A Vigil for Justice: Episode Six

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

“You have a shower I can use?” Melanie asked Jake.

He hesitated. “My apartment is above the gym. You can use the one there, if you’d like.”

She bit her lower lip.

“I’m the last guy you have to worry about in Breck, Ms. Craig. Here are my keys. Lock the door if you’d like. I don’t have another set so bring them back to me.”

Or she could go to the coffee shop smelling like a horse. She hesitated another second and then took the keys from his and.

“Go up the stairs around back.” He shook his head. There was a fine line between cautious and stupid. She walked out the raised bay door and went up the stairs. She pushed the key in the lock and turned the handle.

“Hello?” she called. There was no answer. She went in and locked the door behind her. No reason for her to be stupid, when she had an option. The apartment was much more stylish than she expected for a cowboy. She had expected it to be dirty, but every inch of the place was tidy and clean. The kitchen, dining, and living room were all one area. Black leather couches lined the wall. Plain red and grey pillows adorned the corners. Black and white skylines hung in silver frames on the walls. A bookshelf stood in the corner stretching toward the high ceilings. A dark solid oak table, with red placemats, and four chairs sat on a black and white ceramic-tiled floor. Long stem wine glasses hung from beneath the oak cabinets.

She had to go through his bedroom to find the bathroom. The bedspread was a pattern of various shades of blue. Dark curtains blocked all but a dim light from the window.  The bureau was black and a flat screen TV hung above it. The nightstand matched the bureau and a book laid atop it. The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker, she read aloud. She flipped the book over to read the back, “True fear is a gift. Unwarranted fear is a curse. Learn how to tell the difference.” She placed the book back on the nightstand and looked around the room. There were no pictures of family or friends anywhere in the apartment.

She showered quickly. The towels were white and soft. She locked the door as she left.

“See you tomorrow?” Jake asked as she tossed him his keys.

“Yes. How much is a membership?”

“Let’s see how you do, alright?”

She slid into her car and drove the short distance to the coffee shop. She slipped her black apron over her head as she walked through the front door.

“Cutting it close Mel?” her boss Suzanne asked arching an eyebrow.

“Sorry.”

“You and Sarah are closing tonight. Your schedule for next week is in the back. I’ll see you later.” Suzanne left. Sarah wouldn’t be in for a few hours. Melanie sat on the tall stool behind the counter and breathed in the deep scent of the coffee house. She loved that smell.

She poured herself a cup of the house blend the aroma rose enveloping her. She inhaled a lung full and smiled. She poured in some cream and sprinkled chocolate on top. She wrapped her hands around the warm mug and sat back on the stool relishing the experience. She never wanted to forget how life was before the Justice Law passed. She filed this piece away in her memory for later use.

Sarah came in just as Melanie’s stomach began to growl from hunger. As soon as Sarah put her apron on and was ready to take over for Melanie at the counter, Melanie slipped out the door to find something to eat.

She grabbed a turkey cranberry sandwich from a little café and crossed the street to the bookstore. She could get any book on her ipad, but she like the feel of physical books in her hands. It reminded her of the nights she spent reading with her dad. He had read and she turned the pages.

She knew which book she wanted, so she wouldn’t be long in the bookstore. She ran her finger over the rows and slid two books off the shelves. The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker and a survival guide by some longhaired hippy guy.

She walked back to the coffee shop and read The Gift of Fear between customers for the rest of her shift.

On the following Monday, Richard Stein pulled is huge black Dodge truck into the Craig’s long drive way. Headlights shined into the kitchen and living room windows. Melanie stepped out of the house to greet Holly who was climbing out of her dad’s truck.

“Bye dad. Thanks for the ride.” Holly waved and the truck began to backup.

Jennifer pushed past Melanie and ran out to the truck, trying to catch Richard before he was gone. Holly and Melanie looked at each other, neither one of them knew what the big rush was. They walked out to the truck.

Jennifer was handing some papers through the truck window on tiptoe. Richard let out a long sigh and scanned the pages.

“Jennifer, I know you mean well, but I’m not signing your petition.” His Texas accent was thick. “It’s not that I’m going go out there shooting folks up or anything, but people need to know I’ve got no qualms about defending my own.”  He handed the papers back to her and she tried to push them back into the truck.

“But Richard if you sign—“

“I’m not and I’m not arguing with you either.”

Jennifer took the papers scowling.

“You girls have a good day. Melanie you’ll drop Holly off tonight?”

Melanie stretched up on her tiptoe to look at him more levelly. “Yes sir.”

Richard tipped his black cowboy hat at Jennifer. “You too Jennifer.”

Without a word, Jennifer turned and went back into the house. Holly and Melanie followed her.

