Excerpt for Meet Me At 10 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.

About the Authors

Vicky Jones was born in Essex, England. She is an author and singer-songwriter, with numerous examples of her work on iTunes and YouTube. At 20 years old she entered the Royal Navy. After leaving the Navy realizing she was drifting through life with no sense of direction, she wrote a bucket list of 300 things to achieve which took her traveling, facing her fears and going for her dreams. At the time of printing, she is two-thirds of the way through her bucket list.

One item on her list was to write a song for a cause. Her anti-bullying track called “House of Cards” is now on iTunes to download whereby 100% of proceeds go to the charity Wipe Homophobia.

Writing a novel was on her bucket list, and through a chance writing competition at her local writing group, the idea for Meet Me at 10 was born. Vicky hopes she can change hearts and minds due to some of the gritty themes of the book. She will also be donating 20% of the profits to charity, split between Wipe Homophobia and the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

Vicky is an avid traveler, stemming from her days traveling the world in the Royal Navy, and has visited around 50 countries so far. She has also recently graduated from The Open University after studying part time for her degree in psychology and criminology—another bucket list tick! She is currently writing a book about her bucket list adventures alongside planning and writing more fiction books.

She now lives in Cheshire, splitting her time between there and visiting her family and friends back in Essex.





Claire Hackney is a former English Literature, Drama and Media Studies teacher who, after attending a local writing group with Vicky and writing several of her own short stories, has now decided to focus her career on full-time novel writing. She is an avid historian and has thoroughly enjoyed researching different aspects of the 1950s as part of the creative language re-write of this novel. Claire is very much looking forward getting started on the many future writing projects she has in the pipeline, including several ideas for children’s books.

Contact us:

Website: VickyJones.uk

Register for the newsletter to keep updated with our future projects.

Twitter: @VickyJones7 @ClaireHac

Instagram: VickyTJones

Facebook: Vicky Jones Writer Claire Hackney Author

Join in on the discussion on our dedicated Meet Me at 10 page.



Book Cover: WooTKdesign wootkdesign@gmail.com

Edited: Gary Smailes Bubblecow.com

Proofreading: Melanie Bell inspire.envisioning@gmail.com

Justin Bridges jdbridges1@yahoo.com

Printing/Typesetting: Hewertext.com



Thank you!

This book has been a passion project, but we couldn't have done it without all our friends and family supporting and believing in us every step of the way.

Special mention to Sharon Atkinson for being so supportive in the writing group.



To the amazing beta readers:

Julie Keylock Claire Deakin

Gloria McNeely Jessica Beauregard

Andrea Medd Tina Leigh McDonald

Vicky Prior Emma Mitchell

Nicola Bedlington Helen Louise Barker

Nyki Benson Stephanie Flowers



I read this book in 2 days ... couldn't put it down! I got completely caught up in the story. What I like about this book is that it tells the hard hitting truth of what life was like in that era for people that "didn't fit the norm". Although a love story, it's not like one you would have ever read before. I thoroughly recommend it!’

This is a real page turner and it's hard to believe it is a debut novel from Vicky Jones and Claire Hackney - what a great job! They have produced a book that makes you angry and sad but there is also a romance too. Towards the end it was really hard to put down, so much so that I was up until 1.00 a.m. this morning with my Kindle!

Hope these ladies will collaborate again and produce more great novels. If this book were made into a film, I for one would spend a lot of the time with a box of tissues!’

Absolutely beautiful. I was gripped within the first few chapters and as the story unfolds it takes you on a journey of emotions. A pure love story reminding the world to keep your eyes truly fixed on love. Thank you.’

This book was difficult to put down. On occasions it was heart stopping, and breath holding was frequent. I took it everywhere just in case there was an opportunity to read. I thoroughly recommend this book; it may open some eyes and hearts to the problems involved with prejudice.’

This debut novel from Vicky Jones and Claire Hackney is an absolute must read! You will hurt for characters you will grow to love, and you will detest the antagonists in ways you can’t even imagine. This story is made all the more haunting because it is so well researched and written, evoking a time in history where love was a dangerous entity, and hatred was more powerful and visible than it should ever be.

One of the best books I have read this year!’



Meet Me at 10





Written by



Vicky Jones

and

Claire Hackney

























Meet Me at 10

By Vicky Jones and Claire Hackney

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 Vicky Jones and Claire Hackney



Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.





Chapter 1

Trudging along the seemingly endless straight road, Shona Jackson shivered as she felt the temperature in the air around her starting to fall. Jagged hills on both sides of the road loomed over her, their interweaving faces sliding down into plush greenery. The emerging crescent moon brought with it fears of being stranded in its wake, surrounded by darkness with her path ahead illuminated only by the occasional glare of speeding truck headlights. Hunger pangs groaning within her reminded Shona that she had little choice but to push onwards in search of civilization.

Running a dry tongue over her parched lips in a vain attempt to lubricate them, she wrapped her coat around her body to keep out the icy chill as the roar of a truck engine sounded in the short distance behind her. She stepped to the side of the road, safely out of the truck’s path. She held a hand to her eyes, preparing herself for the expected whoosh from its heavy tires and for the cloud of dust that would no doubt be kicked up by them to choke and blind her temporarily. But there was neither a whoosh nor a dust cloud.

The truck was slowing down.

Its headlights remained on as the truck creaked to a halt, the driver's hulking silhouette darkly framed by the windshield.

Edging forward, Shona pulled her crumpled cap down to just above her eyebrows and tucked her short blonde hair safely behind her small ears. Nervously, she hooked her thumbs underneath her coat collar, folding it up around the soft skin of her neck and pinching it against her chin.

"Need a lift?" shouted a gravelly voice from the driver's side.

"Um–" she replied in her deepest voice, looking from side to side as she assessed her predicament.

"Look, I ain't got all night, son."

"Sure, thanks."

Stifling a relieved grin at his assumption, Shona reached up for the door handle, climbed up the three steps into the cab and slammed the door. She sat on the passenger seat furthest away from the driver, his malodorous stink making this a necessity if nothing else.

"Where you headin', boy?"

