Saturday, 6 August 2011

Welcome To Nowhere

Howdy all - I'm afraid the updates have been a little thin on the ground of late - this is because I've been spending my hours editing my first full length novel, a mystery/thriller called 'Welcome to Nowhere.' The novel follows the story of FBI agents Jack Burton and Celia Washington, who are sent to a remote town in the Arizona desert to investigate a series of strange murders. The townspeople have begun killing each other, apparently without motive or even any memory of their crimes and the two agents are in a race against time to solve the mystery before the body-count grows any more. As Burton and Washington immerse themselves in the small backwater town and begin their investigation, they come to realise that these murders are only the beginning, and that the case is much closer to their own hearts that they could ever have guessed.

I'm hoping to have this finished and available for sale in a couple of months (I'll keep you posted on that), but in the meantime I thought I would share a little taster of it with you. Please feel free to offer any constructive criticism; It would be very gratefully received. Enjoy!

Welcome To Nowhere


It had been one of those nights; the instant he opened his eyes, he wished he hadn’t.

Frank Zuckerman finally awoke to the sound of heavy knocking at his front door, and as he rubbed his pounding head, which felt as though it had spent most of the night in the tight clutches of a vice, he struggled to remember even one vague detail about the previous night’s events. It had been a wild one; of that much he was sure. Past the third tequila shot there was nothing; no memories at all. He hadn’t been that out of it in a long time.

The knocking began again, this time louder and more impatient. Okay, I’m coming.

He stumbled out of bed, hardly opening his eyes; hardly able to open his eyes. Using only his memory, and the blurred strip of colours that occasionally flashed between his eyelids, he scrambled his way towards the staircase and began to feel his way around. With each clumsy, pained step he took, his head swam, begging him for caffeine.

Out of the fuzzy, incoherent world that lay beyond his heavy eyelids, he suddenly became aware of another noise; a different, more piercing noise occasionally making its presence known behind the wall of knocking. As he descended the stairs, the noise drew closer and as he slowly focused, he recognised it.

Pip… pip… pip…

The fire alarm in the kitchen. This wouldn’t be the first time he had come in late at night with a post-alcohol appetite and accidentally left the oven on.

Slowly he became more accustomed to the waking world, and his eyes gradually began to focus as he descended the staircase. He looked down at his wrist and checked his watch, which had been left on from the night before and had left small indentations in his skin where it had dug in during the night. Seven fifteen? Who the hell’s knocking my door down at this time on a Saturday morning?

As he reached the bottom of the stairs and began to cross the long hallway towards the front door, he noticed a dark stain on the tips of his fingers. Stopping to take a closer look, a wave of adrenaline ran through him as he recognised the maroon stain instantly. Blood.

He’d had bleeding noses a lot as a child, but he hadn’t had one for years. He figured it must have happened whenever he got home last night and was either too drunk to do anything about it, or too drunk to care. Knowing he couldn’t answer the door with blood all over his nose, he turned around towards the full length mirror at the side of the room to assess the damage.

Suddenly, the banging stopped and there was silence. As Frank Zuckerman’s eyes swam in to focus on the reflection of himself, he froze. In a split second, his stomach turned to lead, and he was instantaneously wide awake.

His nose was clean; not a drop of blood.

As he looked down, he saw that the stains ran all the way up his arms. His denim jeans and his pale blue shit were covered in long maroon-brown patches. This is no nose bleed. Frantically he began searching for a wound that could have caused this amount of blood… but he found none; it was not his blood.

The welcome silence that the hallway had only just reclaimed was instantly cracked in two as the front door burst open, broken down with brute force. Frank Zuckerman turned around with his blood stained arms stretched out in front of him and saw the dark, towering silhouettes of two large men standing the doorway.

