The purpose of this exercise is to write a strong emotion that we’ve experienced. The idea is that in doing so we will tap into intensity, and therefore verbosity – a good path to Story.

It was interesting: I found I did not want to write about intense negative emotion. When I was worried it might be attributed to me by the other people who know what the exercise is, I was afraid they’d think I have a temper or feel negative emotions a lot. It was startling to learn that about myself.

“Witness Protection”

Jamal Kincaid sat down at a table in the back of the bar, one of the shadowed ones that wasn’t immediately visible from the front. He could see the entrance, but they couldn’t see him. The shadows fell just right so that he was hidden by them, even though his table had a candle like all the others. He blew it out when he sat down, plunging the table into darkness.

It was eleven at night and the bar was already busy. Patrons lined the tall wooden counter, beers and harder drinks in hand. No one had martinis or any of those foo foo drinks, this wasn’t one of those yuppie bars. Cullen’s was in the heart of the industrial section and it showed. The odor of old beer and Jack Daniels hung heavy in the room and the bathrooms, he knew from experience, had a heavy stench of disinfectant and urine. The men’s room just needed a sign, like in Roadhouse, “Don’t eat the big blue mint.”

Jamal had been running for days. He’d made it to Commerce, California, just by dumb luck. Why they named a town like that, he didn’t know, but it was smack in the middle of South Central and it showed. Latinos and white trash were the only ones in this place. And him, just an old black man that everybody ignored.

He took another sip of his Coke. He couldn’t afford to get fuzzy, not now. Not after all the work he’d put into getting here, surviving this long. He just had to meet with Alejandro and that was it.

A brief stir by the door caught his attention and he looked up. Four men came in, the two in front clearly bodyguards. They wore identical black jeans and white t-shirts, and the one in front had a jean jacket on top. It didn’t cover the hilts sticking out of the sleeves, but it would if he needed it to. No cops here, so they showed. The second one moved like a panther. A huge tattoo covered his chest and stomach, a dark shadow behind the t-shirt. He had no weapons that Jamal could see, but that didn’t mean he was unarmed. The man’s eyes flicked to Jamal’s and Jamal jumped, startled. They stared at each other for a moment or two and then the man looked away. He stepped out of the doorway and Jamal got a good look at the man behind him.

Alejandro was big for a Mexican, more like a Spaniard than an Indian. His broad shoulders bulked large even under the black suit he wore to hide the fact he was street scum, no different than Jamal. Well, he had bodyguards, so maybe that counted. Jamal swallowed, his throat dry.

Alejandro’s black suit covered a wine-red shirt, smooth with no buttons. It outlined the muscles in his chest and made him look powerful. A diamond flashed fire from his left earlobe and his hair shined a little in the light with reddish highlights. Not all Spanish, then, in his ancestry, or the highlights would’ve been blue-black.

Alejandro signaled with two fingers at the bartender, who nodded. Then he moved forward and was up to Jamal’s table all too soon.

“Well, I see you made it, Kincaid,” Alejandro said. “I have to say, I’m surprised.”

Jamal nodded and stared up at him, not willing to stand and show even that much intimidation. Besides, his knees probably wouldn’t hold him.

“Have a seat,” he invited. His voice was steady.

The two bodyguards sat at the next table. Jamal looked around for the third one and was startled to see it was a woman. Black boots with a three-inch heel flowed up her legs under a white pantsuit. Her midnight blue blouse had a sheen to it like satin and her breasts were twin mounds underneath. Jamal looked away, flushing. She came over with a drink for Alejandro; whiskey, by the smell of it. She set it down and took a seat at the table, ignoring Jamal.

“Well, I’m here. Now what?” Alejandro took a sip of his whiskey.

“I want protection,” Jamal murmured.

Alejandro studied him lazily, like he was looking at a dog he didn’t particularly like. “Why should I help you? You’re not even from LA.”

Jamal nodded. “I know about you, Alejandro. I want to come in.”

Alejandro’s attention sharpened a little, Jamal could see it. Alejandro blinked, breaking eye contact for a moment, then glanced at the woman.

“Clear,” she murmured, hardly any sound to her voice.

Alejandro looked back at Jamal. “Why now?”

Jamal shrugged. “The heat’s getting too heavy in Chicago,” he said. “And I’m not liking where the organization is heading.”

“You don’t like Louis Harcourt, you mean,” Alejandro corrected.

Jamal flushed but held his gaze. “You know I can’t answer that.”

Alejandro leaned forward suddenly, and Jamal froze. “You’ll answer anything I tell you to, Kincaid, you want me to do this for you. It’s not just your life on the line, we do this.”

Jamal swallowed and nodded, throat dry. His palms were sweating but he didn’t want to wipe them on his pants for fear they would see it and understand just how rattled he was.

“I understand,” he said. “I know what’s at stake.”

Alejandro didn’t answer right away, just stared at him. Jamal resisted the urge to look away, feeling like that would show too much weakness.

“What intel can you give us?” the woman asked, startling him.

He transferred his gaze to her, not wanting to speak. He looked back at Alejandro.

“You can answer,” Alejandro told him shortly.

Jamal cocked an eyebrow but looked over at her. “If you know enough about me to know why I’m here, then you know who I have been working with the last four years.”

She snorted. “Working with doesn’t mean you have shit, Kincaid. What can you give us?”

“What can you promise me in return?” he countered.

She shrugged. “Standard protection.”

He looked back at Alejandro. “I have your word then?”

Alejandro shrugged. “You convince me that you’ve got intel worth having, I’ll hide you. The department will hide you.”

Jamal nodded. “Fine.” It looked like he’d get his witness protection after all, and Louis Harcourt would get what was coming to him. Finally.

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