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Monday, October 27, 2014

Excerpt from The Journeyman--coming this Halloween to your eyeballs.



Coming this Halloween (That's four days away, folks!), is my fifth novel:  The Journeyman. 
You can find more details on Amazon.com or on Smashwords. It is available for pre-order at either location. If that isn't enough incentive for you to read about your new favorite serial killer....maybe a sample chapter will help.

Meet Arthur Clay. He lives next door to you. He goes to your church. He shops at the same stores you do. He sees your children getting off the bus at the end of the school day and he watches you. He is always watching. 

 From The Journeyman, a novel by Dan Dillard...
Pre-order now for a Halloween 2014 release!!

One hour earlier, Arthur Clay finished his work and clocked out. The appliance factory had lost a shift, down to two, but business was picking back up and talk of the third shift reopening had grown from rumor to the planning stages. Hiring notices were out in the local newspapers. Hopeful candidates wore ties into the foreman's office for interviews. Arthur didn't care about any of that. He had but one thing on his mind, and that was the plaything in his basement. It had been there for three days and was cleansed and exhausted. It was ready for the ritual.
He punched his time card and checked it three times before placing it in the slot which bore his name. He smiled and nodded at the well-wishers who each said “Have a good weekend, Art”, or something to that effect. He nodded at each of them with a half-hearted grin and walked in his oddly stilted way—as if he was afraid something might swoop out of the sky and carry him off—to the burgundy Honda Accord and opened its driver’s side door. He shut it and opened it two more times before he could sit down. He knew the others watched him, talked about him—laughed at him—but he couldn't help it. Everything had to come in threes. If it didn't, the stress became too much and the headaches came.
Let them watch. Let them laugh. She laughed and she watched.
When he shut the door for the third time, he was okay again. He turned the radio on, but it wasn’t tuned to a particular station. The static filled his brain with a wonderful empty quality and allowed him to concentrate as he drove home. It was waiting, and when he got there, it would be ready.
It would be done.
It would be time.

