A Two-Chapter Preview of Tallow Jones: Wizard Detective

Howdy, folks!

I hope everyone is doing well and enjoyed Behemoth. I am finishing up chapter 15 of my next book, Tallow Jones: Wizard Detective, tonight. My hope is to get this book finished and available on Amazon some time in September. I figured that since I am heading towards the final stretch of this book, I would give you a preview of it.

If you want to read more about Tallow Jones and my plans for this new series you can check out my post about it here: https://trevorhcooley.com/new-book-announcement-a-contemporary-fantasy-novel-related-to-the-bowl-of-souls-series/

It is fun writing about the magic system of the Bowl of Souls series set loose in our modern world. Tallow and his friends are great characters that I’m excited for you to get to know, so I am going to post the first two chapters of the book here to give you all a taste. I may post a third chapter as we get closer to the release date.

The book begins with two of our protagonists, Detective Douglas Jones and his partner Detective Bob Ross on stakeout. Thanks and please let me know what you think!

 

 

Chapter 1: A Toothy Grin

 

“That’s my son!” said Douglas Jones, nearly dropping his binoculars.

“Huh? What?” Detective Bob Ross mumbled from under the newspaper that he had placed over his face as he napped in the passenger seat. Sleeping while on stakeout was frowned upon, but everyone did it from time to time.

“It’s Asher!” Douglas leaned far over the steering wheel, his chest pressed against it and very nearly honking the horn. “Crap! He just walked in the building.”

“He walked into the travel agency?” Detective Ross sat up, fully alert for the first time in the last hour. He was a big burly black man. Not obese, but substantive. He looked like the type of person that would emerge the last man standing from a bar brawl and he could wear that persona when the situation merited.

The two plainclothes officers were parked on the second floor of a parking garage just up the street from the building they were watching. The parking garage was mostly empty and their position gave them a perfect view of the place. It had the added benefit of keeping them in the shadows and out of the oppressive Atlanta sun.

Ross took the binoculars from his partner’s hands and raised them to his eyes. “Isn’t this a school day?”

“What do you think? It’s Thursday.” Douglas’ hands were now gripping the curly brown hair on either side of his head, his face reddening with anger. “Their lunch time was over an hour ago. Sh- . . . Crap! Crap! Crap!”

Detective Ross had a half grin on his face. “You sure it was him? I don’t see anything.”

Douglas’ eight-year-old daughter had called him out about his language a few days prior and Douglas had promised her he would stop swearing. As she had pointed out, if the kids couldn’t do it he shouldn’t be able to do it either.

The guys at the precinct had a bet going on about how long it would be before Douglas broke his promise. So far he had stuck to it, but if anything was going to break his composure, it would be his son skipping school and heading into a dangerous part of the city.

“I’m dam-.” He gritted his teeth. “Darn sure it’s him. I told him not to wear that stupid shirt before I left this morning.”

Asher had a yellow novelty shirt that read, “Doctor Who Am I?”. It pictured Jackie Chan jump-kicking his way out of the open door of the trademark blue police box, trailing a long striped scarf behind him. Asher had ordered it online and was endlessly amused by the looks of bewilderment on the faces of people that were not fans of both obscure Jackie Chan films and Doctor Who. He insisted on wearing it once or twice a week, much to his father’s irritation.

Ross snorted. “Okay, but what would Asher be doing in this part of town? And at a place like this?”

Douglas tore the binoculars back from his partner and peered back at the building. Every city had its bad parts of town and Atlanta, Georgia had more than most. Gang violence and theft had plagued this particular area for years. It wasn’t so dangerous during the day, but it wasn’t a place you would walk alone at night.

The establishment they were staking out was a low-end travel agency. It was the only open business in two blocks, but what made it suspicious wasn’t just how out of place it seemed. The building it occupied was overly large for their needs. It had once been an office park and there were room for ten or more businesses, but this travel agency leased the whole place.

“I don’t know why he’s there. Drugs?” Douglas said with a wince.

The police had received tips about heavy van traffic pulling up to the loading docks at the fenced-in rear lot of the property at all times of the day and night. Douglas was certain it was a drug front, but they needed more evidence before they could do anything about it.