The metal detectors arrived at Summit High School that morning along with the crews to install them. Things had calmed down at the school, as the administration dealt with threats and aggressive behavior in a consistent and quick manner regardless of who was making the threat.

Seth, Holly, Mitchel, and Melanie decided to stay at the school for lunch. The four of them sat at the end of one of the long orange picnic like tables that lined the lunchroom.

“Your mom starting that petition tonight?” Mitchel asked Melanie.

She took a bite of her peanut butter and jelly sandwich and nodded her head.

Seth looked at her with one eyebrow raised. “What petition?”

Melanie held up her finger while she took a sip of her chocolate milk to wash down the sandwich. “It’s a no kill petition. She is asking everyone in Blue River to sign it. Basically it is an agreement not to use your Justice Deaths. She is going to take it to the City Council meeting. ”

“Are you guys signing it?” Holly asked Seth and Mitchel.

Seth snorted. “Are you?”

“We already did,” Holly said, smiling.

Seth shook his head. “What if some jackass comes and puts a gun to your mom’s head, are you telling me you are not going to shoot if you have the chance because you signed a petition?”

“No, Seth. It allows for killing in defense of another whose life is in jeopardy,” Melanie said.

“How long is your car going to be in the shop, Holly?” asked Melanie taking another bite of her sandwich.

“Wait. What? Why is your car in the shop?” asked Seth.

Holly laughed. “Where have you been Seth?” It was true, Seth seemed to be out of the loop on things that had been happening over the weekend.

“A freshman backed into it last Friday. I dropped it off at the shop this morning it will be there for until Wednesday, so they said. Maybe I’ll get it tomorrow. Until then I’m hitching along with Melanie.”

Melanie glanced sidelong at Seth. She looked up and smiled at Holly. “We still going to the firing range after school?”

Seth inhaled his soda. Mitchel patted him on the back shaking his head.

“Yeah, but I have homework to do too.” Holly stood up to go dump her garbage.

Mitchel reached across the table and took Melanie’s hand in his. “I’ll sign the petition, Mel.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode Five

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A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

“Pleep, pleep, pleep.” Melanie’s alarm clock went off. She swung her limp arm over and pressed the button to turn it off. Cracking her eyes open just a little, she looked at the blue glowing numbers, 5:00 a.m., May 5, 2021. She rolled out of bed. She needed to go for a run. Shaking the sleep from her mind, she pulled on running shorts, a sports bra, a shirt, and her running shoes. She stepped out the front door. The morning air was chilly and crisp with the scent of fresh rain. Goose bumps rose on her arms and legs. She knew she would warm up once she was moving. She checked the door to make sure it was locked and set off at a warm up pace.

Cross-country summer training would be starting at the end of the month, and she wanted to have a strong base of miles before then. But cross-country wasn’t the only reason Melanie was running this morning. Running was her time to think and really process the world around her. She felt free and her mind could work through any challenge with little exertion on her part. It just happened, she didn’t know how, but it did.

By the end of her five miles, Melanie was sure she would know what her next steps should be regarding the Justice Law. For the first mile, her mind spun around the nightmares that the Justice Law could bring into their small town. What if others came here seeking solace from the law or to hide from someone hunting them? What if some lunatic who had a horrible vacation in Breckenridge decided to open fire in the bar her mother worked in? What about all the secrets that small town are famous for? So many horror novels begin in small towns, it’s like they breed serial killers.

Melanie made a conscious effort to relax her tightening shoulders and released her fists. What if’s won’t help, she needed to answer the question what now? Melanie knew she had to protect her family. Especially since her mom refused to accept that things could get bad, really bad. How was she going to protect them all? Mitchel, Holly, Seth, Sam, her mom, and herself. She had to focus. She turned a corner and the familiar pounding of her feet along the ground brought her back from the paranoid fantasies. She had to get a gun. She had to learn to use it. And she had to learn to fight. Her arms swished past her waist and she picked up her pace.

She had twenty-six days to prepare, and she couldn’t waste any of them. She bounded up the bleachers at the high school. The sound of her footsteps echoed in the empty stadium. She took it slow going back down and then pushed herself on the way back up. She did it again and again until her breath was coming in heaves and she wanted to vomit.

She cooled down on the way home, and now she had a plan. The kitchen light was on and she knocked on the door. Her mom opened it.

“How was your run? You’re starting early this year.”

Melanie smiled. Sweat was streaming down her face, and she wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. “It was a good run.”

“There are eggs, bacon, and toast for you on the table.” Her mom must have the day off work. She only made breakfast when she had the day off.

“Thanks mom.”

Melanie shoveled the food into her mouth, showered, and got ready for school.

