Raven's Peak - Chapter 1

Haatim walked into the Ocotillo Library in Phoenix, Arizona, in the early afternoon and found a table in the back corner. It was the middle of the work week, so it wasn’t very crowded inside. That was fine with him; he wasn’t in the mood to talk to a lot of people.
Raven's Peak - Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Five Months Later

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Haatim walked into the Ocotillo Library in Phoenix, Arizona, in the early afternoon and found a table in the back corner. It was the middle of the work week, so it wasn’t very crowded inside. That was fine with him; he wasn’t in the mood to talk to a lot of people.

He slipped his laptop out of his bag and powered it on, then hooked it up to the Wi-Fi and started browsing. To be honest, there wasn’t any particular reason for him to visit the library; he could search the Internet inside his apartment, but he didn’t really want to be alone. He’d been alone in his grief for the last few days, and he needed to get out and see other people.

This library had been his second home while he was studying for his graduate degree. It was small and quaint with a lot of old editions of books he liked to leaf through. Just being here was enough to help him relax and clear his mind. All he was trying to do was keep from thinking about his family, especially his—

“Haatim?” someone asked, interrupting his thoughts and pulling him back to his surroundings. He glanced up and saw Kelly Smith standing over his table. She was holding a stack of books and smiling quizzically at him.

Crap. He definitely didn’t intend to run into any of the other students he’d gone to school with. Kelly had been in many of the same Theology classes as him, and they’d been pretty good friends through their time in graduate school. Now, both had their Theology degrees, which were about as useless as Humanities degrees in the outside world.

That was before he went back home to India and they lost touch. He hadn’t known what had happened to her, and he definitely wasn’t expecting her to still be living here.

The look on her face spoke volumes as she sized him up. He knew how he must look, disheveled and pathetic with several weeks’ worth of stubble on his cheeks. He was also wearing sweatpants and probably looked more ready to take a midday nap than do research in a library.

“Hey, Kelly,” he offered.

“Wow, I wasn’t expecting to see you back in town,” she said. “I thought you’d move back home.”

“I did,” he replied awkwardly. “What are you doing here?”

“I work here,” she answered. “Temporarily, until I can find a teaching job.”

What are the odds, he thought with an internal sigh.

“That’s awesome,” he said instead. “I hope you find something soon.”

“Me, too. So how long are you going to be in the country?”

“A few months,” he said. “Just back for a while.”

She nodded conspiratorially, and he knew what she was about to say. She was going to bring up his sister, which was something he didn’t want to talk about with her. “I heard about your—”

“Where are you planning to teach?” he interrupted.

She frowned. “I put some applications in the area, and I’m hoping to stay local. Mostly just community colleges, just until I can get established. Brad proposed last month.”

She held up her hand so he could see the ring. It was big but incredibly plain. “It’s nice,” Haatim offered. He didn’t know anything about wedding rings but felt like it was the right thing to say.

“We don’t want to move just yet, so here’s hoping I can find something good soon. What about you? Are you planning to teach, too?”

“No,” he replied. “I thought about it, but it just doesn’t really feel like something I want to do.”

“What about your blog? Are you still writing?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Still writing.”

His blog was called the Hidden Lens, and he wrote about various religions of the world and how they interacted with each other in positive ways. It had consumed him when he first started it, and he’d hoped he could use it as a positive contribution to the world.

But now it just felt…empty.

“Sort of. That’s actually why I’m here. I’m trying to find inspiration for something to write about.”

“I remember your post about how all religions stemmed from the same prism and how if people could understand that it would fix so many things.”

He shrugged. “Farfetched, I know.”

“I thought it was great.”

“Thanks,” he said. “But I just don’t feel like writing anything religious right now.”

“Oh,” she said. “I understand. I heard about what happened on Facebook—”

He interrupted again. He hadn’t come to the library for sympathy, but rather to escape his emotions. “I was thinking about taking my blog in a new direction,” he said. “I think I’m going to turn it into a crime blog.”

“Ah,” she said. “So like: writing about famous crimes?”

“Maybe,” he replied. “I’m not totally sure yet. Right now, I just need a job.”

