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Authors: Ridley Pearson

The Pied Piper

BOOK: The Pied Piper
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PRAISE

This year marked the passing of three men instrumental to my work habits and my being published. No words of thanks or praise could ring loudly enough to acknowledge all that they gave to me, both as professionals in their fields and as dear and trusted friends and advisers. There is no greater argument for the importance of mentoring. Separately, these men took hold of my hand and led me, editorially, into the creative life of writing and publishing fiction, for which I am eternally grateful.

Gentlemen, you are here, on every page. You always will be.

IN MEMORY

J. Bradbury Thompson

Franklin Heller

Ken McCormick

DEDICATION

For Paige and Marcelle

(Will miracles never cease?)

CONTENTS

Title Page

Praise

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Chapter 71

Chapter 72

Chapter 73

Chapter 74

Chapter 75

Chapter 76

Chapter 77

Chapter 78

Chapter 79

Chapter 80

Chapter 81

Chapter 82

Chapter 83

Chapter 84

Chapter 85

Chapter 86

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Other Works

Copyright

CHAPTER

The train left the station headed for nowhere, its destination also its point of embarkation, its purpose not to transport its passengers, but to feed them.

By early March, western Washington neared the end of the rinse cycle, a nearly perpetual curtain of ocean rain that blanketed the region for the winter months, unleashing in its wake a promise of summer. Dark, saturated clouds hung low on the eastern horizon. Well to the west, where the sun retreated in a violent display, a glimpse of blue cracked the marbled gray, as welcome to the residents of Seattle as any sight alive.

Arrival at the dinner train surprised Doris Shotz. She had thought her husband Paul was taking her to Ivar's, one of Seattle's more popular fish-house chains. A simple dinner date had presented her with a test of sorts, being that it was her first evening leaving her four-month-old baby girl, Rhonda, with a sitter. She'd finally decided she could handle an hour or two a few blocks away from home. But an entire evening stuck on a train in the woods was unimaginable, unthinkable!

“Surprised?” he asked, displaying the tickets proudly.

On the verge of total panic, Doris reminded herself that Julie was an experienced sitter, having taken care of Henry for the last year, as responsible a fifteen-year-old as one could ask for. Better to give Paul his moment than to start a fight.

They'd been talking about the dinner train for years. And Doris had to concede that over the last nine months, Paul had been a saint. She owed him.

“I can't believe it!” she said truthfully.

“I know. You didn't guess, did you?”

“Not for an instant. I promise: It's a complete surprise.”

“Good.” He reached down and took her hand and squeezed. She felt flushed. She wanted to be home with the kids.

“All aboard,” he said.

The train lurched. Doris Shotz shifted to avoid spilling the cheap champagne that Paul had ordered. Although she didn't want to drink while nursing, she knew Paul would consider it an act of defiance to say no to any part of the celebration, and given that she had already gone this far to please her husband, she wasn't going to let one glass of champagne ruin the evening. When the train turned east, the frosted mountains flooded crimson with the sunset, Paul said with obvious satisfaction, “This is a long way from the backside of a computer.”

Paul repaired PCs for Micro System Workshop, a name his employer had invented because it could be reduced to MS Workshop, and in an area dominated by Microsoft those two initials meant dollars. Paul drove a blue MS Workshop van around the city, crisis to crisis, fire to fire: hard drives, networks, IRQ ports—Doris had heard all the buzzwords enough times to think she might be capable of a repair or two herself.

Paul provided for them adequately. He loved her in his own way. She loved him too, though differently than she once had. Now the children absorbed most of her time and much of her love, too. She wasn't sure exactly how to categorize her love for Paul; she simply knew that she would always be at his side, would attempt to put up with his moods. But the truth was that she lived for her children, Rhonda and Henry. She had never before known such a complete feeling. It warmed her just thinking about it.

She politely refused a refill of champagne as she watched her husband's cheeks redden behind the alcohol's effects. Clearly carried away with happiness and the light buzz that came from the champagne, he talked at her, but she didn't hear. Boys and trains, she thought.

“Do you think I should call home?” she asked him.

“Call?”

She motioned to the rear of the train car. “There's a pay phone. Cellular. I could call them.”

“You know how much those things cost? Fifteen minutes, Doro,” he pointed out, checking his Casio and saying sarcastically, “we've been gone a whole fifteen minutes!” He leaned closer and she could smell the sweet alcohol on his breath, a smell that reminded her of the occasional drunken violence that Paul had sometimes brought with him to their bed. “They're fine. Julie's perfectly capable.”

“You're right,” she said, offering him a fragile smile. He nodded and stared out the window. She felt sick with anxiety.

It occurred to her that in a few minutes she could excuse herself to go to the bathroom and use the phone. Paul would probably never know. The champagne bottle's white plastic cork rolled noisily at his feet. The train clattered past condominiums that reminded her of a Monopoly board. A few of the couples had dressed for the occasion, though most wore jeans and sweatshirts. It wasn't exactly the Orient Express.

It soon became clear that Paul's romance was with the train rather than her. Flushed cheeks pressed to the glass, his right foot tapping quickly as it always did when he drank in excess, her husband disappeared into the alcohol and she retreated into thoughts about her children.

Ten minutes passed with minimal conversation. Doris excused herself and made the call home. It rang and rang, but there was no answer.

Wrong number
, she decided. At those prices—$3.95 for the first minute, $.99 each portion of a minute thereafter—Paul was certain to catch the charge on the credit card bill. But so what? She pressed NEW CALL. She redialed, again suffering under the weight of its endless ringing. She could envision Julie busy with a diaper, or in the middle of feeding. It didn't necessarily mean trouble. ...

BOOK: The Pied Piper
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