An Excerpt From AFTER THE FIRE

Posted: March 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

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At three-thirty in the morning, Austin is like any other town—deserted. The street sweepers aren’t even out yet. The city wears the caul of night like a burial shroud, awaiting a sun that at such an hour is a host of dreams removed into the future.

I knew something was wrong when I turned onto my street and saw my home around the gentle sweeping curve ahead.

The house was pitch black. Not even the amber light from the doorbell was there to greet me.

I had thought the whole affair with Sol’s goat and Eloise’s sniper shots and Perry Reilly’s kidnapping was done for the night. Nothing doing. While I have no idea what lurks in the hearts of men, I do know one thing: Evil never sleeps.

No. Nothing was over for the night. Not by a long shot.

I stopped two houses down and turned my headlights off, but kept the engine running for a minute while I regarded my dark home.

There should be a light in my study. I almost never turn my desk lamp off. Also, at the very least, there should be the muted light from my fish tank dancing on the windows. My fish tank is a fifty-gallon job with enough exotic fish that it should be a local attraction.

No. The place was dark. The power was out.

I had paid my bill only a week before. No. Something was definitely not right.

I fished out my cell phone and thumbed it on. It chortled at me and the light on the panel dimmed and then went out. Just great. I had not charged it and the power had run down.

I looked down at the police radio and thought about picking it up and making a call to dispatch, but I had no idea what channel to call out on or who would pick up on the other end. Also, I imagined that Jessica would catch hell from Patrick and the Sheriff for letting her father drive her county cruiser and for the unauthorized use of a police radio.

No. I was alone.

I felt on the seat beside me and found the .38.

I looked at the house, and as I did, something arose inside me. Maybe it was anger. I don’t know. I was dog-tired. What they call ‘beat’. But I knew the moment I felt the cold weight of the gun in my hand that I was going inside, and no devil in hell was going to stop me.

Out in the night, the walk two houses down to my own home felt…surreal.

Julie must have taken Franklin with them out to Nat’s ranch. The dog was starting to get on in years, but he always barked his fool head off whenever visitors came calling.

My home is a split-level affair on a high ridge in Westlake Hills west of Austin. Out back is ten-mile strip of nature preserve, what city planners referred to as a ‘green belt’. The neighbors are quiet and sedate, and I almost never saw a cop or heard of a crime along my street. I suppose that there’s always a first time.

I held the gun in my right hand pointed down at the pavement as I walked along. When I got to the edge of my property I stepped up onto the grass and behind the shadow from the street lamp cast by my neighbor’s live oak tree. There I waited. Took stock.

The minutes ticked by.

Nothing.

I walked to the side of the house and then to the side fence. I lifted the latch carefully and pushed it slowly open. When was the last time I had used it? Possibly it had been weeks.

Into the complete darkness back of the house, I very nearly tripped over Michelle’s tricycle, but I moved slowly enough that I was able to catch it and keep it from flipping over and making a racket. I moved it aside, and stood there, listening.

More nothing, but for the distant chirping of crickets in the woods in the dark beyond.

I came to the back corner of the house, peered around it and waited for my eyes to adjust. Somewhere close by me, within a few feet, was the now invisible electrical box. The city used to send out a meter-reader once a month to take a reading of it, but in this digital age it’s all done by computer.

My eyes hadn’t adjusted at all. Everything was still pitch black but for the stars overhead through the trees.

I stepped into the flower bed—a bed perpetually devoid of foliage—and felt along the wall with my left hand until I found the electrical box.

The lid was off of it. The little lock tag had been cut and the thing had been opened.

I shivered. Someone had cut the power deliberately. And maybe, just maybe, they were still around.

My fingers fumbled over the contours of the open box until I found the switch. In daylight, the think would have been a faded red, almost pink with age and wear. At the moment, it, like everything else around me, was the color of death.

I stood there for a moment, considering. If I threw the switch, there was a chance that it would work and the power would come on. If that happened, the security light where I was standing would likely come on. Also, every item in the house that normally stayed on would switch back on—the microwave oven in the kitchen, the DVD players in the family room and whatever lights Jessica and I had left on, the fish tank upstairs, the desk lamp…everything. I would be announcing myself with broad, bold exclamation points to whomever had done this small but powerful bit of vandalism.

I decided.

I gave the switch a flip and dodged to my left, away from the house and behind the tree that I knew was five feet away, all the while expecting the report of gunfire, or the slash of a blunt weapon…or anything.

The lights came on, and to make matters far worse, nothing else happened.

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