A Steep Climb – a Cole Wright short story

A little slow off the mark with this… call it the end of the year blues. Mostly I like to have a Cole Wright short story up free to read in the first week of the month when a Cole Wright novel is coming out. This time, I missed that by a wide margin – Zero Kills, book 6 in the series, has already been out for a few days now.

The idea with a free story on the website here is to promote the upcoming title and the series as a whole. Since I’m kind of goofy with that whole marketing thing, sometimes pieces fall by the wayside. Social media? Advertising? Up to date website? Email list? What’s all that?

“A Steep Climb” as it turns out, was actually the first Cole Wright short story I wrote. When I was getting a feel for the character. It was fun coming back to it at this point (and making a couple of important changes) and cool to let it out into the world. I’ll leave it free here for a week or two. Maybe longer.

More Cole Wright news soon – an update on Zero Kills (you know, promotion), a little news on book 7, which has been drafted and as such is in the machine to get up to scratch to be publishable, and on a collection of all the Cole Wright short stories so far, including the novella.

A Steep Climb will also be out soon as an ebook and in paperback – priced as usual at $2.99 and around $5.99.

Enough of my waffling on – here’s the story.

A Steep Climb – blurb

Hitching a ride, Cole Wright finds himself listening to tall tales. He meets some remarkable people on the road.

When the driver suggests a detour to a beautiful overlook, they find more than they expect. People dressed and ready for a ball.

But they have other things on their mind.

Cover illustration by Dek257 | Dreamstime

A Steep Climb


Chapter 1

Delle Brodie climbed the steep face of the grassy slope, nursing her twisted ankle, watching the rage of angry waves below.

There were rocks there, at the base. Old granite or basalt or something. The kind of rock that sat implacable against the ocean’s onslaught for millions of years. Or against the impact of a boat’s hull.

Above the rock, the grassy slope was something she had to cling to. Maybe mountain goats or bighorn sheep could traverse it easily, but for a reasonably fit woman like herself, it was still a struggle.

Unnerving, even.

The grass was crisp and dry. The blades crackled underfoot and in her hands as she grasped at them. Some came away in her fingers. Hopefully the root mass was tougher. Otherwise, her urgent traverse might dislodge something and send a whole volume of it down into the Pacific. Her with it.

Back down with the debris of Hibiscus, her boat.

Insects buzzed around. Hornets, maybe, or bees. Despite the dryness of the landscape, there were still weedy flowers around. The smell was a heady mix of dusty earth, pine and a mess of floral scents.

If you could bottle it, you’d make a killing selling it at state fairs.

The sun beat down on Delle. Late September in Oregon you’d think it would be more temperate. There had been some fires a year or two back, racing up through parts of this countryside. Relentless and without mercy. Times were sure getting hotter.

Still, at least the sun would be setting soon. It might have been six PM already. Maybe later. On the boat, time hadn’t seemed to matter so much.

Somewhere south of Portland, north of Crater Lake National Park, one of her favorite places. Amazing that a lake could be so deep–deepest in the country–but only be accessible at the top of a mountain. Stunning, summer or winter.

It would be a whole lot better there right now, than here.

She was wearing running gear, which was a good thing. Tights, Nikes, a wicking, long-sleeved Ladbrook top. Black with bright colors–pinky-crimson on the upper half of the top, and the same color highlights along the leggings.

Better than if she was in jeans, sandals and some old baggy sweater.

She was in good shape, for her age. Pushing forty. She ran five miles a day, put in a couple of regular weekly sessions at Stone’s Gym in Tacoma hefting weights and pulling the oars on a rowing machine.

Delle stopped and took a breath. The slope had to be sixty degrees. Math had never been her strong suit. Ask her to pick the chords in a song and she could do that easy. Listen to something once, then play it on the piano no problem.

But angles and square roots and even multiplication baffled her.

Honey, her mother had said right through school, Music is just math.

Well, she got that. All the notes relate, one to the other. That was easy. But when you had to look up the cosine of an angle to figure out how long the side of a triangle was, well, that just lost her.

And why was she thinking about that now?

As if poor math skills were something to worry about when her boat was wrecked, she was stuck here scrambling up some wasteland into who knew where?

Another glance down–didn’t they say don’t look down?–and she could see that she was actually making progress.

She didn’t remember scaling the rocks. Just being thrown into the water, then she was here on the slope. Some survival instinct taking over. The conscious, memory-forming part of her brain shoved aside as something took over to get her away from those waves and out of the water.

A plunge through the water–she was still wet–and a scramble up the rock face. She had some cuts on her fingers and the left knee of her leggings was torn, the skin beneath scraped.

She stopped for another breath. Impossible to tell how far the slope reached. It curved back away from her.

It was tiring. And already she’d had to deal with the broken steering on the boat.

Hibiscus was a forty-foot fiberglass cutter. At least, she had been. Now she was just jetsam, with the mast bobbing in the waves, the keel sitting at the bottom of this little cove.

Her own fault, really. It was her father who’d been the sailing enthusiast. He’d gifted her the boat in his will.

He’d tried to share a lot of his enthusiams with her. Taking her to Jayhawks games, teaching her to shoot at the local range, watching bad fifties science fiction movies. Some of them were really terrible.

Maybe it was some desire to honor his name, to take the boat out. Maybe it was something clouding her judgement.

She’d been out on the boat plenty of times with him, from when she was maybe ten and he’d come into the money to purchase it.

He made it look easy. Adjust the sheets, work the tiller, change the sail configuration.

The last five years it had sat almost idle–just occasional rentals that helped pay the hospital bills–while he made noises about beating his cancer. Right up until the last day.

I’ll lick it, you hear me? I will.

Sure Dad.

Delle climbed on. Maybe it wasn’t too much farther. And the slope definitely seemed to be growing less steep. Something darted away through the grass to her right. Maybe a mouse. Maybe a small snake.

She should know more about the area’s wildlife, really.

The slope evened out. The grass was more vibrant and strong. Soon the slope was shallow enough that she could stand and walk upright.

The tips of trees showed farther up. Some pieces of litter were caught in the grass in places. Burger wrappers, plastic bottles.

The slope changed not far ahead. An edge to it. The grass scruffier, a low fence made from fat round pieces of wood. When she reached it though, the fence was higher than it had seemed. More like three feet high, with wire mesh between the posts.

Beyond, there was a gravel area, with tall pines behind. The scent of them was strong.

A black Cadillac was parked in the middle of the gravel area.

With a man standing at the open driver’s door. Just watching her.


Chapter 2

Cole Wright sat in the passenger seat of the rickety old Ford, listening to the driver talk about his time in the marines. Nice guy, though perhaps getting on a bit to still be driving, especially at the speeds he was doing. Staying within the posted limit, but the twists and turns didn’t lend themselves to the aggressive mode at all.

“Last posting was Desert Shield,” he told Wright, heading off into a long story about fixing the blades on helicopters in the baking heat and driving, sandy wind.

The car popped and purred. Sometimes driving smoothly, sometimes seeming to struggle. It had once been dark blue, but all the luster had gone out of its paneling and trim. The blue seemed hidden under decades of patina. Wright’s window was jammed about an inch from closed.

The guy had picked him up outside of a diner near a freeway spur. Wright had been thinking about finding a place for the night, though there hadn’t been much at the little interchange. A gas station, the diner, a few houses. A motel that was so decrepit that it looked abandoned. A sign out front boasted that they had Color TV!, though all the color had washed out of that too.

Easy enough to try his luck a ways up the road.

Days like this could go either way. Sleeping in a bus shelter, or getting invited back to someone’s home for a three course meal and a feather bed.

Right now, it was impossible to tell which way this ride was going to go.

“I liked the Blackhawks,” the guy was saying. “The rotors on those, whew! You could always tell when one was coming from the sound of those blades, yes sir.”

They were sweeping through country that was rough and rugged. Tall, old pine trees lined the road, the smell of them blasted through the gap in Wright’s window. Some exposed rock in the undergrowth.

“You serve?” the guy asked. He had a wiry white mustache and a Tigers cap, as orange as the fruit.

“I was a cop,” Wright said. “Doesn’t really count.”

“You served in your own way.”

“I guess.”

“You been out this way before?”

“No sir.”

“Don’t call me ‘sir’. Just ‘Fast’.”


“Haven’t heard my real name since I was maybe three. Apparently I’m a fast learner. But it’s more like I can look at something and see how it works.”

“Like a helicopter rotor assembly.”


They rode in silence for a few minutes. The wind ruffled the trees. As they passed a clearing, Wright caught a glimpse of a raptor, diving into the grassy area. Must have seen a mouse or a small bird.

“If you have a moment or two,” Fast said, “We can stop off at Deep Cove Point. We might just catch the sunset and, let me tell you, a sunset over the Pacific. Ain’t nothing like it.”

“I’m not in any particular hurry,” Wright said. “Sounds like a deal to me.”

“Well all right then.” Fast sped up, and a few minutes later turned from the tarmac onto a gravel road.

The trees seemed to have closed in, and the road was even more twisted and tangled than the one they’d left. Fast barely seemed to slow.

