“Cardinals” – A Cole Wright short story – free here for a few days.

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.

With “Cold Highway” the first Cole Wright novella out on November 20th, and the sixth novel Zero Kills out on December 20th, it’s a busy time for my little thriller series. I figure why not make it a little busier with another Cole Wright story free to read here for a few days.

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

“Cold Highway” is available for pre-order now. $3.99 ebook / $10.99 print.


Cardinals – blurb

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” will also be out as an ebook and in print, usual thing of $2.99 and $5.99, since it’s just a short story.

But in the meantime, free to read below.


Cardinals

Chapter One

Lieutenant Ione Anders of the Spokane Police Department stared at the blade sticking from the rear tire on her new issue Tahoe.

It was a hunting knife, with a black leather grip and a short cross guard at the base of the hilt. A steel butt.

Buried in the rubber to halfway along the blade.

The tire was flat, the rim crushing it to the tarmac at the curb.

The day was bright and cool. One of those fall mornings that are enlivening and refreshing. The street was in Willow Heights, one of the mid to low end suburbs. The plain clapboard houses were separated by wire fences, with the occasional white picket. Kids left their bicycles in the front yards and leaves were everywhere.

Old, fat-trunked plane trees lined the street, their roots pushing up the grass on the verge. From a block or so away came the drone and crackle of a lawnmower.

Closer, the whistling chirp of a bird. Anders glimpsed red feathers.

Old Ford Tauruses and Toyota Corollas and similar vehicles were parked along the curb, both sides, ahead and behind Anders’s vehicle. Some were well-looked after, but others had rust points and peeling laminate and cracked windshields.

A newer vehicle swept by. A Lexus. Moving a little fast for a suburban street. Anders noted the plate number. Force of habit.

She had two takeout coffees in a cardboard carrier,  and she set it on the Tahoe’s roof. Two blocks away some enterprising college kids had set up a coffee spot in an old food cart. Espresso Willow. They staffed it on rotation, only open early in the morning. Their trade was roaring, between locals walking to the bus and their friends. The area was popular for less expensive accommodation for students.

Anders glanced up at the house facing the Tahoe. A two-story place with a tiny front stoop. The ageing carport on one side was empty, save for a couple of local recycling and trash wheelie bins and a stack of firewood. The occupant, Cole Wright, didn’t currently own a car.

The upstairs windows on his room were still drawn, so he was still in bed. Ah, the life of the idle.

Another couple of minutes she was going to have to wake him. He might even help with changing the tire.

The Tahoe was only a couple of months old. Black police livery, with the Spokane decals on the sides, light pack across the roof and crash bars at the front.

When she was behind the wheel, the thing purred and drove like it was riding on air. She’d gotten lucky to have the use of it. The department’s vehicle renewal plan was falling behind, because money.

Now she was going to have to call this in. She was on late starts right now, working eleven AM to seven PM. It took some getting used to, but shifts were part and parcel of being a cop.

She photographed the blade with her phone, using several angles. There was a manufacturer’s mark on the butt. Two stamped in letters. ST. Probably no use in helping to figure out who’d done the deed.

Could be tough to get a decent set of prints off that leather hilt too.

It wasn’t like a planned and pre-meditated thing. Plenty of people around here didn’t have much love for cops, despite the work the police did in the community to try to have a helpful and friendly profile.

All that good work of family park barbeques and bouncy castles and arm wrestling got undone the moment you took someone’s uncle away for dealing meth.

This knife in the tire was more spontaneous. A crime of opportunity. Intended as a little retribution inconvenience. Something they knew wouldn’t be worth pursuing.

And still, she had to call it in. It would take ten, maybe fifteen minutes to get the tire changed. Then she’d have to drop the vehicle at the workshop to get the stabbed tire replace.

“Hey,” someone called from behind.

“Wright,” she said, turning. “Nice neighborhood you’ve picked to live in.”

