Saturday, August 22, 2015

SUSPENSE














I'll be giving away hard copies of this book on goodreads. I hope you like it. I have the entire chapter 1 on notepad, and, I believe, I have earlier versions of chaps 1 & 2 here on the blog. Most of the book is set in a Mayan fishing village on the Caribbean.

CHAPTER 1


I was doing my nightly cop thing in one of those tall skinny houses in Amsterdam. If I wanted to sleep I had to check every access point before I went to bed. I started at the same door every time, pushed my shoulder against the warped old thing until I felt the bolt click into place, then walked to the next entry point, the bathroom window. Only another cop would understand.
As I was drifting into sleep someone sat beside me. Someone was in the room. The mattress compressed and triggered an alarm in my head. Adrenalin hit my heart like a defibrillator jolt. I snapped awake but did not move.
Gun and badge were on the bedside table. If the intruder had my weapon I was already dead. I waited for a pillow pushed against my head to silence the shot.   
As my mind raced someone took hold of my arm.
I shouted and jumped out of bed, grabbed my automatic and flipped the light switch, but I was alone.   
It was the third time in a week something sat on my bed and grabbed me. I moaned and laughed and wiped sweat from my face. Strange sounds escaped my mouth as I slid down the wall beside the light switch. Cops don’t go crazy. I had to hold it together. There were attorneys to deal with and divorce papers to sign.
For years marriage held together my life in Amsterdam. Friends, career, apartment and language were stuffed inside it like groceries in a paper bag. Divorce hit that bag like a stream of water. What had once seemed strong fell apart in my hands and left me juggling the contents so nothing would shatter at my feet.
I remember the day everything changed. Michelle was across the kitchen, chopping asparagus for a midnight stir-fry, her blonde hair falling over a shoulder.  
She had been out and looked so sexy and sweet standing there in black pumps and flowers on a blouse that hung low around her neck, shaking with the rhythm of the chopping. As I admired her and stepped close, kissed her shoulder, pressed my hand on hers, I smelled perfume and cigarette smoke from the club.
The instant I touched her she started crying and dropped the knife.
“Cody, there’s something I’ve wanted to tell you for weeks. I met a new friend, and her husband, and it just happened with the three of us. I’ve tried not to see them, but I can’t stop.”
It wasn’t so much the words that hurt as the look in her eyes, those green eyes once so full of admiration and hope and our love, now showed fear and a wanting to be somewhere else. Her simple admission cracked the foundation of our home, broke the concept of us. It was as though I had been slapped but it hurt more, a pain in my gut that sucked strength out of me because I knew what it meant. Michelle was the reason I came to Amsterdam, learned Dutch and joined the force. She was my Holland. Without her as my anchor in the Netherlands I could feel the tide of culture and language pushing me toward the beach of my home, my country, the USA.  
Memories and plans danced through my mind as I sat with my back against the wall, the light switch beside me. Traffic in the street below turned silent. Laughing crowds had long since left the bars when I climbed into bed.
I was sleeping on the horrible pull-out sofa, steel bars poking me when I moved, dreaming of Michelle cozy in our apartment, when I found myself staring at a man. I thought I was dreaming and rose on an elbow. He was in his sixties, dressed as a Wild West gambler with vest, Western bow tie, silver walking stick, a strange blue glow around him. I stared for a few moments before realizing I was awake.
Fear shot through me and I jumped out of bed and ran for the switch once more. With light the phantom vanished, but his chair remained. Something had moved it from its place against the wall. Something real, with physical form, had moved it.
I could have imagined seeing a ghost. Maybe I imagined something touching me night after night, but there was no denying something moved the chair. That freaked me out. The rest of the night I sat in the corner, firearm in my sweaty hand. I was safe with my back against the wall. If anything touched me I would instantly see it.
I was losing sleep. It wasn’t something I could shoot or slap handcuffs on. Once or twice might have shaken me up, but could have been explained as a dream. I had to make it stop.
I was lucky I still had my career and ran from the house each morning. But sketchy sleep was making me irritable and I often snapped at Michael, my partner, during the second half of our patrol. That was when I started worrying about going home, wondering when the thing would touch me again.
 I needed somewhere to go where I felt safe and welcome. I couldn’t go to the people I loved in Michelle’s family. They had chosen sides. To them I was now a foreign intruder. I was isolated and alone, a man with a giant accent that made even the flower girl on the corner look twice and hesitate to answer, never having heard Dutch spoken by an American.
One night, as I changed into my street clothes and shut my locker and walked out the back door of police headquarters, I knew I couldn’t go home. I couldn’t take something touching me again.
Instead of walking my usual streets, along busy boulevards and side streets where I hardly had to look up to know where I was, I headed into Old Town. Out here, surrounded by traffic and business signs and shoppers, nothing weird could touch me. I walked city streets for more than an hour.
Near the park, as the downtown lights faded and trees blocked the streetlights, wisps of fog floated along the cobblestones, past little houses pressed together, windows glowing with light through curtains. From one of the windows jumped a cat. I turned to watch it run and saw a man following me.
 He was short with brown skin and black oily hair combed straight back.
I was so concerned with what touched me when I slept that I wasn’t watching my surroundings. I was being street stupid. He might be some guy rushing home. That would be the best scenario. Or he might want to rob me. That I could deal with. But if he was connected to a case and seeking revenge, there might be several men working together. If an organized group were tracking me I was in trouble. I had to get among people and find out the man’s intentions before I called for help.
I reached for my weapon and realized it was in my police locker. I crossed the street and stepped out of sight behind a van. That gave me a few seconds head start. The instant I stepped out of view I sprinted up the street and around the corner.
I made it to the park and squatted in the bushes, panting, touching the damp leaves on the ground with a glove to keep my balance, waiting to see if I was being paranoid or really in danger. Within seconds the guy ran into the park and rushed to the restrooms, came out and turned a circle, searching, and ran to a side street.
He was tracking me. Had some con with a grudge been released from prison? 
For another hour I marched around the city, stopping in doorways and peeking out café windows to make sure I lost him.
I followed one canal and then another and found myself where I felt best:  At the old three story bookstore that became my second home while studying for police exams.
I laughed when I saw the building, skylights making the roof glow, little gargoyles hiding beneath the eves. Already I was loosening my scarf and taking off my gloves as I approached. For a while I walked around checking out old study spots: the huge leather chair by the elevator, the alcove beneath the stairs.
Loud angry words pulled my attention toward the sounds of a struggle and I thought a woman might be in trouble. Customers sitting on the floor and standing in the aisles looked about. I marched across the store to the fighting couple.
With a wave of my badge they froze. The woman had bright red hair that touched the spiked collar of her leather jacket. She smiled and jerked her arm away from the man holding her. A book flew out of her arms, hit the carpet and slid to a stop against my boot.
I picked it up and gave the man a warning as the redhead hurried away.
I carried that book under my arm and followed the woman from a distance. It felt good to have a big solid hard cover in my arms, like being a student again. I tapped it against my leg and pretended to be interested in automotive picture books as the woman ruffled through magazines. Not that I was interested in muscle cars or her, but I wanted to make sure Mr. Wrong wasn’t going to accost her when she left. And sure enough, a few moments after she hurried through the large double doors, flipping up her collar, the guy tried to go after her.
I thumped him on the shoulder with the book. “Either you keep browsing for half an hour or I call a squad car.”
From my post beside the exit, leaning against the wall and making sure he didn’t slip out before the woman was far away, I looked at the title of the book in my hands: Ancient Energy.
On the back it mentioned beings from other realms and how a person goes about protecting themselves. That struck a nerve.     
Could I read something like that? It was fringe material, I called such publications, for the marginally sane five percent of society. But where was I supposed to find answers about being visited by a man with a blue glow, or invisible things touching me at night? My friends would think I was crazy. It wasn’t like popping online and searching for a plumber or electrician. If the police department heard about it they’d yank my badge and gun and throw me to a shrink.
I looked up and noticed Mr. Wrong was moving toward the other exit, so I walked across the store and positioned myself beside that door.
I needed help and didn’t know where to turn, so I read the first sentence of the book: “Though out history humans have been visited by creatures of other realms.” That was all it took to suspend my disbelief. Every page shouted to be read. I felt like a kid who tries tennis or skateboarding and is hooked. It was what I needed, a friend speaking about the things happening to me. I bought it and completely forgot about detaining the guy.
I carried that book everywhere. Before work, during break and evenings I read. After a couple of weeks I tried a chant that was supposed to keep away creatures from other realms. I was ready to try anything.