Another few minutes and around a couple of bends, Wright glimpsed a graveled parking lot, fenced off from what looked like a cliff. Beyond lay the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean. The lot was below them, far off and around a few more bends. But, for a moment, he had a good view.

A vehicle in the lot already. And a couple of people.

One of them staggered back.


Chapter 3

Fast’s car’s tires crunched on the gravel. The stern swayed around corners. The rock chips on the road seemed a bright gray, as if a fresh load had been graded in recently. They’d had no time since leaving the crusher to become soiled and weathered.

The parking lot had vanished out of sight, hidden behind the thick trees.

The land was steeper here right near the coast. The Pacific slowly nibbling away as the bluffs. The road led Fast’s old Ford down.

“Give you a meal later,” Fast said, one hand on the wheel, the other on the gearshift. “If you’re hungry. If you can cope with bacon and cheese omelet.” The way he said it made it sound as if that was about the only meal he ate.

“Bacon and cheese omelet sounds good to me,” Wright said.

“Can’t offer you a bed. My place is tiny enough with just me. But there is a woodshed out back that’s not too bad. Got a trestle in there. We could lay down a couple of blankets. Shut the door you’d be fine.”

Fast glanced his way.

“Of course,” he went on, “I wouldn’t want to offend. Your tastes may be much more refined.”

Almost as if it was a test.

“I’ve slept on trestles before. Slept on worse.”

Facing the road again, Fast smiled.

They came around the corner and onto the expanse of the overlook parking lot.

The other vehicle was there.

The two people.

One standing. One laid out on the ground.

The one on the ground struggled to his feet. He was holding a gun.

He pointed it around. Aiming at Fast’s car.

Fast swore. The marines would have been proud.


Chapter 4

Out over the ocean beyond the overlook, some gulls glided along, white wings spread wide, red bills darting left and right. Always something interesting to look at if you were a gull.

Fast brought the car to a stop.

The guy with the gun got to his feet. He was wearing a formal suit. Not quite a tux, but definitely black tie. As if he’d just stepped out from some award ceremony to get some air.

Wright pulled on his door handle.

“Wouldn’t do that,” Fast said.


“That guy’s armed.”

“And her?”

The other figure, a woman, who’d now stepped back, looked like she was out for a jog, wearing bright running clothes and expensive shoes.

One of them out exercising, one dressed to the nines. Neither really fit with how remote the location was.

“Looks like she can take care of herself. Looks like she knocked him down.”

“Yes, on both.”

“So,” Fast said, “seeing’s as how this guy is holding a Smith and Wesson M&P 9, and is pointing it right at me, I figure I’m going to back right out of here. Sorry about your sunset.”

“Mind if I stick around?” Wright kept his hand on the door handle.

The guy with the gun wasn’t steady on his feet at all. But, he was the one with the gun. Fast knew his weapons. The M&P 9 was a police issue weapon too, so maybe this was a cop, or he’d taken it from a cop.

“You gonna stick around?” Fast said. “Well, I can’t leave you to that.”

“Don’t feel obliged.”

“Oh, not at all.” Fast stared straight at him. “I’m seventy-nine years old. Not as fast as I used to be, but never one to shy away from a little action.”

Fast opened his door. Stepped out into the cooling air.

Wright did likewise.

The guy with the gun was shaky, but coming around.

The other vehicle was a Caddy. Late model too. Darkened windows and buffed paint. It was as shiny as Fast’s car was dull.

“If I were you,” the guy with the gun said, “I would get back into the car and go find somewhere else to be. Forget you were ever here.”

“Well,” Fast said, stepping around. “You ain’t me, so there’s no argument at all.”

On the near side, the back door on the car opened. A woman stepped out. She was wearing a red ball gown. She had coiffured dark hair that was almost buoyant.

The gown was cut to her figure, not revealing, though. Elegant and classy. She was wearing dark glasses with big lenses and tortoiseshell lenses.

The other woman stared at her.

“Delle,” the woman in the gown said. “Delle, Delle, Delle. Why would you think you could possibly back out of our little agreement.”

Spoken as if Wright and Fast weren’t even there.

“There’s no agreement,” said the woman in exercise gear–Delle, presumably.

“And now we have witnesses here.”

“You planned this?” Delle said.

“Had access to the boat,” the man with the gun said. “Easy enough.”

“You sabotaged my boat?”

The guy shrugged. He kept the gun aimed at Fast.

They formed a rough pentagon, a couple of yards between Wright and Fast, a couple of yards between the guy with the gun and the woman in the ball gown. She was a little under three yards from Wright.

Delle, the woman in the bright exercise gear, was a little father off, stretching out that corner of the pentagon.

It was a bad situation with the gun right there. The guy could practically pick them off at will.

So the situation needed something to mess with it.

“Where’s the boat now?” Wright said.

He started walking toward the rough fence. He cut between Fast and Delle.

The fence was the kind of thing that had probably been put in about twenty years back. Maybe after some incident. Maybe a car went over the side and the county made a token effort to prevent that happening again. And then they’d promptly forgotten it.

“Stop there,” the guy with the gun said.

One body was a problem, for sure. But three, that was a real problem. With them all dressed up like that.

Wright was betting the guy wouldn’t shoot.

“Is the boat down here?” Wright said. Kind of obvious, really. The ocean was below. Where else would the boat be?

“Last warning.”

Wright kept walking.

The guy fired. The loud crack of the discharge echoing around.

So much for betting that the guy wouldn’t shoot.


Chapter 5

The shot had been high and wide. The bullet now arcing out across the Pacific. Might hit some poor seabird or fish out there. Most likely the round would just splash down and sink to the bottom.

Wright was practically at the fence.

He hadn’t been shot. Maybe that was down to luck. Or maybe that was the actual last warning.

Maybe these people were smart enough to know that three bodies was bad odds. That kind of stuff caught up with you.

“I want to see the boat,” he said. What he wanted was to keep the gun aimed away from Fast and Delle. He would come to the fence and move along. Force the guy to turn and track him.

There would be one moment where the gun was aimed at Delle, but sometimes you took calculated risks.

None of his business really. Could have just stayed in the car with Fast. Let him back away.

“I don’t see a boat,” Wright said, looking over the fence, moving along.

Below him was a gradual curve of slope that looked as if it just vanished into a cliff. He couldn’t see where the land met the water.

“There’s a channel down there,” Delle said, stretching out her vowels as if she was from the far corner of the country. Georgia, maybe.

“A channel?” Wright said.

“Well, it’s a cove. The boat went off course. It got caught in the swell.”

“Which was the whole plan,” the man with the gun said. “Now, buddy, why don’t you come on back over this way?”

“Me?” Wright said.

“You might be over there thinking to yourself that I’m a bad shot. You might feel that the odds are a little in your favor. After all, you saw me getting up after being knocked down. You might be thinking that I’m off my game.”

“I was thinking along those lines,” Wright said.

“I’m a professional here.”

“Good for you. How’s the pay?”

“Come back over here.”

“What kind of boat?” Wright said. He didn’t move. Just kept looking over the slope. The waves were long and straight, stretching north and south. They’d come all the way from Hawaii or Japan or the Kamchatka peninsula.

“Buddy,” the guy said. “Don’t make me count.”

“Did the engine break down?” Wright said.

“Yes,” Delle said.

One of the passing gulls called. A loud plaintive bleat. Hard to tell if it meant it was annoyed at the intrusion of folks with cars and guns, or if it was calling to others.

“So this,” Fast said, “is not making any sense to me. You were on boat, honey and–“

“Don’t call me honey.”

“Ma’am, I’m sorry.”

“Just Delle, please.”

“Will you people be quiet?” the woman in the ball gown said.

“I still haven’t figured it out,” Wright said. He kept moving along the rail.

“Nothing to figure out.”

“Did you climb up here?” Wright said, turning to Delle. The others were all still where they’d been.

“Right up from the water.” She looked around at him. Her eyes picked up the sun as it reached for the horizon.

She was a few years older than he was, maybe even late thirties. Clear that she looked after herself, though the climb up from the water must have taken it out of her.

“You knocked him down?” Wright said.


“Enough,” the woman in the ball gown said. “We just have a few questions for her and we’ll be on our way.”

“Ask your questions,” Wright said. “What’s the occasion?”

“Huh?” the guy with the gun said.

“We’re the ones asking the questions,” the woman said. She stepped away from the car.

“I haven’t heard a question yet,” Wright said. “But I’ve got a few of my own.”

“Likewise,” Fast said. He’d stayed by the front of his car. The separation between him and Wright, with the gunman between was close to a hundred and eighty degrees. No way the guy could shoot them both.

The gunman was standing where he’d been. Back to the woman, side on to the Cadillac. Facing so he could watch Wright and Delle.

“Where are you from?” Wright said, meaning Delle. She had her eyes on him. Hard to tell what she was thinking.

“Seattle,” she said.

“How about that. Me too. You ever get over to–“

“Stop.” The woman in the ball gown stepped away from the car. “He opens his mouth again, shoot him.”