Wright was a former Seattle cop. He’d quit and become semi-itinerant. He’d settle in Spokane for a little while, then get itchy feet, toss in his lease and catch a bus somewhere. Somehow able to stretch his pension and odd jobs into enough cash for it all.

He was taller than her, by a little, which was nice. He always smelled good. Today he had stubble which, though she would never admit it, was kind of attractive. In a swarthy, rugged way.

Kind of guy most women would be pleased to see show up when they had a tire to change.

“They’re all nice neighborhoods,” he said. He was wearing jeans and a white tee shirt, with a dark blue plaid shirt over the top. Tan MacMillan boots on his feet. He needed to dress more warmly.

“Sure,” Anders said. “All nice neighborhoods. Just with a little work to do in some.”

Wright smiled. It was police courtesy to ‘manage your languaging’ around how you referred to certain sections of town. Like that stupid old adage, there are no strangers only friends we haven’t met yet.

“I saw it,” he said. “I saw who put a blade through your tire’s heart.”

Somewhere nearby a dog started barking. Didn’t let up.

“You saw it?” Anders said. “You saw it and you didn’t stop them.”

“No time. I was in the house.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward the big downstairs front windows. A leadlight hummingbird hung there, right in the center, blue and green.

“You were in the house?” Anders said.

“Sure. I was having breakfast. Cheerios. With milk. Young woman strolls by. She’s got a Kroger’s bag with maybe some groceries. She looks around. Races off up the street. She’s back a minute later. Wearing a black hoodie. She has another good look around. Doesn’t see me, I guess. Too much reflection from the glass, maybe. She stabs the tire and she flees.”

“Again, you didn’t think to stop her?”

“It all happened so fast.”

“She had time to go fetch the knife.”

Wright smiled. “I thought she’d just left. I didn’t imagine that she would come back with a knife. Besides, I’m retired, remember. You don’t like it when I, and I quote, ‘take the law into my own hands’.”

Anders pursed her lips and nodded.

“So then,” she said, turning and reaching for the coffees. She gave him one.

“So then?” Wright said. He took a sip and licked his lips. “Thanks.”

“So then, you can help in an advisory way.”

“Like advising on changing the tire?”

“Funny,” she said. “That too. First, though, you can tell me where she went.”

 

Chapter Two

Wherever it was, the lawnmower shut off. From farther away came the vague growl of traffic. A gust ran along the street of Tauruses and Corollas, lifting leaves, sending them tumbling and rustling for the curbing.

Anders took out her phone and swiped and called in to the department. She got Casey, the guy who’d been running the front desk for the last couple of weeks. Fresh out of college with a forensics degree. The guy was a chatterbox and would make a dreadful cop, but there was some hope that he might train up well for the coroner’s office.

“Ione!” he said, though it should have been ‘Lieutenant’. He did have a certain enthusiasm.

Anders quickly explained the situation. That she would be in once they’d switched out the tire and gone to check on a suspect.

“You said ‘we’,” Casey said. “Are you with another officer? I thought you weren’t on duty yet.”

“I’m, um, taking an advisor.”

“Is it that Wright guy? You’ve been seeing him haven’t you? Getting serious.”

Anders rolled her eyes. Wright saw it and smiled.

“Please, Casey,” Anders said. “Just make a note that I’ll be in a little late on account of someone vandalizing the Tahoe’s tire.”

“Got that. I’ll do an APB.”

“No, Casey. Just a note on the duty roster, please.”

“Sure. Will do. And, by the way, I was kidding about the APB.”

Anders hung up.

“New recruit?” Wright took another sip of his coffee.

“Office guy. Now. Come show me where she went when she got the blade.”

“You’re leaving it here?” Wright said. “At least bag it.”

“I know procedure.” In her waist satchels she had gloves and an evidence bag. But that bag was too small for this blade. Assuming that half of it was hidden within the tire.

Still, she got the bag and shook it out. She put on a glove and crouched to the blade.

