Happy Friday everyone! Here’s the latest chapter from A Man of the Mountain, the prequel to my first novel, Whiteout, which just released. So far, the reception for Whiteout has been more positive than I could have ever hoped for (4.75/5 on GoodReads, a very positive Kirkus review, and 4.8/5 on Amazon). Order links are below, and if you can share this post or links to the book around. Every like, retweet, share, or rant in a crowded elevator helps!
7. The Busy Bee Diner
Shirley sat at the counter of a local chain diner, sipping a cup of watery coffee. In one sense, it was disgusting, in another, she needed whatever caffeine it might have been providing. Her hands shook, partly from lack of sleep, and partly from the rage induced by the full-grown toddler that was Rick Mansen. In all her years at the tabloid, she had never witnessed such a parade of idiocy. At least when George had brought a UFO convention to town, they had believed in what they were selling. Mansen was just a ratings whore hiding beneath a paper-thin shell of bravado.
Shirley finished her coffee and set it down on the counter to wait for more. The waitress bustled over, annoyed, and poured Shirley her fourth cup. There was a moment’s hesitation as if to ask: “Would you like to order food now?” There was no response other than Shirley picking up the mug and sipping at it with renewed vigor. She had to stifle a laugh as the waitress, garbed in her bright yellow and black striped uniform walked away in a huff.
Pain throbbed in her temples. It seemed that not even all the coffee in the world was going to rid her of this problem. For the first few days, she had tried showing up on set, guiding Mansen through her research, but quickly realized it was pointless. The only chance they stood of killing the beast, was if it was somehow allergic to autographs. All the footage from the upper mountain was shot from hidden vantage points by interns or automatic cameras. Rick had stuck to the kids trails, never traveling more than a few hundred feet above his trailer.
It seemed that every day, he was out gallivanting on the lower trails, ‘searching’. The segments had been so scripted that Shirley had to force herself not to gag. After a full week, they were no closer to finding the beast, and while the town loved the publicity, Shirley’s credibility at the tabloid had somehow sunk lower. She sighed and laid her head down on the cool countertop, hoping to ease some of the pain.
As she did so, she noticed something odd. The diner was mostly empty except for an odd man reading a newspaper. She raised her head to get a better look and the man raised his paper to obscure himself further. The weirdos in this town, she thought, ignoring the vial of sasquatch hair around her neck. She lifted her head and continued the search for optimism at the bottom of her coffee mug.
He has to go up the mountain at some point. It’s impossible for them to shoot everything down here. She doubted that Rick would have any idea of what to do with the monster when he found it, but that would serve him right. A chill crept up her spine as she spotted the man peaking over his paper at her again. There was something off about him, and her heart began to beat loudly in her chest. Calm down, it’s just another asshole. Probably just wants to tell you you’re crazy.
Once more, she tried to distract herself with schemes for getting Rick to do his job. There’s only one way. I have to play to his ego. Shirley tussled her hair up a bit, wondering briefly if seducing him was an option. The thought alone nearly killed her, and she nixed it. Out of the corner of her eye, she spied movement. Glancing sideways, she saw that the man with the newspaper was now on a barstool not five feet away.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
The man shifted his newspaper to look at her over one end. He had awkward eyes, but there was an asinine level of confidence behind them. He quickly lifted his paper once more, as if somehow maintaining the image of stealth.
“Look, if you’re going to insult me over some long-forgotten article, get it over with. I’ve had a long day.”
“Sorry, I was still thinking of an answer to your first question,” he said without lowering the newspaper.
“My first question?”
“Can I help you?” he said in a mock version of her own voice.
“You see, I thought I was here to help you, but I’m not one to turn down a free favor.” He shuffled the newspaper and clucked his tongue.
“Well I’m doing quite fine thanks.” Shirley pulled a five-dollar bill out of her wallet, set it down on the counter and got up to walk away.
“Oh really?” The man lowered the newspaper to gloat. “Then Mansen has killed the beast? Amazing, I really didn’t think he had it in him. Once saw him struggle to put down a vampiric gerbil, but glad he’s found his stride after twenty years.” There was a slight hiccup, and the man put the newspaper on the counter.
Shirley sat back down in stunned silence.
