Below is the first chapter of my second novel, There’s Something in a Name. The story is of a young man who’s exiled himself to the debauchery filled island of Key West. He spends his days plundering a centuries old sunken Spanish Galleon, and his nights with the malcontented characters he calls friends. Read below to see how he meets Julia; a woman who changed his outlook on life without Owen even noticing. Not until he meets Monica does he truly understand how much Julia meant to him. This story is inspired by my wife; a woman so important to me it took two characters (Monica and Julia) to emoby her essence. One note: WordPress is having issues with their indentation codes. That is why you won’t see any in this passage. You can follow the links below and preview a greater portion of the book.
Owen had been running for nearly an hour. The road behind him had to be forgotten. He must focus on what lie ahead and push through the pain. Lactic acid burned his muscles.
An opening in the Mangrove trees ahead offered a place to stop. The waters of the Atlantic Ocean were shallow there and the bottom was sandy so he could remove his shoes and walk without shredding his feet against the coral that surrounded the islands.
Thoughts occupied his mind about how he had come to associate with the malcontented characters he called friends. He never knew if any of them would turn on him, yet was quite certain someone already had. What he was sure of was his knowledge of sunken treasure could easily lead to his demise.
He saw the opening ahead. The gap wasn’t obvious, but was marked by a large coral formation. It seemed as though he had been running from something all of his life. His thoughts turned to the mother he knew as Jenny. She raised him from the time he was five years old, when his parents were killed while attempting to rob a bank. The household consisted of her husband Bobby and his younger sister Sylvia. The fact that his parents were crooks was lauded over him and used with great precision, to belittle and emotionally castrate the young man; effectively wresting away any ambition that might have been innately bestowed upon him. What he wasn’t told was that Bobby was the cop who shot both of his parents during the robbery.
One bit of advice given to him by his mother stayed with Owen throughout his adult life. She pulled him aside on his thirteenth birthday and told him, in an unusually caring tone, ‘Son, if you are ever in an uncomfortable situation, just remove yourself from it.’ He never knew whether her intent was to keep him away from drugs or from turning to a life of crime, but he was sure it was the reason he continually found himself running.
He struggled up an incline as he recalled his seventeenth birthday. A girl he fancied was at their house for dinner. The length to which his father exerted himself for Owen on his birthday consisted of well-charred burgers and crispy hot dogs. Jenny took the trouble to make a cake and allowed him to have company.
Bobby drank one can of beer after another and tossed the empties into the back yard as he grilled. The man and alcohol were a volatile concoction Owen avoided by staying inside. He lay on his side on the sofa as he watched television. Tranquil behavior was meant to avoid drawing anyone’s ire. His girlfriend Sara had gone to the bathroom. While he stared into space with his mind on nothing in particular, a gentle hand came from behind him and began to gently caress his arm. She squeezed his muscular bicep and then moved to his chest. With her fingertips, she traced the valley created by his overly developed pectorals. Owen thought about Sara and how he desired to make love to her that night. She was beautiful and shapely, with long blonde hair. Oh, how he wanted to hold her in his arms. It made him feel good to be sought after.
He rolled over to face her and make his desires known. Instead, he saw Sylvia standing over him, grinning. The look on her face conveyed ambiguity. Owen was not sure if she actually wanted to sleep with him, or if her actions were meant to freak him out. Without a word he stood, walked out of the house and into the back yard. A drunken Bobby became preferred company.
Owen approached the opening in the trees. The sun had yet to breach the morning sky. Sweat formed on the top of his head and dripped into his face. Salty perspiration stung his eyes and his shirt tail was the only thing he had to wipe away the excess moisture. It was half past six in the morning on the eastern side of Barracuda Key. Owen made his way through the trees then stopped short of the water and removed his shoes and socks before proceeding. Twenty yards from shore was a large piece of driftwood that protruded from the ocean floor. It was from a large, stout tree; like nothing that could be found on the island. He had come there on many occasions. When he reached it he sat, placing his shoes and socks on the log next to him.
I’m still pretty young. I have time to change my life for the better, right?, he thought to himself as he stared out over the ocean. Lack of self-esteem triggered questions that crept into his psyche on a regular basis. It was the only way he knew to forget his past, but he never convinced himself. Doubt caught up to him as it always had and yanked Owen down. The stakes were higher. He knew that he was being followed and feared for his life. Maybe it was a combination of Jenny’s advice and the beatings he received at the hand of her husband, but his instinct had always been to run. Maybe it’s time for me to stand and fight for something?
