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Authors: Jeff Gunhus

Night Chill

 

NIGHT CHILL

 

A NOVEL

 

Jeff Gunhus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kindle Edition

Night Chill - Copyright 2013 by Jeff Gunhus

 

 

Kindle Edition, License Notes

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Copyright 2013 by Jeff Gunhus.

 

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Seven Guns Press. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

Cover design by Eric Gunhus

Formatting by RikHall.com

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Gunhus, Jeff

Night Chill / Jeff Gunhus

ISBN-13:   978-1-4486-5235-8

ISBN-10:  1-4486-5235-9

 

 

 

ALSO BY JEFF GUNHUS

 

YA FICTION

 

Jack Templar Monster Hunter

Jack Templar and the Monster Hunter Academy

 

NON-FICTION

 

No Parachute Required

Wake Up Call

Choose The Right Career

The Little Book Of Secrets

Reaching Your Reluctant Reader

 

 

 

For Nicole

 

I love you

 

He who fears death dies every time he thinks of it.

 

-Stanislas

 

 

I said to Life, I would hear Death speak. And Life raised her voice a little higher and said, you hear him now.

 

-Kahlil Gibran

 

 

Never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it.

 

-Balthasar Gracian

 

 

ONE

 

Nate Huckley leaned forward against the steering wheel, eyes searching the colorless brick buildings that slid by on either side of the street. He glanced at his watch and shook his head. He couldn’t believe he was spending valuable time, time he didn’t have, looking for a hardware store in this back woods, one-factory, Pennsylvania town.

Huckley spotted the store. The boy back at the gas station had stuttered like a moron, but his directions had been good enough. Huckley pulled into the small gravel parking lot next to the concrete tilt-up building on which the last remnants of the word “Hardware” clung in tall flaking letters. The lot was empty except for a beat-up VW Bug, more rust than metal, squatted in the far corner. Huckley checked his time and felt the anger churn harder in his stomach.

Grabbing the roll of tape, he marched through the parking lot, the hard soles on his leather boots crunching the small rocks into the dirt.
Like stepping on bugs
, he thought to himself. He smiled and started to twist his foot on each step and stomp down a little harder. By the time he reached the double-wide glass doors that faced the street he felt a little better. Until he saw the sign.

CLOSED.

Bullshit. Huckley pounded on the glass door with the tape.  He leaned down, opened the mail slot with his forefinger and shouted, “Hey! Get out here. I know you’re still there, Godammit! I can see your car.”

He stood up and kept beating the door until he saw a light go on in the back room. A smile spread across his face. He always got his way. Always.

The door in the back opened and Huckley saw the outline of a person walk down the aisle. Huckley grinned a little wider. He’d expected an old man, but it was a young girl who came to the door. She squinted at him through the glass, twisted the locks and stuck her head out toward him.

“We’re closed,” the girl said. She rolled her eyes in case her tone hadn’t made her annoyance perfectly clear.

Huckley looked the girl over. Dark circles ringed her eyes as if old layers of eyeliner had melted into her skin. Her cheekbones stuck out like there wasn’t enough skin on her face to go around, giving her an emaciated, hungry look, like a stray dog who thinks a wrapper with grease on it is a meal. Black roots a few inches long told the world her bleach-blonde hair was more bleach than blonde. The girl was a mess. Huckley couldn’t believe his luck.

 “Well, hello sweetie. When’d you start working here?”

The girl ignored the question. “Mr. Cooper left me to close today. Told me not to let anyone in.”

“That’s what Mr. Cooper said, huh? Well, I’m sure he didn’t mean me.”

The girl looked up and down the street. Huckley already knew there wasn’t anyone there. He had checked when he first saw that it was a young girl coming toward the door.

“Look, I’m new to this town, mister. I don’t know who you are. So I think you’d better go now. Come back tomorrow.”