“Wouldn’t do that,” Fast said.

“Or shoot him,” she said. “I don’t care. I just want to know what happened to the package.”

She took a step toward Delle.

Who were the good guys in this situation? Easy to assume that the guy with the gun was in the wrong, that the woman who’d climbed up the cliff was the victim.

He’d made mistakes like that before. You had to step back. Avoid assumptions.

Fact was, anyone who was shooting at him was a bad guy.

Wright took a step back from the fence. Toward the Cadillac. It was a nice car. Well-maintained. Kind of thing it took money to get your hands on.

Didn’t things like this always involve money? Real money. Not the kind of cash involved when your friend bought your movie ticket, or a someone built a deck on the back of your house.

The kind of money most people would retire on.

“What’s in the package?” Wright said. He flicked his eyes from Delle to the guy with the gun. Even though he’d fired a shot, he didn’t look like he was going to shoot again anytime soon. Still a little dazed.

Wright took another step.

“He don’t look so good,” Fast said.

“No,” Wright said. “She must have popped him a good one.”

“I did,” Delle said. “But that was before I knew he had a gun.”

“Makes sense,” Fast said. “I wouldn’t go knocking someone down if they had a gun on me.”

“Enough!” The woman in the ball gown stepped forward. She ripped the gun from the guy’s hand. She pointed it a Wright’s feet.


Whipped around. Fired a second shot. At Fast’s feet.

Came back again.

A third shot. This one at Delle’s feet.

“You people are not getting the message. Shut up. Answer the question. Where. Is. The. Package?”

The woman kept the gun aimed right at Delle. Center mass.

A kill shot.


Chapter 6

A Smith and Wesson M&P 9 is a well-balanced pistol. Smith and Wesson make a fine range of weapons, many destined for law enforcement agencies.

Wright had fired plenty of them himself. Little kick, nice feel in the hand. No jamming.

The magazine would hold fifteen, with a chambered round too. By Wright’s count, that made twelve left.

No chance of safely disarming her. Or even risking a bad shot. Had to assume a full magazine.

And she was quite the marksman, too.

All the shots had been about a half a foot to the right of the target.

Ostensible target. She’d hit exactly where she’d meant to. Intentional. The bullets might have buried themselves in the ground, or ricocheted away. But it would have been bad luck if the ricochet had angled back and hit one of them. Maybe catching a bad angle from one of the rock chips in the gravel parking lot.

“I suppose,” Wright said, “someone ought to tell her where the package is.”

A gull alighted near him, on the fence’s rail. Perhaps it was the same gull that had been gliding around and calling.

“I don’t know about a package,” Delle said.

“Course you do,” the guy who’d previously had the gun said. He was scowling. He was supposed to be the tough guy here. Now he’d been knocked down, and disarmed.

Guy like that, his ego wouldn’t like it. Chances were his precious little ego was even more bruised because both actions had been by women. Too old fashioned.

“What was the package?” Wright said. He held his hands low and out. I’m unarmed. Let’s talk this through.

The woman turned. She stared at him.

“The boat was leased to us, for as and when we required it.”

“Smuggling something,” Wright said.

“Yet this woman chose to take the boat–“

“It’s my boat.”

“You’re still bound by the contract signed by your father.”

“There was no contract.”

“Guns?” Wright said. He took another step closer. “Drugs? Data? What were you smuggling?”

“It doesn’t matter. It was loaded in the boat. She took it.”

“Whatever it is,” Delle said, “it’s at the bottom of the ocean now.”

The woman in the ball gown licked her lips. “You’re telling me you didn’t know about it?”

“Of course she knew about it,” the guy said.

“Don’t think she did,” Fast said.

“I really didn’t,” Delle said.

The woman with the gun sighed.

The logic of crooks. Assuming that everyone was crooked and just out to get them. Didn’t matter if you were some street thug or rolling in dollars, like these two, you still thought the world was out to get you.

Wright took a half a step forward. Getting within reach. Almost.

Very delicate time now.

The guy was watching him. The woman had the gun aimed right at Delle.

Very delicate.

Anything could set it off.


Chapter 7

A couple of big dark birds darted through the trees behind the gravel parking lot. They twittered and spun, almost like some dogfight.

Above and behind, puffy clouds were growing. Moist air pushed in off the ocean, and up by the terrain. Maybe they would dump some rain later. The land around here sure could use it.

“Sounds like she didn’t know about this package,” Wright said.

“The package was right under the galley sink,” the woman said. “She had to know about it, because she would have stored food there.”

“I didn’t store any food.” Delle glanced at Wright, back at the woman.

Another sigh. The woman adjusted the shoulder of her dress. She was wearing heels, but not too high, and not stilettos. As if she’d been expecting to be walking on rough ground, but still wanted to look good for whatever event later.

“You were seen loading the food,” she said. “A cardboard box, open at the top. A couple of cans and a bag of cereal sticking up.”

Delle’s lips pursed.

“Our contact told us you’d left the marina. Heading south.”

“We shut down your steering,” the guy said. “On remote.”

“Seems mighty impolite,” Fast said.

The gull that was on the fence took to the air with a squawk. Below, the waves continued to pound in.

“I overrode it,” Delle said. “But it made things worse. No control at all.”

“Let me see if I understand this all,” Wright said. “You stored a package on her boat. Then, when she took the boat, you used some remote system to disable it. Right here?”

Wright turned, looking back out toward the ocean, but using the pivot to move himself closer to the group. To the woman.

“Nasty rocky coast, this,” Fast said. “No place to be in a boat without steering.”

Wright turned again, bringing himself just a little closer.

“Believe me,” Delle said to Fast, “I know it.”

“You wanted the package,” Wright said, “but you wrecked the boat, meaning that it’s taken the package down with it.”

The guy in the suit grunted. As it was obvious, now that it had been pointed out to him.

“You’re running your operation much too lean,” Wright said. “You needed to be tailing her in another boat, not in this.”

“We didn’t have another boat,” the woman said. She jabbed the gun’s muzzle toward Delle. “She knew we were using the boat. She knew what for.”

“Happy to turn the other way,” the guy said. “As long as she needed the cash for her dear departed dad’s hospital expenses.”

“So she took the package,” Wright said. “When she knew the boat was going to wreck. Took it with her. Hid it away somewhere on the cliff face there. Some nook. Figured she would come back later.”

“She would have known by then,” Fast said. “Would have known that the disabled boat wasn’t a random accident.”

“Yes,” Wright said. “She would have figured you to be after her.”

“Knowing that you didn’t have another boat.”

“So you’d be coming by land.” Wright nodded at their car. “In your fancy ride.”

“We should go have a look down there,” Fast said. “Probably hidden away.”

“There’s nothing hidden away,” Delle said. “There’s no real cliff. Just grass that gets real steep. Rocks at the bottom.”

“She doesn’t have it on her,” Fast said. “Outfit like that, you’d know right away. Meaning no offense.”

“None taken,” Delle said.

“How about this?” Wright said. “I’ll go down and take a look. Your goon can come with. We’ll have a good hunt for this package.”

He was less than a yard from the woman now. Almost within striking range.

“You?” the woman said.

“Just trying to figure out a way that no one gets shot.”

“Very admirable. I–“

Wright moved then. Ducking. Moving quickly.

Charging ahead. A football tackle.

He caught the woman around the waist.

The gun went off.


Chapter 8

For a moment, Wright and the woman were airborne. In weightless freefall.

She smelled of roses.

She twisted in his grip.

Wright landed hard. A sharp piece of the gravel drove into his shoulder.

She’d twisted enough that his full weight didn’t come down her. She wrestled from his grasp.

Wright grabbed for her, but she scrambled away. Sharp pain came from his shoulder. The feel of blood trickling.

She sat, staring at him. Out of reach. Her ball gown was ripped at her hip.

She didn’t have the gun.

Wright whipped around. Still on the ground. Looking for the weapon.

Had to be somewhere.

Delle was holding it. Like Wright, she was bleeding from her left shoulder.

Unlike Wright, the wound looked bad. Moist and glistening in the fading light.

The gull darted low, squawking at them.

Delle held the gun in her right hand. She seemed unsteady.

“I found your package,” she said. She started walking around to the side, kind of following the path Wright had taken earlier.

“Knew it,” the guy in the suit said. He was standing back by the car. Leaning on the hood.

Delle kept the gun trained on him.

“Of course I found it,” she said. “You could have been more obvious. Keys.”

“So where is it?” the woman stood. She dusted off her gown, as if that would make it all right.

Fast stayed where he was, right at the front of his dull old Ford. He looked bemused.

Delle continued on. She went around the front of the Cadillac.

“Where is it?” the guy said.

“Keys,” she said. “Give me the keys to your car.”

“As if I’m going to do that.”

Delle shot him. The sound cracked through the lot. Up into the trees.

Some birds took flight.

The guy went down. Not dead. Shot in the shoulder.

Same as her.

Not a random, accidental shot. She knew how to handle a weapon.

The guy had collapsed to the gravel. He lay, panting. Not screaming, though it must have been excruciating. Impressive.