***

He pulled into his driveway and put the car in park before he pressed the button on the automatic garage door opener. It cranked up slowly, disappearing above the opening. There was nothing inside except for some shelves, a water heater and a push lawnmower. He always feared something else might be waiting for him there.  Pulling the shifter into drive, the car rolled into the garage where he got out and shut the car door three times. He heard the flurry of notes as an opera of some sort floated from the next-door neighbor’s upstairs window. Art hated opera. He hated all the music those foul people listened to. He assumed it was the young one. The girl. He liked music from the 1950’s. Real rock and roll from the greats like Eddie Cochran, The Platters and The Falcons.
The large overhead door shut but Arthur had to close the inside door three times, the one that led into his kitchen. He breathed in the clean scent of bleach and pine-scented floor cleaner. Then he hung his light windbreaker on its hook next to the door and looked at his face in the mirror. He was clean shaven with well-groomed and thick brown hair. His teeth were straight. His eyes were blue…not icy like hers, but blue. He was regular, nothing offensive, but neither was there anything spectacular about his appearance. His thirties were being kind to him in his estimation. A muffled scream distracted him for a single clock’s tick and he smiled. Not a sinister expression, but one that displayed the comfort of being home after a long day spent inspecting appliances for the kitchens and laundry rooms of America.
A quick glass of orange juice crossed his lips before he walked out to check the mail.
Close the front door three times. Open the mail box and look inside in case something is in there that shouldn’t be. A human hand perhaps…or  something crawling with maggots. Grab the mail, close the box once, twice, third time’s a charm. That infernal music from the neighbor’s. Back to the porch, back to the door, three times. Three. Three times.
Once inside, he found the muffled screams were still there. Arthur clapped his hands. That was music to him. He checked the calendar in the pantry, not once or twice, but yes, three times. It was today. It was ready. He hurried through the basement door, shutting it over and over and again and then descended to the bottom of the stairs. It was still secured to the chair, but its back was to him. This was by design, so it could not see him when he entered. It could not watch him and pass judgment with its cold blue eyes. The most beautiful eyes—but cold.
“I take it the medicine has worked?” he asked, not caring if it responded. It couldn’t speak anyway, not with the gag in place.
The woman grunted, screamed, then grunted again against the wad of terrycloth that was shoved into her mouth and secured with duct tape. This set off a fit of coughing and more gagging.
“No need for that. It will only make things worse,” he said.
The room was large, rectangular in its form, but instead of being concrete and cinder blocks or finished with carpet and sheetrock, it was covered in ceramic tile on the walls and on the floor. The ceiling was the drop in type, build of a metal grid and acoustic tiles.  In front of the woman in the chair, there were three things:  a plastic barrel, a Rubbermaid storage cabinet, and a garden hose attached to a spigot and coiled around its hanger. Three windows should have let in some natural light, but each had been painted black. The only light provided was harsh, clinical and artificial. It left nothing to the imagination which was how Arthur Clay liked it. There would be no surprises if he could help it. He was less and less surprised with each ritual.
He made a face as he came into its view. It, a woman in her twenties of average build, maybe five and a half feet tall with shoulder length black hair, leered at him over the duct tape. Her legs were bound at the knee and the ankle to the heavy chair with silver-gray tape and her hands were taped together behind her back. She watched him with eyes that were an impossibly pale blue and exhausted, but filled with hatred. Their color stood out against the red rims of her eyelids, made all the more stunning by the stinging tears.
“First, we have to remedy this stench,” he said as he snapped on a pair of latex gloves.
 She was drenched in sweat and smelled of her own urine and feces. The Magnesium Citrate—the liquid prescribed for colonoscopy prep—he’d force-fed her through a funnel had indeed worked, and she was covered in an unmentionable mess under her clothes. The filth had soaked through her skirt and dripped down the legs of the chair onto the floor. This was always his least favorite part, but the ritual had to be complete and that meant cleansing inside and out. She screamed again, sounding like a teenage girl taking adolescence out on her pillow and doing her best to thrash about. Her right foot popped loose of its binding and she kicked her foot with all she could give, sending a rather expensive stiletto heel flying across the room to strike one of the windows. It scraped a patch of the black paint clean. Her eyes gleamed with the possibility of escape.
“That’s all right. I have plenty of tape,” Arthur said.
He struggled with her leg for only a moment, then placed it where he wanted, wrinkling his nose at the smell of her. With one knee driven into the top of her foot, he taped the leg back in place, then checked the bond on the other side. She moaned in pain and began to cry.
“That looks good to me,” he said. Arthur opened the storage cabinet and pulled out a large pair of shears and cut first the sleeves of her shirt up to the neck, and then the three buttons that ran down the center of its front. He snipped the tiny satin piece of fabric that held the cups of her bra together, then the shoulder straps before removing the garments from behind her with a jerk. Her hands folded backwards, fighting with the duct tape in a failed attempt to cover her exposed breasts. Arthur dropped the clothes into the nearby plastic drum. All the while, he hummed That’ll be the Day by Buddy Holly and the Crickets.
In front of her again, he slid the scissors down the soft skin of her belly. She tightened, sucking her stomach in and trying to shrink away from the cold blades. With a few quick snips, the skirt fell open. He sliced the tiny strands that held her panties over her hips and stood back to look at her. The pink cotton cloth stuck to her skin, glued in place by human waste. Arthur regarded her face—its face—and then snipped the tape that held her knees.