Part One

~ The Man with the Brown Leather Gloves ~


Twenty miles south of Wikieup pass on highway ninety three, somewhere between Here and There, lies the town of Nowhere, Arizona. Nestled into a deep valley which had been cut into the earth thousands of years ago by the wide river that flowed past the outskirts of the town, and hidden behind long stretches of thick woods, Nowhere lived up to it’s name.

The long, dusty stretch of highway that joins Nowhere to the rest of the world simmered in the afternoon sun as FBI special agent Jack Burton pulled in to a small gas station at the side of the road. An old wooden sign, painted in crumbling, heat blasted paint towered above the one solitary gas Pump. The cracked letters read ‘The Middle of Nowhere.’

As Jack Burton slammed the door of his SUV, leaving his partner, Celia Washington, waiting in the passenger seat, he looked up at the sign and smiled as he rattled coins between his fingers deep in his pocket. Cute.

The gas station was crumbling in front of him and Burton realised that he was probably entering a place largely forgotten by the rest of America. Old car tyres of various sizes leaned against the grubby corrugated tin walls of the main building appearing to almost be holding them in place.

Standing outside the small building next to the lone gas pump was an old man, and a young girl of around six or seven pulling at his trouser leg. The old man stroked his white beard, which occasionally wisped in to nicotine stained peaks, and his toothless mouth gripped a wooden pipe that shot clouds of smoke in to the air.

‘Can I help you, friend?’ his pipe bobbed up and down as the words croaked from his yellow lips.

Jack Burton walked towards the man, using his hand as a sun visor. ‘I’m lookin’ for some gas…’

‘Well,’ replied the old man, ‘you’re in the right place.’ He shot Burton a toothless grin as the young girl pulled again at the man’s trouser leg. ‘Hush, Sally…’ he said to her, shooing her gently with his left hand, ‘you run along inside. Grandpa will be through in a minute.’

The young girl frowned as she stepped back into the shade and walked in to the gas station building.

‘Where you headed?’ asked the man, limping towards to Burton’s SUV.

‘Nowhere,’ replied Burton, a tiny smile crossing his lips.

‘Yup,’ the old man laughed as he began to fill the SUV with gas, ‘most folks on this stretch of highway are heading to nowhere. You’re not from around here, are you?’

Phoenix,’ replied Burton, pulling a coin from his pocket and rolling it between his knuckles. ‘Do I stand out that much?’ The sickly taste of gasoline caught the back of Burton’s throat, making him feel suddenly very queasy. The car ride out here had been bad enough without the stale reek of gasoline adding insult to injury.

The old man pointed down the badge hanging from Burton’s belt. ‘You CIA or something?’

Burton smiled. ‘Something like that… FBI.’ Trying his best to keep conversation to minimum, he stared intently at the numbers spinning incoherently on the gas pump.

‘You’ll be in town about what happened to Tom Douglas’ kid… terrible thing, that.’ The man looked towards the ground and shook his head.

‘You knew Jerry Douglas?’ asked Burton.

‘Place like this;’ replied the old man, squinting as he looked up towards the sun, ‘it’s so small if you stay here a while you get to know pretty much every one. I knew Douglas, and his folks; good kid. It's a damn shame, what happened to him... damn shame… god knows what was going on in that Zuckerman kid's head.’

'You knew Frank Zuckerman as well?'

'Sure,' replied the old man, 'his old man buys his kindling here... has done for years. Frank and Jerry used to ride along with him in the car. Thick as thieves they were, ever since they were just young ’uns. But,' he continued, 'I guess buddies sometimes fall out.' The old man rattled the nozzle of the pump against the outside of Burton's gas tank. 'That everything, friend?'

'Thanks.' replied Burton. 'How much?'

'Forty bucks.'

Burton handed the man two twenties and smiled as he tucked his wallet into his jacket pocket. ‘They fell out? And that’s why he killed him? Do you believe that?’

‘No,’ replied the man without hesitation, ‘But I guess it don’t matter much what I think…’

‘Please…’ Burton held out his palm, urging the man to continue.