“Okay,” Wright said, getting to his feet. “Looks like we’re done here.”

“We could give you a lift,” Fast said. “Take you to town somewhere.”

“Oh,” Delle said. “We’re not done here. Not by a long shot.”

She moved away from the side of the Cadillac and took aim. She shot out the front tire. The crack of the gunshot blended with the ugly, burping blast of the tire exploding.

She did the same to the back tire.

The Cadillac rocked on its suspension with the sudden removal of air from the tires.

She came around and put two more shots into the near side tires. Then she reached inside and popped the trunk. The spare got the same treatment.

“Starting to hurt my poor old ears,” Fast said. “I haven’t heard this much shooting since back in the good old days.”

Delle took something from the trunk and brought it around. She tossed it to the woman in the ball gown.

A first aid kit.

“Your buddy might need some help,” Delle said. “Might be a while before you get an ambulance out this way.”

The guy was moaning now.

“You need that,” Wright said.

“It’s a scratch,” Delle said. “This guy’s got a bullet lodged against his scapula.”

“Got you covered, anyway,” Fast said. “Got a better kit than that in my glove compartment.”

Of course he did. The car might be run down, but Fast was a smart guy.

“I did find your package.” Delle pointed the gun inside the car. She fired four more shots. Into the upholstery and the dash.

“It was so obvious. You assumed that you could just continue using the boat and that made me mad. Real mad.”

“Where is the package?” the woman said.

“Thing with a yacht is that you have a lot of sharp tools. For cutting rope and gutting fish and peeling vegetables. So I cut the package open. I let the contents waft away on the breeze.”

The woman closed her eyes. “You’ll pay for this.”

“No,” Wright said. “She has witnesses now.”

“You don’t understand.”

“Sure,” Delle said. “You left drugs on my boat so I–“

“Not drugs.”

“I could feel the package. Powdery. About two pounds. Maybe less.”

Delle went around the guy who was still lying on the ground moaning, clutching his shoulder.

Delle fired another shot into the car’s grill. Steam hissed through the gap.

“I figure it’s drivable,” Delle said. “But you’ll have to take it slow. You should look after him.”

She headed toward Fast’s car.

“Guess we can be on our way,” Fast said.

“If you’d take another passenger.”

“Hop on in.”

Fast went around and got in. He started the car. Delle got in back.

Wright stood a moment watching the woman. She didn’t move.

“Come on,” Fast said. “We got places to be.”

Wright held up his hand. “Just a moment.”


Chapter 9

Wind ruffled through the trees upslope, peace and soft, as if no one had been shooting the tires out of cars, or wrecking smuggler boats. Nature didn’t care.

Wright’s shoulder throbbed, but it felt like the bleeding had stopped. He went to the woman in the ball gown.

“Give me that,” he said, and just took the first aid kit from her.

He went to the guy and took out a bandage. Wright stripped off the plastic wrapping. He took the guy’s hand off the wound and put the still-rolled bandage over it. He put the guy’s hand back.

“Hold that there. Pressure.”

The guy grunted.

Wright rolled him a little and found his phone in his back pocket. A swipe at the screen brought up the camera.

Wright photographed him. He stood and photographed the woman. The car, the parking lot, the trees.

He took the phone with him back to Fast’s car. Handed it to Delle.

“What was all that?” Fast said. “With the phone?”

“Evidence, I hope.”

“You don’t have your own phone?”

“Not right now.” Wright looked over at Delle. “Nice shooting.”

Delle dropped the gun. It thumped into the footwell.

“She emptied it,” Fast said. “Woman knows her guns.”

“I didn’t really throw away their package,” Delle said. “I did take it. I did hide it in the rocks.”

She had Fast’s first aid kit already and with scissors, was cutting away at the blood-stained fabric to get at the wound.

“Hid it?” Fast said. “Now why would you do that?”

“He knows.”

“Me?” Wright said.


“Well?” Fast said.

“It wasn’t drugs?”


“It was human remains, wasn’t it?”

Delle nodded.

“Where is it?” Wright said.

“Human what?” Fast said.

“Ashes,” Delle said. “Who knows why it was packaged in taped-up brown paper, but there you go.”

“Her father?” Wright said.

“My guess, yes.”

“His last wishes, maybe. The smuggler wanted to have a final joke on some client somewhere.”

Fast laughed. “That’s great. I love that. I can picture a movie star out there snorting up someone’s ashes.”

Wright looked back across toward the woman and the guy. Hard not to feel sorry for her. Whoever you were and whatever you did in life, a parent was still a parent.

Closure, they called it. Real important.

“You didn’t dump it?” Wright asked Delle.

“I left it on the climb,” Delle said. “Kind of near the top. It’s pretty out of reach, but I figured someday, someone might find it. Wonder how a package of drugs got wedged in behind a gull’s nest here on the coast.”

“Insurance,” Wright said. “You knew they were coming for it. You needed backup in case we didn’t show up.”

“She was expecting us?” Fast said.

“No,” Wright said. “If she’d known we were coming she would have tossed it.”

“I wouldn’t,” Delle said. “I couldn’t do that.”

“Can I get to it?” Wright said.

Delle took a breath. “Let me. I know where it is.” She opened the door and got out of Fast’s car.

“You need a rope?” Fast said. “I’ve got one in the trunk.”

“I’ll be fine.”

And she was. She scampered across the gravel lot and over the fence. Vanished toward the ocean.

“I’m losing my faith in human nature,” Fast said.

“Isn’t this moment helping you regain it?” Wright said.

“Whatever. It’s a very complex thing.”

“Human nature?”

“Absolutely. Who would have thought that one moment this shipwrecked woman would be shooting out the radiator in that nice car there, then next moment she’s clambering down a cliff to retrieve someone’s ashes?”

“Not me,” Wright said.

Fast laughed.

A moment later, Delle reappeared. She had a package. She carried it over to the woman and handed it to her.

“I hope you get closure,” Delle said.

The woman stared. Her face was a mask, but right there, right underneath, it looked as if she was about to burst into tears.

Delle came over and got into the back seat of Fast’s car. Wright got into the front passenger seat.

Fast backed around. Sped out of the lot, and off along the winding road.

“Nice work,” Fast said, with a laugh. “Nice work everyone. I haven’t had so much fun in ages. Now, how do bacon and cheese omelets sound?”

“Sounds great to me,” Delle said.

Wright smiled. He was hungry. It sounded pretty great to him too.

Thanks for reading “A Steep Climb”. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did (after all, this is marketing, right), check out the other stories and novels in the series on the Cole Wright page on the website here. Ebooks, paperbacks and even hardbacks (of the novels). Does anyone want audiobooks? Seems as if lately the AI revolution is making that a little more cost effective (as expense, I suspect, of numerous skilled voice artists – that’s kind of scary). Maybe I should wander down that path for a little while.

Again, thanks. Feel free to comment, even just to say hi.

Take care,


“Cardinals” – A Cole Wright short story, and Cold Highway – A Cole Wright novella

With my last post, I was deep in the heart of writing the ninth Captain Arlon Stoddard novel, Dead Ringers, and as I write this, I’m deep in the heart of writing the seventh Cole Wright novel (as yet untitled), which shows that I go too long between posts here.

Cold Highway – A Cole Wright Novella – out now

A trip north of the border takes Cole Wright into the heart of snowbound Canada. Friendly people, vast distances, tough vehicles, isolation.

When a breakdown looms, Wright finds himself caught in the white, compacted landscape. A road thirty feet wide, hemmed in by the piled up ridges left by snowploughs. And an endless forest that could hide just about anything.

Unfriendly territory. Dangerous places.

A Cole Wright novella that focuses down on a single moment where the slightest error could be his last.

With “Cold Highway” the first Cole Wright novella came on November 20th, and the sixth novel Zero Kills will be out on December 20th, it’s a busy time for my little thriller series.

Stay tuned for more news – another free story in December, and plans for Cole Wright and other series next year.

“Cold Highway” is available now. $3.99 ebook / $10.99 print.

Cardinals – A Cole Wright Short Story – also out now

Lieutenant Ione Anders of the Spokane Police Department stares at a blade jutting from one of the tires on her new issue vehicle.

Looks like the start of another one of those days.

A day that proves full of surprises.

A Cole Wright story with a difference, putting him right there in the action as he tags along.

Cover illustration © Constantin Opris | Dreamstime.


“Cardinals” is available as as an ebook and in print, usual thing of $2.99 and $5.99, since it’s just a short story. Link here.

Keep an eye out for a short story free to read here in December, and Zero Kills released on December 20th – preorder link here


“Sea Skimmers” – a Captain Arlon Stoddard short story

I am currently deep in the heart of writing the ninth Captain Arlon Stoddard novel, Dead Ringers, which is proving to be one of the most complex I’ve ever written – I’m taking more notes as I go than ever, and I’m tinkering a whole lot more with early parts of the story. It’s fun and different, and I hope to have it out in the first quarter of next year, all going well.

Also out is “Ortanide Steppers“, the first novella in the series.

