On the 21st of February my novel Righteous Exposure will be released as an e-book.It will be on sale at Amazon and Smashwords. You can read an excerpt from Chapter 1 below. Hope you enjoy it!
Somewhere in the depths of sleep, her mind begs:
No! Please… not this again…
The plea is ignored as the dream rolls in real-time.
Her pounding heartbeat provides the soundtrack to a special screening – old fears claiming the starring role.
Twenty-three years fall away – Alita is seven years old again.
The San Antonio heat is overpowering as the July sun terrorizes the shade into thin strips around a courtyard boundary. The smell of olives hangs heavy in the air, and an ornate fountain bubbles over marble lions.
Submerged in the fountain pool, her hand is very brown against the white of the marble. She wriggles her fingers, imagining her hand is a sea creature, and then lifts it out and up to the sun.
Opening and closing her fingers against the glare, Alita marvels at the beauty of the water droplets running like mercury along her skin.
A muffled scream turns her blood to ice.
Her eyes dart towards a partially shuttered window across the courtyard.
Did the scream come from there? Mama said on no account must she go near the big house.
She runs to the window anyway, adrenaline fuelling her steps.
The house dominates her tiny frame. It is white, cool and as huge as a snow-covered mountainside. Alita needs to see inside the shuttered room but the window is just too high.
“No, please, sir, not again!”
She is sure that the voice is her mother’s, though it has the same muffled quality as the scream.
Is Mama being hurt?
A twisted olive tree near the window provides a prickly ladder and, balanced precariously, Alita peers through the shutters.
When her eyes adjust to the dim light, she sees a large bedroom, and on the bed is a man sitting astride her mama, he is tearing at the buttons on her blouse and holding his other hand over her mouth. She is crying and trying to push him off, but he is too strong. Alita feels angry and hot. She cannot see his face as he has his back to her, but she can hear him.
“Shut up, you little whore, just remember I pay you, and a good pay check it is too.”
He has undone the blouse now and is pulling down her mama’s bra straps. He slaps her face when she bites his hand.
“You just lie still if you know what’s good for you, bitch!” says the man, raising his fist.
“Please, sir, why now, after all this time?” her mama is asking, lying still as he has ordered.
“Because I can, Liliana, because I can!” the man shouts, pulling up her skirt.
Alita is scared and confused but doesn’t care if she gets into trouble for being near the house. She pulls open the shutter and screams out.
“Leave my Mama alone!”
Twenty-three years into the future, Alita the woman echoes these words, crying out in her sleep.
The man leaps from the bed and pulls Alita the child into the room; he pinches her chin hard between his finger and thumb and turns her face upwards. It hurts so much but she won’t let him see that it does. She flails at him with small fists.
Alita the woman mirrors the action, punching air as the dawn light seeps through the curtains.
“What have we here then?” the man chuckles with cold humor.
She can’t see him clearly. He has pulled the shutter inwards, hiding himself behind it. Through the slats in the shutter, his face is alternately lined with shade and sunlight. The little she can see tells her that he is white. He smells of tobacco and liquor.
“Let her go, please! I know I shouldn’t have brought her to work but I had nobody to watch her today,” her mama cries, pulling her blouse together and hurrying over.
“My Mama usually has her but she’s ill today and...”
“Shut up, Liliana! You know I won’t allow children of workers here,” the man interrupts. “You people have too many little maggots crawling about the place, won’t be long before there’s no white folks left!”
“I’ll take her now, sir, you don’t have to pay me for today,” her mama says, grasping her hand.
The man continues to hold Alita’s chin, turning her face to the sunlight.
“Mind you, Liliana; this one’s a very pretty little maggot…blue eyes, quite unusual. In fact I’d quite like her to come and work for me in a few years, I’m sure she’d be very useful.”
“Let her go, you son of a bitch!” her mama cries slapping his hand away. She picks Alita up and runs down a wide marble staircase out into the glare of the afternoon.
The man runs after them but stops at the top of the steps. Alita can hear him shouting as she buries her tear-stained face in her mama’s neck.
“You’re fired, Liliana…do you hear me!”
“I quit already, do you hear me!” Her mama shouts back. She sets Alita down, and together they run down a long gravel drive away from the big house.
Another shift over, Dr. Ramirez snapped off her rubber gloves and shrugged out of her white coat. She needed a shower, food and rest. Sleep deprivation cast shadows underneath her dark lashes and weariness oozed from every pore.
Ramirez rubbed her eyes, yawned and loosed her raven hair from a tortoiseshell hairclip. From her locker she took black jeans, a red blouse and trainers. Pulling on the jeans she caught sight of herself in the mirror. Damn, I look more like fifty than thirty this evening! She wondered how the older staff coped with the workload if she felt like this. Never mind, another half hour and she’d be tucked up in bed.