‘Well…’ he said, looking up towards the crystal blue sky. ‘It was this place; this town. That’s what killed Jerry Douglas… not Zuckerman.’ The old man tucked the two twenty dollar bills into his trouser pocket. ‘This place got kinda’ a… history. I don’t know if it’s being way out here, cut of from the rest of the world or what, but this town does things to people. Back in eighty eight, two little girls…’

Burton interrupted. ‘The Peterman case, yeah…’

‘I guess you already know about that… you are the federal bureau of investigation. I guess it’s your business to know. Well… what happened in eighty eight and what happened to Jerry Douglas last night t‘aint no coincidence, agent, I can tell you that much. Being in the middle of nowhere does strange things to folks…’

Burton smiled at the man uneasily. ‘Strange things like what?’

‘Like what happened to Jerry Douglas.’ The man smiled, fully exposing his pink gums. ‘Can I get you anything else, agent?’

‘No, thank you,’ replied Burton, climbing into the driver’s side of his SUV. Burton smiled appreciatively once more at the man, before pulling off on to the dusty highway and heading in to Nowhere.


The dust on the road danced in the slipstream behind Jack Burton’s SUV as he tore down the desolate stretch of highway. Sitting in the passenger seat, checking her reflection in the rear view mirror, was Burton’s partner, Celia Washington. Beautiful brunette locks flowed over her olive skin, occasionally obscuring her deep green eyes. She straightened the collar on her power suit and gazed out in to the road ahead. ‘How far now?’

‘Not far,’ replied Burton. ‘A sign at the gas station said three miles.’

‘Good,’ replied Celia, yawning, ‘I need to stretch my legs.’ She looked on to the horizon as the town began to creep up from behind the trees. ‘These hick towns give me the creeps… Why the hell are we even out here, anyway? It doesn’t sound much like a federal case from the brief.’

‘You know why we’re here…’ grumbled Burton. ‘Paulsen’s still mad at me, so he found the shittiest assignment he could and placed me on it.’

‘Of course,’ replied Celia, half smiling, ‘…your little… encounter. Well, think yourself lucky, for what you did you could have got a lot worse than just a dull assignment. I think it’s quite reasonable of Paulsen…’

‘You would say that, Celia; you don’t know what he’s like. The guy’s an asshole…’

‘You punched him in the face! He would have had grounds to kick you out if he wanted… I’ve worked with him just as long as you have, Jack, I know exactly what kind of man Simon Paulsen is.’ She sighed and checked her hair in the mirror again. ‘And don’t get ratty with me – I’m the one that’s stuck on a dead end case in a dead end town in the middle of the desert because of your stupidity, remember. Sometimes I despair at being your partner…. Punching the boss…’ she muttered. Celia smiled, and looked out of the window. ‘But… I’m sure he deserved it.’

As she stared out she saw a dark figure appearing in the distance at the side of the road. Burton pulled down his sunglasses and looked out at the simmering silhouette. ‘It’s a hitch hiker; Jesus, he’ll fry out here. Do you want to give him a ride?’

‘Are you kidding?’ replied Celia. ‘Picking up some hitch hiker in literally the middle of nowhere? Haven’t you ever seen the Texas Chainsaw Massacre? He’s probably some axe wielding maniac.’ As the car drew closer to the man his form began to become clearer. He was in uniform and carried a kit bag on his shoulder. ‘Technically…’ said Burton, grinning to himself, ‘we’re on the outskirts of Nowhere. Look, he’s a soldier for God’s sake!’ As Burton pulled over to the side of the road to pick the man up, Celia looked at his face. Great; a trained killer.

Burton wound down Celia’s window and called out to the man. ‘You want a ride, friend?’

The man smiled and pulled the back door open before climbing in to the back seat and wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. He wore a kind smile and spoke softly. ‘Thanks, I was sweating something awful out there.’

‘We’re only going as far as town; that okay?’