“You said you were going to be with me,” Arthur said as matter-of-fact as if he were reading from a newspaper article. There was no anger in the words, no emotion whatsoever.
She shook her head.
“Yes, Christina. Yes you did. When I told you I loved you, you laughed at me. It’s okay. I was mad at first, but now I understand and I forgive you. It isn’t your fault. The world has its way with us. You are simply a dirty thing and need to be cleaned. I will cleanse you.”
She shook her head and screamed again, tears flowing. Arthur looked at her eyes as he uncoiled the garden hose and turned the pressure on full. He pulled its trigger, dousing her with cold water and rinsing the filth from her body. She squealed. Arthur hummed again, singing the occasional word as he sprayed her down. The water and waste exited the house through a drain in the lowest point of the ceramic tile floor.
“That’ll be the day,” he sang. “When you said goodbye.”
He sprayed up close, tugging her to one side and then the other, pulling apart her buttocks and spreading her legs and cleaning as much as he could with her still attached to the chair. Her squirming helped his cause. He kept enough of a distance so as not to get splattered by any filth. Arthur pulled the panties and skirt out from under her and tossed them into the barrel before turning the hose back on her once more.
“That’ll be the day, when you make me cry…”
Satisfied with everything rinsed, he turned off the hose and coiled it back up on the hanger.
He went back to the cabinet and found his tools including an invention he called The Tube and likened to a small version of the spiles those Northeastern folks hammered into maple trees to collect their sap for syrup. His version had a bit of flexible tubing attached to one end. Arthur set up a metal tray table next to her and placed The Tube on top along with a pint-sized glass jar and a pair of small knives.
“You say you’re gonna leave me, you know it’s a lie...”
He picked up the tube and straightened its coils, letting one end dangle down inside the plastic barrel. Arthur held the other end up for inspection. As big around as a child’s pinky but sharp as a woodworker’s gouge. Her eyes were wide, scared, staring at the implement.
“You like to stare, don’t you Christina? That’s what you do with your beautiful, haunting eyes. You stare into me and find what hurts. That’s what you do. You find what hurts and jab at it. You hurt me. You are a dirty thing.”
She shook her head but never took her eyes from the tool in Arthur’s hand. He gripped a handful of her hair and pulled her head to the side.
“’Cause that’ll be the da-a-ay, that I die,” he sang and slid the sharp tube of metal into her neck, piercing the carotid artery and letting the hot red blood flow into the tub. It only took a couple minutes before she was unconscious and shuddering, her last movements. Arthur held his fingers to her jugular, monitoring her pulse. In less than five minutes, Christina was dead.
He went back to humming as he used the small knives to cut away her eyelids and then he used their handles to pop the orbs from their sockets, careful not to pierce the delicate sclera. Once out, it was an easy snip to remove them from her head and place them in his jar.
His prizes acquired, Arthur clipped the duct tape and let the body slide from the chair to the floor. He peeled the tape from the chair and scrubbed the glue from its frame along with the few drops of blood and other matter he’d missed with the hose from its seat and frame. It took him a long, meticulous time to get the piece of furniture clean. When he was satisfied with it, the chair was placed on his back porch next to its twin.
Back in the basement, he made a quick inspection and noticed a speck of light filtering in through one of the windows.
“Well, that won’t do,” he said and quickly remedied the situation with a can of spray paint. Black, matte finish.
With little struggle, he dismembered the corpse using a hacksaw and a hatchet and placed the parts into the barrel. A generous sprinkling of sodium hydroxide gave the macabre contents the odd appearance of chicken dusted and ready for the fryer.
He cleaned the room with bleach until it sparkled. Once he had wiped down the outside of the barrel and placed the rags inside.  
Upstairs, Arthur boiled several large pots of water on the stove and carried them carefully back to the container and carefully poured them into the barrel to prevent splashing. Experience told him seven pots would be enough to do the job. Once finished, he secured the lid and made sure the cap to its pour spout was screwed in place. A package he was proud of.
“Almost clean, Christina,” he said, and patted the top of the barrel. The noise it made was a satisfying sound, deep like a tympani drum.
He picked up the jar with its eyes inside and walked out of the basement. “Come with me, Christina,” he said to the orbs and gave them a gentle swirl. They rolled about and Arthur smiled.
Late afternoon had become late evening as he made his way to his bedroom with his prizes in hand. The time, 11:06 pm, glowed from the alarm clock on his bedside table. There was another table, a crafting table where he made scrapbooks for all sorts of occasions. It was something he had done with his mother as a boy. She was long dead, but Arthur kept the tradition alive and well. A box sat on the corner and inside, his favorite tools were kept. There were two large needles and pint-sized A and B jars of two part epoxy resin.
He removed one of the eyes from the jar and inspected it. Already, it showed some signs of dehydration. With great care, Arthur inserted the first needle inside and extracted the vitreous humour. After a quick mix of the resin, he used the other hypodermic—this one with a much thicker needle—to inject it into the eye. Arthur rolled it in his hand for a few minutes to help maintain its spherical shape, a skill he’d learned through trial and error. He placed it on a small stand—the white plastic thing that came in delivered pizza to keep the lid from sticking to the toppings.  More resin was applied to the outside with a paintbrush. Once the first one was sealed, Arthur moved to the other eye.
“You look lovely this evening, Christina. Your eyes are beautiful,” he said and hummed Baby Love by the Supremes.
On his hands and knees, Arthur reached underneath his bed and retrieved a wooden box. He placed it on the mattress and opened it. Inside there were two-dozen velvet lined compartments, eleven of which were occupied and each labeled, CHRISTINA. He stared at them while the new additions hardened and while still on his knees, Arthur unzipped his pants and masturbated.