The driver was easier to see now under the cab’s overhead strip light. Shona discreetly grimaced as she noticed his pudgy white belly overhanging a pair of ripped jeans, the waistband of which had long since given up the fight. His straggly brown beard appeared to have yesterday's food still clinging to it and dark, grubby sweat patches adorned the armpits of his grimy red t-shirt, completing his stomach-churningly feculent look.

"Just the next town, sir." She lowered her chin as she spoke, hugging her battered old brown satchel close to her chest.

"Well, that ain't no five-minute journey, boy. What the hell y'doin' out here at this time?"

Shona cast a surreptitious glance at the driver’s watch. It was 10:55 p.m.

"My ride bailed."

He peered over the bridge of his blotchy red nose at his passenger, an air of suspicion crossing his eyes. He grunted, then returned his attention to the pitch-dark road up ahead. Hoping he wouldn't pry too much, Shona tucked her satchel underneath her weary head and leaned against the door, then pulled her cap down over her eyes. The fingers on her right hand traced along the doorframe until she found the handle as the motion of the truck began to rock her into a deep, well-needed sleep.

***

After what only felt like five minutes to Shona, the truck hit a massive pothole in the road. The driver's subsequent swerve jolted her awake. She rubbed her tired, red eyes and squinted into the bright lights of the oncoming cars, shaking her head a few times to clear it after being snatched from her dream. It was then she looked up at the driver's staring eyes and recoiled in horror when she realized her cap had fallen backward, revealing her heart-shaped face and high cheekbones. Her satchel pillow now lay in the footwell, having dropped from underneath her head after the sharp swerve. Her coat had slipped open, revealing her delicate neck through the open top buttons of her checked shirt, and the thin straps of her bra peeking beyond. Shona, realizing her cover had been blown, buttoned up her shirt as quick as she could and pointlessly straightened her cap.

"You're a broad?"

The driver's face contorted with confusion, his nicotine-stained fingers gripping the truck steering wheel as he fought to control the swerve.

"Please, sir, I'm sorry. I didn't intend to trick you. I just wanted to get to the next town, and when you thought I was a guy, I guess I just went along with it." She shrugged.

"What game you playin'? You tryin’ to make me look like an idiot?" he growled.

"I didn't mean to. I understand if you don't wanna take me any further." Shona looked through the windshield into the darkness with no way of guessing where in the hell they were. She hunched her knees into her chest and curled up into a ball, shrinking into the darkest corner of the cab.

The driver sat with his eyes fixed on the road ahead, his gray teeth grinding as he shook his head with embarrassment at his earlier assumption. After a few minutes his indignation appeared to fade as he chewed on his bottom lip, seemingly deep in thought.

***

It wasn't noise this time but silence that woke Shona again that night. Still dark out, the truck was now parked in the middle of nowhere, with no sign of civilization or any kind of landmark. She turned her head left in the hope of gleaning an explanation from the driver, but as she did so her eyes widened with revulsion, the dim light of the cab revealing a sight that turned her stomach.

"What the hell y'doin'?" Shona stared in horror.

The driver had fixed his black beady eyes on her, his body reclined into a more comfortable position. His pants were wide open, exposing his fat, hairy thighs. The cab window had misted up from his hot breath as he steadily rocked his hand backward and forward inside his stained underwear.

"There's one way you could earn your ride," he drawled.

Shona kept her eyes on the driver as she tried to plan her next move.

"I'm sorry. I don't want that." Holding her left hand up, she reached down to the footwell with the other, feeling around for the strap of her satchel.

"Come over here, help me out, darlin'. You're a real pretty girl and I've had a long journey." His eyes rolled back in his head as he pulled his semi-erect penis from his underwear.

Scrabbling along the surface of the door, Shona's shaking fingers finally located the metal handle. At that same moment, the driver lunged towards her and dug his dirty nails into her neck, forcing her downwards onto him. Gagging from the stench of his body odor, she struggled with all her might to keep her face out of his lap as he squeezed her throat tightly. She spread her arms out wide, her right hand gripping the dashboard, her left clinging desperately onto the seat next to him as she fought to stop him entering her mouth.

"No!" she squealed.

As the driver’s arousal reached fever pitch, his grip began to increase in pressure around the back of her thin neck. With a frustrated grunt and a fistful of Shona’s messy blonde hair, he jolted her head fiercely, causing her sweaty hand to slip from the dashboard. Shona’s head fell forward, but instead of falling onto his penis, she found herself met with the top of his chubby thigh. Instinctively, she bit down on it so hard that within seconds the rancid taste of blood oozed into her mouth. Yelping in white-hot agony, the driver lashed out, punching her square on the right side of her jaw. Flying back into her seat, she slammed her head against the door window, cracking the thick glass. Through blurred vision, she watched the driver grimace as he tucked himself away, inspected his injured thigh, then wiped his bloody hands on his grubby jeans.

With the driver distracted, Shona grabbed her satchel and wrapped her fingers around the door handle. Her heart pounded as she took a final look across at the driver, who was now staring murderously at her as he tried to stem the blood flowing freely from his bitten thigh. His face twisted in pain as he buttoned up his jeans, then bent forward and reached into the glove box. Panicking, she pressed heavily against the door, relieved to hear its hinges groan as it opened behind her, sending bitingly cold air rushing into the stuffy cab. She stumbled down the steps, landing in a crumpled heap on the ground. With a tight hold on her satchel, Shona sprinted away as fast as her trembling legs could carry her.

Running in a zigzag formation, she ducked as the crack of a gunshot pierced the silent night air and whizzed inches past her ear. Then another. Then a third. She dropped to her knees behind a mound of fallen rocks to catch her breath, listening for any further shots. In the distance, she heard the truck’s engine restarting and then the whoosh of wheel-spinning tires as it skidded away, its headlight beams disappearing into the bitterly cold night.

***

A few hours and several miles later, Shona sighed with relief as the dawn finally began to break. Tentatively, she touched the back of her throbbing head with her fingers, groaning when she saw the dark red blood that had coated them.

