I started this exercise thinking that I would use it to jump start some work on Steel-Toed Blues, for which novel I still owe some words today. After staring at my computer, surfing Facebook, feeding the baby, surfing more Facebook, and trying a few words, I realized that I just wasn’t feeling it. Instead, my brain decided to start sketching some scenes for Vegas Run. It’s pretty rough, but this is what I came up with:
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Exercise 1 – Anxiety Dreams
The sharp three-round rat-tat-tat from Karen’s M4 ricocheted off my eardrums, rendering me temporarily deaf. If I hadn’t already been bouncing out of my skin with nerves, the sudden retort probably would have caused me to go furry out of reflex.
“What the hell was that?” I peered through the gloom, but all I saw was more dark hallway. Perhaps there was something bleeding in the shadows?
“Roaches.” Karen refused to meet my gaze. She kept the barrel of her weapon pointed down the corridor.
“Roaches?” Perhaps the sarcastic tone was unwarranted, but I wasn’t aware that Karen could be so unnerved by little crawling beasties. I shook my head, wondering if I heard right as my eardrums healed. I could smell her sudden sweat under her calmed composure.
“Now that we have announced our presence, perhaps we should continue on our path before someone inevitably raises the alarm?”
Dr. Gratuszcak’s smug monotone raised my hackles, and I bit back the urge to growl at him. Nodding to Karen, I took point. He was only one of a long line of shady assholes MONIKER had saddled us with, but he was right. If there was anyone monitoring these long, empty concrete tunnels, they had surely been alerted to our presence through Karen’s uncharacteristic attack of nerves.
They do their thing in the Soviet-era bunker in Eastern Europe where unknown shady types have been conducting their “werewolf” experiments. There is some material left, but the underground labs show signs of attack and being hastily cleared out.
I held the bottle out, label first, stretching it across the threshold. It was a very old, very good Scotch that until recently had been languishing of loneliness in Ramirez’ private stash.
“Quit lurking, Lon Chaney.” Cleaning her weapons was as close as Karen usually got to a mystical experience, but now she just kind of slumped over swiping at them lethargically. Even though she had changed into sweats and a Flogging Molly T-shirt, she hadn’t showered.
I dropped into a canvas camp chair and kicked my legs up on the table. Normally that would earn me an eyeroll and knocking my feet back down to the floor, but instead she yawned. Cracking the seal on the Scotch, I took a healthy swig and offered her the bottle. She ignored it.
The Scotch was warm and smooth, but it soured in my throat. “Listen, Doc, only one of this team is allowed to be an emo jackass, and Gratusczak’s got that covered. What is wrong with you?”
Not even a quirk of the lips or a dirty look in my direction. My next snarky remark would have died on my lips, if I were a more sensitive soul, but I’m a jerk so I had another shot of Scotch. “Doctor Death been getting to you?”
“I can’t sleep.”
The voice didn’t even sound like Karen. Instead of wrapping me in its undertones of sly humor and bottom-line tough girl vibes, she sounded reedy and thin. I twitched, slightly, thinking of nails on a chalkboard.
“Why not?” That’s me, always with the direct approach.
And now she turned to me and I felt almost sick that I hadn’t realized how bad she’d been getting this past week. Large black circles had taken residence under her eyes. Her hands trembled, almost imperceptibly, and she fumbled as she fitted the upper receiver to the lower receiver and trigger assembly. She tried to push the receiver pins in. It took her multiple tries. “Forget it, Rick. I don’t want to talk about it.”
I’m the last person to go prying when someone tells me to buzz off, but I opened my mouth to bug her some more, then shut it again at the soft footfall down the hall. Whatever was going on with Karen, if she didn’t want to share it with me, there was no way she was going to open up in front of Gratusczak. As if on cue, the good doctor knocked on the door.
“Director Ramirez is waiting for us upstairs.” It might have been my imagination, the gleam in his eyes as he gazed at Karen. I snapped my fingers to draw his attention, but he didn’t break his gaze. “You’re invited as well, Herr Wolf.”