I contacted friend and Author Martha Randolph Carr to see if she’d be willing to give IU readers a sneak-peek at her latest thriller, “WIRED.” She happily complied with enough material to make into a series of sneak-peeks!
Martha describes “WIRED” as an old school thriller set in 1989 just before the age of the internet, cell phones, home computers or even ATM’s. She invites the reader to “Enjoy reading about an era that had more in common with the technology of 1889 than 2011 and a time when people had to lay eyes on each other and communicate face to face if they were going to stop a killer.”
Also, be sure to check out Martha’s excellent website. Without further ado, we present the first excerpt from Martha Randolph Carr’s “WIRED.”
A piece of hair lifted in the breeze, gently rolling before settling back against an ear. Flies and gnats darted around, buzzing at the upturned ear, but no hand was raised to bat them away. The morning was cool with a light breeze that raised the fine, downy hair all along her back and down her slim bottom, stopping where she had carefully shaved all the hair from her thighs to her toes.
Her face looked out toward the large dirt parking lot that curved around in the shape of a half-moon. If she had lifted herself up onto an elbow, she would have seen the edge of the bluff and the beginning of the tall grass and weeds that marked the steep descent down toward the old parts of town.
Her arms were stretched out to one side, the hands coming together in what looked like a last prayer. Whoever had laid her there had been gentle when they were putting her down. She hadn’t been dropped and left.
From a distance, particularly in the headlights that night, she looked as if she were sleeping with her knees curled up to meet her elbows. A guy honked his horn a few times before getting agitated and throwing his car into park. Told his girlfriend in the seat next to him to wait as he pushed the door open and stomped over to tell the girl to get out of the way, sleep it off at home.
Later, he’d shake and cry as he called the police, trying to explain what he knew, who he saw. Tell them that the girl was in his class at school, that he had seen her earlier that day, that her skin was so cold to the touch. He’d have nightmares about it for years to come, each time snapping awake before he touched the body and felt the skin slacken under his fingers.
The summer was about to take an ugly turn for the worse, for everyone.
Mary Elizabeth lay on her side, facing out, feeling her shoulder start to ache from lying on it too long. The morning was beginning and she couldn’t decide if it would really be worth it to roll over and start sleeping on the other shoulder. She’d turned thirty-six last month and couldn’t remember her body aching so much in the morning just because of the way she lay in bed.
She was in the habit of sleeping on her side with one foot hanging over the edge like any minute she was going to get up, and she preferred the side that let her look toward the room, the left, to the side that let her look at Charlie.
Charlie Eames was her husband and had been for the last fourteen years. They had known each other since high school when Mary Elizabeth was a sophomore and Charlie was a senior.
When Mary Elizabeth was feeling kindly toward him, she admitted to herself that he was big and sweet and when she wasn’t, she was sure he was stupid. She let herself stretch out, feeling the footboard with her toes and was about to roll over toward Charlie when he kneed her in the back in his sleep. An instant, hot flash of anger came over her and she pushed closer to the edge of the bed.
Too angry and wide awake to sleep, her back still tingling from the sharp pain, Mary Elizabeth let her mind float. It was one of her favorite games. Picking a thought or old dream and exploring every piece or changing some bit of it to make it better or at least different. It was the way she got herself to sleep every night. It was the place she went to when she was angry or bored with the present.
The game was a habit she picked up in high school after things started to unravel. It made her mind release its grip on the memories that could leave her wide-eyed and staring at the ceiling all night. It helped her keep things together, move on with her day.
The party, she thought, presents. Faces turned toward me, smiling. There are only people there that I wanted. Charlie is hanging around in the background, smiling away at everyone. Little Matthew at about two and half, standing so close to my chair in the center of things that the top half of his body rested against my arm.
I knew he only wanted to get closer to the cake, poke a finger in it, but if felt good to have him so close. Looking down on the top of his head, I marveled at the absolute whiteness of his hair. No other shades of color. I thought my own hair was plain blonde, until Matthew. Looking at pictures of the two of us sitting together I noticed how red and brown my hair was, or had become. Which one was it?
I miss details, she thought, all the time. Too much time spent pushing away from things. Her fingers started shaking and she nervously reached out, lightly wrapping a hand around a wrist, rubbing in a neat circle.