Just as her exhaustion threatened to overwhelm her, she spotted a river in the distance. Knowing it had to lead into a town somewhere, she headed towards it. With the sun beginning to pour its light into the sky, landmarks that the darkness had hidden were now illuminated. She could see a shed-like building on the horizon and began to make her way over to it, treading cautiously over uneven rocks littering her path. Approaching the shack with caution, she reached out for the latch on the wooden door, hearing a welcome click as it bore no resistance. Over in the far corner, a small pile of hay looked as good a place as any to snuggle down and get some longed-for rest. She lay down, placed her satchel underneath her pounding head and instantly fell sound asleep.



Chapter 2

"Who the hell are you?"

Shona jolted awake as the metal barrel of a shotgun cast its long shadow over her.

"What? Oh, I'm sorry, sir. I was dog-tired last night. I’ve been traveling and I found this place. I'll move on, I'm sorry–" she sat upright and reached for her satchel.

"Don't you move, not one inch. You plannin’ on stealing my animals?" He edged closer, the shadow of his gun now crossing the beam of sunlight that had been burning her dry eyes. An old man, with tousled white hair and weathered skin, stood glaring at her.

"No way, sir, I just needed to rest."

She held her hands up in surrender for the second time in less than six hours.

"Get up." He gestured with his gun, keeping his suspicious eyes fixed on the young blonde girl he’d found on his property. Shona rose, wobbling slightly from the ache still thundering around the back of her head. He lowered his gun a little and backed up until he was almost outside the shack. In the dawn light, his sharp gray eyes softened when he saw the girl he was pointing his shotgun at was injured.

"You been in a fight or something?" He furrowed his brow, noticing the angry bruise on her right cheek.

"Some jerk tried to attack me. I ran, and I been hiding out here to rest until I move on, sir." Her bright blue eyes pleaded with him for mercy.

He lowered his rifle, his aggression towards her waning. "Well, you won't get much rest out here. The cows are gon’ want that bale of hay you’re lyin’ on for their breakfast soon. Come back to the house. M’wife can make you some food for your journey. I'm Tom, Tom Bird, and you are?" He unloaded the cartridges from his shotgun, placed them in his top shirt pocket and slung the open gun over his forearm.

"Shona Jackson, sir."

***

"Would you like some more sweet tea?"

Ruby Bird’s smile had straight away put Shona at ease after Tom returned to the house for his breakfast with a stray in tow. She put down the jug in front of her guest, readjusted the handmade shawl that was draped around her neck and smoothed back a lock of graying hair into the bun on top of her head as she busied herself in the kitchen, ensuring there was plenty of food on the table.

"Thank you, Mrs. Bird."

"Please, call me Ruby," she said, tapping Shona's forearm.

"So, Shona…heck, that's a strange name for these parts. How'd you end up with that one?" Tom chuckled as he buttered his toast.

"Well, sir, my momma had some real good friends when she was a girl, called Shane and Fiona. They came over from Ireland, y'see, to start a new life. So, I guess when I came along she just decided to honor them by namin' me Shona. Heck, I guess y'could say I'm all mixed up!" She grinned back at Tom, who nodded his head and took a huge bite of his toast.

"So, what's next for you, lil' lady? What are your plans?"

"Not sure really, sir. Just keep on movin' on until I figure somethin' out." Her voice tailed off. She had no idea where the hell she was.

"Tom, call me Tom. I'm not one for formalities," he said.

Shona smiled. "OK, Tom. I don't have any exact plans. It was just to find a job, somewhere to sleep. Live the simple life, y'know?" She leaned forward to take another bite of her toast, her elbows planted firmly on the table.

"Can you sew?" Ruby asked as she sipped her coffee.

"Pardon me, ma'am?" Shona spluttered.

"Can you mend clothes?" she elaborated.

"I'm sorry, no … but I can mend vehicles, any kind you put in front of me! I may be a girl, only twenny-four, but I know more about trucks than any man. I can ride too, tame any damn horse you give me, I swear I can." Her keen eyes shone.

Looking at each other, Ruby and Tom chuckled at her enthusiasm, overlooking the fact that she was chewing her toast heartily with no regard for table manners.

"Where you from, Shona?" Ruby asked, clearing the breakfast plates off the red and white gingham tablecloth.

"Claybank, Louisiana, ma'am."

"Never heard of it." Tom took another bite of his toast.

"Nobody has." Shona chuckled. "It's a small town. I worked on a farm with my father until I was sixteen."

"Why'd you leave?" Ruby asked, sitting back down to face her.

"Yeah, and how the hell did y'end up all the way out here in Alabama?" Tom added.

Shona's smile faded. "See now, that's a long story."



Chapter 3



"Linda!"

Larry Bruce bellowed at the top of his voice in the direction of his secretary, who was working away at her desk.

"Yes, Mr. Bruce." She raced over to his office and cowered in the doorway, peering at him over the top of her narrow-framed glasses.

"Linda, get the sheriff on the phone right now! Tell him to come straight over here to arrest these thieving dirty niggers," he growled, eyeballing the three terrified men standing in front of him.

"Right away, Mr. Bruce," she squeaked, adjusting her glasses to write down a quick note on her miniature notepad, then hopping back to her office.

Bruce's mustache bristled with anger as he glared at the men in front of him. One had beads of sweat on his forehead which slithered down his nose, his eyes wild with panic.

"Sir … please, may I speak?" he begged.

"Shut your damn filthy mouth, you son'bitch," Bruce spat. "Y'go crawling to Ellis for a job, knowing he's the easy touch when it comes to you coloreds, then have the audacity to thieve wallets from the good, honest white folk here?"

Bruce erupted out of his chair and glared at the petrified man. "I hope they rip your ass apart in prison where you belong, all chained up!"

"Mr. Bruce, I swear to Almighty God, I don't know about no wallets. Ain't seen 'em, none of us have!" The sweating black man fell to his knees.

"Get your sorry ass up." Bruce flicked his booted foot at him.

In desperation, the man dragged himself upright and stood next to the two others. The elder of the three looked towards Larry Bruce but dared not make eye contact. Instead, he focused on a large, elegantly framed photograph of a smiling young man on the wall above Bruce's head.

