Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The King's Crown - Chapter Three

This is a short chapter, written before I knew what chaptering was all about. Hell, it was written before I knew what writing was all about. Like so many others, I figured I could crank a book out in no time and as soon as I finished it, they'd be crawling all over each other to publish it. Easy as that, right?


At any rate, writing doesn't work out quite like that.

Here's chapter three of The King's Crown. I hope you enjoy it.


Chapter Three

Alex met Paul during her first semester at college. He was a Senior finishing up his degree requirements by taking a beginning computer course. They met in one of the computer labs where Alex was working. He was cute and charming. She thought it was romantic the way he called her Alexandra, so she began concentrating on helping him in the evenings when she was supposed to be helping everyone. One night he had a project that was due the following day, and she let him stay after she locked up so he could finish it. One thing led to another that night and they began seeing each other.

Thinking back Alex could see it was anything but a normal relationship. They met in the back of the library or at a small coffee shop just off campus. Paul never took Alex back to his dorm room. When they ran into each other on campus, neither one spoke. Paul convinced Alex that meeting in out of the way places and not acknowledging one another in public would be exciting and would keep them out of the rumor mills that were a large part of campus life. They saw each other in secret nearly every day for two months.

One day in particular stood out in Alex’s mind...

"I love you so much, Paul.” Alex looked over at the fair haired man sitting next to her. “I can’t wait until we can finally be together.” She grinned into his sparkling blue eyes. They sat under a tree in front of the Student Union building. They didn’t touch. Sitting a small distance apart, they held books and did their best to appear to be studying separately. Occasionally Alex would turn to talk to Paul but when Paul replied he spoke into his text book.

"I love you too, baby. We won’t have to wait much longer. After all, I graduate next month.” Paul turned the pages of the book he obviously wasn’t reading.

Alex sighed, “But then you’ll be going to graduate school. Paul, I need to talk to you about us.” She gave up the pretense of studying and turned to Paul in earnest.

He didn’t even look her way, although you could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t appreciate her dropping her end of the act. “Oh, baby. Don’t be such a worry wart, I’ll only be an hour away and by the time you get your degree here I’ll be graduating there. We can be together then.” Paul took a highlighting pen out of his book bag and began marking sentences randomly.

Alex snatched the pen out of his hands, “Paul, I said I need to talk to you.”

"Alexandra, please, you’re making a scene. We can talk later. Now I’m going back to my room, and I suggest you do the same before somebody sees us.” Paul began to gather his books. He began stuffing them randomly into his book bag.

"Paul, I said I need to talk to you and I mean now. I’d prefer if we don’t talk here but if you insist...” Alex began.

"Really Alex, can’t this wait. I told you we could meet the coffee shop...we could get that booth in the back.” Paul glanced around nervously, “Alex people are beginning to stare. I’ll see you at 9.” And with that Paul turned to walk away.

"I’m pregnant.” Alex stated.

That little phrase stopped Paul dead in his tracks. “YOU’RE WHAT?!” He shouted. He grabbed Alex by the top of her arm and jerked her closer to him. “How did this happen?!”

"Paul, you’re hurting me.” Alex cried as his fingers dug into her. “And you know very well how this happened. You were there too, you know.” Alex tried to pry loose of his grasp.

"Don’t get smart with me you bitch.” He growled, “This will ruin everything. Why weren’t you more careful? I thought you were on the pill for Christ’s sake.” Paul began to shake Alex. “What will happen to my studies? Did you think of that? I can’t very well support you and pay my tuition too. My God! What is my wife going to say?!” He stopped and physically shuddered. “You conniving little bitch! You did this on purpose. You with your big lofty talk about how you wanted to concentrate on your studies and how nothing was going to get in the way of that. Bull shit. Boy, what a liar you turned out to be.” He screamed. “Give it up for adoption, get an abortion, get hit by a truck for all I care. Just don’t expect to get a cent out of me. It probably isn’t even mine, you little slut!” And with that Paul pushed her away from him.

