Saturday, February 6, 2016

For the Love of Minor Characters

Ever fall in love with a minor character? Someone captures your imagination, or you identify with them in some unique way, and you want more of them, but, alas, it is not to be. The classic example, for me, is the postman in Stephen King’s Cujo, who the reader comes to love by way of several pages of wonderful character development, only to have his throat ripped out by the book’s protagonist minutes later.

Such a waste.
I have a minor character in the Red Wolf Saga whom I’ve come to love. Luke Saunders, the reluctant private eye employed by the vampire Roland Trudeau to track the comings and goings of the werewolves during daylight hours, has continued to delight me with his occasionally documented antics over the course of three novels. His life has hung in balance the entire time, and his fate remains undetermined primarily because the author (me) has such affection for his character.
I just completed a re-edit of all three Red Wolf novels in preparation for an upcoming new-editions release and giveaway through Amazon, and when I ran across this scene in Red Wolf Rising, I just had to share it with you.
Setup:
Luke has determined it’s time to break his contract with Roland Trudeau, take the small fortune he’s amassed, and go into hiding, somewhere far away “with beaches, long days, and short nights.” But, in response to an increasingly guilty conscience, and against his better judgment, he’s decided to confess to the red wolf, Clifford Crane, what he knows of Roland’s evil plans…

Thursday, June 9, 2011, 3:19 pm
Luke Saunders tried to swallow in a dry throat. He thought about asking for a glass of water, but suppressed the urge. He figured there was a fifty-fifty chance he was going to die within the hour, and he didn’t want to make the odds any worse by being an inconvenience to the others in the room, in any way whatsoever.
I’m surrounded by werewolves, he reminded himself, be cool.
Easy for you to say, Himself answered.
Searching for calm, he took a deep breath. It dried his mouth out worse. He tried again to swallow and gagged, drawing stony, silent glances from a few of the men who stood towering over him, their huge, ripped upper bodies barely contained by the thin gray t-shirts they all wore, with SECURITY stenciled across the chests.
Their silence increased his anxiety. Once in a while, the men would glance at each other and smile or frown at some unshared thought. Unshared with Luke, at any rate. He reminded himself that these men were half animal, and that animals were supposed to be good at non-verbal communication, so maybe that’s what was happening.
Or, maybe they’re communicating telepathically?
Don’t be a dick, he told he told Himself, that’s impossible.
As impossible as turning into a huge, snarling beast capable of ripping your throat out?
I see your point. Whatever. Anyway, the silence was the worst part of this.
No, Himself reminded him, it’s the fact that we’re about to die.
To say he was having second thoughts about being here was an understatement. What had happened to his plan to get out, to cover his tracks, run from the vampires, and never look back? That had been an excellent plan. Instead, he’d driven right out of the frying pan and into the fire, presenting himself at the front gate of the Alligator River Werewolf Pack’s secret compound.
What had he been thinking? He was lucky they hadn’t torn him apart on the spot.
They probably want to make it a slow, agonizing death, Himself interjected.
Before Luke could answer himself, the security guys suddenly stood at attention.
Something’s up.
Sure enough, the door swung open, and Clifford Crane swept through followed by Nicole Black and – Luke hadn’t expected this – the tall Chinese werewolf who’d visited the club in Ocracoke the day before.
Was Crane’s army going international?
Good, he thought, the more, the merrier. Maybe the wolves would be able to exterminate the vampires. Just don’t kill me first.
Crane’s gaze fell on Luke immediately, but before the werewolf leader said anything his attention was diverted by something Luke didn’t see. Both Crane and Nicole looked for a moment at the one who’d brought Luke in from the front gate. (The guy hadn’t offered a name, but he’d seemed to be in charge, and Luke figured he was the head of security, or something.) Crane looked in Luke’s direction, sniffed the air, nodded, and turned back to the man.
Still think they’re not communicating telepathically? It was Himself again.
Crane walked over to where Luke sat and extended his hand. “Luke Saunders, is it? I’m Clifford Crane.”
Luke stood. Several of the men stepped forward threateningly, but Crane waved them off. Luke cautiously took the proffered hand. Crane’s grip was firm, dry and…calming? Luke could have sworn his blood pressure just dropped a notch.
