I have never been a Stephen King fan, although I have seen (like most kids of the 80’s) more than one of the film adaptations of his novels. In my younger days I was too much a prude to read any of his books, although I did try to read one once; I forget which. As I grew into young adulthood I loathed horror and so Mr. King was never on my radar, even if he did write, “The Green Mile”.
I forget exactly how it happened, but recently I came under the impression that I should read his book, “On Writing”. I figured that regardless of how his usual genres appealed to me, that he has been a very successful writer for most of his life and that I should give the book a chance. I loved it.
As an aspiring writer I found his practical, no-nonsense approach refreshing and helpful. Just get the thing written, basically sums it up.
Towards the end of the book he gives his reader a prompt to go off of, I am not going to quote that prompt here —you can read the book yourself if you like, which I recommend. Mr. King encourages would be writers to send him the draft when they’re done. I have found sending him the draft rather difficult, apparently things have changed since he first wrote “On Writing” in 2000 and his email is no longer simply found on his website. Instead I am sharing my endeavor here, until I figure out how to get Mr. King a copy:
The back passenger door creaked open as Dick pulled the silver handle towards him. He made a mental note for WD-40. “Hey, Pukin, time to wake up.” Nell squirmed in her booster seat, let out a small moan, then readjusted before going still and silent again. Time for a new tactic. “Alright…if you don’t want to go to the party you can go back home with me. Help me clean the house. You can scrub the toilet. I know you love that job. Or pick up dog shit.” Nell giggled and her eyes opened big.
“Don’t say shit, daddy.”
“You don’t say shit,” he said, giving her a serious look. It was cute, but it was never good to have the cussing kid at a birthday party full of pig and pony-tailed five-year-old girls. Especially, when the girl with the potty mouth was being raised by her single father. He reached down and unbuckled Nell’s seat belt. She reacted by standing up on the edge of the door frame then jumping into Dick’s half ready arms. “You’re getting heavy,” he grunted.
“I know. It’s the fortified cereal.”
“YouTube,” she said in explanation. “Cereal is fortified with vitamins and minerals that help you grow big and strong.”
“Maybe less tablet time, hu?” He turned and began to climb the stairs to the porch.
“Nevermind. Want to ring the doorbell?” He leaned towards the door, holding her out so her little finger could reach. Bailey Dominguez’s mother must have been watching because she opened the door soon after the bell was wrung. Dick was used to spying.
“Hello, Nell!”, the overly done-up middle-aged woman sang. “Come in. Come in. Bailey and the girls are just there in the living room playing. Pizza is on the way and we have a big pink cake.” She stood mostly filling the doorway suggesting Dick should not come in, although he was not planning on it. “I’m Tricia, by the way.” She extended a hand to Dick who set Nell down on the porch and pushed her gently towards the half blocked door before shaking the woman’s hand. He tried to get a glimpse of Nell bouncing down the hall, but Tricia filled the line of sight easily.
“Dick… Dick Gray,” he said. Her polite smile never altered, it seemed to be constructed or plastered on perhaps. “Nice to meet you.”
“And you. Bailey just loves Nell, talks about her all the time. So glad she could come. If you want to come back in a few hours we’ll be done by four.” Tricia spoke fast and it was clear to Dick the warm reception was over. She probably had better things to do, like taking pictures of an elaborate hand-decorated pink cake for Instagram.
“Sounds good. Thanks.”
“Thank you,” she sang and shut the door before Dike had even turned away. He rolled his eyes and headed back for the car. Time for a nap.
Working two jobs, shuttling Nell to and from school and the daycare made naps a luxury he rarely enjoyed. Actually, anything besides chauffeuring, cleaning, working, or tending to Nell was a luxury. That included sitting down to a rare beer or two after her bedtime or even taking a shit in silence. Now that Nell was old enough for play dates and birthday parties, he was looking forward to the occasional indulgences. Today’s would be a nap.
A short drive from the Dominguez’s house, he arrived out their own shabby 1970’s ranch and parked the car. The house was badly in need of painting and even more in need of lawn maintenance, but the rent was affordable. As he slid his key into the front door lock something made him pause. He couldn’t put his finger on it. A sound, a smell…had he forgotten something? He ran through a mental checklist as he unlocked the front door and walked in. Did Nell have her coat? Had he remembered to brush her hair? Change her clothes? The present? That was it. He saw it wrapped up and sitting on the side table. No big deal, he would just drop it off with apologies when he picked Nell up later. It would cause a look of judgment to cross Pinterest Mom, Tricia’s face no doubt, but that would actually be an added bonus.
Moving into the living room, Dick sat on his faded floral couch. It was old, but incredibly comfortable for napping. Using the toe of one shoe he took off the the opposite shoe, repeating the process with his now bare toe before stretching out on the couch. He reached for the remote on the dented coffee table. A little TV, he thought, might be a nice way to relax before drifting off. An annoying car commercial followed by the local news, “Channel 8 at Noon”, the voice over announced as a photo of Mt. Hood on a clear day faded to reveal the anchor desk.
