, each with a straight line drawn from it to the edge of the map,
seemingly at random.In the center of
one of the circles, a screw had been driven into the table.Two lengths of bright green string ran from
this screw to two more screws driven into the walls on two sides of the room, where
a strange, spiraling arrangement of numbers had been drawn onto the faded wallpaper.Strewn across the table on top of the map
were a wooden ruler, a compass, several markers and an old Polaroid camera.
There were more maps lying in an untidy pile on the floor under the
What the hell was this?
That bad feeling grew even stronger.Carefully, he placed the daisies on top of the map between the camera
and the compass and reached for his cell phone.
“Are you seeing this?” he asked as he pulled it from his pocket.
The phone rang obediently in his hand.He answered it and lifted it to his ear without glancing at the
“It’s weird, right?I mean it’s
not just me?”
“Definitely not just you.”
“Like I should be concerned
about how weird this is.”
“I agree.You should be careful.”
Eric looked around the room again.“You think I’m in danger?” The
only other door leading in and out of this apartment was in this room.With the apartment empty, Aiden must have
gone through there.By now he was
probably long gone.
“Never hurts to assume so.”
Eric nodded and said, “Especially when things are freakishly weird.”
“Especially then.I’m doing great, by the way.Thanks for asking.”
Eric was looking nervously around the room, appreciating just how weird
this all was, but as soon as she said this, he felt his shoulders slump.“Aw crap…I’m sorry.”
Isabelle giggled.“I’m totally
just joking.It’s fine.”
“No it’s not.”Now that he was thinking
about it, it’d been over a week since he last spoke to her.Karen had been keeping him so busy preparing
for the shower…He felt like a
“I’m fine, Eric.I’m not a
a kid…You know what I mean.I can entertain myself.”
“Still, that was rude of me.”
“Seriously.Forget it.You should be focusing on those…what are those?Maps?”
Isabelle couldn’t actually see
what was in front of Eric.More
accurately, she could perceive what he was looking at by what he was feeling
and thinking.They shared a connection.It was…complicated.
Eric turned in a circle, scanning the walls around him.“Yeah.The whole city.He’s circled a
bunch of locations for some reason.”
“He’s put some serious work into all this,” observed Isabelle.“But what’s he up to?”
Eric turned and leaned over the map on the table.This part of Main Street was enclosed in the
circle with the screw driven into it.A
line jutted out from the circle, pointing roughly westward.It crossed three other lines, each of which
originated from another circle elsewhere on the map, but did not appear to lead
anywhere.Each line ran to the end of
the map.And none of the drawn lines
matched the lines created by the two lengths of string.“Is he planning some kind of…massive
But Isabelle didn’t know.
There was another circle drawn over the hospital and another just south
of the water tower, centered over Milwaukee Street.The others didn’t seem to have any
outstanding landmarks to help locate them.
Only one of the circles did not have a black line running out from
it.Instead, it had been circled again
in bright red marker and then crossed out with an X.This particular location wasn’t far from his
home.He wondered why it was marked
out.It was the only one like it.Was it a mistake?
“I get a seriously weird feeling about that place,” warned Isabelle.
“I don’t know.I can’t quite put
my finger on it.But I really think you should be careful.”
Eric glanced around the room again.There were two windows.One appeared
to have been broken.It was boarded over
with a roughly cut piece of plywood.Eric’s eyes were drawn to a hole in the center of the wood.Bright sunlight was pouring through.
As he ducked under one of the strings and moved toward this window, he
saw that there were actually two boards, one behind the other, with about an
inch of empty space between them.The
second board had a hole in it, too, but it was offset from the first so that he
could only look through them at a sharp angle.Peering through these holes, he could see the roof of one of the
buildings across the street and the tall peak of a distinct structure reaching
up behind it.Pressing his eye to the
hole for a better look, he thought at first that it was the steeple of the
Catholic church on Deer Street, but it was squared off, not pointed, less a
steeple than a tower.And as he thought about
it, he realized that Deer Street was in the opposite direction.This looked more like a clock tower, minus
the clock.But he couldn’t quite place the
building, even though he’d lived in Creek Bend most of his life.
A noise startled him.It sounded
like a door clicking closed.
