Saturday, January 29, 2011

No Fear! Yeah, Right

No Fear Blogfest
Writes of Passage
~~There's a neat contest going on at Dominic de Mattos' Writes of Passage. The challenge is to post a snip of your MC at the point of greatest bravery. So here goes.
~~The MC is Laura Grace Chandler, a retired teacher and adoptive mother in her late fifties. She is attacked by the abusers from her daughter's past and has to summon deep reserves of bravery to meet the challenge. This snip has been posted in earlier forms on the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum.

FRIENDLY FIRE copyright 2010 Zan Marie Steadham

Mack or Manny had been here nearly every day since we learned about Craig’s release date, and Bob Thomas had stepped up the patrols of Cherry Hill’s finest in the neighborhood. It was like living in an armed camp. It might actually be an armed camp if Mack had a concealed carry permit. I didn’t want to know. The memory of that gun in my daughter’s hands chilled me. And yet, none of the precautions changed the feeling of eyes on the back of my neck when we were out.

So far, Samantha had not asked me about what was bothering the men, why they were here all the time. Maybe she thought we were concerned about Dale showing up. We were, but Manny’s visit had been a couple of weeks after she’d told me about seeing Dale.

“Did you do your homework?” I glanced up in time to see the fleeting look of guilt among the curls. “Samantha, what’s your first job every afternoon?”

Her jaw tightened as she looked away from me. “My first job is school and all assignments my teacher give me.”

It was a rote, dead-on imitation of me. I arched a brow and began to sort through my usual responses, but stopped cold. Her eyes weren’t defiant. No. That was fear. “Angel, what’s wrong?”

Rounding the table I was by her in a moment and gathered her in my arms as her lip began to tremble. My slight rocking began by instinct, just as it had every time she was afraid. Like every night the nightmares came.

Her voice was small, barely above a whisper. “I n-need poster board. For biology. Cell m-mito-s-sis-mitosis—”

“So we go get it. How are your markers? They’re fairly new.”

The wide blue eyes were my only answer.

“Get your coat, angel.” I gave her a tight hug then released her toward the coat closet.

She was rooted. “But…” The small voice shook. “It’s nearly dark.”

“Then let’s go fast.” Dark. And Dale lurking. Yes, we needed to go fast, but it wouldn’t take twenty minutes.


Stepping out into the chill February night, I aimed the remote key through the breezeway toward the car and clicked lock. What I’d give for an attached garage was astronomical, but this was the house Tom and I had bought shortly after signing our first teaching contracts. The stiff north wind whistled around the corner of the house and I pulled my head down into the collar of my sweater. It wasn’t enough for this wind. Thank goodness a cup of tea waited by my chair.

Turning back to the door, I froze. Streetlights glinted on the neighbors’ cars except for the ratty Ford in front of the Talley house. Frowning, I stepped further onto the porch to see it better. Rosemary wouldn’t have let one of the boys buy a car like that, but it was the same one I had noticed outside the school yesterday. I shrugged.

A hand covered my mouth. As I grabbed for it, an arm like iron pinned my arms to my sides. Sour male sweat swamped my nose and my stomach churned as I struggled against the man’s clasp. The rasping voice in my ear rode on a gust of rancid chewing tobacco. “I won’t hurt you, old woman, if I get what I want.”

The man jerked me back into the house and flung me against the wall. As my head bounced against it, I sat down hard. Pain lanced up my leg as my head throbbed. My vision’s focus went in and out with the beat of my heart. Adrenalin flooded my veins with its pulse.

The man standing over me grinned. Lank, greasy hair hung over his thin face bulging with tobacco. He laughed as another man stepped in the door. A younger version of the short, wiry man stepped over my legs. I shook my head to clear my eyes.

“Where’s the little bitch? She’s mine, you know.” The older man looked down the hall. “I made her mine when she was seven.”

Bile threatened to choke me as sick realization hit the pit of my stomach—Craig Ellis. I looked at his companion. He had to be Dale. My heart rammed my ribs. They wanted Samantha and I was the only one here who could stop them. I was all she had. “She—she’s not here.” My voice was strangled with fear. I cleared my throat. Dear Lord, let me convince them. “Samantha isn’t here.” My voice had settled and was loud enough to carry to her room. “She’s spending the night with a friend. Who are you?”

Craig punched me and my lip spilt, blood spattering the wall. “Try again.”

As my stomach clenched tighter, the sweet and rancid smell of chewing tobacco gagged me. A stream of hot, brown juice landed beside me on the carpet.

Craig looked around the room. “Did Sam tell you about her dear, old step-dad?” He nodded toward the entertainment center. “Dale, see if any of that’ll sell. I don’t think this old bitch will need much more persuading.” The younger man stared at me for moment before he turned. Craig’s gaze raked me. Revulsion twisted my stomach. “She’s here. No one’s left since you two got back.” His feral glare threatened to turn out the contents of my stomach. “Anyway, she’ll want to see me.”

A lamp shattered against the hearth. I jumped. Dale pulled the TV out of the cabinet. “TV’d sell. So would the DVD and CD changer.”

Dale grinned. “Seems like Sam found a sweet ride. We’ll get that after our little reunion.” He leered. “Be good to see how much she’s learned.”

Taking a deep breath, my mind raced through all the options I had. Didn’t take long. Could I bribe him to leave? Lord knows, I couldn’t stop them physically. “You can have all that and my credit cards if you leave now.” I held my breath.

He shook his head. “I’ve already got that.” His hand picked up my purse from the table near the door. “All I lack is Sam.” He looked down the hall. “Come on, Sam. Come to daddy. Haven’t you missed me? I know Dale’s missed you. Even though he’s heard those tall tales you’ve told on us. Think you owe us of us some payback, girl.”