Owen felt safe sitting on the log, hidden by the thick Mangroves. Solitude had always been good to him. The sun rose above the horizon and the sky lightened from black to deep blue. Minutes passed and it changed to a beautiful Carolina shade. His sweat soaked shirt sent a chill over his body as the wind blew. He removed it so that he could bask in the warmth of the sun. He peered beneath the surface of the water and watched as he swirled his feet, stirring the soft sand on the bottom. Each time he stopped, the silt settled. Several minnows darted aimlessly back-and-forth. His thoughts raced just as quickly. He traced the timeline of his life as he sat with nowhere to go. There was something about not being responsible for, or to, anyone that appealed to him. Somewhere deep within him he knew that was not how he wished to live out his life. What was the alternative? The abuse he suffered at the hands of the only family he had known had a great deal to do with his inability to commit to anyone or anything. That not only included relationships with lovers, but friends. He was a loner and appreciated being one; most of the time.
Owen spied a seashell that lay near his feet. He reached into the water, retrieved it, and threw it as far as he could from his seated position. When it impacted the surface ripples spread in the calm morning ocean.
Only one woman made him wonder what would have happened if they had stayed together. Her name was Julia. She was the most beautiful person he had ever met. It was the way she carried herself, with confidence that made him respect her. He saw in her the qualities he longed to possess. The relationship didn’t last, and as always, Owen took responsibility for its failure. That did not prevent him from remembering the day they met with fondness. It was on a trip he made to Florence, Italy. The memory was three years old, but stimulated his mind as vividly as if he were there enjoying the sights and sounds of the vibrant, ancient city. Owen searched for the final resting place of a great-uncle he had never known. What they did share was their name.
Brilliant cognitive images took him to the courtyard of the Uffizi Museum. Several street vendors spread blankets onto the ground. Their wares ranged from wood carved animals to designer handbags. Owen sat on the top of four steps watching; not altogether interested in what happened below. His mind was filled with visions of the art he had seen in the gallery. Works by the masters; Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Bottacelli had only been two dimensional and not altogether real to him until his visit. For the first time in his life he understood genius could only be appreciated when it was beheld by someone open to the experience.
A flurry of activity below scattered the images in his mind and his attention focused on something other than his tour through the museum. Every street vendor picked up their blankets by the corners and slung them, filled and bulging with their merchandise, over their shoulders. Moving from his left were two Italian Policia walking and rhythmically swinging their batons. Each wore a smug and cocky grin. Owen watched as they walked exaggeratingly slowly, from one end of the courtyard to the other. When they passed each purveyor, blankets and merchandise were placed back onto the ground and hurriedly spread behind the officers. For each peddler it became business as usual mere paces behind the police. It was so cadenced it exuded the air of choreography. Owen laughed under his breath as he stood and picked up his backpack. He walked behind the officers toward a piazza adjacent to the museum. There was a little café where he could get a cold beer to offer some relief from the warm spring day.
When he reached his destination he was delighted to see several available tables. He approached the host and asked to be seated, trying his best to speak Italian without an accent, “Posso avere una tavola per uno, per favore.”
The maitre D’ removed a single menu from a pocket on the side of his stand and without a word showed Owen to a table. It was the middle of the afternoon and the café had cleared of its lunchtime patrons. He dropped his backpack in an empty seat and sat down. The waiter approached quickly and eagerly. Fearing the server would begin to speak in his native language, he asked for a beer before being challenged to decipher an unfamiliar greeting. “Una birra, per favore.”
The waiter detected the accent he tried so hard to conceal. “Peroni okay?”
“Si, grazie,” Owen said, graciously.
The waiter brought the beer out quickly and he drank and watched the people in the square. After several moments of examining the different faces and manner of dress, he made a game of picking out the tourists and those who were local. He listened intently to the conversations going on around him. After a couple of hours and a few large glasses of beer, Owen felt confident in his ability to discern those who were speaking Italian, but not well enough to be native to the wonderful city.
The sun set over the piazza and Owen had a glow about him that was the result of ingesting several ‘birra grandi.’ He wiped the sweaty film from his forehead and realized he needed something to eat before alcohol consumed his every faculty. A good brisk walk would do him well.
“L’assegno, per favore,” Owen asked as he signed the palm of his left hand with the imaginary pen he held in his right. It did not matter that he knew the waiter spoke English.
“Right away,” the waiter replied.
