Measured Aggression the second Cole Wright thriller novel will be out on March 20th. In the meantime, here’s a little taster from the latest Cole Wright short story – the first couple of chapters of “Schedule Interruption”.
Wright plans to pick up the long distance service when the bus reaches the freeway.
Plans, though, have a way of getting interrupted.
A standalone Cole Wright story that comes right down to good people in tough circumstances.
Dust devils flickered to life along the side of the highway. Little whips of wind, picking at the desiccated ground. Whirling it up into momentary, insubstantial wavery ghosts that seemed to follow the old clanky bus chugging along under the beating sun.
Cole Wright sat in a tacky, faded window seat toward the back. On the right. The window itself was dark and patinaed. Someone had managed to scratch Sally 4 Patrick near the bottom. Bored on a long trip, and had scraped away with the edge of a dime or a quarter. No one would have heard a thing over the rumble of the engine.
The bus was maybe a fifth full. About forty seats. Most people clustered toward the front. A few pairs, but mostly alone. A college student with an open laptop. A farmhand in a white cowboy hat. A couple of women in their seventies, both spry and well dressed. One of them kept up a constant monologue about the government, the weather and her former husband Trevor who’d absconded some thirty years back with one of the high school teachers. The woman’s voice was almost soothing.
The air in the bus was cool and dry. Wright sipped from a half liter bottle of Dr Pepper he’d bought outside the bus station back in Kelles. A little town on the crossroads of couple of state routes. Forty miles south of the freeway. Eighty miles from anywhere with more than a vending machine and a gas station with pumps from last century.
The bus station hadn’t even been more than an old store that someone had converted into a waiting room. The bus to Gransfield ran three days a week. Gransfield being on the freeway, and boasting a couple of gas stations some fast food places and an IGA. At least according to the folks he’d talked with while waiting.
The bus itself had to date from the 1950s. Maybe a little newer. Small windows and hard seats. The kind of thing that, polished and scrubbed, would show up on some movie screen, delivering new Vietnam war draftees to their muster.
Wright capped his soda and watched the prairie slip by. There were hills in the distance, blue and dark, barely showing above the plain. The country here rolled ever so softly. Like a slightly mussed blanket. Not table-flat, but no one would mistake it for mountainous, or even hilly.
Wright was heading for Spokane. He’d wandered enough and it was time for a break. Maybe get a job again. If he could handle the routine of regular hours.
Something straightforward, like packing vegetables to be shipped to supermarkets, or laboring laying bricks, or maybe looking up one of those big online gift shipping companies and vanishing into a gigantic warehouse filled with conveyors and rollers and every product you could think of from shampoo to tires to bread makers.
Anything but police work, really. Which included a whole mess of things, like security guard, bouncer, investigator.
For now, though, it was good just to let it all wash off and ride the rails. Or highways, as such.
As he twisted the lid from his soda again, the bus lurched, slowing. The liquid fizzed and ran out over his fingers. He was forced to lick them clean as the bus came to a stop.
They weren’t anywhere.
Just the plain, rough and dry farmlands lying around and hoping for some rain. Telegraph poles and mile markers. About two hundred yards north, back from the road, stood some farm machinery. A big rusty old combine harvester, and red dump truck with a long snout.
Beyond those stood a plain white clapboard house. Two stories, with some smaller, less well-painted buildings around. Equipment sheds and outhouses, presumably.
The bus hissed. Came to a stop.
Wright removed the cap from his soda and sipped. The bus’s door clanked. The driver reaching across and throwing the handle.
Through the front windshield, which was in two pieces, separated by a vertical strip and had a crack running from about eight o’clock a third of the way up, Wright could see a town. Maybe a mile, mile and a half off.
The tall signs, edge on from his perspective, indicating gas and fast food, and maybe even a motel or two. A few low houses there, dark and anonymous. Some tall, bushy trees, like oaks a hundred fifty years old.
That would be Gransfield. On the freeway.
The bus’s destination.
Outside, from just at the bus’s open door, someone called something. From his angle Wright couldn’t see them.
“Two fifty,” the driver said. “Each.”
More inaudible words from outside.