Less of me exists every year, she thought, forcing her mind back to a memory, a good memory, at least one she could handle, deal with and pull apart.
She remembered looking up from the singing faces at the party and glancing toward Charlie.
He was staring at me, again. Long stare, no blink. Clear blue eyes from the back of the crowd. He looked away when I looked up, stepped back and went around everyone, searching for the special paper plates decorated with pictures of balloons and confetti but the moment was broken. I couldn’t stand that staring, she thought, lying there tense in bed.
The helplessness and anger were brushing hard against her insides, before she could will them away.
Charlie stared at Mary Elizabeth’s back through the little bit of light coming in through the window. Didn’t mean to knee her, but then didn’t exactly pull back once he realized she was closer than he though. He felt her body stiffen instantly and saw her move away from him. His stomach backed up a little and a bitter, hot taste entered his mouth, mixed with a small giddiness. That must have really given her back a little twang, he thought.
He hated the way she slept with her back to him. Couldn’t even cuddle around her like a spoon. Every time he tried she’d complain that he was on her hair or was breathing hot air right into her face, or something. Now when he’d get the urge he’d think twice and stare at her back. Some people stared out windows or at least into empty space. Charlie stared at Mary Elizabeth.
This morning he woke up with a different kind of urge. He knew that if he got up and peed it would subside but it wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted to hold Mary Elizabeth and move inside of her. He really wanted her to move back but the light seemed to intimidate her. She wouldn’t even look into his eyes. And after jabbing her like that she’d probably find the nerve to just flat out refuse him.
Good morning, sweet baby, he could mumble in her ear and try to wedge his hand down between her legs. Give her little kisses on the side of her face. Good morning. She would stiffen, tuck her chin down, and tell him no. No, like, you understand why, no. Better not to start.
You catch her in the darkness though, especially the pitch dark, ain’t-nobody-moving-dark and the tables were turned, thought Charlie. Sometimes he’d been in a deep sleep and felt something holding onto his penis, warm and tight. The first time it happened he felt absolute terror but when he felt the sudden fall of hair against his thighs and realized it was Mary Elizabeth, he felt awe.
He’d barely see her every time, staring down at him in the darkness. Feel her steady an arm, looking for support. Breasts rubbed against his legs, his body, never a face looking up toward him. And when he came in a long push and in her mouth no less, she stretched herself out and climbed back to her side, her left side. Didn’t say a word.
Occasionally in the darkness she mounted him, her feet firmly planted on either side of his hips and he felt the slap of her bottom rhythmically hitting each thigh. He loved that feeling, and it made him want to touch her body. Feel his way around in the blackness, but he knew. This was her show. Better to just leave it alone.
Anyway, he thought, his eyes refocusing on the back of her cotton nightgown, his mind coming back to the present, not now. Nope.
He swung his legs around to his side of the bed and gave the old four poster bed a bounce as he pushed off. He knew that would get under her skin too.
Why do I do stupid shit like that? Who knows, who cares.
He walked over to the pair of shorts he’d left on the rocking chair and slid them on, careful to tuck everything inside.
Once he’d been in a hurry and the smallest amounts of skin got nipped by the zipper. That’s all, nipped. He did a high-stepping’ two step all around the bedroom with his eyes shut so tight he could see white light. That time, Mary Elizabeth stared at him.
The air felt a little warm already. It was mid-June. The floor was a little cool under his feet, but Charlie could tell. Another muggy Saturday and a yard to mow, oooh, boy. Matthew met him in the hallway his hair was sticking out in the back and he was wearing just his underwear. Some cartoon warrior snarling on the seat of them surround by gold glitter. All of his underwear was like that. Mary Elizabeth refused to buy him white shorts.
“Crockadoodleboo, Daddy. Crockadoodledoooooo,” he chirped. Charlie bent down and swooped him up, flopped him over his shoulder and rode him down the stairs with Matthew squealing the whole way. He put him down squarely on his feet, waiting till Matthew steadied before he let go and then stamped one foot like he was about to run.