Paying in Lira and the substantial amount of currency it represented caused him to worry about leaving too much. He shook away his fear and picked up his backpack and walked out of the café. When he reached the entrance, he looked toward each corner of the piazza. They all appeared the same. In addition to the exits at each corner, there was a large archway in the middle of one side of the square. Five choices were available and he was certain he could get back to his hotel via the portico. He slung his backpack over his shoulder as he began to walk.
Just as Owen turned the corner and walked through the massive opening, a group of young Italian girls approached laughing and having a good time on a Friday night. There were five of them and he hesitated, shifting left and then right, trying to avoid a collision. One young lady walked backwards in front of the others as she spoke loudly. She was being very demonstrative, using her arms and hands to place emphasis where it was needed. Displaying a single consciousness, the others saw Owen and began to direct their companion under the guise of helping her. Instead, they guided her into his path. He countered each of her moves, but the collective was deft at the game. With a final wave of a hand, one young lady completed the decisive action that brought the tourist and her friend together. Just before they collided, another of the girls, in a moment of conscience, yelled, “Vigilanza favori.”
The young girl turned just in time to meet Owen face-to-face as they ran into one another. He dropped his backpack. She fell backward, away from him. His momentum and stature propelled her to the ground. He felt horribly as he stood witnessing the incident. She was stunned, and her friends fell silent. They rushed to her aid. With their help she stood and flipped her coal-black hair that had fallen into her face over the back of her head with her left hand. It took him a few moments to regain his composure.
“Mi Scusi … I’m sorry. I’m sorry. How the hell do you apologize in Italian?” Owen became frustrated with his inability to properly communicate his regret. The girls looked suspiciously at him. Nervously he searched for the words, but it only made matters worse. He stared at the cobblestone street, unable to face the young lady he feared he may have hurt. Owen took a deep breath, looked up at the group of girls who stared at him condescendingly. He searched for a glimmer of forgiveness on just one face. Finally, he looked at the young lady who stood in front of the group with her arms folded across her chest. When he took the time to appreciate her for the first time, he was captivated. The others quickly faded into the background. His nervousness was obvious to her, so she smiled to let him know everything was okay.
Her dress was white with small purple and pink flowers intricately stitched into its fabric. It perfectly complimented her dark skin. Owen noticed how the frock conformed to her hourglass shaped body. The hem hung to mid-thigh, revealing very long legs. With his eyes he followed the outline of her skirt. “Oh my god! You’re absolutely gorgeous!” Owen was stunned to confession by her beauty. He continued to stare. Her eyes were the shape and color of fresh almonds. They were bright and possessed a smile all their own. Her skin was smooth, brown and flawless. Every detail of her body was sculpted and magnificent. “She is the most amazing woman I’ve ever seen and I can’t even communicate with her.” He became frustrated at the prospect of not being able to tell her how he felt. Fear that he would never see her again lowered his linguistic skills to that of a caveman. He placed his hand on his chest, “Owen.”
Her friends watched and copied his gesture. “Owen,” they repeated, mockingly, in unison.
“Okay smart guy, what now?” Suddenly, his attempt seemed hopeless. He bent over, picked up his backpack and smiled graciously in an effort to bid arrivederci.
The young woman placed her hand on his shoulder as he began to walk away, then placed the other on her chest and deliberately said, “Julia.”
“Well Julia … the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, and possible love of my life … I have no way to tell you how sorry I am that I ran into you.” The language barrier and his despair fueled his boldness; “Who am I kidding? I wish I could run into you every day for the rest of my life.” She stared at him blankly. Owen continued, “Your beauty is burned into my memory. You’ll be the first thing I think of every morning for the rest of my life and the last thing each night. I will dream of holding you close to me. You belong in the Uffizzi.” Owen shook his head. “Why did I not spend more time learning Italian? This is useless.”
“No it isn’t,” she said.
Her friends walked away engulfed in laughter and mocking Owen in English, “Love of my life! The Uffizzi!” Julia did not move.
Suddenly, a loud thunderous clap shook him from his daydream. One of his shoes flew from the log and landed ten feet away with a splash. He fell into the water using the tree for cover. After a few seconds he lifted his head and peered toward the highway. A car sped away. Its rear tires threw up oyster shells and dust as it struggled to gain traction. Keeping his head low, he moved toward his shoe. When he retrieved it from the water he saw that a bullet had pierced the circle on the back that once contained the likeness of a puma. His heart pounded in his chest. Someone obviously knew he had information that could lead to great wealth.
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