Alex remembered stumbling for a few feet and then her feet seemed to drop out from underneath her and she was falling. Too late she remembered the stairwell leading to the underground amphitheater. Her ankle turned on the first step causing her to fall down the remaining twelve. She hit the landing with a sickening thud and everything went black.

When Alex awoke, someone had carried her to the grass at the top of the stairs and there was a crowd of people standing around. Someone was patting her hand. She tried to push the hand away and stand up but the hand held her in place. “No honey, you must try to lie still.” a woman’s voice said, “The police have been called and an ambulance is on its way.”

"I don’t need an ambulance.” Alex denied and she sat up. It was then that she noticed the pain and the sickening wet feeling between her legs. “Oh my God! My baby!” She cried. She could feel herself getting dizzy and she heard the sirens in the background. She tried to keep alert but the pain was too great. The last thing she remembered of that day was the sight of Paul being pushed into the back of a police car.


Alex shook herself and went back into the house. The memories of that day still haunted her after all these years. Alex spent a few days in the hospital recovering from her miscarriage and the infection that followed. Paul spent a few months in jail for assault. The results of that day left Alex infertile. Paul’s legal career ended with a that push and his life ended with a leap off a chair in a jail cell. She wasn’t sorry that she had pressed charges against Paul. She was sorry that he wasn’t man enough to take the punishment for what he’d done.

As she wandered through her big empty house, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in a china cabinet. She saw the face of the girl she had been then - haunted and empty. The tell tale traces of her tears could still be seen on her cheeks but for the moment she was done crying. 11 years she had spent most of her time crying. She cried for the baby she had lost; she cried for the man she had lost. She didn’t cry for Paul. He wasn’t the man she thought he was; she was in love with the lie he had created. Paul’s wife, it turned out, was living back home in Ohio - waiting for her devoted husband to finish school and come back to her.

The only thing about that incident that Alex was thankful for was that her parents never found out a thing. Her mother commented on Alex’s dropping grades that year, and on her lack of communication for about a month of so, but after that she never thought about it again. Alex threw herself into her studies. She completed her bachelor’s degree in only three years. Everyone who knew her at school told her she was driven but they never once mentioned the reason why. Her father exclaimed to his lodge buddies about what an over achiever his daughter was; her mother lied to her bridge club that Alex was finishing school quick so she become an eligible and sought after single woman. Alex never talked to a soul about the whole disaster, even though friends tried to get her to open up and her doctor recommended counseling. She buried herself in her work and tried to forget.

Now, after all these years she met someone who ignited a spark in her and it brought all the old hurts back to the surface. And the old fears. Here was a man she knew nothing about; a man who charmed and surprised her, just as Paul had. She shook her head and walked into her work room. Computers were her life now and she thought that she’d come to terms with that years ago. Computers didn’t require an ounce of emotion; they never lied and they never betrayed.

Being a freelance consultant gave her the freedom she required. Working with computers allowed her to keep her distance from humanity and that was just how she liked it! She thought angrily. “How dare this stranger, this man, barge into my life and destroy the careful walls I spent years building!”

"Well,” she said to herself, “That’s the last I’ll see of him.”

Friday, December 7, 2007

The King's Crown - Chapter Two

Per a request from Janime, here is the second chapter of my romance novel, The King's Crown. I've only written 41 pages of this book, so at some point you're all just going to have to be frustrated, but for now...

Enjoy! =oD


The King's Crown
Chapter Two

Two weeks later, Alex was deeply engrossed in building a complicated database for one of her new clients when the sound of insistent knocking pulled her back to reality. She rolled herself back from the workbench and headed toward the front of the house. As she neared the front door the knocking ceased. Just as before, Alex looked through the peephole at a broad back. She smiled.