“We having breaking news out of Wilsonville,” the blond with the bob announced. Her co-anchor picked up the story.
“It is reported that three inmates from the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility escaped earlier this morning. Two have since been apprehended, but one still remains at large. The names and photos of the inmates have not yet been released, but the public is asked to stay alert and contact authorities if you see any suspicious persons.”
The rest of the newscast went mute in Dick’s ears and simultaneously two things happened that caused his heart to begin racing. First, was the thought that the dog had not come to greet him when he came in. The second was the sound of careful footsteps coming from behind. Dick’s first thought was to turn around or grab something that could be used as a weapon, but he knew Jane would feed off that. She loved to see him panicked. Manipulated emotions were her fuel. He tried to calm himself, slowly picked the remote up and pressed the power button.
“Hello, Jane,” he said as tranquilly as he could, “nice to see you out and about.” Sarcasm was one of the tools he found useful against her.
“You haven’t seen me yet.” Jane walked slowly around to face him from across the coffee table. She had found clothes. Perhaps stolen from one of his neighbors, but they fit her well and he wondered if she had managed to swipe them from a store. Hard to imagine she would waltz into a Target wearing a prison jumpsuit, but Jane was resourceful. She had obviously tried to dress up for this moment. Her hair was pulled back and she was wearing makeup. She had really gone on a raid. It was clear, although she tried, that three years in prison had taken its toll. She looked a bit gaunt and greasy. Pale, too and he thought he spied a small, half healed bruise on the side of her face. There were fresh scratches on her hands like she had tried to bath an angry cat; probably from her recent prison break. Fencing or blackberries, perhaps. In one scratched hand she held a knife, smeared with blood. Dick recognized his chef knife and wondered who the blood belonged to; hopefully no connection to where she’d gotten the clothes. Not that she had any trouble with murder. Jane seemed to enjoy him looking her over. A smile formed on her red tinted lips. “Did you miss me?”
“Like and STD. What do you want, Jane?”
Her smile remained, but contorted into something amused and cruel. A look he knew well.
“So…now I thought we could be a family again. It is what I want even if you don’t. And I think we both know a whole family is best for Nell. Where is my baby?”
“She’s not here and you’re not going to see her.” She knew how to push the right buttons, he needed to stay calm and not give anything away. “I don’t think a whole family which includes a psychopath mother, is exactly what Nell needs.”
“We will be a family, Dick. I have already decided. You can either have Nell and I or you can live without either of us. I’m giving you an ultimatum.”
“And how exactly is that going to work? Being a family? You’re wanted.” Dick figured it was better not to resist or fight, but just to keep her talking. He began to mentally run through where he had last put his cell phone. He felt a slight heaviness in the left pocket of his lightweight jacket, his phone’s usual home and remembered putting it there when him and Nell had left for the party. Phone in the left pocket, keys in the right. He was a creature of habit. He hoped that would save him.
“Here’s what I was thinking…,” Jane began. He knew she was calculating the situation, trying to read him, just as he was doing with her. He forgot how much he hated playing these games. Pure madness. “At first I thought the cabin, but that would be the first place they would look. If they haven’t already. And you know I am too smart for that. I have decided on Mexico City.”
“Mexico? Isn’t that a bit cliche for an escaped convict?” He watched her smile widen at his accusation.
“Perhaps. But most are idiots…head for beach towns, vacation destinations where there are more gringos than beaners. They can be spotted easily. Mexico City is large and parts of it are so dangerous that the federales won’t go in.”
“Sounds like a great place to raise a child. Wouldn’t a family of white Americans be more easily spotted in an area full of Mexicans? Wouldn’t we be an easy target for gangsters…the cartel…or whatever?”
“Nell will be fine. I will do anything to protect her. I will do anything to be with her. As far as the cartel, they don’t like to mess with white people if they can help it. Might bring the wrath of the US government. We are going to start an orphanage. It’s easy to do and they’ll think we’re saints. Will make a nice side business, too. Something no one will question.”
“Don’t worry about that, honey. You’ll see.”
“Sounds like you’ve done your research,” Dick said, having deciding on his next move. “Perhaps we should start packing?”
“That’s a good boy.”
“Let me put my shoes on.” He bent down.
“Wait a minute,” she said quickly, “stand back up where I can see your hands.” The slight panic in her voice was a good sign, but also meant she would be more dangerous. Like a rattlesnake, fully coiled. Dick remained bent over, but put his hands out to the side.
“Easy, babe,” he mocked, “just I’m barefoot. Can I put my shoes on?”
“Not yet, stand up like I asked.”