“You got that?” Wright said, still standing back from the curb.

“You bet.” She put her gloved hand on the grip and tugged on it. The blade didn’t budge. She tugged again, putting more force into it.

Nothing.

She put her free hand onto the Tahoe’s body, right above the tire. Tugged again. Gritted her teeth.

It felt like Wright’s eyes were boring into her back. She worked the knife back and forth. It came out a little.

She turned, about to say you want to have a try, buster? almost ready to give in.

But he wasn’t even looking at her.

He’d taken a step away from the car and was staring up the street.

“Be back in a second,” he said. He stepped around her and put the coffee on the Tahoe’s roof, right where it had been when he’d come out of the house.

“What?” she said.

But he was gone, heading away at a fast walk. He disappeared around the Tahoe’s hood.

Anders cursed. She grabbed the blade again.

She twisted it. Worked it back and forth.

Once it started moving, it got easier. In moments she had it out.

She put it hilt-first into the bag. Opened the Tahoe’s door. Tossed the bag in.

Slammed the door. Locked it.

She went after Wright, peeling the glove off as she went.

 

Chapter Three

A guy in athletic clothes was running along the opposite sidewalk. Loose shorts, Nikes without socks on his feet, gray Rangers tee shirt. Phone in his hand and buds in his ears.

He glanced Anders’s way, but didn’t slow. His feet set up a constant rhythm on the sidewalk.

She’d lost track of Wright for the moment. Somewhere ahead. Across the street from her Tahoe.

She crossed the verge and reached the sidewalk. It was uneven and cracked. Old, tired concrete.

There was Wright, three houses up. Walking right on the roadside edge of the sidewalk. Walking fast.

“Wright,” Anders said. “Hold up.”

But he didn’t turn. He stopped at the gate to the next house along. Called out to someone.

Wright wasn’t at the front walk, he was at the far corner of the property. Whoever he’d called to was hidden by the house.

Wright inclined his head. Listening.

Anders was still two houses back. Walking fast herself. No need to run.

You ran when the threat was imminent. Walked most other times. She had friends who were paramedics who explained some of that. Walk from the ambulance to the patient. It might be urgent, but you have to ensure you don’t get hurt yourself. If whatever injured the patient is still a threat, you need to avoid that. And if not, if you’re hurrying you might turn an ankle. Then you have more patients.

Wright took a step closer to the property. Another step.

Came right up against the low wire fence. Called out something again.

Then he moved.

Fast.

Dropped his coffee.

Vaulted the fence. Sprinted across the front yard.

Vanished behind the house.

Anders started running.

 

Chapter Four

Dead leaves crunched underfoot as Anders ran. Farther along the street, someone retrieving groceries from their car stared at her. Paper sacks under each arm. Eyes wide.

This wasn’t a great neighborhood, but it was still a surprise to see a cop running.

Anders didn’t vault the fence as Wright had done. She went through the open gate. Missing gate. The square of steel tubing with cyclone wire lay on the ground with grass growing through.

There were more leaves strewn across the lawn. And a fallen tricycle. A baseball bat and ball. A catcher’s mitt on the house’s front step.

It was a single story place. Gray-white. Not too run down, but in need of a paint job.

Anders reached the corner.

Where Wright had gone.

She slowed. Looked around.

No one.

She ran on. There was a narrow strip of half-dead grass along the side, with more of the wire fencing, then the neighbor’s rough concrete driveway. An old Ford pickup parked in the carport there.

Anders reached the back of the house. Slowed again.

No one in the back yard.

Three cars parked there. Non-descript twenty-year old Japanese things. Only one looked like it was in running order.

The back of the property was overgrown with what looked like brambles. A trampoline with half of its springs hanging down. Crates and gas cylinders. Someone at least had mown the grass out here, even if it had been without a catcher.

Where had gone?

Anders crouched to peer under the cars. No one. She moved on, heading for the trampoline.

