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.
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.
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 water bottle.
He was carrying just one thing.
A little black pistol.
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?”
“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.
“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.