Saturday, July 7, 2012

REVENANT excerpt: Chapter Eight

It's the final day of my week of Revenant excerpts; tonight is Chapter Eight. Here are links to the first six days of previews if you'd like to check them out before reading today's preview:

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapters Three, Four and Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven


Here's Chapter Eight:




8


In the corner of the dark basement, the industrial-sized floor freezer hummed monotonously, its motor powering a compressor, the compressor flooding the inside of the container with ice-cold air, cooling . . . nothing. The freezer’s former occupant lay unmoving in the middle of the floor, a gaping hole in his chest, severed veins and arteries framing the location where Earl Manning’s heart used to reside.

The corpse’s extremities, which had previously been stiff and unyielding after being frozen through and through, now rested limply on the tarp separating the body from the concrete floor. A soupy mix of bodily fluids had gradually thawed, following the irresistible pull of gravity as they did so, and had collected on the tarp, molding around the dead body like the world’s most disgusting bath water.

Manning’s skin was dark grey, devoid of any of the color provided by a beating heart pumping blood through a living body. His eyelids remained open, dead eyes staring unseeingly at the ceiling, a thin, milky caul covering each one.

The stairs creaked and groaned as Max Acton and Raven descended them. The pair turned at the bottom and stood at Manning’s bare feet. Max examined the corpse with a critical eye, his lips compressing into a thin line as he concentrated. He glanced at his watch and did a little quick figuring. Then he smiled. “I think we’re ready to proceed,” he told Raven, who nodded once and looked away.

They were dressed in fresh jumpsuits and booties. Latex medical gloves once again covered their hands. Raven stepped to the side and watched closely as Max wheeled a five-gallon wet-dry vac across the floor, easing it to a stop next to the corpse and flipping a switch. A high-pitched whine filled the room and the two of them grimaced as Max maneuvered a plastic tube fitted to the end of a rubber hose around the body, sucking the fluids off the tarp and into the vacuum.

He flipped the switch again and the motor died, the whine fading away, leaving a ringing in Max’s ears and, he assumed, in two of the four other ears currently occupying the basement. Fresh fluids immediately began collecting on the tarp, trickling slowly out of the body, replacing what had just been cleared away.

Max sighed and knelt on the floor. He reached over Manning’s chest and rapidly turned the thumbscrew on the rib spreader, drawing the metal arms toward each other, allowing the broken ribs to collapse into the chest cavity. A wet sucking sound accompanied the movement of the bones; to Max it sounded like a drumstick being pulled off a well-done roast chicken.

After a few moments, the resistance of the bones on the rib spreader had been eliminated and Max pulled the metal contraption up and out of Manning’s body. It was slick with watery-looking blood and some kind of residual yellowish pus-like substance. Max examined the mess with distaste and set the rib spreader aside. He placed one hand on either side of the large incision he had made yesterday, then pulled the dead man’s slack skin back together with his palms. It felt thin and rubbery and it sagged in the middle of Manning’s body, where there was no longer the support structure of a functioning rib cage to hold it in place.

Max turned and nodded to Raven and she opened a small plastic box, setting it on the floor next to Max. Then she backed up and resumed watching. She was clearly on edge and for a moment Max thought about shouting “Boo!” and watching her piss her pants, then he decided just to get on with the business at hand. He reached into the box and selected a suture needle and surgical thread, then went to work, leaning over the corpse and efficiently if not artfully stitching the two sides of the corpse’s chest back together.

When he had finished, he leaned back on his heels and examined his handiwork. The chest was caved in at the center, the result of the broken rib bones and, of course, the missing heart muscle, but under the circumstances looked relatively passable. Despite the delicate appearance of the mottled grey skin tissue, it appeared the stitches would hold for as long as Max needed them to.

He smiled up at Raven. “Looks pretty good, don’t you think? I’d say this might even be an improvement over what you dragged out of that bar last week.”

“Well, it would be hard to get any worse,” she said wryly.

“I’ll have to give you that one,” Max said as he rose to his feet, brushing the knees of his jumpsuit and stretching his back. He strolled toward the small table next to the freezer, upon which lay the two wooden boxes, one ornate, adorned with the intricate Navajo carvings, and the other simple and plain.

Raven followed a couple of paces behind. “Is this really going to work?” she asked nervously.

Max stopped and turned, scowling at Raven. Her face blanched and she took a step back. “You’re the one that turned me on to this whole deal,” he said. “You’re the Navajo squaw with the background in all this Native American mumbo-jumbo. It goddamn well better work after all the time and effort I’ve invested in this project. I don’t think I need to remind you what will happen to us if we don’t deliver the goods to the North Koreans. Not only will we not get paid, no one will ever find our bodies again.”

“I know, I know, don’t get upset, baby.” Raven held her hands up in a placating gesture. “You’re right, I do know it will work, it’s just hard not to be a little nervous, that’s all. I can’t believe you’re not nervous, too!”

“Why would I be? If what you’ve told me about this special rock is true, we have nothing to worry about. Right?”

Raven said nothing.

“Right?

She finally nodded.

Max thought he had never seen a less-convincing emotion. He continued staring until she dropped her gaze to the floor and left it there. Then he reached over and unlatched the boxes, lifting both lids. Inside the plain box was the zip-locked plastic bag containing Earl Manning’s heart, now completely thawed and looking exactly like what it was—an unmoving lump of dead muscle tissue.

