I was thinking about some fun posts to put up here in the weeks surrounding the release of Wide Open. And while I was thinking about it, I happened, for one reason or another, to go back to an old draft, which contained several scenes that are no longer in the final version of Wide Open.
For the next three weeks or so, I’ll put up one short scene a week. I hope they’ll give you a bit more of the flavor of Wide Open, a sampling of the setting and the characters, and a glimpse at a slightly alternate universe version of the story.
An hour and a half later, Hallie hit the strip off I90–lights and parking lots and IHOP restaurants. Another mile and a half, a turn off the strip onto a business route, the Viking sat at the end of an old strip mall. It’d once been a chain motel, sold locally and still rented about thirty-five rooms–not that Hallie’d ever stayed in any of them, though half her high school graduating class probably had.
There were a dozen cars in the lot, a good number for early Sunday evening. Hallie spotted Brett’s silver Honda up near the entrance. She locked the pickup; tinny strains of music drifted across the parking lot. Not a band, not on a week night–radio maybe, some kind of recorded music, anyway. As she put her hand up to open the door, two airmen from Ellsworth tumbled out, laughing like they’d just heard the funniest joke in the world. They recovered quickly and grinned at Hallie.
“Hey sweet–” one of them began, but Hallie brushed by them into the bar. She’d been to Afghanistan. She saw ghosts. She didn’t have the time of day for Ellsworth boys anymore.
Brett’s voice wasn’t loud, but it carried. Maybe a half-dozen tables in the entire room were occupied. The bartender was wiping glasses and watching a football game on the television at the end of the bar. “Lorie’s in the restroom, I think,” Brett said as Hallie sat.
The waitress was already there, laying a cocktail napkin on the table and saying, “What’ll you have?”
“I don’t know,” Hallie said. “Bring me whatever. Beer.”
The waitress sniffed like she expected smarter people, though Hallie couldn’t imagine why. It wasn’t as if the Viking was anything other than a dark old bar with old smoke soaked into the table tops, red glass hurricane candles, and spindle-backed chairs with the arms worn smooth from thousands of hands.
“I’m so glad you came!” Lorie’s voice coming from behind her, startled Hallie so badly that she almost knocked the beer out of the waitress’s hand. She covered running her hand along her chin and around the back of her neck, but the waitress glared at her and she figured she’d be lucky if she got any kind of service at all the rest of the night.
Lorie swung around to the other side of the table, signaling to the waitress, who ignored her. She said, “Excuse me,” and went to the bar, where she flirted with the bartender for a minute or two before coming back with a soda and a basket of popcorn.
“Hallie–” Brett began, but before she could get farther than that one word, Hallie cut in.
“Look,” she said, “I could use some help.” She’d been thinking about this on the way over, about how to control the conversation, to talk about what she wanted to talk about, not the psychological ramifications of Dell’s death or her time in Afghanistan.
Lorie leaned forward eagerly. “You want us to find out about that deputy? You two would be perfect for each other. I know he’s a little uptight. I mean I don’t know it, but people say…”
“Lorie, let her finish.” Hallie could hear a low-key tightness in Brett’s voice, like she was worried where the conversation might be going.
Tough shit, Hallie thought.
She tried to imagine them while she’d been gone–laughing, talking, riding in local summer rodeos and climbing into 4x4s with lean young cowboys in boots and hats that cost more than their pickups. It hurt a little to picture that, because if the world had been fair, been far different than it actually was, Dell would have been there, Dell would have been riding that bay mare she raised herself, the only one who could give Brett a run for her money in the barrel races, the only one–
“I want to know everything you know about Pete and Martin.”