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Secrets In The Dark

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2004-08-06

Attention Readers: The following is not a complete story. It is the first chapter of a novel I am writing called Secrets in the Dark. This novel will be filled with mystery, suspense, intrigue, and of course erotic liaisons.
I have been working on this novel in my spare time over the past year. ReI am looking for feedback as to the following:
Ø       Do the characters grab you?
Ø       Do you care what happens to the characters?
Ø       Does this story grab you?
Ø       Now that you have read the first chapter, do you want to read more?
Ø       Do you think this piece needs to be thrown in the trash heap and burned?
Ø       Other suggestions are welcome
I thank those of you who take the time to provide constructive feedback with details. If you just tell me is sucks or you hate it, this doesn’t provide any meaningful feedback to me.
Secrets in the Dark
With eyes closed, she sensed the bump before it came, air in the cabin motionless, devoid of sound. Then her head bounced slightly on the sill of the window overlooking the wing.
“Sorry for the bump folks,” a gravely voice broke the silence overhead.
Maureen lifted her head slightly as she brushed her long dark hair from her eyes, returning her thin hands to her lap, sitting quiet and sullen listening to the muffled roar of jet engines. Having been on the run for more than ten hours, still, she did not feel free. She wanted so badly to get some rest, but was afraid to close her eyes for fear she would wake to find this all a dream.
Staring out the window of British Airways Flight 812, she watched as the safety light on the tip of the wing slowly blinked into view from behind a bank of clouds. As the plane cut through the overcast scene spread out before her on flat fields of green, the first drops of another rainy English morning beat against fuselage, dripping down the window pane beside her seat. Closing her eyes, she thought of the house of horrors she had just escaped.
Three years earlier, she had been lying awake in bed, stomach cramps searing through her thin body, threadbare blanket pulled tightly to her chin.

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   Down the hall she could hear water pouring from the showerhead in the bathroom. Her father had arrived home from work. When the water stopped, her nightly hell would begin.
Crawling from her bed, her thin naked body shuddered as she grabbed her tattered robe wrapping herself. Opening her bedroom door, she stared down the hall, illuminated by a sliver of moonlight streaming in from the alcove which led to the living room.
On bare feet, silently she crept, stirring dust bunnies on the hard wood floor of the hallway. Reaching the end, thin fingers encircled the cold knob of a small thin door. Slowly she pulled it open hoping the squeak of hinges would not betray her. Pulling the heavy door closed behind her, she turned and began to descend the old wooden stairs, inky black darkness swallowing her.
Stepping off the last plank laden with slivers, Maureen felt her toes instinctively curl the sensation of cold dirt and pieces of jagged scattered gravel cutting into her tender feet. Clenching her teeth, she groped in the darkness, searching for her secret place. Huddling between the chimney and the cold foundation of the house, she closed her eyes and shivered, wrapping her arms around chest. She was in no mood to deal with his accusatory tirades, justification for the pain he wrought. Sitting in the suffocating darkness, the basement reminded her more of a tomb than a storage area. Suddenly, a single bulb dangling from bare wires pierced the blackness, illuminating the dank dirty room.

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   As the footsteps descended, she counted each creaky step, silently praying as she rolled herself in a tight ball pulling her robe ever tight. As she watched her father, she escaped detection, but discovered a secret, she knew none of her brothers or mothers were aware of.
e f e f f
James Gould looked at his watch, picked up a mug beside the pot and began to pour. Suddenly, he heard a hard thump against the back door. Startled, he looked up to view the security monitor, his hand shaking as he poured muddy brown coffee down the side of the ceramic cup scalding two fingers.
“Fuck,” he winced, quickly setting the coffee pot back on the small table in front of him, switching the cup to his empty hand, shaking burnt fingers in an attempt to cool the sting.
Gazing back at the monitor, he saw a tree branch, three feet in length leaning against the steal back door. The tree towering above the door bore a new wound, as wind whipped snowflakes circling the massive trunk.
Across the interior of the office, through a large bullet proof window overlooking the border crossing, Jim could see the outline of Noel Bennington. The new rookie was speaking with the occupants in a dark blue car.
Glancing at his watch again, Jim watched the second hand tick slowly.   Tonight, like so many other nights, an old scene played out in his minds eye. He smiled gingerly flexing his burnt fingers. It was payday, not his government issued penance but his ticket to freedom.
With broad shoulders, standing well over six feet tall, his hands resembled plump Easter hams.