Inside the more ornate box decorated with the intricate Navajo carvings was the baseball-sized stone Max had stolen from Don Running Bear three months ago in the Arizona desert. The stone looked almost ordinary but just a little . . . off, somehow. Max gazed at it almost as if expecting something mystical to happen. Nothing did. The stone sat in the middle of the box, ancient and inanimate.

After a moment Max reached inside and rolled the stone to the edge of the box. He needed to free up space inside the small area for its new roommate. He then picked up the sealed plastic bag containing Earl Manning’s heart and lifted it out of the plain box, placing it next to the Navajo stone in the ornate box. Then he stepped back and waited expectantly.

And he waited.

And he waited.

And nothing happened.

Max turned slowly, his face reddening. He glanced pointedly from the wooden box to Raven’s face and back again, saying nothing. She backed up another step, her mouth working overtime but managing nothing more than a tiny squeak of barely controlled fear.

“Why is nothing happening?” Max said softly, the words more menacing for their lack of volume than if he had screamed them.

“I. . . I . . . it’s . . .”

Max took a step toward her and her pretty green eyes widened in terror. But she was no longer looking at his face. She was peering intently over his shoulder.

He stopped and turned.

Walked back to the table.

Looked in the box.

Inside the clear plastic bag, Earl Manning’s severed heart was beating, slowly and steadily.

__________
 
REVENANT is a 75,000 word novel which works as Book Two in the Paskagankee series and also as a stand-alone supernatural suspense novel. It's priced at $3.99. Thanks for reading!


Friday, July 6, 2012

REVENANT excerpt: Chapter Seven

It's Day Six of my REVENANT preview week - today features Chapter Seven. Here are links for the first five days pf previews if you'd like to check them out before reading today's preview:

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapters, Three, Four and Five

Chapter Six


Here's Chapter Seven:




7


The geography of Paskagankee, Maine was deceiving. For a town with such a small population, the landscape encompassed a very wide area, featuring wild, rugged terrain, most of which was heavily wooded and virtually impassable even in the best of weather conditions. Such a large area to patrol made being the chief of the tiny police force a challenge, but was one of the many things Mike McMahon loved about the job.

He had spent the first fifteen years of his career as a patrol officer in the city of Revere, Massachusetts, a blue-collar, hardscrabble city immediately north of Boston, dealing with issues on a daily basis which were often very different than those he faced now. He had left Revere for the chief’s job in Paskagankee after the tragic shooting of a little girl during a hostage standoff on a steamy July evening, determined to make a fresh start and expecting the job to be a relatively easy; a nice change of pace.

What he inherited instead, almost immediately upon his arrival, was a horrific killing spree like nothing he had ever encountered, victims being murdered and their bodies savagely torn apart. Looking back on it now, the nightmare seemed somehow surreal, as if he had imagined the whole thing, but Mike recalled with perfect clarity how he and Sharon Dupont had nearly been killed themselves before being saved by Ken Dye, Professor of Native American Folklore at the nearby University of Maine. Dye had identified the murderer to be not a townsperson, not even a person at all, but rather the remorseless spirit of a Native American mother butchered three centuries earlier. The professor ended the bloodshed only at the cost of his own life, validating his life’s work as he sacrificed himself to the vengeful spirit.

As that nightmare scenario unfolded, Mike and Sharon had bonded like true soul mates, two flawed individuals overcoming their own weaknesses—Mike’s self-flagellation at the accidental killing of seven year old Sarah Melendez during the Revere hostage standoff, Sharon’s life-long problem with substance abuse—to team up with the professor and save the town, literally at the last possible moment.

Mike opened his broken heart to Sharon Dupont despite their nearly fifteen year age difference in a way he had not done with anyone since his divorce shortly after the Revere shooting. It hadn’t been easy; he had sworn he would never expose himself to the pain of lost love again. But when he recognized in her a vulnerability so similar to his own, he found himself drawn irresistibly to her.

And her striking beauty didn’t hurt, either. Without fully realizing what was happening until it was too late, Mike McMahon had fallen for the young officer, regardless of her position as his subordinate on the Paskagankee Police Force.

To Mike their status as a couple was a non-issue. He was quite capable of separating their working relationship from their personal relationship, and he knew Sharon could do the same. Whether it would eventually become an issue for the Town Council he did not know, but had assumed all along it was something they would deal with together, as a couple, if and when the circumstance arose.

Now he thought about the bombshell Sharon had dropped as he drove along the nearly deserted rural blacktop, the Paskagankee Police Ford Explorer sure-footedly handling the gradual rise of the terrain as the road burrowed deeper and deeper into the wilderness. Maybe, after more than six months as a couple, Sharon had come to view the difference in their ages as more of a detriment than she had initially thought it would be.

Their relationship had certainly been an eventful one, between the grisly events of last November and the rehabilitation, both physical and mental, they had both been forced to endure. Perhaps Mike had been nothing more than a stepping stone for Sharon, a way to remain grounded as she progressed through the recovery process. Perhaps now that she was more or less back to normal it only made sense that she would take a step back and reconsider her feelings for him.

If so, Mike certainly understood. In fact, he was happy to have been able to help Sharon regain her bearings, even if that meant now she was ready to be on her own. Understanding didn’t make it any easier to bear, though. His attraction to the rookie officer had grown stronger over time even as he had expected it to wane.

And now, apparently, he was alone again, the second time in barely three years a woman he loved had cast him aside. He felt like there was a hole in his chest where his heart should have been. He shook his head at his own foolishness, forcing his thoughts back to the present, to the reason he was making this drive into the Paskagankee hills on a bright, warm June morning.