‘That’s great. I managed to catch a ride as far as the gas station a mile or so up the road, I just walked from there.’ He pulled his kitbag from his shoulder and rested it on the seat beside him.

‘What brings you to Nowhere?’ asked Celia.

‘Me? I’m going home. I’m stationed at the army base just outside town. I’ve lived here all my days, but I’ve just been up in Phoenix for a few months looking after my aunt. Man, does it feel good to be back. I missed the country air.’ He looked wistfully out of the window. ‘What brings you guys so far out?’

Burton looked the soldier in the eyes through the rear view mirror. ‘We’re performing an investigation…’

‘Are you guys cops?’

‘FBI,’ replied Celia, nodding towards a badge that swung from the rear view mirror ‘I’m Agent Washington and this is Agent Burton.’

‘What’s happened?’

‘There’s been a murder in town. A kid named Jerry Douglas?’


‘You knew him?’ asked Burton.

‘Sure,’ replied the soldier ‘I went to school with Jerry, I’ve known him forever. What the hell happened?’

‘Well…’ said Burton tentatively ‘I guess you’re going to find out soon enough. He was killed by a supposed friend. A guy named Frank Zuckerman?’

‘Frank? Jesus Christ, that’s huge… Those guys were inseparable. I can’t believe my mother never said anything on the phone.’

Celia turned around in her seat ‘I guess some things have to be said in person.’

‘Wh… why did he do it?’

‘That’s what we’re here to find out,’ said Burton, staring straight ahead at the road.

The soldier smiled sombrely, and then pointed out of the window to his right. ‘This is me; my mom’s house is just up that hill. Anywhere here’s just great.’

Burton pulled the SUV to the side of the road and with a smile and a half salute, the soldier jumped out. ‘Thanks for the lift, folks… I hope you find whatever you’re looking for.’ Burton smiled at the young man as he slammed the door and walked away from the car.

‘See,’ said Burton as he pulled off again, ‘he wasn’t an axe wielding maniac after all.’

‘Hmmm…’ replied Celia ‘…going to see his mother in a big house on top of a hill? That doesn’t remind you of anybody?’

Burton smiled as they headed towards the town. About half a mile up the road, they were greeted by a large green sign that read, in chipped paint:

‘Welcome to Nowhere’

It looked like a land caught in a time warp; it felt like the nineteen fifties with a hint of cowboy.

Celia looked out of her window at a large poster hanging in the window of the general store. A shiny, sleazy looking man dressed in a suit was staring out from it and underneath, the caption read:

‘Vote for Change. Vote for Caine.’

‘Look at him,’ she said to Burton, turning round. ‘Staring out with those sleaze ball eyes. Can you think of anyone you’d want less as the President of the United States? Another four years of him? No thanks.’

‘Well,’ replied Burton, ‘the election’s in a week and this is where he gets all his voters. Small towns like this; they probably love him here… look, there’s posters all around.’ Warmongering asshole.

President Charles Caine had been voted in to power nearly four years ago and his entire term had been a colossal historical disgrace. And yet, thought Burton, he does have a knack for rallying hillbillies. It was long thought that he had cheated his way in to power during the last election. He was well known, not only in the US, but across the world, as an odious, repulsive cheat… but still they flocked to go and vote for him in small towns like this. He was a face, thought Burton, to put on that horrible twenty first century idea of American patriotism; blind faith; that we should trust our leader, because he is in power… regardless or how he gained that power.

‘Not a single poster for Gable, either. At least we’ve never had him as president, so we don’t know for sure he’s crooked,’ said Celia, sighing as they pulled in to a parking spot outside a small cafĂ©.

Burton smiled as the engine coughed to a stop. ‘He’s a politician, Celia. They’re all crooked. The very fact he wanted to become a politician makes him crooked.’ He climbed out of the SUV and slammed the door shut, feeling the warm sunlight beat down on his face. Taking a deep breath of the fresh country air, he turned to Celia. ’Well… welcome to Nowhere.’

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