“C’mon now, it wouldn’t hurt to talk to me a little.”  Huckley smiled as he concentrated. The girl’s mind was an open book. He pushed a little and the pages tumbled open, images dancing free form, garbled and non-linear. Hers was the kind of mind that used to confuse him, but that was a long time ago. Now it was easy. With a little concentration he could find out everything he needed to know. Like how the girl was a druggie, a loner, picking up a few bucks before moving on. How she was frustrated the owner hadn’t trusted her with the cash register yet. How the first time he did, she’d take the money and be gone. And there, amid all the adolescent self-consciousness and emotionalism, was a burst of sexual images. Many partners. Some for money. Some for drugs. And blazing out in front was an evolving fantasy with Huckley himself.

Ahh, young hormones, he thought. Little teenage girls could never resist his looks: white skin unmarked by any blemish, blonde hair combed back flat against his scalp, lips dark red as if he had spent the day sipping wine, eyes squinted half shut as if he held a secret too valuable to share. Although he appeared to be in his thirties, it was always the young ones who found him most attractive. And they were always so eager to prove they were women by following him to whatever bed, car seat or back alley he chose.

He left the girl’s sexual images behind and shifted through her thoughts until he found the right information. 

“Your name’s Doreen, right?”

“Yeah, how’d you know?”

 He smiled at the girl. “I just guessed. You look like a Doreen.”

“Is that a good thing?” she asked tugging on a few strands of her blonde hair and twirling it over her ear.

“Sure, pretty name for a pretty girl.” God, it was so easy. Huckley moved a step closer to the girl and inhaled through flared nostrils. Cheap high school perfume mixed with cheap high school marijuana. He smiled.
That’s my girl
.

“So Mr. Cooper left you all alone, huh? Surprised your father let you work a job like this. What are you, seventeen?”

“I’m eighteen,” she lied. “Don’t know who my daddy is. Even if I did, I wouldn’t let him tell me what to do.”

“I see. But you let this Mr. Cooper tell you, huh?” Doreen shrugged. Huckley held up the roll of tape, “Listen, I really need some duct tape. This stuff doesn’t work for what I’m using it for.”

“I’d like to help, mister. I really would. But the register’s closed and emptied out for the day so....” Doreen started to smack the chewing gum she’d been hiding in her mouth.

“No problem. I’ll just leave some money and you can put it in the register tomorrow.  I’ll be in and out of here. Let you get back to your own business, if you know what I mean.” Huckley raised a hand to his lips and took a drag off an imaginary joint. Doreen broke eye contact and stared at the floor. Huckley smirked. “Hey, there’s nothing wrong with it. Lord knows I’ve smoked my share of weed.”

Doreen smiled self-consciously, “You smoke?”

“Are you kidding? My generation invented the stuff.” He leaned in and whispered in her ear, “In fact, I wouldn’t mind a hit if you have any left. I’ll pay you a little extra for it.”

She hesitated, looked up and down the street again. “I don’t think that’d be a good idea.”

“All right. I understand. Maybe you’re too young for me to be talking like that anyway. I’m sorry.” Huckley turned to leave.

“I’m not too young. I told you I was eighteen.”

“Yeah, that’s what you told me.”

Doreen bit her lower lip, then moved to the side to let him in. “I don’t believe I’m doing this.”

 “That’s a good girl. You know, I was really lucky you were here.” Huckley smiled. “You have no idea how much time you’ve saved me.”

He leaned into her as he passed. An electric jolt moved through him as his arm rubbed against her breasts. Huckley curled his hands into fists and rubbed them up and down his thighs. He knew he had to wait until she closed the door behind them, but this was his favorite part and he could hardly contain himself. He smiled at his good fortune. He was back on schedule.

 

TWO

 

Jack Tremont was late. That he would be running so far behind schedule was unthinkable, especially since the two clients waiting for him were his most important. The traffic light ahead of him turned yellow. He thought about running it until he saw a stop sign thrust into the air behind the row of cars to his right.

