Excerpt: Cold Turkey

Chapter 1

Liv Montgomery leaned over and adjusted the laces of her running shoes. She hadn’t done any serious running since coming to Celebration Bay to be the town’s event coordinator three months before.  She hadn’t run in a Turkey Trot in years.  Mainly because the holiday season was her busiest and it didn’t allow time for anything but work, that and the fact that New York City, home to the greatest marathon on earth, didn’t have one.

But Celebration Bay did, and her assistant, Ted, had convinced her that her participation would show serious support of the town. 

“Are you sure you don’t need me?” she asked.

Ted lifted an eyebrow, his favorite, don’t-be-trying, expression.  Ted was somewhere in his sixties, she guessed, since he never gave out details about himself; tall, thin, with a shock of white hair and a permanently amused twinkle in his killer blue eyes.

If he’d ever been married he didn’t tell. And she’d never asked. Not that she was looking in that direction.  She was just thirty and not ready to settle down yet. Heck, who was she kidding, event planners didn’t have time to settle down. 

She did have one man in her life. He was watching from the sidelines with her two landladies, Miss Ida and Miss Edna Zimmerman.  He had white hair too, only his eyes were brown.  He stood about knee high and was a Westie terrier named Whiskey.

Behind them, the park was packed with people.  The roped-off holding area must contain over a hundred participants.  The earlier Fun run had attracted over two hundred children and adults.  The Turkey Trot 50 yard dash was filled with children. The town had already collected two truckloads of donated food.

Edna and Ida waved. They were standing at the very front of the crowd that lined the sidewalk that enclosed the town green, which wasn’t so green in the middle of November. She loved it here.

Liv waved back.  “Okay but—”

“No buts.  Go enjoy yourself, unless you plan to go for the gold, then run like you were pursued by demons.”

Liv grinned at him. “Not me. I’ll be lucky to finish in the first twenty. I’m not exactly in prime shape.” She leaned over to touch her toes, squatted down and stood again.

“You could have fooled me. You look mean and lean . . .even in hot pink.”

Liv looked down at her bright thermal vest. “Don’t want to be mistaken for a bear,” she said.

“We’ve posted over a hundred no hunting signs along the route and sent out dozens of announcements and posted the route with police cruisers to thwart anybody from attempting to hunt that stretch of wood.  Besides, we don’t get too many bear hunters around there anyway, deer hunters mostly.” He grinned.  “No one would mistake you for either.” He looked past her and his eyes widened.  “Though I’m afraid you can’t hold a candle to that guy.”

A tall buff Nordic-looking man took his place among the other runners, most of whom were outfitted in sweats, jeans or jogging suits.  The newcomer was wearing black shiny running tights and a red and black thermo stretch crew. A black headband accentuated stylish white-blond hair.

He was impressive. But arrogant, Thor leading a band of three less-than-enthusiastic followers who reluctantly took their places around him.

Two of the men were fortyish, in decent enough shape by what Liv could tell beneath their nylon running suits.  The third was Thor’s exact opposite.  Short, paunchy and bald. He was wearing gray sweat pants and a faded Notre Dame sweat shirt that might have fit him twenty pounds ago. He was already huffing and puffing.

“They don’t let anyone run without signing the waiver do they?” she asked Ted.

“Not a chance,” Ted said through a grin.  “That’s why you have that nifty turkey sticker on your chest.  No turkey, no trot.”  Laughter got the best of him.

“You’re such an inspiration.”

“Okay chop-chop, they’re getting ready to start.”

She took a final stretch, pulled her headband over her ears.

“Come on Pudge,” one of the men said.  “You agreed to the run. It’s good for you and it’s good for business.”

“Yeah,” Thor said.  “It’ll make them think you’re just like them.”

Their shorter, and definitely “pudgy” companion frowned.  “I’m here aren’t I?  but I’m freezing my tail off.”

“Surprised you could find it in all that extra flab,” Thor said.

The two other men exchanged looks.  “Max, lay off,” the taller one said.

Pudge laughed.  “It’s okay, Joe. Maxie here doesn’t bother me. Let him have his fun.  I know how to throw my weight around.” Pudge patted his stomach.

The other two chuckled.  Thor grinned.  “Five says I beat you back to the hotel bar before you even finish the 2K.”

“C’mon Max.  It’s just a friendly race,” Jerry said.

Pudge looked sideways at him. “Why not make it ten?”

Liv frowned at Ted. “Do you think I should say something about not betting?”

“For ten bucks?  I don’t think you need bother. If they were taking bets from others, that would be another thing.”

Thor narrowed his eyes.  “Deal.”  He adjusted his headband. “Eric, Joe and I will  be waiting for you in the bar.  Loser buys the drinks.”  He grinned, it was competitive and smug.

Liv hoped Pudge got there first.  She didn’t like people like Thor.

The bull horn sounded to announce the start of the race.  Everyone took their places.

The four men crowded in ahead of her.  She couldn’t resist.  She loud enough for them to hear her.  “The winner should donate to the Celebration Bay Youth Program.”

The second horn sounded and the marathon began. Thor shot out in front. Liv doubted if he could keep up that pace, but she didn’t really care.  She planned to run her own race at her own speed.

The route ran east toward the lake and then south down Lakeshore Road.

A half mile later those running the 2k turned west and began the loop back to the town square.  After another quarter mile, those running the 5K course also turned off. 

The Ten K course continued south into farm country.

Trees lined the  side of the road, at first as windbreakers to the fields behind them.  Later patches of woods shared the vista with farmland.  Every few yards no trespassing and no hunting signs were posted on fence posts and trees.

Liv only noticed in a blurs. She forgot about, side bets, award presentations, quilt demonstrations, Pilgrim feasts, and everything else as her feet and body settled into a familiar rhythm.  She was in the zone, running was everything.  She was barely aware of the people around her.  There weren’t many; most had signed up for the shorter race. 

They passed the first water and first aid station as they reached the outskirts of town.  Liv grabbed a cup of water from a volunteer, downed it and dropped it to be picked up later by the clean up committee. 

The route entered the woods, the air became considerable colder, and Liv readied herself for the long haul.  Her goal wasn’t to win, but to enjoy, and she settled into a steady comfortable stride. Time ceased, the cold disappeared and it was just Liv and the pulsing rhythm of the run.

For a while she was alone on the road.  She hadn’t passed Thor, and she hadn’t seen him in a least twenty minutes, so he must be way ahead.  No one had passed her.

Her legs began to burn.  No doubt about it, she was out of shape.  She probably should have stuck with the 5 K.  She tried to get in a run at least three times a week, but between her job, her dog and the weather she hadn’t been as disciplined as she should have been. She’d feel it in the morning.

She saw the another water station ahead.

“Go Liv,” the volunteers cried. She recognized Fred Hunnicutt, as she grabbed water and kept running. She was fifty feet past them, when a loud report rent the air.  Liv slammed to a stop.  A backfire probably, but cars were prohibited from the course until the race was over. There were No Hunting signs posted on every tree and at every road, track or path through the woods.

Still . . . She turned and ran back to the water station.

Fred, and the other volunteers were looking frantically around. Fred pointed into the woods.

“What was that?” she asked, gulping for air. “A backfire?”

Fred, who was her event traffic controller, shook his head.  “More like a gunshot.”