Sea Skimmers

Experienced Captain Ulliana Alvis loves skimming above the forty-five hundred kilometer stretch of the Tegh Sea. Her vessel the Mourave carries fifty passengers in safety and comfort. The calm of the water always reassures and moves her at once.

But safety can be an illusion.

A Captain Arlon Stoddard short story that pits the crew against cascading events and into a desperate attempt to save lives.

A great place to jump in if you’re new to the series, and a wonderful addition for fans.

Cover illustration © Savagerus | Dreamstime.

“Sea Skimmers” is out now as an ebook and a little paperback. Usual thing of $2.99/$5.99.



One Little Broken Leg – A Cole Wright short story taster

With Scorpion Bait, book 5 of the Cole Wright series on preorder and available from September 20th, it seemed like a good moment to post another Cole Wright short story. “One Little Broken Leg” is the fifth of these, and it was fun to write. While I love writing the novels, I love the stories just as much, but in a different way. It’s fun being concise and looking as just one event that can usually be resolved quickly.

Read the first two chapters below. Keep an eye out on the site here, I’m working on posting a story free to read for a week or two from time to time. The next one should be the first couple of weeks of December.

Check out the Cole Wright Thrillers page for other details and links to the novels and stories.

One Little Broken Leg


Sally loves hiking. She knows her way around and knows all the pitfalls and problems. She uses the best equipment.

Caught by surprise, she injures her leg while out alone, forcing her to dig for new strength. To improvise.

When Cole Wright catches up, what he finds makes no sense.

A story of people thrown together in challenging circumstances.



Cover image © Idenviktor | Dreamstime.com

Also available as an ebook and in print, from Amazon and elsewhere.

Chapter One

One little broken leg was never going to slow down Sally. Not out here in the wilds, five miles from the freeway. Two miles from the nearest road.

Sally sat on a black rock, poking up from the mossy, earthy soil all around. An outcrop of granite or gneiss. She’d learned rocks back at NAU. Just a couple of geology courses as a freshman.

None of that had stuck.

Not that that would help her situation right away.

The sky overhead was clear, a brilliant dome of blue. A few scudding, icy wisps to the north east, and a few billowing thunderheads a hundred miles to the south. It was late in the day and the air was cooling. Behind her the range rose slowly, and the sun would dip behind soon.

Then it would get real cold.

Around her, ponderosa and Oregon pines shivered in a light breeze. Their scent was heady and strong. Invigorating. Life-giving.

The rock was nobbly and rough. It poked against her butt, but the nobbles were small enough and even enough that it didn’t hurt. Tiny pieces of it looked like they were ready to break out. Little blocks of the stuff like the tips of miniature french fries.

The fall had happened just beyond the rock, on the uphill side. A trail there that might once have been clear and open, but now was tending to weeds and saplings. Dry in places, boggy in others. Some parts, farther down, back toward Jessie’s car

The Ryeling Park Forest was eighty-nine hundred acres of old growth. It sounded like a lot, but it wasn’t really. A jagged shape, six miles long, and four miles across at its widest.

Abandoned rugged country. Too hard to farm, really. Too beautiful to mill, though the way the lumber companies were getting now, they would happily come in and fell every last tree, plant some saplings and vanish.

Sally’s leg throbbed.

She’d fallen. Distracted by the flight of a raptor. A hawk probably, not an eagle. Too small. Brilliant speckled brown feathers, with a tail that tipped left and right adjusting its flight.

The bird had been gliding along above the clearing around the rock. The bird’s head had turned and its yellow eye had glinted at Sally.

Pulling its wings in, the bird plunged at the ground.

Vanished behind the rock.

Sally had hurried to watch.


Fallen across part of the rock. Her foot jammed. The rest of her kept going.

The pain in that moment had been explosive.

As if her foot had been ripped off.

It had taken minutes for her breathing to come back to normal.

She’d shucked her backpack and lay there on the trail. Staring at the sky. Letting her leg throb.

Calculating how long before dark. Calculating whether she could hobble back before dark. Calculating if she could even drive the car.

Jessie’s car was a old Ford Fusion. A little beat up, with wheel bearings the squeaked sometimes.

It wouldn’t drive itself.

If only she had a Tesla, ha, ha.

But, it was kind of Jessie to let her use it like this. In exchange for a little childcare. Sally would do that for free.

Her phone had been in her back pocket. In the fall, the screen had smashed. The phone was still working, but the display was flickery and fragmented. And wouldn’t respond to her taps.

she couldn’t make a call. Couldn’t text.

So now here she was, sitting on top of a rock, miles from anywhere with her leg throbbing. No phone. No one around.

Still the view was nice.

She dragged her pack up after her and unzipped the top flap. It was a decent overnight pack. Sixty-five liter capacity. She had a quick coffin tent and a good sleeping bag. All middle of the range—best she could afford—but they did the job.

Maybe she would have to camp out for the night. She would have to drag herself back along the trail a ways. Just before the small clearing around the rock outcrop, she’d spotted a kind of flat area that would have enough space for the tent.

She could wait out the night and hobble on back to her car come morning.

When she’d bought the pack, at Wilbur and Son, the sales assistant had suggested an emergency locator. A little thing like a cross between a flashlight and a GPS. It had a secret button that sent a signal to the satellites. A kind of automated S.O.S.

She’d balked, though at the price. Not that it wouldn’t be three hundred dollars well spent, just that she didn’t really have three hundred dollars to spare.

She’d hiked plenty, with no problems. She was young and fit.

Now, though, maybe she should have had that locator.

From the zipped pouch, she pulled out a baggie with trail mix. Nuts and seeds and sultanas, with a smattering of chocolate chips and yoghurt balls. Quite delicious.

Buried below, she had a full dried meal—stroganoff—and a little camp cooker to boil it in. She would have to use her drinking water, since she wasn’t going to be collecting water from a stream anytime soon.

If she could even get the cooker set up.

Fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into, girl.

She took a mouthful of the mix. It was yum. And cheering.

From farther up the trail came a sound. Someone running?

Sally sat up straighter. Looked around.

Not from up the trail. From down. Back toward the small carpark.

Her heart pounded.

Fifteen yards away, someone burst from the trees.

A man.

Sally waved. Shouted.

“Hey,” she said. “Little help.”

He came to a stop.

Stared at her.

He had thick, lank black hair and three days of stubble.

He stared at her with piercing eyes.

“I fell,” she said. “I need…”

She trailed off.

He was just staring.

He was wearing jeans. Dirty jeans. Tan work boots. Muddy.

A plaid shirt over a white tee shirt.

No backpack.

No water bottle.

He was carrying just one thing.

A little black pistol.


Chapter Two

Cole Wright stepped from the passenger side of Lieutenant Ione Anders’s Tahoe. Police issue SUV with the full package. Bars on the front, lights on the top, cage in the back. Painted black and white, with the Spokane Police Department decals.

Nothing subtle about it at all.

The vehicle was starting to get a bit worn and tired. Chips in the paint and wear on the seat vinyl. A corner of the dash where the peg had failed and the plastic was bending up against the windshield glass.

“Let me read this,” Lieutenant Ione Anders said from the driver’s seat. She was looking at the vehicle’s police-connected laptop display.

“Happy to wait here,” Wright said.

They’d parked in a small parking lot out of town. In the hills. Pines stood all around, making the roadway into a canyon and sending the sweet drifting smell of pine and earth. From across the other side of the road, beyond the tinkling stream it followed, came the chirruping of a pair of hidden birds. Fighting, perhaps, over some tidbit.

A sign at the far end of the lot identified the place as Ryeling Park Forest with some logos for the Department of Wildlife and Washington Parks.

A map in the top right corner, with marked trails, and a list below showing the walking times. Camping prohibited. Fires prohibited. Dogs banned.

“Go look at those other vehicles,” Ione said, stepping out of the vehicle. “Got another call about a domestic shooting south of here. Suspect left in a Dodge pickup. Got one right there.”

“And this guy?” Wright said.

“Let me go talk to him first,”

“Go ahead. I’m enjoying a moment with the peace of nature.”

She made a face at him and headed toward the other vehicles.

There were three. An old Ford sedan, and even older Dodge pickup, real beat-up, and a near new BMW. It was the BMW she was heading for. A white-haired gentleman well into his seventies stood at the right front fender.

Strictly speaking, Wright shouldn’t really even be here. Not in her vehicle. Retired cop, fraternizing with a younger, off-duty cop.

He was happy to help, always. He enjoyed their time together, but there would always be a tension.

He’d quit the force, in Seattle. Disillusioned and jaded. She, on the other hand, was on the ascendant here in Spokane. A career. An energy. Colleagues who supported her.

Still, he had to remind himself to enjoy the moment. Live in the moment.

Later, after this little diversion, they could grab dinner at Denny’s or maybe that little Mongolian barbeque he’d spotted just off downtown. They could head back to his little leased apartment and see what happened.

“Wright,” she said. “Come listen.”

From across the road, one of the squabbling birds shot out of the trees. I flew like a bullet. Dead straight. Directly above Wright’s head. Vanished into the trees on the park side.