Pulling the door open she shouted “Wait!” and was rewarded with a glimpse of one of the most gorgeous men she had ever laid eyes on. Michael was as tall as she remembered, but somehow the low light and barely veiled anger of their previous meeting had over shadowed how incredibly handsome he looked. Alex inhaled sharply.

“Hi! I was beginning to think you weren’t home.” Michael said, “Let me guess, you were deep in thought again.”

“I’m afraid I get that way. I was working. Is there something I can help you with?” Alex asked. She thought about the morning after when a flatbed tow truck had come and hauled his car away. That was the last she had thought about that awful night.

“Actually, I was thinking that there may be something that I could help you with.” He replied.

“Help me with? As I remember the last time I saw you, you were recovering from a couple of accidents caused by my dog. I can’t think of any reason why you should want to help me with anything. In fact I am quite surprised that you never sued me for the damages.” Alex looked at Michael suspiciously. “Now, why did you really come here?”

“Really? Well, I’d say I was in the neighborhood, but you don’t really live on the way to anywhere. So I guess I’d better come out with the truth. I wanted to repay you.” Michael grinned at the disbelieving look on Alex’s face.

“Repay me for what?”

“Repay you for letting me use your phone that night and for not calling the police to come get me when I was done.” The two of them stood on the front steps of Alex’s three story Victorian mansion staring at each other. “But I would like to request one more favor from you.”

Alex nodded her head as if she were sure her suspicions were confirmed. “And just what would that be?” The tone of her voice was designed to turn away the most insistent of men, but Michael just smiled.

“I’d like for you to tell me your name,” he said, “I’ve been wanting to call you for the past couple of weeks but in the morning after the accident it occurred to me that I had never asked you your name. So, I drove up here on the first opportunity I had to ask you for your name and to repay you.” Michael stated.

She shook her head, “Alex.”

“Just Alex?”

“Alexandra McKenzie. Alex for short. Al for very short, but there are very few people who call me Al. Look, why don’t we talk inside where we can sit down?” They moved up the steps and into the foyer. “We can walk back to the kitchen if you’d like something to drink.”

“No, that’s all right. I only came here to ask you to dinner tonight.” Michael looked Alex up and down; he liked what he saw. From her long dark hair, to her green eyes, to her long shapely legs, she was every bit of the dreams he’d been having about her every night. “I know a little out of the way restaurant that serves the best steaks.” Alex shook her head. Misunderstanding, Michael said, “Of course, if you’re a vegetarian, they also serve very good salads.”

Alex continued shaking her head, “It’s not that. I can’t join you tonight. I have a great deal of work to do. I’m under a dead line and I’m afraid I can’t spare any time until after I’ve completed the job. Maybe I can take a rain check,” she said doubtfully.

“Nope. No rain checks.” Michael said quickly and pushed past Alex. She watched his figure stride down the sidewalk, like some great cat. She was so dumbfounded by his reaction that he made it all the way to his car and down the driveway before she came to her senses. She called for him to come back, but it was too late. Dejectedly, she shut the door and wandered back to her work room. Eight computers gleamed at her from the interior of a large room. At first the room appeared to be dark and foreboding, but she walked to the far wall and pulled a cord allowing the afternoon rays of sunlight to bathe her. She sighed. She really didn’t feel like returning to her work but then she thought about the consulting fees that her clients were paying and she sat down at the nearest monitor.

Shortly after nightfall, Alex was shocked to hear faint footsteps from the interior of her home. She cursed herself for not locking the doors and crept around the workbench toward the phone located at the far side of the room. She tiptoed the few yards, hoping that one of the old boards wouldn’t creak. It did.

Alex froze in terror. She could just imagine some common criminal walking into her house, going through her things, stealing from her, thinking she wasn’t home. She cursed the fence around Cargo, wishing he were inside with her. Slowly the footsteps came closer to her. Standing in the middle of a bare room, Alex knew she was a perfect target. As the workroom door was pushed open, Alex dropped to floor and scurried for the one phone at that end of the house. She could only pray she’d make it before they caught her. As a hand closed around her upper arm, she could almost here them chuckling cruelly. She came up screaming at the top of her lungs face to face with...Michael.