"Mr. Bruce, sir, I promise on my own dead son's grave. We ain't taken those wallets. Search us, search our bags, search our lockers."

Larry Bruce smirked.

Ten minutes later, Linda’s voice rang out again from just outside the door.

"Mr. Bruce, sir, the sheriff's here."

Sheriff Landon's intimidating figure almost filled the doorway as he entered Bruce's office, flanked by his scrawny-looking deputy.

"Y'know what to do, sheriff. I'll leave this matter in your … capable hands." Bruce winked at Landon who responded with a tip of his hat. He unclasped the small leather strap holding his revolver in its holster and motioned to his deputy to slap the iron handcuffs onto the black men, so weak with dread that they didn't struggle as they were led off.

"Anything else, Mr. Bruce?" Linda asked, about to return to her desk.

"No, thank you. Close the door behind you," Bruce replied, opening his desk drawer to retrieve his ever-present bottle of whiskey. Underneath the bottle, three black leather wallets he’d arranged that morning to be taken from the lockers of his workers nestled snugly underneath. Pouring himself a large measure, he slouched back in his chair and swigged it down in one deep gulp, smiling to himself in satisfaction at an excellent afternoon's work. It was his mission to rid his business of colored workers.

His plan had been a success so far.



Chapter 4



"This is Storm."

Tom patted the neck of the feisty chestnut-colored mare stomping her hooves on the ground next to her stable as if she were about to be let loose in a race. He and Shona were standing in the back field behind the farmhouse, a stunning expanse stretching as far as the eye could see. Their shadows lengthened as the afternoon sun lowered in the clear sky.

"Storm?" her eyebrows raised.

"Yep, every time we let her out, she moves like a damn whirlwind. This beast really is untamable." Tom held on tightly to the reins as Storm bucked at him, proving his point.

Shona laughed and patted the animal who threw her head to the side in response, almost taking Shona’s arm out its socket. She back-kicked the wall of her stable door several times, sending loud thuds echoing across the flat ground.

"Yeah, I can see that," Shona grinned.

She scanned her eyes over the landscape that surrounded her. It headed down towards the Weaver, a fast-flowing river with gorgeous Cahaba lilies and wildflowers blooming on its banks. The Birds' land was used for growing crops and grazing their farm animals, generating most of their stable but meager income. Tom smiled as he left her lost in her faraway thoughts.

When she returned to the farmhouse a while later, she sensed she'd interrupted Tom and Ruby talking in the kitchen. She turned on her heel to head back outside.

"Shona, wait!" Ruby gestured towards her. "Tom and I have just spoken, and we wanted to ask if you would like to stay here a night or two, just until you find yourself somewhere more permanent, I mean. We'll have to clear some space in the barn across the way, but it's warm."

"Really?" Shona couldn't contain her excitement long enough to even allow Ruby to complete her offer. "My God, yes, please! I'll help with the animals for my keep. I don't have no money yet, but–"

"That's OK. Ruby and I would just appreciate any help you can give on the farm. We're not getting any younger!" Tom glanced over at his wife, a cheeky smile sweeping over his kindly face.

"Speak for yourself, Bird!" Ruby jabbed a finger into his belly.

"I'd like that. I surely would. Thank y'all so much!" Shona beamed, leaping at Tom and Ruby and wrapping them both in a tight hug.



Chapter 5



"Mr. Bruce, sir! What an honor to be chosen to work alongside a fine gentleman such as yourself, who I respect and, quite frankly, am in awe of."

The dashingly handsome Kyle Chambers ran a hand over his perfectly coiffed jet black hair and flashed a well-rehearsed smile exposing his bright white teeth as he extended his muscular arm to shake Larry Bruce’s hand. He wore his best gray flannel suit, white button-down collar shirt and tapered, pleatless pants. Aiming to impress his new boss, Kyle’s outfit was completed by a striped tie and shiny black leather wing-tipped shoes. At thirty-four years old, he knew he was finally onto a good thing as he glanced eagerly around Bruce's lavishly decorated office.

"I'm sure you'll do well here, Kyle. I like the way y'think. Hell, you remind me of myself at your age," Bruce replied, walking around the back of his desk.

"Thank you, sir." Kyle felt the swell of confidence grow larger in his belly.

"Great. I'll ask Linda to give you details of when you'll start work. By then, my daughter Chloe will be home from college. She's gon' be my number two, but y'know, we'll see how you do and who knows," Bruce said, pouring a celebratory drink for the two of them. "I'll be training her to help run this place once I retire, but I need a man to, y'know, take this company forward. I mean, who in the hell heard of a woman being in charge? Investors would run a mile. But she's my only child to pass my half of this place on to after my son died five years ago. Just twenty-three years old he was."

Bruce paused for a moment, remembering the tragic day he'd found his son lying dead in a pool of blood, his arm ripped clean off by the threshing machine a colored worker was trapped in. He'd never come to terms with the fact that the colored man had lived and his son hadn't.

"I won't let you down, sir!" Kyle assured him.

***

Ruby joined Tom and Shona in the sparsely furnished barn, her arms laden with cotton towels and thick flowery blankets to make the place feel more like home. A weary-looking single mattress lay on top of some wooden pallets, keeping it off the hay-strewn floor. It wasn't much, but it was more than Shona had had in a long time.

Perfect, she thought.

"Shona, do you wear dresses at all?" Ruby asked, trying to be as tactful as she could.

"Dresses? No, ma'am, I don't. I guess I dress like I do 'cos I travel around so much. That way, guys don't give me no trouble, y'know?" Her cheeks flushed bright red.

"I was only asking as I could fix you a few new things to wear if you like? I saw you only had a little bag, so–"

Ruby gestured towards the battered-looking satchel lying on the floor next to Shona's new bed.

"Well, Shona, until Ruby here can make you some other kinda clothes, I'll lend you some pants, shirts, overalls and stuff. Will that make you feel more comfortable?" Tom smiled, sensing her embarrassment.

"I'd really like that, thank you," she replied.