As chief of the Paskagankee Police Department, Mike McMahon was expected on occasion to perform the sorts of duties he would have scoffed at as a patrol officer back in Revere—ceremonial appearances, community meetings and the like. Today was one of those occasions, and he pushed his thoughts of Sharon—and their accompanying heartache—to the back of his mind, for the time being at least, concentrating on the task at hand.

He muscled the SUV onto a dirt trail so well concealed by the surrounding vegetation he nearly missed it. The vehicle bumped slowly over the rutted track. The forest loomed, centuries-old trees effectively screening the road from sight of his rear view mirror before the vehicle had traveled twenty feet.

Mike grunted as the Explorer lurched into a massive hole hidden by the natural ground clutter of the forest floor, the truck nearly bottoming out before exiting the other side. Holy shit. He had heard of rich people building out-of-the-way shelters to maintain their privacy, but this was ridiculous. He asked Sharon last night—when they were still officially a couple, he thought ruefully—whether she was familiar with this address and she had just looked at him blankly. And this was a kid who had grown up in Paskagankee and spent virtually her entire life here.

Finally, as Mike turned a corner and crested a small hill, a massive log home rose into his field of vision, materializing as if by magic. The house was clearly new but had been designed and constructed to look old. Mike wondered how much the architect who designed it had been paid. The place was magnificent. Built low to the ground, the log home—there was no way anyone could call this a “cabin”—practically melted into the forest, meshing with the surrounding vegetation and the ancient North Woods so completely he wouldn’t have thought it possible if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes.

The home was all one story, but easily comprised four thousand square feet of rambling living space. The exterior logs had been stained a dark brown, their monotony broken up by banks of large, gleaming windows. A gigantic fieldstone chimney ran up one side of the house, soaring toward the sky, making Mike wonder how big the damned fireplace on the other side of the wall must be. An oversized farmer’s porch ran the length of the home, disappearing around the corners on both sides. For all Mike knew, the porch might encircle the entire place. It certainly looked like it did.

He whistled in appreciation, his problems with Sharon momentarily forgotten. He wondered what this show place had cost to build, then remembered who he was scheduled to meet today and realized cost would, literally, have been no object. Still, for a shelter that was probably only going to be inhabited a couple of months a year, even a guy as rich as Brett Parker must have had to think long and hard before committing the kind of money to the project he obviously had.

The dirt road widened into an approximation of a driveway as it wound closer to the house, and Mike pulled to the side, shutting the Explorer down next to a massive black Lincoln Navigator. Brett Parker’s luxurious vehicle shared the same family tree as the Paskagankee Police Explorer, but that was where the comparisons ended. Mike wondered whether Parker was planning on storing his car here year-round, then decided he must be. Even a big-time software developer like Parker likely wouldn’t want to pay what it would cost to ship the SUV back and forth across the country.

Mike grabbed his hat off the seat, easing out of the Explorer and starting across the driveway toward the log home. As he did, the front door swung noiselessly open and a blocky-looking man with a sullen demeanor stepped onto the farmer’s porch. The man watched impassively as Mike approached, hands jammed into his pockets, saying nothing until Mike had almost reached the front steps.

“Hello, Chief,” he finally ventured.

Mike stuck his hand out. “Mike McMahon.”

The stocky man fished a hand reluctantly out of his pocket and grabbed Mike’s with one huge, fleshy paw. He shook once and then released his grip. “Josh Parmalee,” he grunted. “Security for Mr. Parker.”

“Formerly Seattle PD, correct?”

“Once upon a time,” Parmalee answered. “I retired almost ten years ago to work for Mr. Parker. Best move I ever made, too.”

Mike wondered about that. Parmalee appeared to be a good forty pounds overweight, a big man who had once probably been an impressive physical specimen but who had, over time, let himself go until now he carried more flab than muscle on his frame. Mike wondered if that kind of gradual decline was what the future held in store for him and whether perhaps Sharon had considered that possibility, too, and decided his was a future she wasn’t particularly interested in sharing.

He forced his thoughts back to the present, annoyed with himself. There would be plenty of time to brood later, but for now he had a job to do, even if it was largely ceremonial—meeting the visiting dignitary and reviewing security procedures. Clearly Parmalee wasn’t losing any sleep over his employer’s safety; he looked as though he had just awoken from a long nap.

“This is quite an impressive home,” Mike said.

Parmalee ignored the comment and said, “Come on, let’s take you to meet Mr. Parker.” He turned his back on Mike and walked into the house, leading the way through a sitting room which was larger than Mike’s entire apartment. From there they threaded their way through a formal dining room complete with a massive cut crystal chandelier hanging over a sturdy oak slab dining table set for two. Mike wondered who Brett Parker might be entertaining later. He guessed it wasn’t Josh Parmalee.

At the far end of the dining room was a hallway which appeared to run the length of the house. The pair walked wordlessly. At the end of the hallway, Parmalee rapped twice with his knuckles on a closed door, then opened it without waiting for an invitation to enter.

Seated at a desk inside the small study was a man Mike assumed must be Brett Parker, although he had seen few pictures of the media-shy mogul who was one of the twenty richest people in America. Parker was slight of frame, with thinning sandy hair and gold wire-rimmed glasses perched at the end of his nose. Dressed casually in khaki pants and a baby blue dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, Parker smiled and stood to greet his guest.

“Chief McMahon,” he said. “I’m Brett Parker. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He spoke softly but firmly and seemed much more interested in social niceties than his security man had been.

