No one came.
"Jim! Jim!" she sobbed.
No one answered. Suddenly she knew no one would. Her right hand closed on the rock she'd fallen over, the other scrambled for her pruning shears, angry tears springing to her eyes. Gloria rose, squinting against the flagrant American sun -- resolving to face this intruder, this cowboy, to beg, to demand he stop this, to fight if he would not, "Young man --"
But he was upon her, eye to pitiless eye, and in an instant she understood the emptiness she'd felt when she first saw him, understood her urge to hug her children and watch Jim walk away.
She hurled the rock in terror and stepped back as it missed, felt the fence behind her and moved along it. She tried to dash away, but he moved faster. She swept the pruning shears before her in an arc. He watched the first sweep, the second. Then he lunged forward, a longer weapon in his longer arms. Gloria felt the tines of her own pitchfork sear into her chest, her shock masking the pain, as it drove her, forced her, groaning, "No," mouth-open, to the ground. Desperately she gripped the handle, her nails breaking, and pushed back. He stared down, face frozen, dead eyes framed by angel hair. He hung on her strangled screams. Then he bent and put his weight on the fork.
Gloria's grip loosened. She felt pressure in her lungs, tasted the iron of the fork. Her hands slipped down the handle as breath began to leave. With it went her suffering and alarm. Once more she looked up to the empty eyes and, in a flash of sorrow, wondered how he'd live with what he'd done.
She saw him walk back through the gate, never speak a word, never look back as if he'd stored in his mind how she lay gasping, how her blood made red pools on the ground. With her last strength she begged God to let Jim find her, and not her little ones. The jets climbing . . . and below Gloria Hampton dying. Here in her American garden, only a year after they arrived, here beside the lavender that reminded her of England, smelling the gray-blue blossoms and feeling the sun. Here, where they came like adventurers.
Thursday 1:53 p.m.
Mai's Vietnamese Restaurant, Downtown Chatsford
Dr. John "Skeet" Cullum pulled his silver Saab 900 into the diagonal parking spaces in front of Mai's, and turned to Shirley, silent in the seat next to him. In the flowing white trousers and long tunic of her ao dai, Shirley, on first sight, looked like any Vietnamese woman. She'd gathered her hair into a long thick plait. It draped across her shoulder and dangled to the seat.
"Are you sure about this?" Skeet said and glanced up at Mai's green scalloped awning, fluttering prosperously in the breeze. He ate here several times a week. Only on his rare afternoons off from the Homicide Department did he bring Shirley to Mai's and only because she insisted.
Shirley's voice was low, but determined. "If you don't want to go with --"
He interrupted. "That's not what I mean. If you go in, I go in. But --"
"But what?" Shirley looked up and gave him her best imitation of an inscrutable smile: dark Asian eyes slightly narrowed, full lips barely widened on her gentle face.
But everything, Skeet thought as he admired the beauty her mixed-race parentage had produced. Her father's African-American genes had softened and waved her mother's long straight black Asian hair, opened the Asian eye, plumped the mouth, deep tanned the skin. In Shirley, the father's chiseled frame lay on the mother's graceful bones. Skeet knew. After seven years together he knew Shirley's body, how she moved, how her nostrils softly flared in sleep.
He smiled and thumbed the embroidered dragon on her ao dai. She'd never worn one here before. "One day you'll stop treating Mai's like a living soap opera, is what."
Copyright © J. R. Lankford February 2, 2001, Xlibris Corporation used by permission. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce this excerpt, please visit www.NovelDoc.com/Lankford.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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