Saturday, January 13, 2018

Sneak Peek - Chapter 1

Hi everyone,

I want to share the first chapter of my current work in progress with you. I'm hoping to publish in early April, and I'm getting excited about it!

Keep in mind, this passage hasn't been edited yet, so there are probably mistakes in it. :)

Chapter 1

Finally, around 10:15 PM, Mr. Kelley, the owner of Greenridge’s last mom and pop pharmacy locked the front door of his business, slid into his car, and drove off down the street. The slap of his tires rolling through a puddle of water hit the cold, damp air as he turned the corner out of sight. The flaming orange light from the streetlights streaked across the wet asphalt as a tall, thin figure wearing a hoodie and track pants stepped out of the alley beside the bank across the street and hobbled stiffly to the curb. The figure looked left and right before slowly stepping into the street. He walked gingerly without bending his left knee, and there was a bulge at his left ankle. Any passersby who saw him would undoubtedly remark at his unnatural gait, but there was no one on the street. Downtown Greenridge was dead, even though it was still early.
The figure reached the sidewalk in front of the pharmacy and huffed into the cold air. He watched the condensation from his breath dissipate as a mid-size SUV rounded the corner and zoomed through the standing water. The figure snapped his head downward to prevent anyone in the SUV from seeing his face. Someone in the vehicle hooted out the window as the car passed and sped down the street.
Once the car was gone, the hooded figure turned just enough to look up and down the road. This time there would be no cars; he was sure of it. There was no movement visible in any direction, even though the rain had stopped. The figure rubbed his clammy hands together before lifting the front of his hoodie and pulling out a pair of bolt cutters from his left pant leg. As he did so, a roll of duct tape fell out of his hoodie pocket and rolled a few feet down the sidewalk. The figure mumbled a curse as he went to get the tape, all the while holding the bolt cutters against his chest in case another car came by. He fetched the tape and, taking small strips off the roll as quietly as he could, used it to cover the small window pane in the pharmacy door. Once the glass was covered in tape, he wiped his hands on the front of his hoodie one at a time and lifted the handle of the bolt cutters toward the glass. He’d read about it online, and hoped it would work now. Gently he hit the handle of the bolt cutters against the glass and paused to listen. It was silent. He hit the glass again, harder this time, before pausing to listen. The tinkling of shards hitting the floor inside the pharmacy was so loud, the figure froze. He was sure someone else could hear it. But who? No one was downtown at this time of night. Still, he stood unmoving and surveyed the empty street. He hit the window pane one more time, harder still, and the glass fell inward and hung from the duct tape. Carefully, the figure reached in through the broken pane and unlocked the door. It jingled as it opened.
“Crap.” He’d forgotten the bells on the door. The figure shook his head as he stepped into the pharmacy and closed it softly behind him. He clutched the bolt cutters to his chest as he tiptoed through the store and behind the counter. Once more he wiped his hands on his hoodie, eyeing the metal cage where the prescription drugs were kept. He positioned the bolt cutters at a point near the cage’s lock and, pressing the handle against his abdomen, the figure made his first cut through the metal. The snap of the woven mesh separating made him pause and glance around him. The darkness inside the store was reassuring, and he repositioned the cutters.
* * *
“Time to get up,” Tristan’s dad said as he swung open the bedroom door.
Tristan grinned at him from where he sat in his desk chair. “I’m already up.” He finished tying his shoe before standing and throwing his arms wide. “Today’s the day we hear about the third round of voting.”
“Oh, is that today?” Tristan’s dad winked. “Let’s go downstairs. Your mom made some celebratory waffles.
“Dad…” Tristan tried to stifle a grin. “I don’t know if I’ve made it yet.”
Tristan’s dad slung an arm around his shoulders. “Those All American team committee members would have to be brainless not to put you through to the final round. It’s a slam dunk.”
Tristan’s cheeks flamed. “Dad....” He snatched his Muskrat hoodie off the floor and pulled it on over his head. “Waffles do sound pretty good,” he laughed through a cracked smile. Tristan led his dad downstairs. Today was Tristan’s day. Even his toes were tingly with excitement. First the All American team, then the UCLA Bruins. He couldn’t keep the grin from his face.
* * *