They shook hands and Mike tried again. “You have a beautiful home,” he said, and Parker smiled. “Thank you. The builders just finished. This is the first time I’ve ever seen it. I wanted to check it out before bringing my family for an extended vacation next month.” Mike recalled reading that Parker was married with one child, an eight year old daughter.

“It’s perfect for our needs,” he continued. “I wanted a place where my family and I could disappear; a place we would be out of the glare of the public eye for as long as we wished.”

“You certainly got that,” Parmalee interrupted with the air of someone who would rather be anyplace else in the world.

Parker chuckled. “Anyway, it’s a pleasure meeting you, Chief. I’ll let you continue your tour with Mr. Parmalee; I’m sure you have plenty more important things to do than spend all day chatting with me.”

He sat back down at his desk and the two men eased out of the office, pulling the door closed and continuing down the hall. “The construction is finished,” Parmalee said, “but the alarm system has yet to be activated. The house is fully wired and will be protected by a hard-wired system with a battery backup, connected directly to your police station, as you know. Additionally there will be a full perimeter warning system which will alert us if anyone steps inside the boundary of Mr. Parker’s ten acres of property.”

Mike nodded. “Pretty heavy security,” he said.

Parmalee grunted. “You don’t get to the position Mr. Parker has in the world of computer software without making a few enemies along the way. It’s a fiercely competitive industry, complete with enough corporate espionage and dirty tricks to fuel a hundred Hollywood movies. I know he looks like an easygoing guy, but Brett Parker is a shark in his world. There are plenty of people who would like nothing better than to harm the man or even get him out of the way entirely.”

“You’re not concerned having him here for the weekend with the security system still offline?”

Parmalee shrugged. “It’s only for a couple of days,” he said. “Just a quick scouting trip, in and out. Almost no one knows he is even out of Seattle. Beside, I’ll have him in my sights the entire time. Anyone wanting to get to Mr. Parker will have to go through me.”

Mike bit his tongue. There was no point alienating Parker’s head of security, but he had little difficulty picturing a determined intruder getting past Parmalee. Despite the man’s impressive size, he had gone somewhat to seed and struck Mike as less than the best the Seattle Police had had to offer even in his better days.

And as far as no one knowing Parker’s whereabouts, Mike had a fair amount of experience dealing with VIP movements from his days in Revere, a good-sized city just outside Boston, and he knew that leaks were inevitable where a VIP’s schedule was concerned. Anyone with an interest in determining the founder of Parker Software’s schedule could do so with relative ease. There was always a secretary or travel agent or even a member of the VIP’s own security team more than willing to part with schedule or travel information for the right price.

By now the two men had circled the house and stood just inside the front door. Parmalee strode outside and across the porch to the driveway, moving with a spring in his step he had not shown to this point. Mike wondered what Brett Parker would say if he knew just how perfunctory his head of security’s “tour” had been. It was plain Parmalee wanted nothing more than to get rid of the local yokel from the Paskagankee Police Department and get back to whatever had been occupying his time before their meeting.

And that was fine with Mike. His job was to come and make nice with the billionaire’s head of security and he had done exactly that. The fact that the security itself appeared sloppy and substandard was none of his concern. Besides, whatever he thought of Parmalee, the man was probably right about one thing—Parker’s visit was just a quick two-day in-and-out. What was the likelihood anything would go wrong?

__________

Tomorrow will feature Chapter Eight.   REVENANT is a 75,000 word novel which works as Book Two in the Paskagankee series and also as a stand-alone supernatural suspense novel. It's priced at $3.99. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

REVENANT excerpt: Chapter Six

It's Day Five of my REVENANT preview week - today features Chapter Six. Here are the links to the first four days of previews if you'd like to check them out before reading today's preview:

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three, Four and Five

Now, here's Chapter Six:




6


The basement was dank and forbidding, even under normal circumstances, although it seemed more terrifying than usual now, Max thought. But maybe that was just because of what was about to happen here.

Two portable work lamps had been set up on sturdy metal tripod legs to augment the dim lighting, one mounted on the north side of the basement and one on the south. The lamps faced each other at an angle, splashing their light across roughly an eight foot gap, focusing the glare onto a heavy-duty tarp which had been spread out on the concrete floor.

Max and Raven stood side by side next to the tarp, dressed in identical denim coveralls, their hair stuffed under baseball caps. Latex medical gloves adorned their hands and disposable paper booties covered their feet. It was probably overkill—pun definitely intended, Max thought with a smile—but he didn’t care. There was no point risking contact with dead human tissue and bodily fluids when a few simple precautions could more or less eliminate the possibility.

“Ready?” he asked, and Raven nodded. Together they walked to the corner of the basement where an industrial grade floor freezer had been set up against the east wall. The freezer was constructed of shiny stainless steel and its interior measured more than six feet in length and two-and-a-half feet in width, roughly the size of a casket, making it perfect for their needs. It had set him back nearly twenty-five hundred bucks. He considered the price a bargain.

Max raised the lid and gazed down at Earl Manning, now almost five days dead, his body a solid block at the bottom of the freezer. The corpse was naked from the waist up. Removing the plastic bag from their victim’s head had been messy and difficult; Max had pulled the sturdy cord so tight during their brief but deadly struggle that it had disappeared into the delicate tissue, leaving a narrow furrow running under the victim’s jawline. It resembled a ghastly necklace.

Manning’s lifeless eyes stared fixedly at the ceiling. The expression of fear, helplessness and confusion frozen onto his face made it seem as though the corpse was accusing them of his murder. Perfectly understandable, under the circumstances, Max thought. Not that it will do him any good. He’s still dead. For now.