A puzzled look crossed Crane’s features as they shook. “I’m sorry, Mr. Saunders, but I don’t recall…have we met before? At a meeting, or something?”
Luke withdrew his hand and cleared his throat. “Luke,” he corrected, which brought a smile and a nod from Crane. He took a deep breath, plunged his hands into his back pockets, and sighed. “I’m not really a Friend of Bill’s,” he said. “My father was, though. I just thought it’d be the best way to say, ‘I come in peace.’ Actually, I work for…” He held up a hand. “…used to, that is…Roland Trudeau.”
There were a few growls in the room. Crane rolled his eyes and looked around. “Come on, guys,” he murmured. The others fell silent. “Go on,” he said to Luke.
Luke swallowed. Strangely, although he figured he was even closer to his imminent death, his mouth was no longer dry. “I just now quit,” he elaborated. “Trudeau doesn’t know it, yet. He’ll try to kill me when he finds out.”
“Try?”
Luke wasn’t sure who’d said it. He looked around, but couldn’t locate the source. He turned back to Crane. “Well, yeah, most likely he will kill me, but…shit.” The pressure behind his eyeballs – unshed tears - caused him to lose his voice for a moment.
Crane motioned for him to sit, and Luke plopped back down in his chair with a sigh. Crane pulled a chair up to the table opposite him. “Luke,” he said softly, “no vampire can touch you here. You’re safe.”
“Safe? Really? You haven’t heard what I have to say.”
“Shit,” Crane muttered, then louder, “Don’t worry, you’re safe from us, too.” He looked at Head-of-Security. “Right?”
“If you say so, sir,” grumbled the big man.
“I do,” said Crane. He turned back to Luke. “Go on,” he said, “tell us.”
Luke looked around nervously. “Man, I’m not sure where to begin. Look, I can’t blame you for being pissed, but I swear to God I didn’t see this coming. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t.”
Crane just nodded.
“Right. Okay. I’m a…was a…still am, I guess…a PI…private investigator? Had a nice, low-key service operating out of Durham for almost ten years. Not getting rich by any means, mind you, but built up a pretty good rep. Anyway, this guy shows up one day. Says he represents a group of investors in Charlotte who are looking into opportunities in the Uwharries. Gives me a list of names, folks living in and around Troy. Wants to know as much about them as I can find out, what connections they might have with each other, what they do together, etcetera. He’s heard I’m from the area – I am, by the way, grew up there - and he figures I’d be a good choice for the job.
“And he offers cash, too. Lots of it. Should’ve raised a red flag, but like I said, I’m not getting rich, so…” He sighed, looking around at the others. “Don’t worry, I’ll get to the point soon.”
He turned back to Crane. “The Feltons are on the list, which makes sense, since they own a lot of land around there. So is “J.B.” Covington, who has the Ford dealership, so I figure this is all about money. But some of the other names, the Blacks, the Lamelles, the Barnes, the Olenas, they don’t necessarily fit the profile.”
Crane nodded.
“But, it’s weird. There is a connection. And the more I dig, the more I find. And when I give my first report to this ‘representative,’ he tells me his boss wants to discuss my findings in person. So, he sets up a meet.”
Luke took another breath. “This boss turns out to be Roland Trudeau, who offers me a long-term contract to work for him exclusively. Again, it’s too good to be true, but I accept. I mean, I didn’t think twice about it; the guy’s so persuasive. Only later do I start to understand how he got to me so easy.”
There were grunts from a few in the room. Crane nodded again.

“It was after I signed the contract that he starts feeding me this story about a…a pack of werewolves. I…I actually laughed in his face.” Luke stared inwardly as he recalled the event. He emitted a nervous chuckle. “Haven’t done that since.”
He leveled his gaze at Crane. “He showed me who…what he was, then. Made it clear what the consequences would be if I broke my contract.”
“Which you’re doing now,” Crane interrupted, “out of desperation, I assume.”
“Oh, I’m way past that point.” Again the nervous chuckle. “Mr. Crane…”
“Cliff.”
