With my previous books, I put out the first chapter (in very rough form - you get to see all my typos and cruddy sentences before the polish goes on and editor extraordinaire, Christina McDonald, fixes my more egregious error.)
I'm going to modify that this time. Chapter Two of The Lonesome Mile will actually introduce the main character, miler Nick Capelletti of Colorado Springs. In Chapter One, we meet the kids of Cripple Creek that will be in the story. They're kids on the brink, that need just a little help and compassion to get them headed in the right direction.
The Lonesome Mile, Chapter One
The two boys shifted furtively in the late twilight until they were positioned at the edge of the vacant lot that faced Bennett Avenue. Jordan carried the sky rocket – a Saturn V Heavy Lifter, completely illegal in Colorado. Danny had the lighter.
“Better aim it a little down the street,” whispered Danny, as Jordan scouted for broken bricks to brace the firework.
The wind surged and pulled at them as it swept past the casinos that lined the only busy street in Cripple Creek. Bennett Avenue was divided into a westbound upper level and an eastbound lower street with a metal staircase and railings for pedestrians to cross the street. The west end of the road glittered with gambling houses, the light reflecting out onto the empty sidewalks.
In the summer, the town would be packed with gray-haired and overweight tourists, laying down money, drinking cheap tap beer, and hoping to get lucky.
On April Fool’s Day, Cripple Creek was a ghost town with slot machines.
Across from the dark face of City Hall, Jordan stacked the bricks, forming a vee-shaped launching pad for the rocket. He angled it westward, into the icy gusts. He picked up the Saturn V and placed it into the structure, adjusting it when the barrel of the explosive rolled, pointing at the decrepit vacant building next to the lot. Finally, he had it balanced on the wood stick.
Jordan glanced at the staircase that dropped from the back of the lot. Danny had designed their escape route. Once the rocket fired off, they were sprinting for the staircase, dodging down between the parking garage that the Gold Creek Casino used for overflow and the museum dedicated to the adult entertainments of the original gold rush when the Cripple Creek Mining District was the most productive gold producer in the country. Tours of the old bordello cost five bucks.
Another gust of wind, brittle with cold, hit Jordan through his heavy jacket and he jammed his fingers deep into the pockets. He stood.
The rocket rolled again.
“Come on, dude, get that thing set,” said Danny, slouching in the shadows and scanning up and down the street to see if anybody noticed them. No one did, ever. The kids were mostly invisible unless they tried to get into a casino. Danny had managed sneaking in a couple of times. Each time, the security guard warned him off but none had turned him in to the real cops though they blustered and threatened.
“I’m trying, but the wind keeps moving it.”
Jordan fumbled with the firework, trying to get it perfectly seated into the notch but the rough surfaces of the deteriorated brick sloped unevenly. Each gust of wind caused small movements in the lightweight projectile.
Jordan was regretting showing Danny the leftover fireworks. And listening to Danny when he slipped into crazy mode.
Let’s slide downtown, set up the Saturn, and—boom!—add a little fun to the night.
The goal was to get it airborne and bursting over downtown. Sitting in Jordan’s house, alone because his mom was tending bar, it sounded easy.
The damn thing rolled again and Jordan reached to put it back when Danny knocked him out of the way. Danny had the lighter in his hand, ready.
“Wait, man,” said Jordan, reaching to get the alignment right. His arms tangled with Danny’s and the sudden flare of the lighter flame blinded him. Sparks ignited as the flame found the fuse, not at the end but just under the base of the rocket. Jordan felt his hand bump it, the heat from the fuse washing over the back of his hand, and the sky rocket rolled, the wood stick slipping.
In the acrid smell of the expended propellant, Jordan watched, horrified, as the Saturn V blasted off almost horizontally to the ground right at the City Hall. An instant later, a loud clang rang out on the street as it hit the railing for the pedestrian crossing and arced down the street, trailing fire from the exhaust.
Wide-eyed, Jordan lurched forward, thrusting his head around the corner, as the projectile completed its aborted effort at flight. It skipped off the street twice, throwing sparks, before it hit the curb on his side of the road. The ricochet lifted it enough to clear the divider, on a collision course with the plate glass windows of Bronco Billy’s.
The explosion, directly in front of Bronco Billy’s, blew out half the lights over the entrance and reverberated between the old buildings on either side, stunningly loud in the quiescent town.
Laughter behind him shook him from the paralysis that locked up his chest. He turned in time to see Danny scrambling for the stairway. With a jerk, Jordan fled after him.