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   Jim Gould had established himself as a man with nerves of steel and a heart of gold amongst the people of his community. Well respected, he served on the local school board, taught soccer in the fall and ran Little League baseball in the summer.   There weren’t too many days that went by when the townspeople read a story in the local paper that reminded them of Jim’s one defining heroic deed, the moment that ingratiated Jim to them forever.
Two years earlier, Jim, tired of the traffic back east, transferred with his family to the small border crossing of Eastport in northern Idaho . It was while on duty his second week when he discovered 5 kilos of coke hidden inside of a tool chest in the back of a truck crossing at the border station.   Two young college kids from out of state had been promised enough money to pay for their tuition, plus as much weed as they wanted. Instead, they each received twenty year prison sentences. What the townspeople or none of Jim’s co-workers knew, was the bust had been a setup. A plan hatched by his contacts a shadowy group, whose members John couldn’t even identify.
Lifting the steaming coffee to his lips, his right hand shaking, Jim savored the nutty flavor. Lately he had noticed on his special payday, it was becoming much harder to calm his nerves. Just nine more months he thought to himself as he mentally counted his stash, just nine more months.
Turning, Jim began to walk back to his desk, drops of coffee spilling from the cup, lost in the cornucopia of melted snow and muddy boot prints on the once white linoleum floor. A sharp buzz pierced the silence of the room, cutting a jagged slice through Jim’s thoughts. Susan Branch and Frank King walked through the main door of the station ready to start their shift.

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“Good I can get the hell out of here,” Jim muttered under his breath.  
“Hey Cap,” Frank smiled. “Slow night?”
“Yes,” Jim smiled, feeling nervous flip-flops mix with the coffee fueled heart burn rising in his stomach.
“Well the roads are six inches deep. Looks like George didn’t get out with the plow yet. He’s probably passed out in his cab. ”
“Probably,” Jim chuckled, thinking about the one man in their county assigned to plow the roads. George was pretty reliable, but sometimes his priorities were as blurred as his vision while he plowed the snow covered roads. Jack Daniel’s or ensuring the safety of the citizens of tiny Eastport, sometimes George had a hard time making a choice.
“Jim, you want a beer,” Officer Bennington asked as they walked to their cars at the end of their shift.
“No thanks,” Jim grunted, “I need to get home. ”  
“Wife sick again,” Noel asked, concern in his voice.
“Hmmm,” Jim answered barely audible
“See you tomorrow night than, hope she feels better. ” Noel flashed a toothy smile, fishing his car keys from his pocket.
Jim sat waiting for the heater to warm the interior of his truck.

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   Staring through the windshield, he watched as Noel’s taillights disappeared. The snow had stopped, but turned to sloppy slush under the wheels of his truck as he began to back out of his parking space. Pulling away from the border station, Jim glanced in his rearview mirror, watching the lights of the Canadian Border fade from view.
As he drove, Jim’s thoughts turned to Noel’s offer, and then to his wife. Gripping the steering wheel his knuckles began to turn white. God he hated her. And cursed the day he married back into the cycle. She reminded him of his alcoholic, drug addled mother. Having raised Jim on her own, his mother’s demons had gotten the best of her. In exchange for her daily fix she had offered his childhood up as currency for a rush. As he slowly rounded a snow slicked curve, Jim’s mind flashed back to a memory. He was ten again and Lenny, his mother’s dealer was holding him by the back of the head, greasy crotch, smothering Jims face
e f e f f
“On behalf of Captain Morgenstern, myself, and the crew welcome to Heathrow International Airport . We hope you have a pleasant stay and choose British Airways again for all your travel needs. The time is 6:30 am British Standard Time. ”
Turning from the rain spattered window, the memory of the night she discovered the secret rushed from her mind as passengers stood and began to ransack the over head compartments.

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   Reaching for an overnight bag tucked underneath her seat Maureen opened it taking inventory of the contents; passport, sunglasses, change of clothes, toiletries, and a small book with telephone and bank account numbers.
Disembarking behind a mother, with two small children, she wondered what life was like for them. Their mother was smiling as she herded them along, but Maureen wondered if it just her public mask? Slipping on dark sunglasses she felt stupid, but knew she had to be cautious. She was thousands of miles from home. But had she inadvertently left a clue? She couldn’t take that chance being so close to freedom.
Picking up a battered old suitcase from the baggage carousel, she removed her sunglasses. She did not see anyone she recognized and told herself she was just being stupid. As she approached customs, she began to tremble. Had she made the right decision to leave home? Would she be safe, living on her own in a foreign country?  
“Do you have anything to declare Miss Connelly?” the gray haired official asked, eyeing here directly.
“No sir,” Maureen smiled shyly. From this moment on, she needed to remember her old identity was now a thing of the past.
“And what brings you England ?”
“I am here visiting relatives for a few weeks. ”
“And where do your relatives live miss?”
“ Devonshire ”, Maureen answered hoping her response sounded more matter of fact than a question.
“Have a pleasant stay,” the official smiled, stamping her passport, his teeth reminding her just how crooked her life had been up to this point.
“Thank you,” Maureen smiled, as she bent to pick up her suitcase.

