Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Extract from my latest thriller

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Friday, 5 June 2009 – 7.30
Bethel was nineteen – too young to remember the Sixties and too bored to care about her grandparents’ reminiscences – like how her mother was conceived at the Woodstock festival.
       But the sound of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” was ringing through her head, via the earphones of her iPod, as she stood by the roadside, waiting for help. She knew little of the context of the song and nothing about the closing of the Pandora’s Box nightclub or the Sunset Strip Curfew Riots. But the voice of Neil Young was haunting. It was easy to sleep through high school civics classes – even to sleepwalk through the assignments and exams.  She knew a bit about the Vietnam wat and the civil rights struggles of the Sixties.  But it was all superficial academic knowledge, of the kind she picked up almost by default while daydreaming about the football team quarterback.
       It stayed in her mind not as a coherent picture, but as a collection of sound bites: “We shall overcome,” “I have a dream,” “Power to the people,” “Burn, baby, burn!” The voice of anger still echoed across the decades. But it echoed faintly. A time gulf separated Bethel from the turbulence that had almost ripped her country apart. And the time gulf was ever widening, so all that was left of the ringing timbre of history’s voices were the fading reverberations of barely remembered heroes: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the Chicago Eight. Names and slogans to Bethel, but no substance.
       But she liked the song. It had a pleasant hook that made it stick in her mind. What really sent shivers up her spine was that haunting phrase at the end of chorus, urging the young listeners to pause and assess the situation. She had no more than the merest inkling of what it meant. Whatever it was had gone down already. It doesn’t really matter, she told herself. It belonged to her grandparents’ generation anyway. She belonged to another generation, the one that was more concerned with finding a job than changing the world         
       Her full name was Bethel Georgia Newton and she was a mixed bag of human elements. In the looks department she was all bleached blonde and classic cheerleader figure, a carefully cultivated complexion and polished-tooth smile. Neither svelte nor buxom, a kind of perfect “in-between” for her height of five foot six; athletic, but in that soft, not overdone sort of way, with well-toned leg muscles, but not rippling ones. She was middle class and far removed from the culture of the street, yet when it came to experience of life she wasn’t entirely naïve. She might not exactly have been streetwise, but she had tasted the bitter side of life.
       She stood by the roadside in her tight-fitting white t-shirt and denim shorts that showed every curve of her firm body, holding out her thumb every time a car went by. She thought it would be easy hitching a ride, with her breasts thrusting out in front, straining against her t-shirt, and the perfect ripe complexion of her thighs showing like white silk in the California sunshine. But people were paranoid about helping strangers by the roadside, she realized now.
       A few yards away, her car had broken down and she couldn’t even call for help because the battery of her cell phone was flat. She had made a half-hearted effort to fix the car herself, but she didn’t really have a clue when it came to car engines. So all she could do was flag down a Good Samaritan and ask them to take her to a garage where she could get proper help.
       Secretly she was hoping that some good-looking man with technical skills and a cool family fortune would stop and rescue her, not just from the roadside but from the aimless drifting boredom that seemed to have engulfed her life lately. But she would settle for an elderly couple taking her down the road to a pay phone if necessary. Only she wasn’t even getting that. Life was unfair.
       But then her luck changed.
       An aquamarine Mercedes slowed down as it approached her. A recent model and from the up-market end of the European car industry, the owner was clearly affluent and probably young. By the time it had pulled over by the roadside she could see that the driver, in his late twenties, was a black man.
       What would my parents think? she wondered with a smile at the fleeting fantasy of turning up on her liberal parents’ doorstep with this young man in tow.
       Think rather than say. She knew that they’d be warm and welcoming. But she wondered if they were capable of walking the walk as well as they could talk the talk. It occurred to her that she didn’t really know her parents. And yet here she was away from home, trying to find herself.
       As the young man leaned out, smiling, and asked if she needed help, she could tell from his confident voice that this someone who was going places. She was drawn to his youthful good looks and quiet, cool self-confidence and she warmed to him instantly, even if his diction betrayed the lingering traces of a background that she half suspected he was trying to conceal – or maybe just forget.
       He took a look under the hood and after about a minute shook his head and said, “I’m not really all that good with engines. I’m better with people.” He won her over with that line and a disarming smile. Two minutes later she was in the Mercedes and they were rolling along down the road, getting to know each other better. Then, somewhere along the line, she noticed that he had turned off the main road.
       She was about to ask where they were going when she caught a glimpse of his profile and saw his lips twist upwards into a smile. But she couldn’t tell if the smile was friendly. And as the first traces of apprehension formed into a knot in the pit of her stomach, she realized that she was too afraid to inquire further.

Click here to read the rest of  No Way Out - this exciting thriller...

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