Friday, April 05, 2013

E is for excerpt

Murder by the Mile will be published late May or early June of this year! Woohoo! Here's an excerpt from MBTM.

From Murder by the Mile.
Proof cover for Murder by the Mile.
In his dreams, Bernard would look up and see the hanged man open his eyes and stare at him. In those dead eyes, Bernard would see an accusation that he could have saved him. In his dreams, Bernard would try and try to hold up the man to give him slack so that he could remove the rope from his neck. All the while Bernard would scream at his dream self what he should do. The man would thrash and moan until Bernard woke up. In reality, the hanged man never opened his eyes, barely moved at all, and never made any sounds as he died, but Bernard would dream it differently for years.

On this beautiful day in early November – chilly in the shade, but pleasant in the sun – Bernard M. Worthington limped along Watts Ridge Road as part of the two hundred or so people participating in the Ryton Many Mile Marathon. Occasionally other runners passed him. Some of them he knew, and they asked if he was okay.

“Got a cramp in my hamstring,” he told Merriman Smith who stopped when he saw the limping librarian.

“Done that before,” Merriman said. “Unpleasant. Did you warm up first? I’ve been more flexible than I ever thought possible since I started yoga at the community center.”

Startled, Bernard glanced at his elderly friend. Merriman smiled at him.

:You’d be surprised what this old body is capable of,” Merriman said. “Lots of miles left in me.” He patted his stomach.

Bernard nodded doubtfully. He had never thought of the City Treasurer as being in good shape. Merriman had a sharp mind ideally suited for numbers and budgets, but he had to be at least seventy-five.

“Bimmer, slothing off?” Ron Sims greeted him as the police lieutenant ran up and jogged in place.

“He didn’t warm up,” Merriman said. “He’s got a cramp in his leg. Always warm up, I say.”

“Where’s Lisa?” Sims asked, looking around as if Bernard had hidden her in the surrounding woods.

“She had things to do with Lorena Jo about the wedding,” Bernard said, not liking the question. Bernard had often thought Sims was romantically interested in Lisa even though Lisa disagreed. But she’s mine, bucko, he thought.

“What’s going on, Bernard?” Jerry Ruebuck asked as he joined them.

Bernard groaned inwardly. One thing he didn’t need or want was the help of the overly cheerful and seemingly perfect husband of his former girlfriend. When the former Sherry Hyatt married Jerry, she apparently ordered him custom-made to her specifications.

“Cramp,” Merriman said. “He didn’t warm up.”

“Probably doesn’t get much exercise at the library,” Sims said, smirking.

“Do you need help?” Jerry asked. “I can run back and get my car. Would only take five minutes. I can run this much faster than I can jog. Been saving my strength for the long haul.”

“I brought my cell phone,” Merriman said. “I could call someone.”

“Sherry’s at the aid station up ahead,” Jerry said. “She could drive her car down here.”

At the mention of Sherry, Bernard straightened up. “It’s better. I’ll walk it out.” He didn’t know if Jerry knew about Sherry and him, but he liked to avoid situations where they were all together. Particularly since Sherry seemed to take an unholy pleasure in needling Lisa. One day Sherry was going to go too far, and Lisa was going to deck her. Bernard didn’t want that to happen. Or do I?

“Are you sure?” Jerry asked. “I don’t mind at all.”

“You can’t be too careful,” Merriman said.

“Not at your age,” Sims said.

All three men laughed. Bernard forced a grin on his face.

“I’ll be fine,” Bernard said. He took a few steps and found he could actually move easier. “I may finish walking, but I’ll finish. You can go. Go on. Don’t mess up your race times for me.”

Sims nodded and jogged on.

“You’re sure?” Jerry asked. “I wouldn’t mind a reason to quit. Sherry made me do this. Not that it isn’t for a good cause, but I’d rather sponsor someone else and go and play golf. Besides, this race isn’t a real marathon.”

“It’s enough for us around here,” Merriman said loyally. “It’s been going on for over forty years now just fine.”

The Ryton Many Mile Marathon started in the late sixties during the first running craze. It would have petered out, as a lot of local races did over the years, but it became a charity event. Residents sponsored a runner, and the money went to whatever good causes had been selected by the organizers. This year, the money raised would go to the Ryton Humane Society, the Shelter for Women and Children, and the local Call-A-Ride.