They stared at each other awkwardly for a few seconds. Finally, she gestured with her stack of books. “Well, I guess I had better get back to work.”

“OK,” he said. “I should probably start trying to do something productive anyway.”

“It was nice seeing you, Haatim,” Kelly said.

“You, too.”

She disappeared into the aisles and shelves, leaving Haatim alone. He actually felt even worse now after talking to her, which he hadn’t thought was possible. It was one thing to know random strangers were looking at him like he was a disheveled bum, but to have someone he’d thought of as a friend for so many years see him like…this…

It was terrible.

He let out a long sigh, realizing that now even the library was a compromised location. He didn’t want to talk to Kelly about school or life, and he definitely didn’t want to talk to her about his grief. He didn’t want her judgment, nor her sympathy.

And he didn’t really want to write a crime blog. He just…didn’t know what he wanted. Nothing really made sense anymore, and if he was being completely honest, he was just looking for a reason to do nothing with his life.

He started to pack his laptop bag, planning to head home and work from there, when suddenly a man sat on the chair opposite him. He was a short and fat man with a black suit and red tie. He was sweating and had greasy, receding hair.

The man laid his arms on the table and stared at Haatim, breathing heavily. “I need your help.”

Haatim was in the middle of putting his laptop away, and he stopped, staring at the man. “Uh, what?”

“You said you are looking for a job.”

“You were listening to my conversation?”

“Not intentionally,” the man said. “But I need you to do something for me.”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to—”

“I think someone is planning to kill me.”



Haatim almost dropped his laptop. He slid it into his bag and sat up in his chair. “What?”

“There’s a woman that has been following me for a few days, and I think she’s planning to kill me.”

“Why would you think that?”

“I don’t know,” the guy said. “It’s just a feeling I have.”

“Then why did you come to a library?” Haatim asked. “Why not go to the police?”

“I did,” he said. “Twice. They don’t believe me. They said I need evidence.” The man leaned back in his chair, and with a shaky hand reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a half-eaten candy bar. He took a bite, chewing with his mouth open. “I’m sorry, I eat whenever I’m anxious.”

“What kind of evidence?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know what kind of evidence I need, but I need someone to take me seriously.” He pulled a picture out of his pocket and slid it across the table. “That’s her. That’s the woman who’s been following me. Her name is Abigail.”

Haatim glanced at the picture. It was of a black woman, maybe in her mid-twenties, but the image was blurry and out of focus. She was glancing over her shoulder and wearing sunglasses so he couldn’t really see her face. He looked back up at the man.


“So you’ll help?”

“What exactly are you asking me to do?”

“Just follow her,” the man said. “Look, maybe I’m crazy. Or I’m overthinking things. Hell, maybe she just happens to go to a lot of the same places I go.”

He stuffed the last of his candy bar in his mouth and kept speaking: “But I need to know for sure. I just want you to keep an eye on her and report back. That’s all I ask. Follow her and snap some pictures.”

“And if she is following you?”

“Then take the pictures to the police,” the guy said. “If she is following me or…if…something happens to me.”

Haatim hesitated. “Why me?”

“I don’t have anyone else to ask,” the man said. “I can pay, but it isn’t a lot, and it won’t cover a real private eye to look into this for me.”

Haatim leaned back in his chair, trying to think through what the guy was asking. It sounded ridiculous at face value, and Haatim thought his best option was just to turn the guy down politely and send him on his way.

But, the thing was, he could use the money. He had access to funds through his parents, but he didn’t really have any income of his own. He’d planned to find a job by now, but he’d never really gotten around to looking for one.

And it did sound somewhat interesting. He’d been hoping to find something worth writing about and take his mind off his depression, and this sounded like something simple to keep him busy. The guy acted a little shady, but who was Haatim to judge?

He was always telling himself he should step out of his comfort zone. Maybe this was the perfect way to do it.

“I’ll do it,” he said. “For a couple of days?”

The guy lit up. “You will? Oh, that’s fantastic. Thank you so much.”

He reached his hand out, and Haatim shook it. The guy’s palm was greasy and sweaty, and he rubbed his hand on his sweatpants after.

“What do you need from me?”

