Sunday, July 11, 2010
I'm excited to be presenting Chapter One of Executive Lunch -- a very humorous mystery by Maria E. Schneider available on Kindle as well as many other eReaders. Executive Lunch is the first in her Sedona O'Hala series and I assure you, if you like a fun story and a good laugh, you are going to love this book as much as I did.
The very likeable Sedona is given the opportunity of a lifetime: play an up-and-coming executive with all the trappings of wealth with someone else footing the bill. The catch: find out who is stealing company funds before the criminals find out that their program is being debugged. Sedona runs into danger, the corporate glass ceiling, and an occasional chance at romance in her quest.
You can read Chapter One below, but don't forget to CLICK HERE to check out the book on Amazon.com.
And now for CHAPTER ONE of Executive Lunch:
The hallway at Strandfrost wound along the windows on three sides of the floor. This design ensured that everyone was equally deprived of a window office with the exception of the managers, who all sat along the north side in windowed offices. Since I was just a computer lab rat, I felt lucky to have any kind of office, even one without a window. In order to have a metallic nameplate with "Sedona O'Hala" gracing the door, I had to rip apart an old manager's nameplate and rig it with card stock.
I was on my way to the lab when Sally Bunker, our adorable, very scatterbrained secretary screamed. If I hadn't had an armful of papers, I might have covered my ears. Sally was frequently what one might refer to as unprofessional, but she was so well liked that no one ever actually mentioned it.
More worrisome, the next sound from down the hallway was remarkably whimper-like. Sighing, I headed around the corner. I expected to find Sally frantically plaguing anyone that wasn't already at lunch to help her speed-dial restaurants--she had probably forgotten to get Allen Perry, our overweight director, lunch reservations.
I was not expecting a six-inch switchblade.
I stopped short and stared. The papers I was carrying fell on the floor with a load thump. "Ohboy." I should have minded my own business. It certainly would have been better if I hadn't heard Sally scream.
At the end of the hallway, past the guy with the switchblade, there was a guy with a bull neck holding Sally against the corner window. He trailed a knife down her neck. A chunk of her long auburn hair, usually sprayed neatly into place, severed and fell to the floor.
"Wha..?" While there might be some petty cash in the drawer, Strandfrost was a very ordinary computer company located in a fourteen-story office building outside the downtown area of quiet Denton, Colorado--an unlikely spot for a mugging.
"You can't do that," I squeaked.
The guy swore and looked over his shoulder at me. He screamed, "Beee…itch!" loud enough to wake Sally from the dead had he pushed her out the window.
"Well, you can't," I defended meekly, looking at Allen. He was stuck against the wall next to his office, held quietly in place by a tattooed arm that reached out from the office doorway. The tattoo was a harmless sword. The gun in the hand attached to the arm didn't look so benign. Allen's beefy face dripped sweat from his receding hairline down his neck and cheeks.
"Sedona--" Sally cried.
For the first time in my life, I wished for a boring meeting to discuss options. Sally looked liked she would be more than happy to go get the donuts.
With great reluctance, I pushed my foot forward. The guy with the switchblade just looked at me and then at bull neck. He didn't stop me.
The next step wasn't any easier, but I didn't think about it until I had scooted up behind bull-man. Weakly, I tugged on the hand holding Sally's breast. "Let her go."
Incredulous, he swung my way, beady black eyes flickering hate.
"Seriously." The plea came out in a squeak, not very persuasive. I stepped back and let go of the tree trunk that served as his arm. I scurried backwards, my knees knocking together hard enough to bruise.
Whoever was behind Allen yanked Allen backwards into the office. Continuing to backpedal seemed like a good idea. I didn't need to wait around until the thug was finished with Allen and free to come after me.
"You crazy bitch!" A look that shouted, "charge" came across bull-man's face.
Sally slumped against the window, clutching protectively at her neck.
Bull-man spread his feet and rolled forward, evil anticipation floating across his face.
Sally's hazel eyes came alive for a moment, and she mouthed my name. "Sedona!"
"Uh-oh." There was a very sinking feeling in what was left of my stomach. The first guy with the switchblade was still behind me. Drawing the only conclusion possible,I leaned down and kicked my left leg straight up backwards.
My foot snagged a gun rather than a knife and knocked it into a high arc. It was just like in my old karate class, only then the weapons were plastic.
I caught the gun. It was heavy. "Well." I blinked at the barrel pointing at my chest. Gingerly I turned it around and made it aim at something else. Backed against the windowed part of the hallway, there wasn't enough room to point it at both the bull and the guy that had been holding the gun.
In class, the exercise was over. We bowed politely and went home. No one here looked ready to leave.
"You want to play?" Bull-man smiled like it was Easter Sunday, and he had the prized golden egg, only instead of a harmless egg, he balanced a knife between two fingers.
He was definitely the better target to point the gun at, but even with me waving it around, he threw the knife. It was like the games my brothers used to play, except they threw darts and they weren't all that lethal. Oh sure, if they had struck my eye I would be dead by now, but that didn't concern them much at ages eight and twelve. It obviously wasn't the number one worry of the guy throwing the knife either.