Suddenly his heart was racing.
“Be careful!” hissed Isabelle.
Eric nodded but didn’t dare speak aloud.Was that Aiden?He pressed his
back to the wall and glanced around the room.The big, pink bouquet was still lying on the table, visible from the
door all the way down the hall.If
anyone had entered the apartment, they would know instantly that someone was
That was really stupid.
But no one called out to ask who was trespassing.The building remained deathly quiet.The only sound was the occasional rumble of
passing traffic on the street outside and the thudding of Eric’s pulse in his
Silently, he stepped away from the wall and ducked under the string
again, careful not to make any noise.Seconds
passed as he crept toward the hallway, his body tense, ready to defend himself,
but no one came to investigate the bouquet.The apartment remained quiet.And
when he peered around the corner, he found no one there.
He’d left the door open behind him.Now it was closed.Perhaps a
breeze had pulled it shut.It wasn’t all
that unlikely.The door at the bottom of
the steps didn’t have a latch, so the wind could easily have created a
He checked the bedroom and bathroom, just to be sure, but both remained
empty.There was nowhere to hide.There weren’t even any closets.
He peered out the door and down the steps, but no one was there,
Returning to the living/dining room, he opened the second door and looked
out.Another dark stairwell led down to
the first floor of the building.
Eric turned around and scanned the mysterious apartment again.If these were the only two exits, then Aiden could
only have gone this way.
Isabelle’s voice drifted up from his hand and he lifted the phone to his
ear.“What was that?”
“I said, what’s the deal with this guy, anyway?You knew him?”
“Not very well.Aiden was one of
my students about seven years ago.The
next year, he disappeared without a trace.It was big news in this town for a long time.”
“A missing person, huh?”
“I can relate to that.”
Eric smiled.“That’s right.”He found Isabelle almost a year ago.She looked and sounded thirteen, but she’d
been missing for thirty-six years, trapped inside a living mansion that existed
between two worlds.She saved his life,
and in return he gave her the courage to escape her strange prison.But she still wasn’t exactly free.Although she’d left the terrifying Altrusk
House behind, she could only travel between buildings with similar
properties.She still couldn’t venture
“Maybe you can save Aiden, too, just like you did me.”
“Maybe.”But Aiden didn’t seem to
want to be found.He was gone as quickly
and mysteriously as he’d appeared.“But
for now, I’m going to hang up until I’m out of here.”
“I’ll be watching.”
Stuffing the phone back into his front pants pocket, he retrieved the
daisies from the table and then left the apartment down the spiral
staircase.At the bottom was a heavy,
steel door.Like the others, it was
He stepped through the door and immediately found himself standing in a
shadowy room that smelled of leather, stale beer and faint cigarette
smoke.A round, oak table stood before
him with a single, unlit candle resting in the middle.Four high-back chairs of matching oak stood
around it.Similar tables were set all
over the room.The walls were painted
black, the floors were hardwood.The
décor appeared to be a passionate marriage of Harley Davidson and United States
naval history.Leather jackets, gloves and
biker helmets mingled with American flags, framed photographs of aircraft
carriers and battleships, paintings of sailors, framed medals and other various
This was a bar.
He was still on Main Street, just a few doors down from the florist.He thought for a moment and finally realized
where he was.This was Big Brooke
Fantastic.He was now trespassing
in a biker bar before business hours.
This was definitely not somewhere
he wanted to be.
Quickly, he turned to retreat back up the steps, intending to instead leave
the way he came.But the heavy, metal
door to the spiral staircase was no longer there.He was staring at an empty wall adorned with
a painting of a bald eagle.
Baffled, he croaked a stifled, “What—?” and twirled around, scanning the
Where the hell had the door gone?He just came out of it.It was
He pressed his hand against the wall and felt it.It made no sense.Doors didn’t just disappear.Yet this one had done just that.It was utterly gone.
He turned and looked out into the bar again.He had to get out of here.
Stepping around the table, he saw that there was a door to his right, but
it was clearly marked “FIRE EXIT” and warned him that an alarm would sound if
he attempted to open it.
That wasn’t desirable.
The only way out seemed to be the front door.
