Off The Beaten Path - Debut Novel Sneak Peek!
Miami- Late Summer
She may not have killed her mother; but her father? His death rested solely in Victoria’s two hands.
Her jaw clenched tighter to compensate for the shot of pain that seared into her right thigh. She steadied her breath as she bore down harder, pressing the sharp edge of the razor into her nearly skeletal leg. A stream of blood chased the edge of the blade down the laceration, pooling between a long white scar that had been created several weeks earlier and the gnarled flesh that had only just recently healed after being singed with the back of a torched spoon.
Victoria searched Ethan’s face, waiting for him to nod. He, instead, fixed his eyes on her, and she knew it wasn’t enough.
Her gaze dropped back to her now shaking hand. Inhaling and dropping her shoulders, she pulled the blade further across her thigh. She paused only long enough to control her quivering hand, and looked to Ethan once more, waiting for his expression of approval.
This was all she needed. The simple gesture to release her.
Her finger relinquished the pressure against the blade, and she pulled it from her skin. She gently set the bloodied razor on the table beside her, resting it carefully on the edge of the folded letter she had received earlier that day.
“What is that?” Ethan’s glance shifted to the letter.
Her eyes darted to the piece of paper, searching for a lie. Victoria’s mind raced with possibilities. Something from the accountant? No, Ethan would snap if it had to do with money. Maybe just junk mail? Unfortunately, white linen paper is too formal for unsolicited mail.
“A black tie invite, some charity thing.” She lied.
“I’m so tired of those, find someone else to go!” He snarled as he stood to walk away. Ethan looked at Victoria over his shoulder as he grabbed the box of tissues on the end table, throwing it at her. “Get yourself cleaned up.”
A rush of air passed her lips before she had a chance to realize she had been holding her breath. She quickly pulled out a few tissues from the box and pressed them firmly to the opening on her leg.
It had been one thing when Ethan used to pin her down and blacken an eye, or lash her with a belt as if she were a disobedient child. After a year and a half, she'd lost track of the first time he made her do it herself.
She told herself, every time she looked at the scars that littered her thighs, her abdomen, and her arms, that she would put an end to it all. She told her self that she would find a way. Now looking at the blood soaked tissue in her hand, she repeated those words yet again.
Waiting until she could hear Ethan stomping around on the second floor above her, Victoria gently moved the single edged razor blade off the letter, lifting it off the table.
The linen textured letter weighed immeasurably more than a solitary sheet of paper should.
The notice of her father’s death, that was now a true and tangible thing, gripped tightly in her hand, changed everything.
“Vicky!” Ethan’s voice wafted down from the landing above. It was, yet again, riddled with annoyance. Victoria had learned the subtleties in how he spoke her name, quickly after moving in with him. It was a skill that had become increasingly necessary in the recent months.
Quickly pulling the tissue off her open cut, she jumped to her feet and draping the blue patterned palazzo pants to the floor. There wasn’t time to think of her father now. She pasted something like a smile on her face and darted towards the stairs.
“On my way up!” Making Ethan wait after he had already punished her was a mistake she had made in the past, and she was not prepared to live through those repercussions a second time.
The next time, she would find a way to stop him.
It was a cool night for August, and Ethan was pleased for it. The breeze coming off the ocean licked at the beads of sweat that had formed down his back. Of course he didn’t have to do any of the dragging, his men were capable of handling one guy between the two of them; but adrenaline had clearly begun to surge beneath his skin.
“Please, don’t - don’t…” The body that hung between Ethan’s two beasts plead between gasps of breath.
“Shut him up!”
A hand cracked down against the man’s cheek and the pleading ceased. Ethan’s feet sank into the sand beneath him as he shifted, trying to determine what to do about the rat.
He obviously wouldn’t survive long enough to see the sun rise, but was it worth the effort to watch the son of a bitch squirm?
Ethan’s hand tightened around the hilt of the .45 that lived on his belt, tucked not so inconspicuously under his tailored suit.
His eyes met the rat; this was his favourite part of any kill. He loved watching as the realization hit them that they only had seconds left to live.
