Hi and welcome to those participating in the Christian Fiction Celebration. Here's the excerpt from my work in progress - a contemporary novel. Let me know what you think. :)M
The smell of mold filled the boy’s nostrils. He tried to back away from the dim stairway but the fist clutching the collar of his shirt held him above the hole. Dampness crept out and wrapped cold tendrils around his legs as the fist shoved him down. The voice above him cursed.
"Scum like you belongs down here."
A blow to the back of his head sent him sprawling to the concrete below. Grit scoured skin from his hands and elbows as heavy boots thudded behind him. One of them slammed into his side. The sound of a rib cracking made bile rise in his throat. He curled into a tight ball, knowing what was coming as he heard the familiar sound of the belt being pulled from its pant loops.
He tried not to cry out but it seemed like the blows would never stop. Already panting with pain, he howled when a hand grabbed his arm and wrenched him to his feet, jolting
the broken rib. The fist shoved him further into the cellar. He heard the scraping of the small door under the stairs. He started to plead.
"No. Please. Please, don't lock me in there. No. Please. Don’t. Please."
Another blow to his head knocked him to the floor again. The boot connected with his thigh as he tried to squirm away. There was nowhere to go but into the hole, into the darkness. The small door slammed and he heard the latch lock. His head and body throbbing, he pressed his face to the floor and tried to suck clean air through the crack at the bottom, tried to get away from the smell of whatever lay rotting in the darkness.
August 20th, 2003, twenty miles downstream from Dawson City, on the Yukon River.
Alex heard the boat but couldn’t see it. He took his binoculars down from a nail on the wall, walked to the bank and scanned upriver. He caught the long outboard, skimming with the current about a mile down. Adjusting the focus, he peered at the two people crouched in the back. He knew the one with his hand on the motor - the son of the mechanic in town. Alex couldn’t remember his name. Probably hired himself out to the man in the suit.
The suit was hunched into himself, a large briefcase clutched in his arms, his knees drawn up, head down. His tie escaped now and then, flapping into the wind with sudden
urgency until he caught it and tucked it in again. The sight of a man in a suit on the
river was so out of context, Alex kept watching until the boat veered and headed directly toward him. He lowered the binoculars and squinted as it beached just below his cabin. Within seconds the men were out of sight but he knew they were scrambling up the embankment. They’d missed the trail. He considered slipping into the bush and pretending not to be there, but his curiosity got the better of him. He went back into the cabin and waited.
As the two men breached the top of the slope, Alex's dogs erupted. The suit hesitated, peered around and, seeing the animals were chained, approached the cabin. Alex stepped back from the window and waited for the knock. When he opened the door, he took in several things at once: the man looked young, no older than Alex himself. He was wiping his face with a handkerchief, but wasn't breathing hard from the climb. His hair was the color of sand and short, spiked at the front, reminding Alex of a small porcupine he'd seen that week. The man's eyes weren't visible behind dark sunglasses but Alex had the feeling he was being sized up in return.
"Mr. Donnelly? Alexander Donnelly?"
Alex kept one hand on the door latch, shoved one hand into his jeans pocket and frowned. "Who's asking?"
The man yelled over the barking. "I'm George Bronsky, of Adams, Ferrington, Lithgow and Bolt, attorneys at law, Seattle."
When Alex did not respond, the lawyer slipped his sunglasses off. "You're a hard man to track down, Mr. Donnelly."
The dogs continued their cacophony. Alex just stared. George Bronsky stared back. Alex blinked first. He stepped out, turned his head and hollered, "Lay down!" When the barking subsided, he turned back to the lawyer. "State your business, Mr. Bronsky."
"I have some good news for you." He glanced past Alex to the interior of the cabin and took a step. "If you'll allow me..."
Alex didn't move. "I said state your business."
Bronsky shifted the brief case and slipped the glasses into his pocket. His head turned slightly to the boy standing behind him. "I suggest we speak in private."
Alex tilted his head toward the mechanic’s son. "Mind waiting in the boat? This won't take long."
The boy shrugged and turned away.
The lawyer cleared his throat again and lifted his chin. "I’m pleased to inform you that you are the recipient of an inheritance, Mr. Donnelly. Quite a substantial inheritance, in fact, and my law firm would very much like to..."
"You've got the wrong guy." Alex turned his back on the man and stepped into the cabin.
The lawyer stepped forward. "You just turned twenty-one, isn't that right?"
Alex glanced back. “So?”
"So, this sum has been held in trust until your twenty-first birthday, which ...”
“My parents died when I was a baby.”
The lawyer nodded. “I know.” Digging a sheet out of the briefcase, he kept his eyes on Alex. “You were born in Seattle. Your birthday was three weeks ago." He glanced at the paper. “July thirtieth, wasn't it?”
Alex hesitated for another moment, then turned and pushed the door wide. "That much I know," he said. "Watch your head."
Bronsky ducked under the doorframe and entered the dim room. Alex watched him take it in: the rough wood table, one chair and the small bed in the back corner; the large worn chair by the barrel stove in the other corner; the wall lined with shelves holding his few items of clothing and a number of books. Alex was suddenly aware of the smell – wood smoke with a strong overlay of tobacco, sweat and animal musk.
The lawyer placed the briefcase on the table, flipped it open and began removing papers. "I'll need to see a birth certificate, then we'll need your signature to certify that you've been notified. You'll have to come into our offices to sign the rest of the papers and be sure to bring a bank account number where the funds can be deposited." Alex felt his neck stiffen when Bronsky lifted his head and looked at him. "Uh... you do have a bank account?"
"Yeah, I have a bank account." He took a step toward the table. "This inheritance –where’d it come from?"