...to be continued... 

Don't forget the rest of my titles are available here and here. Come find me on Facebook or Twitter and chat me up.

 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

BONES

Here's a little something for Halloween. Happy diving.

They picked his bones clean.

Will was just stuck there wishing he could go into shock but the cool water kept him lucid, wishing he could pass out, but the respirator held fast to his face and there was still twenty minutes worth of oxygen left in the tank. He was caught coming out of the wreck and no matter how he twisted, the tank was stuck. No matter how he tugged or pulled or pressed, the latches at his shoulders would not let the gear go. No matter how hard he batted at them, they kept coming.

“Never dive alone,” they told him. Everyone said that. It played like a clock’s tick in his mind. Never ending. Maddening.

Meat and blood trailed off into the water. His meat. He watched it drift away as the failing sun filtered down. Only fifteen feet to the surface. Only that much further to his boat. How much blood had he lost? How much before the sharks came? He saw the dark shadows swimming just beyond where his eyes could focus, but that was only in his mind.

Will remembered when he was a kid fishing from the pier and a man, fat and sunburned, caught a cobia. The fish was well over three feet long. The fisherman finished one beer and popped another open before he carved off the heavy filets of flesh and packed them in his cooler. He didn’t even gut the thing or kill it. The carcass went back over the side and as Will watched, the fish swam away. He wondered how far it might get before the inhabitants of the ocean started to follow it, to finish the job.

He felt like that fish.

How long. He held up his arm again to look at the gauge. Bones. He saw the bones of his forearm through the bite marks. A school of smaller fish picked at it. Tiny stings of pain over the screaming throbs coming from that arm, from his exposed shoulder, from the place where his ear used to be, from his thigh and his belly. The world was pink and shimmery. Never dive alone. Who is alone down here?

That’s the thing about the ocean. You are never alone. Never. Will suddenly felt cold. Felt dizzy. He welcomed it and smiled.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Meet my Main Character!

I have been nominated by film critic, fellow sailor, and author of The Spooky Chronicles and The Matriarch, Kevin A. Ranson,  to join the “Meet My Main Characters” blog tour. Today I will be telling you a little about the protagonist of my latest horror thriller, The Journeyman.




What is the name of your main character?
Her name is Chelsea Ritter, but her father calls her Critter.


When and where is the story set?
The story is set present day in a mythical town known as Walker's Woods. It's a small Midwestern town that reminds me of a few places I've lived and I think a lot of people might find familiar. Bad things happen there.

What should we know about the main character?
Chelsea is fourteen years old and considers herself an artist. She is quite talented and through no fault of her own, mentally mature for her age. She confides in her pet tarantula, Persephone, and when she isn't painting, she journals. A child of divorce, her father is important to her...but it is unclear at times who is raising who.


What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
Chelsea has a journal about her neighbor Arthur. She finds his quirks fascinating and enjoys watching him from the relative safety of her bedroom window, like a human ant farm. All goes well until she witnesses him murdering a woman. Things worsen when she finds out he knows that she knows. As if high school isn't tough enough. That said, this book isn't really a high school story and isn't for the little ones.