Clearing space and tidying the area, they smiled at each other as they created a little haven for Shona and basked in the warm glow of the longed-for family feeling that was enveloping the three of them.



Chapter 6



"Larry? What can I do for you?"

Jeffrey Ellis poured himself a glass of his finest red wine from a crystal decanter, relaxing in his chair in the palatial home he shared with his wife Marjory, who was resting upstairs after another bout of illness. Holding the phone to his ear, he sipped his wine, savoring its flavor.

"I've had to get rid of those damn coloreds you sent my way. They’ve been thievin'." Bruce tried hard to sound disappointed.

"What?" Ellis lowered his glass. "I heard good things from the guy they came from. You sure?"

"Oh, yeah, I turned them over to the sheriff like the last ones. You can't change 'em. They don't appreciate what you're tryin' to do for them, Jeffrey," Bruce continued in feigned dismay.

Ellis reclined back in his chair, deciding, as usual, to give Bruce the benefit of the heavy doubt.

"Fine. Got anything else for me?"

"You know about us taking on Kyle Chambers. I think he'll do well. Other than that, the numbers are looking good. There is one thing; I'm looking to buy some replacement machinery. Damn tractors keep breaking down, so I'll need to buy new parts. We can't keep up with the orders if things ain't working right!"

"Sure, go ahead. I dropped some cash off on my last visit. There should be plenty in the safe."

"That's great, Jeffrey. Oh, and say hi to Marj for me. I hope she's feeling better soon."

"OK, Larry, see you when I'm next in the office."

Ellis put the phone down and drained the last of his wine. Bruce sat back in his chair, a satisfied smile creeping over his face.



Chapter 7



"D'you know anywhere I could find work 'round these parts?" Shona asked, glancing up from the hearty breakfast Ruby had prepared the following morning.

"Tom?" Ruby aimed her spatula in his direction as she heated up the pan to fry more eggs.

"Daynes is a tough town, Shona. I mean, opinions have changed a little since the war ended, but it's still pretty much unheard of having a woman working with trucks, even one as hardworking as you. I know your old place back in Mississippi let you, but that's rare. There are some bone-idle people in this town, but they'd rather die than let a slip of a girl show 'em how to do their job properly! But we’re only a coupla years away from the ’60s so who knows, maybe things’ll change."

"Want some more?" Ruby put the freshly fried eggs in the serving dish next to Shona’s plate as if to offer some crumb of comfort.

Tom put down his knife and fork and wiped his mouth with his napkin. "Well now, see, there's this one place over the other side of town, coupla miles from here. I mean, I ain't worked there or nothin', but I've heard from people. They got trucks, tractors, you name it coming and going. It's a cotton plantation with a workshop on the side doing repairs and stuff. All depends if you get the chance to speak to the nice guy."

"Nice guy?" Shona said.

"Yeah, his name’s Jeffrey Ellis. He co-owns the business but lets that no-good Larry Bruce run it day-to-day. It's Ellis you need to find. Don't bother speaking to Bruce. The things I've heard about that man would make your hair curl! He runs the whole of Daynes through fear alone. Me and Ruby try to stay away from town as much as we can nowadays, away from that son'bitch's influence. Ruby used to be the town's nurse until about five years ago, but then Bruce made the place feel so damn dangerous for her to be out at night on call. Nah, it's Ellis you want. I hear that even coloreds get a job after speaking to him–"

"Ellis tries to give 'em a chance first, y'know?" Ruby chipped in, trying to sound optimistic.

Shona leaned forward, drinking in every word. Her keen blue eyes widened at the prospect of getting a job that would help her to stay longer with Tom and Ruby and allow her to save some money to figure out her next move. After a few moments of contemplation, she raised her eyes to Tom and Ruby.

"Where can I find this Jeffrey Ellis?"



Chapter 8



"Hayward, what the hell's in your glass? You’re talkin' like you’re drunk already."

Henry Conway stubbed out his ever-present cigar in the ash tray next to him later that evening as he laughed at another ridiculous idea coming from James Hayward, a man notorious for his harebrained schemes to make even more money for himself. The two men frequented the Copperpot Inn weekly to meet with Jeffrey Ellis and discuss their numerous investment deals. It was a high-end establishment, known for its select clientele and innate respect for privacy. Hayward and Conway were Ellis's business acquaintances, but he'd over the years tried to distance himself from their vacuous double-your-money scams and instead build a business he could be proud of.

"Can I help you … Miss?" The immaculately presented woman at the front of the house pursed her lips as she eyed the visitor up and down. Shona flicked her floppy blonde bangs out of her eyes and stood up straight, pulling at her clothes to try and make herself look more presentable. She was grateful that Ruby had expertly altered one of Tom's shirts for her.

"Hello ma'am, I'd like to talk to Mr. Ellis, please." She flashed a bright smile.

"Does he know you?" The woman raised a perfectly-shaped eyebrow in disgust.

Shona took in a calming breath. "I just need a minute of his time, ma'am."

"This is an exclusive members' bar that is men-only. Mr. Ellis is our most valued customer and we won't see him being disturbed by the likes of … you."

"Ma'am, I just need to talk to him."

"I will have you removed if you do not leave!"

This last interaction stopped the group of men mid-conversation. One of them, Brian Carson, went over to see what the problem was.

"Hey Gracie, you OK? She causin' you trouble?" He nodded his head towards Shona.

"Sir, I just need to speak to Mr. Ellis."

"What could the likes of you possibly want with Mr. Ellis?" Carson replied, curling his lip.

Ellis's name being spoken made his ears prick up. "What's going on over there?"

"Nothing, sir, it's all under control." He turned his head away from Shona, who, at that moment, saw her opportunity.

In one fluid motion, she ducked and headed straight for Ellis. Carson awkwardly rotated his body, reaching out to grab a fistful of Shona's shirt as she passed, but she wriggled free before he could wrap his arm around her. In two seconds, she was at Ellis's table, a swirling mixture of eagerness, nerves and adrenaline pulsating through her body. Carson raced after her, red-faced with frustration for not containing the menace that Shona had become.