 Weeks passed and one book led to the next as though forming an intellectual path designed just for me. When I finished one book on spirituality I knew another was waiting and fingered through editions on the bookstore shelves until another title called me like a friend from across the room. From each I took bits I could use and put them to work in my life. The books became the comfort and guidance I needed.
The only thing that stopped the touching was a recipe in one of the books. Several times a day I surrounded myself with the White Light, closed my eyes and imagined a bubble of light and love surrounding me.
How strange it felt to be on patrol, the one American on the Amsterdam police force, and sit down in a toilet stall in the Red Light District, hookers and tourists and hash’ café’s outside, and imagine a bubble of love protecting me. I was a grown man after all, not some boy at Sunday school. Life on the force had changed me, toughened me. It meant rubbing against people with hatred pounding through their veins like a virus, and I was the serum injected into society to stop them. Yet here I was in a graffiti-covered toilet stall, shiny black shoes touching urine on the tile floor, a 9 mm strapped to my side with cuffs, radio dangling over my shoulder, outfitted for urban warfare, asking for love to surround me?
I felt stupid imagining the bubble and would have dropped it in a heartbeat if it wasn’t keeping away the touching. Soon I was sleeping through the night and feeling stronger. I began visualizing the bubble more often.
I don’t know if it was because I was getting stronger or because my energy or thoughts were changing, but I started getting flashes of intuition. While buying morning bread I got a glimpse of the baker having hot sex with another man. That made me recoil. It was too much information. When I spoke to the girl at my neighborhood news stand, who was all laughter and smiles, I saw her signing legal documents and knew she had come into money.
Then the glimpses got serious. I shook hands with a bar owner during patrol and saw his basement filled with marijuana plants. After examining records of his electricity usage we got permission to search his property, and it turned into a nice arrest. Despite liberal marijuana laws,
cultivation of more than five plants was a felony.
It was a huge encouragement and I found myself speaking daily to the White Light. I didn’t want to label it God or Shiva or Buddha, because with those names came a steamer truck of beliefs and dogma. I didn’t want to be sucked into any one way of thinking. I had a private thing going with the Light and wanted to keep it that way.
Then came the day that ripped my life in two and shook the Amsterdam Police Department.