What is the personal goal of the character?
Survival. Her coping mechanisms are...unique.

When can we expect the book to be published?
The Journeyman will be available Halloween, 2014 in all e-book formats, but is available for presale now on Amazon. Paperback will follow soon after. For other tales, check these links:  Amazon, Smashwords, B&N.

My nomination for two more writers for the blog tour?
I’m calling out Michael Yowell and Heaven Leigh Eldeen so they can pimp their pages. Go writers, go!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Journeyman

Seems like a long time in the works, but in truth, only about seven months have passed since I started this book. Now it's available for pre-order on Amazon, so I have a deadline...but we'll get to that a little later.
It's also tough to write a blog post about a book without giving too much information away, so I'll try to stick to the how, and not so much the what.
Every story I write gets a little stronger, not necessarily better, but the construction is stronger, the characters get more realized, the dialogue better, the plot more complex--these are the lies the author tells himself anyway. Is it true? Don't know. I can't afford to hire a team of experts to analyze my catalog...and I don't want to. Experts frustrate me because most often (in my experience) they are one way streets with no turns. This doesn't follow a formula that is proven. This isn't in the Shakespearean 5 act structure. This has too many adverbs!
Whatever. Now, I'm not saying those things are bad, and neither am I saying that I don't try to adhere to the rules as much as possible. I'm just saying I've learned a lot about writing as I have put these books out into the world. The Journeyman is book #9 for me, and I hope it's better than the rest, if not in content, then in quality and construction. Each time I get to the editing stages, I learn something new about author intrusion, about perspective, about tense, about DA RULES. I also learn when and where it is possible to break them and in some cases, where it screams for it.
I still have about 10 books to write before I think I'll be where I want to be as an author...When I get to book 19, I'm sure I'll still feel the same way. Chasing me, ten years from now, as Matthew McConaughey said when he accepted the Oscar this past year. I'm already on that path, writing my next novel--DIG-- and making some short films, but those are tales for another time.
So, you  might be asking, what's this new book about?
Well, there's this fourteen-year-old girl named Chelsea who is an only child. She dyes her hair blue, listens to a variety of music, has a gay best friend named Devin, paints magnificent images of skulls and flowers and she reminds me a lot of my own daughter. She dotes on a pet tarantula named Persephone and lives alone with her father. The divorce was a little messy and she is no fan of her mother's. She is wise and responsible beyond her years.
Chelsea journals. When she was little, she wrote in a diary about her dream of being a princess, then a doctor, then whatever the new day brought. Then she found Arthur Clay.
Arthur is her next door neighbor and he is quirky. He opens and closes his doors three times. He sticks to his daily routine so tightly she might set her alarm clock by when he goes to get his mail in the afternoon, always with a glass of orange juice...always checking the box three times, even after his mail is in hand.
There's something else she finds out about Arthur in her ever-obsessing investigations. He kills women in his basement and takes their eyes. As if high school isn't bad enough. What's a girl to do? Well, you'll have to read to find out.

I hope you will read it and enjoy it even if it gets a little icky in parts. You might find Arthur isn't the worst creature in the story. Who knows.

On sale for pre-order now. This book will be released on November 8th (or maybe a little earlier).
Come check out, THE JOURNEYMAN.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

With My Apologies to His Highness

I haven't posted any short fiction on the blog in a while, so I thought today might be as good a day as any. I found this nugget tucked away in my "shorts and flash stories"  folder on the PC and figured it was worthy of a dusting. I get inspiration from everywhere, usually from within my own twisted mind. In this case, it came from another twisted mind. I think my Grandmother bought me my first Stephen King hardback book...maybe it was my mother. Either way, I was too young to read it, but I turned out okay. *tweak-tweak-twitch-twitch*

Stephen King mentioned once in an interview that he had a story idea about an airport ladies room… The women just kept leaving their husbands in the terminal, excusing themselves to go to the restroom, and not returning. Something was going on in that restroom, he just never could figure out what it was…So I finished my version of the story. Thought it would be cool to have an anthology of “finishes” to this premise. We’ll see what happens. So, without further ado:


WITH MY APOLOGIES TO HIS HIGHNESS
By Dan Dillard

Carmen had on that same damned blue dress. She thought she looked fabulous in it, but it was old, somewhat out of style and had a few picks in the fabric. There was nothing in particularly wrong with it, but she had nicer, newer clothes. Clothes that didn’t make her look poor. Joe knew they weren’t poor. He worked too hard for too long for that and he knew it. The dress gave that impression. Joe didn’t want to give others that impression.
“You finished packing?” he asked.
“Yep.”
“Got your face on?”
“Yes, Joe. I’m ready in two minutes. Go ahead and take the suitcase to the car,” she said.
He did as she instructed. He knew there would be another suitcase, something small to hold her makeup, or the medicine, maybe a hair dryer and various other electricals. They still had three hours and the Indianapolis airport was only a forty minute drive. Plenty of time.
She appeared in the garage as he was slamming the hatchback shut. As expected, she was carrying a purse and one other bag…the accessory case she called it. He took it, opened the hatchback and tossed it in.
“Ready,” she said.
“You look great, Carmen. Top notch,” he said.
She hadn’t looked top notch in decades, but he had never a prize himself. At one time he thought she had been, so he always had a compliment. Carmen smiled and gave him an aw shucks look. Thirty years ago she would’ve blushed, but she was past that. Any red on her cheeks was applied. He opened the passenger side door and held it for her to get in.
“This is so exciting,” she said.
Joe wasn’t as enthused, but he nodded, catering.