“Come on.” Rich slammed his hand on the desk next to the computer, but quickly checked himself. He looked furtively around the library. The handful of other students scattered at the various tables were looking at him, but averted their eyes when his gaze fell on them. The librarian was reshelving books that had been left on the tables yesterday. Rich turned back to his computer. “Keep it down, Rich,” he muttered. The results of the third round of voting for the McDonald's All-American teams had not yet been posted on the website. It was supposed to be posted today. Dick drummed his fingers on the table. He hoped it would be up before school started. He rubbed the stubble on his jawline. He had to be chosen for the team. The All American game was his best shot at getting out of Greenridge. And that couldn’t come soon enough. His mind flicked to his brother, Greg. He’d been popular in high school, and now look at him. He worked the night shift at the local big box store, restocking shelves. Rich bit his lip. He had bigger ideas for his life than living here and working some dead-end job. He had his sights set on a college scholarship and pharmacy school. Plus, if he made it through to the final round of voting, it might get Howie and Arlo off his back.
Rich scanned the magazine rack, and a headline on a newspaper caught his eye. He loped over to the old, metal rack, and retrieved the newspaper from the bottom shelf. He set the paper on the computer desk and lowered himself into his chair.
Local Pharmacy Robbed for First Time
January 9, 2018
Kelley’s Pharmacy in Greenridge was broken into Saturday night around 10:30 PM. The burglar used bolt cutters to access the cage where the pharmacy’s prescriptions were kept.
The owner of the drugstore, Mr. Ewan Kelley, said of the store’s security cameras: “They’re fake. We’ve never needed them since we’ve never been broken into for the ten years we’ve been here.”
The only items stolen from the pharmacy were anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are prescribed for conditions such as delayed puberty, anemia, osteoporosis, endometriosis, and impotence. Steroids are also used to enhance muscle and bone strength to improve performance in competitive sports.
The police department spokesperson announced that they had been able to get photographs of the suspected burglar from a low-resolution ATM camera at the bank across the street. The suspect appeared to be above average height and wearing a gray hoodie and striped track pants.
“It’s a shame,” Mr. Kelley said. “We’ll have to replace the window and the cage where we keep the medications. It’s such a mess.”
The grainy photo was positioned to the right of the article and captioned, “A burglar broke into Kelley’s Pharmacy late Saturday night.”
Rich’s eyes widened as he sucked in a breath and whistled on the exhale. The hum of the heater reached his ears. It was warm in the library. Outside, the sky was gray and soggy from the downpour that had hit Greenridge Sunday morning. The clock on the wall ready 7:20 AM. School would start in 10 minutes. Rich clicked on the search bar and went to Twitter. He scrolled through his feed, but nothing grabbed his attention. It was mostly people celebrating or grumbling about the players in the upcoming NBA All-Star game.
Golden arches at the bottom of the screen caught his eye. He scrolled down and there it was: the results of the third round of voting. Rich clicked on the link. His heart pounded. He scanned the list. “Yes,” he hissed. He threw his hands in the air and stood, looking around. The librarian and the other students in the library looked at him with blank faces before returning to their books. Rich's face flushed as he pulled his arms to his sides and sank back into his seat.
Rich scanned the rest of the list and his face dropped. Of course, his biggest competition would be nominated: Tristan Adams, Muskrat team captain. Eff it. He read the rest of the list and recognized most of the names. Most of these guys had been playing together in summer workshops for years. Rich rubbed his jawline again. The only other guy on the list he knew personally was John Humphrey, who played for their biggest rival, the Beavers. Double crap. Rich ground his teeth as he logged out of the computer and slunk out of the library.
Two police cars pulled into the parking lot as Rich walked past. The officers swung their legs out of their patrol cars and stood chatting. Rich cocked his head as the emblem on the side of one of the cars caught his eye. K-9 unit. It was drug sniffing day. Rich stopped on the sidewalk, and his fingers traced the outline of the travel-sized Rolaids container he had stashed in his pocket. The bottle’s contents rattled slightly. Rich guessed he needed them after all. With a slight bob of his head, Rich jogged through the parking lot.
At least one person was about to have a garbage day.

