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(Author’s note: this is the first rough draft for my second novel. It’s crude, but I’m forming up how I wish to portray the opening scene. I am quite sure it will change much from now to finished product.)

Abstract art overhung the sweltering city, its Day-Glo magnificence in aloof contrast to an old mill town only half modernised.

The horizon-hugging sun highlighted the lengthy contrails of a storm departed, the hazy hues Nature’s interpretation of Monet. The brief shower dampened streets but failed to excise energy-sapping humidity. Even in evening, pavement baked by day set moisture to steaming, as if it shrugged away the quick wash.

Once well used but past its prime by a century, one street held its stories well. One hundred and twenty-five years before, labourers laid its first cobblestones, their intensive efforts now covered by a decaying veneer of asphalt spread by mechanical means. In places, shallow potholes exposed the old stones.

Now an afterthought in the downtown core, few knew its history. Groups of clashing opinion waged small-scale riots upon its surface early in the previous century, battles over ancestral origins and efforts to unionise during the millyard heyday. The worst confrontation came with passage of the 18th Amendment, as annoyed Boozists rallied for the right of unimpeded inebriation.

Mid-block, a grouping of forty people formed an irregular oval, an eclectic assemblage of those used to life outside the mainstream, distrustful of authority. The closed line wound between parked autos and around a late motel Ford F-150 abandoned mid-road, the driver side door left open, key still in the ignition. A warning alarm called in vain for removal.

Within their perimeter, emergency medical technicians stared at a motionless woman, her body on street and supine, head against curbing. Blood oozed from her ear and scalp, its drip staining the granite. A thin crimson line streaked over its side.

All watched the technicians with hope, at work and practised in the rescue arts. Checked vital signs registered life, a normal impetus to act with urgency.

Seconds later, a glance at identification produced not dedicated lifesaving, but exclamations of disgust teamed with an unwillingness to do. Pooled blood spoke of its quick shed and the urgency of treatment.

Restlessness stirred watchers. Those closest shed their catatonia and vocalised the first prodding comment, hopeful they could save a life.

One technician, Laurel to his partner’s Hardy, looked around, taking stock of the burgeoning unrest.

“We need to get the hell out of here,” Laurel said.

“Check again for a pulse.”

“Like hell I will. I’m not touching it.”

“I don’t want to either, but Geezus, we can’t leave a body here. Check the damn pulse.”

The Laurel one, hand latex clad and tentative, squeezed a wrist. He conveyed an answer they both wanted with a subtle nod.

Hardy slipped on the slick pavement in his rush to stow equipment. “Record the time of death, we load It in the van, and then we get the hell out of here.”

“Help her!” The two words ignited into verbal fire, the shouters not yet aware life passed. The oval contracted and closed gaps and easy paths to the ambulance. One watcher pushed Laurel and caused him to drop an equipment box.

“Where the fuck are the cops?” Another shove sent him flying atop the lifeless body.

Laurel scrambled to his feet. “He’s dead, all right? Dead! Now get the fuck out of the way.”

Shove.

Half a brick scrounged from an alley struck and shattered the ambulance windshield. The cracks spiderwebbed outward from the point of impact. An empty beer can struck Hardy in the back. The ambulance tilted to one side and then equalised as others slashed its six tires. Two of the rioters seized the dropped case and rummaged its contents, seeking something they recognised as capable of help.

Somewhere in the indeterminate distance, police sirens signalled their rush. Smoke drifted from under the ambulance. The two people intent on saving recognised its futility and threw the case, contents dropping on the fly.

Five police cars arrived, three from the east, two from the west. The group scattered along littered sidewalks and decrepit alleyways. Emptied of people, the scene transformed. The deceased lay with head on curb. The black pickup with its open door remained mid-street, its driver lingering and inconsolable. His mind looped a sequence of a pedestrian who rushed into the road without a check of traffic not ten feet in front of his vehicle.

“Your name?” Detective Blais asked Laurel.

“Gary St Yves.”

“And you?”

“Jansen Waters.”

Beyond their names, the questions asked of the EMTs produced only lies.

*****************************************************

In a small park dominated by statues erected to honour the local lost in four different wars, a young woman sat on a bench. Fingers jerked jet-black hair from her scalp. Her eyes ached, and although her stomach just emptied, it retched anew. Her heart, of it nothing remained.

What have I done? She wished to scream the four words, but her larynx only managed a wail.

This… is her story.

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