“Asher? Naw, he’s a good kid.” said Ross.

Douglas shot a worried glance at his partner. They had both been cops far too long to rely on that. “They’re all good kids. Isn’t that what every parent says?”

Asher was seventeen, a high school senior. This was a prime time for him to be making stupid mistakes and Douglas knew that he wasn’t around enough to catch all the signs. He was already starting to envision a double life for the kid. Weed hidden in the vents in his room. Maybe ecstasy or meth . . .

“Just don’t jump to conclusions,” Ross cautioned. “Find out what’s going on first.”

Douglas let out a slow breath. “Right. Asher is a good kid. Grades are good. No anger issues. It’s probably just a . . .” He gave his partner a helpless look. “Seriously, what else could it be?”

“You know, if you let the kid have a cell phone you could just call him,” Ross reminded him.

“Well, that’s not an option,” he said.

Douglas had refused to let Asher have a cell for many reasons. One was that it seemed crazy to him that teenagers should have their own cell phones. His generation got along fine without them and these new smart phones were basically just pocket video game devices in his opinion. He also didn’t like the fact that it would double his phone bill.

Detective Ross gave him a sympathetic grimace. “So what are you going to do?”

Douglas pushed his door open. “What can I do? I’ve got to go in.”

“You want me to come with you?” Ross offered.

Douglas shook his head. “No. It’s bad enough that I’m going. If both of us go it could blow our cover. I’ll be fine on my own and since I’m not about to flash my badge no one will think cop. While I’m there all anyone’s going to see is a pissed off dad. Believe me, there will be no acting involved.”

“Alright,” said Ross. “But if you don’t come out soon, I’m calling back-up.”

“Don’t worry, Bob. I’ll be back in a few minutes, even if I have to drag Asher by his ears,” Douglas promised.

He trotted down the stairwell to the bottom floor of the parking garage. By the time he moved onto the street sweat was already dripping down Douglas’ back. It was only mid-May and already ninety degrees. He had lived in Atlanta for ten years and still was not used to the combination of heat and humidity. It would be hovering in the mid 60’s back in Idaho right now. The thought didn’t help his attitude.

There were only three cars in the fenced-in rear lot and a single car parked in the lot outside the building. It struck Douglas once again how odd it was that a place like this could stay in business. The only thing he had been able to think of was that they relied on internet sales.

Above the front door was a bulbous plastic sign that said in faded brown and orange letters, “S&C Travel”. The silhouette of an airplane flew under the outdated logo. He rethought his earlier hypothesis. This was not the logo of a company that used the internet.

Douglas pulled the front door open and was greeted by a rush of air conditioning followed by the scent of cheap industrial cleaner. He stepped into a short hallway bracketed by wood paneling and a worn orange carpet leftover from the early eighties. This place had probably been considered fairly posh when it was built. Now it sat as a sad example of age and bad taste. The hallway opened into a small lobby area with a reception desk in the corner.

There was Asher, standing at the desk talking at a vacant-eyed receptionist. Douglas’ anger rose just looking at him.

Asher and his father couldn’t look more different. Where Douglas was of medium height and had a thick muscular build, Asher was tall and lanky. While Douglas had a wide face and curly dark brown hair, Asher had a long narrow face with the dirty blond mop of straight hair that came from his mother’s side of the family. The only things Asher had received from his father’s side were his wide nose and prominent Adam’s apple.

Asher wore the familiar yellow shirt with its obscure geek culture reference, faded blue jeans, and one of those old men’s hats that had come in vogue again lately. Asher called it a trilby. He had an easy smile on his face. That was because he hadn’t seen his father yet.

Douglas got a good look at the receptionist for the first time. The woman wasn’t speaking, but was flashing Asher a wide smile. She was mildly attractive, but her mouth was filled with overly large white teeth and there was a hungry look in her eyes that made Douglas’ stomach turn.

Douglas pushed the feeling away, turning his attention back to his truant son. He watched Asher laugh and flirt with this woman that was at least twenty years his senior and his anger rose another notch.

He walked up to his son and placed a heavy hand on his shoulder. “Are you planning a trip I should know about?”