“Oh, it’s a good little race,” Jerry said. “But I like something that stretches me. And it’s not even certified.”

The organizers of the marathon had looked at getting the race certified by several racing organizations, but decided they didn’t like the restrictions. That meant the race didn’t attract serious runners, but because it gave away t-shirts, ribbons, and at least twenty trophies, many amateurs ran each year and raised a surprising amount of money.

Merriman frowned at Jerry. It was one thing for a Ryton resident to criticize anything about the town, but it was quite another for a newcomer to do so. Bernard had lived in Ryton only two years himself and had learned to never say anything disparaging about the town in Merriman’s hearing.

“If it’s stretching you want –” Merriman started.

Jerry’s cell phone went off. The ringtone was a cut from the ’70s song Brick House. “That’s Sherry’s ring,” Jerry said. “Probably wants to know where her man is at.”

Merriman’s face twisted.

Jerry answered his cell and jogged on down the road.

“Humph,” Merriman said. “That wouldn’t be a ringtone I’d use for my wife. If I had one. And not that Hyatt girl. She’s no brick house. She’s skinny as a rail and got a tongue like a rusty nail.”

Bernard thought it best to say nothing. Merriman had probably forgotten Bernard’s history with Sherry and the Hyatt family. Or maybe not. The treasurer hadn’t held on to his office through four different mayors without knowing what to discuss and what not to.

“Well, I’d better get on,” Merriman said. “I’ll tell the aid station you’re coming so they can watch for you.”

“That’s not necessary,” Bernard said, but Merriman had already jogged on.

“Great,” Bernard said to the nearest tree. “Just great. It will be all over town that I couldn’t keep up with him.” He sighed. In high school, Bernard had been a long distance runner. He had expected he would do better in this marathon than he apparently was going to, but too many tacos and not enough exercise had slowed him down. He vowed to start an exercise routine tomorrow. If I live through this race, that is.

He started off again. He found he could walk briskly. His leg seemed to be loosening up. He might even be able to jog in a few minutes if he was careful. He certainly didn’t want to finish the race last. That really would give the town tongues something to wag about as if he and Lisa hadn’t already given them enough when they helped Chief Donaldson solve two different sets of murders.

At the moment, he had the road to himself. He could see a few people in front of him, but everyone behind him had yet to make the turn off from Oak onto Watts. He slowed. He wasn’t trying to win anyway, just finish so that his sponsors would give their pledged money to the Friends of the Ryton Library. The FRL was only a few months old and needed all the support it could get. While the library had a comfortable budget due to the fortune Eliah Ryton had left the library, Bernard was conscious the library lacked grassroots support among the Ryton residents.

In many communities, libraries operated as a social and cultural hub for the surrounding areas. During the many years when the late and unlamented Agatha Ryton-Storer, Eliah’s daughter, had been the Ryton librarian, she had fiercely protected “her” library from any outside activities. For years, the Ryton residents had been able to use the library only within her restricted rules. It was no wonder they didn’t see the potential it offered to enrich their lives. Bernard was determined to change that. He had many plans for the library. He hoped he would be able to implement all of them, but he would be satisfied this year if he could get the FRL up and off the ground.

He followed the curve of the road, not paying attention to his surroundings, although he noticed the treetops were growing across the road. Few people used Watts Road now that the new highway had been completed, but it was a scenic run and the lack of traffic made it well suited for the marathon.

Noticing his left shoe had come untied, he stopped to tie it. He heard a movement in the brush at the side of the road, but he couldn’t see anything. Probably a raccoon or more likely a dog.

He stood and took a step.

His face ran into something.

A shoe.

His gaze traveled up.

A hanged man dangled in front of him.

Bernard stumbled back in horror.

He rushed forward to try to hold the man up.

“Help!” he yelled. “Help me!”

But it was a good five minutes before anyone else ran up to help. By that time, Bernard knew the man was dead, but he kept holding the man’s legs, trying to lift the man up to ease the rope around the man’s neck even though it was too late.

(Excerpted from the forthcoming Murder by the Mile. Copyright 2013 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. No copying without the permission of the author and publisher. Thank you for reading.)

(This post is part of the 2013 Blogging From A to Z April Challenge. Learn more about the Challenge HERE.)

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