THE ELEVATOR started out being a book about three women . . . then Eddie showed up. And the more I write about him, the more I like him. He is, naturally, an elevator technician (don’t call him a mechanic!)
Anyway, he’s the fourth and final main character in the WIP, and this is his first scene.
BTW, Carrie asked when this book is scheduled for release? (big sigh). Spring 2007.
Eddie Vaughn turns up the volume on his radio as the wind fires sharp pellets of rain at his windshield. On the seat beside him, Sadie, his golden retriever, shifts her weight and gives him a beseeching look.
“Almost home, girl.” He slows to ease the pickup through a stream gushing through an intersection, then tears his gaze from the pavement to grin at the dog. “You ready to settle in and watch some TV? If the power goes out, I figured we could play a few rounds of Go Fish or maybe do a crossword.”
Sadie tilts her head, then lowers her chin to the top of the seatback and stares out the truck’s rear window.
Eddie forces himself to whistle a bar of “Singing in the Rain,” then gives up the effort. The dog is worried, and no amount of grinning or whistling is going to relieve her anxiety. Gordon has been swirling around in the Gulf for days, but only in the last twenty-four hours has the storm drawn a bead on Tampa Bay. He’s heard that animals can sense impending natural disasters. Whether or not the rumor is true, Sadie has been antsy for the last two days.
When the cell phone on the seat buzzes, Eddie turns down the volume on the radio, then scoops up the phone with his free hand. “’Lo?”
“Hey, doll.” Charlene’s voice, crusty from chain-smoking, fills his ear. “Are they all squared away up there at Freedom Home?”
“You can scratch that one off your list, ma’am. Those folks aren’t going to be using the elevators any time soon. The nurses have moved all the residents into the common room—the poor people who didn’t have anyone to come get them, anyways.”
“Thanks for running up there, Eddie. I hated to call you out so early.”
“No big deal. I can go power ‘em up after the storm passes, if you want.”
She croaks out a laugh as another phone rings in the background. “You must have gotten a look at my friend’s daughter. Did you meet Emily? She’d be the blonde, the one that looks like Pamela Anderson.”
Eddie shakes his head. “Yeah, I saw her. Nice cage. No bird.”
“You’re too picky, Ed. Here I go out of my way to hook you up with a pretty girl—”
“Give it a rest, Charlene, I’m doin’ fine.”
“But you’re too nice a guy to be livin’ all alone—”
“Don’t you have to answer that phone?”
Thankfully, the question diverts the dispatcher’s one-track mind. “Yeah, I’d better. Well, doll, you take care. Batten the hatches and all that; check in when you can.”
“You take care, too, Charlene. I’ll talk to you when it’s all over.”
He disconnects the call and tosses the phone back onto the seat. Sadie lowers her head to sniff at it as Eddie slants into the left lane, where the water isn’t as deep.
“Almost home, girl.”
He turns up the volume on the radio. No music yet, the newscaster is still reporting on the weather: “A direct hit by a category four hurricane could seriously damage many of the office buildings in downtown Tampa. Experts are saying Gordon could wreak the kind of damage that Charley did to Punta Gorda two years ago. The tidal surge could rise as high as twenty-two feet, enough to flood the downtown area, Tampa International Airport, and McDill Air Force Base.”
“Good thing we don’t live in Tampa, huh, Sades?”
Eddie presses his lips together as he turns into his subdivision and peers through the pouring rain. His neighborhood seems deserted, which means people have either heeded the evacuation warnings or hunkered down inside their homes. Sheets of plywood or corrugated aluminum cover most of the windows, the seven dwarfs have disappeared from Mrs. Jackson’s flower bed, and Jack Tomlinson has parked his wife’s minivan on the open lawn, away from the heavy oak tree that shades the south side of their house. Though the Tomlinson family’s garage is crowded with old newspapers, paint cans, sports equipment, and tools (several of them on loan from Eddie), apparently Jack has found room for his Corvette.
“I’d like to repeat,” the radio announcer says, “that the governor has ordered the mandatory evacuation of ten coastal counties, warning that those who say behind face certain injury or death. If you’re not in a shelter and you live on the beach, you need to evacuate immediately to protect your own life.”
Eddie’s house, located on high ground in unincorporated Pinellas County, is part of a thirty-year-old subdivision built when contractors cared more for utility than aesthetics. The rainwater is draining properly on his street, a road lined by three-bedroom, two bath structures of concrete block. Like its neighbors, his house isn’t fancy, but it has a fenced yard for Sadie, a small pool, and a half-dozen shade trees to protect it from the sweltering summer sun.
Eddie hopes those leafy canopies survive the approaching hurricane. Last year even the storms that merely swiped at Pinellas County toppled hundreds of trees, which damaged cars and homes as they fell. Not even a house of concrete block could withstand the weight of a sprawling two hundred year-old live oak.
“Officials estimate that 487,000 people in Hillsborough County alone have had to seek shelter,” the newscaster continues, “and over 550,000 have filled shelters in Pinellas County. Wherever you are, I hope you’re safely tucked away and not on the road.”
“You and me both, bud,” Eddie says, turning into his driveway. He pulls the pickup under the carport, then steps out of the truck. He doesn’t have to call Sadie—she leaps out behind him, a graceful golden blur on a bee line for the back door.
He laughs as he looks for his house key. “Ready to go inside, are you? Me, too. Let’s eat while we still have power to the microwave.”
Sadie scratches at the threshold, then sits back and waits for Eddie to slip the key into the lock.
After opening the door, he takes one last look around before following the dog into the house. The garbage cans have been hauled into the utility room, the bird feeders tucked into a sheltered corner of the carport. He has covered his windows with plywood, turned the glass-topped patio table upside down on a mat of old towels, and tossed his aluminum lawn chairs into the pool. He and Sadie have bottled water, a battery-powered radio, canned foods, and a manual can opener—enough supplies to get them through a couple of weeks, if necessary.
Satisfied with his preparations, he steps into the utility room and locks the door, securing the deadbolt as well. The deadbolt would stop a human intruder, but he’s not sure it will hold against a category four wind.
When he left Alabama to escape an emotional storm, he never dreamed he’d be exchanging one kind of disaster for another. All things considered, though, the literal storms are easier to handle.
“God, help us,” he murmurs, one hand on the doorknob. Then he turns and whistles for the dog.