The following is an excerpt from my debut novel, Coordinated Universal Time Travel (CUTT). CUTT is a Character-Centric Time Travel Sci-Fi/Fantasy with Murder Mystery elements. If you’re looking for a new read from a unique storytelling voice, this book might be for you.
NOTE: The Amazon Links above give you the first 70-100 pages in the sample. These will also be kept more up-to-date than anything posted here.
The chime goes off as a man walks through the front door of the gallery. He’s carrying a box full of wine bottles taken from the night’s wedding reception. A woman in a black dress hurries into the foyer to greet him. “Hey, uh…what was your name again?” She closes and locks the door behind him.
“Very funny,” Oscar says as they stroll into the main room. “Anyways, this is for you.” The bottles jostle as he sets the box on the concrete floor.
“Wow, a gift?” She hovers around the box but doesn’t open it. “I thought you hated modern art.”
“I do. Hence, the need for a dozen bottles.”
“Twelve bottles on the first night seems a bit desperate.”
“Not desperate, prepared.” He wipes a trace of rainwater from his forehead.
“If you were trying to get me drunk, you should’ve started during the reception,” she says.
“I’ll remember that next time.”
“Next time, huh?”
“A man’s gotta shoot for something.”
She mirrors his devilish grin and holds her tongue for a solid beat. “Don’t get your hopes up.”
“Good, then I don’t have to take this conversation seriously.”
He peels back the cardboard flaps and reveals the wine. She peers closer, yet still can’t figure much out from her viewpoint.
“If this is you being serious, then I really am going to need a drink,” she says. “What’s in the box?”
“Since we’re never going to meet again, here’s a red.”
“Eh, I hate red wine,” she says, despite reflexively accepting the bottle.
“Same here,” he says.
“Then why’d you take it?”
“Same here, I guess.”
Oscar searches his pockets finding his wallet, keys, a dead cellphone, and a bundle of lint. “Great. I left my corkscrew in the trunk, but I’m actually not parked too far. Just—”
She shakes her head and waves him in. “Hold on.”
She reaches into her cavernous purse, digs around for a moment, and unveils a gold-plated Swiss Army Knife. Despite its gaudy appearance, it’s beaten and worn at the edges. She handles it deftly in her small hands and unfolds the corkscrew.
Oscar hands her the bottle. “So, desperate and prepared?”
“Luckily for you, I’m both tonight,” she says while clutching the neck of the bottle and burrowing the corkscrew as far as it goes. She strains heavily while wrenching out the cork yet never asks for help. With no regard for her dress, she pins the bottle between her ribs and elbow. After another major effort, the cork comes out in one clean motion. Oscar quietly wonders if he should’ve at least offered to lend a hand.
Panting, she takes a deep swig and then hands him the bottle. Her dark lipstick smears across the rim; he grimaces. “Who needs cups?” he mutters before matching her effort. They start exploring the gallery; taking their time as she explains each one of her unfinished sculptures. The art isn’t as bizarrely modern as she had promised, so his teasing complaints can’t quite hide his admiration.
They eventually circle back to the wine box. “Guess that’s it for tonight.” She flicks the empty red wine bottle, then winces and clutches her finger.
“I did bring a dozen for a reason,” he says.
“Thought I’d only signed up for one glass,” she says.
“You know, every bottle’s single-serving if you try hard enough.”
“That’s some, interesting, perspective you have there.”
He takes the empty bottle off her hands and lowers it into the box. “Hey, no shame in being positive.”
She briefly shakes her head with her eyes closed. “Well don’t get too optimistic. Are you sure you’re alright to drive? It’s going to be a mess out there.”
“Optimistic about what?” he asks. She withholds her response, hoping silence will convey her concern. She turns bashful under the pressure of his confused stare. He stammers as he digs deep enough to find her interpretation of the subtext. “Don’t forget I’m twice as big as you,” he says, “Plus, this wedding was practically a high school reunion for me. My whole past suddenly caught up to me.”
“Now there’s a sobering thought,” she says.
“How come sobering thoughts always make you want to drink more?” Oscar asks.
She laughs as she hands him her Swiss Army Knife. “Fine, I’ll drink one more with you. But you have to open it this time.”
“And I want one of the good ones, I’m not ending this night with something as shitty as red wine,” she says.
Oscar kneels down and searches his small hoard of wine for the high-end Champagne he’d been saving for himself. The front door chime goes off. She puts a hand on his shoulder.
He raises the bottle and impersonates the waiters with a flourish. “What we have here mademoiselle, is our top Champagne grown with only the most select grapes on French soil. With each sip, you’ll notice the absolute absence of harsh, unsettling tannins and crisp notes of…” He trails off as he realizes she’s looking over his shoulder towards the room’s entrance.
“Did you hear that?” Her nails dig into his jacket’s shoulder padding.
It’s perfectly silent.
“Yeah, probably someone who loves modern art,” he says.
“Couldn’t it just be the storm?”
“Maybe you’re right…But didn’t you close the door behind you?”
“No. You did,” he says.
She brings both hands to her face to hide her dour expression. As he looks for the right words to comfort her, the lights cut out and clunky footsteps advance from the foyer. She grabs hold of him again; in a fit of panic, she almost knocks both of them down.
Oscar barely has a chance to right his balance when he hears the first muffled crack. A suppressed whirr zips past him, before a vase breaks across the room. “Run!” she says. He can hardly process anything until he hears the second gunshot. Her legs give out and he stumbles backwards until adrenaline kicks in. He lifts her with the wine bottle pressed between them and dashes for the emergency exit on the far side of the room. The woman coughs a spray of blood into Oscar’s face.
The next gunshot hits Oscar in the lower back. The duo immediately crashes to the floor with her pinned beneath him. The Champagne bottle shatters in a blur of fizz and foam. Bubbles shiver and burst atop the steadily swelling pool of their blood. The exit sign’s dim glow illuminates her face. She lucidly stares at Oscar, tears streaming down. She accidentally sends bloody spittle into his eye as she tries to speak.
The gunman cautiously avoids their blood as he takes a few steps further and fires three more shots. Two hit Oscar’s back, the third narrowly misses his head. The gunman pulls the trigger one final time but only draws a soft click in response. He futzes with the gun in the darkness. A rough scraping noise follows a distinctly different click; the clatter of empty brass casings intensifies as the shooter clears the gun. Loose ammunition sloshes around with a dull jingle as the shooter prepares to reload.
Oscar tries to push the two of them away, but he can’t feel his legs. His watch rakes against the concrete floor as his left hand is trapped beneath her back in a growing mass of blood. She struggles to breathe and her last words come out as weakly mumbled gibberish. He toils to maintain pressure on her wound as injuries finally delete his strength. Her eyelids droop deeper with each stunted breath until they shut gracefully. A decisive metallic snap sends a stabbing sensation up Oscar’s spine and he braces for the next shot. He shuts his eyes, grits his teeth, and curses his impending death.
Note: CUTT will receive a global release on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited in 2023 Q3.