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

Blurb

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.

Stumbled.

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.

“Yes.”

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?”

“Yes.”

“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

Blurb:

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

“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.