The other bird appeared a fraction of a second later. Followed the same trajectory.

Wright smiled to himself. Wildlife was always on its own schedule. Didn’t care a whit about people.

Wright went around the Tahoe and across a few empty slots to the Beemer. Shiny and well-kept. Dark blue. Two-seater. Little shark gills on the fender just ahead of the door.

“Listen to this,” Anders said.

“It don’t change the more times I tell it,” the man said. He sounded like he was from down south somewhere. He was wearing black chinos and a button shirt. A bolo tie with a picture of steer horns on the clasp.

“No,” Wright said, “But I might hear something different.”

The man looked Wright up and down. Frowned.

Anders was in uniform—and she looked great in it—but Wright was just in faded jeans, work boots and a tee shirt, with a black jacket over.

“Detective?” the man said.

“Retired,” Wright said. He’d been a regular beat cop, but some days it had felt like he knew more than the detectives.

“Heck, look at you? You’re all of twenty years old, and retired. I’m seventy-five and I have no plans to retire.”

Wright was well into his thirties, but there was no need to correct the man.

“What did you see?” Wright said.

“Guy there comes screaming around the corner from down Abernathy way.” The man pointed to a curve in the road where Wright and Anders would have found themselves if they’d continued on.

“Must’ve been doing eighty,” the man said. “His tire blew. You can see it there. Strips of it.”

Wright looked. Sure enough, black strips from a ruined tire. And now that he looked more closely, he could see that the pickup was parked at a poor angle. And that it was down at the front left, with the back right corner of the tray higher. Lifted on the rear suspension.

“The whole tire stripped off?” Anders said.

“Yes ma’am. You look at these two tires on the near side, you can see they’re old and bald. Retreads, at best. Shouldn’t be on the road, let alone doing eighty up in here in the hills. You see how narrow these roads can get?”

“I saw.”

“He was lucky to make it into the lot here. Lucky he didn’t total my car.”

“Then what happened?” Wright said. He walked around the rear end of the Beemer. Out on the road there were black skid marks. Some gouges in the tarmac that looked fresh.

Easy to picture the tire blowing. Shredding. The driver fighting for control. Automatically slamming on the brakes. Shuddering along, barely making it into the lot.

The front bumper was actually right up against the low log fence that separated the parking lot from a grassy berm, and the start of the forest.

To the right of the pickup was a gap in the fence, with a sign.

Black Rock Loop. Allow 6 hours.

Wright read the pickup’s plate number and called it out to Anders.

“That’s the one,” she said.

Wright turned. Looked up into the trail. It was bright for a ways, but soon the thickness of forest got the better of the sun and it turned into a dark tunnel.

“Then he got out,” the man with the Beemer said.

“Where is he now,” Anders said.

“Took off into the woods.”

“This way?” Wright said, pointing up Black Rock Trail.

“Yep. Guess he didn’t want his head blown off.”

“Excuse me,” Anders said.

“Well, he tried to carjack me. That’s why I called.”

“Carjack you?” Wright said.


A squirrel ran from the woods and through the grass. Climbed onto one of the uprights on the log fence. The squirrel’s tail twitched. Black eyes stared at Wright.

“He tried to carjack you,” Anders said. “But instead ran into the woods?”


“Why did he run into the woods?” Wright said.

“Well, he got out of the junk heap there and brandished a gun.”

Wright saw Anders stiffen right away.

“What kind of gun?” Wright said.

“Glock 18.”

“That’s very specific.”

The man shrugged. “I know a little about guns.”

“So he had a gun,” Anders said.

“Yes. Told me to give him my keys. I declined.”

“And so he ran into the woods.”

Wright could see where this was going.

“He did,” the man said.

“What kind of gun do you have?” Wright said.

The man smiled. “Let me show you.”

The full story is available in ebook and as a paperback from the usual channels. ebook $2.99, print $5.99

Links and details on the Cole Wright Thrillers page.

Book 5, Scorpion Bait is available for preorder now. Full release on September 20th


Jerome Miller lies in scorching, gritty sand, staring up out of the rugged ditch.

Bleeding and broken.

The start of a very bad day, for him.

Cole Wright hitches into the town of Gollick, Arizona. Somewhere between Tuscon and Yuma. Looking for a good meal and maybe a bed for the night. Not looking for trouble. Sometimes, though, trouble hides away in those out of the way places. Sometimes trouble just finds him.

Sometimes Wright just meets it head on.


Writing Liquid Machine

I’m deep in the heart of writing Liquid Machine, the ninth book (though fifth in reading order) in the Karnish River Navigations series.

Mostly I think I wait until I’m done with a book before I post about it, but I’m having a blast writing this one, so I thought I just drop by here and give a little update.

A draft cover here, with main art by Ateliersommerland with the background by Bertrandb, both through Dreamstime. I am enjoying getting a relatively consistent look to the series now. I’m still learning design of course (yes I do my own covers), and feel like I’m improving little step by little step. Trying for a unified look, but still based on the original images.

Need a little more contrast in the text there – the dark red on the yellow aren’t doing it for me. Still, there’s time. Liquid Machine should be done soon, and once it’s edited and tinkered with, and the cover is finished, it should be out in the first quarter of next year.

Then, in keeping with the alphabetical titles there, the next one I’ll write will be Rorqual Saitu or similar. Has anyone read T.J. Bass’s 1974 novel The Godwhale? That’s my touchstone there. I love that novel and, without becoming fan fiction, the Karnish canals will have an android rorqual. Am I giving too much away, for a novel that’s not written yet and likely won’t be out for at least a year?

My story “Scour”, which appeared in the December 2016 issue of New Myths magazine, (free to read at the link) is set in the same world. Different characters, but the scour of the title is a relative of the upcoming rorqual novel.

Which leads me neatly into my next little topic here – short stories and novellas which fit into the worlds of my series.

I’ve been doing it a whole lot this year with my Cole Wright series, which I’ve been working on over the last few years. With each novel, I put out a short story too. It’s been real fun writing the stories with the character. Also a good taster if you want a quick read, and want to see if the character and style matches your taste – the stories are cheaper than a cup of coffee (depending where you get your coffee I guess).

Four novels – The Arrival, Measured Aggression, Hide Away, and Slow Burn, and four short stories “Dark Fields”, “Schedule Interruption”, “The Forest Doesn’t Care”, and “The Handler”.

See the Cole Wright page for details on them all.

The cool part of this is that I put the stories up here free to read in the early part of the month when there’s a novel coming out.

September sees book five Scorpion Bait released, with “One Little Broken Leg” available free to read from about the fifth. Also available in print and as an ebook.

I guess that’s enough of a ramble from me for now. Go check out “Scour” at New Myths – it’s a little dated now, and I like to think I’ve improved as a writer in the meantime, but it’s a fun read. At least, I think so. Also, free to read.

Thanks for reading

The Forest Doesn’t Care – A Cole Wright short story

My Cole Wright thrillers are out now. Visit the page for the full rundown.

The third novel Hide Away will be out on May 20th, so to entice you, I’m putting up this story in the lead up to release day. The story will be up for a week or so from May 10th (and then available for purchase as and ebook and in print). I hope you enjoy this taster.


Charlie and Suze just want a quiet, relaxing hike through Crater Top park. A beautiful, tranquil and hidden in the mountains.

Helping out with the park’s trails, Cole Wright enjoys the change. The chance to do something different.

No one expects trouble. Not way out there.

But then, trouble has a way of showing up.

Available in ebook, $2.99, and paperback, $2.99 – from the Universal Book Link.

Read on for the first couple of chapters

The Forest Doesn’t Care

by Sean Monaghan

Chapter One

A speck of rain struck Charlie’s ragged old peaked cap. Right on the brim. Louder than rain had any right to be. He reached up and touched the brim, running his fingers along the threads there, feeling the softness of the edge where it was fraying.

It was a Cardinals cap bought at a game when his grandfather had taken him umpteen years ago. Some game that had been too. Drosser had smacked it clean out of the park, but the Cardinals had still lost.

Now Charlie touched a spot of damp right there on the peak. Definitely rain. On the way. It had seemed distant for a while, the swish of a squall coming through. Others had passed them by.

Charlie looked back along the rugged trail. He’d stepped over roots and rocks, now not even sure if it was a trail. The ground was boggy, reeking like old compost. There was a clear path back through the pines. Either side it was dark. The overcast sucking light from everything, especially here in the woods.

He adjusted his pack, the straps were cutting a little into his shoulders. Wrong kind of thing really to take out on this kind of walk.

Just a little generic daypack. Practically the kind of thing a down on their luck mom or dad might purchase at one of those dollar stores so their kid had something to take what little lunch they had to school

Charlie had just tossed in a raincoat—a light one, fat lot of good that would if it really rained—some tasty chocolate protein bars and a half liter of Jungle Juice.

The trail sloped up here, heading for some peak or other. There had been tantalizing glimpses of light, as if there were clearings, or a road or even the peak itself.

When he and Suze reached them, though, each time, it was just a deceptive, momentary change in slope.

