– Chapter One from The Consistency of Parchment –

Some prose for your weekend enjoyment, my valued reader … Here is the first chapter from my novel The Consistency of Parchment. Your thoughts, comments, critiques, and suggestions are always welcome. The full book is available for the Kindle on Amazon’s website here.

“On my count, okay? Not yet … Ready … Okay, n–”

“That’s not a count.”

“What?”

“You said ‘on my count’. I was expecting more of a three, two, one, go.”

“Jesus, just come on already!”

With that they are off again, bolting away from the train in spectacular fashion, weaving around backpackers, business travellers, and indifferent railway porters to escape a threat that she has by now estimated to be nonexistent.

“Can we – can we stop for a minute, please? My purse is slipping.”

“Let it go. Come on!”

Outside the station, after sprinting around to the back of the building and under a bridge, he finally stops, inexplicably, in the middle of the sidewalk next to Avenue de Stalingrad-Laan. Out in the open where anyone, if they cared to, could see them. It’s rush hour in Brussels.

“We should be fine here.” He bends down to untie and retie his shoelace, looking back discreetly in the direction of the station to see if they’ve been followed. Satisfied that their pursuers have been eluded, he stands up with a triumphant look on his face. “Lost ’em!”

“What, for the fifth time now? Hard to believe.”

He does the math in his head. She can tell he’s actually trying to count all five times because he closes his eyes and cocks his head to the side, as if the answer will hasten past, borne along by the slight afternoon breeze.

“That sounds about right. Boy, we’ve got this down to a science.”

“Cal, don’t you find it odd that we’ve been able to ‘escape’” – she hates herself at that moment for having to use the affectation of quotation gestures to convey sarcasm, but is tired and cannot be bothered with propriety – “so many times in the past few days? Maybe we aren’t being chased … any more.”

“No, we’ve been lucky. Good, but lucky.” He adjusts his pack, tightening the straps across thin knobby shoulders, and checks his watch. “Next train to Copenhagen at seven thirty. Five hours from now. We’ll double back and come in through the side entrance. They won’t be looking for us there.”

“Can I get a sweater out of my bag first, at least? It’s getting cold.”

Cal bites his lip and looks at her nervously. “Okay,” he says after a minute. “But let’s hurry. I don’t want to stay out in the open for too long. Our faces will probably be all over the news by now.”

Two days ago it wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. Two days ago she and Evan had been going over the details of the plan in their Frankfurt hotel room.

“Tomorrow afternoon,” he said.

“One o’clock. The Frankfurt Main Bank,” she continued.

“You have your identification with you?”

She flipped open the German passport that identified her as Annika Hegel. “Ja.” A self-satisfied smile played across her face, classically beautiful in deference to her Spanish colonial pedigree but tempered by the dull pace of small-scale criminal enterprise.

He smiled. “Now you take the key from the safe deposit box and nothing else. Everything else stays in the case, right?”

“I know.”

“We’ll meet at the train station. Three o’clock at track four. I’ll have your ticket.”

“That’s fine.”

He looked at her for a minute, studying her clinically. How the weight of professional familiarity had dulled the passion he had felt for her so long ago! – so many years ago now. Evan swept bored grey eyes across her fine features accentuated by pale skin, straight brown hair, and chestnut eyes. Decidedly un-Teutonic.

“You’re sure you can pass yourself off as German, Kendra?”

Her face hardened and she looked past him in annoyance. “Yes.”

“Alright then.” Satisfied by her indignation, he gathered the papers laid out on the bed and packed them into a folder in his duffel bag. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Wish me luck.”

“Remember,” he said as he closed the door behind him. “Just the key.”

She stuck out her tongue but he didn’t notice.

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