Indie Author Answers #58: Maximizing Tension

Ahh, yes, my friends. Continuing our discussion form last week, let’s talk about Elmore Leonard’s ten rules of writing.

And now, TPV:

8: Alex


“When was the last time you slept?” Wiles asked Alex.

“I don’t know. Three or four days ago.”

“I got some pills if you want to sleep for a while.”

Alex sniffed and then cleared his throat. “Are you kidding? This is when it starts to get interesting. My laser-focus is just now starting to hone into perfection. But I just want to get this shit cut and bagged,” Alex said, waving a hand at the stash on the table. “I’d like to go home and take a shower.”

“Works for me, son. You stink.”

Alex leaned over the coffee table, eyeing a zit in its mirror. He started to poke at it. “This is going to be a good one.” Alex ruthlessly squeezed the pimple between his fingertips. “Come on, you little bastard.”

“You gotta stop picking at yourself. You’re gonna end up all scarred. Women dig scars, but not on the face.”

“I’m fine,” Alex said.

“If you say so, but now’s not the time to be all conspicuous out in public. Did you hear about Stephenson getting arrested?”

“No, I didn’t hear shit,” Alex said. “What happened?

“Undercover. Popped him for less than a gram of black tar.”

“Oh, dude, that sucks,” Alex said, sitting back as the realization settled. “I just saw him on Pearl Street a couple days ago.”

“Lucky only a gram. And no scales or shit like that.”

“Should we be worried?”

Wiles did not break his gaze with Alex. “You bend a stick, and it breaks at the weakest point. For us, it’s about all of us, and there’s no other way to define it. Stephenson knows that good or bad, all debts get paid.”

The front door opened, shining a beam of light into the dim living room, and Alex lurched forward to cover the stash on the table. Only Megan. Alex relaxed and returned to his job before she dropped her purse right in the middle of a giant pile of powder. She launched into a tirade directed at Wiles, and then Alex’s world turned on its head when she brought up Brian.

Oh, fuck, Wiles is going to find out everything, you stupid bitch.

Megan snatched her purse, stomped to her room and slammed the door. Alex’s temple throbbed, and pressure built behind his eyes as the weight of the situation came to bear. Not good.

“What the shit was that all about?” Wiles said. “Do they even know each other?”

Alex, paralyzed, did not answer, only stared with a clenched jaw at Wiles.

If I tell him, he might kill me. I’ve known, and I didn’t say anything. If I don’t tell him, he’ll find out later and then he’ll kill me. Megan said too much. Wiles is going to figure it out. I don’t have a way out of this.

“Hey. You with me?”

Alex bought himself a little time by dropping some meth onto the scale and pretending the focus on the digital readout of its weight. He made an impulse decision. Lie. “I don’t know what her trip is.”

Stupid, stupid, stupid you are, Alex.

Alex attempted to look busy moving his piles of yellow powder into baggies. Silence floated in the room. His foggy mind tried to consider all of the possibilities of the lie he just told, but he could not think straight. Wiles looked him over, and then went back to his own task. Alex closed his eyes. Breathing deeply, he tried to slow the millions of firing neurons in his brain.

He panicked. Megan had spoiled everything with her outburst and he realized that he needed to reverse course immediately. Whatever happened to him, he could not keep the truth from Wiles anymore. It had become costly enough already and every moment between now and when Wiles figured it out, the path became even more dangerous. Jimmy Connelly? He didn’t run away. “I need to tell you something,” he said, swallowing hard. “I think I know why Megan was so mad.”

“Spit it out.”

“Brian hooked up with her.” The blood rushed into Alex’s temple again. Thump thump thump. He had no idea what would happen next. Alex remembered Wiles’ gun in the box under the coffee table. Wiles was sitting less than two feet from a loaded weapon.

“That’s not funny.”

“It’s not a joke. I saw her leaving our place that night we were at Dave’s. She and Brian were in the parking lot in front of my place, kissing. I saw it.”

“The night we were at Dave’s…” Wiles said, ruminating. “Are you talking about the night you passed out in the bathroom?”

Alex nodded. Wiles’ scrunched brow and squinted eyes relaxed, and then his eyes opened wide. “Are you messing with me?”

Alex, chest heaving, shook his head. Wiles sat still for several beats, intently staring at Alex. Wiles exploded, leaping over the coffee table, grabbing Alex by the neck. Wiles pushed him up against the living room wall. Alex squirmed, but Wiles had him dead on and Alex was helpless to stop it. Wiles’ grip tightened around Alex’s neck. The lack of air caused the sound of his heartbeat to intensify in his ears. Thump thump thump. He strained, but could not breathe.

“You’re just now telling me? That was weeks ago and you’ve been sitting on this since it happened? Is this how you treat your family?”

“No, I’m sorry, please,” Alex said through Wiles’ grip, gasping for air. Alex’s lungs burned, and he tried to wriggle free but he could only twist within Wiles’ grip.

After a few interminable moments, Wiles released his hands from around Alex’s throat and took a step back. Alex slid to the floor, massaging his reddened neck as Wiles started to pace. “You’re lucky you’re my boy, or I would snap your motherfucking neck right here,” he said, his rage now lowered to a dull anger. “That’s my brother. Don’t you ever keep anything from me again. I can’t have you around me if I can’t trust you.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know how to tell you. I wanted to, but then I didn’t know how, and days went by, and then weeks, and then–”

“Stop apologizing!” Wiles said as he grabbed a plate from the table and smashed it against the floor. Ceramic shards scattered along the hardwood. “This is not the time to fuck with me. I got too much going on right now to deal with this.”

Alex cowered against the wall, his eyes on the floor. He understood now that revealing his secret had not helped. If he could have crawled inside himself, he would have, but he had no escape. “Derek, please. I’ll never let you down again, I swear.”

Wiles turned towards Megan’s room, wiping spit from the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand. He sneered, a vicious gesture that contorted his face into something demonic. “Megan,” he grunted as he walked towards her door.





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