Asher froze and his face went white for a moment at the sound of his father’s voice. He gulped and turned, his smile withering on his lips. “Uh hey, Dad! I uh . . .”

“You what?” Douglas said. “Thought you should skip fifth period English?”

Asher cleared his throat. “Um actually, Dad, fifth period is math, not English, and I’m acing that class, so-.”

“So?” Asher’s tendency to correct his father grated on Douglas at the best of times, but right now it inflamed him even further. “So you thought it would be a good idea to head downtown and do what? Look up rates for Caribbean cruises?”

Asher let out a nervous laugh. “Good one, Dad. Uh, actually I just came in to use the bathroom.”

“Don’t lie to me, Asher,” Douglas warned. “Not now.”

Behind Asher the receptionist had stood from her chair and loomed over the desk, her arms hanging limply at her sides. She was taller than she had seemed at first glance, probably six feet tall. The woman’s wide grin was unchanging and her eyes darted between the two of them.

Asher glanced back at her. “All right, all right. Sheesh. Look, can we talk about this somewhere else?”

“You know what? I don’t care what your excuse is right now!” Douglas barked. “There is no excuse, just no excuse for you to be where you are standing right now. You are grounded from computers, videogames, and TV for the foreseeable future.”

Asher winced. This was the only punishment that held any weight in his world. He didn’t have friends that he hung out with that weren’t online and other than being an avid reader, he didn’t participate in activities that didn’t require a television or monitor.

“Uh, that’s kind of a vague time frame, Dad.”

Douglas’ face was now purple with rage. “That’s because right now I cannot conceive of a time when you won’t be grounded!”

“Fine. Whatever.” Asher rolled his eyes and with a sigh, walked toward the door.

Douglas paused a moment, his hands clenched at his sides. He had never struck his son in anger. Hadn’t even spanked him since he was six and yet he knew that if he reached out now he would strangle the teenager. Asher really knew how to push his buttons.

The receptionist had stood quietly during the exchange without changing expression. Douglas turned to apologize to her before he left. She cocked her head and her hideous smile grew larger still. Instead of an apology, Douglas gave her a polite nod and followed his son out the door. He could feel her eyes burning into his back as he walked.

The blazing heat outside shook all thoughts of the receptionist from his mind. “I can’t believe you would do something this stupid, Son.”

“How did you know I was in there?” Asher wondered. He lowered his voice. “You watching the place?”

Douglas shot him a silencing glare and motioned for Asher to follow as he stomped across the street. Asher shuffled along behind him, a scowl etched into his narrow face. They headed up to the second floor of the parking garage. Detective Ross was standing next to the car smoking a cigarette when they arrived.

The detective let out a laugh when he saw the look on Asher’s face. “Whoo kid, are you in trouble! Your dad almost swore twice when he saw you go in that building.”

“Really?” Asher’s expression perked up. “What are the current odds down at the station?”

“Ten to one he doesn’t make it through the week.” Ross said with a grin. “He didn’t lose it inside did he?”

“Shut up, both of you,” Douglas snapped. “Bob, can you call in and get a replacement for me? I need to get Asher back to school.” Department guidelines dictated that there were to be two officers on a stake out at all times.

“Dad, come on,” said Asher. “By the time we get there school will be almost over.”

“I said shut up!” Douglas barked. Asher sighed again and looked away.

Ross chuckled. “I already called Jacobs while you were in there. He should be here soon.”

“What are you guys watching the place for?” Asher asked, suddenly interested. “You think it’s a drug front?”

“You tell me,” Douglas said, his glare steely.

Asher’s eyes narrowed. “No way! You know I’m not into that stuff!” He reached up and pulled several hairs from his head and held them out. “Go ahead. Test my hair. Have me piss in a cup if you want. I’m no druggie.”

Douglas glanced over at his partner. Shaking his head, Ross took a small brown envelope from his jacket pocket and took the hairs from Asher’s hand. He put them in the envelope and tucked it back into his jacket. “You realize that being clean doesn’t mean you don’t sell.”

The teenager’s face drooped and his voice was empty as he said, “You think so little of me?” He pulled out his wallet and opened it to show them. “All I have is five bucks on me. Not drug deal money. Search my stuff all you want. I would never sell that stuff to anyone.”

