At least, that worked for me.
This is the first excerpt I’m posting on my blog–smelly, fresh, and straight-from-my-fingers-this week first draft from my novel-in-progress, “The Last House in Levittown”. I am not sure why it is indenting some paragraphs and not others, but I’m still new at this and I’ll look into it. Would love to hear your thoughts.:
Twenty minutes later, she heard a car pull up, jolted off of the floor and splashed some cold water from the decanter on her face. Her general policy these days was not to look in the mirror—a girl could only take so much bad news—but visits from Lew called for a lapse in protocol.
She tousled her hair and pinched her cheeks—did that even work? Or was it just to give herself the illusion of control? No matter, the illusion of control might be all she had going for her at this point, so she smoothed her hands over her unwashed button-down shirt, took a deep breath, and walked to the front door.
Her heart sank and fear pricked her senses when she saw Lew’s car with a different driver, a man she had never seen before. She grabbed the axe next to the door and tried to rationalize that the fact he was here at the scheduled time must make him Lew’s emissary, or at least a colleague—not a killer.
She brandished her axe in a way that she hoped did not convey that she’d never actually picked one up until the night before. She had done a dry run of how murdering her father would go and had found the axe surprisingly heavy. Her muscles now ached from the presentation and she tried to look cavalier about it. This was her modus operandi, she told herself. She was the Axe Lady.
She took a frightened breath, blinked her eyes open and closed, and opened the screen door.
The man was still idling in the driveway that used to belong to the house next door, which used to belong to the Sanchezes, Tony and Luz, who had been one of the first families to move indoors. The demolition crews—known colloquially as dozer squads—had razed the house but left the driveway. It had been bizarre and terrifying to watch from her kitchen window as the entire 125 year old subdivision had become nothing but driveways in a matter of months. She closed her eyes again, knowing this was terrifying, and reminded herself that adaptation was the mother of survival.
Her tongue was dry as she stepped out to greet this threat idling in her neighbor’s driveway behind the wheel of Lew’s beat up Chrysler Nemesis.
“You’ll waste your gas.” Penny asserted as she walked slowly towards the car, willing her eyes to look steely.
“Hasn’t been starting.” The man grunted. “Wouldn’t want to get stuck here.”
She took in the man. Maybe fifty, corpulent in that sloppy way—dirty John Deere baseball cap, flecks of gray in a beard that was only a few days old. Bloodshot, hound dog eyes. Most moonshiners tended to be drunks. It made sense. Hell, drinking up to your gills with whatever elixir you could manage was one of the only things that still made sense. Even Penny had battled her own struggles with it—Lew was the exception.
“Where’s Lew?” Penny asked, feeling her grip tighten on the smooth, steel handle of the axe. The illusion of control.
“Dead.” The word carried no more heft in his tone than if he had offered her a Slim Jim.
“Who killed him?”
“How’d you know he was killed?” The man rubbed his chin stubble and eyed her warily. Everyone was an enemy until proven otherwise, now. But just because someone regarded you as as their enemy didn’t mean they weren’t still yours.
“He seemed healthy.” Penny shrugged. “Who are you?”
“Name’s Wayne. I’m one of the Dogs. Knew Lew pretty well. He was one of the good guys, it’s a damn shame.”
“What about you? Are you one of the good guys?”
“When it behooves me.” When it behooves him? “It’s a dangerous world anymore. ‘Specially for a pretty young lady like yourself. You here all alone?”
Penny swallowed her fear for the hundredth time in ten minutes and stared the man—Wayne—down. The illusion of control. Fake it ‘til you make it.
“My dad’s coming home soon from hunting at dawn, be here any minute. Why?”
“No reason. You seem to handle yourself fairly well, even if you are out here all by yourself.”
“Well, I’m not.” She gulped dry, and thought to her dwindling supply of clean water. She had always braved the wells when Jimmy was still around, but now it seemed too dangerous. But was it more dangerous to buy it from Wayne and let him know she needed even water? “What happened to Lew?”
“Rumor is someone came upon him in the woods—he was on night duty, guarding the shine. His face was burned off but there weren’t more than a jug or two missing. Whoever killed him must have been after something else.”
Rumors used to be things to discount, but now that word of mouth was the only source for information, they had become indiscernible from facts.
“Wasn’t he armed?” Penny asked.
“Dagger and pistol, most assuredly. Standard issue for the Watch Dogs.”
In this delayed moment, Penny’s heart sank as fear eroded momentarily into grief. She blinked away a lone tear, hoping Wayne hadn’t noticed. A lone tear for a cold beer and a game of Chinese Checkers and a man who had given Penny hope. In this lonely and barren new world, hope seemed to blow out before it even had a chance to take shape, and that grief now got one tear.
“You sweet on him, huh?” Damn. She really had to work on her poker face. One tear was one too many.
“Nah.” She looked away, then reconsidering: “Maybe a little. Hardly knew him, really. But.”
“Well, if it means anything to you, seems it was mutual at least. Seems according to his books, he was still accepting Old World cash.” He closed what she took to be Lew’s accounting ledger, a black book she had never seen. “We don’t do that anymore. Haven’t for months now.”
Penny willed herself not to panic but if she had been hooked up to electrodes at that very moment, they might have guessed she’d already fainted. She steadied herself and hoped she didn’t look woozy, but was starting to fear her cover had been blown since she had mistaken it for a cover to begin with.
She emptied this thought from her mind, tightened her grip on the axe handle and remembered to breathe. Cash was all she had. It was how she had survived for ten years and how she had planned to survive forever. This is why religion was flourishing again on the Perimeter.