12 The First Two Chapters

12This is the first two chapters (plus the prologue) from the novel 12 by Sean Platt and David Wright. 

First the synopsis:


What Would You Do With the Last 12 Hours of Your Life? 

At 6 p.m. on a Wednesday in October, a gunman will enter Goldman’s Diner and commit one of the worst massacres the small coastal town of Palm Isles, Florida has ever seen.

Twelve hours earlier: twelve lives are on borrowed time, unaware that death is coming, or that their paths will collide in one tragic moment.

A young waitress and mother fights to protect her daughter from her violent estranged husband. Little does she know that a greater threat looms under her nose.

A cop is forced to decide between his job and his marriage.

A bullied teen with an abusive father is down to one friend when his world suddenly crumbles around him.

An old man struggles to hold onto his memories and do one last thing to honor his wife. But in doing so, he will have to reveal his darkest secret.

A cook with a shady past attempts to stay on the straight and narrow, until he gets a call which forces him to choose — his family or his honor?

A woman attempts to meet her father’s expectations, clinging to a struggling diner even as her relationship with her son falls apart.








Palm Isles, Florida

6:15 p.m.

A Wednesday in October

As a police officer, you wake up each day knowing it could be your last.

You get used to it, even if you can never really come to terms with that part of the job. Like the smoker who can’t think about cancer. The obese person who still shovels food into his mouth. Death is there, sure, but far away. A someday specter.

But you can’t act surprised when Death eventually comes to claim you.

It’s your handshake with Fate.

I know my time will come, and I won’t complain when it does.

But you’re never prepared for Fate claiming the lives of those closest to you.

Officer Clarence Dumont stepped out of the police cruiser to a bank of flashing lights bouncing off the other squad cars and ambulances parked in awkward rows along the shopping center parking lot in front of Goldman’s Diner.

The shooting had happened less than fifteen minutes ago, but the media were already setting up camp just outside the barrier of police tape and officers, many off-duty, called in to manage the scene.

The front of the diner looked like a war zone — broken windows, blood everywhere, bodies still littering the floor just inside the doorway. Forensics was photographing corpses, collecting evidence while the paramedics tended to the wounded, both inside the diner and outside in ambulances. A trauma copter was kissing the ground about ninety yards away.

His partner, Patrick Allan, stood beside him, sighing, “Jesus.”

Clarence searched the crowd of patrons and staffers gathered outside the diner, being treated by paramedics or interviewed by the police, scanning the scene for Maggie.

Please, be alive. Please, be alive.

Clarence was frozen, unable to will his legs forward for fear that she was among the dead.

“You coming?” Patrick looked back on his way to the diner.

Clarence reluctantly followed, feeling Death’s finality anchoring his every move.

So much blood.

He passed a couple of paramedics treating one of the waitresses, Viv, for a gunshot wound to her arm.

She met his eyes and immediately looked away, her sorrow instantly visible.

Oh, God.

Clarence was trained to meet his own end; nothing could prepare him for what he found on the other side of those shattered doors.

* * * *

6 a.m. – 7 a.m.



Maggie woke to a flashing alarm: 12:00. 

She was certain she’d overslept. Panic swelled inside her, a metallic taste coating her tongue as she reached out to grab her phone. But Maggie’s fumbling fingers pushed the phone off the edge and behind the nightstand.


Maggie scrabbled for the lamp then flicked on the light, momentarily blind until her eyes adjusted to the brightness.

She sat up and got out of bed, her bare feet hitting cold carpet. A shiver ran through her. She thought of McKenna, hoping her six-year old had enough blankets to temper the cold snap since they couldn’t afford to run the heat all night.

Maggie pulled the nightstand back and leaned over, the corner pushing sharply into her stomach as her fingers blindly searched along the carpet.

She couldn’t be late.

Not today of all days, or there was no way on earth Loretta would allow an hour-long break at noon, even for Maggie’s life-changing phone call.

She closed her fingertips around the phone’s edge and raised it gingerly so as not to drop it again.

The phone’s face read: 6:14 a.m.

She was fourteen minutes late. Manageable, but no margin for traffic or other delays if she was going to drop McKenna off at school and make it back across town to Goldman’s Diner before Loretta noticed she wasn’t there.