“Hey I believe you, kid,” Ross said.

“Drugs or no, you’re not getting out of this easy,” said Douglas, sending his partner a sharp look. Ross shrugged and got back into the car.

The next few minutes were spent in awkward silence while Asher stared at the ground muttering to himself and Douglas stood wrapped in a haze of rage. Detective Ross waited with an eye on the travel agency until Jacobs showed up in an unmarked car to take Douglas’ place.

Douglas and Asher got into the car Jacobs had brought and headed towards the school. They drove in silence for a solid minute before either of them spoke.

“Look Dad, I know you’re mad and I know why you’re grounding me,” Asher said finally. “But I need the computer at least for homework.”

Douglas scoffed. “So now you care about school again? The thing I am wondering right now is how many times has this happened in the past that I haven’t heard about? Am I going to get a big surprise when your final report card comes? You are going to graduate aren’t you?”

“Come on, Dad! Of course I am,” said Asher earnestly. “I had all my credits done except for one as of last semester. I could fail all my classes but English and still graduate! I just took them for fun. I wouldn’t have missed math if it mattered. Sheesh, there’s only a couple weeks left of school. It’s all review right now anyway.”

He was right. Asher had tested out at genius level. School was a cakewalk for him and the only reason he hadn’t graduated early was because he hadn’t wanted to. What really worried his father was Asher’s lack of concern for his future. All the kid seemed to care about was following what ever interested him at the moment.

Douglas grunted. “Look, Asher. I know how smart you are. But ever since your mom died, you have changed. You used to-.”

“This has nothing to do with mom!” Asher shouted. “And she would have heard me out before grounding me forever.”

“She would have been just as mad as I am,” Douglas said, but his son’s point had stung. His temper had been quite short lately, he knew that. His wife Mary had died early in the previous year. The pressures of being dad and mother along with adapting to his recent promotion to detective had taken their toll on his relationship with his children. “Look, you’ll just have to wait until I have calmed down to talk to me about this. When I get home from work tonight you will tell me everything. Then I’ll decide whether anything changes.”

Asher sighed again and stared out the window. “Yeah, you’ll decide whatever you want to decide.”

Douglas didn’t bother to answer this time.

 

 

Chapter 2: Mist and Light

 

Asher paced back and forth in front of the kitchen phone, twisting the long cord in his fingers. Every other family he knew had cordless phones or didn’t have a home line at all. His cheapskate dad’s philosophy was, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t spend money to replace it.’

“Come on, Aarin!” he said. “You can just drop me off a block away from the place like before. I won’t be long. If you get nervous, just circle the block for a while.”

“Did you get in a fight with dad again?” asked Asher’s younger sister Agatha.

Asher glanced back to see her standing behind him in the doorway to the kitchen. He frowned at her and raised a finger to his lips. “Aarin, come on. I need your help here. I told you, my dad has the car. Aarin, please? Aarin? Aarin? Crap!”

Asher slammed the phone down into the cradle and leaned back against the wall. He crossed his arms, a scowl on his narrow face. He had a driver’s license but no car. His dad had sold their mom’s car to help pay for the funeral costs and Asher hadn’t been able to scrape up enough cash to buy a junker to drive around in. He couldn’t even get a job because he had to watch his sister. “Now what do I do?”

“I knew it,” Agatha said, then shook her head and let out an exaggerated sigh. “I was right. You fought didn’t you?”

Agatha was as unlike her brother as her father was. At eight years old, she was one of the shortest kids in her class. She had a cute round face topped with a mass of black curls. However she was every bit as smart as her brother, a fact that she seemed determined to prove at every possible moment. “Dad isn’t hard to handle. You just needle him too much.”

“Yeah-yeah. Easy for you to say. You’re Daddy’s little girl.” Asher closed his eyes, thinking hard. He glanced over at her again for a moment and his scowl faded.

Agatha’s current obsession was knitting. Their mother had been a casual knitter and Agatha had taken it up soon after her death. It seemed everywhere she went, the eight-year-old had a set of needles in hand. She wasn’t very good yet, but she was prolific. Asher already had three scarves and two pairs of mittens. Their dad had several hats and a set of knitted gun holsters that Asher was sure would never leave his top drawer.

