The Prequel

Teach Your Children Well is a manuscript which was originally intended to be the first in the Jo Sullivan suspense series.  After way too many rejections, however, I finally moved on to Jo’s next adventure, Painted Black, which proved to be a good move on my part since it actually found a home with New Libri Press and is now available in ebook and trade paperback.  Someday, maybe the story of Jo’s attempt to help an old highschool crush regain custody of his son will be resurrected in the form of a prequel.  In the meantime, enjoy this glimpse at Jo Sullivan in the days before she met Lexie and Cry and a creepy character named Sidney Cole.

Chapter 1

The shadow stretched across the pavement, flowed up the curb, stopped short. Flashbulbs popped and brought the shadow to life, but not the boy sprawled on the road, one leg thrown out, arm reaching with fingers splayed.

The nightmare lingered there, in the back of her mind. The laughter
didn’t penetrate, nor the music. This was not real, this nightclub, these people, her.

“Go for it,” Keisha said.

“What?” Jo turned to focus on her friend’s face. Gold hoops danced
against Keisha’s neck.

“Go back there and say hi.”

Then Jo realized the folk singer had ended his set and gone backstage.

She pushed remnants of the dream aside and sat up straighter.
“It wasn’t him. And even if it was, he wouldn’t remember me. High school
was a long time ago. And he didn’t even know I existed.”

“So? You exist now, don’t you, not that you’d know it lately. Remember,
girl, you’re a wild, eligible woman again. And you are here to forget about Carl
and have some fun.”

But it wasn’t Carl Jo was trying forget tonight. Memories of an exhusband
couldn’t compete with those of the five-year-old boy who had haunted
her dreams for almost twenty years.

Jo took the napkin she had picked apart and dumped it in the ashtray.
Keisha was right, though. She’d only been going through the motions in the
weeks since the divorce. Jo looked down at her jeans that weren’t nearly tight
enough and the bulky sweater that was no substitute for a black silk blouse
left unbuttoned halfway to her navel. She had let her hair grow back to mousy
brown, and thrown away the tinted contacts that turned her hazel eyes into a
sexy aquamarine. The old Jo would be flirting with that cute guy at the bar, or,
better yet, putting the make on the musician she suspected was her old high
school heart throb, Eli Brady.

Jo swallowed the rest of her Bordeaux. The warmth of the wine reached
the pit of her stomach and stayed there, mellowing, encouraging. On the dance
floor, bodies swayed in time to music from the jukebox. For a moment more, Jo
absently fingered the thin strap of her handbag, then she pushed back from
the table and stood up, suddenly energized. Jo Sullivan, reporter, in search of
action and adventure.

The back hallway was lighted by one dusty bulb and a neon exit sign at
the far end. Jo heard a muted shout behind a door to her right and reached for
the knob without thinking. As she opened the door, a crash shook the floor.
She stepped forward, leaned toward the open wedge, and saw a man
sprawled on the floor, his eyes closed, blood seeping from a gash on his head.

Eli Brady stood over him, a bottle of wine gripped tightly by the neck.
The door knob rattled as Jo’s fingers shook. Eli dropped the bottle and
looked up, startled. For a moment, they stared at each other, then he pulled
her into the room and shut the door, shoving her up against it with her left arm
twisted behind her. He put one hand over her mouth.

“Quiet,” he said, his voice hoarse. “Listen.”

Though her ears rang with fear, she heard what he had already noticed,
the tap of approaching footsteps.

“You’re dead if you move,” Eli whispered. “We both are.”

His hair brushed her cheek as he spoke. Jo expected the sour smell of
alcohol, but his breath smelled sweet, clean. Her senses tuned to a fine pitch:
the clammy feel of her face, her palms, her arm pits; the pinch of Eli’s fingers
as he clamped her jaw shut tight. And the silence, absolute and terrifying, from
the man that lay at their feet.

Pinned between his chest and the door, her twisted arm trapped behind
her, Jo shivered and listened, aware of Eli’s body pressed along the length of
hers and of the aching joints in her arm. The footsteps hesitated before
continuing down the hall to be shut off behind the snap of a door.

“We’ve got to get out of here before he comes back,” Eli said. “He’ll kill us
both if he finds us. Understand?”

No, I don’t understand, she wanted to scream. But Eli wasn’t taking any
chances. He kept his hand clamped over her mouth as he opened the door and
pushed her ahead of him down the hall. Jo felt like her chest would explode
from the effort to breathe past the panic, past the hand over her mouth.

He let go of her to open the back door. Chilled spring air fell on her face.
Jo filled her lungs with a sobbing gasp, breathing in the stink of garbage and
exhaust fumes. A streetlight at the end of the alley threw shadows of
dumpsters and debris across the patchwork brick buildings.

Eli pushed her toward a car parked near the alley entrance and opened
the driver’s side door. “Get in,” he said. “Quick.”

Jo slid across the seat. What am I doing? she thought, but she sat frozen
and mute as Eli started the engine. Am I escaping or being kidnapped?
Clamping her clenched hands between her knees, she forced herself to take
deep, even breaths. Think, damn it, think.

There were sunglasses on the dash, a worn pair of Nikes on the floor, but
no weapon, nothing to threaten her or to use for defense. They headed north on
Lake Shore Drive. Friday night traffic flowed thick around them, the drivers
and passengers mere profiles behind windows that reflected the lamplit street.
If she wanted to get away, she might be able to jerk open her door and jump
out, maybe, but if bouncing on the asphalt didn’t kill her, the cars that wove
from lane to lane probably would.

She glanced at Eli; the hair was shorter, the face a little fuller, but she
did not doubt now who he was, despite the way harsh shadows distorted the
fine angles of his face. This was the youth she’d had such a massive crush on
years ago. The phrase that had egged her on earlier repeated itself with a wry
note of derision: Jo Sullivan, reporter, in search of action and adventure. What
an idiot she was.

Jo looked over at Eli again. The glow of the dash lights lit up his hands
clenched on the steering wheel, cast shadows on his shirt and on his face. She
noticed something else this time, however. Something that glistened on his
cheeks, wet and diamond-like.

Tears.

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