He was laughing softly. “Its okay. Its just me.”

“Its not funny.” Alex sulked. “And how dare you break into my house in the middle of the night.”

Michael slowly shook his head, “Its only eight and I didn’t break in, your door was unlocked. I knocked, but when you didn’t answer the door I guessed that you may be working so I let myself in. I was looking for the kitchen when I heard movement back here and came back to let you know it was me.” Michael smiled, “Next thing I know you’re commando woman, crawling across the floor to call in the cavalry.” He wrapped her still shaking body into his arms. “Its okay. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just didn’t want to disturb your work again.”

She pushed herself out of his arms. “I am not scared.” she denied. “Why did you come back? I thought it was no rain checks.” Alex walked over to her workbench and began the task of bringing her computer systems down.

Michael walked up behind her and watched as she went through the slow process of shutting down each program and logging out of the network. “Why don’t you just turn them off?” He inquired.

“Because I could lose valuable data and disk space that way. Its a long story, but the computers are just happier if you shut them off properly.”

Michael chuckled, “The computers are happier?” he said. “I always thought they were just machines.”

“They are.” Alex replied, “But it helps to personify them a little bit, you get a better understanding of them that way. I mean, I haven’t given them names or anything.” She said, catching look on his face that meant he was beginning to doubt her sanity. “They just have glitches and quirks sometimes that make them seem almost human.” Alex shut down the last system and turned to Michael. “You haven’t answered my question.”

“There are no rain checks, that’s why I didn’t wait for another night. But in deference to your work schedule, I thought I’d compromise. Follow me.” Michael turned and walked out of the work room. Alex followed him as he meandered through her house toward the kitchen. She was amazed he managed to find his way in her maze of a house. As they neared the kitchen, the smell of oregano and tomato sauce was almost over powering. She smiled at the thought of a meal cooked by someone who actually knew what they were doing. Tonight’s dinner would be a huge step up from her usual burnt grilled cheese or cold cereal.

“What is that glorious odor?” She asked as they entered her spacious kitchen.

“Baked mostaciolli, fresh spinach salad with a light vinegar and oil dressing, garlic breadsticks sprinkled with parmesan cheese, and a light Chianti.” As Michael spoke he pulled various take-out containers out of a brown paper bag and laid them out on the counter. “I have certain connections who assure me that the sauce is made from scratch by little old ladies from a tiny village north of Venice.” Smiling, he began to open the cupboards. “Where is your tableware located?”

Alex pointed to the left of the sink and walked around the cutting block to assist him in the preparation. Giggling she pulled out her finest red checked picnic table cloth. “I hope this will do. I let the maid have the day off and I can’t find a thing.” She joked.

“Of course it will. I found some paper cups for the wine. I guess your ‘maid’ must have hidden the champagne flutes too.” He jested in return.

Together they settled down to her dining room table. They enjoyed the finest Italian food in upstate New York out of Styrofoam boxes and paper cups. Laughing all the while, they ate until they were both too full to move.

“Ugh! I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” Michael groaned pushing away an empty mostaciolli container. “Luigi’s is too good. I eat like this every time I go there, then I have to do two thousand push-ups just to get rid of the weight.”

Alex looked at the broad chest of the man across from her. With his muscular build, she could never imagine an ounce of fat having the nerve to stick to him. “I’ll bet.” she scoffed, “You have never spent an overweight day in your life.”

“And you have?” Michael spent a moment in stern appraisal of Alex’s lithe figure. Boy, she had curves in all the right places. Michael couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually undressed a woman with eyes but he was getting to the point of mentally unbuttoning her blouse.