“Aggie, what on earth are you making?” The current mass of yarn that hung from her needles looked like some sort of deflated octopus.

“Oh, it’s an octopus,” Agatha pronounced with a proud smile. Her fingers never stopped moving as she spoke, the needles clacking together as yarn spooled from a bag tied at her waist. “When I’m done, I’m gonna stuff it and sew some buttons on for eyes. I’m gonna give it to Jenny’s sister for her birthday next week. She loves cephalopods.”

“Yeah, uh, good luck with that, Aggie,” Asher said and edged past her before heading up the stairs towards his room. “Cephalopods,” he muttered to himself as he shut the door behind him. He had to have the weirdest little sister in the world.

He came back down the stairs a few minutes later having changed his clothes. He now wore a gray shirt and a black hoodie and his pockets were filled with the items he might need. He entered the kitchen and opened the drawer next to the fridge where he emptied a narrow black box. There were three twenties inside. He kept an ear out for the door in case his father came home.

Douglas usually came home late, especially on nights when there was a lot of paperwork involved. The children were used to it. Their father had been a police officer all their lives. But if he was going to be too late he always called. He hadn’t called yet that night.

Douglas filled the narrow box with money every month in case the kids ever needed to call for delivery when he was working late. They used it as needed and he never asked questions. Until this evening they had never given him reason not to trust them.

“Hey, why are you taking the pizza money?” Agatha complained from behind him. She had started loading the dishwasher. The tentacled mass of her knitting sat on the counter next to her. “Dad will be ti-icked.”

“Don’t tell him then,” Asher said, and shoved the bills in his pocket. Hopefully it was enough money for a cab there and back.

“But I have to tell,” she said, her brows raised with sincere indignation.

Just then the phone rang. Agatha ran to answer it.

“Don’t tell!” Asher said.

She stuck her tongue out in response. She raised the receiver to her ear with a flourish.

“It’s the Joneses. Whaddya want?” Agatha said in her best impression of the receptionist from Ghostbusters. She always answered the phone that way. Douglas thought it was cute. Asher found it annoying.

“Hey, Daddy . . . Uh huh . . . yeah. Right, I’ll tell him.” She raised her voice and looked at her brother as she shouted, “Asher! Dad says for me to make sure you don’t play video games or the computer!” She ignored Asher’s rolled eyes and lowered her voice again.

“I told him. Right . . . Okay, bye. Love you too.” She hung up the phone and gave Asher a sour look.

“How long is he going to be?” Asher asked.

“Two hours or so.” She folded her arms. “Hey, what did you do to get in that much trouble?”

Asher bit his lip. “Two hours. That should give me just enough time if I hurry.”

Now her hands went to her hips. She stuck her chin out at him. “Asher, what did you do?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.” He ruffled her hair as he walked past her towards the front door. “Listen, Aggie. Keep the door locked behind me and don’t answer the door until I get back. If dad gets home before me, tell him I will be right back.”

“Ooh, you are going to be in so much more trouble!” she promised.

Asher sighed. “Yeah, I’ll deal with that when I get back. Hopefully he’ll understand when I explain.”

“Wait! You aren’t supposed to leave me home alone, you know.” Her voice was sounding worried now. “I’m only eight.”

“I’m not worried about you, Aggie.” They lived in a good neighborhood and everyone knew a cop lived there. No one was messing with their house. “If someone tries to rob the place, you’ll just poke his eyes out with your knitting needles.”

“I’m too short! I couldn’t reach his eyes,” she insisted.

Asher grinned at her. “You don’t fool me. I know what you are really doing with those things all day; practicing your yarn-fu. You’d knit any burglar into an octopus before they could draw a gun.”

She looked at her knitting needles on the counter. Asher saw a slight grin appear on her face as he shut the door.

 

 

The cab driver wasn’t about to wait for him in this part of town. Asher shut the door of the cab and watched it speed away, a sense of foreboding settling in his stomach.

