A Steep Climb – a Cole Wright short story

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Steep Climb – blurb

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

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

But they have other things on their mind.

Cover illustration by Dek257 | Dreamstime


A Steep Climb

 

Chapter 1

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

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

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

Unnerving, even.

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

Back down with the debris of Hibiscus, her boat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But angles and square roots and even multiplication baffled her.

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

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

And why was she thinking about that now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll lick it, you hear me? I will.

Sure Dad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You served in your own way.”

“I guess.”

“You been out this way before?”

“No sir.”

“Don’t call me ‘sir’. Just ‘Fast’.”

“Fast?”

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

“Like a helicopter rotor assembly.”

“Exactly.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of them staggered back.

 

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast glanced his way.

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

Almost as if it was a test.

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

Facing the road again, Fast smiled.

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

The other vehicle was there.

The two people.

One standing. One laid out on the ground.

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

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

Fast swore. The marines would have been proud.

 

Chapter 4

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

Fast brought the car to a stop.

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

Wright pulled on his door handle.

“Wouldn’t do that,” Fast said.

“No?”

“That guy’s armed.”

“And her?”

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

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

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

“Yes, on both.”

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

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

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

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

“Don’t feel obliged.”

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

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

Wright did likewise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other woman stared at her.

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

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

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

“And now we have witnesses here.”

“You planned this?” Delle said.

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

“You sabotaged my boat?”

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

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

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

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

So the situation needed something to mess with it.

“Where’s the boat now?” Wright said.

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

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

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

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

Wright was betting the guy wouldn’t shoot.

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

“Last warning.”

Wright kept walking.

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

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

 

Chapter 5

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

Wright was practically at the fence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A channel?” Wright said.

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

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

“Me?” Wright said.

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

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

“I’m a professional here.”

“Good for you. How’s the pay?”

“Come back over here.”

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

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

“Did the engine break down?” Wright said.

“Yes,” Delle said.

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

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

“Don’t call me honey.”

“Ma’am, I’m sorry.”

“Just Delle, please.”

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

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

“Nothing to figure out.”

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

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

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

“You knocked him down?” Wright said.

“Just.”

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

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

“Huh?” the guy with the gun said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Seattle,” she said.

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

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

“Wouldn’t do that,” Fast said.

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

She took a step toward Delle.

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

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

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

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

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

The kind of money most people would retire on.

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

Wright took another step.

“He don’t look so good,” Fast said.

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

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

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

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

Fired.

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

Came back again.

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

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

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

A kill shot.

 

Chapter 6

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

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

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

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

And she was quite the marksman, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The woman turned. She stared at him.

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

“Smuggling something,” Wright said.

“Yet this woman chose to take the boat–“

“It’s my boat.”

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

“There was no contract.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t think she did,” Fast said.

“I really didn’t,” Delle said.

The woman with the gun sighed.

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

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

Very delicate time now.

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

Very delicate.

Anything could set it off.

 

Chapter 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delle’s lips pursed.

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

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

“Seems mighty impolite,” Fast said.

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

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

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

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

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

Wright turned again, bringing himself just a little closer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“None taken,” Delle said.

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

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

“You?” the woman said.

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

“Very admirable. I–“

Wright moved then. Ducking. Moving quickly.

Charging ahead. A football tackle.

He caught the woman around the waist.

The gun went off.

 

Chapter 8

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

She smelled of roses.

She twisted in his grip.

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

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

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

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

She didn’t have the gun.

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

Had to be somewhere.

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

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

The gull darted low, squawking at them.

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

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

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

Delle kept the gun trained on him.

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

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

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

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

“Where is it?” the guy said.

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

“As if I’m going to do that.”

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

Some birds took flight.

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

Same as her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She did the same to the back tire.

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

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

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

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

A first aid kit.

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

The guy was moaning now.

“You need that,” Wright said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Where is the package?” the woman said.

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

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

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

“You don’t understand.”

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

“Not drugs.”

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

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

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

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

She headed toward Fast’s car.

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

“If you’d take another passenger.”

“Hop on in.”

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 9

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

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

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

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

“Hold that there. Pressure.”

The guy grunted.

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

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

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

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

“Evidence, I hope.”

“You don’t have your own phone?”

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

Delle dropped the gun. It thumped into the footwell.

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

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

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

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

“He knows.”

“Me?” Wright said.

“Yes.”

“Well?” Fast said.

“It wasn’t drugs?”

“No.”

“It was human remains, wasn’t it?”

Delle nodded.

“Where is it?” Wright said.

“Human what?” Fast said.

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

“Her father?” Wright said.

“My guess, yes.”

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

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

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

Closure, they called it. Real important.

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

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

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

“She was expecting us?” Fast said.