His Jeep Cherokee, a far cry from the BMW 750 he drove just a few years before, braked easily before the intersection. Still, the school crossing guard shot him a withering look for stopping a foot into the crosswalk. He returned her scowl with a smile but it was wasted. With a look of disgust the guard held up her stop sign in front of his bumper. She stared Jack down as she waved the mass of school kids across the street.

Jack knew the woman, Mrs. Hilder. She was no-nonsense New England and she had little tolerance for the relaxed southern attitude abundant here in western Maryland. All of the kids and half of the adults in Prescott City were scared of her. The parents remembered her as the crossing guard when they were in school and they carried the same fearful awe as their kids did now. One of the parents had admitted to Jack that she still stood up a little straighter each time she saw her coming down the street.  Tough as woodpecker lips, the parent had whispered, laughing but glancing around as if the crossing guard would come charging at them any minute. Mrs. Hilder’s stare was enough to convince Jack of the truth of it. He tried to ignore her and watch instead the stream of colorful jackets, cartoon lunch pails, and action hero backpacks parade in front of him, all headed toward a carefree afternoon. No stress. No worries.

Jack took a deep breath and felt the tension drain from his shoulders. He couldn’t help but laugh at himself. When would he learn to relax? He and Lauren had moved to Prescott City a year ago for exactly this reason, to undo the mess they had created trying unsuccessfully to balance two high-paced careers while starting a family. To be fair, it had been more his mess than hers. She was an overachiever but always seemed to keep things in balance. He was the workaholic to whom family had become something squeezed into planned increments in a schedule.

The outrageous materialism of living in Orange County, California  hadn’t  helped matters either. They had chased success so hard that they hardly noticed they were failing every day.

Then the accident happened.

As horrible as it was, in some strange way, Jack realized the accident had probably saved his marriage. Almost two years later he was still paying for this marital help with nightmares and a constant black guilt that clawed in his stomach like a living creature. He bore the suffering without complaint. For what he had done, he knew he deserved worse.

The last of the kids skipped across the street and with one last glare, Mrs. Hilder returned to the sidewalk to let Jack pass. He smiled and gave a little wave.

“C’mon Mrs. Hilder. Give me some love,” he murmured. Nothing doing. The crossing guard’s stern mouth grew more wrinkled as she scowled. Jack shook his head and laughed. “Playing hard to get, huh? Maybe next time.”

A few minutes later he pulled into the pick-up area and saw his important clients hanging out on the swing set next to the head office. They saw him and squealed in delight. Grabbing their matching purple Groovy Girls backpacks, his daughters ran over to him and gave him a huge hug.

“Sorry I’m late girls.”

“Are you late?” Becky asked.

“Yeah, a little,” he smiled. Every day he was away from the business world he was reminded that life didn’t have to be so difficult. In the real world, being five minutes late wasn’t such a big deal. He looked back at his girls piling into the Jeep. “You girls know what today is, don’t you?”

“My birthday. I’m gonna be seven!” Sarah shouted.

“Your birthday’s not for months, silly. And you’re only six.” Becky said, poking her sister in the arm.

Jack twisted around in the front seat and said in a serious voice, “I can’t believe you don’t know what day this is. How could you possibly, possibly forget that today is…” he paused for added drama, “ice cream day!”

The girls screamed and then giggled at their dad. Soon they were lost in an important discussion about the relative coolness of different flavors of ice cream. As Jack edged into the after school traffic he thought that moving to Prescott City was the best thing he had ever done.  He actually knew his kids now. Even he and Lauren were starting to feel normal again, as if the worse was finally behind them. Lauren had started to talk about plans years from now, not just weeks and months. It was a subtle change, but its significance hadn’t been lost on him. 

Prescott City had been good for the Tremonts. In California they had sped through life, racking up accomplishments and wealth instead of memories and relationships. Here they were all taking notice of life and enjoying it. Besides some periodic consulting work, he’d even taken the time to dabble in writing mysteries. Sure, life was simple here, but he was learning that simple wasn’t the epithet he’d thought it was. Simple was good and he hoped things stayed that way.

 

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