I just finished writing my second novel and I thought you guys would like to see a quick little preview to get an idea of what its about. Enjoy these first two chapters of Reasonable Doubt!
Heaving the backpack to the ground, Richard Frost sat on a log to catch his breath. Time was short, but he was exhausted and desperately needed a break. He took a great gasping breath that caught in his lungs. Coughing strenuously, he leaned forward, covering his mouth with his gloved hand, a habit ingrained in socially accepted standards, though there was nobody around to take offense. Getting the coughing under control, he looked down at the palm of the glove and paused for a moment staring at the blood splattered on it. Shaking his head, he wiped the glove in a patch of snow, spitting to clear his mouth before opening his water bottle and drinking the last drops.
He took just another moment, enjoying the solitude, the quiet and the beauty of the natural world surrounding him. This is what had sustained him throughout his life, what had allowed him to work so hard for so many years. Knowing the wilderness was always waiting had let him push through the long weeks, looking forward to the one day each week he always set aside to spend in the woods. He was sorry his life was coming to an end like this, but glad he’d found a small path to immortality in the backpack at his feet.
Standing at last, he suffered through one more coughing spell, saying a quick prayer that it was the last or that the next would hold off at least for a couple of hours. He still had a lot of work to do and darkness was fast approaching.
He grabbed the backpack and gingerly picked his way down the embankment to the place he’d chosen so carefully. He’d spent months looking for just the right spot. The conditions he’d set as the standard while searching for the perfect location had required a lot of thought. He had no idea how long it would be before someone came looking for this cache, and it needed to survive years, probably, and quite possibly decades.
He opened the backpack and then leaned into the concealed cavity, dragging out the titanium box, grunting under its significant weight. He felt another coughing spell coming on and he paused while he fought it down. The spells had recently become serious enough that he’d passed out on two occasions, unable to control his breathing, blood spraying in the air as he fell to the ground. A recurrence of that here would be disastrous.
After a brief moment his lungs began to work smoothly and he said a silent prayer of thanks. The danger averted, he swallowed down the small amount of blood that had bubbled up from his ravaged lungs and then returned his attention to the box. He opened it and smiled at the sight; he’d worked hard his entire life and he never tired of looking at the fruits of that labor. He turned to the backpack and, reaching in, removed seven small objects, one at a time. Though small, the objects were heavier than they appeared to be. Each item was perfectly shaped, manufactured to be exact in size and weight.
He added the seven items to the box that already contained thirteen identical objects he had packed up on two earlier trips. He then pulled three small sacks from the backpack. The sacks were made of oilskin which he hoped would protect them for many, many years. He made sure they were closed securely and then piled them in around the twenty heavy objects, pushing the sacks down with his hands so the lid would be able to close securely. It was surprising even to him, a man used to dealing with items such as this, how small a box was required. Someday in the future, somebody would be surprised at how heavy such a small box could be.
Before he closed the lid, he removed a piece of paper from the backpack, the paper laminated and enclosed in a Ziploc bag. He placed it on top of the items in the chest, smiling at the thought of someone reading the words sometime in the future.
There was no point in locking the box, none at all actually, but old habits die hard, and Richard found himself fighting the urge to snap the padlock onto the reinforced clasp. He’d wanted the complex, secure lock when he originally had the box made, but it wasn’t needed anymore. He would have given the padlock a symbolic toss into the lake but, being a lover of nature and a hater of those who would despoil it in any way, he turned and dropped the lock into the backpack instead. He would pack it out, along with any other evidence of his presence, just as he’d done his entire life.
He turned back to the box and, leaning down, put his entire body into it, shoving it back into the place he’d discovered, the place that would keep it safe for as long as necessary.
Moving all of the logs and sticks back exactly as he’d found them, he stood and surveyed the scene. There were definite signs that someone had been here…footprints and drag marks, vegetation crushed, a rock unearthed, but he wasn’t worried about that. It was getting dark and it would snow tonight, covering all signs of his having been here.
Richard Frost picked up the nearly empty backpack and slung it over his shoulders. This part of his life’s journey was nearly over. He’d never see this place again and he took just a moment to enjoy one last look around before he began working his way back to the path that led to his car.
The distance wasn’t far but, in his weakened condition, it had taken him the entire day to make the three trips needed to carry it all here. He smiled to himself as he remembered a time when he would have carried a load like that in just one trip. He missed the days of his youth when nothing had seemed impossible and the world lay at his feet.
Richard worked his way down the slope, finding the trail and following it to his car, arriving right at dark. A few snowflakes began to fall as he unlocked the door. He got in and drove away and didn’t allow himself the luxury of one final look back. The deed was done, the past was the past, and the future belonged to somebody else.