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   Walking away from the counter, a trail of cold sweat began to snake a slow trail down her back.
e f e f f
The sign for Crescent Lake loomed ahead, flashing green as the headlights of Jim’s truck cast an eerie glow across the white letters. Glancing into his rear-view mirror, Jim checked the road behind him making sure he didn’t have company this late at night. Shifting into four-wheel drive, he slowed to a crawl, spotting the small faded red flag hanging from the branch of a pine tree. Checking his rear view mirror a second time, he flipped the switch for the spot light hanging on the side of the passenger door. The old logging road framed on either side by steep banks and tall pines raising high into the dark night were covered with about a foot of snow. The bed of the road had always been solid in the past. Tonight there was nothing to indicate it would be any different. Turning onto the road, he began a slow, cautious drive.
Opening the glove box, Jim found a flashlight and climbed out of his truck. Reaching behind the seat he extracted a crowbar and gloves. As he began to walk into the cold black night, his breath puffed a white cloud into the freezing air. An owl hooted in the distance signaling his arrival.
The snow on the top of the stump had been cleared away. But if anyone was to come upon it, Jim doubted they would suspect anything.

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   This was a popular winter snowmobiling spot for locals; a perfect place to hide something right under the nose of everyone who was more concerned with sipping from bottles of whisky while riding their machines full bore. Before he got to work, Jim trained his flashlight on the other side of the stump. One set of snowmobile tracks trailed off into the black night from the opposite direction he had entered the road.
Suddenly, Jim heard branches snapping off to his left. His heart flipped twice, leaping into his throat as he turned off the flashlight and hit the ground, eating a mouthful of cold snow. As the sounds began to get closer he froze. “I’m done this time,” he thought to himself, “they have finally caught me. Fuck me, I’m so close. ”
As Jim lay in the cold snow, a large black shape stepped out of the trees, no more than ten feet from his position. Although it was a cloudy, the moon had managed to seep through a break in the clouds casting an eerie glow across the dark landscape.
The large black shape turned its head from side to side, a grunt escaping its mouth, snorting as it smelled the intruder. A few minutes passed as Jim watched the beast in silence paw at the snow. Without warning, the shape turned and walked away, down an embankment, heavy steps splashing water. Jim could hear his own breath, ragged, as he stared into the black night where the shape had disappeared. When all was quiet, he found his flashlight and aimed it on the spot where the dark shape had been.

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   Elk tracks.  
Satisfied the animal was gone; Jim slowly rose to his feet. Setting the flashlight in the snow, he found the crowbar. Grasping the cold steel in his gloved hands, he shoved the curved end of the bar at the stump, metal against wood. A muted thud broke the silence of the black night.   Striking pay dirt he had found the notch in the stump. Working the bar into the tiny space, Jim pulled up with the bar, splitting the stump in two where it had been pre-cut. Picking up the flashlight, Jim trained the faint yellow light into the wooden hollow illuminating a canvas bag.
e f e f f
Walking through the duty free section, Maureen smiled for the first time in weeks. Although she was frightened, being alone in a foreign country, anything was better than one more day in that house. Approaching a cluster of ATM machines she heard a voice behind her.
“Excuse me miss. ”
Maureen froze in her tracks, she was afraid to move. Closing her eyes, she felt her heart sink like a heavy stone into a bottomless lake. She knew her new found freedom was too good to be true.