Friday, August 21, 2015

Difference Between a Pro and Amatuer Writer:

This so tickled me that I wanted to post it for others. I believe it was somewhere in Writer's Digest I read it.

Not an exact quote: An amatuer is a writer with 100 pages of the greatest novel ever written in a desk drawer collecting dust. A professional writer has a finished first draft of a shitty novel and is working daily to improve it.

*For some reason I can't respond to reader comments, so I'll do so this way.

I edited over 100 pages today. In this book I really wanted to mention some spiritual beliefs and did so in early drafts. But, as I got into more polished drafts my preaching began to grate on me and not ring true. So I took a valuable lesson from an old best-seller, The Celestine Prophecy. 

By going back and re-reading it I realized that NEVER did the author mention beliefs nor did he preach. That bothered me. Why, I asked myself. I realized the answer is this: The primary obligation of the fiction writer is to entertain. If an author fails to entertain readers he has none. Certainly a cleaver writer can shine a light on issues as great authors have, and make their opinion known by the scenes they portray, but the moment you preach you loose the flow of the plot and hence your readers. 

So that epiph about being an entertainer (not large enough for me to consider it a full epiphany) made me feel better about deleting the preaching. It would have to be done by plot and scene selection. What a fascinating craft this is. 

kevin r. hill 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

WRITERS: THROW IT IN THE FAN!

Everyone knows I'm working on the final draft (is there such a thing?) of my novel. While rewriting one of the last chapters I saw that I had committed an error. I tend to think logically from point A to Z, and that is how I write. I began the chapter here, had my characters do their dance, so to speak, moved the plot along, and that was the end of the chapter. It bored me to death.

You see, readers want to feel that on edge feeling, as if the unexpected has happened and everything is about to explode. I did not have it in this chapter. Yes, I managed to create some suspense and action, but ... I could make it better by throwing the crud in the fan. How, you ask, did I do it?

I asked myself what would happen if one character showed up late to the kidnapping described in this chapter. The protagonist has set a trap for a rapist on a secluded road through the swamp. Guns are drawn. The bait, a teenage boy, is on the road. The suspect's SUV is due ... when a missing friend drives up on his motorcycle and stops to talk. If the rapist sees this man he will flee.

But I had to write it nice and orderly before I could see that some disorder would create some great suspense and drama. So I rewrote it five quick times to see if I could capture that spark, that panic that readers love.  Here is a bit:

*It should be noted that I offered ample foreshadowing to tell the reader that Mexican soldiers often hitch hike along the road in this scene.