There was no precision needed. Being in such close range, a human head was hard to miss, only a complete fuck-up would need more than one shot. Even so, Ethan was far more experienced with his firearm than most men.
His finger tightened against the trigger and that all too familiar pop pushed the gun against the palm of his hand.
Ethan wouldn’t remember the rat’s name by the time he walked off the beach - not that he was sure he knew it to begin with, but the man’s life was just another in a long list that Ethan had claimed.
“Deal with it!” His directive needed no further explanation. It not him because a rat deserved no decency. The two beasts hauled the body towards the surf. A small fishing boat had been pulled up on shore under the old pier, in preparation for the expected outcome.
The silhouettes of the two men disappeared down the beach. Ethan watched.
As the limp corpse was dragged across the soft sand, it left two perfectly parallel tracks towards it’s final resting place, or the last dry land it would ever see. Ethan’s eyes drifted towards the boat, veiled heavily by shadows. As the surf broke against the pilings under the pier, the back end of the boat would rise and fall, illuminating and highlighting the awaiting tarps, a pair of ores and… and what the fuck was that?
His hand instinctively tightened around his gun, as he peered through the darkness trying to get another glimpse.
No one would be stupid enough to be out on this beach alone, and even if they were, they certainly would have cleared out the moment the gun went off.
He squinted into the darkness. The muscles of his back tightened into knots waiting for the surf to hit just right, one more time, to get another view of the interior hull. Seconds ticked by and the boat rocked against the surf, but not into the light as it had before, and he couldn’t confirm what he’d seen.
Raising his arm to the sky, Ethan pulled the trigger, firing a single shot, watching the small wooden boat for any un-natural movement.
There it was!
The small boat rocked sharply to the left, and Ethan knew.
The adrenaline that has begun to subside from the kill moments ago pulsated through him within a few quick heartbeats. His movements were abrupt, but somehow more nimble than one would expect, as he shot forward, sprinting towards the pier with his pistol straight out in front of him.
His men instinctively dropped the corpse the moment they saw Ethan, drew their guns, and fell into step behind Ethan as the three of them closed the distance across the beach.
The beasts were quick, much faster than Ethan, despite their size, and closed in on the small boat, encircling it as Ethan approached.
A man, in his early to mid twenties lay down the spine of the boat, arms in the air, panting and wincing away from the guns pointed at him.
“Boss,” the smaller of his two men spoke. “How you wanna handle this?”
Appraising the man, Ethan flicked the safety of his gun and holstered it back into his belt.
“Not too fuckin smart to be out here on a night like tonight.” His eyes narrowed on the man before he looked back to the smaller beast. “Don’t ya think?”
“Not fuckin smart at all.” His man agreed.
“So why do you think someone that stupid would be here, in our boat, watching us do business Franco?” Ethan’s attention dropped back to the cowering intruder.
“Seems to me he’s wanting to take a midnight cruise, along with his buddy on the beach over there!” Franco chortled as he nudged the barrel of the gun in the direction of the rat.
“No! No, no… you have it wrong…” The intruder stammered, trying to push himself up on an elbow. Franco pushed his gun closer to the man’s head and he slumped back down into the bottom of the boat.
“Please! I’m… I don’t know who you are, and I… I didn’t see a thing! I swear!” He continued. “I’m looking for… I’m here for a friend.”
“A friend?” Sarcasm seethed on Ethan's lips, though he humoured the explanation.
“I am looking for a friend, for Victoria! I was told to ask around for you, and I would find her.” His words came out in a rush, his tongue nearly tripping over itself trying to get it all out. “I was told you’d be back at that restaurant but when I got there, I saw you get into the car with someone. I followed you hoping that Victoria was with you. I swear I didn’t see anything!”
The sound of Victoria’s name took Ethan by surprise, and he held his hand to motion to his guys to pull back their weapons.
“And just what do you want with Victoria?” He nearly spat the words.
“She’s… I am a family friend. Her dad has been trying to reach her. He thought maybe I might have more luck if I came down here, if I saw her face to face.” He continued. “He’s sick - her father. He’s been really ill since, well for a while now.”