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

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

“Can I get to it?” Wright said.

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

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

“I’ll be fine.”

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

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

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

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

“Human nature?”

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

“Not me,” Wright said.

Fast laughed.

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

“I hope you get closure,” Delle said.

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

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

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

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

“Sounds great to me,” Delle said.

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



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

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

Take care,

Sean

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

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


Cold Highway – A Cole Wright Novella – out now

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

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

Unfriendly territory. Dangerous places.

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


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

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

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


Cardinals – A Cole Wright Short Story – also out now

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

Looks like the start of another one of those days.

A day that proves full of surprises.

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

Cover illustration © Constantin Opris | Dreamstime.

 

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


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


 

Novellas in October and November

I like to have new book releases out on the 20th of the month, and for October and November, these will be novellas from two of my series. The first novellas in both. My novellas sit around a quarter the length of a novel – say around a hundred pages. I think Amazon labels them in with “90 minute reads” or something.


First up in on October 2oth is “Ortanide Steppers” from my Captain Arlon Stoddard Adventures series. Think deep space adventures with mysteries and puzzles around the galaxy. Technically a “novelette” in SF terms, but boy, keeping track of the names for the different lengths…

Ortanide. A planet with a unique geography, a rich history and a strange political system.

A political system that defies Captain Arlon Stoddard and his crew.

Restrained in a dank cell by the very people he came to help, Arlon faces the choice of violating the charters he works to uphold.

Or certain death.

A Captain Arlon Stoddard novella that pits the crew against possibly their most heinous foe yet.

 

Priced especially at $2.99 for the ebook, and $6.99 for the paperback. A bargain, right?


Next out on November 20th is “Cold Highway” from my Cole Wright Thrillers series. Pretty standard kind of thriller, adventure, gunplay stuff here. I’ve always liked those frozen highways and figured that might be a fun place to set a story. I was right, at least in writing it. I hope it’s as much fun to read.

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

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

Unfriendly territory. Dangerous places.

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

Still reasonably priced at $3.99 for the ebook, and $7.99 for the paperback.

So far all my paperbacks have come through Amazon, but I’m testing this one through Draft 2 Digital as well, in a slightly larger format, and ending up priced at $10.99. We’ll see how that goes.


As with previous months, I’ll have short stories out in the lead up to the releases. “Sea Skimmers”, which is the first Captain Arlon Stoddard short story, and followed by “Cardinals” which is a Cole Wright story with a difference – Lieutenant Ione Anders as the lead character (you’ll remember her from the first Cole Wright novel The Arrival) and Cole himself tagging along as a background character.

Details to come.

Remember you can explore the series from the pages available in the menu at the top of the page on the website here.

Thanks for reading.

Sean

Scorpion Bait – Cole Wright book 5 out now

 

Scorpion Bait, book 5 in the Cole Wright series is available now through the regular channels.

$5.99 ebook. $15.99 print, $19.99 hardback


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.


More Cole Wright news soon – “Cold Highway” a novella is coming in November, and all things going well, book 6 Zero Kills, coming in December. The book is complete and revised and just in the queue for final copyedit and proofread and then should be up for preorder before “Cold Highway” hits the shelves.


 

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.


 

The Handler – except from a Cole Wright short story

With the fourth Cole Wright novel, Slow Burn, coming out on July 20th, we once again put up a Cole Wright short story, free to read here on the website for a week or so.  The first couple of chapters remain, and the story is now available from the usual locations as both an ebook and in print. $2.99/$5.99


The Handler – blurb

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.


The Handler

Chapter One

Marc adjusted the time on his watch. It was an old Asterion, and amazingly still fairly reliable after all these years. He pulled the winder out two notches, enjoying the little clicks it made as the gears inside moved from the date setting to the hands setting.

So much more satisfying than those electronic things that barely made a sound and never lost a moment.

He wound it back, from 11.07 to 10.06. It was kind of satisfying. That sense of gaining a whole hour in the day. Plus the minute which the Asterion had gained over the last week or so.

Marc double-checked the time against the clock just inside the store, and clicked the winder back into place.

He was standing outdoors, at a window, looking into the store. They sold all kinds of sharp-looking clothing, men’s on the left and women’s on the right. Nothing tailored, probably all shipped from sweatshops in Asia, but it was crisp and tidy, with interesting trim.

Exercise leggings with panels down the legs, almost like marching band trousers. Tops with straps that looked as if they could barely hold the rest up. The mannikins seemed as if they had originally been made at regular human size, but then ground and shaved back until the waists were somewhere under ten inches. Perhaps that helped to sell clothing.

Sonia was in there somewhere. Looking for something comfortable. Good luck, frankly. While, at forty, she was still slim and fit, it didn’t look like anything in there would be comfortable.