The sun was nearly set. With its departure, a cool breeze blew along the street dispersing the heat that had pounded down earlier in the day. The breeze should have been refreshing. Instead, Asher shivered and pulled up the hood of his hoodie.

After he was finished he would have to walk back several blocks to a busier street to get a cab for the ride home. Of course that would mean spending the rest of the pizza money he had stolen. Maybe he would just find a pay phone and call his dad to pick him up and take his lumps early.

The street was empty but for drifting pieces of litter. Long shadows leaned from every building along the street. To Asher’s fertile mind, the possibility of danger lurked in each shadow. It was something he hated about living in the city. He could walk three blocks to the north or south and be on safer streets. But a few steps away from where he stood, anything could happen. If he yelled out no one would come. He was truly alone.

“Come on!” Asher clenched his hands into fists, grit his teeth, and fought the fear down. He had prepared for this moment. He had a plan in place.

His hoodie and shirt were neutral colors. No gang member would have reason to threaten him. He was tall now, a senior in high school. From a distance, he looked like an adult. He did not look like prey. No, he could very well be the predator. The long shadows were his friends. He needed to use the darkness to pass along the streets unnoticed.

He strode across the street and walked down a dark alleyway, going over his plans in his mind. First he needed to see if the police were still watching the travel agency. The far side of the alleyway opened up across the street from the parking garage that his father and his partner had been parked in earlier that day.

Asher paused at the alley’s exit and peeked up to the second floor of the garage. The stakeout car was still there. He could just see the hood of it protruding up from behind the concrete barrier. Asher headed back down the alley and crossed the street again, away from the view of the police.

From that point of view they could see the entrance to the rear lot, but not the loading dock itself. He doubted that there was another team watching the rear of the agency. His father had made it sound like they were the only ones on watch. He was pretty sure that it was still early in the department’s investigation. There wouldn’t be a command center holed up in a nearby building for surveillance yet.

Still, he was careful to keep an eye out for other possible cars being used as watch points. He took the long way around, darting down alleyways and making sure that he was never in view of the car in the parking garage.

He wasn’t harassed by anyone. In fact, he didn’t see a living soul. Asher was feeling pretty confident by the time he made it to the fence at the back of the travel agency. The sun had set and it was mostly dark now, the sky faded to dark blue. It was nearly 8:00. The street lights hadn’t started to tick on yet. A perfect time for his venture. Now he just needed to get inside.

There was a coil of razor wire atop the fence all the way around, so he wasn’t climbing over it, but that was okay. He walked to the point where the fence touched the side of the brick building and crouched in the shadows.

On the other side of the fence he could see a short gravel driveway in the back of the property that led from the employee parking to two loading docks that were bracketed with a dumpster on one side and a metal door on the other. His goal was the doorway that was bathed in yellow light from a dimly lit bulb above.

He hadn’t seen any security cameras on his approach earlier that day, something which seemed a bizarre choice for a building in this part of town. On second inspection that still seemed to be correct.

He pulled his Leatherman out of the pocket of his hoodie. It was a useful all-in-one tool with pliers, a knife and scissors. His dad had given it to him for his sixteenth birthday. He would be furious to find out what he was planning to use it for now.

Asher opened the tool and found that the wire cutting part at the base of the pliers was barely wide enough for the thick chain-link fencing. It didn’t want to cut through. Asher squeezed the short handles of the tool with all his might and finally clipped through one piece of wire.

“Ow,” he grunted and shook his hand which now had an impression of the handle running across the palm.

A car came down the street. He huddled in the shadow by the building as it passed, rethinking his plan. Cutting his way through the fence would be a painful process. Besides, it was going to take too long.

He lifted at the bottom of the fence and was surprised to see that it was fairly loose. He could lift it a few inches off of the ground. Maybe he wouldn’t need to cut very many wires at all.

The street lights came on as he finished clipping the fifth wire up from the bottom. A pool of light came down from above, compromising his hiding place. Thankfully, there was now just enough of a gap at the bottom of the fence for him to slide his way under. For once he was grateful for his wiry build.