I hope Viv and Barbara will cover for me.

Maggie raced from her bedroom and was about to head down the hall to wake McKenna when she saw that her little girl was already awake — sitting in her pink and purple PJs at the tiny kitchen table, staring at the iPad, watching cartoons, a bowl of milk with a few stray Fruit Loops in front of her.

“Hi, Mommy.” McKenna looked up with a smile.

Maggie was relieved that she didn’t have to wake the girl — ten minutes shaved from the morning routine.

“Good morning. What time did you get up?” Maggie leaned down and kissed her daughter on the head.

“I dunno. Five something?”

“Why didn’t you go back to bed, honey?”

“I wasn’t tired,” she said without moving her eyes from the tablet.

Maggie hated the thought of her daughter waking up an hour early before school and doing nothing but watching cartoons, but it wasn’t an argument she was ready to have. And besides, it was one of those educational PBS cartoons, not one of those stupid shows that seemed solely designed to rob children’s innocence with crass language, violence, and overly commercialized content.

“Okay, I need you to pause the cartoons, brush your teeth, and get dressed.”

“Can I watch them when I’m done?”

“Yes,” Maggie said, double checking that her daughter’s clothes were in the living room where McKenna laid them out each night before school. They were. Except one of her blue shoes was missing.

“Where’s your other shoe?” Maggie looked toward the front door where they kept their shoes, still not seeing the matching blue.

“I dunno,” McKenna said, still glued to the tablet.

“Well, find it, or get another pair of shoes, please. I need to get in the shower.”

After Maggie showered, she spent too long blow drying her long brown hair. She wondered if this was why so many moms cut their hair short, because they couldn’t afford the luxury of this much time. Maggie would’ve chopped her hair a long time ago if she thought it wouldn’t make her look too much like her childhood pictures, back when she was forced to wear her hair in a low-maintenance cut. She hated the Dutch Boy look and refused to go back, even if it added an extra fifteen to twenty minutes to her morning routine.

After getting dressed, Maggie went to check on McKenna to find her still in her pajamas, watching cartoons. The clock read 6:40.

She needed to leave in five minutes.

“McKenna!” she yelled, shriller than intended.

McKenna looked up, blue eyes wide beneath her brown bangs, seemingly surprised as if the few simple tasks she was responsible for had slipped entirely from her mind.


“I need you to get dressed! We’re running late.”

“Okay,” McKenna said, running to the living room and grabbing her clothes.

Maggie went to the fridge to grab their lunches. McKenna returned to the kitchen chair, still staring at the iPad as she slowly removed her PJs.

“No, you’re not gonna sit here and watch cartoons while you take forever to get dressed!” Maggie grabbed the tablet, snatching it quicker than she’d meant to.

The iPad, like her phone a half hour ago, flew from Maggie’s fingers and slapped the kitchen floor.


Maggie bent over to grab the tablet, hoping the flimsy silicone case had protected it. She picked it up, turned it over in her hands, and saw the cracks in the glass against the darkened screen. Not only had the front split from a scar at the bottom to a widening web at the top, the ON button refused to bring the iPad back to life.

McKenna saw the broken iPad and cried out, “You broke it!”

Maggie stared at the screen, helpless to rewind time.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. It was an accident.”

“No! You threw it!” McKenna’s voice cracked, and she folded her arms in front of her chest.

McKenna rarely threw fits. She was a good kid, more often than not. But staring at the broken iPad — the iPad Daddy had given her — McKenna’s face flared from pale to full red, tears streaming down her face.

I do not have time for this today!

How was it that crap like this only happened on the one day — of all the days — that she absolutely had to be on time, and relatively calm for her big call?

Maggie had to soothe McKenna without bargaining, without scolding her and making things worse, and without delay. Trying to be a perfect parent and do all the “right things” was difficult to do while playing beat the clock. They needed to hit the road.

Maggie sat next to McKenna at the table. She removed the girl’s pajama top and replaced it with her school uniform shirt, all while trying to settle her nerves.

“I’m sorry, honey. I didn’t mean to break the iPad, but you need to listen when I say it’s time to get ready, not just sit there and keep watching cartoons.”

“I was getting ready! And you just grabbed it and threw it!”