She’d left him in charge of getting lunch while she shopped. Sending him to the hole-in-the wall burger joint three stores on from the store.

Behind him, traffic moved. Easing through the lights, engines humming and tires hissing against the damp pavement. They’d just missed a shower when they’d gotten parked and ready for the expedition.

So here he was, with the two most delicious smelling burgers ever, waiting for her. The burgers were fat and stuffed, held inside cardboard boxes that boasted “Best Burgers in Spokane”, and “Recycled Card. Please dispose of with care.” Clutched in a tough brown paper bag with a smaller bag with fries and sachets.

He peered into the store again. No sign of her.

Spokane wasn’t that big of a place. Not really. It was Washington’s state capital, but Seattle was much bigger. But when you were out of Slickton, Wyoming, everywhere seemed big. Caspar seemed big.

They’d flown from Caspar to Seattle, via San Francisco. Stayed at an airport hotel and bundled themselves on this morning to Spokane.

Exhausting.

Thankfully, their daughter Millie wasn’t going to get herself married too often. This was the first, and hopefully the last. But who knew in times like this.

One of Millie’s bridesmaids was on husband three already, and, from what Millie had mentioned, it wasn’t going well.

A bus chugged by and came to a stop thirty yards away. A couple got off and strolled away. An older gentleman climbed aboard.

Across the next intersection, a huge, old stone edifice stood. Bank of America. Beside it, a newer, glassy building with banners announcing “Sale Prices” and “Bargains” and “Permanently Reduced”.

Could he live here?

Millie could, that was clear. She’d studied well and landed herself a job as a designer with Cobbert Ross, which was apparently one of the bigger interior decorating firms in Washington.

The dollar amount they were paying her made Marc’s eyes water. Fresh out of college and they’re just handing her cash in wheelbarrows.

Pleased for her of course.

Pleased about Davin, her fiancé. A few years older, but then who was Marc to point that out?

The bus pulled away, puffing out a cloud of thick black smoke. Spokane’s plans for becoming a green city apparently were still underway.

Another vehicle pulled up. A low-slung black Cadillac. Paint buffed to a brilliant shine. Chrome just about everywhere. Windows tinted.

The engine sounded like a straight eight, as if in the customizing they’d dropped something else in there. Something a little souped-up to give the vehicle a little extra oomph.

Marc smiled to himself. Cities, huh.

The Cadillac’s back door opened and a slim man got out. He wore jeans, a leather vest over a black tee shirt and black cowboy boots. Kind of thing they sold down at Lee Taubert’s in Caspar.

Marc had a pair himself.

Marc stepped aside. There were few people on the sidewalk. A businesswoman striding along. A mom and dad with a kid swinging between them. A single man with thick hair and big shoulders.

But the guy from the Cadillac headed for Marc.

Marc took another step back.

“Excuse me,” he said.

“In the car,” the guy said.

“Excuse me?”

“Now!”

Marc frowned. Big city or not, people still had manners.

He glanced into the store. Sonia was at the register. Just taking a bag from the counter.

So she’d made some purchases.

The mom and dad with the kid sidled around Marc and the guy from the Cadillac. The businesswoman was well gone.

“In the car?” Marc said. Surely he’d heard wrong.

“That’s what I said. Quit stalling. Get in.”

“But why?” His voice must have gone up a few tones. Nervous.

“You know why. Get in now. Or I will put you in.”

Marc bent a little to see inside.

A woman sitting across the other side of the back seat. Burlier than the guy.

A driver. Staring back at him. Maybe someone else in the front passenger seat.

Marc looked at the store again. Sonia was heading for the door.

“I’m not getting in there with you,” Marc said. He might be a naive bumpkin, but he wasn’t an idiot.

“The hard way, then,” the guy said, and grabbed Marc’s elbow.

The burgers splattered on the pavement.

 

Chapter Two

Cole Wright watched along the sidewalk as he walked. People out and about. The air was crisp and the traffic was light.

It was good to be back in Spokane. Starting to feel like this might just be a good fit for him.

Like a pair of old shoes you found in the back of your closet. You put them on and they felt just right.

Little stores and coffee carts. Old sidewalks and plenty of trees. The river, the power plant, the bridges.

Right at home.

Or maybe it was just that he couldn’t really leave Washington behind. You can take the cop out of the state, but you can’t take the state out of the cop?

Nah. That was terrible.

But maybe there was a security in staying closer to Seattle. Easy to talk with Turzin and some of the other guys.

And then, there was Ione Anders.

Based right here in Spokane.

That was better than half the attraction of the place right there. Maybe even well into the nineties in terms of percentage.

