A mysterious kidnapping. A political ransom. A missing teen. To save a child, an ex-cop with a dark past must risk his future…
Check out the first (unedited) draft of the start of Chapter 1 below.
Chapter 1 – Cal
The wound must be bleeding heavily and hurts like hell. It is definitely slowing me down, just when I need to be fast. I know the smell of the blood will be easy for the dogs to track and will excite them mightily.
As if in reminder, I hear the baying again. How far behind me are they now? Less than half a mile?
In the growing darkness beneath the forest canopy, I can hardly see the branches and brambles. They’re snatching at my clothing and at the heavy pack on my back, slowing me even more.
For an instant the distraction of my wound has caused my focus to waver from its prime task of navigation. Have I lost the path? If I have, I’m dead meat. Literally.
Hell! I think I have. I feel the hand of panic tearing at me.
I slow and check the left side of the trail carefully.
No, I’m OK.
What a relief! There’s the pine with the broken branch and the notch cut from its trunk: my first marker.
I turn and run into the bush to the left of the trail.
Crashing through the undergrowth, the waves of guilt flood through me again.
I suppress them. I had no choice… or so I tell myself.
No time to think.
I emerge onto a narrow trail leading south and place all my attention on avoiding the many exposed roots. I count them with care. I have to. My life depends on it.
I successfully navigate the first five. Now the greatest hazard of all. If I did this right only to screw it up now, I am in for a world of hurt. Maybe even death, which, given the circumstances, might be preferable.
I stop and listen.
Above the noise of the dogs comes a voice shouting a guttural command. The guards will miss my move from the main trail but the dogs won’t. I look back and can see erratic motions of flashlights carried by the running guards. I remove the tiny Maglite from the pocket of my pants and point it on the ground to the right of the trail.
My skin crawls and I can feel the hair standing up on the back of my neck. One mistake now and… but no, there it is, the innocuous broken stick lying casually across a growth of those tiny blue forest flowers which bloom everywhere in the spring: my second marker.
I scan the air above the stick and wave my pen light at belly height. My heart is in my throat. It’s gone… No, wait a minute, there it is. I reach out and my trembling hand comes into contact with it. It is better concealed than I thought. Good. My pursuers will have their eyes and their flashlights trained on the path, looking for the next recalcitrant root. They will not see the thin filament, coated in non-reflective black dye, exactly three feet above the path.
I drop carefully to my knees and then, on my belly, scramble forward. Although all logic tells me that the wire is at least twelve inches above my backpack, my skin crawls as I pass underneath it. I grunt at the pain caused to my wound. When I am sure I am at least six feet past, I stand and, spurred on by the sound of more frenzied barking, I continue along the path at a steady jog. I am sweating freely in the cool springlike air.
Suddenly, I am through the woods and running—or would hobbling be a better description?—down the green-clad slope leading to the pebble beach. I am both relieved and anxious at the same time. Relieved at being so close to the boat and anxious that I am now in the open, vulnerable to both eyes and bullets.
In the dim dusk I can see the two patches of reeds, the larger of which conceals the boat.
A resurgence of baying—it sounds closer and I pray that the guards have not yet let slip the dogs of war, for if they have, I will likely be torn apart—forces me to sprint the last one hundred yards to the beach. God only knows what it’s doing to the wound in my side.
I reach the water’s edge and now time, as lawyers like to say, is of the essence.
The pack is off my back even before I stop running and with two quick snaps the top is open and I am pulling out the drysuit.
I deviate from the carefully rehearsed sequence and pull up my black polypropylene turtleneck. At the back where the bullet entered, the hastily applied duct tape has staunched the flow but the exit wound at the front, four inches to the left of my navel, has blood seeping ominously round the tape.
I know I have to take precious time to deal with the bleeding.
I remove my gloves and from a side pocket in my pack, I pull out a zip-lock bag containing alcohol-soaked gauze pads and a roll of duct tape, there at the insistence of Stammo.
I suppress a cry of pain as I wrench off the existing tape, the pain from the wound itself and from the hundreds of hairs that are ripped from their follicles. The sight of the wound is horrific, made much more so by the fact that it is in my gut. Blood is flowing freely.
The baying is closer. Can they smell my blood?
How the hell did I get into this?
If you want to know how Cal got into this mess and if he can get himself out of it, stay tuned to your email for the news of the release of Lockstep.
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