I swallowed bile, dropped the gun and grabbed. Thinking of the game made me reach out for the knife. Human vision was just slow enough that by the time the knife was visible, the sharp blade was by, and the handle rested in my hand.
I didn't expect to catch it.
No one else expected it either. The guy that used to have the gun was mid-flight, arms wide, headed for my tiny, unprotected body.
I kicked as hard as I could. He fell with a grunt, holding his private parts.
"Help!" I screeched. I should shoot him, but I had dropped the gun. Where was it?
Bull-man came straight at me. His hair looked like it belonged on a suit of armor, sticking straight up in some kind of plastered Mohawk. His dark eyes were devoid of anything but mean.
I stabbed with the knife praying I'd miss, and at the same time praying I'd get lucky and get him the first try.
I missed. He kept coming, running through the imaginary red blanket and right into me, the untrained matador. "Help!"
The knife hit the bone in his shoulder. "Uuuungh."
Mashed by his weight, my bones ground into sand, ready to become part of the glass behind me.
The injury on his shoulder finally registered somewhere inside his bovine brain. He shrieked and stumbled backwards. "Aaaaaaaaagh!!!!"
With the weight lifted, I melted to the floor. The gun was by my right hand. I couldn't shoot right-handed. I wasn't certain I was all that good left-handed either.
Sally screamed, "Oh my God, oh my God!"
No one ventured around the corner of the hallway. Allen yelled 911, but something told me he wasn't dialing. I finally had a use for the marketing people with their ubiquitous cell phones, but their lunch hour was more like two and the fast-talking types were nowhere to be found.
The sounds of sirens registered. "Plug her!" Bull-man screamed. He jerked a step or two down the hall, but stepped on his fallen buddy. Bones crunched. Bull's arms windmilled, and he went over backwards, landing on his bad shoulder.
Since his buddy didn't have the gun, and his hand was now broken, it didn't take a genius to surmise Bull-man wasn't talking to the guy on the floor. I scrambled to my feet, using the wall to prop me up. "Uh…" It was the guy with the tattooed arm that had been behind Allen.
He stalked me.
"Eeee!" I tried to jump away, but the only place to run was after the thugs hobbling backwards towards the intersection and the fire exit. "Nnnn…nnn…"
"Plug'er and let's beat it!" Bull-man grunted in pain but leaned against the wall, sadistically waiting to see my brains scattered across the window.
I tried to swallow and couldn't. This guy wasn't stupid, but for half a second...I honestly don't know if I had a sudden brain tumor or an epiphany, but something was wrong here. Where Bull-man had an absence of presence, this guy looked different.
His dark brown eyes were hard, but they looked regretful. Despite the evil sword tattooed down his arm, he didn't look much like he wanted to hurt me.
"You--" My mouth dropped open in surprise, silencing the mewing sound in the back of my throat.
He snarled, "Time's up," and threw himself at me, launching us both four feet down the hall. His arm behind me kept my head from cracking open, but he wasn't finished. He growled, pulled back his fist and took aim.
Damned if he didn't give me time to defend myself. I was so stupefied, I didn't move.
He pulled back, yanked me up and stuffed me at the window like a rag doll. "St..op," I stuttered. For a nice guy, he was playing rough. He put the gun in my chin. For longer than it takes an elevator to get up to the fourth floor I thought I was dead.
His buddy yelled encouragement, "Nothin' but smear!"
I hung there, already a body bag.
He reached higher with the gun to smack my head. My arm, feeling like someone else's, blocked. He struck again. His arm was solid muscle and his blow had to have broken something. There was nowhere to back up to, but sliding sideways out from under his arm worked.
Had he let me?
He threw punches faster. I backed away, dancing over my own feet, blocking another punch that nearly shattered my jaw even with my defensive maneuver.
I whimpered again, and he snarled, "Fight."
I don't think his buddy heard. Did he want me to beat him? Was he crazy? He was six feet tall to my five-seven if I stretched in the morning. He must have gotten a false impression from my earlier luck.
With a frustrated grunt, he reached for me again and struck pay dirt.
"Ahhhh!" I screamed in rage. "You bastard!" I ripped his offending digits off my breast and plowed him over backwards. He hit the wall opposite the window and bounced, my head in his stomach. The gun dropped from his hand. I was pretty sure I hadn't hit him that hard, but I was going to. I put my hands together and took a magnificent swing.
His head snapped backwards, denting the cheap plasterboard. His buddy stopped yelling and headed for the stairs. I fell to my knees. There wasn't enough air in my lungs to keep a gnat alive.
The guy stumbled away from the plasterboard and ran for the exit. On the way, he knocked over Ross Canton, the head of marketing, just coming back from lunch. A doggie-bag full of leftovers flew through the air and splattered on impact.
It mixed well with the blood and disaster.
(Copyright © 2009 Maria E. Schneider. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without prior written permission from the author.)
You can read about Maria and her other books on her AMAZON PAGE. Her books are also available on SMASHWORDS where you can find them in formats for other readers. Finally, don't forget to stop by Maria's Blog and say "Hi!"
Posted by Karen Cantwell at 6:03 PM