“Come on Wright,” she whispered. “It’s just slashed tire. These things happen. It’s not worth it.”

She edged on past the trampoline. The air was thick with the scent of the grass and tangle of vegetation. It was bracken, with blackberry all twisted within. Still some of the glistening berries hanging on the spikey vines.

Real easy to let that get out of hand. You could cut it back to the ground and by next year it would have sprouted back from the roots and be almost as big.

Anders looked side to side, along and across the other properties. Better maintain. On the left, there was a clipped pine hedge, and on the other, a six foot wooden fence, gray with age.

Where had he gone?

Anders turned back to the house.

She sighed. He hadn’t gone inside had he?

Nice guy. Smart. Rugged.

But he could be impetuous. Not thinking things through.

As she started back toward the house, starting to think through the next step, the back door burst open.

A kid ran out.

Girl.

In a black hoodie.

 

Chapter Five

The girl came to a stop. Staring at Anders.

A tawny cat appeared from hiding. It leapt onto the hood of one of the parked cars in the back yard. The cat began licking its paw.

On the grass, just out from the house’s back door, the girl faced Anders. Couldn’t have been more than fourteen. Black hair and brown eyes. A mole on her left cheek. Her hoodie was a size too big.

“Hold up,” Anders said.

“He’s going to kill everyone,” the girl said. She took off again. Running around the other side of the house from where Anders had come. Along the driveway.

Anders headed after her, but slowed near the back door.

It was open.

Someone was shouting from inside.

And with that, a calmer voice.

Wright.

Anders cursed again.

She unclipped her holster. Put her right hand on the grip of her standard issue Glock.

She stepped right up to the open back door.

Listened.

“Hey guy,” someone said. Male. Sounded young. “C’mon. This none your biz anyhow.”

“It’s my business,” Wright said, “if I say it’s my business.”

Another curse slipped from Anders’s lips.

The guy just had to go ahead and do his own thing.

Anders stepped right up to the top hardwood of the door frame. The door itself was a simple thing. Three glass panels with a chromed handle and a brass deadlock below.

“Don’t make trouble you can’t end,” the unidentified male said.

There was silence for a moment. Easy to imagine the guy sloped on an old sofa, Wright standing over him.

The doorway led to a hallway through the house. Two rooms at the back, a laundry on the left, with a door that led through to a kitchen. On the right, what could have been someone’s bedroom. Anders couldn’t see well enough. Not from outside.

“I’m just the middle guy.” The guy was kind of whiny. I don’t do anything.”

Whiny could make sense. Wright could be intimidating.

“You don’t do anything?” Wright said. “So what’s all this?”

“It’s not anything. Here. Take this. Walk out. All of this is forgotten. Easy.”

Something thumped quietly.

Anders saw it. A small package. White. Taped up.

The hallway opened into the living room, halfway along the house. Or the dining room. The carpet was a dark maroon. Threadbare in places.

The package lay there on the rough carpet.

“C’mon man,” the whiny guy said. “Someone’s going to get real mad over what you did to Sammy.”

Drugs. Anders took a breath. Reasonable suspicion.

“Sammy,” Wright said, “did that to himself.”

Anders took her weapon from the holster. Right hand on the grip. Finger on the trigger guard. Left hand on top. Steadying.

She stepped into the house.

 

Chapter Six

The house smelled of baking. As if someone was running a bread maker, or had just come back from the bakery with baguettes and cob loaves. The place hardly felt like a baguette and cob loaf place.

More like discount sliced white bread.

The ceiling were paneled, with a couple of panels askew. Anders peered into the bedroom, as she went by. Unmade bed–mattress without a base–with a rumpled quilt and pillow fallen onto the floor. Pringles and Doritos packs, empty, lying around. A poster on the wall of Thirty Seconds of Summer, the boy band looking shiny and young.