“I didn’t throw it.” Maggie was about to also explain that McKenna wasn’t really getting ready. Half her attention was on the cartoons, and she needed to focus on her morning tasks. But Maggie wasn’t about to argue semantics with a six-year old in the middle of a meltdown. Especially not this morning.

Part of her wanted to apologize, say she was sorry, and promise to get a new iPad. She did break it after all. But a few things prevented her from taking the easier route.

Maggie couldn’t afford a new iPad. Hell, Nick couldn’t even afford one. She still wasn’t sure if he’d come by it illegally. She also didn’t want to coddle her daughter or reward a tantrum. It was a tough line to ride, being a single mother — particularly when most of Maggie’s foster parents and eventual adoptive mother had been disciplinarian enough to make Catholic school nuns seem like dirty hippies.

Maggie didn’t want to be overbearing, but she wasn’t about to raise a spoiled kid who walked all over her. She couldn’t count the number of mothers she ran into — at school, on play dates, or at the diner — who let their kids boss them around, so concerned with being their children’s friends that they were inadvertently making monsters.

Finding the balance was tough. Half the time, Maggie wasn’t sure which side she was erring on: too strict or too lenient. There had to be some middle ground where you did right by your kid without terrifying them into a lack of confidence, or an inability to take chances in life.

After slipping on her daughter’s dress, Maggie hugged McKenna and stroked her hair, speaking calmly as she explained that breaking the iPad was an accident and that she was sorry. Maggie also said they’d get it fixed, though she wasn’t about to promise a time line, especially without knowing if a broken screen could be fixed any cheaper than getting a new tablet.

I wonder if Nick’s stolen iPad includes an extended warranty?

Maggie finished with a hug. Whenever she yelled at or disciplined McKenna, she made sure she hugged her tight and let her know she was loved. Maggie wasn’t sure if it was the “right thing to do” according to the parenting books and magazines, but she did know that she was rarely hugged as a child, and there were few things worse than a child wondering if their family loved them.

“I’m sorry for not being ready,” McKenna said.

Maggie kissed her head. “Okay, grab your lunch and bag, we’ve gotta get going.”

With everything settled, they left the apartment about ten minutes behind. As they took the elevator down from the fifth floor, Maggie hoped traffic wasn’t a nightmare on their way to school.

She strapped McKenna into the back seat, climbed into the front, and started the car. As she started backing out of her spot, the car made an awful thumping.

Oh no!

She put the car into park, got out, and checked her tires. The rear passenger side was flat.

“Dammit!” she cried out, too loud. Maggie rarely cursed, and almost never in front of McKenna. Today was testing her resolve early.

This can’t be happening. I don’t have time to change a tire!

Back in the car, Maggie pulled back into the parking spot.

“What’s wrong, Mommy?”

“We’ve got a flat tire.”

Maggie grabbed her phone, searched for Red Cab’s number, then dialed and waited as the phone rang on the other end for what felt like forever.

Of course.

A woman answered a moment before Maggie was about to hang up. “Red Cab, how can I help you?”

Maggie told her where she was and that she needed a ride.

“Okay, I’ll have a driver out to you in about thirty-five minutes.”

“Thirty-five minutes?” Maggie hadn’t taken a cab in years, but didn’t remember having to wait so long the last time.

“Yeah, all our drivers are out on calls right now. If we can get someone to you sooner, we will.”

“Okay, thanks.” Maggie sighed and hung up the phone.

She sat in the car, staring straight ahead at the apartment building, trying to decide what to do. She could call her work and tell them she was running late, but that would most certainly mean she wouldn’t be able to take her break at twelve.

I could just call in sick.

Maggie smiled as the idea floated by.

It had been years since she’d called in sick to a job — even when she was red-eyed and clammy. Calling in sick today would solve all her problems. And it was so easy to do. While Loretta got mad when people were late, she couldn’t get mad if Maggie was sick. At least not as mad. And Maggie could be home when she got her phone call, not having to worry about dealing with Loretta’s mood swings.

Hmm, a day off would be good. We can have a nice mother-daughter day at home. 

Truth be told, Maggie needed a day off, especially after all the crap with Nick this week.

Yet some small voice in the back of her mind reprimanded her.