Max looped an arm around Raven’s waist and pulled her into him. He could feel her body trembling like a tiny bird’s as she stared at the dead man. “Let’s do this,” he said, and walked to the north side of the freezer. Together they reached to the bottom. Max hooked one large hand under each of Manning’s armpits, feeling his fingers immediately begin to stiffen from the intense cold despite being encased in the gloves. Raven placed her own, more delicate hands under the dead man’s ankles.

Max counted to three and they hauled the body up and out of the freezer. It rose with surprising ease, with their victim’s weight distributed relatively evenly along his nearly six foot frame. It was similar to lifting a heavy wooden plank. They began walking the corpse slowly across the basement floor.

They worked in silence, the only sound an occasional grunt from Raven as she struggled to balance the dead man’s lower half. When they reached the tarp, they bent and set the cadaver on its back in the middle, then stopped back to catch their breath. Manning had been a perfect fit inside the industrial freezer, filling it lengthwise, his shoulders clearing the side walls with a couple of inches to spare, almost as if he had been measured for it.

Now, however, the body looked small and lost, positioned in the middle of the mostly empty basement atop the oversized tarp. Its empty eyes stared steadfastly upward as if beseeching God—or anyone else who might be paying attention—to explain what was going on here. If God had an answer, though, he kept it to himself.

A thin layer of sparkling frost which had built up over Manning’s body now began to melt, giving him the appearance of a sweating athlete, which Max found amusing. Earl Manning’s days of heavy physical exertion—if there had ever been any—were long past, a fact demonstrated by his thin arms and generally scrawny build.

Max picked up a Black and Decker cordless rechargeable drill, which he had placed in a line of tools on the floor next to the tarp. He squeezed the trigger, listening to the satisfying whine of the motor. The drill was fully charged and ready for use. He straddled the slab of frozen flesh, one knee on either side of the subject’s waist, and placed the tip of the drill bit in the center of the chest, just below the sternum.

He squeezed the trigger again, exerting a steady downward pressure, and in a matter of seconds had punched a small hole through the mass of unyielding bone and tissue. Backing the drill out of the hole, Acton set it aside and reached for the next tool, a cordless rechargeable jigsaw, also fully powered and ready to use. Raven crouched on her knees next to Max, watching quietly, obsessive fascination glittering in her emerald-green eyes.

Max smiled at her, then slid the jigsaw’s blade into the hole in Earl Manning’s chest and began cutting. He sliced the flesh in a straight line to the top of the rib cage, the saw’s motor screaming in protest, almost as if speaking for the dead man who could not. The frozen tissue gave way grudgingly but steadily, and after a few moments, Acton withdrew the saw, placing it on the floor next to the drill. He had begun to sweat from the exertion, despite being seated astride what was essentially a six foot long ice cube.

After a moment to catch his breath, Max picked up a rib spreader, a frightening-looking contraption consisting of a pair of heavy metal bars placed side by side, each one widening out to a flat surface with a curved lip. The two bars were connected at their base by a third bar, adjustable along a corrugated track by a large thumbscrew. Max rested on his haunches atop the lifeless Earl Manning, holding the spreader in his right hand. He smiled again at Raven. “Having fun?” he asked. She smiled back tremulously and said nothing.

Squinting in concentration, Max leaned down and placed the twin bars of the rib spreader into his crude incision, positioning each lip snugly against the dead man’s ribs. Then he began turning the oversized thumbscrew, literally spreading Manning’s ribs apart inside his frozen chest.

It was hard work, made even more difficult by the body’s frozen state. Max began to breathe heavily and Raven asked, “Why did we have to freeze him? Wouldn’t this have gone much smoother with a normal body?”

Max wiped the back of one gloved hand across his forehead. “Sure, it would have been easier. But I froze him for two reasons. Doing it this way is not as messy; there are no nasty bodily fluids running all over the place. It makes clean-up a lot easier. That is the secondary benefit.”

Raven nodded. “What’s the primary benefit, then?”

“The main reason we froze him, sweetheart, is because I want to delay the inevitable decomposition of our friend Mr. Manning for absolutely as long as possible. We are only going to have a finite amount of time to accomplish what needs to be done, and every minute counts. So by freezing him, we are left with a body in as close to its original state as possible.”

“But won’t the freezing and thawing cause damage to his body?”

“He’s dead, remember? Who cares?”

“Of course I remember he’s dead, I just wondered if the tissue damage would cause problems for us down the line.”

“I hope not, but who really knows? This is uncharted territory, my dear.” Max pursed his lips and resumed cranking, moving the metal arms steadily apart, spreading the corpse’s ribs wider and wider. A Crack! split the air and Raven jumped. Max chuckled and continued cranking, breaking more ribs, one after the other, until the opening in Manning’s chest was wide enough to serve his purpose.

He reached inside and grasped his victim’s frozen heart firmly with his left hand. With his right he picked up a surgeon’s scalpel and began slicing muscle tissue, arteries and blood vessels. He started with the pulmonary veins and arteries, making clean incisions with a steady hand. Then he raised the scalpel, sliced through the thicker inferior vena cava, and finished with the superior vena cava at the top.

The victim’s heart was now separated completely from his body. Max lifted it out of the frozen chest and held it up for Raven’s inspection. She showed no reaction. He shrugged and stood, holding the muscle carefully in both hands, and walked to a small table set up along the wall near the industrial freezer.