“Right, uh…Cliff, I’m not one to take sides. You have to be nonpartisan in my profession.” He threw up his hands. “And, God knows, I don’t want to get in the middle of what’s going on between you two…groups.” He swallowed. “But I can’t be a party to the things Trudeau is doing anymore. No amount of money…even my life…is worth helping him to…to… Cliff, he’s got Grady Rush, and…”
Clifford groaned, propped his elbow on the table, and rubbed his forehead into his palm. Nicole gasped, “Oh, Cliff!”
Luke turned to her. “Ms. Black, he’s got Janine Unger, too. And her husband. And…her two little girls.”
Before he could blink, she’d crossed the room and was right in his face. “Where?” she demanded. “Are they okay?”
“Depends what you mean by ‘okay.’”
She grabbed him by the shirt and literally jerked him out of the chair. “Tell me where they are,” she growled.
I’m gonna die now, thought Luke. Surprised I made it this far, really. Jesus, the little slip of a girl was strong. And the thing inside her was close to the surface, he could tell. Don’t look her in the eye. Never look them in the eye.
Clifford gripped her arm. “Nicole,” he admonished.
She shook him off, inadvertently letting go of Luke, who grunted as he flopped back in his seat. “He’s got to tell us where they are,” she said. She pointed a finger at Clifford. “And don’t say ‘I told you so,’” she threatened.
“I wouldn’t,” he answered. “Jeez, give me a break. And give him a break, okay?” He indicated Luke. “He’s here to help. Let him.”
She glared at Clifford before taking a step back. “Sorry,” she muttered, in Luke’s direction.
“It…it’s okay,” said Luke. I’m still alive. He could feel himself shaking as the adrenaline rush subsided. “I understand how you feel. Well, not exactly how you feel, since…I mean…you’re a…and I can’t imagine what that feels like, but I…you know…” Jeez, I’m babbling.
Clifford reached across the table and placed a hand on his arm. Again, that feeling of calm swept over Luke. The shaking stopped. Wow. Luke was sure about it this time. Crane spoke in even tones. “What more can you tell us?”
“They’re alive…unharmed, for the most part.”
“For the most part?”
“Well, he and that vampire chick you used to…uh…ah…be with.”
“Danielle?” Clifford clarified, pretending not to notice the exchanged glances around the room.
“Right, Danielle…Anderson. She and Trudeau are keeping them all sedated on vampire venom. No plans to turn them, as far as I can tell. But Rush and Ms. Unger are addicted, for sure. And Rush is under Danielle’s thrall.”
“So that’s what this is about,” murmured Crane.
“What?”
“Nothing,” said Crane, waving a hand in dismissal. “Go on.”
“Okay. Well, they’re keeping them in the guest house at the mansion in Mathews. I…I think you could get them out.”
“How?”
“Well, security’s pretty tight there, as you know. But, I think Trudeau is away right now.”
Head-of-Security broke in. “You think?
Luke turned to the big man. “Right, I think. He was scheduled to go to Atlanta yesterday. I’m supposed to meet with him tomorrow night, but I don’t think he’s back, yet.” He turned back to Crane. “If you hit the place tomorrow, say, right after dawn?” He looked around. “It wouldn’t be any trouble. Not for you guys.”
“Whoa. Hold on.” It was Head-of-Security again. “It could be a trap. It’s probably a trap, just the kind of thing Trudeau would come up with.”
Crane shook his head. “I’m guessing Danielle’s behind this. She’s probably acting on her own and Roland doesn’t even know about it.” He dug his phone out of his pocket. “I bet if I just give him a call, we can straighten all this out without causing any…”
“No, don’t!” Luke was vehement. “This is all Trudeau’s doing, swear to God. He sent Danielle after Rush, and he took the Unger woman himself.”
“You’re telling the truth,” whispered Clifford, incredulity in his voice. “But, it doesn’t make sense. Why would he…”
“Why doesn’t it make sense?” Head-of-Security interrupted.
“Because Roland’s always been…I mean, I know none of you guys trust him,” Clifford said, looking around, “but he’s actually been pretty helpful in the past.”
“What?” Luke was taken aback. “The dude turned your girlfriend into a vampire, for Christ sake!”
“To save her life, after he rescued her from the Draculata Nest,” Clifford argued. “And it was her choice.”