Haatim thought for a second. He knew exactly nothing about trying to tail someone except that he would need an expensive camera. “Do you know anywhere that she likes to hang out?”

“A couple of places. I can give you the addresses of different places I’ve seen her. But, if you follow me, then she’s bound to turn up.”

“You’re that confident that she’s following you?”

“Completely,” the guy said.

“All right,” Haatim said. “I can meet with you tomorrow and we can find someplace for me to start.”

“Sure,” the guy said. He pulled out a business card and handed it to Haatim. It said his name was George Wertman. “I really appreciate this. You have no idea.”

They shook hands again, and the fat man stood up and left the library. Haatim sat at his table for a few more minutes, trying to decide if this was a good idea or a bad one. He didn’t really know what he was doing, but honestly, how hard could it be?”



Haatim was up early the next morning. He shaved off the stubble on his cheeks, combed his hair, and put on some fresh and comfortable clothes. He’d done laundry the night before—the first time in over two weeks—and picked up an expensive camera. It was something he’d charged to his parents, but he doubted they would mind since it was for a productive purpose.

He honestly doubted he would need to tell them anything about the guy he’d met in the library. The more he thought about it, the more he figured the man was just paranoid or racist. Or both. He probably didn’t have anyone following him and nothing strange was going on, and if he was going to pay Haatim to do nothing, then Haatim wasn’t about to refuse his money.

And now that Haatim had the camera, he actually found the prospect of taking pictures to be exciting. He’d never really thought about being a photographer, but he did think of himself as creative, and maybe this would be just the spark he needed to forget about his grief.

He met George at the library once more, though this time outside on the benches. The man was wearing a different and grimier suit, and he was eating a cheeseburger, fries, and milkshake on a bench when Haatim walked up.

“Gorgeous day,” George said, taking an enormous bite from his sandwich and chewing. He dabbed at his forehead, which was drenched in sweat. He looked less nervous than the previous day, but not by much. “Ready to get started?”

Haatim nodded. “I’ve got my stuff. Just act normal, and I’ll follow along and keep an eye out for anything strange.”

“I’ve got a couple of meetings in a few minutes,” George said. “So it would be boring for you. But I have a better idea. I spotted her this morning at the park up the road.”


“Fifteen minutes ago. But I bet she’s still there. You could go get a good look at her while I wrap up some business.”

“Sure,” Haatim said. George handed him the picture he had, but when he did he smeared mustard across it. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

Haatim climbed back into his car and drove to the park. It was sunny and warm, so there were a lot of kids and their parents out playing. He saw a group tossing a Frisbee and heard people shouting.

He found a parking spot near the back of the lot and scanned the area. It only took him a few seconds to spot Abigail: she was sitting on a park bench and looked like she was just relaxing and enjoying the day. She had on a pair of sunglasses and her hair pulled back in a bun.

Haatim took the new camera and fiddled with the settings. It had a zoom lens, but it wasn’t as high resolution as he would have liked. He snapped a couple of pictures but couldn’t manage to get a clean one of her face.

After about ten minutes she stood and left the bench in the opposite direction. He checked his pictures, deleting the blurry ones, and headed back to the library. He waited for about an hour for George to show up. This time, he had a hotdog, and there was a ketchup stain on his suit coat.

“Did you find her?” George asked.

“Yes,” Haatim replied. He held up the camera and flipped through several of the images, showing George. “That’s her?”

“Definitely,” George replied. “That’s the woman who’s been following me.”

“What now?”

“If we can get any pictures that incriminate her, I can take them to the police.”

“And I can post them on my blog?”

George nodded. “Anything we find you can use.”

“All right,” Haatim said.

“We won’t want to meet again for a couple of days so she doesn’t get suspicious,” George added. “Once you have all of the pictures, give me a call, and I’ll set up a time.”

The next three chapters are available as long as you are signed up for my newsletters! After that, though, all chapters will be available only for paid members!

Raven’s Peak - Chapter 2
Haatim Arison sat in his apartment in his underwear, listening to classic rock and working at his desk. He drummed his fingers on the table and stared at the word document open on his laptop, wondering if there was anything he needed to add or rephrase.

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