Hi all, and welcome back to another edition of Deleted. This is an ongoing series sharing deleted scenes, snippets of old stories, and random detritus that accumulates in any author’s career. As I’m finally closing in on the ending of Room 3 (the new, expanded edition), I thought it might be interesting to take a look at one of the many iterations that this book has undergone.
I’ve talked some about the torturous path to publication that this book has followed and share more than one piece from this book; it’s been an interesting, painful evolution. Thankfully, I think the final product will be something very different and yet familiar, without a doubt my best story to date.
This is from the version titled “Room 3 Initial Draft”, a pre-beta-reader version that’s dated January 23rd (wow, it’s really been that long, huh?). At this point, Kelli was still a Southern, African-American woman working in a run-down Texas Bar. All of this has since changed, and this scene no longer appears in the final version, but I still find it interesting. Hell, who knows, a changed version of this might appear in a future story. Without further ado…
1: A Tear in my Beer
The cowboy, Paul by name, said to Kelli, giving her a lopsided grin over his mug of Bud. “Now you know: protect your bits in the cold.”
She chuckled. “Most reasonable folks know that.”
“Well now, that just hurts my feelings,” he said.
“Does it now? You going to cry?” she said.
“I might, if you’re not nice to me.”
“I wouldn’t want to be responsible for making a cowboy cry, now, would I?”
He winked. “No, ma’am. Be nice to me. You wouldn’t like me when I’m sad.”
“Hell of a thing,” she said.
“Hell of a thing,” he agreed, and sat forward. “What’s fair is fair. Tell me the craziest thing ever happened to you.”
She considered the lanky stranger who sat across from her. She saw nothing special about him; he didn’t have anything that a hundred other men in her days since she’d walked into the tiny little Odessa, Texas bar and started slinging beer. Maybe a little taller, maybe a little more handsome, but did it make a difference? In the end he was another modern cowboy, come to town on a Thursday night from one of those ranches out near Goldsmith or Greenwood, ready to spend the week’s wages on a weekend bender.
“Think I should?” she said.
“Wouldn’t ask if I didn’t.”
She sighed. The damned thing was, no matter how hard she tried to convince herself, she did see something special in him. He had been special enough, at least, for her to let him wait until she’d closed the bar down; special enough to share a few brews with him.
Circumstances had hidden her from a lot of the bad things in the world for a long time, but she knew that staying in that bar with him alone, as an African American woman in West Texas, was probably not the brightest of all her ideas.
Yet something compelled her. She put her Heineken on the table and stretched. “All right. Fair enough. You show me yours, I show you mine?”
He grinned. “Something like that.”
She considered her bottle, and then gazed at him. “You sure you’re ready? It’s a doozy.”
“Ready as I’ll ever be.”
“All right.” She paused, not sure how to put it. She realized that it came across as a dramatic pause, but in reality the wheels in her head spun. At last, unable to think of much else, she said, “I’m a ghost.”
Paul stared at her, mouth hanging open.
Even looking like that, she realized that, were they in another time or place, she might have wanted to leave with him. At the very least, she found him easy on the eyes.
You felt something special about him, all right. Something special in the pants, she thought.
He leaned over and reached for her, meeting her eyes for a second to ask permission. She didn’t object, but she didn’t say anything, either.
He touched her arm with one finger, poking once, and then sliding a finger down to her hand, sending a charge down her spine.
Behave, she thought. You’re spoken for.
“You feel solid to me,” he said.
She knocked on the table. “You think? I didn’t mean I’m literally a ghost. I mean as far as the government – or anybody else, really – is concerned, I don’t exist. No birthday, no records, no social security. No nothing.” She sipped her beer.
She extended one hand.
He leaned back in his chair. “What are you, some sort of CIA agent or something? No wait, I know. You’re hiding from the mob, right?”
“Not exactly,” she said.
“Ah, see,” he said, and snapped his fingers. “I knew it. I’ve got a genuine fugitive, right here. You worth anything if I turn you in?”
A rush of adrenaline hit her system and she blushed despite herself. “Don’t you dare.”
She didn’t mean to be forceful, but it came out hard-edged enough that he held up his hands. “Whoah, no harm meant, little lady. No worries,” he said.
“I’d just rather not have everybody knowing who I am.”
“No offense, but that doesn’t make a lick of sense. You’re talking to a total stranger,” he said.
“Not a total stranger. I figure anybody who knows about you sticking your dick to a flagpole can’t be a total stranger.”
He winced. “Now, no need for that.”
It was her turn to wink. “Secret’s safe with me. Anyway, my point being, you’re not a total stranger. You show me yours…”
“Right. I just want to know how you can’t be sure that I work for the folks who are looking for you.”
“I just know,” she said.
“Yeah? How’s that?”
“No offense, honey, but nothing about you says you’re the kind of fellow who’d hang out with these folks. You’re a little too…”
“Redneck?” He lifted his mug to his lips.
“‘Folksy’ was the word. But that would work too, if it suits you.”
“Beats the hell out of ‘folksy’. What the hell’s that even mean, anyway?”
She laughed. “I don’t know. Leave me alone and let me tell my story.”
“Your funeral,” he said, and sipped from his mug.
“You’re just full of shit, aren’t you?” she said.
“See, another reason you wouldn’t be with those assholes,” she said.
“You going to tell me who ‘those assholes’ are?”
She sighed and pulled the chair beside her from under the table, sliding her legs up onto it. “All right. But we’re going to be here a little while.”
“The longest,” she said. “I don’t even know where to start.”
“I’ll tell you, stories are a way of life for me. Sometimes it’s all you have to do when you’re out there. I’ve told a hundred, and heard a hundred. Best place I’ve ever known to start is at the beginning.”
“Aren’t you just helpful,” she said.
He repeated her motion with the other chair, lifting his legs onto it as he put his arms behind his head. “I try.”
She thought about it. “You know how people sometimes just disappear? Like just poof, up and vanish?”
“It starts there, and with this one chick, Carla Summers.”
“Friend of yours?” he said.
“You might say so. Carla’s probably the most important person in my life.” She let the story take over, the gears in her head shifting as she looked out onto the bar’s dance floor, eyes seeing the details but also a million miles away. “Tall drink of water, bit on the hefty side, not that I’m talking bad on her. I could stand to lose a few pounds myself, of course.”
“Nah, you’re a beauty.”
She came back to the bar for a moment, eyeing him out of the corner of her eye. “Aren’t you a slick one?”
“Aim to please,” he said.
She shook her head. “Can’t tell you exactly when I met Carla. All I know is it changed my life. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her, and those assholes, I guess. The Organization.”
“The enemies emerge from the shadows,” he said.
“You don’t know the half of it. The Organization’s the folk who capture a lot of those people, I figure.”