Deeper Secrets is my new novel, coming on Amazon, iBooks, Nook and more this month. In the following excerpt, we meet protagonist Ben Wiles as he accidentally interrupts a murder.
He scanned the crowd for danger. In his mind, he rehearsed the techniques he might need: how to break a one-handed grab, how to break a two-handed grab, how to counter a right punch, how to counter a left. From the first day he tied on a belt and tried the martial arts, his old teacher told him that if he ever used the skills to always take it seriously. Bouncing at the Neon might be just a night job to earn extra income, but Ben never stopped following that advice.
Around him, the dancers swirled like dandelion seeds on the breeze. The music sounded more like gale force winds, though. Hard, loud, with bass that rattled his teeth, and more beats per minute than he expected to have dollars in his paycheck, the DJ’s current selection drove a frenzy.
The back door to his right slammed hard in its frame. Hard. This wasn’t caused by some drunk stumbling down the alley and bumping it. The metal door clanged as if someone had driven a battering ram into it.
Ben eased out of his leaning position on the wall, standing up straight. Brows furrowed, neck craning forward slightly, he peered at the door, then eyed it warily. Whatever made that noise was big enough and strong enough to rattle a steel door in a brick wall. It wasn’t something he felt any great eagerness to face.
Then he heard a cry. Not even one word, just most of one:
Help. Someone out there was shouting for help. Or at least they had been. Something cut it off.
Praying he’d find nothing more than a delivery truck that had missed the loading dock, Ben flipped the hidden switch that would stop the fire alarm from sounding when he cracked the door open. He eased it open.
It didn’t want to move.
Surprised, Ben stared at the door for a moment, wondering whether he really wanted to look outside.
He pressed down the handle and gave a firmer shove. This time it yielded.
As he opened the door and stepped out, a heavy thump barely made itself heard over the music from inside. Poking his head around the door, Ben saw the cause of the sound.
Bloody, messy, dead, a man sprawled in the alley. He had, apparently, been leaning up against the door before Ben opened it and knocked him down. Possibly, him collapsing up against the door in the first place had been the cause of the sound that had drawn Ben outside.
Snow covered the grime of the alley, now stained with blood. A biting wind hurried between the buildings. Ben’s T-shirt felt woefully insufficient even before he finished opening the door, let alone once he stepped outside.
A very definitely live man stood next to the dead one. Ben stared at him for half a second, taking in close-cropped hair shorter than his own and an unshaven jawline in the glare of the club’s exterior lighting. He wore a baseball cap and a leather jacket.
Then the man lunged at him.
Ben’s right arm delivered a downward block, but it wasn’t enough. The stranger hit him hard in the gut. He grabbed Ben’s black T-shirt and pulled him out into the alley. All of Ben’s techniques for breaking a one-handed grab started from a standing position. Halfway laying on the ground, being held up by the scruff of his shirt, wasn’t an ideal way to execute them.
He curled his fingers into a claw-shape and raked them as hard as he could over his attacker’s shin. The man cried out and dropped Ben, who scrambled to his feet.
When he did, he saw a pistol aimed right at his nose.
Where before Ben had picked out many details of the man’s face, now he could see nothing but the weapon. He felt his skin tingle as a tide of adrenaline rose in his system. He found that his limbs would not respond to mental commands to move. The barrel of the gun looked wider than the gates of Hell. He realized, at that moment, that he had never before known the meaning of terror. Now, as he saw a gun pointed right between his eyes, he learned what fear really was.
Yet, from somewhere deep in the depths of his psyche, a lesson from his college self-defense classes bubbled to the surface. He swore he was hearing the instructor’s voice right in his ear.
“The chances of this working are fifty-fifty at best. Never do this. Never, never, never try this. Unless your life really is on the line. If you’re about to die, only then should you try this.”
Well, his life really was on the line.
Ben put his hands up in the universal surrender position but down a little bit closer to his head rather than fully extended into the air. The difference might have been attributed to an understandable fear of moving with a gun pointed at his head.
“I surrender,” he said. “Please don’t kill me.”
“Sorry,” the man with the gun said. “Nothing personal. It’s just that you can identify m–”
Before he finished speaking, Ben slapped both his hands inward and across in front of his face, as fast and as hard as he could.
His left hand hit the barrel of the gun, shoving it away from his head and off to his right.
His right hand slapped the inside wrist of his attacker, intended to sting the nerves in his hand and make it almost impossible for him to keep a firm grip.
Between the two, the gun pointed wide of his right ear when it went off.
The gunshot sledgehammered Ben’s hearing into powder. Nothing went through his ears to his brain except a painful ringing. It scared him so badly that he failed to follow through on the rest of the technique. He should have grabbed the grip of the pistol, stripped it out of his attacker’s weakened hand, broken his finger in the process, and shot the man, according to his old teacher. But even if Ben had the nerve to shoot someone, he had lost all voluntary control of his muscles in the panic from the gunshot. The gun fell to the ground, fortunately not going off again.
Behind him, the door to the club opened.
“What’s going on out here?”
The baritone voice of one of the other bouncers was a lifeline thrown to Ben. It was a whiff of bright clean hope to nostrils awash in the scent of the grave.
The man with the gun moved only his eyes. He glanced at the newcomer, then back at Ben, then back at the newcomer. Confronted by yet another witness, he scooped up his gun, turned, and sprinted down the alley. The attacker disappeared into the night.
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