The driver turned in his seat and sighed. He was probably mid-seventies. Slim, but what little hair he had on his head was pure white. His face was lined with the grizzle of years and he had a thick, white mustache.
He’d smiled at Wright, back in Kelles, when Wright had boarded. The kind of smile that was welcoming. Acknowledging that here was someone new. It was pretty obvious that the other passengers were all familiar to the driver. Even the college student.
“I don’t have a choice,” the driver said. “I know it’s not far, and I know you could walk it, save for the heat we got. But the thing is I have a boss. All these good people have paid.”
The person outside said something. Louder, more forceful, but still inaudible.
Wright capped his soda. He slipped it into the netting pocket on the back of the seat in front.
“No, not at all,” the driver said. “It’s a set price. A minimum. You know when you’re in the city and you get a cab, there’s already three dollars on the meter before you’ve even left the curb? That’s the flag fall. I’ve stopped here, because you waved me down.”
Another word from outside. Could have been an epithet.
“It’s two dollars and fifty cents,” the driver said. “Each. You got a problem with that, you go talk to my boss. His number’s painted on the side of the bus.”
The driver swung back around into his seat. He reached for the door lever.
The kind of lever that’s been in buses since forever. A simple system. An aluminum handle, vertical, with two pieces of flat aluminum on a pivot fixed just below the dash. Between the handle and the pivot, a rod, also on a pivot, connects that part of the mechanism to the door.
The door, then, folds in half, right into the footwell. The handle is designed so that the door can be opened or shut without a driver having to leave their seat. They have to stretch a little, but it’s not much effort.
The driver pushed on the lever to close the door.
The lever didn’t budge.
“Let go of the door,” the driver said.
Another epithet from outside.
Wright stepped into the aisle.
Out on the road, a black pickup was heading south, coming toward the parked bus. Coming from Gransfield.
The driver glanced toward it.
The pickup slowed a little. A late model F150.
The bus’s engine thrummed, sitting at idle. The floor under Wright’s feet shivered.
The college student had closed up her laptop. She was leaning into the aisle a fraction. The older woman had stopped talking.
Wright took a step forward.
The F150 didn’t stay slowed for long. It picked up speed and sped by the bus. Wright glimpsed the driver as he went by. Three days of stubble and a cowboy hat. Staring dead ahead.
“Let go,” the bus driver said, “of the door.”
A mutter from outside. Probably ‘No!’
“It’s two fifty from here to Gransfield,” the driver said. “I can’t do no more favors. “
Wright took another step forward. This brought him level with the farmhand. He’d set his hat on the seat next to him.
Wright put his hand on the seat back.
The farmhand looked up. He smelled of hay and earth and beer. He met Wright’s eyes. Almost eager.
“Stay put,” Wright said.
“They’re holding us up. I should go talk to them. Or pay the fare.”
“Do you know them?”
Wright stepped back. “Go talk to them. I’ll pay the fare.”
“Mikey,” the farmhand said
“Wright. Cole Wright.”
Taking the back of the seat in front, Mikey pulled himself upright. He was tall. Had to duck so that he didn’t his head on the steel framing of the webbing luggage rack that ran front to back. One on each side. A few parcels stuffed in. Some more hats. A pair of roller skates that looked as if they’d been left from when the bus had been manufactured.
Mikey stepped into the aisle and started along.
The driver saw him coming. Held his hand up.
“Hold on, son,” the driver said. “No need to make this any of your business.”
“I can handle myself.” Mikey was wearing a white singlet with a plaid shirt open and over the top. Sleeves rolled up. He had ragged jeans and black steel-capped boots.
“Mikey,” Wright said. “Hold up.”
Mikey didn’t stop.
The story continues here (Universal Book Link), through the usual channels. ebook $2.99, print $5.99.
There’s more Cole Wright around – check out the full Cole Wright page right here on the website. The Arrival, the first novel, and “Dark Fields” the first story are out now. Measured Aggression will be out soon. The third and fourth books, Hide Away and Scorpion Bait will be out in May and July respectively.
Also in May and July, I’ll be posting free short stories for a few days again. I like the rhythm of that. The novels are fun to write, but so are the short stories. By the end of the year there will be six or seven or so, and I guess it’ll make sense to put them into a collection.