First chapter of a book I am attempting to write. Please feel free to give CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. The basic story after this chapter is a man is accused of the crime; accusation is backed up by DNA evidence. Problem is - it wasn't him. The accused goes back through his past to discover who the killer really is. Any SERIOUS suggestions will be helpful & noted.
Hayden Pickett was finally starting to believe she could have a happy life again.
Almost eighteen, taking a year off between high school and college, she had her first job, her first car, and most importantly, she was starting to remember her mother more with the happiness borne of good times spent with her than the soul-searing sadness of her recent death of her mother, Elise, from gastric cancer. Hayden had been exceptionally close to her mother because her father had abandoned them upon learning of Elise's pregnancy. She didn't even know his name; she just thought of him as her “sperm donor.”
The cancer had been diagnosed far too late to treat it except to make Elise as comfortable as possible during her last year of life. Her health insurance had covered most of the expenses, and those it didn't were paid for by Jen Rogerson, through Angela Bessom, Jen's business partner and Elise's lifelong friend. Hayden would feel eternally grateful to the two women for their kindness.
Elise hadn't left an estate, and Hayden had no other close relatives, so Angela had taken her in so she could graduate from Turnersville High School, and helped Hayden through the rough times she had after her mother's death. The crying fits, the raging at God for taking her mother, the depression. Angela had held her hand, hugged her, or just listened to her through it all. Hayden still had her moments but she was slowly adjusting to life without her mother.
Hayden worked at J & A Deli, owned by Jen and Angela, which was highly successful. Started five years ago, the deli was known for offering large, quality sandwiches and affordable prices. Turning a substantial profit in just it's first year, the business had been featured on several cable food networks, which led to even more profits in the following years. J & A Deli was more successful than most of the bigger convenience stores in the area. Hayden enjoyed the work tremendously, and was toying with the idea of asking to become a partner after getting her Associate's Degree from Camden Community College. She was sure Jen and Angela would allow her to buy her way into the business even as she worked to build it in the future. Her mind was filled with marketing plans, new types of sandwiches and rolls, and possibly opening another J & A or two.
J, A & H, you mean.
Hayden laughed inwardly at her big ideas as she was closing the store Monday night. She'd already shut down the register for the night and moved to cleaning the sandwich prep table when she heard the door chimed, signaling it's opening.
“We're closed,” Hayden called out, mentally berating herself for forgetting to lock the door.
Convenience Store Safety 101, you dolt! Remember?
“I know,” a familiar voice answered. “I just need to grab a soda for the ride home. Hope you don't mind.”
Hayden smiled, pulling her strawberry-blond hair into a loose ponytail to keep it out of her way while she cleaned, and focused her clear gray eyes on the vivid green eyes of her boss' husband. She didn't know him well, but he had always been nice to her. He had never been to the deli this late during the four months she'd been working
“I can't make change for you, but seeing as how you're so friendly with the boss, I think I can let it slide just this once.”
“It's much appreciated,” he replied, twisting the cap from the bottle and taking a large swallow.
“Damn I was thirsty!” He grinned. “I hope I didn't scare you.”
“Not really. I was more surprised that I forgot to lock the door. Guess my mind was in it's own little world.”
“Let me help you.” He was behind the counter now, reaching for the first three plastic containers holding the shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, diced onions and other sandwich toppings that she had removed from the prep table.
Startled, Hayden jumped a bit. She hadn't heard him move at all. “Thanks. I'm a little behind tonight.”
As he reached for the containers, his right hand brushed along her left arm, seeming to linger longer than necessary.
Hayden started, snatching her arm away.
“I'm sorry,” he said as he picked up the containers. “I just keep scaring you tonight, don't I?”
“I-it's fine. I'm just not paying attention, I guess.” She edged away as casually as possible.
“Get more containers ready and I'll be right back.” He walked away, heading towards the back room and the refrigerator where the food was stored.
What the hell is going on? He doesn't even seem to be walking the same. Maybe he's drunk or high. Hayden watched him carefully, uncomfortable. She knew she didn't know him well, but she still thought his actions were way out of character. Confused, but wary, she went back to work. Maybe she could ask Angie what to do when she got home.
She had pulled the last two bins from the table, emptied their contents into the proper containers and closed them tightly, when she felt his hand trail down her arm again. Again, she hadn't heard him approach. Her breath caught in her throat as she froze, uncertain what to do about the unwanted contact.
“You're certainly jumpy tonight,” he said, chuckling as he walked away again.
Ya think? I wonder WHY?
Hayden was definitely not feeling safe now. All she wanted to do now was get him out of there as quickly as possible. She moved from behind the counter to begin to sweep the floor of the small store area. There was no way she was going to be trapped behind the counter with him again.
She was watching the double doors leading to the back room when he came sauntering out.
“Anything else I can help you with?” he asked suggestively. Hayden was completely creeped out now. His wandering gaze made her skin crawl. She was definitely going to say something to Angela about his actions when she got home.
“No. Everything's good now. I'm almost finished.” Somehow, despite her fear, her voice sounded normal.
“ Okay then. Guess I'll be heading out. Be sure to lock the door when I leave. You can never be too safe, even in a little town like Clement's Bridge.” He smiled as if that was the most amusing statement he'd ever heard.