“You see, I was under the impression that Rick never shoots anywhere close to danger and sends his interns to do the work instead. In fact, I don’t think he has any intention of going up the mountain at all!” The man smiled broadly as if he had just figured out some complex puzzle, and wasn’t shouting conspiracy theories in a rural diner.
“I was starting to think the same thing,” admitted Shirley. The man was odd, but at the moment didn’t seem dangerous. What’s going to happen in a diner anyway? Shirley settled back onto her stool.
“Hi, I’m Nick Ventner, a proper monster-hunter, and nothing like those ass-hats at the History Channel.”
Nick extended his hand and Shirley surprised herself by shaking it. The only other person in the bar, a man in a baseball cap and camo jacket, stood up from his booth and left muttering, “This whole damn town has gone fuckin’ crazy.”
“Ah, piss off and open your mind a bit.” Nick held up a middle finger to the man who was already slamming the diner’s door.
“That was probably more for me,” said, Shirley, embarrassed. It wouldn’t be the first time she had been cursed in a diner.
“Because of the column?” Nick picked up Shirley’s coffee cup, examining the almost-coffee inside, put it down, and pulled out a flask instead.
“Well, they’re only half wrong,” Nick said between sizeable gulps.
“Excuse me?” Shirley felt anger rising within her again.
“Oh, don’t take offense. You must know that your research is flawed.” Nick looked her up and down, seeing the anger of someone about to punch him, an emotion he knew well, and course corrected. “Ah, you don’t. Well, sorry to say, but most of what you know about ‘Bigfoot’, as you are so keen on calling it, is wrong.” Nick stopped to flinch. When the blow never came, he continued. “However, the important thing is, you’re asking questions.”
Shirley’s face fell halfway between a grimace and a smile. She still very much wanted to punch him, but at least he had done more reading than Mansen. “You’re not great with people, are you?”
Nick looked shocked. “Course I am. I just speak my mind and speak it plainly. There’s no point in wasting our valuable time. There are any number of shadow organizations that could want us – well, me dead at any moment. Life is short.” He rummaged in his bag and pulled out a newspaper clipping. “Look, you tabloid writers are often the only people willing to talk about something for what it really is.” He slid the article over to Shirley.
It was a press clipping from Mansen’s most recent excursion in New Mexico where he had ‘taken care of’ a chupacabra problem in the area. The story went on to say that Mansen had done nothing but booze around the town and occasionally film promos for the entirety of the three weeks he had been there. In the end, the author claimed that the child that had been ‘rescued’ on camera, was actually drugged by a member of Mansen’s team and planted for a better story.
“That’s despicable,” she seethed. A few days earlier, she might not have believed it, but after a week in Mansen’s company, it was downright plausible.
“See? Never mind that they got all their chupacabra facts wrong…”
“That’s what bothers you?” Shirley’s fist clenched again.
Nick tugged at his collar uncomfortably. “Anyways, point is, Mansen is a fraud, and if you want that sasquatch off your mountain, I’m your man.”
“So, you’re going to help?”
“Well,” hesitated Nick, “that depends.”
“Depends on what?” asked Shirley, full well knowing the answer.
“How much the work pays.”
“People are dying.”
“People are dying everywhere. What makes here so special?” A flicker of regret crossed his face, but it was gone just as quickly as it had appeared.
“There’s no money in it.”
Nick stood up from his stool at the bar. “Well this has been a waste. Next time you put out an ad, maybe label it as charity.” He turned to leave.
“But there’s a high chance of humiliating Mansen.” Shirley didn’t know much about Nick, but suspected he was at least ninety percent ego.
Nick stopped in his tracks. “Humiliation, while tempting, won’t fill this flask.” He shook the empty metal container.
“There’d also be considerable notoriety for taking down ‘The Beast of the Mountain’”
“History Channel and their clever fucking names.” Nick huffed but did not continue to leave. There was silence between them for a moment.
The waitress, who had been managing the register the whole time, finally lost it. “Will you two take your batshit conversation out of my diner?!”
“Alright, fine, I’ll do it.” Nick sounded almost cheery. “Let’s go pay a visit to an old friend.”
Shirley smiled at the idea of Mansen finally getting put in his place. “This I have to see. I’ll drive.”
“Splendid. Let’s see if we can’t goad Rick into doing something really stupid.”
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