"Sir, Mr. Ellis–" Shona gasped. As she opened her mouth to continue, Carson wrestled her into a headlock.

"Get off me!" she shrieked.

"Let her go. She's a woman, for Christ's sake." Ellis stood up sharply.

He snarled as he shoved Shona loose, almost knocking her into the empty glasses on the table.

"Thank you," she panted, rubbing her reddened neck. "I didn't mean to disturb you, sir. I just heard that you're a real nice guy and you've given people chances to work–" she looked intently at him.

"All this and you're looking for a job?" Ellis sat back down, his inquisitive eyes fixed on her.

"Yessir. I am." Shona set her jaw.

"The thing is–" Ellis rolled his hand, prompting her for her name.

"Shona."

"The thing is, Shona, I already have a wonderful secretary. I just don't have a job for you," he shrugged.

"No, sir, you don't understand, I can work on your trucks! I can repair any vehicle you put in front of me! I can work in the fields picking the cotton like I used to do with my father. I'll be the hardest worker you've ever had." She punched her fist into her other hand, ignoring the derisory sniggers around her.

"Trucks? I must be drunk hearing this trash." Hayward took another swig of his spirit.

"I'm serious, sir. I wouldn't let you down," she continued.

The tables' gaze switched from Shona to Ellis. After a lengthy pause, he finally spoke.

"I give chances to people who won't waste 'em, young lady. I can show 'em through the door, but then it's up to them. If they steal, they're out. They don't show up for work one day, they're out. If they're late, they're out. They refuse any kind of work given to 'em, Mr. Bruce has my blessing to toss them out. It's tough in there."

"I can handle it, sir," Shona assured him. "I've worked with men before. They'll see how hard I work. I just need the chance…please?"

Ellis's fingers were interlocked, his elbows planted on the table, the tips of his two index fingers resting against his pursed lip. He admired the courage of this young girl, who had fought her way to stand in front of him. "Shona, I'm gon' give you a chance. It's up to you from here. I'll arrange for somebody to let Mr. Bruce know. You can start Monday morning. Report at the front desk at 6:30, OK? Don't you be late!"

Her face erupted into a huge grin. "Mr. Ellis, I swear I won't let you down, sir … I promise! Thank you!" She tried to contain her excitement but it was impossible. Turning to leave, she grinned even wider as she passed the astonished front of house assistant at the door.

"You do realize, Jeffrey, you've just fed that lil' girl to a pack of damn wolves. God help her!" Hayward whispered to Ellis who silently watched Shona exit the Copperpot.



Chapter 9



"Get that nigger!"

That same evening, the elder of the three huntsmen led through the open fields of Daynes, three miles from the Ellis and Bruce site. They were closing in on their target, but he was too fast. He needed to be. He was dead if they caught him.

Stopping for a moment, he looked frantically from side to side. Panting and sweating profusely, he placed his hands on his knees as panic raged through his exhausted body. The three men had split up and strategically blocked off his exit, closing in around him and pushing him closer to the edge of the rushing Weaver. In the distance, the escaping man could hear the unmistakable sound of ferocious barking.

"Let him go, boy!"

Turning around, he watched in horror as a bloodthirsty canine headed straight for him, baring its razor-sharp teeth. On the last dregs of adrenaline, the man raced towards the end of the field straight ahead, his lungs perilously close to giving up on him.

"Stop him before he gets to the river, boys!"

With fatigue finally overpowering him, he fell to the ground, causing a cloud of dust to billow up from his crashing boots and give away his position. The men shined their flashlight in his direction, dustcloud particles catching in the beams. Dragging himself up, the target hopped forward a few more steps. Mercifully, he saw he’d reached the riverbank.

He was almost safe.

Suddenly, a searing pain flooded through the back of his right thigh. In agony, he looked behind him, his wide eyes meeting those of a massive Alsatian hound hell-bent on stripping the flesh clean from his leg. Its ferocious teeth glinted in the half-light, its mouth frothing as it locked its jaws on the man's bleeding thigh.

With no choice, he tore his leg out of the jaws of the beast, screaming as he did so. He jumped off the bank three feet down into the river heading to God knows where, but it had to be better than here. Keeping his head underwater for as long as he could, he fought against the strong current, trying to avoid getting knocked out by the rocks as it swept him downstream.

Giving up their pursuit, the three men and barking hound melted away into the evening. The target of their sport waited until it was completely silent before emerging from the cool waters of the Weaver, immediately feeling the intense sting rushing through his mangled leg as he continued on through the brush to find a safe place to sleep.

He was one of the lucky ones.



Chapter 10



"S'cuse me, I start work here today?"

Shona spoke loudly in the direction of the office behind the front desk that Monday morning. Through the half-open door she heard muffled voices, the occasional laugh and bad language, but she didn't care.

"Well, look what we got here," one of the voices eventually emerged. The man it belonged to leered at Shona, a sly grin breaking out over his unshaven face as he chewed a mouthful of tobacco.

"Mr. Ellis told me to report here and that somebody would show me around so I can get straight to work on the trucks," Shona said brightly.

"Did he now? Good ol' Mr. Ellis, he's really lost his mind this time! Boys, get out here, you gotta see this."

Two other guys appeared and stared open-mouthed at the slim, blonde-haired, pretty young woman. She wore baggy blue mechanic’s overalls, which on anyone else would look grungy, but Shona's perfect figure wore them well. One of the men had no shame in ogling her, his greasy black hair flopping over his seedy eyes as he mentally undressed her.

"What can we do for you, sweetheart?"

"I'm here to work on the trucks? If you show me where I need to go, I'll start straight away," Shona replied, trying hard to mask her disgust.

"Well, I'll be damned. I thought you were our new cleaning lady! Hey Paul, you gotta see this!" All three laughed loudly.

"Mr. Ellis said I could," Shona said, straightening her back.

"Oh, did he now? You and Mr. Ellis good friends, then?" The first man leaned over the counter.

"I just came to work. I don't want no trouble." She raised her voice, bored with being a figure of fun now.

"What's goin' on out there? Who are you?" Paul, the workforce deputy, pushed open the door of the office behind the counter.