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   She had been caught.
Turning in the direction of the voice, the customs official who had stamped her passport was standing behind her.
“Miss, you might need this,” he smiled, handing her the overnight bag she had carried onto the plane.
“Thank you sir, it was a long flight, I must be tired. ” Maureen smiled suddenly realizing that she had forgotten her carry on bag at the customs counter.  
“We all lose our minds sometimes,” he looking deep into her in the eyes as if he knew she was out of her element. “Do you need directions?”
“No, I just need to withdraw some money”, Maureen pointed to the bank of ATM machines.
“Have a good afternoon miss,” he winked turning away from her, walking towards a door marked employees only.
Stepping before one of the machines, Maureen opened the bag the office had returned to her. Retrieving her pocketbook, she opened it, removing a bank card.   As she waited for the machine to dispense money, she looked around. Over to her right, she saw a small lounge with a couple of small round tables and a few chairs. Removing the money from the tray, she wrapped it around the card and slid both back into her wallet. Grasping her suitcase and carry on bag, she walked towards the lounge to get her bearings. She did not see the man watching her.

 

  
e f e f f
Opening the door to the truck, Jim slid the crowbar back behind the seat. With a grunt, he squeezed his two hundred and fifty pound frame behind the steering wheel. Turning the key in the ignition, Jim pushed in the clutch and began to slowly back his truck down the dark road, his mind drifting to white sandy beaches, bikini clad woman and cold margaritas, a stark contrast to the weather outside. Soon he would be free from his job, nagging psychotic wife, and the children he never wanted in the first place. As he approached his house, the liberating thoughts quickly vanished. Pulling into the driveway, he noticed that all the lights in the house were off. He would be able to hide the bag without anyone questioning the contents.
Turning on his flashlight, Jim trained it at the bottom of the pit, the yellowish glow, dancing on top of the lid of an old wooden truck. Grasping the top of the ladder with one hand, and the canvas bag in the other, he began to descend into the dark hole. At the bottom, he stood before the trunk smiling; his own private treasure chest. Opening the lid of the trunk, the smell of money and stale dirt assaulted his senses, a smiling playing on his lips.   He felt like a man who had just won the lottery.
Reaching inside the canvas bag, Jim tore open the plastic package containing a mix of tens, twenties and Ben Franklin’s. Inside the trunk, laying the first stack on top of the old, he didn’t notice anything different about the trunk. It was when he laid the second bundle of bills down that his blood ran cold.

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   In horror, he watched as false rows of money imploded, falling into a small pile at the bottom of the trunk.   Sticking out from the sides of the pile he saw pieces of cardboard. Frantically he dug through the small pile of money and cardboard.
“Where is all of my fucking money?” Jim spat through clinched teeth his face turning red. He knew at last count he had well over $50,000 stashed away in the trunk. Someone has found this hiding spot, and  
e f e f f
“Leader one, this is leader two I have a target in site,” the man in the dark suit spoke into his radio. “Will advise when I know more. ”
While he returned the small phone to the inside pocket of his suit, he stubbed out a cigarette on the worn tile floor.   Turning his head back to the woman he watched as she packed s small bag into a larger suitcase.
Zipping her suitcase closed, Maureen began to walk towards an information booth she saw off in the distance down the terminal. The man followed behind her, looking inconspicuous, just another passenger lost in an endless sea of tourists; businessmen, woman and children.
“Excuse me,” Maureen smiled as she stopped in front of a counter, a sign reading Information Booth glowed over head. “Could you tell me where I may find this address?”
Handing a plump middle aged lady behind the counter a slip of paper, Maureen waited. The man in the suit waited as well, pretending to read the latest football scores, silently cursing Manchester United for losing the last match.
“Miss, you probably don’t want to take a taxi to this location,” the plump information lady smiled.

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   “The fare would be way too dear. I would recommend you take the train here at the airport which connects to the tube. ”
The lady in the information booth produced a train schedule, and began to circle station names and times as she read each to Maureen.   “Miss you need to go to Terminal Two. From Terminal Two, take the 8:00 am train to Piccadilly station. From “dilly” catch the 9:30 train to Paddington station. From Paddington, the Bayswater Inn is a short taxi ride away. Can I help you with anything else Miss?” The lady smiled, crows feet, showing at the corners of each of her hazel eyes.
 
“No, you have been a big help” Maureen smiled, “Thank you. ”
As Maureen began to walk towards Terminal Two, the man in the suit followed, paper folded under his arm.
Waiting on the platform for the next train to arrive, Maureen watched the people come and go around her. She was frightened to be in this big place, a foreign country all alone. But what was the alternative. Her old life, the old house she grew up in. A place so cold and unforgiving, you could literally feel your soul dying inside.