No, I can’t just call in sick. Loretta is counting on me. Viv and Barbara are counting on me. Sebastian is counting on me.

Working the diner was hard enough without someone calling in sick. It was so short staffed to begin with. A missing cook or server made the day exponentially harder. And somehow those always seemed to be the days when the diner was most packed. If Maggie called in, she was screwing the staff.

And Maggie didn’t want to do that. She genuinely liked her coworkers. Well, most of them. But more than that, Maggie didn’t want to be that person — the one who called in when they weren’t really sick. Part of the problem rather than the solution.

No, she’d go to work, late or not, and figure out a way to take her phone call. If Loretta had a problem with it, well, Maggie would deal with it then.

As much as she hated calling in, Maggie hated conflict more. And Loretta could be either the world’s nicest person or its bitchiest, depending on the swing of her mood — and sometimes with just minutes between them. Loretta might really freak out if Maggie had to step out for an hour, especially if they were in the weeds.

Hopefully, Loretta will be in a good mood at lunchtime.

“Mommy, what are we doing?” McKenna asked from the backseat.

Maggie realized that she’d been staring into space for at least a few minutes.

“We have a flat, honey. I called a cab.”

“How did we get a flat?”

“I dunno,” Maggie said.

But a part of her did know.

Or at least she thought she did.

And just like that, Maggie’s mood moved from anxious to scared. When she thought about who might have flattened her tire, her stomach tightened.


Maggie got out of the car and looked at the rear passenger tire, squinting to see if there was broken glass or a nail or something in the parking space. She saw nothing, but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t anything there. It could’ve been wedged in the wheel, pushed deeper into the tread when she backed up and pulled back into her spot.

Or maybe Nick knifed the tire to get back at me.

She shook her head. No, Nick wouldn’t do that.

Would he?

She looked at her phone and saw the five texts from Nick she’d ignored yesterday and last night. The texts she’d told herself not to read until after her phone call later, to keep them from ruining her mood.

She drew them up on her phone.

The first: Call me.

The second: Please, we need to talk.

The third: I can’t believe you’re doing this to me. Really? An Order of Protection? PROTECTION FROM ME?!?! What the hell, Maggie?


The fifth: She’s my daughter, too. Don’t think you can cut me out of her life that easy, BITCH!

Maggie winced at the last word, recalling the number of times he’d said the same thing to her face. Each time, looking like he was ready to hit her — again.

Maggie imagined Nick getting drunker as the moon brightened last night, his texts growing increasingly violent the more his brain steeped in fresh liquor. And alcohol wasn’t the worst thing he did. There was also the cocaine habit. That scared her most. It changed him from someone she once loved into someone she now feared.

Still, she couldn’t imagine he’d flatten her tire.

Would he?

For one, he lived on the other side of town, and if he were drunk as hell, he probably wouldn’t risk getting another DUI.

Yeah, but he could’ve had one of his scumbag friends drive him over. Hell, they were probably all too happy to help him out.

Nick’s friends were half the reason she filed the order against him. He’d had visitation rights to McKenna every other weekend. But as McKenna told her some of the things she’d seen, including drug use and one of his friends hitting a woman in the apartment Nick shared with a few of the guys, Maggie knew she had to get her daughter away from that element before something horrible happened — like someone pulling a gun or worse. No, Maggie didn’t think Nick would ever intentionally hurt their daughter, but drunk or high on cocaine or any of the other stuff he claimed not to do anymore, God only knew what could happen.

Someone was outside Maggie’s window.

She jumped, startled, thinking it would be Nick, pissed and ready to hurt her.

But it was Abe, her neighbor.

Maggie rolled down the window, smiling at the awkward tall man with the thick, messy dark hair and thick black-framed glasses. He looked late thirties, though she’d never asked him in the year and a half she’d lived at the apartments, nor in the same amount of time that he’d been coming in for lunch every weekday at the diner.

“Hi, Maggie.” He smiled, awkwardly like always, holding his laptop bag, dressed as if for work even though she didn’t think he was due to the computer shop near her diner until 8:30 or so. He peered into the backseat. “Hi, McKenna.”

“Hi, Mr. Abe,” McKenna said in a singsong voice with no trace of her earlier meltdown. “I finally killed the Ender Dragon!”

