Welcome! Indie Author Excerpts is a feature allowing indie authors the chance to showcase one of their books and allowing readers to find their next favorite story. Each week, an indie author gets to promote a 1-2 page excerpt of their book here at The Bawdy Book Blog. This is a win-win for everyone! This feature was inspired in part by Indie Author Spotlight, a meme hosted by Beckie @ Bittersweet Enchantment and CYP @ A Bookalicious Story.
This Week’s Excerpt: A Reason To Live by Matthew Iden!
In the late nineties, a bad cop killed a good woman and DC Homicide detective Marty Singer got to watch as the murderer walked out of the courtroom a free man.
Twelve years later, the victim’s daughter comes to Marty begging for help: the killer is stalking her now.
There’s just one problem: Marty’s retired…and he’s retired because he’s battling cancer. But with a second shot at the killer–and a first chance at redemption–Marty’s just found A Reason to Live.
“Not any more,” I said without thinking–and regretted it. The words stuck in my mouth after the sound was gone, rolling around like stones. Hard. Unwelcome. Bitter. I couldn’t spit them out and couldn’t swallow them.
I was killing time at a coffee shop, slouched in an overstuffed chair that had been beaten into submission years earlier. The café–I don’t know the name, Middle Grounds or Mean Bean or something precious–was a grungy, brown stain of a place flanked by a failing Cajun restaurant on one side and a check-cashing store on the other. A crowd of Hispanic guys hung around out front looking simultaneously aimless and expectant, hoping their next job was about to pull up to the curb.
I looked up from my cup and stared at the girl who’d called me by name. She was slim, with delicate brown hair worn past the shoulders and intense, dark eyes set in a face so pale Poe would’ve written stories about it. She wore black tights and a long tunic the color of beach sand, with only a ragged jean jacket to guard against the bite of early December. Her arms hugged two books to her chest and she toted a massive black backpack so heavy it had her hunched over like a miner.
My answer hung in the air and the silence stretched thin. The girl hesitated, floundering.
I let her. I was in a bad mood. A meaningless Thanksgiving was a week past and all morning I’d looked for something productive to do while my day dragged itself across the floor of my life. When the productivity failed to materialize and my thoughts started to crowd in, I’d come to the coffee shop to forget, not remember. And I’d almost done it, my mind gone gloriously blank until this girl had brought my thoughts tumbling around me like a mid-air collision. She opened her mouth to explain, maybe, or apologize. Her face was bright and full of enthusiasm. Energy and purpose radiated from her, wearying me. I waited to hear whatever it was she thought was important enough to reel me in from daydream land.
She never got to it. A shout from the street–a single, loud cry of frustration, rage, and raw emotion–shut her down and froze every person in the café. Cups stopped halfway to mouths, heads cocked like hunting dogs’. Anything the girl might’ve said–anything anyone was saying–took a backseat to that sound.
More shouts from the street swelled to envelop the first one and I found myself at the window with everyone else, the girl forgotten, peering through the glass, looking over shoulders, drawn to the potential of violence or drama. I wasn’t alone. People reading Sartre and sipping no-foam lattes a second before now jostled each other, all asking “What’s happening?”
What’s happening was unclear. The shout had come from the crowd of guys in front of the check-cashing store. They were dressed in the ubiquitous outfit of local Salvadoran or Guatemalan day laborers: tattered baseball caps, paint-spattered jeans, ripped sweatshirts. Two of the six were shouting at each other, their hands stabbing the air as they spoke, their jaws thrust forward. The body language didn’t look good and I was on my way outside–forgetting that this wasn’t my job anymore–when I heard someone from inside the café yell, “Holy shit!”
I was late. By the time I’d pushed the door open, the shorter one–stained gray sweatshirt, shoulders like a running back–had pulled a knife and was swinging at the other guy, his arm whipping back and forth. On the third arc, he connected, cutting the other guy open like he’d been unzipped from hip to belly button. A scream, high and long , split the air and the ring of onlookers melted away. The man who’d been cut glanced down at his own body with a look of disbelief, then staggered down the street, bouncing off parked cars and telephone poles, his arms hugging his stomach.
I kept my attention on the short guy who’d done the slicing. A wicked-looking linoleum knife–needle-like point, a forward curve, teeth at the base–dangled from his hand. His eyes were wide, the whites very white, the irises a bottomless dark brown. He hissed something in Spanish and waved the knife around like a conductor’s baton. Common sense told me to run back into the coffee shop. Instead, I sidled closer, talking low and slow in terrible Spanish. I don’t even know what I was saying to him. I was trying to ask him to calm down and give me the knife, but he erupted into tears the third time I asked, then came at me with wild, full-arm sweeps. The point of the knife winked in the flat December sun. It took no imagination to see it hooking into my gut and cutting clean through, making my other problems seem like small beans.
A trio of desperate twists got me out of range of one, two, three swipes, then I stepped forward, slipping inside his reach. He tried a quick backhanded slash, but I was too close for him to get any muscle behind it. With my chest to his back, I snaked my arm inside his elbow like I wanted to square-dance, then grabbed a handful of sweatshirt between his shoulder blades. With my other hand, I snatched at his free arm. Not a bad move, and the improvised armlock had neutralized the knife, but it wasn’t going to last long. Teeth gnashed near my ear as he tried to bite me and when he started to flex those shoulders, my grip started to go, fast.
I didn’t wait to see where that was going. I heaved one way, twisted my hips the other, and put him on the ground with an ankle sweep. Desperation made me follow through harder than I meant to and–without a hand to stop his fall–the guy’s forehead hit the sidewalk with the sound of a watermelon dropped on a kitchen floor. His grip on the knife went slack, just like the rest of him.
Our scrap was over in seconds. Which was a good thing, since I wasn’t in much better shape than the guy with the knife. My bit of pseudo-judo had taken me to the ground, too, and I laid there next to him, arms still tangled with his, my chest heaving. I was dizzy and would’ve fallen down if I hadn’t already been lying on my back. My breath rasped like an old steam engine trying to take a hill and my elbow throbbed from where I’d banged it on the concrete. The bricks were cold beneath me. Clouds passed across the sky. Sirens threaded the air in the distance.
And the sound of footsteps scuffed close. I turned my head, hoping it wasn’t one of the guy’s compadres coming to get in a free lick while I was down. But the face that bent over me belonged to the girl from the coffee shop. I seemed to remember she’d wanted to talk to me about a million years ago. Her hair swung forward as she knelt down and she reflexively tucked it behind one ear, only to have it fall back again. Her eyes were dark with worry.
“Mr. Singer?” she asked. “Are you…are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I said from the ground. I closed my eyes. The sirens that had sounded distant a second before now closed in, wailing like a demented wolf pack on the run. “I just wish I was still getting paid to do this.”
About the Author
Follow Matthew Iden around the web:
Matthew Iden writes fantasy, science fiction, horror, thrillers, crime fiction, and contemporary literary fiction with a psychological twist.
An eclectic resume–he’s held jobs with the US Postal Service, international non-profit groups, a short stint with the Forest Service in Sitka, Alaska and time with the globe-spanning Semester at Sea program–has given him inspiration for short stories and novel ideas, while trips to Iceland, Patagonia, and Antarctica haven’t hurt in the creative juices department, either. A post-graduate education in English Literature wasn’t necessary, but it helped define what he didn’t want to do with his life and let him read a great deal of good books.
Matthew lives in Alexandria, Virginia, close enough to the woods to keep his sanity, close enough to the Beltway to lose it.
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