Excerpt from The Ultimatum
                            





                                              
                                            



    Jered Manson ran for his life.

    His lungs ached.

    He glanced behind. The guy was still after him.

    Maybe he should give up. Stop running. Let whatever happens, happen.

    But just as Jered let the thought in, he got a break.

    Just as Skimmy, Scummy—whatever he was called—ran across the street toward him, a van drove between them.

    The sound of hands slamming against its side merged with a honk. Shouted words.

    Jered took advantage of the distraction and darted into an alley. An open delivery truck was parked like an
    invitation. He hurtled inside. But it was nearly empty. No place to hide. And when the truck’s owner came back,
    he’d surely make a ruckus.

    “What you doing in there? Get out of my truck!”

    By then Scummy would have caught up, he’d hear the yelling, and Jered would be dead.

    All for a DVD player.

    During the first block, Jered had nearly dropped it, given up the loot in the hopes that Scummy would be
    satisfied and not come after him. But from what Jered had heard about the creep, retrieving the goods wouldn’t
    be enough. During the past three months Jered had learned that revenge was the motivating factor on the streets.
    You do me bad, I do you. It didn’t need to make sense. Logic and reason had nothing to do with anything. Honor did.
    The street’s form of honor. It didn't help that Jered was skinny and looked more wimpy than tough.

    A lady walking on the sidewalk at the end of the alley hesitated and pulled up, as if she saw something coming.
    Scummy?

    A half-closed dumpster stood across the alley. Jered jumped down from the truck, crossed the alley, tossed the
    DVD player inside the dumpster, hauled himself up and over the edge, and fell into the garbage. He couldn’t
    reach the lid to shut it and didn’t want to risk the noise, so he scrambled under the half that was closed, pulling
    the garbage around him as cover.

    Within seconds he heard footsteps and huffing.

    He froze.

    He held his breath.

    The footsteps came close, and Jered heard a leap onto the back of the delivery truck, a few steps inside, then
    a jump down. More steps. Far. Then near.

    When Scummy kicked the dumpster, Jered stifled a yelp. He clamped a hand to his mouth to hold his heart
    inside.

    With a few cuss words, Scummy moved on.

    All was quiet.

    Except for Jered’s heart. He tried to take deep breaths but didn’t dare gasp. It was a full minute before he could
    trust his body, when he didn’t have to consciously think about his heartbeat or getting his next lungful of air.

    Only then did he let his muscles relax. But as they did, he sank deeper into the trash. A black garbage sack was
    sliced open, and the rancid smell of rotting Chinese food hit his nostrils like a slap. Jered hadn’t noticed the smell
    before. He’d been too busy surviving. But now . . .

    He covered his face with his hands against the smell, against the stress, against the reality of where he was and
    what he’d become. He heard his dad’s voice in his head: Jered, what are you doing in the trash? Stupid kid!
    Don’t you have any sense?

    Sense had nothing to do with it, survival everything. Survival was the king he bowed down to every morning as
    he hoped to make it through another day, as well as the king he worshipped every night when he was still alive.

    Actually, now was a time to celebrate, for he had survived. This time.

    Enough of this. He angrily swiped away tears and climbed through the garbage to the open side of the dumpster.
    The fresh air was cool—in all forms of the world. He set the DVD player on the lid and rearranged some sacks so
    he could get high enough to climb over the edge. As soon as his feet hit the ground—

    “Whatcha doing there, kid?”

    It was the delivery man, back at his truck.

    Jered brushed off his jeans, knowing the dumpster was not responsible for their dirtiness. “I lost something
    inside.” He picked up the DVD player.

    The man walked toward him, disbelief on his face. “Food can’t be very good in there.”

    “I wasn’t searching for food.”

    The man dug a ten-dollar bill from his shirt pocket, looked at it, and handed it to Jered. “Here. Go get yourself
    something to eat.”

    If Jered had any pride left, he would have argued. He took the money. “Thanks. ’Preciate it.”

    The man nodded and they parted. “Take care of yourself, kid.”

    He was doing his best. He really was.



                                                                                   Copyright 20018, Nancy Moser,
                                                                                             Mustard Seed Press