The laundry had a machine with the lid up. A box of laundry powder on the windowsill, sagging at the bottom as if it had become waterlogged.

Anders continued along. She kept the gun down. Aimed at the floor.

“Police,” she said. “Put your hands up. Set down any weapons.”

There was another door on the right, before the hallway opened out into the living room.

Ahead of her, in the living room, Wright stepped back into view. He had his hands up.

“They’re unarmed,” he said. “But come take a look.”

Anders relaxed. She kept the gun in hand, but lowered it even more. She dropped her left hand to her side.

“What’s going on?” she said, continuing on.

“You’ll see,” he said, with a vague smile.

As Wright turned away someone burst from the next room in the hallway.

Another kid. In a black hoodie.

He barreled straight at Anders. Shoulders down.

He was bigger than she was. He grabbed her around the waist.

Tackled her.

Like a linebacker sacking the quarterback.

 

Chapter Seven

Anders twisted back. Turned with the tackle.

Most important thing was to keep hold of the gun.

She slapped the wall with her left hand. Dropped her right shoulder.

As they went down, she brought her right knee up.

Right between the kid’s legs.

She didn’t connect.

He was a weight on top of her. Couldn’t have been more than sixteen, but he must have weighed somewhere north of one eighty.

She was closer to one twenty. He had half again her mass.

“Hey!” Wright called from somewhere.

Then, his loud footsteps.

But Anders had this.

She squirmed. Jerked her shoulder around. Pushed off the wall with her left foot.

Flipped the guy over.

It wasn’t so much a matter of body weight. More about leverage.

The kid struggled. Lying face down now, with Anders on top.

Holstered the gun. Whipped out her cuffs. Grabbed his left hand with hers. Flicked the cuffs into place.

Yanked the arm up his back.

The kid squealed.

“Take it easy,” she said. “Relax. This won’t go so bad.”

He tried to roll over. Anders moved her right knee onto his back.

“You’re under arrest,” she said. “Assaulting a police officer.”

She grabbed his right arm. Brought it around. Cuffed the wrist.

Stepped away from him.

He rolled then, wincing as he came onto his cuffed hands.

And it wasn’t a male at all.

She squinted hard at Anders. Dark hair and eyes. Had to be the other one’s sister.

Wright came up beside them.

“She’s the one I saw,” he said. “Sticking the knife into your tire.”

 

Chapter Eight

Anders followed Wright along the hallway. The second room, where the linebacker girl had come from, was another bedroom. Smaller than the other. Bed with no base, Oreos wrappers on the floor, with MacDonald’s boxes and shake cups.

The drapes were drawn.

“I came in through the front room window,” Wright said. “I saw the sister clambering through. She was quick. Raced on out the back.”

“I saw her go.”

“Sorry about the other one,” he said. “I should have checked all the rooms before you came in.”

“You didn’t know I was coming. What have we got here?” Anders had her gun out again. One-handed. Down at her side.

Opposite the door was another poster. The Grand Canyon, standing stark and deep, the layered brown rocks carved away, with the blue twist of the Colorado River below. The top right pin had popped out and that corner was rolled down.

In the living room, there were two men.

One, in jeans and a torn tee shirt, lying back on the sofa, legs out under a wooden coffee table. Slouched any more and her would have been lying down.

Windows above his head faced out across the driveway to the house next door.

The other man was sprawled out too, but on the floor. Face down. Limbs akimbo.

Out cold.

The guy on the sofa stared at Anders.

On the table were more packages. Taped up. There were addresses written on them. Sacramento, Yuma, Jacksonville.

“Sheesh,” Anders said as she crouched to the guy on the floor. She reached for her phone. “We really need backup.”

“Hold on,” Wright said.

“Hey cop,” the guy on the sofa said. “You going to–“

“Quiet,” Anders said. “You have the right to remain silent. I’m sure you know that.”

“He hit Sammy! Knocked him out cold.”

Sammy was out cold, that was for sure.