Suze was somewhere ahead. Better prepared, that was for sure. She’d bought herself a Fairbreaker coat. A layered jacket that keeps rain out, but wicks away sweat in some kind of magical transference. She had a proper pack with wide straps and some kind of spout that reached over her shoulder, connected to a built-in water flask. Kept her hydrated.

If this rain came to anything, hydrated wasn’t going to be a problem.

From nearby, something squawked. Some kind of bird, chasing down a rodent or smaller bird.

There was wildlife here. Half the reason for coming. ‘Crater Top Nature Park’. Sixty acres of beautiful old growth forest, so it said on the webpage. Didn’t mention that it was sixty acres set in thousands of acres of clear-felling. The view from one of the little ledge clearing they’d reached seemed to encompass just a vast swathe of broken land. Brown, churned earth, with stumps and branches and abandoned lodgepoles that had broken or split on felling. A rusted, yellow trailer of some kind with one of the tires canted and twisted at a bad angle.

The idea was to focus on the surrounds. The pretty mosses growing in around the roots. The bursts of mushrooms from rotting trunks. The swish and sway of the trees in the gentle wind.

“Charlie?” Suze called from ahead. She was around a bend and hidden from sight. He’d last seen the flash of her guacamole-green pack a few minutes back.

She was the serious hiker. He was happy to do day walks here and there, but she was in the club. Trailblazers. A bunch of early to late middle aged women who would rise at the crack of dawn, march over a mountain range and sleep on some windswept plateau in rustling tents.

“Not far behind,” he called back.

Ahead there were gaps in the trees. Daylight. Or, at least, the overcast. Another of those tantalizing shifts in the slope that made you think you were coming up on the ridge.

From off to his right, east, came the patter of rain. Coming closer. The leading edge. Probably heading straight for them.

Easing through the curve in the trail, he spotted Suze forty yards ahead. Her red coat already on and the hood up. Her pack on the ground, leaning against her legs.

Facing away from him. She had her hands out. Moving her head as if talking to someone.

There was a definite slope change where she was. From his angle it looked almost as if she was on the ridge. But beyond, there was a bank, then more trees.

The road cutting. She’d mentioned it. Shown him on the map. An old forestry road, used by the park’s people now to service the various amenities. There was some kind of vault toilet near the top, apparently.

For rescues too perhaps. If Charlie tripped and busted his ankle here, he would need carrying out.

As he drew closer, Charlie saw the back end of a pickup. Big and new. Black. Shiny. Chunky tires. A tow ball.

The tailgate was open. The front end was hidden by the foliage.

More rain was coming in. Still just a shower, but pretty soon it would be torrential.

Charlie kept walking.

There was someone else there. Standing just the other side of the pickup. Head and shoulders visible.

Older guy. Lot of gray in his thick beard. He had a maroon beanie on his head. He was saying something to Suze.

Charlie drew up almost to them. Maybe these guys could give them a ride back down to the parking lot at the trailhead. Save them a walk in the rain.

Charlie came up almost level. Just a few yards from Suze. The guy stepped forward.

“Hey,” Charlie said. Now he could see into the pickup’s tray.

A body lying there.

A woman. Blood all over her face. Eyes staring blankly.

“Welcome to the party,” the guy said, stepping around.

He was holding a rifle.


Aimed right at Suze.

Chapter Two

Cole Wright Stood by the open door of the park’s busted and beat up SUV. A twelve-year old RAV4. Bought secondhand on a very tight budget. Bought from donations a few years back.

Jim Targell, who’d employed Wright, said that it had been one of the best investments they’d ever made.

Right now, at the rocky, exposed crown of Crater Top, Wright had a fabulous view across the local landscape. There were tall trees below, but around the top they only grew a few feet high. Too rocky and dry and barren. The air was filled with their sweet pine scent.

Across the valley, on private land, some huge acreages of forest had been clear-felled. Every single tree cut down, leaving stumps a foot high. In five years it would look better, with neat rows of green saplings.

Farther off the hills turned to blue, fading into the distance. An to the east, a curtain of rain was drawing in. Maybe another few minutes and Wright and Targell were in for a drenching.

“One minute,” Targell said from nearby.

The crown hosted a cellphone tower. Something put in by T-Mobile. They paid to have it here, and made a contribution to the road. Even made a grant to put new tires on the RAV a year back. Targell liked to tell the stories.

The name Crater Top was kind of a misnomer. There was a crater, but it was far below and lost in the forest. The peak might have been part of the rim a hundred thousand or a million years ago. There was a flat area with just enough room to turn the vehicle around, and the tower.

A trail led off to the south, and fifty yards farther down, occupying a flat spot, there was a functional toilet hidden in the trees. Functional in that you could use it. It stank and attracted flies. A half hour back Wright had replaced the rolls of paper and the squeeze bottle of sanitizer. Before he left he’d squirted a couple of good dollops onto his hands and rubbed it around. Still didn’t feel quite clean.

Wright was just here for a few days, probably. Help out with maintenance on the trails and amenities. Another grant, from the county, was paying for it. Suited him. It came with a simple room in the park’s office, meals and a little spending cash for his back pocket.

He and Targell were up here tasked with maintenance on the cyclone wire fence that protected the base of the tower. T-Mobile were paying. Tightening bolts and wires and sending photos back to the technicians who would do the regular and more technical maintenance.

“All right,” Targell said, closing up his toolbox and loading it into the RAV’s rear. He came around and got into the driver’s seat.

Wright got in next to him and they closed their doors with groaning, squeaky thunks. Wright was tempted to donate his meagre salary back to the park so they could get a service done on the vehicle.

“The phone company could do all this themselves,” Targell said, reaching through the gap between the seats and pulling out his little blue cooler.

“They could,” Wright said, knowing what was coming. The company has to charge out their own workers at seventy dollars an hour. Two of them for a full day really added up. Cheaper to give every second inspection to the park volunteers and make another donation.

Targell folded down the top of his cooler and handed Wright a plastic-wrapped sandwich and a Coke can.

“Got a bit warm there, sorry,” Targell said.

“No trouble.” Wright unwrapped the sandwich. Targell lived fifteen minutes away, in Clawville, a town of nearly four thousand. He’d been a doctor, but become a part-time ranger—part-time paid, full-time employed, he would say—because things weren’t working out. Wright figured a malpractice suit that wasn’t worth fighting.

Targell always made lunch for them both. Trout in the sandwiches, that he’d caught and gutted and seared himself. Wright wasn’t sure about trout sandwiches that had been warming in a cooler all morning, but it was food and he wasn’t fussy. With rocket and mayo, the sandwich was pretty delicious.

He sipped from the cola as Targell ranted on about the phone company and their generosity, but with a level of corporate cynicism.

The vehicle was parked facing east and the rain was almost upon them. The first scattered drops already impacting the windshield.

“Well,” Targell said, balling up the plastic wrap from his sandwich, “we’d better head on down before there’s some landslide that does the job for us.”

He started the engine and the old vehicle shook and rattled. Targell put his own soda in the central cup holder, adjusted the shift and backed carefully around. It took three goes. A K turn.

Then they were on the road. Gravel crunching under the tires. The angle was steep. The little vehicle was ideal. Light and agile. Targell was a cautious driver.

But he had to throw on the brakes as they came around one of the switchbacks to see a big black pickup blocking the way.

End of Chapter Two

Continue reading “The Forest Doesn’t Care” in ebook or paperback – click here. For more intrigue check out the Cole Wright page on the website. And feel free to drop me a line.




“Schedule Interruption”, a Cole Wright short story

Measured Aggression the second Cole Wright thriller novel will be out on March 20th. In the meantime, here’s a little taster from the latest Cole Wright short story – the first couple of chapters of “Schedule Interruption”.

On his way toward Spokane, Cole Wright rides a rickety old bus. Local service. Regular schedule. Few passengers. Small town to small town. Heartland people.

Wright plans to pick up the long distance service when the bus reaches the freeway.

Plans, though, have a way of getting interrupted.

A standalone Cole Wright story that comes right down to good people in tough circumstances.

Schedule Interruption

Chapter One

Dust devils flickered to life along the side of the highway. Little whips of wind, picking at the desiccated ground. Whirling it up into momentary, insubstantial wavery ghosts that seemed to follow the old clanky bus chugging along under the beating sun.

Cole Wright sat in a tacky, faded window seat toward the back. On the right. The window itself was dark and patinaed. Someone had managed to scratch Sally 4 Patrick near the bottom. Bored on a long trip, and had scraped away with the edge of a dime or a quarter. No one would have heard a thing over the rumble of the engine.

The bus was maybe a fifth full. About forty seats. Most people clustered toward the front. A few pairs, but mostly alone. A college student with an open laptop. A farmhand in a white cowboy hat. A couple of women in their seventies, both spry and well dressed. One of them kept up a constant monologue about the government, the weather and her former husband Trevor who’d absconded some thirty years back with one of the high school teachers. The woman’s voice was almost soothing.

The air in the bus was cool and dry. Wright sipped from a half liter bottle of Dr Pepper he’d bought outside the bus station back in Kelles. A little town on the crossroads of couple of state routes. Forty miles south of the freeway. Eighty miles from anywhere with more than a vending machine and a gas station with pumps from last century.