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Trains came and went as Maureen sat on the bench waiting for the train to take her to Piccadilly Station. It had been a long flight and she was eager to get to the hotel where she would be lodging for the next month. She was lost in her thoughts taking in this new country around her when a train pulled into the station. She recognized the number on the side and realized that this was the train she needed to board. Picking up her suitcase, she climbed the stairs, and found a seat just inside the door. As the train began to pull out of Heathrow Airport , although she was afraid, a new sense of freedom began to swell inside her. Each click clack of the wheels on the track was one more additional step to freedom, pure freedom, where she could eventually sleep at night, and chase her own dreams and desires.
e f e f f
Storming out of the hole, with the agility of a superstar athlete, Jim took the stairs leading from the basement two steps at a time hauling his pot belly with him.   He doubted if his wife had taken the initiative to get off her fat ass to venture into the basement, but he had to make sure. Throwing open their bedroom door, he was greeted by snores and grunts reminiscent of a barnyard.  
“What, what?” his wife replied with a groggy waft of onions and tobacco as he shook her awake.  
“Have you been in the basement the last few weeks?” Jim questioned his wife, his eyes black as coal, filled with hate.  
“No Jim, you know I don’t go down there. Why what is wrong?”
“Oh nothing, fuck!” he shouted stomping out of their blissful marital chamber.
Jim Gould was a man on a mission.

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   He knew someone in the house had taken his money, but whom? Opening the door to Brian’s room, he began to unbuckle his belt as he walked towards the bed. Brain lay on top of his covers wearing white brief’s his back and legs exposed.
“You little son of a bitch,” Jim shouted as he raised his arm high in the air, bringing the leather down with a sharp crack across his son’s back. “What in the fuck did you do with it?
“Dad,” Brain was wide awake with a jolt, his fifteen year old eyes as big as saucers. Curling into a ball to protect himself from the successive blows he was sure would come, he cried out to his father, “What you are talking about?”
“Don’t lie to me, damn it. You know damn well what I am talking about,” Jim bellowed as he swung the belt, leaving a welt on his son’s exposed calf.
“Dad,” Brain was crying now, “I swear I don’t know what you are talking about. ”
“Have you been in the basement within the past two weeks?”
“Yes, but just to get the clothes out of the dryer. ”
“What else did you do down there?” Jim clinched his teeth hissing as he spoke.
  “Nothing,” Brian protested, his calf now displayed a red welt from the leather belt.  
Jim stood staring down at his son, eyes burning with rage. For a split second he thought about telling Brian what he was referring to in the basement but dismissed the thought. After all, he could start again and still use the tunnel for hiding if Brian in fact was telling the truth.
“Let’s go you little shit,” his dad said grabbing him by the arm hauling him up with one hand. “We are going to get to the bottom of this if it takes all night.

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  ”
Jim Gould gripped his oldest son behind the elbow. The skin turned white pinched between his meaty fingers as he marched Brian to out of his bedroom to another room a few feet down the hall.  
“Sit,” he said shoving Brain onto a bed in the room they had just entered.  
Underneath the cover’s, a small body stirred. Little Ricky did not see the hand as it descended upon him. Whipping back the covers, Jim grabbed him by the hair, pulling him into a sitting position on his bed.
“Rise and shine you little bastard,” Jim released his clutch on his youngest son’s hair, fists balled at his sides as he stood surveying his offspring.
Ricky looked at his father, white, as if a ghost had invaded his dreams. He wondered if he were having a nightmare.
“Now, one of you has been in the basement and one of you has taken something of mine. You two are going to sit here until I get some answers. No school, no breakfast, no bathroom breaks, nothing.
“Dad we don’t know what you are talking about,” they both looked at each other and then to him answering in unison.   Then Brian spoke up, “Have you asked Maureen? Maybe she took it. You know that she has to go into the basement to light the fire in the morning and wash the clothes.

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  ”
Without a word, Jim Gould reached out and slapped both of his son’s with a hard open hand. He had learned how to hit them and not leave any bruises. “For your sake, the two of you had better hope like hell that your sister is responsible for this. Because if she isn’t, the three of you will wish that you were dead. ”
Leaving the room, like a ragging bull, Jim stormed down the hall, and stopped before a door at the end of the hall.
Standing before the closed door with flaking white paint, he could feel rage beginning to build inside.   Whether she knew where the money was or not, he knew what her punishment would be. She was responsible for her siblings and she would pay for their transgressions.
“Maureen,” Jim shouted as he opened the door.
Looking to her bed, he froze. It was empty, she wasn’t there. Walking to it, he sat, head in hands wondering where his money was, and wondering where his daughter was this late at night.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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