If I Fall..., page 1
If I Fall…
By Jennifer Christy
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictiously.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form whatsoever without prior written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief passages embodied in critical reviews and articles.
If I Fall…
Copyright © 2017 Jennifer Christy
All Rights Reserved
Title: If I Fall...
Author: Jennifer Christy
Publisher: Smashwords, Inc.
Chapter 1 1
Chapter 2 3
Chapter 3 5
Chapter 4 8
Chapter 5 12
Chapter 6 18
Chapter 7 20
Chapter 8 22
Chapter 9 25
Chapter 10 30
Chapter 11 33
Chapter 12 36
Chapter 13 43
Chapter 14 46
Chapter 15 51
Chapter 16 55
Chapter 17 59
Chapter 18 62
Chapter 19 68
Chapter 20 71
Chapter 21 73
Chapter 22 76
Chapter 23 80
Chapter 24 83
Chapter 25 86
Chapter 26 88
Chapter 27 91
Wayne County, Utah. August 11, 1903
Out of breath from running with their packs heavy from the rewards from the stagecoach they had waylaid earlier, Nathan turned to his younger brother as he holstered his gun and said, “Not bad for your first time.” They stopped next to a creek under the shade of a stand of pinion trees to catch their breath.
Matthew grinned broadly. “Yours too,” he gasped between breaths, still high on the adrenaline rush from having raced through the desert like the demons of hell were on their heels. Matthew dropped to his knees by the water’s edge, set the bag of loot to the side, and cooled his face and neck with handfuls of water.
Nathan dropped his pack and removed his light brown cowboy hat to wipe his brow with his kerchief. “When a man gets desperate, he tends to do things he shouldn’t. I don’t aim on making this a career, Matthew, but we have to do something to save the farm Pa left us.” Saying it made him feel better, but it didn’t quite relieve him of his guilt for having just robbed a group of innocent folks.
“I know,” Matthew said soberly.
Nathan squeezed his brother’s shoulder and said, “Rest her heart, Ma would be turning in her grave if she knew. We will make this right one day, Matthew. We will pay it back. Just got to get the Bank off our backs first.”
“Why can’t we just ask Butch Cassidy for help?” Matthew said as he got back to his feet, his face still red from running through the heat of the day.
“Who?” Nathan’s brow creased above his nose.
“That outlaw the old man in Torrey told us about. How he helps farmers and ranchers in need,” Matthew said hefting his bag over his shoulder. It chinked with the sound of shifting coins.
Nathan snorted, “Nah, I’m not going to get entangled with an outlaw. Sure, he’ll help us, but then we’ll be having to provide him and his Wild Bunch with fresh horses and food to help them continue his criminal ways.”
“Oh,” Matthew said softly as if he hadn’t thought of that.
“C’mon, let’s get back to town and make the payment. If we hurry, we can get there for a nice supper at the hotel and maybe a nice soak in a tub.” Nathan said as he adjusted his gun belt, then picked up his pack and settled it across his shoulders.
They hadn’t taken more than a few steps when a figure in black stepped out of the shadows of the surrounding trees unexpectedly - a shiny long barreled gun pointed at them. Nathan didn’t hesitate for a second and moved for his gun, a decision he later regretted, but he knew they were dead anyway. He had hardly grabbed his own gun when the loud bang shattered the silence of the otherwise quiet summer afternoon. Nathan felt the stinging bite of the bullet pierce his left side and flung him backward from the impact. He landed on his side, striking his head on the ground.
“Nathan,” Matthew cried out, darting to his brother’s side. Another gunshot and Matthew went down as well. Nathan gasped, and rolled onto his back twisting his head to look for Matthew. Matthew was on his stomach looking at him with eyes glazed, and blood pooling beneath him. Nathan gritted his teeth as he felt his own life seeping from him.
“May the wolves enjoy your bones,” a woman’s husky voice crawled over the widening void between life and death. Nathan looked again at the figure in black and saw that indeed, it was a woman that had shot him. She had pushed back her hood to reveal long white hair and black on black eyes.
Nathan felt cold terror shoot through him as he realized she wasn’t human. She moved unnaturally, like she was gliding across ice. She was shrouded from throat to ankle and wrist in black clothing. Her long black cloak hung limply in the air about her, though the wind whispered through the surrounding foliage.
“Who are you?” he choked through the blood bubbling up from his pierced lung.
The woman came closer suddenly, as if swept there by a strong gust of wind. “You picked the wrong stagecoach to rob,” she said and reached for the bag where Nathan had dropped it. She unfastened the strap, opened the bag, and withdrew a short, fat, golden cylinder capped on one end. Nathan thought it looked like a fountain pen. She looked at Nathan without any expression. “Pity,” she whispered. “You may have been useful had you not angered her.” The woman raised her gun and aimed it at Nathan. He drew in a deep shuddering breath and felt it burn his lungs so badly it made his eyes tear. He closed his eyes and waited for the sound of the gun to go off.