The bus station hadn’t even been more than an old store that someone had converted into a waiting room. The bus to Gransfield ran three days a week. Gransfield being on the freeway, and boasting a couple of gas stations some fast food places and an IGA. At least according to the folks he’d talked with while waiting.

The bus itself had to date from the 1950s. Maybe a little newer. Small windows and hard seats. The kind of thing that, polished and scrubbed, would show up on some movie screen, delivering new Vietnam war draftees to their muster.

Wright capped his soda and watched the prairie slip by. There were hills in the distance, blue and dark, barely showing above the plain. The country here rolled ever so softly. Like a slightly mussed blanket. Not table-flat, but no one would mistake it for mountainous, or even hilly.

Wright was heading for Spokane. He’d wandered enough and it was time for a break. Maybe get a job again. If he could handle the routine of regular hours.

Something straightforward, like packing vegetables to be shipped to supermarkets, or laboring laying bricks, or maybe looking up one of those big online gift shipping companies and vanishing into a gigantic warehouse filled with conveyors and rollers and every product you could think of from shampoo to tires to bread makers.

Anything but police work, really. Which included a whole mess of things, like security guard, bouncer, investigator.

For now, though, it was good just to let it all wash off and ride the rails. Or highways, as such.

As he twisted the lid from his soda again, the bus lurched, slowing. The liquid fizzed and ran out over his fingers. He was forced to lick them clean as the bus came to a stop.

They weren’t anywhere.

Just the plain, rough and dry farmlands lying around and hoping for some rain. Telegraph poles and mile markers. About two hundred yards north, back from the road, stood some farm machinery. A big rusty old combine harvester, and red dump truck with a long snout.

Beyond those stood a plain white clapboard house. Two stories, with some smaller, less well-painted buildings around. Equipment sheds and outhouses, presumably.

The bus hissed. Came to a stop.

Wright removed the cap from his soda and sipped. The bus’s door clanked. The driver reaching across and throwing the handle.

Through the front windshield, which was in two pieces, separated by a vertical strip and had a crack running from about eight o’clock a third of the way up, Wright could see a town. Maybe a mile, mile and a half off.

The tall signs, edge on from his perspective, indicating gas and fast food, and maybe even a motel or two. A few low houses there, dark and anonymous. Some tall, bushy trees, like oaks a hundred fifty years old.

That would be Gransfield. On the freeway.

The bus’s destination.

Outside, from just at the bus’s open door, someone called something. From his angle Wright couldn’t see them.

“Two fifty,” the driver said. “Each.”

More inaudible words from outside.

The driver turned in his seat and sighed. He was probably mid-seventies. Slim, but what little hair he had on his head was pure white. His face was lined with the grizzle of years and he had a thick, white mustache.

He’d smiled at Wright, back in Kelles, when Wright had boarded. The kind of smile that was welcoming. Acknowledging that here was someone new. It was pretty obvious that the other passengers were all familiar to the driver. Even the college student.

“I don’t have a choice,” the driver said. “I know it’s not far, and I know you could walk it, save for the heat we got. But the thing is I have a boss. All these good people have paid.”

The person outside said something. Louder, more forceful, but still inaudible.

Wright capped his soda. He slipped it into the netting pocket on the back of the seat in front.

“No, not at all,” the driver said. “It’s a set price. A minimum. You know when you’re in the city and you get a cab, there’s already three dollars on the meter before you’ve even left the curb? That’s the flag fall. I’ve stopped here, because you waved me down.”

Another word from outside. Could have been an epithet.

Wright stood.

“It’s two dollars and fifty cents,” the driver said. “Each. You got a problem with that, you go talk to my boss. His number’s painted on the side of the bus.”

The driver swung back around into his seat. He reached for the door lever.

The kind of lever that’s been in buses since forever. A simple system. An aluminum handle, vertical, with two pieces of flat aluminum on a pivot fixed just below the dash. Between the handle and the pivot, a rod, also on a pivot, connects that part of the mechanism to the door.

The door, then, folds in half, right into the footwell. The handle is designed so that the door can be opened or shut without a driver having to leave their seat. They have to stretch a little, but it’s not much effort.

The driver pushed on the lever to close the door.

The lever didn’t budge.

“Let go of the door,” the driver said.

Another epithet from outside.

Wright stepped into the aisle.


Chapter Two

Out on the road, a black pickup was heading south, coming toward the parked bus. Coming from Gransfield.

The driver glanced toward it.

The pickup slowed a little. A late model F150.

The bus’s engine thrummed, sitting at idle. The floor under Wright’s feet shivered.

The college student had closed up her laptop. She was leaning into the aisle a fraction. The older woman had stopped talking.

Wright took a step forward.

The F150 didn’t stay slowed for long. It picked up speed and sped by the bus. Wright glimpsed the driver as he went by. Three days of stubble and a cowboy hat. Staring dead ahead.

“Let go,” the bus driver said, “of the door.”

A mutter from outside. Probably ‘No!’

“It’s two fifty from here to Gransfield,” the driver said. “I can’t do no more favors. “

Wright took another step forward. This brought him level with the farmhand. He’d set his hat on the seat next to him.

Wright put his hand on the seat back.

The farmhand looked up. He smelled of hay and earth and beer. He met Wright’s eyes. Almost eager.

“Stay put,” Wright said.

“They’re holding us up. I should go talk to them. Or pay the fare.”

“Do you know them?”

A nod.

Wright stepped back. “Go talk to them. I’ll pay the fare.”

“Mikey,” the farmhand said

“Wright. Cole Wright.”

Taking the back of the seat in front, Mikey pulled himself upright. He was tall. Had to duck so that he didn’t his head on the steel framing of the webbing luggage rack that ran front to back. One on each side. A few parcels stuffed in. Some more hats. A pair of roller skates that looked as if they’d been left from when the bus had been manufactured.

Mikey stepped into the aisle and started along.

The driver saw him coming. Held his hand up.

“Hold on, son,” the driver said. “No need to make this any of your business.”

“I can handle myself.” Mikey was wearing a white singlet with a plaid shirt open and over the top. Sleeves rolled up. He had ragged jeans and black steel-capped boots.

“Mikey,” Wright said. “Hold up.”

Mikey didn’t stop.

The story continues here (Universal Book Link), through the usual channels. ebook $2.99, print $5.99.


There’s more Cole Wright around – check out the full Cole Wright page right here on the website. The Arrival, the first novel, and “Dark Fields” the first story are out now. Measured Aggression will be out soon. The third and fourth books, Hide Away and Scorpion Bait will be out in May and July respectively.

Also in May and July, I’ll be posting free short stories for a few days again. I like the rhythm of that. The novels are fun to write, but so are the short stories. By the end of the year there will be six or seven or so, and I guess it’ll make sense to put them into a collection.





Dark Fields – A Cole Wright Short Story

Dark Fields is a short story from my Cole Wright Thrillers series. Available now as a standalone ebook and in print. $2.99/$5.99

Amazon, SmashwordsUniversal Book Link.


South Dakota. Sunset. One dark day in July, Brad crashes his busted light plane in a dusty cornfield. Not great for his weekend plans. Not great for anything.

Passing by, Cole Wright stops to lend a hand. Which might just plunge them both into something more dangerous than plane wrecks.

A standalone Cole Wright story.

Check out the Cole Wright Thrillers page here

The Arrival, the first Cole Wright novel, can be preordered now (ebook) and will be available from January 20th. $5.99/$15.99/$19.99 (ebook/print/hardback).

New Thriller series coming through this year

I tend to write here and there – a little fantasy, a few thrillers and a whole lot of science fiction. Sometimes it’s all on the basis of whim.

For 2022, a little more focus.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been working on a new thriller series – Cole Wright – and I’ve got them lined up for publication over coming months – January, March, May, July and September. The first four are written and just about ready to go, with Zero Kills (September) at the late draft stage. There are also a few short stories that will pop up here and there.

I have dedicated page here for the Cole Wright Thrillers with blurbs and covers and details.

The first book – The Arrival – releases on January 20th, and is available for preorder now (the link takes you to the Universal Book Link and then on to your regular retailer – Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.)

A short story “Dark Fields” will be available free to read here on this website for one day on Monday 10th January, and then available for $2.99/$5.99 (ebook/print) from the usual outlets. There will also be a free story for mailing list subscribers (“Junkyard Mornings”), at some point during the year (soon, I hope. You know all those ‘subscribe’ buttons everywhere? I’m sure it’s very easy to create a mailing list, but right now I’m still figuring it out).

The Arrival will be $5.99/$14.99/$19.99 (ebook/paperback/hardback).

Worn, battered and bruised from years as a cop, Cole Wright wants a moment of peace
But the Spokane locals have other plans for his vacation sabbatical.
And Wright just has to stick his nose in, whether wanted or not.

Stay tuned







Meanwhile… if you need a Sean Monaghan thriller (and you probably do) – you could try one of my Emily Jade books or one of my standalone thrillers.