Howdy, y’all! I’m super excited to announce today that Crossroads is officially LIVE!
The ebook is available on
Pick it up, read it, and leave a review!
The paperback will be available very, very soon… possibly by tomorrow. I’ll announce it too. To celebrate, I’m gonna give you the first few chapters starting… now.
Chapter 1: Death Forecast
Jack promised himself this would be the last time. He glanced grimly at his watch.
“Okay, Chris. I clock out in five.” He sealed the feed bag shut and hefted it onto the conveyor belt before facing his visitor.
Chris was grinning. “I’ll be waiting out front. And don’t look so apprehensive.”
“You wouldn’t want my help if I hadn’t learned to pick locks,” Jack muttered as he grabbed an empty bag from the stack and held it under the nearby hopper.
“Why’d you learn it in the first place if you weren’t going to use it?”
“To get out of scrapes, not into them,” Jack answered pointedly. “My coworker’s about to take the day shift. You’d better get out.”
Chris stepped out of the factory door and Jack turned his attention back to his work. He filled half a dozen more bags and then marked the number on the screen. Grabbing his jacket off a pile of empty crates, he stepped out of the way of a middle-aged woman.
“Bloyd,” she greeted him. “Have fun at school.”
Jack nodded silently. The woman spit tobacco on the factory floor before taking his previous position and started filling bags.
“I completed the custom order. Sent the feed down the line to the pallet builders,” Jack informed her. “I think I left everything in good order.”
She grunted and he excused himself. The night was unusually moist and wisps of ground fog floated over the dreary parking lot. Jack zipped his jacket up to his chin and yanked on the door of Chris’s old black truck.
“Hurry up, if you want to be able to sleep before school,” Chris said and held out a small lead case. Settling himself in the passenger seat, Jack unlatched his watch and removed his earpiece obediently. He placed them in the case and Chris snapped it shut.
“You know it’s risky for me even to disappear like this,” Jack said as he strapped in.
Chris put the truck in drive and stepped on the throttle. “Life is risky. And at least it’s safer than being tracked right to the crime scene.”
“Well, it’s no fair you have special tech.”
“My watch is exactly the same as yours, only modified.”
“Then it’s not the same. You don’t have to take it off,” Jack complained. Cars streaked past his window. Probably taking people to work. Or leaving the service yard and going to pick up their passengers.
“You know it’s different with me,” Chris said. The muscles in his jaw tightened. “You have people to care for, a bright future, and a stable job. I don’t.” He spun the wheel and the electric motor hummed with the acceleration as they skidded around a corner. “I can afford to live recklessly; I’m already hunted.”
“Are you familiar with this part of town?”
“No.” Jack sat up out of curiosity and peered ahead.
“I’ll park back here and we’ll walk.”
Jack got out and saw a large construction site close by; gigantic steel skeletons shrouded in the dense fog. He pulled the hood of his jacket further over his head for both warmth and secrecy and followed Chris.
“See,” Chris pointed at the construction fence surrounding the site, “No signs. Nothing marking what it is or who’s building it.”
“What’s the significance of that?” Jack was dubious.
“They must have something to hide. Now lower your voice,” Chris said as he gripped the top of the chainlink fence surrounding the structure and lifted himself up to straddle the top before dropping to the other side. “It’s definitely not top secret, since you can’t hide something like this; but my genius research tells me they have a government contract of some kind and they’re looking not to advertise what it’s all about. That leaves me with a lot of questions.”
Chris turned and walked quietly into the shadows. His dark skin merged into the night. Jack envied his natural concealment.
“Well, you didn’t exactly brief me on what we were going to do. I just hope I’m trespassing for a good reason. Maybe I should think through it next time and consider the consequences.” Jack tossed his backpack over the fence.
“Hey, we’ve never gone wrong before, have we?”
Jack grunted as he gripped the top of the fence and tried to follow Chris’s example. He succeeded, though much less smoothly and a lot more noisily. He slung his bag over his shoulder and caught up with Chris.
The building had multiple levels and a large floor plan. Jack bit his lower lip; it was hard to tell what it was going to be. It looked like some sort of multi-level warehouse or maybe a weird office complex.
“There’s where we’re going,” Chris indicated a construction trailer parked in the corner of the lot.
“You’re up,” He encouraged, pulling gloves onto his hands.
Jack sucked in a breath and adjusted his hood again. The makeshift steps leading up to the door of the trailer were unsteady but he braced himself against the doorframe and lowered his ear to the old tumbler lock. He removed a lock picking set from his backpack and began clicking pins down. A few seconds later the door swung slowly inward.
Chris turned on a tactical flashlight and swung the beam around the night shrouded interior before entering. His boots clicked softly on the unfinished floor. Dust danced in the bright beam of light as they searched the room. Jack found a desk and file cabinets. He opened the drawers one at a time with a gloved hand.