Hayden stopped sweeping, every muscle wound like a spring, ready to bolt if he tried touching her again, but he went straight out through the door and walked out of sight, presumably towards his pickup.
Hayden let out the breath she didn't realize she'd been holding, dropped the broom, and practically sprinted for the door. She twisted the deadlatch and felt it slam home. She instantly felt safer. Not safe, just safer.
“Angie and I are definitely going to have a long talk when I get home,” Hayden whispered to herself.
Going back over the events of the past twenty minutes or so, she decided that, while certainly serious and disconcerting, it didn't warrant a phone call to Angie when a face-to-face conversation would do just as well. She would be leaving for home shortly.
Ten minutes later, after finishing the sweeping and straightening the few merchandise shelves needing it, Hayden slipped on her jacket, grabbed her keys, and headed for the back room to clock out for the night. She had relaxed somewhat, but would be glad to head home for the night.
Maybe Angie and Jen will let me take a week off. I doubt it would be a problem and after tonight I could use some time away. I sure don't want to be here the next time he comes in. Hayden shuddered at the thought.
As she pushed through the swinging door separating the back room from the deli, every light in the building shut off.
Wondering if anything else could go wrong tonight, she waited for the emergency lights to power up. They were programmed with a thirty second delay to preserve their battery life, but she knew they came on whenever the main lighting was out.
Silently counting down, she heard the distinct hum of the cooling unit of the refrigerated storage unit just to her right. It's back-up power had the same thirty second delay as the emergency lighting.
Maybe the circuit breaker for the lights tripped.
Frightened, but not overly concerned, she used her left hand to touch the wall and guide herself the the electrical panel she knew was about ten feet away. Walking slowly, shuffling her feet, and holding her right hand in front of her to keep from smacking her face into anything that might be in her way, she reached the panel just as the emergency lights came on. The weak lighting didn't do much, but it did dispel the worst of the darkness.
Hayden popped the panel open and examined the breakers. Only the lighting was affected, but it didn't appear to have been tripped. It looked like they had been manually shut off.
Truly scared now, she flipped the breaker back into the ON position and looked around. Nothing was out of place that she could tell, the delivery door was closed, and there was nobody else in the building. Hayden looked towards the delivery door again but noticed the lights in the short hallway hadn't come back on with the others.
The only switch for those particular lights was over by the delivery door itself, but the hallway was ink black, but she was too scared to even think about walking through even that small patch of darkness to get to it.
Her right hand tightened it's grip on her keys, she turned towards the swinging door, wanting nothing more than to just get out of the deli and get home. Then Hayden heard the soft woosh of the delivery door opening.
The lights went out again.
The intruder was lightning fast, and Hayden was tackled as she went through the swinging door. Pain blossomed in her knees as they slammed into the tiled floor of the deli.
Whimpering in terror, she swung her right fist back, striking at the intruder as he was climbing onto her. She felt her keys scrape across something soft and was rewarded with a grunt of pain.
A guttural male voice issued a curse from the almost perfect darkness as the weight was partially lifted from her. The meager light issued by a street light a half block away did nothing to illuminate what was once a familiar place, now utterly alien to her.
Twisting her legs out from under him, she crawled as fast as she could manage towards the pale swatch of light, almost mocking her with it's promise of safety.
She was still five feet from her goal when the intruder yanked her legs out from under her. Her keys flew away into the darkness as she was picked up and thrown to the floor. Gasping for breath, she rolled onto her back and thrashed wildly, kicking at the face she could barely see. She heard a satisfying crunch as her boot heel connected with the bridge of his nose, sending a spray of blood everywhere.
The assault had taken less than thirty seconds and eerily quiet thus far, but with a bellow of pure rage, her attacker fell on her before she could move more than a few inches. He straddled her belly just as the emergency lights snapped on again, and she barely had time to notice that he was completely nude before he grabbed a fistful of hair and slammed her head into the tiled floor. Brilliant stars bloomed behind her eyes as she fought to remain conscious.
Badly dazed, her mind reeling in terror, tears streaming, Hayden cried out wordlessly as her blouse was ripped open. Her arms were pinned at her sides, her attacker's knees on her elbows as he roughly pulled at her bra, the straps biting painfully into her shoulders before breaking away, exposing her breasts.
Her pleas for freedom fell on deaf ears as her attacker unbuttoned her jeans and pushed them down to her ankles, along with her underwear. She tried to fight, clenching her legs tightly together, but he was far too strong for her.
Taking both of her wrists in on strong hand, he held her arms above her head as he leaned forward, hooking his feet between her knees and forced her legs open.
Hayden screamed silently as he pushed, forcing himself into her in a single brutal stroke.
She looked up at him, recognized his face, and knew she wasn't going to make it to Angela's house that night. Hayden was going home to her mother.
She hoped it wasn't Angie that found her.
Her eyes glazed over and her mind retreated as he moved within her, issuing bestial grunts with his efforts. She stopped fighting as he brutalized her repeatedly, offered no resistance as he heaped every possible indignity upon her.
She lost consciousness after two hours.
Dreaming of happier times spent with her beloved mother, she never felt his hands around her neck as he squeezed the life from her.