     We met Rudolfo and his son across from the police station on the square. As the sun began to set we discussed the plan and walked out of town on the swamp road. Half way to the main highway we stopped. Brisker, Rudolfo and I hid beside a tall bush on one side of the pavement, while John, the handsome teenager, waited on the other. Every time we saw headlights approaching the boy pulled off his shirt and walked toward them, looking like a Mayan kid walking home.
     An hour passed and we were getting eaten by mosquitoes.
     “So Rudolfo,” I asked. “Do crocodiles attack people out here?”
     “Only at night.” He laughed.
     Two vehicles passed. Out of the darkness a bicycle came squeaking and rattling up the road and a fat Mayan called a greeting.
     “Crap!” shouted Brisker, pulled his weapon and ran into the street.
     I hurried after him and grabbed his arm. “Wow, are you going to shoot the guy?”
     “Hell yes. He’s seen us. I don’t want the Mexican police knocking down my door if he blabs.”
     Rudolfo cursed and hurried out of hiding and stopped the bike with his hands on the handle bars, leaned forward and jabbed a finger in the man’s chest and spoke Mayan.
     The fat man nodded several times and stared at the asphalt like a guilty child being scolded, then peddled away.
     “Oh, let me shoot him.” Brisker aimed the automatic.
     “I told him that tonight he has no vision or memory. Until he dies he will never speak of this night. He is Maya.”
     About twenty minutes later Brisker said: “That sounds like Nick’s Harley.”
     One headlight vibrated about as a motorcycle drove toward us. And from the other direction I saw a set of headlights coming fast.
     “Crap, we got one chance to take the priest,” I said. “Nick is going to screw this up. Everyone hide.”
     Brisker looked up the road.“Yeah, that's Nick’s bike. I could tell that Harley anywhere.”
     “Let him drive by or we'll miss the priest. Hide!” I shouted.
     We must have been too slow because Nick pulled up. As the brake light flashed I saw his long hair dancing in the wind behind him. A moment later his two slobbering terriers ran up and hurried about smelling and licking everyone.
     “Cody, that vehicle is coming,” shouted Rudolfo.
     Nick flipped out the kick stand with a boot. “Dante, Sheila, come here.” He grabbed the dogs and ordered them to sit, then suddenly snapped upright and his face changed as though he'd seen a UFO in the swamp. “Cody, what the hell is that?”
     In the distance, across the black water, several people walked single file through the swamp, their lanterns and flashlights reflecting off the water around them.
     I looked at the vehicle speeding toward us, turned to the lights in the swamp. “This isn't good. Pack it up! Let’s get the hell out of here.”
     If the lights spooked me I should have known what they’d do to Brisker.
     “It’s a set-up. They’re trying to flank us,” shouted Brisker, pulled his weapon, glanced at the lights in the swamp and marched toward the headlights speeding toward him on the road, shouting and cursing, both hands on his weapon, an extra clip sticking up between his fingers.
     “No, let him pass, Brisker. Get off the road,” I shouted.
     Nick was already pulling from a saddle bag that old army colt he took everywhere. My simple abduction was about to turn into a gunfight.
     “How many rounds you got?” Nick shouted, dropped to a knee and aimed. “Are they coming for us?”  
     “I brought three clips,” said Brisker.
     “Put away the guns.” I ran over and shoved Brisker, but he wouldn’t lower his gun.
     Then the SUV stopped. From inside came a bunch of shouts and rustling about, and suddenly the doors flew open and four Mexican soldiers, who looked fourteen years old, jumped out and fell to the pavement with rifles, shouting as they belly crawled under the vehicle. 
     I should have jumped on Nick’s bike and drove away right then, during that moment of silence, but I waited too long and heard Brisker say, “I see you butt man, boy rapist.”
     Brisker’s first shot exploded the windshield and the second burst the radiator. 
     After the second shot I ran into the swamp, splashing through the water and shoving bushes aside, branches scraping my face and arms. Behind me I heard Nick’s cannon fire, and the percussion smacked my chest. I stumbled to a trail and followed Rudolfo and John, running for life toward the flashlights and lanterns.   
     Up the trail I saw three or four muzzle flashes from the brush. And behind me the shots ripped through the SUV, shattered a window and burst a tire.
     “Cody! Run this way.” It was Felix with a group of Maya.
     As I stumbled up the trail and pushed through bushes the Maya extinguished their lights and the area went black. A moment later the Airedales came up the trail ahead of Brisker and Nick.
     “Just lay down, everyone. That is how we disappear in the swamp.” Felix flapped his hands in the air.
     After a moment Brisker rolled through the dirt to one of the Maya who was sighting along his rifle. “Want me to take a shot?” he asked.
     Felix laughed. “My men could put out the soldiers’ eyes, but we are trying to spare lives, not take them.”
     When Brisker spoke again Felix cut him off. “If you speak again before the soldiers leave my men will shoot you.”