Between parking it and now something happened. Not something instantaneous, but rather something that happened over a long period of time.
That something is, I finished reading all the books in the Joe Pike - Elvis Cole series, written by Robert Crais and then I went back and began reading them again. I thought I was reading them for entertainment until I began the third reread of Free Fall and got to the line where Joe tells Elvis, "Try to stay alive until I can get there," and I got it - I'm rereading these books to learn how to write this way.
I don't know if I'll ever be as good as Robert Crais, and it doesn't really matter. What matters is, I've found a teacher, and I'm willing to learn. So, here's my brand new, two-year-old, re-written first chapter. If you have minute, I'd appreciate it if you'd read it and let me know what you think.
David Green, known simply as the Lieutenant to the few who still knew him, didn't bother to look at the map when he climbed out of his Jeep, in the deserted parking lot, on the eastern border of the Coronado National Forest, the largest national forest in the southwest. He didn’t have to look at the map because he had committed the section that mattered to memory, and he knew exactly where he was heading.
Moving purposefully through late afternoon shadows, he followed a faint trail through the scrub for more than five miles, then at a spot he’d mentally noted the night before, he swerved off the trail and was quickly lost in an isolated stand of hardwoods. He went directly to two tall blackjack oaks growing ten feet apart, at the top of a barely noticeable rise in the landscape. With the trees between him and the trail, the lieutenant paused and slowly turned three hundred and sixty degrees while listening and watching. When nothing unusual caught his attention, he slid down between the twin trees. There, thanks to the slight rise in the elevation, he had a clear view of the trail, yet was almost invisible from more than thirty feet away.
A half hour later the remains of the daylight disappeared and the landscape disappeared in inky blackness. Still the lieutenant watched and listened, remaining absolutely motionless for twelve hours, as he had been taught to do at the U.S. Army Ranger Training Center in Fort Benning, Georgia and later practiced in The Republic of South Vietnam, now a non-existent country, whose passing is hardly more than a footnote in history.
He listened as the small creatures of the high desert foraged, hunted, and were hunted around him. Then he watched the light of the new day slowly reclaim the land and finally, sure there were no other humans in the immediate area, he moved. Standing slowly, painfully, he braced himself with his right hand on the trunk of the larger of the two trees he had laid beside and thought, I'm getting way too old for this, way too old.
Convinced that he had wasted another night searching for the elusive coyotes, the human variety, he took two jerky steps toward the trail. At that moment, two men, moving at double-time, rounded the turn in the trail a quarter mile south of his position. He froze but he knew they had seen him. Shit, not again. NOT AGAIN! He thought.
That thought, followed immediately by a mental flashback, a familiar one he had relived countless times. It was a vivid scene in his mind. The moment he and his long range recon team were captured by a company of North Vietnamese Regulars. The flashback almost caused him to run, to break into a wild scramble for safety. But his old training kicked in and he methodically evaluated his situation, thinking: I'm alone and unarmed. They are well-armed, moving toward me. I'm standing still, stove up after twelve hours of not moving. I have to bluff my way through this.
The next few minutes were chaos. The lieutenant, stood absolutely still after placing his hands on his head. It was a familiar position, one he once required suspected Viet Cong to assume.
The two men were immediately joined by another who David assumed from his demeanor to be their leader. The third man, tall, and sharped faced, sported a scraggly beard, and was dressed in faded jungle fatigues like his two companions. David thought the fatigues had probably served a tour in Vietnam but not on the three who danced around him, brandishing AK-47’s, the drug cartel weapon of choice. While they screamed at him in Spanish, most of which he understood but pretended he didn't, he kept what he hoped was an innocent, naive look on his face, while shaking his head in time with their shouts.
His training and experience was dated, however David knew how to handle hostage situations, though he would have preferred being the captor. As the first two men presented a case for killing him and hiding his body somewhere off the trail, the lieutenant stood impassively, pretending not to understand what they were saying. The leader paused and listened to their arguments but it was clear he wasn't moved by them – at least David hoped he wasn't moved.
The discussion ended when three more coyotes, followed by a disorganized group of men and women who the lieutenant knew were Mexican peasants whose dream of creating a new life in America had led them to this place in time. The leader barked a command at the newly arrived trio of coyotes and everyone shut up, including the two point men.
In the silence that followed, the leader shouted, “Carlos!”
A tall, unarmed man, younger than the coyotes, detached himself from the group, which was now standing uneasily on the trail. He quickly moved to the side of the leader.
The lieutenant took a long look at Carlos and felt he was probably looking at a fellow captive.
Still speaking Spanish, the leader said to Carlos, "We've been discovered by this nosy gringo hiker. I do not want to leave his body here but I want him dead. Have two of your men stay with him and when you come back through, take him with you. Kill him in the desert, far away from this place. Do you understand?"
Carlos started to protest, but seeing a look cross the leader’s face, thought better of it, and said softly, "Si, I will do as you say."
The leader growled, "You had better. Your life and the lives of your family depend on it."
The leader spoke to two of the coyotes and they moved the lieutenant deeper into the trees and forced him to the ground. While one pointed an AK at him the other tied his hands behind his back with sash cord, then used duct tape to secure his feet. Carlos shouted toward the group of peasants and two men separated from the group and came toward him. He instructed them to stay with the lieutenant adding that he would return in an hour.
Then, minutes after being discovered and captured, the lieutenant and his two guards were alone.
Seconds later, the sounds of the still new day returned as though nothing happened.