Bronsky blinked. “Your parents …”
Alex shook his head. “If my parents left me money, why didn’t I know about it before now? You sure you’ve got the right guy?”
"Well," Bronsky read from the paper in his hand, "are you Alexander Gabriel Donnelly, born Alexander Gabriel Perrin, six forty-five a.m., July thirtieth, 1982 at Virginia Mason Hospital, Seattle, Washington? Is that you?"
Alex cocked his head. "I know I was born in Seattle, but..."
"Mother's name, Janis Marie Perrin, father's name Thomas Allan Perrin?"
"I never knew their names." Alex's voice was so low, the lawyer leaned toward him, holding out the sheet of paper.
Alex took it, stared at it, scratched the dark stubble on his chin. "This can't be me." He laid the page on the table.
Bronsky sighed. "Do you have a birth certificate here?"
Alex stared at him for a moment, then shook his head. “Never needed one.”
The lawyer raised his eyebrows. "You were adopted by Christopher and Anna Donnelly in 1985?”
"Yeah, when I was three. They died when I was five."
"That fits. Do you have any documents from the adoption?"
Bronsky pursed his lips. "Child welfare in Vancouver must still have them. We'll have to verify everything, of course, but..." George smiled. "Congratulations, Mr. Donnelly. I think it's safe to say you're about to inherit one million U.S. dollars."
Alex's head jerked up. "What?"
Bronsky chuckled. "I thought that might get your attention. It appears your biological parents were rather wealthy. I believe the original amount was considerably less, but some good investments were made and interest does accumulate over twenty-one years."
Alex shook his head. A hank of black hair fell into his eyes. He pushed it away. "But that's... that doesn't make any sense."
"No, it doesn't." Bronsky chuckled again, and reached into his briefcase. "It makes dollars. Lots of them." He handed Alex a stapled sheaf of papers, then pointed to a dotted line on the top sheet. "Now, if you'll sign here, please, I'd like to get back to Dawson as soon as possible."
Alex stared at the paper. He took the pen the lawyer held out, but did not move to sign it.
Bronsky straightened. “Go ahead and read it for yourself. All it says is that you’ve been informed.”
Alex picked it up and moved toward the window. He read it twice, then signed.
Bronsky handed him a business card. "Here's our office address, our phone number and my extension. Call if you need anything. We'll be glad to help." The lawyer flopped the flap of his briefcase closed. "Uh, it would be expedient if you could arrange to come to Seattle as soon as possible, Mr. Donnelly. We've been looking for you for over six months and we'd really like to close this file."
Alex stared at the card.
He lifted his head, and frowned. "I've never been to Seattle. Been back, I mean."
"We'd be happy to make all the arrangements. How soon can you be ready to leave?"
“I don't know.” Alex looked down at the paper again. “Maybe tomorrow.”
Alex shrugged off the surprise in the lawyer’s voice. "Maybe."
"Oh. Well, fine, that would be fine. I'll see if I can make the arrangements this afternoon, then. I guess that means we could travel together, at least to Whitehorse, if there's a seat on the plane. It leaves at 1:15, so we should meet somewhere, say at eleven o'clock? I'm staying at the Downtown Hotel."
"I'll have to arrange something for my dogs. If I can go, I'll be at the Downtown at eleven."
"Good. I'll see you then."
Alex heard the boat motor roar as it pulled away from the shore, fighting the current upstream. He looked around him. For a moment nothing seemed familiar, nothing seemed real. He picked up the papers the lawyer had left, scanned them, then tried to read more carefully. The legalese got in the way. Tossing them down, he ran a hand through his tangle of black hair and sighed. The last thing he wanted was to go anywhere near a city, but... He pulled the papers toward him again and slid a callused finger over the smooth words. Janis Marie Perrin. Thomas Allan Perrin.
Slumped in the chair, Alex let his mind search into corners he had closed off long ago. He was a small boy sitting on a bench, his thin fingers outlining initials carved into the wooden arm. Swinging his legs over the edge, he made sure they didn't bump and make noise as he listened to the voices of strangers coming through the half open door.
"This one must have a black cloud. Twice in five years! Who'd wanna be number three?" The man's voice sounded tired.
"He's a cute little guy, though.” The woman's softer voice was hopeful. “Maybe they'll find somebody willing to take him."
"A five year old? Not very likely." The man sighed. "Well, he's off to Clareshome for now. They can hold him and deal with the paperwork while he goes into the system. I'm swamped. There's some legal stuff here, from his biological parents. Perkins. That's the name, right?"
"Something like that. His legal name is Donnelly now. Wonder how many more times it'll change before he grows up?"
Alex saw himself, a small boy being led down a long hallway by the clutching hand of a stranger.
He stood, hunched his shoulders against the memories that slipped like slivers of ice through his veins, and turned away from the table. He took a long-handled axe down from beside the door and went outside. The cold bite of late August air hit him like a slap but he breathed it in and deliberately turned his thoughts toward preparations for winter. His wood supply was getting low. There wasn't much left to split, but he fell into it with an easy, familiar rhythm. It was the kind of work he loved - physical and mindless.
But now his mind would not stop. Questions swirled one upon another like small whirlwinds stirring up everything in their path. And in the midst of them, two names glowed like red-hot brands. Two names he had always wondered about.
He stopped, pulled his T-shirt off and used it to wipe the sweat from his face and the back of his neck. His hand brushed the scar that ran down diagonally from the base of his right ear. He dropped the hand quickly.
Resting the axe against the chopping block, he left the wood where it lay and went back into the cabin. He stared again at the legal papers. He was tempted to toss them into the stove. He didn't need this. He didn't want it. It was too dangerous to go back. But what if ...
"Janis Perrin." He said the name aloud and picked up the documents. It was then he realized he had started to shake.