Chris was keeping watch at a window. “I guess there isn’t a guarantee they even keep them here, but―”
Jack held a roll of blueprints up to the light and Chris gave a thumbs up.
They pushed a tape measure and a coffee cup to the side and unrolled the plans on the desk. Jack squinted at the blue lines, trying to make sense of how they fit together.
Chris traced his finger along it, muttering under his breath.
“A furnace?” he wondered aloud.
Jack’s eyes fell on a cloud of fine print and it took a few moments for his mind to process their meaning.
“A cremation facility.”
Chris cursed, causing Jack to wince. Chris usually tried to keep down the profanity when he was around Jack, but anger often would cause him to forget.
Jack began to roll up the plans before he remembered to take a picture with his watch. He put them back where he had found them and locked the door behind them as they left.
Chris vaulted out of the enclosure, and Jack handed his backpack to him before scrambling back over the fence. It rattled behind him as he trotted after Chris. After a few moments he opened his mouth to speak, but Chris raised his hand to stop him. He froze and his ears perked up at the approaching sound. Sirens. They must have tripped an unknown alarm.
He sped past Chris. He had never considered himself a runner, but maybe he could have gone to the Olympics with this kind of motivation.
He stumbled as Chris grabbed his coat and jerked him backward. “Get in the ditch.”
They dove into a freshly dug utilities trench and laid in the bottom. The dirt was frozen in a bed of vertical crystals that crunched beneath Jack’s weight. His breath fogged over the cold ground. He shifted to his side and looked at the sky. A blue and red aurora flickered against the low clouds. Car doors slammed somewhere and he rolled into a tighter ball. It would be just his luck to be caught for something this worthless. That’s what came with rash decisions. Boots struck the pavement above.
Jack watched Chris. His face displayed concentration and his finger was pressed against his earpiece. He met Jack’s gaze. “They’re not here for us. Go to the truck.”
Jack slowly raised his head on level with the asphalt. Officers churned by, guns raised. His heart was in his throat but he swallowed it back.
“Do your best to avoid attention and suspicion,” Chris advised from behind.
They crawled out of the ditch behind an electrical pole. Jack brushed the dirt and ice from his jeans. They walked casually past the police. Jack kept his eye on them as he strolled toward a black pickup truck parked at the curbside. The officers had surrounded a nearby warehouse. It’s walls were thick with graffiti and moss. Every window was broken or barred.
“Gang trouble,” Chris whispered in explanation as he got in the driver’s seat.
Jack tossed his backpack in the back seat of the crew cab and got in the front. His first action was to turn on the heat. “That was scary.”
Chris put the truck into gear and his mouth tilted up into a grin.
“Okay then, smile about it. You’ve obviously got thrill issues,” Jack complained.
Chris still smiled.
“How’d you know they weren’t there for us?”
Chris tapped his earpiece, “I seem old, but I still know the police codes.”
“You’re not old, you’re barely in your forties.”
“I’m twice your age, son. That’s a considerable amount. And I’m definitely old, seeing as I still drive a manual. And a truck at that.”
“Okay, you win. You’re old but not very wise,” Jack teased. “I almost thought I wasn’t going home to my family.”
“You aren’t just yet. What do you want for breakfast?”
“I don’t care. What’s open this time of night?”
Minutes later they were eating fast food.
Chris took a bite and kept one hand on the steering wheel as he pulled out of the drive-thru and onto the road. He made a face and then commented, “It’s not the best but it goes down. And at least the meat’s not irradiated.”
“You don’t know it’s not,” Jack pointed out and then asked the question that had been haunting him, “What do you think the construction’s about?”
“I’ve got a hunch that facility ain’t just for old folks,” Chris grimaced. “They’ve got a government contract and it’s a big building. Why would our administration be expecting a sudden explosion in deaths? I mean, by all appearances, they’re prepping for an influx of bodies that need to be cared for, or rather disposed of.”
“Ugh. This probably isn’t one of your conspiracy theories. Anything could happen with our government.”
The warmth inside the vehicle had caused the windows to fog on the interior, and Jack rubbed his with a sleeve. The sleeping city would look fresh and new for a few blocks then dead and ugly for the next.
“Thanks for coming,” Chris said after a while. “God knows that I can’t pick a lock.”
“Yes, God knows quite a bit,” Jack quipped. He studiously avoided saying he was welcome.
They turned into a poor neighborhood. Small houses were crammed closely together, with cracked concrete driveways and weed-filled lawns.
The truck rolled to a gentle stop. Jack fished for his pack and opened his door.
“That was fun. Wasn’t it?” Chris prodded.
“Next time you want to polish the gold in Fort Knox, you just let me know,” Jack said sarcastically on his way out.
Chris winked. “I was thinking that would be fun this weekend. Will you be available?”
Jack shut the door.
Copyright © 2017 by Paul Willis
Stay tuned for more chapters and the announcement of the paperback!