Luke shook his head. “You never figured that out? Come on, man. Trudeau didn’t rescue Danielle Anderson from shit. I know. I was the one who delivered her to Ms. Black’s house the morning before y’all cleaned out the Draculata Nest,” he said. “The girl had been at his mansion for days. The Draculata Nest never had her, didn’t want her, never even knew she was there.”
“Oh, my god,” gasped Nicole, “That’s why exterminating the entire Draculata Nest had no effect on Danielle. Roland was the one who bit her in the first place!”
Clifford was stunned. His face dropped into his hands. When it came back up, he looked like he’d swallowed something vile. “Damn. I don’t believe it. He…he used her…me…” He looked around the room. “…hell, all of us…” He stared inwardly. “…even Kent? Sacrificed him? Jesus, just so he could become maior of the Queen City Nest?”
“Nuh uh,” said Luke, shaking his head, “that’s not all he wants. The Queen City Nest is just a stepping stone to…I don’t know…bigger things.”
“Bigger things?”
“Yeah. He’s been meeting with other maiors and some…higher-ups, setting himself up as the resident expert on red wolves, and…”
“What higher-ups?”
“I don’t know, but I get the impression they’re badass, ‘cause he’s extra careful dealing with them. He’s afraid of ‘em, I think. But, whatever, he’s got ‘em convinced he’s the best choice to lead this vampire army they’re all putting together.”
An uneasy tension spread through the room, and Luke took note that everyone seemed to take a few steps away from the big Chinese guy, like the dude had passed gas or something. Clifford didn’t seem to notice. Neither did Nicole Black. Curious.
“What’s he want with Grady and Janine?” Clifford speculated. “Obviously not hostages, since he didn’t contact us with demands. Are you sure this isn’t just Danielle’s doing?”
“I’m sure,” said Luke. There was now a note of condescension in his voice. “Spies, man. He wants spies. Danielle’s no good for that now that y’all are…split up, or whatever. So now he’s got Grady Rush in thrall, grilling you about plans to attack Atlanta…”
“Oh, fuck,” Clifford groaned. Indeed, Grady knew as much about the Atlanta campaign as anyone at this point.
“…so I suspect he’s planning the same for Janine Unger eventually, to try and get information out of Ms. Black.”
“We have to get them out of there, Cliff,” Nicole said.
Head-of-Security was emphatic. “It’s a trap, sir.”
“I don’t think so,” argued Clifford. “Luke here’s obviously telling the truth.”
“He believes he’s telling the truth,” Head-of-Security clarified.
Luke felt a rising panic. Fuck. He hadn’t considered the possibility that Trudeau might have set him up, that he might have sent him into the wolves’ den with some post-hypnotic suggestion or something. He wouldn’t put it past the blood sucker. “You think I might be in Trudeau’s thrall, too?”
“Are you?” asked Head-of-Security.
“I…I don’t…I didn’t think so,” Luke stammered. He straightened as an idea occurred to him. “But we can find out, can’t we?” He looked at Clifford and swallowed with determination. “Just do to me whatever you did to those chicks at the Davy Jones in Ocracoke. You did do something, right? Do it to me.”
“He shouldn’t have to,” said Nicole. “He’s already touched you. That’s all it takes.”
“No shit?” Luke’s eyes went wide. He looked at Cliff. “Is that all?”
Clifford nodded, shrugged.
Luke looked at his right hand. “I felt something, when we shook, and then again just now, when you touched my arm. Damn, that’s incredible! And, it means you can really help them…those two little girls. You have to go save them.” His shoulders sagged. “Except…”
“…except, it’s a trap,” Head-of-Security finished for him.
“Yeah, it could be,” admitted Luke.
Clifford shook his head. “We don’t know that.”
“The hell we don’t,” Head-of-Security insisted.
“We have to do something,” Nicole said. “And we have the advantage of knowing it’s a trap.”
“That’s an advantage?”
“It has to be some advantage. Cliff, we need to get them out of there. Cliff?”
Clifford’s face was buried in his hands again. He looked up. “What?”

Well, that’s probably more than enough, for now. If you want to read the rest of the scene, by all means, click on one of the links in the My Books tab, and purchase a copy. But remember, I’m having a massive giveaway on Amazon soon for Kindle users, so if you want to save $2.99, you can wait a few weeks.
        Meanwhile, happy reading!