"I'm Shona Jackson, sir. Mr. Ellis told me to report here at 6:30 and I'd be working on the vehicles or in the fields?"

Deputy Paul's cold eyes narrowed as he rested his hand on his hip.

"Yeah, I heard about you. I don't know what game you're playing, lil' lady. This ain't no place for a broad. But Ellis is the boss and orders are orders. Come with me," he sighed.

***

"This is where you'll get changed."

Deputy Paul opened a small room containing brooms, buckets and old equipment. It was dark and damp with broken cupboards and shelves that were chipped and falling down. Later, he ended the tour just outside a messy tool room. "Wait in here." He pointed to a cluttered bench and, as Shona stepped inside, he disappeared.

Alone, she looked up at the clock on the wall. It was already 7:25 a.m. Where was everybody?

Almost gagging from the musty odors in the room, she opened the metal back door leading to the fields behind the site to let the fresh air in. Bored, Shona began to tidy, almost jumping out of her skin when a loud buzzer sounded at 10 o'clock. She stopped cleaning down the benches when she heard the sound of upbeat voices passing by outside the tool room door, which could only mean one thing in a place like this – break time!

Thinking that this would be the best time to find someone who knew what was going on, Shona yanked the handle of the rickety metal door back towards her to secure the room. As she did so, a strange noise outside caught her attention. It came from behind a large mound of used tires beside the doorway.

"Hello?" She paused as she glimpsed the worn-out boots of someone who seemed desperate to remain out of sight.

"You OK?" Shona asked. The feet quickly disappeared from view. She raised her eyebrows, then edged closer. It was then that she saw the pitiful shape of a man cowering.

He didn't get up, but just sat with his head bowed. He was reluctant to make eye contact, his dark brown face wet with fresh tears.

"Who are you?" Shona asked, wearing her sternest face. She was mindful not to get too close.

"Cuban–" He sniffed. "My name is Cuban, ma'am. I just wanted to get some water from this faucet. I don't want no trouble."

He shifted positions on the gravel, wincing as he exposed the dark red blood pool underneath his right thigh.

"You're bleedin'," she noticed, her eyes softening.

"I got chased. I managed to outrun 'em but then I got bit by the goddamn dirty dog they set on me. I'm lucky, I got away. Lord only knows how but I did." He coughed and winced again.

"Who's out there?" a scratchy old voice called out from inside the tool room. Both Shona and Cuban froze.

"It's just me–" Shona shouted back, her eyes still fixed on the colored man below her.

The half-open metal back door to the tool room groaned on its rusty hinges as an elderly man stepped outside. His wispy white hair peeked out from underneath his tatty gray cap, and his eyebrows raised in surprise at Shona.

"Who are you?"

"I'm Shona. I start work here today."

Open mouthed, he looked down at her clothes.

"Workin' here? Doin' what?"

"I can repair trucks," Shona replied brightly.

He paused, staring at her. "Who's this?" His eyes diverted as he motioned his leathery hand downwards.

"I'm Cuban, sir."

He struggled to his feet, limping on his injured leg. As he stood up, Shona realized how tall this man was, well over six feet even with his back arched in discomfort. His hands had obviously not shirked hard work in the past. Thick, calloused fingers rested on his blood-drenched pant leg, his open-necked work shirt revealing a necklace with a small crucifix on it. She could sense the sadness within him but she was not ready yet to trust this stranger.

"I'm Elbie. You, young lady, must have really sweet-talked Mr. Ellis to get in here." He smiled at Shona, then turned to Cuban with a much graver look on his weathered face.

"See you bleedin' quite badly there. I can help fix you up but that'll be the least of your problems. Thugs 'round these parts huntin' black folks like you for sport. You should keep movin' on," Elbie warned.

Cuban shifted his weight, looking uncomfortable from the throbbing pain in his thigh.

"I know what it's like 'round here, sir, don't need no lecture. I seen this town for what it is. No one need tell me what I got to lose!"

Elbie and Shona listened in silence, Cuban's words piercing the heart of their uncertainty.

"Let's have a look at that leg, get you patched up. Shona, take his arm."

Together, they half-dragged Cuban inside the tool room and sat him on a stool.

"Hand me that box over there, will you," Elbie pointed to the shelf in the corner of the room. Shona returned with the first aid box, still not wanting to engage too much with the colored man. She'd always been told by her father they were never to be trusted, but Shona never knew which of his drunken tales to believe. She was on her guard, though, just in case he was right on this one.

Elbie finished cleaning and dressing Cuban's wounded leg, using up half of the first aid box's supplies to stem the bleeding. He knew the man needed stitches but judging by how quickly Cuban pulled his pants up and thanked Elbie for his trouble, he knew he wasn't willing to go to the hospital.

"Alright, now that we got that dealt with, I’d like to know who the hell's been moving things around in this tool room, huh?" Elbie frowned.

Shona held her breath.

"Well, I guess that was me, sir." She ran her hand through her hair, sweeping it out of her eyes. "You see, they left me here to wait for my orders and I don't like to be idle. I was just tryin’ to clean the place up a bit–" Shona was rambling now.

"Whoa there–" Elbie held his hands up. "I was just gon' say thanks, it looks good! Folks normally treat this room like a dump. Just one thing, though, I don't want you goin' in the workshop back there, 'cos that's my space, got it?" the old man warned as he hooked his thumb over his shoulder.

Minutes later, the conversation paused as the three of them turned their heads to the doorway where Deputy Paul appeared.

"You got visitors, Jackson!" He flashed his dirty gray teeth in mock pleasure, tipping his head towards the voices behind him.

It was Larry Bruce and Jeffrey Ellis.

"Ah, there she is! Just wanted to see how my new girl was doing on her first day." Ellis approached Shona, followed closely by Bruce. Shona turned her head to smile her response but, as she did so, a colored face was revealed behind her.

"What the fuck is that?” Bruce snapped.

Before she realized what she was doing, Shona intervened.

"He just wanted to speak to Mr. Ellis about a job, sir."

Cuban held his breath but Shona continued, mesmerizing him with her bravery.