A loud bang came from the rear of the building, followed immediately by a
deep, angry voice that he couldn’t clearly hear but was certain had uttered a
profanity of some sort.
He wasn’t alone here.
Again, he wondered what would happen if he was caught.Would the owners call the police and have him
arrested?Or would they simply beat the
crap out of him and toss him out with the garbage?
Still clinging to the stupid daisies, Eric made for the front door,
weaving around tables as he went.
He glanced back.From here he
could see the polished bar with all its bottles of liquor neatly organized
behind it and its cozy stools sitting empty and waiting for the day’s first
patrons.He could also see the door to
the right of those bottles, leading back into the store room.There was a light on back there, shining
through the window in that door.If
someone glanced through that, he would be right out in the open and impossible
He reached the front doors without drawing anyone’s attention, only to
find them locked tight.The handles
clanked noisily down, but refused to budge.
Panic exploded in his chest.No!This wasn’t fair.What was he
supposed to do now?
“Hey!” boomed a frightful voice from the rear of the building.
Eric spun around.Standing behind
the bar, having just emerged from the store room, was a large man in a leather
vest with big, tattooed arms and an even bigger gut.His hair was cut so short it was little more
than a shadow covering his scalp, but he had more than enough beard to make up
for it.Black as coal, it cascaded down
his chest and came to rest on top of the huge bulge of his belly.“What are you doing in here?We’re closed.”
Frozen and wide-eyed, significantly outweighed and cradling the big, pink
bouquet of daisies in his arms, Eric never had a chance of intimidating this monstrous
man.Not even a little.He might as well burst into tears and wet
himself on top of it all.“I’m sorry,”
he stammered.“I think I’m lost.”
Eying the bouquet, the man said, “You think?”
From somewhere in the back room, he heard another voice, this one the deep,
throaty voice of a woman:“What are you
going on about?”
“I’m not talking to you,” the hairy barkeeper bellowed back.
The man lifted his head, exasperated, and filled his mighty lungs.“Nothing!”
“I’m really sorry,” Eric said again.“I don’t know what happened.”He
reached behind him and tried the door again, but it still wouldn’t open.
Stepping out from behind the bar and strolling toward him, looking even
bigger now that the bar wasn’t obscuring any of his impressive girth, the man
said, “I don’t either.Those doors’re
supposed to be locked.”
“Yeah…”Eric glanced back at the
doors and was struck by fleeting inspiration.“They seem to be.Now.I was…”He had to force himself to relax.He hadn’t done anything wrong.Well, he was trespassing…but he hadn’t done anything seriously wrong.“I wasn’t paying attention.I came into the wrong building.When I realized my mistake, I couldn’t get
“Are you talking to somebody?” bellowed the woman from the back.
The barkeeper stopped and turned his back to Eric.“Just some guy at the door!” he shouted back
“We’re not open yet!”
The barkeeper threw his hands out to his sides as if to say, “No
kidding!” and shouted, “I know!He’s
just lost or something!”He turned back
to Eric, shaking his head and muttering something that sounded like, “Crazy
Eric was fairly sure the woman in back wasn’t a trucker.
“I really didn’t mean to cause any trouble.”
But the barkeeper waved a dismissive hand at him as he walked up and
shoved at the door.They were locked
tight.“That’s strange.Why would it let you in but not out?”
Eric feigned bewilderment and shrugged.“No clue.”
The man looked at him, eying him up and down, and fished a huge set of
keys out of his pants pocket to unlock the door.At that moment, the store room door swung
open and a frightfully immense woman sauntered through.She was even taller than the man, at least
six and a half feet tall, with broad shoulders and broader hips, a huge mane of
badly dyed red hair and a vast amount of cleavage spilling out from a too-tight
corset top.She was wearing a lot more
makeup than was strictly necessary and gave off a far more impressive presence
than the bearded barkeeper.“Why’d you
let him in?” she asked, her voice booming over the silent bar.Eric thought she was probably used to the
atmosphere being much noisier in here.
“I didn’t let him in.He got in on
“Didn’t you remember to lock the door?”
“Of course I remembered to lock the damn door.Don’t I always remember to lock the damn
“Then how’d he get in?”