“Wright,” Anders said. “You can’t just go hitting people. Even if they’re drug dealers. And I’m sure you know that.”

“We’re not drug dealers!” the guy on the sofa said.

Anders looked at him. He must think she was an idiot.

“They’re not drug dealers,” Wright said. “And I didn’t hit him. Same as the young woman back there rushed you, Sammy here rushed me. Too bad for him that he hit my elbow.”

Wright tapped his left elbow.

“Went right into his eye,” Wright said. “Jerked his neck back. I say better not move him. He is breathing.”

“Just!” the guy on the sofa said.

“Stay out of it,” Anders said.

The guy muttered some epithet under his breath.

Anders stood. “We need paramedics for him. I need a couple of cruisers here for these guys.”

“Give me your phone,” Wright said. “I’ll call it in. But follow me. You’re in for a treat.”

 

Chapter Nine

The smell of baking was stronger as Anders followed Wright out of the living room and along the hallway. It led to the front door, which had multiple locks on it. Two more rooms, one on either side. Light streaming in from one, the other dark.

A Kroger’s bag is by the front door. The end of baguette sticking out. Anders smiled. Clearly she had misjudged the residents.

Wright stepped into the darkened room.

“This is where I came in,” he said. He reached up and turned on the light.

Tables on the front and back walls. Shelves either side of the windows. The curtains were closed but moved in the wind. This would be where Wright had come in. Following the girl who’d stabbed the tire.

The front table was piled with tee shirts. Black, blue, red, white. A few green, and a few in pastels. All very plain. The scent of dye hung in the air.

“Brand new,” she said.

The shirts were unfolded and had that flat, even look of something freshly made.

The shelves had boxes with more. And there were more boxes under the tables. A knife like the one that had gone into her tire lay on top of one of the boxes, clearly used for slitting the tape.

“Here,” Wright said.

At the end was some odd kind of printer. Blocky with handles on the side. A laptop plugged into it. An image on the laptop’s screen.

Cardinals. With the stylized sweep, and the red head of a cardinal bird. Almost cartoonish. Looking serious. Threatening.

“The packages aren’t drugs,” Wright said.

“Tee shirts?”

“How much do you pay for a franchise shirt from your favorite team?”

Anders shrugged. “I don’t own any. I don’t have a favorite team.”

Wright smiled. “Forty, fifty bucks, I would guess. Licensed merchandise. All this–” he swept his arm around the room “–is unlicensed merchandise. Someone in Florida wants a Dolphins shirt, but doesn’t want to pay the premium, they order from these guys. They grab an image from the net, use this thing to print onto the shirt. Ship it out.”

“They’re probably getting the shirts at a dollar piece,” Anders said. “Ink’s expensive, but… well, even with shipping, they must be making a tidy profit. Sell the shirt for twenty.”

“In a nutshell.”

Anders shook her head. “That always intrigues me. The money from the licenses supports the team. Those people might earn millions, but, still, if they’re your favorite team, why steal from them, in effect.”

From outside came the sound of a siren.

“How often,” Wright said, “have you been able to fathom the criminal mind?”

Anders closed her eyes and took a breath.

“Never. And every time I see something like this, I get further from being able to fathom it at all.”

“I know it.”

The siren shut off.

“Come on,” Anders said. “Let’s go fill these guys in. Then you and me, we’ve got a coffee date.”

“We do?” he said with a wry smile.

“Sure we do. Remember? I was bringing you coffee.”

“I do remember. So, let’s go do that.” Wright stepped by her.

Anders looked around the room. The ingenuity was impressive.

From the front door came the sound of the locks disengaging.

Anders turned and followed Wright out.

Coffee. And, they still had a tire to change.

Well, that was an all right start to the day.


Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed “Cardinals”. Feel free to say hi in the comments. Always nice to hear from readers.