The changing room door flew open as she tied up her trainers. Senior nurse Caldwell, forty, flustered, and pink stepped in.
“Oh, thank goodness I caught you, Dr. Ramirez, sorry, but we need you for a while longer. Dr. Gregory’s been called away to an emergency and we need you to assess an assault victim just come in.”
“What?” Ramirez said, feeling her stomach thump to basement level. “Is there no one else?”
Caldwell stuck out her chin. “I wouldn’t ask you if there was. The victim’s a fifteen year old girl; she’s in pretty bad shape.”
The girl looked more like ten than fifteen as she lay lifeless motionless on the gurney. She was Hispanic, short, slight of build, her dark hair hanging in a limp braid. Her breath rasped on the intake and rattled on the out. A tear, slipping from the corner of her eye, traced a bloody path through a livid wound swelling on the left side of her face.
The other eye was prizefighter blue and sealed shut, her top lip matched her face.
Dr. Ramirez took a deep breath and assessed her quickly. The girl moaned as the doctor's fingers probed, though she took the utmost care to be gentle. As well as obvious bruising and a sprained wrist she suspected a fractured rib.
“What’s the story?” Ramirez asked the officer who’d accompanied the paramedics that brought her in.
“Not sure, Doc. We got an anonymous call to say that someone just saw a girl collapse on the sidewalk. No ID, she understands English, but she won’t tell us her name.”
Ramirez leaned close to the girl. “What’s your name, honey?”
Another tear escaped but she said nothing.
Ramirez tried again ¿Cómo te llamas cielo?
The girl swallowed and looked into her eyes. “Marissa,” she whispered. Even this small action ripped open the split in her top lip, blood trickled into her mouth.
“Marissa? What a pretty name. Just lie still now.”
An hour later, Dr. Ramirez sank into her comfy office chair by the window. She was utterly exhausted now. She thought about the girl she’d just attended, and closed her eyes against the sadness welling behind them. Her eyes had seen too many Hispanic children and teenagers needing her attention over the years. All had carried with them silent tales of poverty, hopelessness and despair. This most recent one, Marissa, had been raped as well as beaten.
She walked over to the water cooler and filled a plastic cup. Through her tenth-floor window the purple shades of evening were creeping over the city. Houston could be really beautiful at this time of day. The retiring Texan sun painted subtle hues of orange, yellow and red along the tips and edges of stone and aluminum.
Sand coloured skyscrapers, reflected in the stark glass of the Wells Fargo building, stretched their fun house images to the sky.
Ramirez sipped her water and even though she was almost asleep, marvelled at the scene. This was the Houston skyline. Monoliths to the modern, sprinkled with the dust of the past swept in from the plains.
Something about the soft light playing over the white walls of a smaller building to her left suddenly triggered unwelcome images. The intoxicating smell of olives filled her senses, and images of a woman long ago in a big house, frightened, ashamed and dominated, blocked out the skyline.
The memories punched hard in the gut, and Ramirez stepped back under the impact. Images of a young child, small, terrified and powerless, her face cruelly pinched between the finger and thumb of a strong hand, forced their way into her mind. Then insidiously, the vile source of these terrifying images passed briefly in front of Ramirez’ eyes too – he went by the name of Robson Cutter.
She blinked rapidly, trying to force the unwelcome images from her head, and turned to the door; she needed to get out, she needed to go home.
As she took a step forward, the floor seemed to rise under her feet. Her face drained of color and she swayed from side to side. Quickly, she grabbed the desk to stop herself from falling.
Ramirez leaned on the desk, closed her eyes and tried to take slow calming breaths. Her whole body shook as waves of nausea crashed against her stomach walls. She reasoned the cause was the eighteen-hour stint, and the emotion involved with the poor girl she’d attended. Whatever it was, it wasn’t going away anytime soon.
In a cold sweat, her stomach churning painfully, she grabbed her bag and ran out into the corridor. Dashing for the locker room, she made it to the cubicle where she dropped to her knees and vomited. As she did, the face of Robson Cutter grinned in her head.
Shaking from head to toe, she flushed the toilet and then ran water into a basin. The water felt good as she splashed her face but it couldn’t wash away the memory of that name.
When she thought of Cutter she saw hatred and misery. In her mind her mother’s face merged with Marissa’s – just another poor vulnerable young woman.
She patted her face dry with a paper towel and regarded her haunted expression in the mirror. Dr. Alita Ramirez gritted her teeth and vowed that one day; somehow, she’d avenge her mother and wipe that grin permanently off Cutter’s face.