“Hell if I know!Something funny
going on with the lock, I guess.”
“Well you’d better fix it.We
can’t have people just walking in whenever they want.We have business hours.”
“I know I’ve got to fix it.I
ain’t stupid, woman.”
“Again,” said Eric.“I’m sorry.I’m really embarrassed about this.”
The barkeeper shook his head and thumbed through his many keys.
The woman now eyed Eric with a distressingly keen interest.“Those for me, sweetie?”
“What?”Eric looked down at the
daisies, startled.He felt an instant
blush wash across his face.“Oh…No.I
mean…They’re for my wife.I mean, my wife sent me out for them.They’re for a baby shower.My sister-in-law, actually.”
A curious smile touched the woman’s lips.For some reason, he felt like a slab of meat dangling in front of a
“I was supposed to go to the flower shop and the bakery, but I was
daydreaming and I guess I got turned around.”
“I’ll say you got turned around,” the woman told him.“The bakery’s right next to the florist.Two doors back the way you came.”
“Really?Two doors…I’m…Wow.I’m sorry.”
“You would’ve had to walk past it to get here.”
Eric didn’t know what to say to this.Now he was embarrassed about losing the door back up to the apartment and about being too stupid to find the
The woman laughed.It was a hearty
laugh, loud in the silence of the closed bar.
“Well shit, it ain’t no wonder,” said the barkeeper.“Look at the size of that bouquet.Poor guy probably couldn’t see where he was
“Real men buy pretty flowers for their women.”
“I buy you flowers,” the man returned quickly, managing to sound hurt.
“Not pretty ones like those.”
“I buy you roses.”
“Red roses.I know.Every time.”
“I thought you liked red roses.They symbolize love.Passion.”
“I do like red roses, but I like other flowers, too.Like those kind right there.”
The man looked at Eric, bemused.
“I should really let you two get back to work,” said Eric.“I didn’t mean to intrude.”
But Brooke went on as if he hadn’t spoken.“You just like buying red roses because you think
that’s the only kind you can buy that makes you look romantic instead of like a
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” said the man, but there was a
wounded look in his eyes that told Eric she knew exactly what she was talking
about.“Anyway, here you go.”He unlocked the door and swung it open,
puzzling over it.“Maybe I didn’t lock
it all the way or something.”
“That could be it,” Eric agreed.“Maybe it didn’t quite catch or something.”
He nodded.“You might be
right.I’ll keep an eye on it.Maybe it’s just one of those one-time sort of
things.If it happens again, I’ll have
the locks replaced.”
Eric apologized again.
“Not your fault, buddy.Honest
These people were nice.Eric
almost regretted lying to them.But he
had no intention of telling them the truth, that he’d followed one of Creek
Bend’s most famous missing persons into their filthy upstairs apartment and
then walked into their closed tavern through a secret passage that vanished
while he had his back turned.
“Come back and have a beer sometime during business hours, why don’t
you?” said the woman.
“Oh, I might.It’s a real nice
place you’ve got here.”
“Thanks,” said the man.“We’re
real proud of it.I’m Leon, by the
way.Leon Rufar.That’s my wife, Brooke.”
“Brooke,” said Eric.“Right.This is…”
“Big Brooke Tavern,” said Brooke proudly.“I’m Big Brooke.”
Eric had thought Big Brooke was a place, not a person, but it was just as
apt.Brooke was quite…big…after all…“I’m Eric Fortrell.”
Big Brooke gave him a curious smile and said, “Bring me a pretty flower, Eric,
and maybe I’ll give you something on the house.” This offer came with a mischievous wink that
left Eric baffled and more than a little uneasy.
Leon rolled his eyes.“Jesus,
Eric bowed out the open door with an awkward smile."Thanks," was all he could think to
say.Then he was walking down the
sidewalk, squinting in the bright sunlight again, the daisies rustling in the
His phone chimed at him, alerting him to a new text message.
It was from Isabelle.As always,
her messages went straight to the screen, never giving him the option to view
or ignore it.This one read, I LIKE YOUR
Eric shoved it back into his pocket.“Ha ha.”
Don't miss the first book, Rushed, available for free wherever you like to buy your ebooks!