“You bet I have. I remember when I was sixteen, I was madly in love with the drum major in our high school band. When he backed out of a date with me to take the captain of the debate team to the homecoming dance, I spent the evening with a gallon of ice cream, a can of Hershey’s syrup and a spoon. I must’ve gained ten pounds that night. I spent my whole sophomore year with people like Betty Crocker and Sarah Lee.” Alex shook her head at the thought of those days. “You wouldn’t believe what first disappointment can do to a young girl’s ego.”

Michael frowned at the thought of how hurt Alex must have been all those years ago. “I understand. And that’s why you spend your time now with IBM and Compaq. Nice guys.”

“Yeah.” Alex smiled, “And don’t forget Packard Bell.” Michael smiled in return. They sat for a while in companionable silence. Marveling at how easy it was to be with each other, they began chatting. They talked for hours about their lives, their jobs, and any number of topics.

“So you own your own publishing house. I’ve heard of Crown Books. You stick mainly to popular fiction, don’t you?” Alex remarked. “I don’t get much of an opportunity to read books, Well, except for computer manuals, that is.”

“You should give yourself some time to sit down and relax. Read a book just for enjoyment.” Michael thought about that statement for a second and chuckled softly. “Actually, I should take that advice myself. Since I opened Crown, I only read books to evaluate their marketability. I can’t remember the last time I read for enjoyment.” He smiled and Alex marveled at how smiling lit his face up. She remembered the night they met. The scowl on his face then and the smile he was wearing now almost made him into two completely different people.

“I like this you.” She said.

“This me? I didn’t realize there was another me.” He said laughingly.

“There is. The you that showed up on my doorstep that night was too gruff and foreboding. I much prefer this you.” Alex spoke softly, as if she wasn’t sure how he’d react to her revelation.

“I’m glad you like this me. But you know, that guy you met two weeks ago is as much the real me as this is. I can be a real bear.” Michael looked into Alex’s eyes, “I sincerely apologize for my behavior that night. It’s no excuse, but I was rather shaken up that night.” He took Alex’s hand in his and started caressing the backs of her fingers with his thumb.

“I understand. Anyone would be under those circumstances.” She looked down at their hands. It was nice to hold hands with someone again. She really liked this man. If she wasn’t careful she could easily fall in love with him. Love! She hastily pulled her hand free. Embarrassed, she babbled, “Would you look at the time! I can’t believe we’ve been sitting here for so long. I really should be getting to bed. Tomorrow’s a work day for me, you know.”

She began picking up there dinner dishes and tidying the room. He assisted in carrying cartons to the kitchen. He didn’t know what had gotten into her so suddenly but he would abide by her wishes. After they finished cleaning, he grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.

“Well... I had fun tonight. Thank you for letting me treat you to dinner.”

“Yeah. I had fun too. Thank you for treating me to dinner. It was nice to take a break and eat a good meal.” Alex grinned and opened the front door for him. He hesitated and looked at her for some kind of reassurance. She smiled at him, but he could see that something was holding her back.

“Well, have a good night...” he said as he walked through the door.

“Yes, you too. Have a safe drive home.” Alex watched as he walked to his car, got in and backed down the driveway to the road. She watched his car until she could no longer see his tail lights. She watched him drive away and then she sat down on her front step and cried.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The King's Crown - Chapter One

Sorry it's been so long since I stopped over here, but I've been scattered between life and various projects.

As a way of apologizing, I thought I'd offer you the first chapter of a romance novel I started writing back in 1996. I haven't touched it since 1998 or so, but I still like it. Maybe someday I'll finish what I started.

The King's Crown
Chapter One

“I am never getting married!” Alex said with an emphatic shake of her head. “Give it up, Mom. I swear, every time you meet someone new at the club, she has some unattached son that you try to pawn off on me.” She tossed her long waves of soft brown hair over her shoulder as she cradled the phone to the other ear. “I’m seriously thinking of becoming a nun, just to get you to leave me alone.” Alex stalked over to the picture window overlooking the winding road on which she lived and took a deep breath. Her mother could be a wonderful woman but this conversation was always a major strain on their relationship.