He grunted as he shoved his way under the fence on his belly, feeling the cut wires snagging on his hoodie as he pushed through. He made it to the other side, scratched and covered with dirt, but undiscovered as far as he could tell. Encouraged, he pressed himself up against the side of the building and ran to the dumpster at the side of the loading dock.

He crouched behind the dumpster, his nose wrinkling at the horrid stench that came out of it. Flies buzzed all around it, active even in the night. The metal was rusted through at the bottom corner and a brownish fluid had leaked out. The light from the doorway at the other side of the dock illuminated the area just enough that Asher could make out the squirming of maggots in the fluid.

There was more than just office supplies in there. And not just discarded lunches either. Asher had been part of a service project once during his failed attempt at boy scouts a few years earlier. They had helped clean up dead animal carcasses off the side of the highway. That’s what this smelled like.

Asher gagged at the thought of what might be in there. He considered lifting the lid and peering inside with the LED flashlight in his pocket, but Asher couldn’t summon the courage to even touch the lid. He shook his head and focused on the doorway. He would definitely tell his dad about this when he got home, though.

Asher placed his back up against the loading dock and slid towards the rear door of the building, staying in the limited shadows left by the foam pads that surrounded the dock doors. Then, as quickly as he could, he stretched his arm out into the pool of light and grasped the handle of the door. A gentle twist told him that it was locked.

He withdrew his hand and cursed silently. The possibility that the owners of the building would have forgotten to lock the door was a long shot, but he had let hope creep in. Now he had to try the set of lock picks that he had in his back pocket.

Douglas would be pissed if he knew he had them. Picking locks had become an obsession for Asher. He had researched the subject for weeks online before purchasing the set he had. He had practiced on multiple doors at home and at school until he felt that he was pretty good.

He was confident that given enough time, he could open this door. It was a simple single handle with a lock. There was no deadbolt. No security card scanner. Another oddity about this place that made his skin crawl.

His main concern now was the light above the door. It would leave him too vulnerable while he worked. He was tempted to chance it, but decided against it. He would have to break the light. The small flashlight he carried would discreetly provide all the light he needed to work on the lock. The question was what to break it with?

Asher looked around for a rock or something bigger than the fine gravel on the driveway, but didn’t see any nearby. He headed back to the dumpster. As much as the thought of looking inside terrified him, perhaps there was something in there that he could use.

As he reached the dumpster, a set of headlight beams shown across the employee parking lot. Someone was at the gate. He heard a door open and the blaring sound of Spanish music as someone worked the chain.

Asher darted behind the dumpster and peered around the edge to see a white van pass through the parking lot and turn into the short loading dock driveway. He leaned back against the rusted metal, his heart pounding in his chest. If he had tried to pick the lock in the light, he would have been seen.

He heard the van turn around and back up to the dock. The headlights went out but the engine kept idling. He heard the van doors open and the sound of several sets of footsteps hit the pavement. There were low voices speaking what sounded like Spanish.

Asher couldn’t make out what they were saying. He wished he had done as his father recommended and taken more than just the first year of Spanish. A louder gruff voice joined the others and Asher heard the rattle of the lock on the door next to the dock. It creaked open and soon the clatter of the dock bay door rolling upwards echoed into the night.

He scooted to the far side of the dumpster, knelt down and peered around the edge again, trying to catch a glimpse of what was going down. Through the dim yellow light he could see two men handing packages of some sort from the open door of the van to waiting hands at the dock. Next, he heard muffled noises coming from within the van. The two men wrestled a struggling form up to the dock.

Asher’s eyes widened. Whatever the men had pulled out was wrapped in cloth. Was it a person? From the muffled noises coming from the cloth it could be someone that was gagged. He gulped and leaned back. It was time to get out of there and tell his dad. He turned to run back to the rear fence.

Something latched onto the back of Asher’s hoodie and yanked him backwards. A large hand clamped down over Asher’s mouth. He let out a muffled yelp and tried to stand, but a powerfully muscled arm wrapped around him. He was held tight against a wide chest, his arms pinned to his sides. He struggled but could not budge his arms.

Asher’s heart hammered, adrenaline rushed through his veins as he strained against his captor. Yet a calm analytical corner of his mind was caught up with one strange concern. He remained crouched close to the ground. So why was it that the person behind him didn’t seem to be hunched over at all? Was his attacker kneeling down behind him?