“What’s your name?” Ethan took a half a step back from the man, giving him an invitation to push himself up in the boat.
“Well Nick, you really shouldn’t have come here.” Ethan nodded at Franco and before Nick could turn to see what Ethan had gestured to, the hilt of Franco’s gun cracked against the back of his skull, and Nick collapsed into the boat once again.
Ethan paced the length of the basement. It was dark and damp, and smelled subtly of aged fish and salt water. In his hands he tapped a credit card sized piece of plastic.
In the centre of the room, Nick was seated, legs bound against the metal legs of the chair, and his arms stretched above his head and tied to a rope that arched over a heavy steel pipe. His head drooped down to his chest, bobbing slowly in line with his breathing.
“I’m tired of waiting, I don’t have all fucking day! Wake him up!” Ethan barked as he came to stand directly in front of Nick.
Franco was looming in the shadows along the back end of the room and nodded his head to the other, nameless peon, who grabbed a bucket of water and poured it over Nick.
Coughing and gasping for air, Nick came to, looking around the room, trying to get his bearings and coming to focus on Ethan.
“Do you know who I am, Nick?” Ethan asked, very calm and collected.
“I.. No. I mean… yes, I think” Nick stammered over his words between coughs.
“It’s a yes or no question.”
“Uh … yes. I think your Ethan Myles.”
“Correct, and do you know what that means?”
“It… It means you are Victoria’s boyfriend?” He sounded completely unsure, and this made Ethan laugh, loud and deep.
“I suppose it does!” Ethan continued, his laugh cut short the moment he began to speak again. “It also means that I am not one to fuck around with, do you understand that?”
“Good, so now Nick Logan of Seaside Oregon, I know exactly who you are.” Ethan revealed the driver’s license he had been holding. “And allow me to make myself perfectly clear. What you may or may have not seen on the beach tonight was an example of someone who did not understand that I wasn’t someone to fuck with. Did you see what happened to him?”
“Y-yes, I mean…”
Ethan laughed again. He knew Nick had seen the body, whether he had witnessed the shot from his gun or not, he knew Nick clearly understanding.
“So now, Nick Logan of Seaside, Oregon, you are going to help me out, as a…” Ethan paused, careful to select the right phrase. “As a favour for me making sure you get home safely. Do you understand?”
“What kind of favour?” Nick’s voice began to crack, and Ethan could feel annoyance rise through him, he gripped the license into a fist and set his jaw. The kid clearly still had no idea he would have been fish food, should he not have been useful to Ethan. Victoria was the only reason his life had been spared tonight.
“I am going to let you leave, and I expect that in return for my… graciousness tonight, you will keep me informed about Victoria’s father.” Ethan stopped and narrowed his eyes on Nick. “You will also keep me informed about anything you may hear about Victoria herself.”
“But, why do you need me…” Nick began, his words drifting off as Ethan put his hand up to stop him.
“It is not a request. Do I make myself clear?” Ethan continued. “I am trusting you not to be a fuck up. I am expecting details about Victoria’s family, and anything you may hear about her. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I get it but…” He was silenced again by Ethan’s hand.
“And should I find out that Victoria knows anyone is watching her, or her family, I will ensure that I pay you a visit, Nick Logan, of Seaside, Oregon, and express my dissatisfaction in person. Do you understand what I mean by my dissatisfaction?
“Yes.” Nick hung his head.
“I am not the kind of man to let someone walk away knowing about my business and my dealings, Nick, but I am going to take a flyer with you. I do not believe you will disappoint me, especially given what you saw tonight.”
“What exactly do you want me to find out, I… I mean, what could I know that you don’t?”
“A man can never be too sure what he doesn’t know, and you will be there to make sure that’s not the case.” Ethan walked closer to Nick and placed his driver’s license back into his lap before turning to look at Franco among the shadows. “Make sure Nick understands the how serious I am.”
As Ethan made his way to the staircase that lead out of the basement, he turned around to see Franco’s meaty fist collide with Nick’s cheek. A second strike into the side of Nick’s ribs expelled any air in his lungs along with agonizing groan. Ethan nodded in satisfaction as he made his way into the light of his restaurant.