As her mother rattled on about the latest ‘perfect husband for her little girl’, Alex took a mental refuge by gazing out to the calm of her tree-lined front yard. In the six years since she’d bought the old mansion, she had spent many evenings just staring into the darkness. Decades before, the quiet winding road had been a busy highway and tourists from hundreds of miles around would take the highway into the mountains to their shady summer hideaways. Since the interstate was built, however, hardly any cars passed her house. It was the peaceful woodland setting of which she’d always dreamed. Tonight, though, with the sound of her mother’s droning lulling her into a daze, she could almost imagine that headlights were winding their way up her road.

“But honey, I only want to see you happy,” said the voice on the phone. “Your consulting business is going so well, but really, you can’t live your life with nothing but computers to keep you company. And you going in and out of office after office, day after day, I’m sure you get all kinds of unwanted advances from the wrong kind of man. Heaven forbid you should succumb to one of them in a fit of desperation. You know... your biological clock is ticking...”

Alex watched as a car actually did materialize out of the darkness and pass her lonesome old house. The shock of seeing a real car shook her out of her dream long enough to catch the last bit of the conversation. “Mother! I can’t believe you would even think such a thing. There is no way and I mean no way, that I am going to ‘succumb’ to any man in ‘desperation’. And, as for the clock thing again. Listen, I’m only thirty. I have plenty of time to raise children. I just read an article about a 60 year old woman who adopted twins from Guatemala.” Alex grinned at the thought of the two shy smiles she’d seen in the paper - looking up at their new mother for the first time. “ I know you don’t like it, but I just don’t see myself giving in to the ‘bonds of holy matrimony’.”

“But honey...”

“Listen, Mom, I have to go. Uh, I can smell the meatloaf burning. I...I’ll call you back next week. I love you. Bye” Walking away from the window, Alex slumped back into her overstuffed easy chair and hung up the phone. She didn’t have any meatloaf cooking and her mother knew it. Her mother knew that the only thing Alex cooked with any great accuracy was gelatin, and that was after years of practice. “Lying again, Alexandra Marie.”, she said to herself, “You ought to be ashamed.” But Alex knew that, when it came to her mother and the 45 minute marriage lecture, she’d do it again, in a heartbeat.

The “lecture”, as Alex always referred to it, was a regular occurrence in the past few years. Shortly after her father passed away, her mother felt the burning need to experience grandchildren first hand. So, whenever the occasion arose, or even when it didn’t, she would start into the “biological clock” thing and the “you must be so lonely” thing.

Alex was so deep in thought that it was several minutes before she heard someone banging on her front door. As she neared the entryway, the pounding stopped. She looked through the peep hole just in time to see a broad back striding away, down her sidewalk and towards the street. Hurriedly, she swung the front door open. “Wait!” She shouted as the stranger turned onto the street. It took only moments and a quick glimpse at the scowling features for her to rethink her decision to call after the large man. From what Alex could see he was humungous. At least 6’9” with the build of a small battleship, he did little to ease Alex’s fears when he strode past her and right into her house.

“I need to use your phone.” He growled as he walked into her living room. As large as her living room was, this man managed to make it seem tiny by comparison. “Blast! Where is the damn thing!” He turned and his ebony eyes seemed to bore right into her.

“Excuse me, sir. But I don’t believe I asked you into my home...”

“Oh, there it is!” he exclaimed as he flopped down on her couch and reached for the cordless set that she had just put down. “I’ll only be a second.” He stabbed out what looked like a long distance number and leaned back as it rang. With every ring Alex’s blood pressure rose another point or two, until finally someone picked up on the other end. “Roger! Great! I need for you to come get me. I was on my way up and I thought I’d take a short cut, when this great mangy hulk of a dog jumped out in front of my car.”

“Cargo!” Alex said in a strangled gasp, “Oh my God!”