His foot caught a rock and he stumbled and almost fell. Recovering, he looked up to see fleet-footed Danny dodge down the steps, his dark clothes merging with his shadow as he flitted away. He cursed under his breath. Of course Danny wouldn’t wait up.
The pressure on Jordan’s chest grew worse as he tripped over another unseen obstacle in the dark. The buildings reared up around him, surrounding the open lot as he hit the ground hard. His breath coming in gasps, he got up, ignoring the pain in his knee. He started limping to the stairs, just a few yards away and the pain faded.
He reached the top of the stairs in time to see Danny descend into the gulley on the far side of Myers Avenue. Jordan knew he’d head for the rubble ruin of an old house and hide out there. Anywhere else would be too exposed. Around him, he could hear sounds of the town stirring, checking on the commotion.
Jordan leaned on the metal handrail, feet gliding down the concrete steps as they barely caressed the tread before moving on to the next. His knee, the sore one, buckled a bit when he reached the landing, but he accelerated toward the street and dark open spaces where he could hide until things chilled.
In five strides, Jordan was up to his top speed, legs chugging as fast as he could make them go. His footsteps echoed off the burnt red brick wall of the garage on his left and his gasping breath sounded huge in his ears.
He was nearly at the street when a shadow exploded from the last doorway of the garage and slammed into his shoulder. Jordan felt his feet leave the ground and, almost instantaneously, tasted the chalky dust as he slammed into the ground, stunned. The weight of a rent-a-cop pinned him down.
“Gotcha, ya little punk!”
In the distance, Jordan thought he could hear Danny laughing and the bottom dropped out of his stomach. He blinked furiously and clamped his jaw tight and thought of his mother.
Katie was ignoring Poppa Pete.
She sat at the dinette that filled the breakfast nook of her grandfather’s little A-framed house. The dinner dishes sat at the other end. One her chores that she hadn’t done today, to scrape the scraps of into the dog bowl and wash them. The dog, Rick, a black lab, lay across her feet, waiting lazily for a pork chop bone. Her grandfather was sitting in his chair, a battered old brown leather thing, pretending to read a book under a dim lamp. She could feel the weight of his gaze.
Katie looked down at her algebra book and sighed. It was gibberish, a and b and x and the quadratic equation to figure out something she didn’t care about in the first place. She turned up her music and closed her eyes as sound flooded into her brain via the two white earbuds. Her head started move, then her shoulders, until her entire upper body swayed.
She knew she should say sorry and make nice. Promise it wouldn’t happen again, except she’d promised that the last time, too. Poppa Pete would be disappointed and firm, telling her she couldn’t just wallop a kid just because they were laughing at her, at her mom, wanted to know if she knew where they could score some weed. Oh, that’s right, your mom’s a methhead, never mind.
But she had. Again. Hit him as she could but Danny dodged and just laughed at her when the teacher grabbed her before she could tackle him, shut his smartass mouth.
This time the school called the cops, who called Child Welfare, who called Poppa.
Unacceptable behavior, Mr. Archer. Katie isn’t allow to attack other students, we understand she’s in a difficult position until her mom gets out of jail, but you assured us that you would be able to keep Katie out of trouble until her mother returns.
Katie unclenched her hands as tears burned behind her closed eyelids. Four months. Mom would be back in four months. Clean because there were no drugs in prison. Katie’s mom promised, every time that Katie made the trip up to the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. Her mom said she was in the 12-step, that it would be different this time, baby girl.
Katie wanted to believe her, so much that it made her hurt.
She felt Poppa’s hands on her bony shoulders. She hadn’t heard him move over the music. Wordlessly, his powerful miner’s hand gently worked into the tissue, thumbs pressing gently along her neck. A shudder went through her as she thought about how she let him down. He’d never condemn her and that was worse than if he yelled.
Like the granite of the Front Range, he was the only solid foundation she had in her life and she wanted desperately to make him happy, to make up for her mom. He’d stepped into the void to be a surrogate dad and he never once lied to her. He spoke in a gruff voice when he spoke at all, but if he said that he was doing something, it got done.
She felt a squeeze from the hands and a pat on her shoulder as they stopped the rhythmic motion. She opened her eyes and saw him limp across the room, headed for bed. He stopped and made eye contact. He made a motion like removing the ear pieces.
Katie pulled the right earbud.
“You’ve got dishes?”
She nodded and lifted her hand up to reinsert the music.
“Good girl.” He began to turn, stopped and turned back.
Katie’s hand ceased its upward motion.
He stood there for a moment as though he wanted to add more and his eyes were filled with sympathy.
“I believe in you, kid. You know that?”