Just ahead of him a mother and father had their daughter between them. Somewhere between two and three. Running along on little legs and swinging up.

Wright admired parents, that was for sure. Endlessly patient.

Wright sidestepped, balancing his takeout coffee, as a woman in a business suit strode near him. Hair tied up and manner completely oblivious to the world.

A bus had pulled away, and traffic was coming through from the cross street.

A guy holding a paper sack peered into the window of a women’s clothing store. Seer and Lane. Nice how the stores in the city, at the edges of downtown, could still compete, what with Target and Wal-Mart and online shopping seemingly corralling every dollar.

A black Caddy pulled up and a guy got out of the back door. Jeans, leather vest and a black shirt. Black boots on his feet. He went to the man who’d just been looking in the window.

Spoke to him.

The man seemed startled.

Wright kept walking. Ten yards off.

The startled man was wearing black chinos and black dress shoes. A tan jacket on top. He seemed even more startled.

The mom and dad and kid went by. The kid stared at the guy in the vest.

He was talking. The man in the tan jacket said something. The guy in the vest gestured at the Caddy.

It was shiny. Black, with plenty of trim. Modified. Riding low.

Wright was used to that kind of thing from back in Seattle, but here in Spokane, it seemed out of place. Too flashy.

He was just five yards off now.

The man looked back into the store.

The guy in the vest grabbed his elbow.

The paper sack fell to the sidewalk. Landed with a splat.

The guy hustled the man into the Caddy’s back seat.

Wright sped up.


Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the excerpt from “The Handler”.

Full story available for $2.99, ebook, and $5.99 in print – Universal Book Link.

Check out the other Cole Wright novels and stories on the webpage here, and come back at the start of September for another free to read Cole Wright story.

Cheers

Sean


Check out Slow Burn, the next Cole Wright thriller – out on July 20th

Cole Wright heads for Spokane. A simple trip. Back roads. Quiet towns.

But when one of those quiet towns proves to be anything but, Wright finds himself unable to stand aside.

Preorder available from the usual places. ebook $5.99, (and print soon, $16.99)


And Scorpion Bait, the fifth Cole Wright novel – available on preorder with 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.

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.

Hide Away is available, and news on the Cole Wright series

Hide Away, the third novel-length Cole Wright thriller is out now from the usual channels – find the link here.

_

Cole Wright sits in a sparkling bright Route 66 themed diner in a small Montana town. Kind of town you could walk side to side in five minutes and leave behind.

In the mountains nearby, Joe Bridger consults his phone. Any moment and he will get the go ahead. A simple job.

He can get out of the snow and grab himself a meal.

The two should never meet. No need to.

Practically nothing in common.

Wright finds himself on a collision course. Suits him just fine.


We’ve struck a little copy-editing glitch with the intended next book. in the series – Scorpion Bait – originally due on July 20th, and that’s going to need another run through. So, to keep things moving, we’re moving up the release of Slow Burn from September to July. The books can be read in any order, so in theory, there’s little material difference. The new order appears on the Cole Wright Thrillers page. Preorder coming soon.

We’ll get Scorpion Bait wrestled into shape and have it out in September.


 

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

 

Hide Away – Cole Wright book 3 available for preorder

It might just be me, but I have a sense that when a book series has three titles, then it’s got a real foundation.

So, May 20th sees the release of Hide Away, book 3 of my Cole Wright Thriller series. A foundation, I suppose.

The books can be read in any order, so if you want to start here, feel free to jump in.

_

Cole Wright sits in a sparkling bright Route 66 themed diner in a small Montana town. Kind of town you could walk side to side in five minutes and leave behind.

In the mountains nearby, Joe Bridger consults his phone.Any moment and he will get the go ahead. A simple job.

He can get out of the snow and grab himself a meal.

The two should never meet. No need to.

Practically nothing in common.

Wright finds himself on a collision course. Suits him just fine.


As usual, $5.99 for the ebook, but $16.99 for the print. This is the longest yet, pushing 400 pages (okay, I do that Patterson thing of having all chapters start on the right hand side, so sometimes there’s a blank page on the left… maybe 360 pages, then).

See the whole series here at Smashwords. Or Amazon. 

Universal book link for Hide Away is here

Check the Cole Wright page on my website for more details on the series.


Stay tuned – as with the previous releases, at the start of the month I’ll have a Cole Wright short story free to read on this page. It’ll stay up for free for a week or so, then be available through the usual channels. That’ll be $2.99 for the ebook, and $5.99 for the paperback.


The Forest Doesn’t Care

A Cole Wright short story.

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.

[Free to read here on this website from May 10th through to May 18th]


Links to the other novels

 

 

 

 

 

 

and stories

 

 

 

 

 


Thanks for reading.