My new novella, Snow Angels, will officially be available on October 7th and you can pre-order your Kindle version today.
For now, though, you can read the first chapter below to get some motivation. Please feel free to pass the link around over the next few days as the 7th gets closer.
The phone started ringing just after six in the morning. The house was cold, the fire in the stove having nearly died out in the night. The sound of the phone in the early hours of the bitter winter morning made the house feel colder.
Winn rolled over, very much aware that a phone call this early (or late, or whatever five in the morning was considered) meant nothing good.
He sat up and felt the beginning of a hangover weighing down his head. This one was starting at his bottom teeth, climbing up his jaw and towards his head in a broken ladder of pain. The jangling of the phone was not helping.
He got out of bed and stumbled across the small three room shack that he called home. The wooden floor was frigid on his feet, even through his socks. As he made his way through the kitchen, wincing at the cold, he became aware of the fact that he was the only one home.
Shea hadn’t come home last night. No big deal. She’d started making a habit out of it. She was probably at one of her loser friend’s house. Or, worst case scenario, shacked up with some trucker, keeping her wedding band hidden in her purse. He was pretty sure it had happened a few times in the last three years or so.
Winn didn’t much care. All he cared about was getting the phone to stop. It sat on the small table that was nestled in the far corner against the kitchen counter. An array of past due bills sat around it. Winn plucked the receiver out of its cradle and put it to his ear.
“Hullo?” He tasted the ghost of the Maker’s Mark haunting his mouth with his first word of the day.
“Is this Winn Wallace?” It was a man’s voice, thick with the damage of countless years of chain-smoking.
“Yeah. Who’s asking?”
“A friend. I was wondering if you were aware that your wife did not make it home last night.”
Winn rubbed at his head, the hangover starting to turn its wheels and really get going. “Yeah, I know that. Now who is this?”
Winn looked out of the grimy window over the sink filled with dirty dishes. It had started snowing sometime during the night. It was coming down in fat flakes that looked gray, almost like soot, through his kitchen window.
“I know where she is,” the man said.
“Good for you. If you slept with her, you might want to start looking for bumps and rashes.”
Winn was about to hang up. Everyone in the county knew about his estranged marriage so he could care less that the man on the other end knew about Shea’s rumored amorous lifestyle. Even if the man on the phone had been up all night doing things to her that Winn hadn’t had any interest in doing to her for over three years, he didn’t care.
All he cared about in that moment was getting rid of this God awful hangover. He thought he’d start with some hair of the dog.
Tired of the conversation, Winn removed the receiver from his ears, but not quickly enough to ignore the man’s next comment.
“Your son looks just like you.”
The small shack suddenly felt very hot as Winn’s face flushed with heat. Anger pulsed in his heart and shot through his body like a bullet.
“What did you say to me?”
“Your son. Kevin. He looks just like you.”
“You son of a bitch. I don’t know what you’re playing at, but—,”
“I don’t play, Winn. In fact, most people would say that I am quite serious. I take it the subject of your son in a touchy one?”
Winn wasn’t sure what was going on. All he knew was that he could taste fury like hot iron in the back of his throat and it was dissolving the oncoming hangover as if it were nothing more than the snow that was falling outside.
“My son is dead,” Winn said.
“Oh yes, I know. Still, he looks like you. He looked like you before he got his little head blown off and he looks like you now. It’s in the eyes, I think.”
“Who are you?”
Winn was no longer tired, no longer cold, no longer concerned with a hangover. His entire body was built on a foundation of pure unbridled anger. He was starting to think about the Winchester in the closet.
“Like I said, I am a friend,” the man repeated. “I’m even taking care of your wife for you.”
“Is she there with you?”
“Let me speak to her.” Winn realized that he wasn’t really talking. He was growling through the phone.
There was the sound of jostling from the other end as the phone exchanged hands. He heard Shea whimpering before she started talking.
