Title: The Connection
Author: David Billingsley
A stranger appears...this town will never be the same. Again...
Not much happens in the small West Texas town of Dinley, and radio DJ Sandy McAllister is fine with that. Following the tragic loss of her husband and son, she's carved out a steady, solitary existence. No more deep friendships, no more love, no more loss.
But a loud boom on the outskirts of town followed by the sudden appearance of a stranger is about to upset Sandy's carefully scripted life. His mysterious arrival on a warm summer evening coincides with the eruption of addictive and powerful feelings she cannot control or deny. And she's not the only one.
The bond, the connection, with this stranger threatens to turn her life inside out and polarize her town.
And it's not the first time this has happened in Dinley.
In the tradition of Billingsley's previous books, The Connection is an emotional ride with a few twists and turns, but this time with a little sci-fi thrown in...
She clicked the play icon on her computer display and rearranged a few songs on the official owner-sanctioned playlist. The red light disappeared. Nice thing about AJ—he’d digitized the whole music library. No more trading CDs in and out or trying to fiddle with the low-budget software the station owned. Kid was certainly capable. He knew how to hide his brain from the rest of the town.
His voice carried through her headphones. “See how damn good we are together. Bull ride, Jesus Christ. Som bitch.”
Sandy glanced at her partner through the glass barrier that separated her from his mess of a control room. “Having you here is like having a little dancing cowboy on my shoulder, always yakking through that cord into my ears. An auditory umbilical cord of electrons containing some of the most useless information going straight into my head for six hours a night, five nights a week.” She threw her palms out. “What more could one ask for in life?”
No matter what she said, AJ’s smirk couldn’t be wiped clean.
“All right, Miss movie star,” he shot back. “I know when I’m being dissed.”
“Nice try. You think I don’t know what dissed means ’cause I’m almost old enough to be your mother? And who says dissed anymore? Movie star?”
“Been watching you through this window for two years, thinking I seen you before. Now I finally figured it.” He adjusted the toothpick in his mouth, placed his Stetson on his head, and tugged at the brim until his inviting eyes were barely visible. Like a photographer or movie director, he held his thumb and forefinger out on each hand to make a box to frame his subject.
“Okay, plowboy,” she said. “Go for it.”
AJ tipped his head in acknowledgement. “Rachel Payson. The actress. The cute gal from San Antone. You look just like her, but harder, without the lips.”
She waved him off.
She turned the chair to face her portal to the outside world. The sun had vanished. Only a distorted image reflected off the glass, courtesy of the fluorescent studio lights humming above her head. She tried to ignore the image, but AJ had forced an appraisal. A hardened Rachel Payson. Without the lips?
She sighed. Somehow her brain always expected to see a more youthful reflection, like one from her college yearbook. But she saw a stranger, a woman approaching middle age with fresh lines in her face and a deep vault of unspent life in her eyes. She pulled off the headset, undid her ponytail, and let the brown mass fall to her shoulders.
“It looks better that way,” shouted a voice from behind the glass.
She continued to stare at the reflection, ignoring her companion’s comment. Her life must seem incredibly strange to AJ. She spent more time with him than anyone else in town, which must have been a great source of gossip to the blue-hair society. Her dad once told her most of the town folk had found out about her mental breakdown after the accident. That they were giving her the distance she needed.
Of course they knew. Secrets were impossible in a small town like Dinley. She replaced her headset. "Movie star. Mind your own damn business, Astin—”
Crack! A thundering boom ripped through the station.
Loose debris and dust fell from the poor excuse for a ceiling. Captured in a fraction of time, they both sat staring expectantly at the building walls, waiting for the final collapse. Regaining her composure, Sandy searched for signs of life on her console and display.
"That was close,” she said. “Are we still on?" She felt strange, almost euphoric.
"Far as I can tell, we're still transmitting, but I don’t hear anything on the monitor.” AJ had a notable shake in his voice. “We weren't expecting weather, were we?"
"Nothing in the forecast. I know thunder when I hear it. Take a look outside."
AJ disappeared out the back door.
Sandy glanced at the phone system, thinking it looked dead. She picked up the receiver. Nothing.
She felt a presence in the building. Not AJ. Something else.
She searched the premises with her eyes. Nothing but dark shadows and lifeless rooms and hallways. She knew it was there. He was there.
She craned her neck toward the rear of the building. “AJ?”
A nagging thought hit. It made absolutely no sense. Her skin tingled and her body gathered energy. Another wave of sensation blasted through her consciousness, forcing a shudder in her muscles and raising goosebumps on her arms and legs.
The thought returned.
She tried to dismiss it, expel it from her mind. She concentrated on the control panel and the red light.
The concentration won out for a second or two, but then the haunting intrusion was back. Almost involuntarily she spoke out loud, “I’m here.”
“I know you’re here.” AJ’s voice was unexpected, though its presence seemed to overcome the paranoia that had started to battle for the possession of her mind.
“Well?” she said, trying to muster some poise.
“What did you mean by ‘I’m here’?”
“Nothing. What’d you see outside?”
“Not a dang thing. No storms, not even a cloud."
"Quit fooling around."
"I'm not kidding. If we got hit, we’d have probably lost power and blown a few circuits. We seem to be transmitting but something’s wrong here inside the building."
Disregarding the dead air, Sandy pulled off her headset and went straight out the front door.
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David Billingsley is a writer who has spent most of his life in Texas and the American West. He has published four books. His interest in writing stems back to 2001 when he challenged himself to write a novel based on a scene he witnessed in a small West Texas town. After leaving it on the shelf for many years, that novel, The Connection, turned out to be his fourth and latest book (also his favorite).
His first two books, The Redemption and The Switch, have been out and selling well for several years. Full of twists and turns, mystery, romance, and suspense, all three novels will leave you guessing with surprise endings.
His third book, The Five O'Clock Follies, was a completely different endeavor. Co-written with Vietnam veteran Richard Brundage, the funny and emotionally powerful novel is set in the Vietnam War era. Think MASH in Vietnam, except at a media press center.
When David's not writing, he'll be out photographing the West.
His goal: To write "just a good book" for his readers. Reading should be enjoyment, not work.
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