A box adorned with beautiful, intricate animal carvings had been placed squarely in the center of the table. It was the prize Max had gone to so much trouble to procure three months ago in Arizona. Next to it was a similar box, although much plainer. Both lids were standing open. Inside the fancy box was the strange, perfectly smooth grey stone recently liberated from Don Running Bear, and inside the plain box was a sealable quart-sized plastic freezer bag.

Max slid the heart inside the bag and zipped it tightly shut, then placed the bagged heart into the plain box. He closed both lids and secured the latches.

“What do we do now?” Raven asked, glancing at the frozen body of Earl Manning, prone atop the tarp, chest gaping open like it had suffered an explosion from within.

“Now we wait.”

__________
 
Tomorrow will feature Chapter Seven. REVENANT is a 75,000 word novel which works as Book Two in the Paskagankee series and also as a stand-alone supernatural suspense novel. It's priced at $3.99. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

REVENANT excerpt: Chapter 3, 4 and 5

Happy Fourth of July! I'm celebrating by featuring Chapter Three, Four and Five of my brand-new novel REVENANT today.

If you're just now checking it out, you can catch up by reading the prologue, Chapter One and Chapter Two before starting if you'd like.

Here you go!




3


Earl Manning stepped reluctantly through the front door and into the living room of the creepy old home. He supposed when the house was new the room would have been considered a parlor—that was what his grandmother would have called it, and they were probably from the same era—but as a guy who did his growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s, it was a living room. The space was wide-open but stuffy, as if whoever lived here hadn’t opened a window in decades.

And it was empty. Not one piece of furniture had been set up. No TV, no couch, no rugs or carpets; nothing. Just a cavernous shell of a room.

Under different circumstances Earl might have found the emptiness unsettling, but not tonight. Tonight Earl Manning was suffering the early stages of a monster hangover, and smacking his head on the side of the Porsche hadn’t helped. Plus—and here was the worst part—Earl had no idea where the hell he was or what the hell he was doing here, although he had pretty much concluded by now that he wasn’t going to get laid by one of the most beautiful, sexy women he had ever seen inside the boundaries of Paskagankee, Maine. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

In fact, although he didn’t know what was about to happen, Earl guessed it wasn’t going to be good. He reached for his cell phone. It was gone. That traitorous bitch Raven must have appropriated it while he was passed out in the car. Or maybe he had left it at the Ridge Runner; he couldn’t remember. Damn, it’s hard to think when you’re halfway between drunk and sober.

But Earl knew one thing: he had had enough. He came here thinking he would be alone with Raven, and instead the shadowy-looking man had forced him inside this house. Looking at it now, he concluded that allowing the guy to push him around had been a mistake. He should have stood up for himself immediately.

Well, it wasn’t too late. He could still fix their wagon. He would simply refuse to move another inch until the shadowy man or, preferably, Raven explained to his satisfaction just what the hell they thought they were doing. Not one inch.

Earl walked roughly six feet into the living room that might have been called a parlor by his grandmother and stopped, turning to voice his objection to this whole charade, to complain about being treated like a sap by that little black-haired bitch. He spread his feet and set his shoulders, wobbling thanks to all the alcohol coursing through his system. He turned, ready to demand some answers, to know just what in the holy hell this was all about, and as he did, the shadowy man stepped up close, too close, violating his personal space.

The man whipped his right hand over his head in a circular motion like Pete Townshend making his guitar scream during the concert by The Who Earl had seen down in Portland in ‘96, only instead of holding a guitar pick in his hand like Townshend he held a large plastic bag. The bag fluttered through the air and down over Earl’s head and Earl immediately had two thoughts: 1) It really is true that alcohol dulls your reflexes, and 2) It appeared he would be doing the screaming instead of a guitar.

A heavy length of twine, almost but not quite a rope, had been threaded through the mouth of the plastic bag, and after yanking the bag over Earl’s head, the man pulled the ends apart like a garrote. The bag closed neatly around Earl’s neck just under his jawline. In his panic Earl drew in a deep breath to scream, knowing somewhere inside his Budweiser-addled brain that he was making a mistake, that it was the absolute worst thing he could do, but he did it anyway. He couldn’t help himself.

The bag sucked into his open mouth and Earl gagged and coughed it back out. He shook his head violently back and forth as if registering extreme dissatisfaction with this turn of events, which, in a way, was exactly what he was doing. He struck out with his fists, not punching as much as flailing wildly, and felt a millisecond of satisfaction when he connected solidly with some part of the man’s body, although which part he hit, he had no idea and didn’t much care.

After that tiny victory, though, things went downhill fast. Earl stopped flailing and grabbed with both hands at the twine/rope being pulled with steadily increasing pressure around his neck, cutting off his air supply and digging into the soft skin, but it was useless. The shadowy man had all of the leverage, plus he was younger, stronger and presumably sober to boot.

It ain’t a fair fight, thought Earl, realizing immediately it would be a stretch to call it a fight at all. Then all conscious thought departed. He thrashed and grunted and sucked the bag into his mouth again, coughing it out again, his lungs screaming for oxygen, his body weakening by the second, his panicked reaction growing even less effective.

He felt his extremities tingling, he was losing feeling in his hands and feet. All of a sudden he could feel his bladder release. Urine, hot and wet and humiliating, soaked his jeans at the exact moment he began falling toward the dingy hardwood floor.

His head struck the floor and he heard something crack and was surprised to discover he didn’t feel any pain. Didn’t feel anything at all, in fact, other than a warm, sort of fuzzy ambivalence. Turned out dying was a lot like getting drunk. Earl thought that in some ways it was a damned shame you could only do it once.