Matthew took off for the kitchen yelling, “Rotten egg, rotten egg. I win, I win.” Charlie picked up his pace so that it looked like he was at least trying to compete. Matthew ran and got his little brown, wooden chair out of the corner of the kitchen and pulled it up to the counter, banging it against the cabinets.
“Get the eggs Daddy. I want eggs. I get to crack ’em, right? I get to crack ‘em,” he said, climbing up and leaning his belly on the counter. Charlie got the carton out of the refrigerator and pulled four eggs out of the carton, resting everything out of reach of Matthew.
“Just one at a time, now. No, no, don’t reach. I’ll hand them to you. Try one hand this time. Little taps. Little taps. That’s pretty good. Look the yolk stayed together. Nice job,” said Charlie, reaching back to get another egg, and take the shell out of Matthew’s hand before he squeezed it between his fingers. Charlie knew that getting Matthew to eat eggs later would be harder than getting him to make them, but he didn’t care. The boy wouldn’t let himself starve and besides, look how happy he is and he’s just cracking an egg
He thought through it like he was having an argument with Mary Elizabeth. If he’s not going to eat them why make them, she would say. And four? So many?
I’ll eat some of them, he would mutter back. Don’t worry about it. And Matthew’ll eat some.
Matthew discovered a piece of shell in the bowl and was swimming it around on the edge of his finger. Charlie game him the next egg and tried to make a mental note to fish it out before they scrambled them. By the time they were done Matthew had smeared most of the egg white across his face and Charlie could no longer see the bit of shell. Oh well, he thought. It wasn’t that big of a piece.
Matthew chattered away amiably about the book they’d read together last night about a boy who’d found a balloon and flown away with it, and about some other child who had pushed him or poked him. Once in a while he let out a snarl and a murderous yell, before continuing happily on a different topic. Charlie listened to most of it but had to admit he tuned a lot of it out. Sometimes Matthew would even call to him by his first name to jog him out of his trance. Smart kid.
Matthew was not allowed around any of the hot parts of making breakfast so he waited in his chair at the table while Charlie finished the rest. The seat of his chair was draped in an old blue towel in case he spilled anything. Mary Elizabeth’s idea. He sat on his knees, giving Charlie orders about just how long to let the eggs cook and how about toast with butter. Charlie put the bowl of eggs down in front of Matthew and turned to get him a spoon.
“A life Daddy. I want a life. A good one this time.”
Charlie smiled to himself and pulled out the little yellow knife with a sailboat on it, and handed it to Matthew. “No this is wiggily life. I want the life that doesn’t wiggle.”
It was the only word he couldn’t quite pronounce. He never had any trouble with any other words. Not even two or three syllable ones. Mary Elizabeth tried to get him to say it right, showing him where to put his tongue but the word only came out, “Nithe, nithe.” After awhile, she gave up and Matthew went back to life.
When guests were over for dinner, Charlie hesitated giving someone their knife just to get Matthew to yell out “You need a life,” or “Get him a life.” The guest would look up embarrassed, his face in wonderment as if he or she were saying, “How’d he know?” Mary Elizabeth would harrumph, and Charlie would grab the knife out of the drawer, explaining as he handed it over. Only one old lady, an aunt maybe of Mary Elizabeth’s had minded. Or was it her mother, Rose.
The bell went off on the toaster oven, and Charlie reached in to pull the bread out. Too hot. He dropped a piece into Matthew’s bowl and slid the tub of butter toward him. Matthew dug his knife straight down into the tub, cutting a hunk out. Half of it he spread all over the bread, the other half he ate in one bite.
“Mmmmmm, I like it.”
Mary Elizabeth was still in bed. So he was awake she thought. Did he do it on purpose? Feeling him bound out of bed and jolting the mattress only compounded her anger and added hurt feelings to them. He had gotten up, stuck something on and walked right out of the room. No, excuse me. No, I’m sorry. Now she was wide awake and mad. Might as well get up and get going.
She pushed off from the side and felt her long white nightgown fall down in place around her ankles. She walked the few steps to the window and looked out to the sidewalk in front of the house. It was still early morning and the grass was wet. From where she stood she could see most of the houses across the street.
Directly across was a house with empty fish tanks piled up by the side door and Mary Elizabeth could see other tanks inside each of the downstairs windows. All night long there was always a dim, green glow. She could still see a little of the glow in the early morning light and looked for signs of the young man who lived there. Was he up yet?