*****

The drive was easy, as expected, there was no traffic midday. He even found a parking space on the airport side of the extended stay lot that wasn’t too long a walk to the terminal.
“That’ll save us $15.00,” he said.
Carmen rolled her eyes.
“Lunch at McDonalds. You just saved us lunch at McDonalds,” she said. “Congratulations.”
He frowned. “I could drop you off. You could wait for me inside the terminal.”
“No, no. I can walk. Save your money.”
Joe shook his head and waved her off with a grimace. They had survived no less than ten thousand such arguments. He knew there would be thousands more--maybe not ten thousand. They were beyond the halfway point of life (well beyond it)--but thousands nonetheless.
The suitcase bumped to the ground and he extended the handle with a SNICK! Silently, aside from the hum of the plastic suitcase wheels, they walked in through the parking deck and took the escalator to the next floor. He stopped at the desk and plopped their suitcases on the low counter.
“Good afternoon,” the attendant said. “Just you today, sir?”
“No, I’m travelling with my wife.”
He gestured toward Carmen. The attendant looked  up and then nodded. The woman placed tags on each piece of luggage and then shoved them onto a conveyor belt. Joe watched as the bags disappeared through a small door.
“Have a nice flight, sir,” she said and handed him a small folder with the boarding passes tucked neatly inside.
Joe grunted his thanks and stuck the folder into the pocket of his sport coat. He then took Carmen by the hand and walked with her through the central hub to their airline’s terminal.
“Hate security,” he said.
“Oh, it isn’t so bad. Just pop off your shoes now,” she said.
“Floor’s nasty.”
“It won’t kill you, Joe.”
There were only a dozen or so folks in line. Not too bad. Joe slipped his loafers off and let them dangle from the fingertips on his left hand as they waited. He placed them into one of the bins along with his keys, belt, loose change and wallet. Carmen’s purse went into the next bin along with her shoes and just like that, they were scanned and getting dressed.
“What is our gate number, Joe?” Carmen asked.
He fumbled the paper from his pocket and held it at arm’s length, tilting his head and stretching his face out, mouth open to focus his tired eyes.
“Looks like we’re at 41C,” he said.
She checked the hanging signs and tugged him to the left where they passed a newsstand, then a bar and finally a Wolfgang Puck bistro. They walked by a vending machine full of iPods and e-readers, a charging station for phones and such. Joe’s legs were tired and he regretted not parking in one of the more expensive spots, but he would never tell her that.
“I smell coffee,” Carmen said. “It smells heavenly.”
She tugged him again, changing his direction, and he followed without argument. They bought expensive coffee in paper mugs that tasted just like the cheap coffee she brewed at home and then wandered just a bit further to gate 41C. Carmen and Joe were the only ones in that section. He sat facing the wall of windows that looked out over the tarmac and smiled at the sun.
“Beautiful day outside,” he said and sipped his coffee with a slurping sound.
“It really is,” she said.
Joe looked over his left shoulder, toward the end of the terminal. There was a storm brewing and the clouds were as dark as Kingsford briquettes. It made him feel uneasy.
“Hope we get out before that storm hits,” he said.
“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” Carmen replied.
A man in a business suit approached and sat on the opposite row of chairs.
“I hoped we might be alone on this flight,” Joe said. “Always wanted to be in that mile high club.”
Carmen pinched his arm and grinned. She patted him on the thigh and then placed one hand over her purse while she sipped her coffee. They sat and watched out the window as one plane took off, another landed. While they waited, another couple came and sat a few seats down from them.
“Afternoon,” the man said.
“Same to you,” Joe replied. “Where you off to?”
“Going to see my family,” the man said. “You?”
“Kids and grandkids. Nine grandchildren now,” Joe said.
Carmen gave a nod of acknowledgement and smiled.
“Good haul,” the man said. “We’ve got five ourselves. Robert’s the name. Wife is Sheila.”
“Joe. This is Carmen. Good to meet you.”
Robert’s wife nodded and smiled.
“What business you in, Joe?”
“Engineering, retired.”
“Ooh, never was much for math. I write fiction, mostly the checks I use to pay the bills.”
Joe chuckled. The wives stayed in their neutral corners for a few minutes while the men chatted.
“Colts look good this year,” Robert said.
“Yeah,” Joe replied. “But I’m a Bears man.”
“Hey, same here,” the business suit said. “Didn’t mean to eavesdrop.” He was middle aged--Joe guessed forty-five--still in good shape with a handsome but forgettable face. His hair was shiny with some goop and parted on the side.
“Oh, no. No secrets here,” Joe said.
Robert nodded. Then the whole crowd sat in silence for a few minutes. Joe looked back at the storm cloud once again. It hadn’t moved, but seemed darker, swirling with more ferocity. He noticed there was a smoker’s lounge at that end, something he hadn’t remembered in the new airport. It looked like an aquarium full of murky water, and the surrounding area seemed neglected and dirty. A single man walked in and disappeared inside the cloud.
“You follow baseball at all?” Robert asked.
“Some. More of a basketball man.”
“College or pro?”
“College. They aren’t as spoiled.”
Robert nodded. “True. Not quite as spoiled.”
More silence, and then Carmen tapped Joe on the knee. He leaned in as if she might have a secret.
“How much time have we got?” she asked.
Joe looked at the ticker, then at the clock mounted next to it.
“Looks like thirty minutes or so before we can board,” he said.
“Good. That coffee went right through me,” she said. “I need to use the ladies room.”
