I'm posting the first several chapters, possibly the first half of the book, of my new thriller. Check the archive out for past chapters.
BRENDA KISSED JAKE and started the engine. They said nothing more as they rolled out of the picnic area and turned onto the main road, continuing up the winding canyon beneath the reproving eyes of the mansions of Boulder’s nouveau riche and trust fund babes teetering atop variegated outcroppings.
Jake felt his heart start beating faster as they closed to within a mile of Dave and Kristen’s driveway. After all these years, the girl could still get his blood pressure up. Why was that, anyway? It was as though there were some sort of electrical field around her that, the closer he got to her physically, caused his neurons to dance. It belied his complete conviction that they could not have ended up together even had Dave not entered the playing field.
Even as teenagers, while they’d shared some similar interests, a gulf had stretched between them personality-wise. Despite her love of movies and comics and late-at-night intellectual discussions, Kristen had had a practical core. She’d wanted material comforts in her life, and a family and fulfilling job, and had planned accordingly. She’d probably been the best-read business and economics major at CU.
In contrast, Jake had been a dreamer. It wasn’t that he hadn’t wanted to be comfortable, too, it was just that he hadn’t been practical enough to think about those things. He’d been on the run from the pain of a wretched childhood. He’d wanted to be a writer and to garner acclaim as the next great American novelist, though he’d had no idea how much luck and timing played into such a success, nor how fairly common was his level of writing talent. He’d been and still was competing against the minions just like him--gifted, to be sure, and armed with a wry, self-deprecating wit and penchant for sarcasm.
But, really, in the end, nothing really all that special.
His lack of uniqueness was the hard, cold realization that had always been the worst hit to his pride of any.
So, here they were. Jake was hammering out a meager living writing porno westerns in a rented town house with a King’s Soopers manager and part-time personal trainer, and Kristen and Dave were hosting pool parties and Halloween costume balls for Boulder’s moneyed elite and artsy-fartsy class up at their villa in Four-Mile Canyon. As Brenda turned into the driveway between seven-foot brick pylons outfitted with LED globes, Jake wondered for how much longer he’d be doomed to fantasize about how it might have been--going to bed with Kristen every night, waking up with Kristen every morning in the perfect world of his infantile conjuring...
The tires of Brenda’s Subaru crunched gravel along the driveway that curved gently through pines, cedars, and aspens. Birds and squirrels played amongst the mid-summer leaves, apparently not minding the occasional squawks of Brenda’s worn-out shocks and struts as the ten-year-old car bounced through shallow potholes. The steel beast thumped across a redwood bridge spanning Four Mile Creek, rolled past a small, open shed that served as a fisherman’s shelter on the right side of the trail and a stone Buddha squatting under a fragrant spruce on the trail’s left side. They turned sharply into the yard fronting the two-story brick-and-cedar house that blended well with the sandstone cliff enfolding it on three sides.
The house had been built back in the seventies, and after two or three renovations it was only a little over two thousand square feet, but Jake didn’t want to think about how much each of those precious feet was worth here within fifty yards of Four Mile Creek, twenty miles from Pearl Street. And, having been inside to see the cool, contemporary, mountain-style plushness of the digs with its vaulted ceilings, exposed beams, polished walnut floors, and gourmet chef’s kitchen complete with stainless steel appliances and wine fridge, he didn’t need to. There was no doubt that the place was worth far more dinero than Jake would ever see if he lived to be as old as one of the ancient bristlecone pines twisting out of the cliffs that towered over the place.
Brenda maneuvered the Subaru onto the paved driveway and stopped the car behind Dave and Kristen’s motorhome--a big, shiny, 30-foot class-C with tinted windows and both slides out. The rear hitch rack cradling two mountain bikes appeared waiting for a third. Kristen was walking along the side of the motorhome from the direction of the front, holding an ungainly stack of bedding in both arms, obscuring her upper body but not her long, beautiful, bare legs. She gave a one-handed wave and an exaggerated grin as she stepped up through the class-C’s open door, disappearing for a moment before rushing back out the door, minus the bedding, and into Jake’s open arms.
“Squirrel!” she screeched, giving him a peck on the cheek. “Oh, gosh, it’s so good to see you!”
“Squirrel” was the pet name she’d given Jake twenty years ago. He had no idea where it had come from, or what it meant, but he’d never minded the moniker though of course if anyone else ever called him that the smart-assed bastard would be sporting a gap-toothed grin until his next trip to the dentist. Jake had to admit that even Kristen saying it--especially around Dave and Brenda--made him a little uncomfortable, given the intimacy of his and Kristen’s history and all, but not uncomfortable enough that he’d ever ask her to stop using it.
“Hey, girl,” Jake said, giving her a friendly squeeze and trying not to overly admire the red knit tube halter and extremely short khaki shorts she was wearing. “How you been?”
He glanced briefly toward Brenda, who was standing on the other side of the Subaru looking a little awkward and embarrassed but giving a quick, off-hand smile that told him it was all right, she understood.
“I’ve been just great. How’ve you been?”
“Can’t complain. Damn, you’re all...tan and fit, rough and ready!”
Jake couldn’t help looking her up and down, from the girlish short braids she’d wound some of her gold-blond hair into and which dangled down the sides of her cheeks, to her long, tan legs and mint-green running shoes. She was educated-hip-Boulder-upper-middle-class through and through, though, unlike some, she didn’t take the outlandish retro hippie stuff--zany individualism run amok--to ridiculous extremes. Kristin Whitefield was most definitely a very attractive thirty-five year old woman who could pass for thirty any day of the week, and she enjoyed dressing in ways that put a bounce in a feller’s step.