The man looked up at her in disgust, “No, Roger, I didn’t hit it for Christ’s sake. But in swerving to avoid it I managed to neatly wrap my car around a tree... No, No I’m fine. Yes, I had my seat belt on. If you could just come get me, I’m at...” He looked questioningly at Alex.

“4335 Maple Grove”, she answered.

“4335 Maple Grove. No, its not the way I usually come out but I thought I was taking a shortcut. Yes, I’m calling a tow truck right after I hang up with you. Listen, could you call Jeannine and tell her I’m running late. Don’t give her the details; I don’t want her to worry. I’ll see you in about an hour. Thanks.” The stranger hung up and began looking around again. By about this time Alex’s blood pressure hit the boiling point.

“I don’t know what you’re looking for this time, and, frankly, I don’t care. You have been nothing but rude since the moment you pushed your way into my house. You nearly ran over my dog, then you barge in my house, without asking or introducing yourself and now you’ve made a long distance call on my phone, and OH!” Finally, Alex’s anger made her speechless and she stomped her foot for emphasis.

“Listen, lady. I was nearly killed out there missing your hairy monster. As far as barging into your house goes, I was standing there pounding on your door for nearly five minutes when I could plainly see you sitting on this couch staring off into space doing nothing. And here,” he said pulling out his wallet, “is ten dollars to cover the cost of the phone call.” And with that he threw the bill in Alex’s direction. “ Now, if you don’t mind ma’am, I need to use your phone again to call a wrecker to come and unwrap my car from around a tree out there. Now, where, if I may ask, is your telephone book?”

Alex stooped down to pick up the crumpled bill and stuffed it into her pocket, she glared at her unwanted guest and stomped out of the room. A couple of minutes later she came striding back and plopped a thin book on the table. “It’s not much but it works for us.” She walked over to the couch and sat down, propping her legs up on the table in front of her. “And by the way, there’s only one wrecker service in town and I happen to know that Rex is out of town until Monday.” Smiling wickedly she laced her hands behind her head and closed her eyes. She didn’t know why she was suddenly so mean spirited, but she felt satisfaction in knowing that this rude bully wasn’t going to get what he wanted immediately.

“What!? Its only Thursday! I need to get my car back to the city and in to a mechanic by tomorrow. I need to have my car back by Monday! I have meetings all day! This is unbelievable!” He ran his fingers through his short black hair and turned to look out the window. He stood there for a long time, just staring into the gathering blackness.

With the stranger finally standing still and giving Alex a chance to relax, she took advantage of the time to get a good look at her visitor. Her initial impression was right. He was huge. He was wearing a light spring jacket; it was a little crumpled but she could tell it was of quality material. His trousers were dark and conservative, more like ‘business casual’ than ‘weekend in the country’. His hair was jet black and cut short - as conservative as his attire. As Alex watched, she could almost visibly watch the tension drain out of him. It almost transformed him.

When the darkness had completely engulfed the world outside, he turned and looked at her. “I can see headlights coming up your road. I assume that’s my friend Roger since it seems you don’t get much traffic out here.” His voice was warm and almost friendly as he finally introduced himself. “My name is Michael Kingsley. I apologize for my behavior earlier. I was a bit shaken by the accident and I honestly did believe that you were being rude by not answering the door, but that’s no excuse for barging into your house. Now I better head outside. I never told Roger where I was.” He turned and headed for the door.

“He’ll probably assume you’re here,” she said, “Mine is the only house for about mile around. And...I’m sorry for my behavior too. You must admit you pose a pretty intimidating picture. I mean, it being dusk and all. And you were pretty angry.” She shrugged. “I also apologize for my dog. Cargo has broken every chain I put him on. The car chain was my last vestige of hope and now it looks like he’s broken that too. I guess I’ll have to put up a fence now.” She smiled and got one in return.

“A cyclone fence with guard towers, if that dog was as big as he looked. Well, thank you for your hospitality. Even though I took it without it being offered.” Michael pulled the door open and headed down the sidewalk toward the road.