The house right next to it was owned by upscale, artsy people who had painted the house bright yellow with a red door. They had only lived there a few months. Mary Elizabeth used it as a landmark when giving people directions. All quiet there too.
Her eyes scanned the rest of the houses, looking for someone to watch. There was the old man’s house with the lawnmowers and appliances piled high in the backyard. The house on the far corner where it was rumored two men lived together as a couple. Some of the husbands in the neighborhood always had to yell something insulting as they drove by. Charlie wouldn’t do it, thought Mary Elizabeth, unless he was with his friends.
All of the houses in the Rosewood neighborhood looked pretty much the same. People either had the quaint cottage style or the sturdy stucco, two-story kind, all built about fifty years ago in the 1930’s by one developer. Different colors, trees planted in different places, but that was it.
The nickname for the neighborhood was ‘nearly dead or newlywed’ and the realtor who had shown it to them had called it, her voice dropping when she said the two words, a starter home. Well, Mary Elizabeth and Charlie started there as newlyweds and were still there. They were living just across town from where Mary Elizabeth had grown up.
Mary Elizabeth stood there letting her head rest against the open sash, looking at people’s yards and waiting for signs of life. Out of a door a few houses down waddled a very large man with a scraggly beard. Steve something. She heard one of the neighbors say he was a nurse but Mary Elizabeth couldn’t picture it. Still, he did wear hospital greens everywhere or was that because of his size.
Steve glanced up at Mary Elizabeth as he was opening his car door and locked eyes with her for an instant. She froze her expression, hoping to look casual and quickly backed away from the window, walked over to the tall dresser by the door and stared at all the knick-knacks on top of it, trying to overcome the feeling she’d been caught at something. He was the one looking in, she thought. She was only looking out. How stupid.
Mary Elizabeth started clicking her wedding band against a small shot glass on top of the dresser, trying to get her thought to go away. The pewter shot glass was her father’s before he died. She had asked her mother, Rose, for something to keep of Daddy’s, something he used all the time and Rose came back with this.
“Here take it,” Rose had said, with her lips pulled back over her teeth. “This was him.”
Mary Elizabeth didn’t miss the dig but she didn’t care. Rose was right, this was him and feeling it, staring into its small reflection made her feel a connection to the past. Pulled her back into other memories. Stop it, Mary Elizabeth. Go downstairs. Move.
Her feet fell heavy on the stairs and her back still hurt. She walked into the kitchen and four eyes immediately started staring at her. Matthew may look like me but somewhere in there he has his father’s genes, she thought. God, I’d get a dog, but knowing my luck, he’d stare too. She tried to ignore the scrutiny and looked beyond Matthew to see what he was doing. Well, at least he was eating the eggs. What’s that hole in the middle of the tub of butter? And what’s that shine on his cheeks?
“Do you have a cold, honey?” she said to him
He grinned at her like he didn’t have any idea what she was saying, or care. Lord, did he go to bed that way? Was Charlie going to let him eat with all that mess across his face?
She got a damp paper towel and dabbed it at each of the little boy’s cheeks. Matthew squirmed and puffed his cheeks in and out, trying to make a game out of it. Charlie stared at her hand as she wiped and went back to eating only when she quit.
“I’ve got a life now, momma, I’ve got a life,” Matthew sang. Knife, Mary Elizabeth muttered to herself. It’s a knife. I gave you the life.
“Libby, I’m going to mow the lawn first but I thought I might stop by the store for a little while. I didn’t get to finish adding up last week’s receipts. Thought I might take Matthew, okay with you?”
“Yeah, sure,” she said, trying to sound pleasant. “Maybe we can all do something together when you get back. Will you be late?”
“Nah, just a few hours. Yeah, maybe, after Mattie’s nap,” he said and chucked Matthew under his chin. Matthew sulked for a moment but went back to grinning and tried to reach across his plate to chuck his father back.
Mary Elizabeth watched them but was thinking about that nickname. God, why does he do that? I hate that name. It’s not mine. I’ve asked him. Not Libby, please not Libby. But he couldn’t see why, so he kept right on doing it. Childish name.