Jake wasn’t complaining.
“Tan, maybe,” she said. “I need to wear more sunblock when I’m biking and gardening, but what I really need to do is add more strength-training to my workouts.” Kristen turned and headed for Brenda. “Maybe your beautiful better half could help me with that.” She and Brenda embraced like old friends. “Hey, Bren--so wonderful to see you!”
“I was wondering if you could help me with that.”
“With what?” Brenda asked.
“I don’t know--I don’t want to get flabby in my old age. Maybe sometime you could show me how I could tighten up here”--Kristen grabbed the back of her left arm above the elbow and then lifted her left leg to indicate the back of that thigh--“and here. Listen, if you could drive out one day a week, you and I could spend the whole day together...here in the weight room, and then we could have lunch and take a swim.”
She glanced at Jake then winked and leaned confidentially toward Brenda. “Maybe some wine and sushi later? Could we do that? Just us ladies. I mean, I could really use a little professional assistance here, Bren.”
As if the gods were getting as squirrely as Jake at the overly earnest, self-conscious turn of Kristen’s soliloquy, thunder peeled out of a clear blue sky. The ground lurched. Jake jerked with a start. But then he realized that the noise hadn’t been thunder at all, but the report of a gun of some kind.
“David!” Kristen yelled, stomping one of her mint green running shoes. “Goddamnit, how many times do I have to ask you not to do that?”
Jake followed Kristen’s gaze to the second-floor deck of the house, where a thick, stocky, blond man in black T-shirt, knee-length khaki shorts, and red flip flops stood, holding a shotgun across his shoulder. A thick cigar jutted from one side of his mouth. David Whitfield waved and grinned, showing large, white teeth against the healthy ruddiness of his face. Stylish white sunglasses were pushed back off his forehead, all but lost in his rumpled, sun-bleached hair.
“Hey, all,” he called. “Sorry about the racket.” He ejected the spent plastic shotgun shell, which clattered to the deck around his flip-flops, and pumped a fresh round into the chamber. “Just settlin’ a few scores with some miscreants on the other side of the house. Nothin’ to worry about, though, pilgrims.” It was a very poor John Wayne imitation.
David laughed heartily as he strode over to the top of the stairs.
“Can’t let them owlhoots get a toe-hold, now, can ya?” David said as he reached the bottom of the stairs and stopped to aim the shotgun at the sky.
He ejected the shell he’d seated in the chamber, and then returned the shotgun to his shoulder. Puffing the cigar between his teeth, he mimicked the Duke’s pigeon-toed walk as he strode over to where Jake was now standing with the women near the front of Brenda’s car. The imitation was made all the more ridiculous by David’s camo shorts and red flip-flops.
He tried to maintain a gunfighter’s chin-down, steely-eyed expression, but then his face crumpled, and he loosed a chuff of embarrassed laughter, blowing smoke out his mouth and nose as he removed the cigar from between his impossibly large, white teeth. “Hey, there, my man. What’s up?”
“What the hell’s all that about?” Jake asked, absently shaking his friend’s hand and scowling at the shotgun. Dave had always been a showoff but the shotgun seemed a little extreme, even for him. He’d hunted when he was a kid, but Jake didn’t think he’d hunted since moving to politically correct Boulder and getting into tea.
“Deer,” David said. “I use the popper to scare ‘em away from the willows I planted on the other side of the house. Hey, Bren, welcome to Robbers Roost,” he said, giving Brenda a brotherly hug.
She was regarding the shotgun with the same skepticism as Jake, while Kristen shook her head and pursed her lips. “That’s my Davey,” she said, rising up onto the toes of her running shoes to pinch David’s ruddy cheeks and give his chin a playful peck. “Always showing off.”
“Hey, let’s get this show on the road,” David said, turning to walk around the back of the motorhome. “I’m just gonna toss this into the rig, and then I’ll help you with your bike.”
Jake scowled at him. “What--you mean, you’re bringing the gun?”
“Yeah, didn’t you hear?”
“Hear what?” Brenda asked.
David glanced from the women to Jake, obviously hesitating.
“Hear what?” Jake echoed Brenda.
David hiked a shoulder. “There were...uh...three hikers killed along the trail to Paradox last week.”
Brenda gasped. “That was the Paradox trail?”
“Sure as tootin’,” David said, puffing the cigar. “All three were shot with a bow and arrow and one was even de-fucking-capitated.”
“David!” Kristen scolded.
“Ah, shit--I’m sorry,” David said to Brenda. “I shouldn’t have told you. I didn’t know you hadn’t heard. It’s been on the news for several days. Hey, there’s nothing to worry about, Bren. You see this here?”
He held up the shotgun, which was painted all black. So menacingly black that it looked like a deadly snake of some sort. A black cobra.
David patted it proudly. “The Mossberg Five-Thirty-Five Twelve-Gauge is one of the best shotguns on the market today. One of the baddest-assest cannons on the market for the past forty-five years. Easy to load and shoot, with an ambidextrous safety”—he flicked a little steel switch on the breech—“you can fire three quick rounds—Ka-Boom! Boom! Boom!—“faster’n you can name your favorite Chuck Norris flick. Not to worry, little honey.” He winked at Brenda. “I’ll bring the Great American Writer home to you safe and sound...though maybe a little winded and sunburned.”
David laughed through his large, perfect, white teeth.