"Instead of sitting 'round doin' nothing, sir, I watched him clean the whole tool room! Look, see–" Shona held her arms out wide. She had no idea why she was speaking up for him, but she couldn't unsee the look of dread that was etched on Cuban's face when Bruce had spotted him.

"Shona, you not been put to work yet?" Ellis frowned.

"No, sir, I was told to wait here."

Ellis switched his attention to Deputy Paul.

"We can get her cleanin', scrubbin'–" Deputy Paul shrugged.

"Trucks," Ellis interrupted. "I want her on trucks. Let's see what she can do."

Bruce glared at Ellis.

"That one just come in?" Ellis pointed out of the tool room window at a white truck being winched off a low-loader, then dropped to the ground outside. Outwardly, it looked reasonably sound but the fact that it hadn't driven itself there didn't bode well for it. Three mechanics surrounded the stricken vehicle, scratching their heads. One stubbed out his cigarette, took out his wrench and motioned to the other two to pop the hood.

Deputy Paul nodded. "Yessir."

"See if you can get it goin'," Ellis smiled at Shona.

"Jeffrey, you lost your mind?" Bruce said in a low voice.

The group walked outside towards the truck. The mechanics attending it looked perplexed as to why the truck was resisting all their best efforts to spark it into life. The engine's problem seemed a bit of an enigma, but this didn't faze Shona. She approached Deputy Paul and gestured for the keys, his stare burning a hole in her head as he dropped them into her hand. Bruce smirked as they waited for her embarrassment to commence. Ellis exhaled, hoping she wouldn't disappoint him.

"This vehicle's expensive, y'understand?" Deputy Paul snarled.

Ellis folded his arms as Shona got to work. She stuck her head under the hood and tinkered about. Clanks and clonks sounded from the engine bay as she investigated the manifolds, sprockets and gaskets. Little grunts and groans emitted from her as she tightened her wrench around the bolts and metal tubes.

Five long minutes passed.

Shona was done. She climbed up into the driver's seat and slid the key into the ignition as everyone in the group held their breath. The engine coughed for a few seconds and then spluttered into life, black smoke billowing from the exhaust. Before long, the truck was purring like a kitten.

"Well, I'll be damned," Ellis blew out his cheeks.

Closing his eyes, Bruce shook his head.

"So what? Pull a few wires, flick a few switches? That's the easiest damn job you coulda given her!" He was furious.

His attention, however, soon moved away from her and, like a searchlight in the darkness, landed on Cuban who was smiling at Shona's success. He'd enjoyed the few brief moments of blending in with the crowd, but it couldn't last. Cuban met Bruce's fiery eyes, panic fizzing in the pit of his stomach.

"Let's get this nigger off our land!" Bruce snarled. "Paul, grab his arms–"

"Wait!" Shona jumped out of the truck and in front of Cuban. He didn't stand a chance out there judging by the state he’d arrived in.

"Get out the way!" Deputy Paul growled.

"Mr. Ellis, please give Cuban a chance. Look at the difference he's made to the tool room already, and that’s without being paid!" she begged.

"Paul, wait," Ellis waved his hands for Deputy Paul to cease manhandling Cuban. "Elbie, the tool room is normally your domain, right?"

Elbie nodded.

"This man here, y'think he's done a good job?" Ellis continued.

"Sir, that room–" Elbie paused. "I ain't seen it no better in a long time, do say so m'self. You could eat your dinner off that floor!" He caught Shona and Cuban's relieved faces in the corner of his eye.

Deputy Paul and Bruce put their hands on their hips. Ellis approached Cuban and spoke in a low voice.

"You got one chance. You mess it up, I ain't gon' help you. I'll leave Shona to explain my rules. If you break 'em, I'm behind Larry all the way. Understand?"

Tears glistening in the corner of his eyes, Cuban managed to croak out his thanks.

"Come on, gentlemen." Ellis turned to walk around the side of the building and back to his office. Shona noticed him limping slightly.

Waiting until Ellis was out of earshot, Deputy Paul strode over to Shona, Cuban and Elbie.

"Mr. Bruce told me to let you know that if you pull another stunt like that you won't be able to work, y'hear?" he growled. He stepped closer to Shona and traced down the side of her smooth face with his dirty fingernail. She stood motionless, regarding him with an icy stare. Not receiving the satisfaction of a rise out of her, he cackled as he left them and ran to catch up with Ellis and Bruce.

"So, what now?" Cuban asked.

"Don't know about you two,” said Shona, “but I need to wash that dirty bastard's stink outta my face!"

Shona walked over to the faucet outside the mechanics' shed. Feelings rushed around her body like a kaleidoscope as she splashed the cool water on her face. Humiliating one of your bosses isn't the most ideal way to start a new job, she thought. Turning to look over at her two new friends, she saw them toeing the dust and attempting to make small talk. She smiled as she walked back over to them, her hands in her pockets.

"You're quite the brave lil' lady," Elbie said.

"Yeah, thank you. You didn't have to do that," Cuban added.

"You're welcome. It looks like we need each other 'round here?" Shona said as they made their way back to the tool room.

"You're damn right. This place, it's awful. Didn't used to be." Elbie's eyes saddened.

"What changed?" Shona asked.

"Larry Bruce, that's what! This place was run by Mr. Ellis for twenty years and he did a damn fine job of it too. But he needed to spend more time with his sick wife, so he got Bruce the Brute on board to take care of the day-to-day running around five years ago and then–" Elbie fiddled with his cap. "It got real dark 'round here."

"What d'you mean?" Cuban asked.

"People just came and went. If you disagreed with the bosses, well, your days were numbered. Good people with consciences left or were made to leave." Elbie's face dropped.

"Well, we got each other, right?" Shona affirmed.

"I could tell you some stories, alright. I write everything down in my diary. I started writing it when my wife passed. I made a promise I would talk to her every day." Elbie licked his lips as his emotions began to engulf him. "I write about everything that goes on here but my damn hands tremble with age now, so I have to keep it short."

The same loud buzzer from earlier sounded again.

"What's that?" Cuban asked.


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-37 show above.)