Antoine DeWitt is a man down on his luck. Broke and recently fired, he knows the winning Money Carlo ticket that has landed in his mailbox from a car dealership is nothing more than a scam. The promise of five thousand dollars, though, is too tantalizing to ignore.
Jon Dangle is a keeper of secrets, many of which are buried deep beneath his dealership. He works hard to keep them hidden, but occasionally sacrifices are required, sacrifices who are penniless, desperate, and who will not be missed. Sacrifices exactly like DeWitt.
When Antoine steps foot on Dangle’s car lot, it is with the hope of easy money. Instead, he finds himself trapped in a deep, dark hole, buried alive. If he is going to survive the nightmare ahead of him, if he has any chance of seeing his wife and child again, Antoine will have to do more than merely hope. He will have to fight his way back to the surface, and pray that Jon Dangle’s secrets do not kill him first.
Today I’m delighted to bring you an excerpt from the latest novella, Broken Shells, by Michael Patrick Hicks. I’ll be reviewing Broken Shells in the very near future, in the meantime, please sit back and enjoy all of Chapter Three.
BEING IN THE DEALERSHIP made Antoine uncomfortable. He didn’t like being alone and surrounded by all these expensive vehicles. The white girl behind the receptionist counter wasn’t exactly subtle in her observations of him, either. Her eyes followed his every step, as if she was waiting for him to make a single mistake. He nodded and smiled at her, and she returned the smile with a look like she had drank spoiled milk.
The bus had dropped him off in an entirely different world than he was used to. Restaurants and fast food chains and coffee shops lined the street, all lit up and still hustling, their parking lots full. Definitely not like his neighborhood of burnt-down homes and abandoned cars left to rot, and apartment buildings that were a good strong gust of wind away from collapsing. He couldn’t help imagining some kind of silent alarm had gone off the minute he’d stepped off the bus. WARNING: BLACK MAN COMING! He snickered at the thought, which prompted the receptionist to further scrutinize him through narrowed eyes.
Once off the bus, he’d got to walking, his feet carrying him two miles past the edge of town and out into the sticks. The buildings tapered off down to a few sporadic houses, nature getting more and more prominent. He thought it strange that a car dealership would be so far off the beaten path, and wondered why they weren’t closer to the village, or at least the highway exits. Sure, it was only a few miles outside civilization, almost smack dab in the middle of nowhere between Grayling and Kalkaska, but it still struck him as odd. Even as M-72 began cutting into the woods, he swore he’d felt eyes on him long after he’d put his back to the last house. People were watching him, he was certain, and he’d looked around for the cop cars he suspected were hidden nearby or, at the very least, would start rolling along behind him.
It hadn’t been too far from this dealership, on this stretch of road, in fact, where he’d been busted a few years back for driving while black. A white cop had pulled him over, even though he had been going the speed limit, and said he’d run a yellow light that Antoine knew damn well had been green when he went through the intersection.
His license had been expired, and he did not have insurance. The cop crinkled his nose the moment the window went down and he took a number of exaggerated sniffs, letting Antoine know he smelled the weed. A short while later, Antoine was cuffed and sitting on the side of the road, flanked by officers from a second and third patrol car that had arrived on scene, watching as four cops rummaged through his vehicle. He had kept his mouth shut and cooperated fully. He knew the police would not need much of a reason to pop five rounds into his head if that was how they wanted the night to go, even though he was unarmed and the only thing in his car was weed. The officers had gotten rough with him while handcuffing him, but Antoine had taken it, refusing to give them whatever opening they were looking for. They could have beaten or killed his black ass on the side of that deserted road if they had wanted to, but he sure as shit wasn’t going to do anything to provoke them. They let him live. The vehicle was impounded, and Antoine was hit with possession and intent to distribute. He hadn’t had anywhere near enough weed to distribute, but he also couldn’t afford anyone other than the court appointed attorney, so he simply followed the counsel’s advice to plead guilty. For all he knew, whatever cop had weighed the bag of marijuana had left his thumb on the scale to artificially inflate the weight and make an otherwise minor arrest into a bigger bust. Antoine suspected that was the case, but he certainly couldn’t prove it, and nobody had been interested in listening to or helping him anyway.
Now he was standing beside a sleek, freshly waxed Camaro. He ran his fingers over the smooth curves, appreciating it. He knew he’d never afford it, but it didn’t hurt none to look.
Five thousand dollars. The figure kept dancing through his head. Yeah, if it sounded too good to be true, it probably was. But still. He’d expected the car salesman to wind him up with some kind of pitch, and he was still waiting for the other shoe to drop. So far, it hadn’t. Maybe this was the real deal, then. Maybe he’d actually won some money.
He was trying hard not to get his hopes up. He fully expected the slimy hustler to come back and say, oh, gosh, so sorry, but this ticket actually isn’t a winner, or offer up some other explanation about how the five grand is only for a down payment on a new car or how much they’d be willing to offer up in financing. Some load of bullshit, sure, but definitely not five large in cash, free and easy.
The gleam on the car was so shiny, he saw the reflection of the approaching salesman and turned.
“Ah, Mr. DeWitt, there you are,” he said, as if DeWitt could have possibly been anywhere else.
Antoine rubbed his hands together. “Yep, right here. So, uh, what else?”
The salesman smiled. “Everything looks good, sir. Your card has been confirmed and you are, indeed, a winner. If you wouldn’t mind following me back, there’s just some paperwork I need you to sign and then you can collect your winnings.”
“Back there?” Antoine said, pointing to where the man had disappeared to moments ago.
“Yes. It’s a private office. I know there’s nobody around out here, but still. It isn’t something we want to show off, you understand? Not everybody can be a winner.”
“Oh yeah,” Antoine said, chuckling despite himself. “I know all about that.”
“So, if you would, please,” the man said, extending his arm for Antoine to pass ahead of him.
Antoine started walking, and caught the eye of the receptionist as he passed. She was a pretty little thing, and she flashed him a wide, toothy smile, a twinkle in her eye. Her display was fake as shit, but he smiled back anyway, feeling good.
“The second door on your right,” the salesman said.
Antoine turned, the door opening smoothly as he pushed through. The room beyond was shadowed, but he could make out the interior from the hallway lighting. The walls were blank, and ahead of him were stone steps leading down.
A sharp jolt of pain bloomed in his neck. His hand went to it as he turned. His eyes widened and he tried to scream, unable to believe what he was seeing. He stepped backward, his foot landing wrong on the step below, and he fell.
His spine and the back of his ribs banged painfully into the stairs, and he tried to slow his descent but the stone walls were slick and even, too smooth to grab onto. He tumbled down, head over ass, limbs knocking solidly and scraping against hard edges. His whole body ached as he slammed to the dirt ground.
His head throbbed, his vision doubling, tripling, and turning foggy until he saw only darkness. A skittering noise against stone echoed around him, and he turned to find the source but his eyes stung and the world was so damn blurry.
Fresh pain erupted in his midsection. He doubled over, the scream dying in his throat as the world went black.
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MICHAEL PATRICK HICKS is the author of a number of speculative fiction titles. His debut novel, Convergence, was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist. His most recent work is the horror novel, Mass Hysteria.
He has written for the Audiobook Reviewer and Graphic Novel Reporter websites, in addition to working as a freelance journalist and news photographer.
In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.
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