I currently have two options for opening BAD PENNY, my thriller that I’ll be sending to my agent next week. I’m looking, of course, for the most interesting first page. Please imagine you’re in a book store or browsing online. Tell me which option you find most interesting and by how much (a little more, a lot more).
The two men had been keeping back, playing it safe, giving the woman plenty of room on the deserted interstate. It was just after five a.m., the sun still about an hour off. Hardly a soul out here. Just them and her driving in the dark, the two men waiting for her to make her mistake.
Jesus Goroza, the man with tats running over his limbs like demons, thought she was FBI. Dan Meese, the driver, the man with the prison scar on his neck, wasn’t so sure. Wouldn’t the FBI have sent backup at the first sign of trouble? Of course, maybe she’d convinced her bosses she was clear, and they’d pulled back the cavalry. If so, she hadn’t been very smart.
Up ahead the woman slowed then took the exit to a small out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere Utah town called Coalville. In a big city, there would have been cars. There would have been some bustle. There would have been witnesses.
There were no witnesses here. Not on these streets.
There were hardly any homes in this town. Meese figured there were at most a few dozen, and they were all strung out along a main road that stretched for what looked like ten miles. All of them were dark. A bunch of hick farmers dreaming about cows.
A brightly lit Best Western hotel and a Texaco gas station stood on one side of the interstate. A lone Sinclair gas station stood on the other. The woman came to a stop then accelerated up and across the overpass toward the Sinclair gas station on the other side, the one that you couldn’t see well from the interstate. The one she obviously thought might give her cover.
“Bingo,” Jesus said.
In a big city, the Sinclair would have been ready for business. In this no-nothing town, it was dark and locked. The pumps, of course, were on. And the station’s sign with a green dinosaur on a white background towered above the place and shone out into the fading night.
But there was no attendant standing guard over the cash and cigarettes to observe the woman. No one to see her stop and start the pump. No one to see her go try the bathroom door around the side. No one to see the two men pull in just a few seconds later.
Meese said, “Looks like the offerings to your White Lady paid off.”
Jesus pulled the semi-automatic from the glove box. “I told you she wanted mescal.”
Mescal offered up in a glass five days in a row along with prayer and cigarette smoke blown into the Lady’s skeleton face.
“They want her alive,” Meese said of the woman they were following.
“She’ll be alive,” Jesus said.
Frank Shaw sat facing the owner of Cowboy Donut in a back office heaped with stacks of paper in yet another job interview that was starting to swirl the toilet. Trying to get a straight job as an ex-con was a lovely experience. Kind of like being dragged behind a bus.
No matter how tidy you looked or how sharp your resume was, it all came down to two questions: “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” and “What were you in for?”
Frank knew it would be stupid to lie about either. First of all, he was trying to go straight. Second, any employer who didn’t have a carrot for a brain was going to run a background check. So there was no use trying to hide.
The sun-wrinkled owner of the Rock Springs, Wyoming doughnut establishment was one Ms. Mary Rogers. She was probably in her fifties and had two-tone hair that seemed to take its inspiration from a badger—all bleached up on top and dark underneath.
Ms. Mary had just asked the question, and Frank had dropped his bomb—voluntary manslaughter, a security job gone bad. He’d been protecting the wrong kind of noun for the wrong kind of people, which led to seven fine years in prison.
Now came the fun bus part, the Judas-Priest-there’s-a-criminal-sitting-across-the-desk-from-me part. First interviews were like first dates. And Frank had basically told this date he had an Ebola monkey virus that would make her eyes bleed—would she now like a kiss? That, of course, was yummy to women everywhere.
Ms. Mary narrowed her eyes. “What else am I going to find on your RAP sheet?”
“That’s it,” Frank said. “Just the one unfortunate incident.”
“Murder is a pretty big incident.”
“Manslaughter,” he corrected. “Not murder.”
She made a noncommittal sound and looked down to study his resume a bit more like maybe something new would pop up there.