Shock rocketed through me. I might not be much of a threat, but I would not let them have Samantha. I’d do anything to protect her from this molester and keep her from being murdered like Tammy Smith. My ankle screamed with pain as I struggled to get up. I didn’t have time to deal with that now. “I won’t let you hurt her again.” The steel in my voice surprised me. “Samantha, go out the window now!”

Dale grabbed me by the throat and a knife pressed against it. I froze. I hadn’t seen him come back across the room. His hard eyes pinned me as much as his knife did. The fog of his rank sweat surrounded me. “Not until I screw that little bitch one more time. You aren’t going to stop me.”

Craig’s eyes traveled up and down my upholstered body. My goose bumps rose and fell with his gaze. “How about you? Think you’d like some, too? Bet an old broad like you’ve never had a man.”

My face flamed and my eyes rolled to Tom’s picture on the mantle before I could stop them. My mouth followed suit. “I have. But you aren’t a man.” I bit my lip. This was not the time to allow my revulsion to get in the way of protecting Samantha.

Craig’s face hardened as Dale shifted the knife just enough to nick my skin. Nerves flared along my neck as he spat a stream of tobacco against the wall to join the blood. “Shit. Who’d want this?”

“Had worse.” Craig’s voice softened. “Come on, Sam. Come out. I’ll let the old woman go.”

Light glinted on Samantha’s golden curls as she stepped into the room. “I’m here, Craig.” My heart sank and tears rolled down my cheeks at the sight of her. She had not abandoned me to their violence. Her hand trembling slightly, she placed the phone on the breakfast bar. Her voice was calm and her eyes bright. “Let her go, and I’ll do whatever you want.” Her cheeks flamed as she stared at him.

“Thought you would.” Craig’s eyes traveled up and down her figure. “Damn. Dale’s right. You did grow up good. Shit, girl! You were pretty as a little ‘un. But now—”

“Tell Dale to let Laura Grace go, Craig, or I’ll call the cops.” Her hand floated over the phone.

“No you don’t.” Craig gestured toward me. “Put your knife up, Dale.”

The young man grunted. “Why? Might be fun to screw Sam in front of her and I don’t think she’ll sit still for it.” Cringing, I watched Dale. His eyes smoldered as he watch Samantha come closer.

“Let her leave, Craig,” Samantha said.

I bit my lip to keep from screaming, no. God help me.

“No yet, kid. I mean to have my fun after nearly seven years in prison. Your fault, remember. Tammy deserved every blow.” His eyes hardened. “Should have killed you, too. I’ll fix that after I have you.”

A fine trembling raced through Dale and his grip on my throat tightened. I had failed her.

“Let me hug my momma one more time. Then I’ll do whatever you want, Craig.” She reached out a hand toward me where I was pinned in Dale’s grip.

Craig’s chuckle caught me off guard. He shrugged. “Why not? Is she as good as Tammy?” Samantha’s eyes widened as she turned toward him. “Didn’t know I knew she turned to you after our scraps, did you? Hell, I enjoyed watching.” His sneer cut through my fear.

Dale’s hand loosened and the knife shifted away from my neck. He shoved me off balance as he stabbed at Samantha. “You bitch! You made them take Daddy away.”

I wrapped my arms around him as I fell. The knife sliced into my arm.

Craig stepped closer. “Old woman, you’re done for now.” His voice was low and husky with venom and his eyes burned with anger.

“Stop right there, Craig.” My voice rang with certainty as I knelt on Dale’s chest with the knife pressed against his throat. “I’ll kill him if you touch me or Samantha.”

Dale’s eyes flickered up at Craig. Tears welled up, trickling over his temples into his ears. Blood from my arm dappled his shirt. I looked back at Craig in time to see Samantha race out the door behind him and relief surged through me.

Craig lunged toward me, pulling a knife that looked twice as large as the one I held clamped to Dale’s neck. My heart thudded as I watched him approach. “Bitch! I’ll kill you!”

“Freeze, Ellis.” A booming voice roared from the door where a huge policeman loomed, gun drawn.

Craig swung about, knife held chest high.

I jerked as the gun’s retort echoed along the ceiling, but didn’t move from Dale’s straining chest. He wasn’t getting up no matter how he whimpered under my knees. I watched his wide eyes for any attempt to throw me off.

Blood, hot and thick, showered me as Craig fell. A scream from the porch pierced the air, but I couldn’t turn from Dale. I would not let him get Samantha.

Two more officers came in the door, guns raised. Glancing at them and the muzzles like cannon mouths, didn’t distract me. Dale was pinned and I intended for him to stay that way.

The first officer towered over me as the radio on his shoulder crackled. Touching the call button, he said, “Cortman. Craig Ellis is down. Send EMTs.” He looked at my blood spattered form. “Send two ambulances.” Grinning he nodded at me. “Mrs. Chandler has Dale Ellis pinned.”

A vague sense of recognition stirred as I stared at his heavy frame and sandy hair.

He knelt beside me as the other officers surrounded Craig, muttering curses. The officer’s blue eyes crinkled with smile lines. “It’s okay, Mrs. Chandler. It’s over. Hand me the knife.”

I shook my head as tremors ran up my arm. “I-I can’t let him have Samantha.” My voice was a husk. I couldn’t move until I knew my daughter was all right.

He slowly raised his hand and took the one I had clenched on the knife. “Harrison, get Dale’s arms.” His eyes never left mine.

The other officer came from Craig’s side and leaned in to hold Dale.

“Cortman?” Reading the first officer’s badge made my mind click. “Nathan Cortman?”

His grinned widened. “Yep. That’s me. Let me have the knife. We have him. He can’t hurt you or your daughter anymore.” His eyes traveled over me and a small frown line puckered his brow.