Alex decided to be neighborly and, after turning on her outside lights, started after him. Neither of them made it very far when they saw the headlights stop near Michael’s wreck. They quickened their pace and trudged up the hill towards the new arrival. Suddenly, they heard a shout and a crashing of brush. Shortly afterwards, they heard another flurry of activity and barking.

“Cargo!” Alex called.

“Roger!” Michael shouted.

“I’m all right.” A voice shouted back. “Just call this monster off of me.”
They both ran toward the sound of the voice. It seemed to be coming from just off the road past Michael’s car. They hurried through the undergrowth. A few yards in they spotted what appeared to be a moving mound of loose white hair and barely visible underneath was the figure of a man.

“Cargo! Down!” Alex commanded. The mountain of fur turned two black eyes toward her and shook itself. Then it stepped over the body of its victim and rushed towards Alex. As it approached it stopped short, sat down and wagged its big fluffy tail. Alex reached forward and patted its head. “Stay.” she said softly. She then proceeded to the prone figure.

Michael was already crouched next to his friend, Roger. “Are you okay Rog?”

“I’m fine. A little startled when the ‘hound of the Baskervilles’ rushed me, but, other than nearly being drowned in dog drool, I’m just fine.” Michael leaned out of the way and Alex got her first glimpse of Cargo’s conquest. He was a small man in his early to mid-sixties. His full head of white hair was in complete disarray and was slightly wet around his ears where the dog had shown his affection. His clothing was covered in dirt and she could see a few tears here and there

Alex was horrified. “I’m so sorry. First Cargo causes this car accident and now he chases you and knocks you down. Are you hurt?”

The gentleman looked at her as Michael helped him from the ground. “It’d take more than your bundle of fuzzy energy to hurt me, I assure you. I’m quite all right.” He shook off Michael’s steadying hand. “ I told you I am not hurt.”

“As long as you’re sure.” Michael said uncertainly.

“Positive. Now, if you still want to see Jeannine tonight I suggest we get on our way.” saying that Roger straightened and brushed the loose grass off of his trousers. He turned to face Alex and reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet. Alex cringed at the thought that she was about to be paid for the trouble her dog just caused when she should really be paying for the ruined clothing and the wrecked car. However, she was both surprised and relieved when Roger handed her a business card. “Thank you for taking care of Michael, my dear. If there’s anything we can do for you, please don’t hesitate to give me a call.”

“Thank you, but I should be the one offering my help if you ever need it. In fact, tomorrow I’ll contact my bank and have them make out a cashier’s check for the damage that Cargo has caused.”

“You’ll do no such thing!” Roger and Michael said in unison.

“As long as you’re certain.” Alex said hesitantly. The two men nodded and the subject was dropped. Between the three of them they managed to get Roger looking presentable again. The two men then began walking toward the road.

Alex grinned as she caught the wry look on Michael’s face as he walked past Cargo, who was still sitting as instructed. He shook his head. Alex shrugged. “He really is well behaved, but you have to keep him within eyesight.”

“I’ll bet. Listen, thank you for letting me use your house and your phone. And what Roger said. He meant it...I mean it. I’d give you my card but I’m afraid they’re in my my car… which I’d really rather not go back into tonight. I’ll call the police and an out of town tow truck as soon as I get to Roger’s. Thanks again...Would you like lift back to your house?”

Alex thought about the short walk and the huge dog who needed tending to, “No, that’s okay. I need to herd Cargo home and I don’t think it’d be a good idea for him to get near either of you again tonight. Thanks for the offer. Have a safe trip.”

Michael turned and headed back to the road. Alex could hear Roger’s car ignition and she watched as the head lights turned back up the road. “Well, Cargo, I think we’ve had enough excitement for one evening.” The big dog rose to his feet and padded his way over to Alex. Together they headed for the bright lights of home.