* * *

Swish. The basketball fell through the net without hitting the rim. Tristan grinned and turned toward the bleachers where his girlfriend, Annie, sat. He blushed slightly as she met his gaze. They had been dating for three months and having her here at practice still made him self conscious if he thought about it too much.
Annie sat hunched forward and bundled up in her khaki green anorak even though it was stuffy in the gym. Weirdo. She was always freezing. She smiled weakly at Tristan before taking a long drink from her bright pink water bottle. She carried it everywhere. Annie had told him that she was practically addicted to the sparkling water she carried in it.
Tristan turned back toward the court, but the long, lanky guy sitting next to Annie leaned toward Tristan, catching his eye. Annie’s older brother, Ren. He was probably at practice to ask questions about the All American team selection process for the school newspaper, The Daily Muskrat.
“Nice shot,” Ren drew out the words as he looked at the cell phone he held in his lap and typed quickly with his thumbs. Once he was done typing, Ren looked back at Tristan. “I bet you're excited that you made it to the next round of voting for the All American West team.”
Tristan nodded and opened his mouth to speak, but Annie interrupted.
“Ren, leave him alone.” She cuffed him in the shoulder with her water bottle. “He doesn’t have time for that right now.”
“No, it’s cool,” Tristan gestured with one hand. “Go ahead.” He dribbled the ball slowly and with control as he stood waiting.
“So, you’re excited,” Ren asked again with a slight upturn of his mouth. With one hand, he rubbed behind his ear where his glasses sat.
A warm grin moved across Tristan’s face. “Yeah, it's awesome. I’ve worked hard, and it’s paying off.” This was his dream. He was going to make the All American team and get a full ride to UCLA. California, here I come.
Tristan took a few steps away from them and shot the basketball again. This time, it bounced high off the rim before falling through the hoop. Tristan jogged to retrieve the ball and came back across the shiny wooden floor to stand at the bottom of the bleachers.
Ren leaned forward on the bleacher seat and spoke in a low voice. “How does it feel that Rich also made it through?”
“Geez, Ren…” Tristan responded in a low voice. He looked around the gym and back at Ren. “Rich is my teammate… and friend-ish.”
“Come on; it’s news,” Ren said with eyebrows raised.
Annie rolled her eyes. “Rich is a good player,” she said. She shivered and rubbed her arms.
Tristan cocked his head at her and held the basketball under one arm as he spoke. “He IS good. He just tends to be a little--”
“He’s an ass,” cut in Jacob, as he and Arlo strode across the court toward where Tristan was standing.
Arlo pulled off his school hoodie and threw it on the bleachers at Annie’s feet. “Watch this for me, will you?” he asked as he reached up one tawny brown hand to smooth out his black, spiky hair.
“Sure,” Annie said, taking another sip from her bright pink bottle.
“Who’s an ass? Rich?” asked Howie, another member of the basketball team, as he joined them. His arms looked unnaturally long in his basketball jersey, and his black basketball goggles stood out against his pale skin.
“Obvi,” Arlo said.
“Rich the Dick,” Jacob chuckled.
Arlo smirked. “Action Jackson.”
Howie smirked as he too pulled off his hoodie and tossed it at Annie’s feet. He adjusted his goggles on his long nose before speaking. “Bacon rod?” He raised his eyebrows and waited for the nod from Arlo.
“Nice one.” The two guys high fived.
Jacob guffawed.
Tristan smirked, but stifled it quickly. That was a good one.
The gym door made a creaking sound as someone opened it, and they all swung around to look toward it.
Rich stood there, water bottle in hand, watching them.
Tristan’s face reddened and guilt pricked his conscience, even though he hadn’t done anything wrong.
“Clam hammer,” Arlo whispered.