“I’ll be home late, mom,” Melanie said as she pulled the door to the house closed.

Jennifer opened the door again. “Are you working tonight?”

“Yeah,” Melanie called from the curb. Not in the coffee shop, but she would be working none the less.

“Your curfew is nine.”

After school, Melanie drove to Breck. The blue snowcapped mountains peaked over all the buildings in the small vacation town. The resorts brought in people from all over the world, year round. Locals and visitors walked along the streets going in and out of the stores that line the main street through town. Most of the buildings looked more like homes than business with peaked roofs cottage windows and doors. The light blues, greens, and browns of the buildings ambled by as Melanie slowed down to twenty miles an hour.

She pulled into the empty parking lot of a two story light brown building with ivory trim. It was one of the few that actually looked like a business rather than a house. A bell jangled as she went through the glass door.

A well-muscled man with a maroon tank top, tight jeans, and a white cowboy hat strode out from the back. He wiped his taped hands on a towel from the counter. The place smelled like sweat and leather.

His smile was kind.

“Morning, how can I help you?” he said, setting the white towel back on the counter.

Behind him was a line of black punching bags hanging from the ceiling by chains as thick as her wrist. Her eyes moved around the room. The American flag hung on the wall. Blue and grey mats laid across the floor and a weight bench sat in a corner with rows of free weights and dumb bells. Jump ropes and gloves hung from hooks next to a drinking fountain.

Three yellow and black speed bags jutted out from a wall. Tires were leaned against the wall below them. Swiss balls and medicine balls sat in another corner. A bay door stood open to the back alley and a cool breeze brought in the mountain air.

“I want to learn to fight.”

His smile widened, but he tried to hide it by tucking his chin and scratching the back of his neck. “When did you want to start?”

“Today.” She dropped her gym bag on the floor and reached out her hand. “I’m Melanie Craig.”

“Go change, let’s see what you got, Melanie Craig.” He was still smiling as he turned and walked back into the gym. He had an eagle tattooed on his left shoulder. The wings were up as it came in talons extended for a landing or the capture its prey.

She came out of the bathroom in a pair of running shorts and a sports bra. He tossed her a pair of white gloves and climbed into the ring. She followed him in pulling on the gloves. He hadn’t changed and didn’t have gloves on either.

“Don’t you want gloves?” she asked.

“I’m not going to hit you.” He adjusted his hat on his head and took a fighting stance, his left side toward her.

“You want to start with your weaker side toward your opponent.”

She turned so her right side was toward him. She looked up and down at him memorizing his stance and adjusted hers to match.

“Keep your hands up,” he said, raising his own.

She raised her hands close to her face. The smell of leather and sweat strong. He couldn’t be more than five years older than her. His steel grey eyes watched her with a ferocious intensity she had never seen. They looked more through her than at her. She could see the fringes of his honey colored hair just below his hat.

“Most people are out buying guns and spending their time at the firing range, why are you here?” he asked, moving around her left side.

“Because,” she said, as she jabbed her right fist at him. He slapped it away without even looking directly at it.

She stopped. “You see what you did there?” she asked.

He raised his eyebrows, and continued to bounce around her on the balls of his feet with his hands up protecting his face. She dropped her own hands to her sides.

“I need to be able to do that. I need to be able to see what’s coming from all angles without having to look directly at it. I need to be able to assess the risk someone poses to my family and me by looking at them. I want to look a person in the eye and know if they can kill.”

He stopped and looked squarely at her. He nodded his head once. “I’m Jake Simpson, and I can teach you that.”

A Vigil for Justice: Episode One

Blue River Town

A Vigil for Justice, is a serial thriller fiction novel. Updates of 1,000-1,500 words will be posted every Friday.

“Who would you kill?” asked Sam, reading the front page of the Denver Post over her sister’s shoulder.

“No one Sam, and neither will you. Go get your stuff, we’re going to be late,” Melanie said. She pushed the chair back and downed the rest of her orange juice.

“This is insanity,” she whispered setting the newspaper on the breakfast table. She picked up her backpack and shoved her three ring binders inside. How could a law like this pass? Maybe we should just stay home today.  She checked the front pocket of her backpack for her favorite pencil and pen, seeing them safe inside, she tugged the zipper closed. Their smoky cat with blue eyes curled around her leg meowing.

Melanie looked at his food dish. Empty. She sighed and walked to the pantry. Reaching into the bag, she grabbed a handful of the tiny fish shaped pieces and dumped them into Austen’s bowl.

Samantha bounced down the stairs on tiptoe, sandy braids bouncing on her shoulders, and a Hello Kitty purse slung over her shoulder.

“You ready?” Melanie asked grabbing their lunches out of the fridge.