Los Angeles, California. Present
“The Torrey project is yours,” Rick said with a slight hint of a grin when he entered her cubicle and tipped the long cardboard tube of blueprints toward JD. JD could hardly contain her smile as she stood and accepted the tube.
“Thank you!” she gushed and leaped at Rick, giving him a fierce hug. “I knew you could do it. Did he resist much?” She stepped back, stumbling a little in her hot pink and black, zebra-striped heels. Rick laughed at her exuberance. JD pushed her long, copper colored hair behind her ear with one hand as the other clutched the tube to her chest like it was a hard-fought for prize.
“Your grandfather was reluctant, but I told him you needed to get out there and put that college degree to good use. He can’t keep you holed up in the drafting department forever if he expects you to take the reins one day.” Rick straightened his running jacket and ran a hand over his graying crew cut.
JD smiled broadly. “I wanted this so bad. Thanks for talking to him.” She hugged him again, then blurted, “So, when do I start?”
“This Friday. We’ve got a two o’clock pre-construction meeting with Mr. Blackwell and then you’re the boss for the next nine months.” Rick smiled again. “You sure you’re ready for this?”
“Yes!” she said, bouncing on her toes.
“Go thank your grandfather,” Rick said. “You need to set his mind at ease. You and I both know you are more than ready for this promotion, but he needs assurance from you.” JD noticed the underlying concern in Rick’s voice.
“Of course,” she shrugged a shoulder, but kept the wide grin on her face.
Halfway to her grandfather’s office, JD felt the first wave of anxiety sweep over her. “Relax,” she told herself. “I can do this. I practically grew up on construction sites for goodness’ sake.”
But for all
JD waited patiently by the door until Gramps waved her in. She strode to one of the high-back chairs in front of his heavy, mahogany desk, which was littered with a pair of three ring binders, a hard hat, surveyor’s tape, a laptop, broken pipe fittings, and a sliding stack of contracts in a tray marked “To Be Reviewed”. A potted bonsai tree perched on the corner of the desk looking starved for water and attention. It was a birthday gift from her two months ago.
“No, no, no,” Gramps said firmly into the phone suddenly, tossing a file onto the credenza behind him, which was already loaded with rolled blueprints, more binders, and stacks of files. “If the building inspector says put in ten more, do it. I don’t care what the actual codes read. I don’t want this delayed any further. And you make sure Harry sends you the right ones!” There was a moment of silence, then Gramps thumbed the off button of the cordless and tossed it onto the mess of paperwork on the desk in front of him. He sighed heavily and rubbed at his temples. JD knew that before the day was out, Gramps would lose the phone in the mess at least once. She began straightening his desk. Gramps ran his hands through his thick shock of white hair before he leveled a hard look at JD as she struggled to push the sloping hill of papers and files into some semblance of order.
“Rick tell ya?” Gramps asked, gruffly.
JD nodded. “Yes, and thank you!”
“Sit down,” Gramps ordered. JD retreated from his desk and sat down in the chair, watching helplessly as the pile of papers slid across his desk to rest against the pipe fittings. She lifted her eyes to meet Gramps’ critical stare. “Julia, listen,” he said abruptly. JD braced herself for the lecture. Gramps always began his lectures with her birth name and a command to listen. JD felt her shoulders start to slump. She checked herself, straightened her back, and lifted her chin slightly to gaze back at him with a serious expression.
“Mr. Blackwell is a friend of mine. This project is important to him because it’s for his wife. A gift.” Gramps cleared his throat then looked down at the desk as if deep in thought. JD waited a few moments, then realized he had lost his train of thought. This was happening more and more often. Gramps cleared his throat again. “You’re impulsive. This will be a good experience for you. Teach you to rein in that impulsive nature of yours. Do a good job. Make me proud.” He gave her a look as if he wanted to say more. There was something in his eyes that caught her off guard. Was he crying? JD felt oddly uncomfortable suddenly.
“Is that it?” she asked, wondering what happened to the long lectures Gramps was famous for?
The old man shrugged, “Not much else to say, girl. I’ve done everything I can to learn you in the ways of construction. Now it’s up to you to take that and, and…” he coughed, and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand.
JD leaned forward. “I can do this, Gramps,” she said meeting his eyes and wishing her expression could convince him that she felt quite competent in handling the job. Just have faith in me, she thought, please. I’m not a child anymore. He studied her closely, and then nodded, satisfied.
“Go home, get packed. You fly out tomorrow morning.” Gramps waved her off. JD grinned, then leapt up and rushed around the desk, hugged his neck, and kissed his cheek. “Thanks Gramps.”
“Oh, go on,” he growled, disentangling himself from her arms. “Get!” he shooed her away.
JD skipped to the office door, but before she stepped out, she said over her shoulder, “I think I’ll drive.” She winked at him and shut the door before he could protest.
