This excerpt is the second part of Chapter 5 of my mystery novel Holes in My Armor, available in ebook and paperback on Amazon and other sites. The first-person narrator is Clay Sutler.
She drove her Toyota. Fine with me. I didn’t know where to go anyhow. It wasn’t a new car, navy blue paint fading, big scratch on driver’s door. Typical student wheels.
We went east a few miles, out of Auburn, through the trees, out toward Black Diamond and Enumclaw. Not far beyond that, Mount Rainier stood out there in the darkness. Tara could have kidnapped me, tied me to a Douglas fir and asked for ransom. (Wouldn’t have worked since I’m an orphan.) Anyway, we didn’t talk much and I got lost in my head, but somehow we arrived.
I looked up and thought: Turn around, go home. No real sign on the building that I could see. Just a couple of neon swirls advertising beer. A weathered board structure filled an empty spot between the trees (waiting to be boards), and out front a crunchy gravel lot held a few old cars, SUVs and pickups. Gun racks, too.
The temperature was moderate when I got out of Tara’s car, so my shudder wasn’t about warmth. It was about memory. I’d left that life behind, I thought. What I said: “Looks like a dive, some hick Montana dive only forty miles from Seattle.”
“Phase Two,” Tara reminded me. “Expand your horizons.”
Inside, the smell of stale beer attacked my nose, but the floors looked reasonably clean and I didn’t notice any rotting food. Nor did I see any fighting. But it was early, still time.
We found a booth next to the dance floor and ordered a couple brews. While we waited for the drinks, Tara told me about the DJ who seemed to show up out of nowhere five nights a week and sense exactly what music the clientele wanted that evening.
So Tara was familiar with this place. Still, no one acted as if they’d seen her before. Maybe it was a while ago, a busy Saturday night, a different crew. And maybe it was the kind of establishment where you simply didn’t bother to remember who you knew.
I could have been rationalizing, but I thought something good might come out of my evening in this dive. I could find out more about Tara, and that would give me a wedge to ease her out of my life. It didn’t exactly work that way, though.
After a bit, she stood up and said, “That DJ is playing some good songs tonight. Let’s see your moves.”
I got to my feet. “Moves? You have the wrong guy.”
“Don’t be modest, Clay.”
Tara danced really well, lots of dips and shakes and twirls I had no hope of keeping pace with. But I put a little effort into it and she didn’t complain.
Three other couples joined us on the floor to start. I saw a lot of blue jeans and even one pair of cowboy boots. Some essence of Montana here, I could tell, maybe even Wyoming. Me? I was dressed sort of urban preppie, the real Mr. Montana.
Tara and I took a break and drank some beer, and I looked across the table and saw a nice sweet young woman out having a little fun. She didn’t look like the devil at all, as if I was sure what that would be.
After a while she said, “I know about Montana.”
“What exactly is it that you know? It’s a big state.”
“Where you’re from. Lucas.” Her voice went especially raspy then, rubbing me, chafing against something from the early days.
“That’s nice. I never go back, you know.”
“Of course not. Why would you? Your family’s gone, and there’s nothing left for you.”
I sipped a little beer and squinted, trying to bring her into better focus but still found myself struggling to figure out who she was, what she was up to.
“Can’t argue the point, Tara, because you’re always right. But maybe you could tell me just how you know all these things.”
She pursed her lips. “Internet mostly.”
A little frown. “OK, I got my bachelor’s degree in computer science with a minor in psychology. If there’s a database with your name in it, I can probably find it. And if I can’t do it, I have friends.”
“Friends. Hadn’t thought of that.” I nodded, letting that resonate. “And what else can you do with your computer?”
“We’re ahead of schedule here.”
“I see. I wasn’t supposed to ask that yet. But you forgot that all this dancing got my blood moving and fed my brain a lot of oxygen and so I’m thinking better and faster than normal. Ahead of schedule.”
“Then you say it, Clay. What else can I do?”
“Well, Tara, I didn’t study computers that much, but something tells me that you, and your friends, could put my name into a database it had never been in before, a database where it doesn’t belong. And not leave any fingerprints.”
Tara threw me a look. “Well, I haven’t actually done it.”
I stayed up a little late to make sure I could account for everything that happened before it slipped out of my mind. You act casual and think you’ll remember, but then the picture fades. So you have to study the moves and go over the words again until you’re sure you have them locked in. And the more you do that, the more other things click into place.
The thing is, I believed Tara had actually done a database plant—just not on me. She couldn’t be confident and admit she could do it unless she’d already proved it to herself.
So the threat was hanging over me. I could imagine the details, but not tonight. I needed to shut down and go to sleep. Without nightmares.
Phase Two: Dancing and now databases. Tara tightened her grip.
Another thing that turned up that night. “Phase Two,” I said. “How many other test subjects have you had in Phase Two?”
“None. You’re the first.”
“Ah. So I’m special.”
“That’s right, Clay. Phase Two is just for you.”
-- Continued in Holes in My Armor (Chapter 5, Part 2 of 3)