Panic subsided and serene acceptance took its place and Earl’s last thought before the blackness descended like a shroud was that he would never have imagined in a million years that he would die on a stranger’s parlor floor.





4

Max turned to Raven, whose gaze was glued to the prone body of Earl Manning. She was moaning and breathing heavily and a shudder wracked her body as she licked her bright red lips. Max smiled. He enjoyed watching Raven’s reaction to violent death almost as much as he enjoyed the actual killing. It was always the same and yet it never lost its appeal.

He stared until she turned her attention from the unmoving victim to him. A sheen of sweat coated her angelic face and her eyes were glazed. She swallowed heavily and Max said, “Shall we celebrate?”





5

Mike McMahon lifted his hat and raked his hand through his thick brown hair, shaking his head in frustration. He slid into a booth at the Katahdin Diner and placed the hat on the seat next to him before glancing across the table at Sharon Dupont. “I don’t know how many times we need to have this conversation,” he said. “Listen closely: You are a valuable member of this police force and I need you on it.”

The sun shone through the window next to the table and waitresses hurried back and forth carrying trays piled high with silverware, food and coffee, somehow managing to avoid running each other down. This was the breakfast rush, the Katahdin’s busiest time of the day.

Sharon shrugged. “You need me on the force? That’s bullshit. The truth of the matter is I’m more trouble than I’m worth, and you know it. I’m a double-whammy: a low-time officer with little practical law enforcement experience who is sleeping with her superior. The first half of that equation is an annoyance, but the second half will get you fired once the Town Council gets off their asses and decides to take action. They’ve looked the other way about us seeing each other to this point only because they wanted a steady hand to guide the department after last fall and the whole fiasco with Chief Court supposedly murdering all those people.

“I still can’t believe anyone in this town bought that load of crap, especially after everything Walter Court did for Paskagankee. The idea that he single-handedly ripped a bunch of people apart with his bare hands is simply ludicrous. But the point is, sooner or later the public fascination with the murders will die down—I think we’re just about there—and when it does, the council will decide our living arrangements are unacceptable, and they’ll move to terminate you.”

Mike sighed and placed his hand gently over Sharon’s arm. “I know you were close to Wally Court, and there’s no question his reputation took a beating in the official investigation, but what choice did the State Police have, really? Would anyone, anywhere have believed the truth—that the aggrieved spirit of a dead Abenaki mother had been reawakened and was wreaking havoc as vengeance for her baby’s murder more than three centuries ago? Hell, I was there, I saw the thing with my own eyes, fought with it, and sometimes I still have a hard time believing it.”

“But, still—“

“—And don’t forget,” Mike interrupted, “Chief Court is dead and gone, so he can’t defend himself. Add to that the fact he didn’t have any close living relatives to demand answers to all the unexplained questions, and the result is that he’s going to remain the scapegoat, no matter how either of us feels about it.”

“Until Melissa Manheim’s book comes out, that is.”

Mike snorted, half in amusement and half in frustration. “Okay, Manheim the Maneater knows exactly what happened in that cabin out in the woods, but my question remains the same—who’s going to believe it? Her book is going to be viewed as the hysterical ranting of an attention-grabbing reporter trying to make a name for herself—“

“—which she is,” they said simultaneously, and laughed.

“But that doesn’t change the truthfulness of her account,” Sharon pointed out.

“Truth? The truth is whatever people want to believe,” Mike answered. “And most people aren’t going to buy the whole reanimated spirit angle that Manheim the Maneater is selling, whether she’s a star reporter for the Portland Journal or not. And whether it’s the truth or not.”

A young waitress cleared her throat and the pair looked up at her in startled surprise. It was clear from the confused half-smile on the waitress’s face that she had heard at least some of their conversation and had no idea how to react to it. “Are you ready to order?” she asked hesitantly.

Mike deferred to Sharon, who ordered a half-grapefruit with apple juice and coffee, and then Mike added, “A Lumberjack Special with a large black coffee for me, please.” The waitress wrote it all down on a small pad and walked away, clearly relieved to be hearing words that made sense again.

“Anyway,” Mike continued, “my point—which I don’t believe I made before we got sidetracked with talk about Wally Court and Melissa Manheim—was that I don’t give a rat’s ass about the Town Council. I think you know me well enough by now to understand that. And as far as being a ‘low-time officer with little practical law enforcement experience,’ how the hell do you think you get experience? You work the job! I was a ‘low-time officer with little practical experience’ at one point, too, but I worked the job, day after day, and you know what happened? Eventually I gained the experience and wasn’t viewed as a rookie anymore.”

He shot her an earnest look and she shook her head glumly. She appeared ready to say something then stopped and stared at the table as the waitress reappeared, her tray piled high. No one said a word as the young woman unloaded their meals and then walked away.

Mike blew on his coffee, sending tendrils of steam dancing away on an invisible air current. “Don’t quit the force on me,” he continued. “You’re going to be a damned fine police officer some day; you’re already much better than you give yourself credit for. Plus, I need somebody to watch my back around here. It may not seem like it with all that’s happened since I took this job, but I’m still the new guy in town, and I have no real idea who’s going to back me up in this department—besides you, that is—and who will throw my ass to the wolves the first chance they get. Don’t quit,” he said again.

“I’m not talking about quitting the force,” she replied quietly. “I’m passionate about law enforcement, I have been since my very first day at the FBI Academy, and I know some day I can be a good officer. I want to be a good officer. I want to be an officer like you,” she said simply. She looked everywhere but at Mike and he began to feel uneasy.

