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 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.
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 from the dogs—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?
I am trembling. Is it from my body’s reaction to the wound or my mind’s reaction to the closeness of the dogs?
Gritting my teeth, I fold the tatters of skin and flesh over the wound and, with my left hand, press three large gauze pads on the area, unable to suppress the gasp at the sting of the alcohol. Using my right hand, teeth and bloody hunting knife, I tear off four strips of the silver duct tape with which I secure the gauze tightly over the wound. Two more pieces and the gauze is invisible under the tape. That will have to do; there is no time for further ministrations.
I pull on the dry suit and fasten it except for the hood; I still need my ears free. I slip the strap behind my neck and pull the mask forward on to my forehead. The dry suit immediately makes me feel hot. This is good; in a moment I will need all the warmth it can provide.
Quickly checking that I’ve left nothing on the ground, I swing my pack onto my left shoulder and wade into the patch of reeds.
I break several of the reeds in the process. I want it to be obvious that this is where I entered.
The reeds, so rare in west coast waters, are thick and strong. They grow to as high as six feet above the surface of the bay and their concealment gives me a momentary sense of security.
As I wade through the reeds, I hear the almost continuous sounds of the dogs, they know their quarry is close and are being encouraged by the shouts of their handlers.
Then loud cursing from two of the voices and, although I can not make out the Spanish words, I am quite sure one of them has tripped on the clutching hand of a root and one of his companions has fallen on top of him. Despite the dire circumstances, I can not help but smile and be grateful that this experience will ensure their eyes stay focused downwards.
With a sudden chill, I realize that in his tumble, the guard may have dropped the leash of his dog, freeing the beast to run ahead and pass free under my booby-trap wire, or worse, trip it early.
I suppress the thought and press on through the reeds, which are starting to thin. They allow me to peer through them until I see my target, the sturdy aluminum dinghy with its powerful outboard motor. I smile at the silent figure seated in the stern.
Manny sits motionless, dressed as I am under the drysuit: black shirt, pants and woolen hat; he has been in position, waiting, for twenty hours. His blue eyes stare fixedly at the prow of the dinghy; his hand is on the tiller of the outboard motor. Manny will not let me down.
The barking dog is very close, I imagine him standing and slavering on the edge of the shore, undecided on his course of action. Whether or not my imagination is correct, I don’t know. Then he makes his decision. I hear a splash as he launches himself into the water and starts to paddle his way through the reeds, alternating gasps of breath with muted barks.
Because we knew there were dogs, I have a can of pepper spray, bought from the camping supply store. The owner was a red faced man with a drinker’s nose and the most luxuriant mustache that I have ever encountered. He guaranteed me that the spray would deter even a grizzly bear. I silently promise myself that if his advice proves false, I will track him down and remove that magnificent facial hair strand by strand by strand.
Assuming I live.
But I have to live, for Sam and Ellie.
I reach down to my left pocket where I keep the spray can, except that of course, it is in my pants pocket under the dry suit.
In a panic, I unzip the suit, being careful to keep the zipper above the surface of the water, which is up to my waist. Awkwardly, I slide my left hand inside the suit and fumble in my pants pocket. My hand is encased in a rubber glove which is part of the dry suit and try as I might I can not pull it and the spray can out of the pocket. In a flash of irrelevance, I think of the monkey unable to pull his hand from the glass jar while it is clutched firmly around the apple.
This thought vanishes as I glimpse the dog, mere feet away, paddling steadily through the reeds toward me.
Up close, he is smaller than expected but somehow more fearsome. Chestnut brown with a white patch over his left eye, his head is wide and square like a pit bull, his mouth open in a rictus of determination and, now that his prey is in sight, he has stopped barking, his silence rendering him even more ominous. And he is better trained for moments like this than I am.
I have maybe three seconds before he’s on me. I abandon any thought of the pepper spray or indeed of freeing my left hand from inside the dry suit. I turn my right side toward him and let him approach. I see my supposition that his handler had let go of him during his fall may well be true: a sturdy, leather leash is attached to the back of his studded collar. I make this my target. Planting my legs firmly I prepare for battle.
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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