“Oh, that’s great,” Abe said. Maggie hoped McKenna wasn’t going to go into a big long story about her Minecraft exploits again.

McKenna had first met Abe when he’d come over a few months ago to help Maggie get rid of a nasty virus on her computer. They’d talked Minecraft for the better part of the hour spent killing the virus, then another hour into the pizza dinner Maggie ordered to thank Abe for helping her. Ever since, whenever they ran into one another, she’d go on telling him some Minecraft story or another, leaving Maggie often smiling and whispering, “Sorry.”

“Hi.” She gave Abe her best waitress smile, despite her sour mood. “Off to work this early?”

“Yes,” he said. “We’re a bit backed up, so I figured better to go in early than stay late. Something wrong? I noticed you’ve all been sitting here for a bit.”

“A flat,” she said, sighing.

“Oh, man, that stinks. Do you need a ride?”

“Oh, you don’t need to do that,” Maggie said, not wanting to inconvenience him, as he was trying to get to work early. “I called a cab.”

“Oh.” He looked almost dejected, like a wounded schoolboy who just confessed his crush to a girl who wanted nothing to do with him.

A couple of the women at the diner teased Maggie that Abe had a crush on her, why else would he only sit at her station? But Maggie thought the idea was ridiculous. Abe was just a nice guy, and had never given her a hint of interest, in her or any girls, really. He was painfully shy, and barely managed small talk. But he’d never extended it beyond that. Even sitting in her booth, Abe seemed more focused on his laptop than social interaction.

She felt bad turning down the ride so quickly but wasn’t sure what might make things seem less awkward than they were already starting to feel.

“Okay, well, have a good day,” he said, turning and heading toward his car.

Maggie looked at the phone. Still another thirty minutes until the cab’s arrival — if it was on time. Also, he did work in the same shopping plaza as her. On the other end, but still close.

“Wait,” she called out.

Abe turned.

“Could we swing by McKenna’s school?”

“Sure,” Abe said, smiling.

* * * *


Abe woke anxious, doubts nipping at confidence built slowly over the past few months, second guesses chewing his resolve.

He slid out of bed and slunk off to the shower. Along the way, he caught his reflection and was surprised by what he saw in the mirror. The man in the glass wasn’t the usual loser Abe was used to seeing. No, this version of Abe looked confident, ready to face the world and seize his moment — no matter what Fate decided.

He met his stare and repeated his usual affirmations into the mirror.

“I am smart. I am strong. I am willing to do what must be done to get what’s mine.”

He’d been repeating the mantra for six months, ever since he started going to his confidence coach, Craig Strong. Usually, the words did little to boost his morale. They helped, sure, but Abe rarely believed them.

Today, however, something felt different about the words. Something felt different about him.

Today is my day!

Abe was no longer the weak person he’d been for the past three decades and change — that wimp who’d let people stomp all over him. Craig had taught Abe that he was a good person, worthy of respect and love, no matter what others, particularly Abe’s mother, would’ve led you to believe.

Just the thought of Mother caused his confident reflection to waver.

He repeated his mantra.

“I am smart. I am strong. I am willing to do what must be done to get what’s mine.”

Abe headed into the shower, his last in this apartment.

He wondered what the panhandle would be like. He’d only lived in two places all his life, his mother’s house and this apartment. He could hardly believe that he’d be starting a new life in less than twenty-four hours.

Yeah, if I don’t chicken out.

He hated that trembling weakness, that voice of doubt that refused to leave his subconscious.

Craig had said this wasn’t really Abe’s voice. It was the collective voice of everyone who had ever held power over him. It was the voice of his mother, the bullies, the boss who didn’t appreciate him, every girl who ever laughed in his face. It was the voice of people who didn’t matter without his allowing them to.

He had to stop listening to the voice. Had to substitute it with his own programming until his voice became his life’s overriding dictator.

“I am smart. I am strong. I am willing to do what must be done to get what’s mine.”

Abe scrubbed harder.

One of the few regrets he’d have tomorrow would be never seeing his boss, Raj’s, face once he realized that Abe was gone. Raj would have to run the shop on his own. Then he’d finally see what a valuable, and indispensable, employee Abe had always been. Abe had kept the shop afloat the past four years, even though he’d only been given a single raise. Raj would regret not treating him better.

