Here is the first chapter of my manuscript, it is what was read in episode one of HACK. I have not decided if I will be posting the prose week in and out, but the first few sections will be at the very least.
Thanks again for all the support, see you tomorrow for episode two!
First Draft / Chapter One
My car sat in the dark spot between two street lights in front of Erin’s restaurant and I watched the silhouettes who chewed and grinned through the glass. I had hours before she was done for the night, before she jerked the front door to make sure it was locked then slid out the back alley towards her car. On my lap were a set of pictures that I thumbed through, long since memorized on how to get inside her silver hatchback without a sound. How to shimmy open the door with screwdrivers wrapped in towels then fish a split piece of plastic pipe through the gap to punch the unlock button and let myself in.
When I got tired of the photos I studied the front door, who ate there, what they wore, how they moved.
A man was having trouble parallel parking in the space ahead of me, a boring dadmobile that he swung towards the curb and back out after he cut the wheel too soon. The poof of frizzy hair that bloomed over passenger seat was patient and reached out to console the driver with a forearm pat, like it wasn’t a big deal. But it was whether she wanted to admit it or not, the bears have been relocated, parking was a survival skill in the East Bay aluminum wild.
My white t-shirt flashed from white to pink in his brake lights and I wondered if that was the color blood made when left to soak into a shirt. White. Pink. White. Pinkpink. Was that Erin’s color inside, a softened shade of true, diet blood. She wasn’t like me, a person, she was a vicious animal and her parts and pieces couldn’t be like the rest of us. Did she have the blue blood of a spider, or was it a leech’s green? Tonight I find out I thought, tonight the female isn’t deadlier than the male. Tonight, this night, she never sees it coming.
I sat there so long that the people I saw go in started coming out and I studied them again to see how they changed. I tried to go inside when I first got here to California, but the handle on the front door was too heavy to move. My footsteps echoed louder the closer I came to the entrance and when I grabbed the handle it was a near-death flash bang snuff film that ended up with me in handcuffs. I didn’t want that, she was the one who deserved to be punished — not me.
The kitchen was straight to the back, behind the rows of talking heads. I only saw it when an explosion of fire burst up from a pan and exposed the room in a brief sepia filter that gave the distant shadows shape. A spark of brandy for the pork, rum for the bananas.
After a final study of the photos, I paced the block of cookie-cut storefronts to see which were open. The pig on the door of a butcher had its belly neon branded closed, the bank dark save for one florescent light in the ceiling, the mattress store empty. I noted the cross streets so I knew how to get back to my car and then walked the back alley and stomped all the puddles to check for holes that might break my ankles as I fled.
Erin’s car was parked along the next street, in a smart spot where the city had removed the yellow line from the curb but the toothy stain left was enough to keep anyone but a savvy local from parking there. The car sat in front of a specialty oil and vinegar shop, where you might buy your mom a bottle of tangerine balsamic vinegar that she’d keep for a year and throw out. The rain wet street steamed and the mosquitoes swarmed when I went to work on the door.
I dug my fingertips into the frame and tugged it back a few times before the first screwdriver slid in, hands occupied I spat and blew. The handle was a prybar to jam the second in and palm punch it down to the nub. I fished the pipe into the gap they made. The greaseball in the for educational purposes only video fired through these steps in fifteen seconds according to the timer in the bottom corner of the screen. I kept that pace until I had to push the unlock button. The lip of the pipe rolled off the switch or in bowed when I pushed it. Focused on the task, I stopped paying attention to my surroundings.
“Hey, what are you doing?” a meaty pedestrian asked.
“A friend of mine locked her keys in the car.”
“What’s that stuff you have?” he pulled a cell phone from the pocket of his jeans.
“ Look,” I reached for my phone, “I found a video on how to get in her type of car, I have it queued up, where they used rubber blocks I am using screwdrivers and all I had in the garage was this PVC though a stiff metal rod would have been better.”
“Where’s the owner?” he lowered his phone after he had dialed at least a nine and a one.
“She’s on her way, this happened earlier and she couldn’t afford a locksmith. Hopefully she finds her spare key. You want try and push the button? I’m getting frustrated,” I said with the pole held out as a peace offering.
He took the plastic in his hands and and bowed it a few times, then shrugged and poked it through the slot. By the flashlight function of my phone he was able to unlock the door after five or six firm stabs. I thanked him for getting me laid maybe, he laughed and walked on.
I cracked the door and rested it against the latch so it looked shut, then vanished into the alley to throw my tools into the nearest dumpster. The trash man must have come earlier that day because the first screw driver gonged against the empty metal bottom. I slid the rest down the lip and walked back to the car snatching at the bugs around my ears. I tried to jam myself into the backseat to hide but the passenger’s seat was leaned too far back for my hips to pass, like someone was trying to nap on a long car ride, so I had to get out flop the seatback up to its full upright position.