“A peeper!” shouted out a rough voice from directly behind Asher’s left ear. “Hey boys! We got ourselves a dag-gum peeper!”

Asher slammed his head backwards into the place he imagined his attacker’s face to be. Their heads connected, but he might as well have slammed his head into a brick wall. His attacker let out an amused grunt and his grip tightened. Lights swam in his vision. Asher couldn’t breathe.

Two men arrived and pulled Asher from the heavy grip of his captor. They dragged him towards the van. He turned, but wasn’t able to catch a glimpse of the man in the darkness behind the dumpster. He shouted for help and tried to pull away. These men were not as strong as his previous attacker and he was having some success until the man in the darkness pointed something at him.

There was a popping sound. Asher was unable to move, his limbs frozen in place. Numbly he realized that one of the men that had been dragging him had gone stiff as well. Angry voices argued in Spanish and he took some comfort in that as the remaining man dragged his paralyzed form to the rear of the van.

He was lifted and tossed into the van. No one bothered to tie him up, but it didn’t matter. Asher couldn’t move, couldn’t blink his eyes. All he could do was breathe. What had that been? A taser of some kind? Was there one that worked this way?

The men finished unloading the van around him, taking out more boxes and burlap sacks. He even thought he saw someone carrying a cage with strange shapes inside, but he wasn’t able to focus his eyes enough to see for sure.

The arguments in Spanish continued, then the doors shut and Asher was left in darkness. He heard the voice of the man that had captured him. It was muffled through the door, but he could make out what was being said. The rough voice had an odd accent that reminded Asher of an irascible old prospector in a western.

“Take that peeper to the doorway and get rid of him! We don’t need any more blasted trouble. And hey! Be back here in a half hour. If any of you gall-durn lazy corn-jiggers slack off, I’ll be cuttin’ off fingers!”

After a few moments, several men climbed back into the van. Two of them sat crosslegged on the floor in the darkness next to him. Asher felt the vehicle shift into gear and they pulled away. The radio was turned back on and Spanish music blared again.

None of the men around him spoke. They rode along simply bobbing their heads with the music. Asher tried to block out the music and focus on the feel of the road and the sound of it passing beneath him. Perhaps he would be able to piece together some idea as to how far they had traveled and where they were going. If he could somehow escape, this knowledge would give him an edge.

He was able to keep focused for a short time, memorizing each stop and turn. Then they turned onto a long straightaway. The rhythmic sway of the van along with the repetitive nature of the music was hypnotic. He soon grew disoriented and as his concentration left him it was replaced by a deep sense of dread.

That musclebound old prospector had told them to get rid of him. Asher had seen enough crime movies to know what that meant. It was very possible that they were going to kill him.

The van slowed down some time later and lurched as it turned onto a dirt road. The van floor bumped and jumped. Asher, still unable to move, was battered about. His face smashed into the knee of one of the men sitting next to him. Blood flowed from his nose and mouth as they came to a lurching stop.

The door opened and the sound of cicadas and tree frogs flooded the van. Men grabbed Asher’s arms and legs and he was carried down a pathway. He saw grass and dirt pass by and then a set of wooden steps. A door was pulled open. He passed over a threshold and across dirty moth-eaten carpet. Another door opened and he was carried down a set of stairs into a damp and moldy-smelling basement.

A blue glow permeated the basement, emanating from a point somewhere in front of him. He couldn’t move his head to see what it was. One of the men hit something that sounded like a gong.

There was a rush of air and a thick mist flowed across the floor toward him. The mist was cool and damp. It smelled oddly of cinnamon. The blue light intensified. The mist grew thicker.

The four men began to swing him back and forth. He knew that they were going to throw him into the mist and light. Whatever it was he was sure he did not want to go there. Asher struggled with all his might, but his limbs would not obey.

He was helpless as they released him. His stomach lurched and he passed through some sort of opening. The world grew cold around him.

END OF TWO CHAPTER PREVIEW

Read Chapter 3 here: https://trevorhcooley.com/tallow-jones-chapter-preview-3/

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