Cheers

Sean


 

Single Point Failure – New story in Analog Science Fiction and Fact

The July/August issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact is out now, and includes my novelette “Single Point Failure”

Full list of contents here – cool to see that I’m sharing that with another New Zealander – Melanie Harding-Shaw. Kind of humbled to be there alongside her – Mel is one of the shining lights of the NZ Speculative Fiction Scene..

Available from Amazon and elsewhere.


My Aurealis Award Finalist novella from Analog last year, “Problem Landing” is now also available as a standalone in print and as an ebook. Universal Book Link here.

Toughing out life on Mars, Ciananti Burrows finds herself constantly repairing failing equipment and pushing research aside. But when new arrivals declare an issue with their landing vessel, all those learned repair skills might come in handy.

They might even save some lives.


For some reason I seem to give my protagonists names beginning with C – Ciananti, Cody, Cole Wright.


July will see the release of Cole Wright book 4, Slow Burn, available for pre-order now – UBL. By way of promotion, again, we’ll have a short story – “The Handler” available to read free here on the website from the start of July (the 4th), then available as a standalone book and in print.

The Handler –

The mugging happens so fast that Marc barely has time to react.

For Marc and Sonia, a trip to Spokane means visiting family, a little shopping and some eating out. Not having someone accost them in the street.

When Cole Wright happens by, things might just take a different turn.


In other Cole Wright news, happily the work is complete on book 5, Scorpion Bait and it’s heading into preorder for September 20th. And, yes, there will be another short story free to read in the lead up from around the start of that month.

I’m having fun writing the Cole Wright short stories too, so will likely put out a collection of the five, plus a couple of extras in October or November. If I can ever figure out how to set up a mail list, I’ll be giving away another story for sign ups.


 

 

 

 

 

 


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.


Blurb

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.

Level.

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.

Cheers

Sean

 

“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.


Blurb

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).

“Marbles” – new story in Asimov’s

ASF_JulAug2020_400x570My story (well, novelette) “Marbles”, set in the Art Worlds of Shilinka Switalla, appears in the July/August issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction.

Shilinka Switalla, an artist in the far future, creates vast, dramatic works on a scale that sometimes encompasses planets.

I’ve always been fascinated by Marble runs and, well, I’ve had fun with the idea in the story, creating the kind of complex run I’d love to be able to actually build.

This is my third Shilinka Switalla story in Asimov’s, following “Crimson Birds of Small Miracles” and “Ventiforms”. Both stories are still available as stand alone volumes as ebook and in print from Triple V Publishing. “Crimson Birds…” (ahem) won both the Sir Julius Vogel Award and the Asimov’s Readers’ Award for best short story. “Ventiforms” is currently a finalist for both the Sir Julius Vogel Award and the Aurealis Award (the links there take you to the universal book link where you can go should you feel inclined to purchase either… if you do, I thank you, I appreciate it).

In other news, I’ve had to step aside from WorldCon this year. I was excited to attend, after all, living in New Zealand, I was just a couple of hours drive away from the venue. That was pretty much a first. However with events around the world (i.e. the pandemic that’s changed the face of 2020 so much) the Con has gone virtual and in part lost its appeal, and also made it difficult for me to attend (with my limited access to and patience with tech). Hoping to get to the New Zealand Convention next year, as that unfolds.

A slower writing year this year, and still figuring out what’s happening there. Had a good jump up in the word count over the last few days (great new project that got me excited, that helps). I’ll post again soon about that, and my writing process.

In the meantime, I’m still posting weekly at prowriterswriting. My latest post is about how to celebrate completing your novel (a hint, it none of wine, fireworks nor hollering from mountaintops).

Thanks for reading. Stay safe in these strange and challenging times.

Concentration – free .pdf ebook

LF229ConcentrationQuick post. I’ve been invited to participate in Lockdown Writers Reading, at the Palmerston North City Library YouTube Channel. I’ve done a short reading from my story “Concentration” which appeared in issue 229 of Landfall in 2015. The reading is just a couple of pages, but the whole story is available as an ebook for $2.99 through Draft2Digital (and so to a variety of bookstores).  BUT! There’s also a free download of the .pdf version of the story right here on the website:

Concentration pdf download.