Abe smiled.

He wondered how many people would miss him. Wondered how many people would have suspected he would do what he planned to do. How many whispers from people who had nothing better to do than gossip saying, “Oh, yeah, I always figured he’d go and do that someday.”

Judgmental fucks.

Abe stared at himself naked in the mirror and for the first time in a long while felt like he didn’t look too bad. He’d been working out, transforming some of his scrawny frame to muscle, not that she’d be likely to care. She would love him for who he was, not what he looked like. He could tell that about her. She wasn’t like the girls who’d always laughed in his face.

She was different.

And in those moments when he wondered how he could possibly know she’d like him, he had to pull out the biggest of affirmations — the one he still had trouble believing.

You are someone special. You will be loved.

He stared in the mirror and told himself that, but not out loud. That was the one affirmation Abe had trouble voicing anywhere but in his most private thoughts.

Abe’s God would say that no, he was not special. No, he would not be loved.

Abe’s God was the cruel bastard of a God that his mother had drummed into his conscious, as if making him believe would erase her own plentitude of sins.

Abe went to the kitchen, still naked, and made himself a microwave egg, ham, and spinach omelet. He poured himself a glass of orange juice then turned on the tiny TV at his small kitchen table and watched the local news. Today, their biggest concern was some proposed dog park that some citizens were trying to get the city commissioners to vote against because it was too close to their precious gated community.

Tomorrow, nobody would care about the parks. The only thing on the news would be what Abe did and people wondering where he’d gone.

He finished breakfast and put his dishes in the spotless sink. He thought about washing them but decided to live a little instead. Leave them for the management company that ran the apartments to sort. Abe never much liked them anyway. Bitches that looked at him with phony smiles then laughed behind his back as soon as he left.

There was a time when he would’ve gone to great lengths to convince these women that he was unworthy of their ridicule. But as Craig said in his seminars, a True Man didn’t care what duplicitous women like this thought of him.

A True Man lived the life he wanted, without apology, without seeking permission, true to himself and himself alone.

Abe chuckled, thinking about the dishes in the sink. He thought about taking a shit and leaving the toilet with a steamer. But he didn’t have to shit this morning. Maybe his nerves, binding him up more than normal.

He went to his bedroom and dressed.

He looked in his mirror and rather liked the confident man staring back. A man who knew what he wanted and wasn’t afraid to go out and get it. The kind of man Abe had always wanted to be — but was only now finding the courage to become.

He looked out the window, down at the parking lot, and saw Maggie and her daughter backing out of their space. For a moment, he wondered if the tire wasn’t flat after all. Or maybe Maggie would try to drive to work with the flat. That would ruin everything.

She stopped the car, got out, and saw the flat tire.

Abe’s heart raced as part of him thought she would turn and look at his apartment on the third floor, that she would somehow know that he’d slashed her tire.

But she didn’t.

Maggie got back into her car and eased back into the space.

Exactly as he’d planned.


Abe was shaking the entire time he approached Maggie’s car, wondering if he could go through with it.

He stood outside her car as she stared straight ahead, seemingly lost in thought, not seeing him. For a moment, he saw this as a sign to turn back. Forget everything.

No. I must stay the course.

When Maggie accepted his offer of a ride moments later, he felt like the train was in motion and now there was nothing to do but take the ride and see where it brought them.

As Maggie got out of the car, Abe noticed that her long brown hair was messier than normal. He figured she must’ve been in a rush.

McKenna climbed out of the backseat, and as she did so, Abe watched as her long, thin legs spread and Abe caught a glimpse of light-colored — are they white or pink? — underwear beneath her sky-blue dress.

His heart racing, he turned away quickly, hoping Maggie hadn’t spotted him looking.

Fortunately, she seemed too preoccupied to notice.

As he led the girls to his car, doubt churned in his gut.

I can’t really do this. Can I?

* * * *

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About David Wright

Dave is the co-founder of Collective Inkwell, in which he and Sean Platt re-invented serial fiction. Hailing from the quaint town of [REDACTED], Dave's renown for putting children in jeopardy (in his fiction, anyway) has made him world famous.

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