Eight years later
The killer, dressed all in black, looked down at the man tied to the chair. His expression reflected sadness mixed with satisfaction: sadness at what he’d had to do (killing someone was no small feat after all) and satisfaction at what he’d discovered just before he’d pulled the trigger.
The man in the chair moved just slightly, a twitch really, his head lolled over toward his right shoulder, his chin nearly touching his chest. He was dead already, though his body was still trying to fight that finality. The two bullet holes in his chest, a moment before gushing blood, were now releasing just a trickle.
After a few seconds, the man in the chair finally relaxed fully, his body sagging forward, the bonds tying him to the chair the only thing keeping him from falling to the floor. The killer lowered the gun. He was glad the man in the chair hadn’t resisted too much, hadn’t forced him to use measures he’d been willing to use but would have found distasteful in the extreme.
He knelt down and carefully placed the gun into the backpack he’d brought, a few tools rattling around inside as he did so. It wasn’t until then, crouched on the floor by the dead man’s feet, that he finally took the time to look at the piece of paper in his hand.
The man in the chair had hidden it, and the events tonight were a result of that unfortunate decision. Of course, he’d quickly revealed the location and a whole lot more when he’d realized his life was in danger. The decision to end that life had already been determined though. It was only the manner of his death that had been left up to him.
One side of the paper was covered with notes, painstakingly written; cross-outs littering the page, along with question marks, underlines, and circled words. This was all the work of the man in the chair and the man in black took a moment to admire it.
“I couldn’t have done it myself,” he said quietly to the man in the chair, admitting it for the first time.
He flipped the page over and examined the words written there, words that he was intimately familiar with. The words printed on this page had consumed the last six months of his life, ever since he’d discovered them while reading an interesting news story online:
They say youth’s folly is the pursuit of wealth,
It’s the theif of that which is not slowed.
The most precious thing you own is your health,
And you’ll need it to recover this lode.
Your search begins where rocks once grew,
And the music man, he spins through the night.
The pitcher’s goal, in his name replaces two,
The Lincoln Logs of life must give him a fright.
Smog without air makes no sense at all,
But adding gold makes him mighty and great.
A place such as this, a home he might call,
‘Lo he ignore the ghosts of those working the freight.
Protected from the Arctic’s wet kiss you’ll find,
As you begin the true quest from here.
The stalwart kid of course is kind,
But only trustworthy as far as the mirror.
Now a mile is the goal, are your legs burning yet?
Don’t worry, you’ve nearly arrived.
A heavy load, a truly great get,
I was amazed at how they had thrived.
Go quickly now, for the end draws nigh,
All great adventures must come to a close.
The entrance you seek, low and yet dry,
The chest in a trunk, protected by a rose.
If you’re persistent enough to have come this far,
The gold, I bequeath all to you.
A man of honor, I have no doubt that you are,
Though if not, this day you shall rue.
Seven stanzas, four lines per stanza with alternating rhymes. 230 words, 963 characters, 1166 characters counting the spaces, and one misspelled word. The man in black knew every single detail about this poem, inside and out. He’d studied it, dissected it, looked at it backwards, forwards, upside down and in a mirror. He’d looked up the definitions and synonyms and antonyms of every word. He’d changed every letter to its reciprocal number and tried to find meaning that way. He’d done research with cipher keys, trying to find hidden meaning in the text.
The only thing he hadn’t known about this poem, and really the only thing that mattered, was what the poem meant.
That misspelled word alone had consumed the killer for weeks, trying in vain to figure out why just that one of all 230 words had been misspelled. Every available hour of every day for weeks, just trying to unravel the meaning behind the spelling of that one word.
For this poem, and in particular for the solution now written on the back and divulged by the man in the chair, the killer had risked much. A calculated risk, but one with potentially dire consequences should he fail.
He carefully folded the piece of paper and tucked it away in a zippered pocket of his black leather jacket. He then bent down to the backpack and, opening a separate zippered compartment, began removing items and placing them on the floor. He had a lot of work still to do and time was short.
Two hours later, the killer looked out the back door, making sure there was nobody watching, and quickly walked through the rear alley. He cut across the golf course to his car which he’d left parked on a street, well away from the victim’s house. Checking once more for any observers, he opened the car door and tossed the backpack inside. Getting behind the wheel, he drove through back streets, following a carefully planned route. As he approached his destination, he picked up his prepaid cell phone and hit a number that was programmed in.
The man with the scar on his face answered on the first ring.
“Go ahead and make the call,” the killer said to the man with the scar on his face.
The phone went dead in his hand. He hit the button to lower the window on his side and carefully tore the phone apart, dropping the battery out first, then the SIM card, and then the two halves of the phone, the parts scattering behind him on the highway.
The deed was done, but the fun was just beginning. The man in black smiled to himself in the rearview mirror as he carefully turned off the highway and headed toward home.