This is the blurb: Aaron loses concentration when Casey aims the car for the clifftop. But concentration is the new thing. Does he like her? Does she like him? A literary story that asks the hard questions, from the author of “Landslide Country” and “Back from Vermont”.

Listen to the short reading of the first few pages here on YouTube at the Palmerston North City Library’s channel.

Analog story – self promotion

sean analog
Self-promotion is something I still need to learn a whole lot about. I have dozens of indie books out there, but neglect mentioning them too often. Usually when they come out and they I shut up about it.
So, with a new story – “One Hundred” in the current issue of Analog Science Fiction Science Fact, it seems like a good opportunity. After all, if you’ve read and enjoyed the story, you might like to read some more of mine.
But where to start? Well, Analog stories are firmly hard science fiction – “One Hundred” is set in a Mars colony – so that’s what I’ll promote here.
Another couple of stories you might like are “Improvising at Branson Six” and “Mars Cycler Artist in Residence, 2017“. “Improvising” placed third in the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest some years back, the year before I won the award with “Low Arc”. Oh, that one’s around too – available free on the Baen.com website, and alson in a couple of anthologies – The Jim Baen Memorial, the first ten years, and Final Frontier, which also has an audio version.
“Mars Cycler” is a kind of another Mars story, since that’s the destination. The Mars cycler is one of Buzz Aldrin’s babies, a great way to solve the issue of getting materials and people to Mars and back. My friend Martin Shoemaker has a wonderful series – Blue Collar Space – with many stories set on a cycler. Some of these have been in Analog, so a tip of my hat to Martin here.
If you want to read something novel length, I’d suggest either (or both) Athena Setting or Gretel.
Athena Setting, is about a disaster in the orbit of Jupiter, and Gretel is about problems aboard a generation ship heading for the stars.
All good rollicking adventures.
If you want to try some of my other adventure novels, a good place to start would be Asteroid Jumpers. It’s softer science fiction, involving faster than light travel and a few other conveniences, but it is one of my personal favorites. It’s the first in a series, followed by Ice Hunters and Ship Tracers, with two more in series coming out in the next year or so – Desert Creepers and Core Runners. More rollicking adventures.

Life-Span released today

Life SpanLife-Span, a short sci-fi thriller about genetic engineering takes flight today, January 31st. It’s already February in New Zealand, so that kind of melts my brain a little 🙂

Cody Albine watches as her elegant and well-organized presentation collapses. Right in front of her last chance at getting corporate funding for the project of a lifetime. Her absolute passion

But hope lies with her friends. It might take compromise, but a little compromise between friends never goes astray.

A short biological sci fi thriller with a heart. From the author of Overrun and L-Own.

 

Available from your favorite bookseller – click the universal link here. It’s a short, so it’s priced at $2.99, and $5.99 for the paperback.

 

Chasing Oumuamua – new story in Asimov’s

 

IMG_20190523_082919With the vagaries of postage, I had two publications arrive in the mail a couple of days apart.

A couple of days back, I mentioned my story in New Zealand literary magazine Landfall.

A while before, I mentioned my story “Chasing Oumuamua” in the May/June issue of Asimov’s Science FictionI said enough then enough then, but receiving the actual artifact is always exciting. This is my seventh story in Asimov’s (my second this year), and I’m still surprised each time. Little old me, next to other authors like Jay O’Connell and Ian R. MacLeod. Wow.

Now, I have no more stories lined up for the rest of the year. I will be self-publishing some, of course, and I’m submitting stories all the time.

Hoping to have Red Alliance, the sequel to my middle grade novel Blue Defender, out by the end of June. Lots of business things keeping me busy too.

Thanks for reading.