Daybreak over the Valley

First chapter from the novel

No Absolution

“The cat,” says a familiar voice.
What cat?
In the darkness, you are flying. You feel motion, yet you are sitting at a table, opposite a dirty, unshaven guy pointing a burning cigarette at you.
I know this person.
When an angry Bruce Harvey says, “Where’s my cat, fucker?” you conclude it’s a dream. The has-been movie star is interrogating you in a grimy, run-down room surrounded by four cracked, windowless walls, but the only question running through your head is…
Why this actor?
Harvey karate chops you across the back of your neck. It’s not the pain that wakes you, it’s the warm light bleeding in through your eyelids. The nightmare fades, fizzling away, back into your brain’s nether regions, dying alongside discarded aspirations and forgotten memories. Drool runs down the side of your mouth, but you are unable to move. Your face feels numb, due to your cheek pressed against the cold glass. The tinnitus in your ears stops, replaced by the hum of the ute’s engine, and the friction between tyre, road and air, enters your awareness. You open your eyes, just wide enough to squint, focusing on the golden countryside sweeping past outside.
For a moment; reality is a blur.
You attempt to shift your head and are relieved it moves with little pain. Your arm is cramped, and your neck feels broken, but you know this is temporary. The breaking dawn illuminates the narrow, unmarked road, winding around a chain of hills. A clump of trees obscures the misty valley beyond, sending intermittent shafts of copper light to warm your face. Once the trees go by, you marvel at the spectacle, at the amber clouds cruising along the horizon, at the auburn fields, smothered with whispers of mist, rolling up and down between chestnut-coloured forests.

No Absolution
No Absolution

Tears form in the corners of your eyes, but the chill dries them before they could sully your reputation. You look ahead, out to where the road straightens out into the broadening valley, cutting through open farmland. Aside from the old twin cab ute, no other traffic traverses the road.
“Check out the valley,” says a voice.
Without moving your head too much, you look at the driver. With the angle of the sun low, the dirty windscreen is saturated with sunlight. Trevor seems content, almost happy. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he says. He looks over at you, with that nauseating smile, “Don’t you think, Phil? Take a look.”
You move your head and look outside, squinting at the dawn sunlight bathing the road ahead. “What am I looking at?”
“You’re looking at an artistic masterpiece painted by the Creator. This is God’s way of nourishing the souls of men. Good and bad. Look at how He baths the Earth, washing away all its troubles with one single brushstroke.”
You remain quiet, nothing he says antagonizes you anymore.
“I’m sorry,” Trevor says, “I keep forgetting you’re not a religious man.”
“No, I’m not,” You shut your eyes and try to snooze, feeling you still have some sleep left in you.
“I get a little overzealous sometimes,” says Trevor.
You refuse to react to his words, hoping to avert a discussion. But, Trevor, on the other hand, is a cannonball. “I can’t help myself. Just ignore me when I start waffling on.”
Fucken aye, you think as you try harder to ignore him.
You don’t respond, praying to the same dumb-ass God for some respite.
Fat chance. You reluctantly open your eyes. Trevor waits for you to look at him. “Can I stop for a few minutes?”
“Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Man, I gotta take a shot of this. I won’t even be five minutes.”
“No,” is your reply.
“Why not?”
“Because your five minutes turn into one of my hours. You’re gonna wanna set up this, wait for that, wait for this. Whole buncha bullshit later, there goes the hour, my hour, never to return. Bye-bye hour. Nice knowing ya.”
“Man, you’ve got me driving through the night. Do you know how dangerous this is? Especially the predawn. I need to rest my eyes?”
You spend a moment contemplating the gravity of his words and attitude. Pulling out the folded country map, the one you had ripped out from the dog-eared copy of the 55th Edition Mappex, you flip it around until you find the road you are traversing. “Pull over at the next truck stop.”
“How far is that?”
“I think it’s less than an hour.” You observe Trevor’s grip on the steering wheel tighten.
Trevor says, “Just five minutes, man.”
You say nothing. You don’t want to risk an argument or feed any ill feelings. Nor do you want this prick wasting time, your time. So, you step out of the equation and let the man decide. You knew from the outset that executing such a scheme would require patience, above all else.
A shrug from you is all he needs. Trevor slows and steers the ute onto the gravel. You continue to say nothing, sitting in the worn faux leather seat, allowing him to stop, climb out, get his camera bag, and begin setting up. Your hands tremble. You start wringing them to ease away the agitation. The mere act of waiting causes your nerves to flare up, which, if left untended, endangered the plan.
Your last devious gambit.
If you pull it off, it would unlock a new life.
If not, all is lost.
The question of whether you are capable of killing a man in cold blood doesn’t haunt you anymore. The last thing you want, though, is to allow the guilt in the pit of your stomach to churn up excuses to force you to chicken out.
Patience is a virtue, you remind yourself as you watch Trevor do his thing. By the time Trevor is ready to adjust the focal length of his lens, the layers of mist have dissipated, and the sun’s light has lost its golden lustre.

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