“Ok, ok,” he dropped his hands to the front of his body and slowly rose up, then changing speed he quickly grabbed the edge of the rickety coffee table and flipped it up with enough power to cause it to rotate legs first towards Jane’s face. She stepped back and brought her hands up to protect herself, dropping the knife. It was enough. Dick jumped over the back of the sofa and hurled himself towards the door; fumbling briefly with the knob. He heard her yell and scrambling from behind the broken pieces of the coffee table. Managing to get the door open, Dick ran for the car, dug the keys out of his pocket and clicked unlock as he ran. Inside and relocking the doors, he took a minute to look around. Jane was not following. He needed to get to Nell. Turning the ignition, he barely waited for the full start before he put the car in drive and sped out of his parking spot. He checked the rear view mirror for Jane as he felt for his phone in his jacket pocket. She was not in pursuit, but of course he knew she was too smart for that. One hand on the wheel, Dick dialed 911, glancing occasionally from the road to his phone.
“911, what is your emergency?,” asked a female voice on the other side.
“I have information about the escaped convict from Coffee Creek. My name is Dick Gray.”
“Yes, sir, what can you tell me?”
“She is my ex-wife, Jane Gray, and I just encountered her at my home residence, 2257 NE Oak Portland, Oregon. She was armed with a knife and wearing stolen clothing…a black knee length fitted skirt and pink fitted sweater.” Dick was well versed in the dialog necessary for emergency calls. Almost like the fucking police themselves.
“Mr. Gray, I am going to connect to the state police. Please stay on the line.” He heard a faint beeping before she quickly came back on, “Mr. Gray, are you safe?”
“Yes, but my daughter is at a birthday party. I am headed that way. I think you should send police that way as well. Jane is certifiable crazy and has abducted our daughter on a previous occasion.”
“Ok. Yes, Mr. Gray. Can you tell me the address of the party?”
“Shit, no. It is on my phone someplace…”
“Can you tell us who lives there? Is the residence near to where you are now?”
“Yea, just a mile or two. It’s ahhh…Dominguez. Shit…Tricia Dominguez.” If he hadn’t disliked her so much when he met her he doubted he could have remembered her name.
“Ok Mr. Gray, I’m not getting anything in the database…I want to stay on the phone with you until you reach the location so you can give me the address. We already have officers in the area and headed to your home.”
“Thank you. Fuck.”
He appreciated her urgency and hoped Jane did not know Nell’s wareabouts. He remembered the gift for Bailey he’d accidently left and wondered if it was enough of a clue to trigger a search by Jane. At the thought he pushed the gas down and sped out onto the main street. Two more blocks and he hugged a tight turn onto 133rd then another turn onto Lincoln. The blue house stood ahead and he bounced sideways off the curb and in behind Pinterest mom’s minivan. Slightly relieved to see it still parked in the same place. In his ear he could hear the disbach lady telling him to remain calm, that it would be alright and to let him know when he arrived.
“They live on Lincoln off 133rd, the house number is 459,” he said, reading it from the side of the house as he ran up to the door and knocked loudly.
“We will have police there soon.”
“Thank you, have you had word from police…has she been apprehended?” He knocked again and pressed the doorbell with force. Why was Pinterest Mom taking so long now? A thought struck him and he dropped his phone as he tried the door, it was locked. Lunging towards the door’s side window he tried to get a look in. He couldn’t see for the fogged glass, but it seemed dark. He ran to the side of the house where a tall wood fence blocked further access to other windows. Giving it a hard push, then pull, he found it was locked. Dick pulled up his pants, preparing to climb when he heard a patrol car blimp its siren. Two police officers stepped out from opposite sides of the car and the one nearest Dick yelled, “sir, are you Dick Gray?”
“Yea, I called 911. My daughter…I need to make sure she’d ok.” He moved to meet the police at the front of the house.
“Did you knock?” A stupid question, Dick thought.
“Yeah, twice and rang the doorbell. It looks dark inside.” The other police officer said something into the radio perched on his shoulder and the two started walking up to the door. He could feel the panic building with every moment and wished the police would move more quickly. “Please.”
One officer banged on the door while the other went to the side fence where Dick had just been. “It’s locked,” Dick called. He saw the officer reach to the back of his belt and pull out something. He wasn’t sure what it was, but it looked like one of those files locksmiths use when people lock their keys in the car. He put it through one of the slats and gave it a quick jerk, popping the gate open. He moved through the gate while the other officer knocked for the third time, louder. Dick decided to follow the officer moving around the back of the house, jogging to catch up. The officer had reached a back sliding glass door and was knocking.
“You need to wait out front Mr. Gray.”
“It’s my daughter.”
The officer nodded in reply and Dick cupped his hands around this face to peer inside, he saw into the dining room with the living room beyond. It was all dark and empty. The officer reached to try the door which easily slid open. Dick, following right behind, yelled Nell’s name. The only answer was the sound of their footsteps on the wood flood. The office radioed to his partner, drew his weapon and instructed Dick that he needed to go back out while they checked the house. Dick went to wait on the steps. He already knew the house would be empty.