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Enjoy a short excerpt from my current WIP, “Rusted Blade,” coming out in 2016:
Burch loved action. He lifted the corner of one of the red-and-white striped towels and poked the dough. He was tempted – sorely tempted – to make another pie. To flatten the dough into a disc and throw it up in the air, spin in, make it go faster and faster, thinner and thinner as motes of flour fell off and drifted upon his shoulders like snow.
Maybe he could spin a disc, then bunch up the dough into a ball and let it rest again. But no. With his luck, he’d need it before lunch was over.
He sagged against the seat of his wooden barstool and planted the soles of his sneakers securely against the floor. The textured sneaker sole caught against a rough patch, and that made him frown at the cracked, vinyl tile floor. He was going to replace the floor when he bought the shop ten years ago because it didn’t go with red and white tile walls, but then the fridge broke, and he needed to hire help, and his pickup truck’s transmission broke. There was always something urgent to pay for, but the floor remained under his feet, functional and still mostly safe, and ugly as fuck.
Someday he’d have enough cash to redo the whole place. He’d get rid of the four antiquated booths that ran the length of the wall and made the space warmer, more welcoming. He’d get one of those fancy espresso machines and a cake carousel, and he’d become a destination instead of just an afterthough. He’d offer free Wi-Fi.
The sun streamed through the large store window to his right, showing a bit of grime and flour dust. He’d squeege it later, afterhours. For now, he enjoyed the accumulated warmth that stood in contrast to the nippy morning and the light overnight frost. A glimpse of orange and red on the tree across the street promised good fall color, which in turn meant tourists coming in for the weekend till the leaves saw it fit to litter the forest floor with a carpet of gold.
The morning mail pile sat on the shelf behind him next to his keys, wallet, and cell phone. He hated keeping unsanitary items in the pockets of his white pants and white chef’s overcoat, and the shelf was a good compromise of keeping them handy in case he needed something.
For now, he reached for the mail. Nothing special, just the usual compilation of flyers, a gun catalogue and a local magazine, the electric bill, and the local newspaper. He set the electric bill aside, held on to the paper, and dumped the rest.
The obituaries were always interesting. People died in Berkely Springs just like they died everywhere else. In a small town like this one, the deceased didn’t always have local family, which meant there was usually an estate sale.
Burch had gotten many a treasure in an estate sale. Knives, swords, guns. Interesting knick-knacks that turned out to be Civil War era antiques. He’d been able to buy for five bucks and sell for five hundred once, and he seldom lost money on a deal. Had it not been for eBay, he’d have been forced to sell the pizza shop by now.
Just when he circled the fourth sale to hit come Saturday, the bell on the door announced a visitor. He glanced up. A couple, young, not local.
“Hey, folks!” He rounded up his electric bill and the newspaper and set them back on the shelf. “What can I do for you?”
“Hi.” “Hello.” They stood uncertainly, shifting from foot to foot. Early to mid twenties, not well off, and still full of that energy people half his age took for granted. That, and the lack of morning aches and pains.
“A slice of pizza would be nice.” The girl smiled at him, and when Burch pushed away from his bar stool and straightened up, her eyes widened. He was used to the reaction. Most women came right to his chest.
The guy glanced at her. “Yeah. Two slices. You have plain?” He was a head taller than she was, and screwed himself up to the greatest height possible in Burch’s presence. Burch was used to that, too. Men did it without realizing it.
He took in their worn clothes and sneakers that were well past the broken-in stage. “You can have whatever you want. The toppings are free today, it’s our Wednesday special.”
They guys eyes widened and the girl’s mouth formed a delighted “oh,” entirely silent. They stepped up to look at the pizzas in the display case.
Puppies, he thought. Got to feed the strays.
Once they pointed to what they wanted and Burch slid the slices into the oven, the guy turned to the girl. “Here, hold this.” He handed her a long, wide mailing tube, dug out his wallet, and paid. “Say,” he said to Burch, “Would you know when the antique store opens? The one next door to you?”
“Noon, probably. That’s when Tom usually comes in.” Burch jutted his chin at the mailing tube. “What do you have for him?”
The guy and the girl looked at each other. He shrugged. “It’s just a sword. I was hoping to keep it, but we need gas money.”
“A sword?” Burch crossed his arms in an effort to contain his excitement. “What kind?”
“Japanese.” The guy gave the mailing tube a fond pat. “Got it at a garage sale in Youngstown. Got a good deal, too.”
“Twenty bucks of gas money ain’t a good deal, Cody,” the girl said in a thin, tense voice. She turned to Burch. “We’re going down to Atlanta. We’re from Ohio and both of us have college an’ everything, but there just ain’t no jobs up there.”
Burch measured them from under his hooded eyelids. “Yep, folks have it hard in some parts, and Atlanta’s booming. No hard winters, either.” How old was his Claire now? Nineteen? Freshman in college, something both he and is ex contributed to equally. Bloody expensive, that, and heaven forbid you end up with student loans and no job when you graduate. This girl didn’t look like Claire, but her age was close enough. He bit back a bittersweet smile. “You mind showing me that sword? I’m sort of curious about things like that. I even have some of my own.”
The pizza timer went off. He turned, grabbed the wooden paddle, and rescued two slices of pizza with everything on it. “Sit down, I’ll bring it to you. Anything to drink?”
Just water. Because water was free.