Beautiful Mess: Excerpt 2

February 22, 2017

Excerpt 2

Del spun his attention toward the shops. As soon as he did, a young man who looked no older than sixteen slammed against Del’s shoulder as he flashed past him. Beyond the scent of cheap cigarette smoke, nothing registered in Del’s mind until the intruder had passed.

The young man tried to dodge another pedestrian, a female, but his impact with Del’s shoulder had caused him to lose his balance. After a few wobbly steps, he stumbled and fell, face first, onto Del Corwyn’s star. On his way down, the kid stuck out his palms, scraping his hands but protecting his nose, though Del swore he heard a crack when the kid’s knee hit the pavement. Had the little bastard gotten blood on his star?

Too stunned to move, Del gawked at the kid, who now grabbed one knee and writhed on the ground, his face twisted in a combination of frustration and pain. A group of tourists stood in the middle of the sidewalk, gawking at the sight. Locals detoured around the kid the way they would avoid an orange construction cone.

Del felt the clap of a hand against his shoulder.

“Thanks, buddy,” said a bulky man with thinning hair, whose voice matched the outburst of anger, as he rushed past Del and hovered over the kid, hands on his hips and muttering something. Del assumed the older guy was the store manager.

“My knee!” hollered the kid, still thrashing in pain, his voice filled with resentment. “I broke my fucking knee! You dumb bastard, I’m gonna fucking sue your ass!”

Yet the manager continued to stand guard over the kid, one hand on his hip and the other hand on a cell phone he’d grabbed from his back pocket. Probably dialing 911.

At that point, the circumstance dawned on Del: The kid must be a shoplifter, and Del had, albeit inadvertently, become a hero! But of course, nobody else knew this except the store manager, who was too busy guarding the kid until the police arrived. The kid continued to roll on the ground, his elbow scuffed, grunting in pain as he cradled his knee.

“Excuse me, did you witness what happened?” shouted a female voice.

Del spun on his heels and discovered the news van had parked at the side of the road. The female reporter came running up, microphone in hand, a cameraman attempting to keep pace as he lugged his equipment.

As Del prepared to answer the reporter’s question, she rushed past him and stopped beside a woman. She was the next pedestrian the kid had attempted to dodge after he’d rammed into Del, before the kid had hit the pavement. The cameraman lifted his camera to his shoulder and began to shoot footage.

She’s interviewing someone else!

The woman faced the reporter as she answered her questions, which prevented Del from getting a good look at his competition. He tried to hear what the female bystander said, but she must have kept her voice under control, because her answers were beyond his earshot. Amid the commotion, Del hadn’t noticed the woman earlier and hadn’t seen her face, but now he examined her from the rear. Her graying brown hair ended in curves halfway down her neckline. She wore a casual top and pants, a conservative mix, yet one that revealed she was in respectable physical shape. A decent ass. By Del’s estimation, this woman was pushing age fifty and was in no particular hurry to get there.

She accented her answers with an occasional hand gesture, just two females having a conversation. She appeared neither fazed nor honored to be the center of attention. She didn’t seem to care that she was on camera.

One little nugget of attention was all Del needed to remind people he was still alive, still available. A reluctant hero who’d stopped a crime, albeit without realizing it at the time. A man of destiny.

She’s stealing my spotlight!

He couldn’t buy a twist of fate like this. A publicist couldn’t have arranged it. This opportunity had dropped into his hands, then slipped between his fingers like water.

He was the one who’d gotten rammed in the shoulder! The scent of the kid’s cheap cigarettes still lingered on his shirt. The kid reeked of them, and now Del did, too. And all for naught!

Before he knew it, the reporter concluded the interview.

“Thank you for your time anyway, ma’am.” The reporter turned to her partner and nodded toward their van. “This is just a petty theft, nothing big here. Let’s go.” And they trodded in Del’s direction.

When the kid, still clutching his knee, heard this, his mouth fell open, his eyes wide in aghast.

“What the fuck?!” the kid screamed at the reporter. “What do you mean, ‘nothing big’? My fucking knee’s broken!”

Either the reporter didn’t hear his bellows or ignored them. She didn’t even bother to look back. Even the store manager scratched his head, as though confused because nobody had asked him to give his side of the story. As the reporter passed Del, he caught her eye. She offered him a confident smirk but didn’t slow her pace.

Several blocks away, sirens wailed, which Del assumed were police vehicles. The news van departed before they arrived.

The woman who had given the interview turned around and tucked her hair behind her ear. She studied the thief, as though indecisive about whether to tend to him, then bit her lower lip and peered at the approaching police vehicles and their twirling emergency lights. She must have decided the professionals would take care of the kid’s needs, because she headed in Del’s direction, scratching her brow furrowed as she tried to make sense of what had unfolded in the last five minutes.

She was quite attractive, he had to admit, even if she did steal his spotlight—and all for nothing. But on a positive note, at least neither he nor she would get dragged into a police investigation. Technically, neither of them had witnessed a crime. Just a kid on the run, even if it didn’t take a genius to determine what had occurred.

Whether he made a conscious decision to do so or just reacted, Del didn’t know, but he offered the woman a grin when she crossed his path.

“A lot of excitement, eh?” he said.

She paused midstride. “Apparently. I didn’t really see what happened—”

Their eyes locked, and Del felt his pupils dilate, a reaction that appeared mutual in the first split second he looked into her brown eyes.

From a closer vantage point, Del noticed subtle age spots on her cheeks. Now he estimated she was in her sixties. Quite a bit older than he preferred in a female companion, but she looked damn good for her age. She possessed a classic, understated beauty.

In the aftermath of the confusion, the woman pursed her lips, peering this way and that. Del was glad the kid, who now shook his cuffed hands and wailed in protest, hadn’t collided with her and hurt her.

“Are you okay?” Del asked.

The woman moved a strand of hair from her face with her left hand. No wedding band.

“I’m fine, thank you.”

They exchanged glances again. Del hesitated. He couldn’t believe he was doing this.

“Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”

At first, she didn’t reply. She chewed her thumbnail a moment, no doubt sizing him up and determining whether he seemed safe. When she caught herself chewing her nail, she grimaced and dropped her hand, the way one would when smothering the remnant of a habit broken but not forgotten.

Judging from the way her glance lingered, Del could tell she found him attractive. His heartbeat quickened.

“I’m sorry, I’m a little shaken at the moment,” she replied.

Del felt blood rush to the surface of his flesh. He hoped he wasn’t blushing. He’d better provide cover for himself.

“I didn’t mean to make a big deal out of the offer. It’s just a cup of coffee—”

She grinned as she held up a hand to stop him. “It’s okay, I meant my brain is a bit preoccupied after—” She nodded behind her, then a worried expression overcame her face. “Oh, I forgot about that young guy. Normally, I wouldn’t have walked away and ignored him, but everything erupted so fast.” She turned and noticed two paramedics had arrived to assess the damage. The kid had hobbled to his feet. “I’m sure they have it covered, though. And it looks like he might’ve exaggerated about his knee.”

Del grinned. “It appears he turned a minor scuff into a mortal wound.”

She returned her attention to Del, her face now solid with satisfaction. “Yes, a cup of coffee sounds nice, thank you. I don’t think my nerves will handle anything beyond decaf, though.”

Relief rushed through him. To face rejection within reach of his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? How pathetic that would have been!

“I’m Del,” he said, reaching out his hand.

As the woman smiled, fresh life filled her eyes. She tilted her head to one side. Del felt magnetic attraction drawing them together.

“Felicia,” she replied with a handshake, feminine yet confident. “Nice to meet you, Del.”

Excerpt Copyright 2017 John Herrick