Gramps loved her, she didn’t doubt that. She could forgive his gruffness, as she understood that he didn’t have much experience in the parenting department. He and Grandma had divorced when their only child, a daughter, was still a baby, and he never remarried, at least, not in the traditional sense. Gramps devoted himself to his construction business, and that became his passion, until, seventeen years later, a daughter he hardly knew showed up on his doorstep seeking refuge from a life on the streets. A month later, the quiet, withdrawn young woman delivered a baby girl, and a month after that, his daughter disappeared, abandoning the brown-eyed baby girl that had stolen his heart.
Twenty-one years later, that grandbaby was driving away in his 1957 Ford Thunderbird toward a far-off town in the deserts of Utah to carry on the family business.
Friday afternoon, JD pulled into the gravel parking lot of a massive, two-story, red sandstone block building. Her stereo was blaring the Top Forty as she got out of her car and stretched; she was feeling as crumpled as the wad of newspaper bouncing across the street in the hot, dry wind of the tiny desert tourist town in Central Utah. It was only the end of June and it already felt like the middle of summer.
Glancing at her surroundings, JD noticed she was alone. She was in the middle of the town on a hot summer afternoon and she didn’t see another soul. JD hadn’t believed Rick when he had told her there were only about two hundred permanent residents in Torrey, but as she looked around, she saw that he must be right. A few houses and business were scattered about, but it was as dead as a cemetery.
JD turned her attention to the building in front of her, the building which had been the sole focus of her life for the last four months as she spent hours and hours in front of the computer creating the plans for the massive remodel Mr. Blackwell had hired Halstead Construction to take care of.
As she admired the old building’s architectural qualities, a large, black SUV with silver trim pulled in next to her. The passenger side door popped opened and Rick sprang out with a brown leather folio in his left hand. He wore a blue jogging suit with white stripes angled down the legs below his knees. He was also wearing his training shoes, which meant he intended to run today, if he hadn’t already. There were black tick marks along the sides of the soles – each one represented ten miles he had run, and there were at least a hundred marks on both shoes.
She smiled a greeting to Rick as the driver-side door opened and a huge bear of a man in tight jeans stepped forward and a yellow button down shirt with a huge, silver belt buckle that winked at her in the sunlight as it supported the girth of his gigantic stomach.
“JD, this is Mr. Blackwell,” Rick said by way of introduction. JD peered up at Mr. Blackwell’s face. His dark stare emanated at her from beneath his wide brimmed, white cowboy hat. He wore lightly tinted sunglasses. A neatly trimmed, white moustache capped a mouth that was pulled down slightly at the corners.
She extended her hand and said, “Hello, Mr. Blackwell. It’s nice to meet you.”
Mr. Blackwell slowly extended his hand that completely engulfed hers. He didn’t squeeze her hand, he just simply held it for a second before withdrawing it.
“Nice to meet you,” his voice resonated from the cavern of his broad chest. “What does JD stand for?”
His expression told JD that he wasn’t expecting a woman to be managing this project. It didn’t surprise her much. Most clients thought her initials on the blueprints belonged to a man, but she hated it when people asked her what the initials stood for. It was like asking her to open her blouse for their inspection. If she wanted people to know what JD stood for, she wouldn’t go by JD in the first place.
“The project is in good hands, Robert,” Rick jumped in. “JD was the one who drew up the plans you approved. She knows the place inside and out.”
Mr. Blackwell glanced at Rick. “I remember. Nice job.” Then he turned away and started across the parking lot for the front door of the schoolhouse which faced the wide, green field to the south instead of the street on the north.
JD shot Rick an exasperated look. “Nice job?” she mouthed. Rick
Rick glanced from JD to Mr. Blackwell and then back at her before saying quickly, “JD, you brought the blueprints, didn’t you? Why don’t you bring them in while we go over the final walk-through before demolition?”
“Sure,” JD replied. She turned on her heels and returned to her car. She could hear them conversing about the structural integrity of the building and she knew that Rick wanted the blueprints so he could show Mr. Blackwell the engineering plans that would hopefully put his mind at ease. A third floor and a basement were to be added to the old building, which required careful engineering. Mr. Blackwell still worried about, and had a hard time accepting, that it could be done. In fact, it needed to be done to bring it up to code if Mrs. Blackwell wanted to convert it to a Bed and Breakfast by next April.
When JD reached her car, she lifted the door handle; it was locked. She gaped as she tried the handle again and again to no avail, then patted herself down for the keys, only to discover that the keys were still dangling from the ignition. Glancing over at the two men, JD saw that they were waiting for her. She winced, trying to look normal, but all she could do was stare at the keys inside the car. She quickly bent forward to see if the passenger side was unlocked and heaved a sigh of relief. Hurrying to the other side of the car, she opened the passenger side door, snatched her keys from the ignition, and picked up the black tube containing the blueprints from the back seat.
When she rejoined them, Mr. Blackwell turned and pulled the front door open. It was very dark inside, except for thin shafts of light that leaked through the gaps between the edges of the boards over the windows. Mr. Blackwell stepped aside so Rick could lead the way inside, followed by JD.
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