I pulled a tangle of extra long zip ties from my coat and fed the end of each one through its eyelet until it clicked to form a ring. The various loops piled up on the seat bench in a plastic popart heap of blues and yellows and greens. I sized the circles over the headrest to find one that was not only the right diameter, but also the right weight. The loser loops were tucked underneath the seat, the chosen set on the floor. I joined the ring starting with my knees, then my feet as I wiggle-wiggled into the dark below. My hands wrapped tightly at 10 and 2 on the ring and my nose pressed into the ketchup stained carpet. A red lighter reflected under the seat, I ducked and peeped a splash of light off the metal top to pass the time .
Down there in the dark was like any other night in bed, I closed my eyes and I’m in the rectory with John’s family. We’re standing over his five bulleted body in a circle holding hands. Tonight it was a stigmata with a head shot, other nights I don’t remember. On the floor with nothing to block my view I laid with the revisionist image of my dead best friend splattered across my sight line, murdered in his own home by the women he loved. I squeezed the sharp plastic edges with excitement, I was ready to grab the end and spiral it shut around her throat then zip-click-tug until it could get no tighter.
Voices in the street and footsteps on the sidewalk behind me raced my heart, sweat and breath heavy with worry she would see my spine cat stretched through the window before she got into the car and call the cops and they would to drag me from the floor of the car to the floor of the city where I’d be bloody beaten into the street before either officer bothered to ask why I was there.
I lay there and wondered which part of me to defend when they dragged me out. Both hands over my face I thought or maybe one on the head and the other to deflect steel toed boots to the kidneys. I mimed it out and when my right arm cradled my rib cage and my left covered my forehead I heard the gravel shuffle of feet outside the door.
I eased my hands back to the plastic ring beneath me as the door locks chunked and the front door opened.
I slid the tie up the side of the door with my face down and lungs struggling to filter rotten tomato air.
The seat back rocked and settled when she sat and the ting of the keys was my cue. I inhaled and exploded upwards, perfect circle in hands — sure the tie end faced me. Her shoulders were now the ten and the two as it slid over the headrest and bounced up and over her nose. Before she got her hands up to swat I pulled the tie shut, her hands fell and the head-banging began. The bottom of the loop hung up on her collar bone and peeled off the flesh when I jerked the end and felt each click, click, click. She got one hand pinned inside and her elbow flapped and flapped the harder I pulled on the chord. I stopped a notch or two short from as hard as I could to watch her from behind, to press my palm into the back of the seat to feel each fight and struggle as she suffocated.
After a gorgeous few seconds of frenzy the jerks became more desperate but less frequent. Her light was almost out when a knotted swirl of blond was unpinned from her pony tail and bobbed between me and the review mirror. I shot my head between the seats to get a look at her face. No, no, no. Erin’s locks weren’t blond, her hair was the color of Irish pit bull— maybe brown or red but who cares it’s on a monster, kill it. We had never met but I knew her face. I knew it from photos, videos, and even one of those 10 P.M. network exposes on horrible things that are supposed to happen in the great beyond, to other people and not your people. The stammering blond chick in the driver’s seat wasn’t the Erin Rhodes I set out to kill and collateral wasn’t acceptable — this was justice not war.
“Easy, stop writhing,” I eased my hands to her shoulders like she was a rabbit caught in the fence. Purple faced she thrashed with whatever energy was left and then settled. I bit and tore at the thick blue nub where the tie came together with my teeth, each tug pinched back the blond’s head to the seat. Teeth locked and head twisted I remembered the packaging that drew me in: for industrial use, unbreakable.
I let go and she gulped a huge breath of air. The tie was stretched enough that she could breath, but not well. Both her hands were around the unintended plastic collar and once she had breath her mouth she roared at me with hate and fear.
“Don’t move, stop, I promise I am getting it off,” I said with the red lighter held underneath the tie where it was stretched. The car filled with noxious rot and after a few seconds of heat I plucked at the blue wire to see if it would break. It didn’t so I flamed on until my eyes burned and as I coughed and blew the lighter out the tie gave way. The pretty girl slammed forward onto the steering wheel and it honked for a lightning strike which sent her back upright in fear. That girl snapping back and sitting up stiff was the last thing I saw as I got out of the car and ran back one of the escape routes I had planned. I splashed puddles down the alley, jetted up a side street, and back around to my car in the dark spot between twin circles of light.
A year later my car sat in the same spot and in it I watched different heads swivel and nod to their servers. The light was different now, it rung across the hood and splashed down through the windshield. The white book on the passenger seat lay in a private spotlight inside the shadowed car, read me, read me it called. The sun was down and the windows up, sweat collected on my upper lip and salt water ran into my mouth between their cracks. A tangled couple shuffled out of the restaurant’s front door, their arms knotted together as they doted up the street. The food was good for them but the company better.
This was my first time back to this street, to its light and its dark, but I had never left California. I was going to finish what I started but I couldn’t kill someone unless I was sure I ought to — my job interview at Essen was scheduled for 9:00am the next morning.