Howie chuckled. Jacob wiped a hand over his mouth to smother his laugh.
“Shut up, guys,” Tristan huffed under his breath. He shot a small smile at Rich, who frowned slightly as he crossed the court.
When Rich reached them, he fixed a smile on his face. “Hey guys.”
“Hey. Congrats on making the cut.” Tristan gave Rich a pat on the back.
“Thanks. It’s awesome.” Rich climbed the bleachers to sit beside Annie. “Hey neighbor. Are these guys trying to make you the coat lady again?” He pulled his worn hoodie over his head, wadded it into a ball, and shoved it between the bleachers.
“Yep,” she said. She shivered and took a swig from her bottle.
“Whatcha got there?” Rich asked as he leaned toward Annie and took a whiff of her drink. His nostrils flared as he looked up into her face with a grin. “Care to share?”
“No way,” She squirmed as she pulled the bottle out of his reach. “You’d hate it anyway. It’s sparkling water.”
“You’re probably right.” Rich smirked as he leaned back in the bleachers and met Ren’s eyes behind Annie’s back. “Are you here on newspaper business?”
“Yep.” Ren angled his body toward Rich and spoke. “I was asking Tristan how it feels to have made it through to round four, especially in competition with you.”
“What did he say?” Rich glanced toward Tristan and then back at Ren.
“Chill, Rich,” Tristan said coolly as he began to dribble the ball again. “It’s no big deal.”
“For you, maybe,” Rich mumbled as he leaned back on the bleachers and stretched out his legs before glancing at Annie. She met his eyes for a moment before turning away. She scooted toward Ren and read his phone over his shoulder.
Ren shrugged her off before speaking. “Anyway, how does it feel? Are you excited?” Ren asked again.
“Hell yeah,” Rich said loudly. “It's my ticket out of here.”
“To where?” Ren asked, his thumbs poised over the phone.
Rich glanced at Howie, Jacob, and Arlo before speaking, more quietly this time. “Pharmacy school.”
Jacob snorted.
Tristan glared at him, but didn’t speak.
Ren’s eyebrows shot up and he started typing again. “Really? Wow. I didn’t expect that…”
“Yeah,” Rich lifted one corner of his mouth and jabbed himself in the chest with his thumb. “I’m smarter than I look.”
“Right,” Howie said as he snickered.
Arlo laughed in agreement.
Tristan rolled his eyes. “Dude has an A in chemistry. If you paid attention in class you’d know that already, brillo head.” His hand shot out and messed up Howie’s already fluffy curls.
“Shut up,” Howie said, glaring at Tristan as he tried to comb his hair with his fingers before giving up and dropping his hands to his sides. He glanced at Arlo, who gave him a thumbs up.
“All right guys, let’s get moving,” Coach Edmonds hollered across the gym. He nodded to Tristan as he marched toward the group of guys. “Three on twos. Count them off, Captain.”
“Right,” Tristan said. “Let’s go, guys.” He tossed the ball to Rich, who caught it easily as he stood up. “Come on, Rich.”
Rich hopped off the bleachers. “Aye aye.” He saluted Tristan with one hand as he dribbled the ball with the other.
Howie and Arlo followed them toward center court.
The rest of their teammates moved across the gym from the locker room door and congregated at the center line.
“Tristan Adams,” a loud voice yelled across the gym.
Everyone spun to look, their shoes squeaking on the polished floor.
Principal Hastings stood in the doorway with a police officer at his side. “Come with me, please,” he said, fidgeting with his hands as he spoke.
Tristan furrowed his eyebrows, but jogged over to them. “What’s going on?” He asked.
“Let’s have a chat, in my office.” He grimaced at Tristan, whose eyes widened.
“Let me get my stuff,” Tristan said. What could this be about?
Principal Hastings glanced at the officer, who pursed his lips and met Tristan’s eyes. “Fine, but do it quickly.” His shoulders slumped.
Tristan nodded slowly and looked over at Annie and Ren, who were standing on the bleachers watching him. Hesitantly, he gave Annie a small smile before jogging out through the door that led to the locker room.