“Well, don’t let me stop you,” Joe said.
She stood up to leave and Sheila jumped up as well.
“Mind if I go with you?” she said.
Carmen shook her head. “Course not.”
The two ladies headed off together, but after a few steps, Carmen turned to Joe and with concern on her face said, “I’ll see you soon.”
His reaction was part smile, part confusion at first. Then he blew her a kiss. She caught it in one hand, tucked it in next to her heart and walked away, vanishing into the restroom with her new acquaintance.
The men chatted about sports, about politics, and even the business suit joined the conversation. There were laughs and disagreements, and when thirty minutes had passed, the conversation had dwindled. Robert watched out one window and the business suit had taken to reading a discarded newspaper. Joe felt antsy. He looked back at the storm and that strange lounge as a woman walked inside and disappeared into the cloud of smoke.
“You think our wives fell in?” he said.
 “They’ll be back. You know how women are, always last minute out the door. They’ve got to put on lipstick or something,” Robert said.
The businessman looked up over his newspaper and laughed.
“You married?” Joe said to him.
“I was once. But that isn’t what’s funny,” he said.
“Well, clue us in on the joke, will ya?”
“The joke is this:  They are never coming back.”He chuckled and went back to his newspaper.
Joe’s heart skipped at those words. So nonchalant. So assured. He was shocked that a man would joke about such a thing, and more shocked that he found himself feeling relief. He felt an odd truth in the situation…a truth in the words of the businessman who was a fellow bears fan. The feeling was that there was an odd play on life happening around him. A play that was in its denoument. Maybe Carmen hadn’t gone anywhere with Sheila. In fact, maybe Joe was the one who left. All of those questions made him feel better somehow. He felt better like he was on the verge of some discovery.
Robert, however, looked confused. “What do you mean?” he said
The businessman peeked back over his newspaper again and simply nodded at something Joe and friends had not yet seen. Before they could turn to look, a woman approached in a smart uniform. A uniform with the airline’s logo emblazoned on its lapel. Her nametag read ANGEL.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen. May I please check your boarding passes?” she said.
She was attractive with an easy, comforting smile. Joe and Robert fumbled into their pockets for the papers. It was the first time Joe realized he only had one boarding pass. He looked for the other one.
“Sir? Your pass, please,” Angel said.
“But I had another,” he said.
“I’m certain you didn’t,” she replied. Her words weren’t hard or rude, only definite.
Joe held out the slip of paper with the abbreviated itinerary printed on it and the woman took it from him. Then she took Robert’s. She checked each paper and handed them back with a smile. Then she approached business suit. He handed her the pass over his newspaper without looking up. Angel glanced at it and frowned.
“Sir, that’s your gate down there,” she said.
She gestured toward the smoker’s lounge. Joe and Robert looked. The storm outside had either grown or gotten closer. It seemed to engulf that corner of the airport terminal, swirling around the hazy aquarium, purple streaks of lightning feeling around like hands extending from its cloudy bulk. Another man walked into the glassed-in room. Joe wondered if anyone ever walked back out.
“But it’s nicer here,” the businessman said.
“Yes, sir, it is. Much nicer. But that is your gate and you must get on that flight.”
His face sagged, angry and ashamed. A large tear grew pregnant and fell from his eye.
“I know,” he says. “We were having such a nice conversation is all.”
She smiled, not a genuine expression, more a courtesy and then said, “Sir, it is time for you to board.”
Dear sweet Jesus, Joe thought.
Businessman cleared his throat and stood up. He nodded to Robert and then to Joe before he walked away and stuffed balled fists into the pockets of an expensive trench coat. On the back of that coat was the illuminated word SINNER. The letters glowed like neon, only as if they had been carved with a single, jagged claw.
The attendant looked at Robert and smiled, genuine this time.
“Sir, you’re simply in the wrong place. You should be at gate 31C,” she said.
Robert looked nervous and shook his head. “No. I need to be here.”
For the first time, Joe took a really good look at him. He saw a sadness there, self-doubt and one word came into his thoughts as clear as black print on a white page.
SUICIDE.
Robert was in between, but obviously, his flight had been delayed.
“No, Robert. You don’t need to be here,” the woman said. She smiled again. “You should come with me, dear. We’ll get you to the right place.”
She looked at Joe and patted his hand, handing his boarding pass back.
“Your flight is on time, sir. Great things await you. I hear the weather is beautiful.”
She took Robert by the elbow and helped him stand. They walked back down the corridor, away from the storm clouds and the smoking lounge.
“The weather where? Where is it beautiful?” he said, but Angel and Robert didn’t hear.
Joe watched as they approached some sort of barrier. On the other side of that barrier, Sheila waited. Joe looked down and saw a trail of blood droplets, blood that dripped from Robert’s hands.
Sheila took Robert into her open arms and Joe saw her burst into loving tears when she embraced her husband. Carmen was there as well and she was also crying, but she waved. She waved and cried as a young wife watches her husband leave the pier on a Navy headed to war. When he focused on her, he saw the young and beautiful woman he married. He also saw her mouth the words, “Goodbye. I’ll see you real soon.”
Then she was gone, and Joe boarded the plane.