“Winn,” she said. Her voice was thick too, only it was a wet sound. She had been crying recently. She was, in fact, still crying as she spoke with him.
“What trouble have you gotten into now?” Winn asked.
“He knows about Kevin,” she said, as if it explained everything. “He knows everything. He showed up at Stonewall’s last night and I left with him. Nothing happened but…but he started hitting me. I think he broke my nose. He knows about Kevin…Winn, I’m so sorry. I should have—”
Winn was barely aware of the fact that he was stretching the cord on the phone’s receiver to reach his boots. They sat on the mat by the front door, still caked in mud from yesterday’s work.
“Where are you?” he asked, slipping his feet into the boots.
“I don’t know. His house. I’m not sure where. I just—,”
She cried out and Winn heard another scuffle as the phone switched hands.
“That’s enough for now,” the man said.
“Did you hit her?” Winn asked.
“I did. I hit her a few times, actually. When I slapped her across the face, I think she liked it. She really liked it when I pulled her hair. You know, if things had have gone differently, I think I might have enjoyed a romp with your wife. But, as it turns out, your son was more important to me.”
The man laughed. It was a belly laugh that made him break into a series of deep coughs. As he listened to this, Winn reached for his coat, flung over the back of the recliner. While he slid it on, his eyes fell longingly on the nearly empty bottle of Maker’s Mark on the dingy kitchen counter.
“Would you like your wife back?” the man asked.
“I hardly see why,” the man said. “She told me all about how you’re physically useless to her now. After all that’s happened, I guess I can understand why. It’s quite sad, really. How’s it feel, Winn, to know that you can’t satisfy your wife?”
“I dare you to tell me where you are.”
“Dare. That’s funny.”
“What do you want?”
It wasn’t until after he had asked the question that Winn realized that this man had to have some reason for calling him other than tormenting him with taunts about Kevin and the dysfunctional nature of his marriage.
“I want your son,” the man said.
Winn gritted his teeth and then bellowed into the phone. When he did, the hangover that had been threatening earlier seemed to explode into a rain of glass shards within his skull.
“My son is dead. He died when he was five years old. He’s been dead and in the ground for over three years. If you mention him again, I will hunt you down and kill you.”
“The hell of it is that I think you would,” the man said. “I think you have it in you. But, truth be told, this is boring me now. I’ll be in touch, Winn. And I’ll take care of Shea for you.”
“Hang up and you’re dead,” Winn said.
The line went dead but Winn held the receiver to his ear until he heard a double-click and the hum of a disconnected line.
He dropped the receiver and stared at the front door. The conversation he had just had made no sense. In a detached sort of way, he wondered if he might still be asleep and dreaming the whole thing.
He tried to sort his thoughts. He busied himself by kneeling by the woodstove that sat directly centered along the kitchen’s far wall and pulling pen the black cast iron doors. He poked at the embers and ashes and then added two logs from the small stack that he kept by the front door.
What the hell has that woman gotten herself into this time?
Shea had caused some headaches ever since they had fallen into their marital troubles, but nothing like this. What did this man want, anyway? Just to tease him? Had Shea just found some loser that had a few screws lose and got his jollies not by conquering the woman he’d dragged home from the bar, but by mentally digging his fingers in and screwing with their lives?
The saddest part of all was that if the bastard hadn’t mentioned Kevin, he wouldn’t have cared. He would have let Shea ride out the consequences of another poor decision. He had no hard proof that she had cheated on him ever since things had gone downhill for them, but he’d suspected it.
Hell, he almost understood it.
So if that’s what had happened, so be it. Let her handle her own mess.
But when the man had mentioned Kevin, things had gone to an entirely different level.
I want your son, the man had said. And then, before that, the thing that had really caused Winn’s heart to creak and blister: He looked like you before he got his little head blown off…
That was enough. Winn picked the receiver back up and stared at it for a moment—almost like he didn’t trust it. Then, with a shaking hand, he dialed the Sheriff’s office.