Principal Hastings turned and trudged out of the gym with the police officer striding ahead of him.
“What the crap?” Arlo asked as he stood on the court with his arms out, palms up.
Ren shrugged as he stood. “I’m going to find out.” He jogged after them.
“Wait up,” Annie called to Ren as she stood. She popped a piece of gum into her mouth and slung her backpack over her shoulder. Quickly, she jumped to the floor from the lowest bleacher bench and power walking after her brother.
* * *
Rich watched Tristan leave the gym through downcast eyes. That hadn’t taken long. He turned to look at Annie out of the corner of his eye. She shivered as she crossed the gym after Ren, her arms swinging at her sides. He watched her move out of sight down the hallway before turning back to Coach Edmonds.
“Okay, guys. Focus. I’m sure he’ll be right back.” Coach clapped his hands and the remaining basketball players took the court.
* * *
Tristan jogged to his locker. His heart was pounding. He ran his hand through his shaggy brown hair and exhaled loudly. Excitement coursed through him. Maybe the selection committee for the All American team had given early notification that he’d made the team. It could happen, right? Why else would the principal want to see him?
That was it. It had to be. It was Tristan’s year. He’d earned it.
He stuffed his clothes into his backpack and pushed his locker door closed. He took a breath to try to slow his heart down, but it continued to beat rapidly.
Tristan willed himself to walk calmly down the row of lockers toward the school hallway. As he opened the door, he saw Annie standing there, leaning against the wall, waiting for him, chewing gum. She stood bolt upright as he approached.
“What’s going on? Why do they want to see you?” Annie put her hands in her pockets and pulled them out again.
“No clue.” Tristan studied her face. Annie’s eyes were wide and a little bloodshot.“Are you okay? Your eyes are a little…”
“Oh, yeah, I didn’t sleep well,” Annie said as she waved her hand. “No biggie.”
Tristan nodded. “All right.” A grin spread across his face. “What if they’re going to tell me I made the All American Team? That could be it, right?”
Annie bit her lip and looked away.
“You don’t think that’s it?” Tristan asked. He watched her, waiting.
She looked back at him with a small smile. “It could be, but I didn’t think they made their choices for another week.”
Tristan shrugged. “Maybe they made an exception.”
“That’d be awesome.” Annie said slowly.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Tristan asked. “You don’t seem excited.”
“I’m excited,” Annie said quickly. She stepped closer to him and went up on her tiptoes to kiss him lightly.  “I am! See?” She smiled at him, but it didn’t reach her eyes.
Tristan studied her face for a moment and sighed. “Okay, let’s go.” He tried to suppress a grin as they walked down the hall. A bolt of excitement at the possibility of having made the All American team coursed through his body, tempered by Annie’s lukewarm response. But there wasn’t any other reason he’d be called up to the office. His selection to the All American team had to be it.
The halls were pretty much empty. Almost everyone was gone for the day, having left campus as quickly as they could after the final bell rang. Tristan’s shoes squeaked on the slick linoleum floor as they rounded the corner in front of the administration office.
Ren was standing outside the office door waiting, phone in hand.
“Ren,” Annie called to him. “Go home. This is not the time.”
“But this could be a huge story.”
Annie glared at him. “Leave. Now.”
Ren narrowed his eyes at her but slunk away toward the exit.
Tristan raised his eyebrows. “Kind of harsh, don’t you think?” He grasped her hand and led her into the administration office. He stepped up to Mrs. Bloomfield’s desk and opened his mouth to speak, but froze when he saw who was waiting for him.

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