“Yep. I would put a pencil in Byron’s eye,” Sam said.

Melanie shot her a death glare. “Don’t talk like that. This isn’t a joke.”

“He pulls my hair and steals my crayons. Yesterday—”

“Enough.”

Sam twisted her finger in the end of her braid.  “I have a field trip today.”

Melanie cringed on the inside, sending her eight-year-old sister to school on a day like today was bad, but out in public could be life shattering for both of them.

“Really, where are you going?”

“The Museum of Natural History.”

“That will be interesting.” She smiled at her sister.

Melanie pulled the maroon front door of the house shut and checked the lock. Dew clung to her sneakers as she crossed the lawn to her car parked against the curb. She glanced both ways down the street and walked a full circle around the car peering through the windows before clicking the unlock button on her key. God, she was already paranoid as it was. She preferred the term hyper-vigilant, but her friends called her paranoid, only half joking.

She drove the familiar route to Upper Blue Elementary her mind wriggling with the possibilities of the future in their small Colorado town.

“Have a great day at the museum. Mom will pick you up from Ballet at five,” Melanie called as Sam pushed the door of the car closed.

She pulled into the parking lot of Summit High School. Mitchel was sitting in his green pickup truck waiting for her like he did every morning. She put her car in park and turned the engine off. As she stepped out, Mitchel got out of his truck. He was a year old her than her, a senior. His cologne pulled her in before his arms even had a hold of her. The tension left her shoulders with his embrace. She hadn’t even noticed it before. Tension being a normal sensation was definitely something she had to work on.

He kissed her and brushed her long walnut hair back from her face. “Good morning, Mel.”

She breathed him in and rested her head against his chest. Holly clobbered them from the side, her copper curls descending on them like octopus tenticles. All three of them crashed into Mel’s car.

“Did you see the paper?” she asked.

“Totally fine here,” Melanie said smiling as she righted herself from her best friend’s impact. Holly was as intense as her fiery hair and emerald eyes.

Mitchel wrapped his arm around Melanie’s shoulder. She fit perfectly against his body.

“See what?” he asked.

“That crazy Justice Law passed, the one about the killing three people during your lifetime without repercussions.” Her eyes were wild with the implications.

“No way,” he said.

“Yeah, I saw it too,” Melanie said as Mitchel snatched the paper out of Holly’s hands bumping Melanie’s head with his bicep.

“Sorry,” he said. His brown eyes scanned the headline and moved down the page.

“Christ all mighty,” he said.

“Nothing will change here. Blue River is too small, and everyone knows everyone,” Mitchel said, taking Melanie’s hand in his.

“Maybe.” Melanie turned to face her car. The lights flashed and horn chirped.

The three of them crossed the parking lot and entered the school. The first bell rang. Mitchel kissed Melanie again.

“I’ll see you at lunch?”

Melanie nodded. He began to turn away, but then he tipped her chin up and snuck in one last kiss before she turned down the hall where her and Holly’s locker was. Wonder if mom saw the article before she left for work this morning. Melanie’s phone vibrated in her back pocket.

She pulled it out. It was a text from her mom. Passing students bumped and jostled her as she stared down at her phone. Holly looped her arm through Melanie’s and guided her down the hall as she responded to her mom.

“We’ll talk tonight. Sam remember her permission slip?”

“Not sure,” Melanie text

“Alright, have a good day.”

Melanie smiled and slipped the phone back into her pocket. She turned the lock to the locker, left, right, left, and lifted the latch.

“You have chemistry, right?” she asked Holly and handed her the textbook.

“Same as every other B day,” Holly said smiling. “I’ll catch you at lunch.” Melanie nodded and pulled out her calculus book. She pressed her hand against the cold metal locker door, and it clicked shut. Mitchel’s right nothing will change here. Blue River is quiet. There’s not much crime to talk about, and the big cities are a ways off.

“You seen Mitch?” Melanie jumped, ripped from her self-soothing thoughts.  Mitchel’s brother, Seth was staring at her, eyebrows raised, and looking from one of her eyes to the other.

“You okay?” he asked.

“What? I’m fine,” she stammered. Seth was Mitchel’s twin. They were identical, but Seth was a few inches shorter and had bleached his dark hair, turning it orange.

“He just went to class.”

“Cool, see ya.”

The second bell rang just as she walked through the door to class. She slid her backpack off her shoulders and onto the floor as she sank into a desk at the back of the room. She had to focus. She pushed the chaotic possibilities that seeped into her mind aside for now. With her binder flipped open on her desk, she dug in her backpack for her pencil.

She wrote the date on the top line of the page, May 3, 2021, and drew the number three in the corner, outlining it, blocking it, and adding various designs as Mr. Baker went over the assignment.