“Then what are we talking about? I thought you were worried about the Town Council. If you’re not thinking about quitting the force, then . . .” Mike grew silent as the impact of what she wasn’t saying began to dawn on him. “You don’t mean . . .”

Sharon nodded miserably. “Yes,” she whispered. “I think we should stop seeing each other. It’s the only solution that makes sense.” She raised her gaze from the plate on the table to look up at Mike. Her eyes were red-rimmed and moist.

“Shari, we can work this out, there’s got to be another way.”

“This town needs you, and it’s going to need you even more when Manheim’s damned book comes out and when filming begins on the movie being made out of the book. Once those things happen, every kook in the northeastern United States is going to trek to Paskagankee, Maine to see the place where the cursed spirit butchered a half-dozen people. We need someone in charge who understands what really went down and who has a good, strong head on his shoulders. That person is you.”

“Shari, let’s slow down a little, okay? Why don’t we wait until the Town Council makes a move and then try to figure out the best way to respond?” He saw the pretty young officer shaking her head, her short black hair framing her face in the way he loved, and stopped.

“No,” she insisted. “We can’t wait. If we wait for the Town Council to make the first move it will be too late. Once they fire you they’ll never reconsider. We have to head off that possibility now. Besides, the uncertainty is too painful. I can’t live this way, knowing that at any moment you could lose your job because of me.”

Mike sat unmoving, his hand hanging in the air halfway to his coffee cup. Things had seemed almost normal this morning as they dressed for work. Sure, Sharon had been quiet, but he assumed she was simply suffering one of the lingering headaches that had plagued her off and on since her emergency brain surgery last fall.

“Besides,” Sharon added, trying to smile but failing, wiping away a tear with the back of her hand. “I’ll still get to see you at work, right? We’ll still see each other pretty much every day. We’ll still have that.” A sob wrenched her tiny frame and she stood, jostling the table in her haste and sloshing her juice into her grapefruit. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I have to go.” She grabbed her hat and rushed out of the diner.

Mike watched her leave, stunned by the suddenness of this development, and then pushed his plate away, no longer hungry. Outside he could hear the door to Sharon’s cruiser slam shut and then the rumbling of the engine as she backed out of her space and exited the parking lot. The engine noise faded away and then Mike was alone.

__________
 
Tomorrow will feature Chapter Six. REVENANT is a 75,000 word novel which works as Book Two in the Paskagankee series and also as a stand-alone supernatural suspense novel. It's priced at $3.99. Thanks for reading!




Tuesday, July 3, 2012

REVENANT excerpt: Chapter Two

Day three of my week of REVENANT previews brings Chapter Two. If you're just checking it out now, you might want to read the prologue and Chapter One first... [;

Here's Chapter Two:

2


“Help me with him, for crying out loud,” Raven grumbled. “He might look like a bag of bones but he’s still heavy!”

Max Acton ignored the petulance in her tone and strolled out the front door of the crumbling, two-story Victorian home. He had watched from the living room window as she leapt from the driver’s seat of the Porsche with her peculiar, cat-like grace and crossed in front of the car to the passenger’s side. Now he smiled in amusement at the sight of the tiny young woman grabbing their sleeping target by both shoulders and shaking him awake, tugging on his arms insistently, trying to pull him out of the vehicle.

It had taken exhaustive research followed by months of surveillance to narrow the list of potential subjects down to Earl Manning. Paskagankee was a small and isolated community, but even in a town this small, dozens of men fit the profile Acton was looking for, and selecting the proper target was not a decision to be rushed into or taken lightly.

In the end, though, it had come down to Manning. The loser in this particular sweepstake was relatively young and in apparently decent physical condition, despite years of heavy drinking. He was single, a loner with no wife or girlfriend, no steady job, and only a broken-down alcoholic mother to raise the alarm when he suddenly vanished. Max knew the cops would pay little attention to her.

The only real cause for concern regarding Earl Manning’s suitability as a test subject was his past relationship with a female Paskagankee police officer, a beautiful young woman named Sharon Dupont. The last thing Max Acton needed was some ex-lover cop digging into Manning’s disappearance, unearthing—Max smiled to himself at the pun—things that were best left undisturbed.

The more research Max conducted, though, the clearer it became that this Dupont bitch would be a non-factor. The relationship—such as it was—between the cop and Max’s chosen test subject had taken place years before, while the girl was still in high school, and had been based more upon a shared passion for alcohol and getting high than on any kind of mutual love or respect. Dupont had gone on to straighten her life out, eventually attending the FBI Academy before eventually returning to Paskagankee to care for her terminally ill father.

Now, all indications were that Officer Sharon Dupont had become involved with the Paskagankee Chief of Police, Mike McMahon, leaving little doubt she had left her tenuous connection with Earl Manning behind forever. Of course, Max knew that if he was wrong, he would be inviting trouble of the worst sort, but the fact of the matter was that eventual police involvement was inevitable. There was no way around it. Even if they avoided arousing suspicion with Manning’s disappearance, when Max began putting his plan in motion an investigation would definitely be launched.

The goal was simply to avoid the appearance that anything was amiss for as long as possible, and to leave nothing tying Max Acton to the fallout when the authorities did become involved. Earl Manning seemed to be the subject who would best allow him to accomplish this goal, so Earl Manning it was, despite his long-ago ties to a member of the Paskagankee Police Department.

In a way, Max was comforted by his discovery of Sharon Dupont’s alcoholic past. He had seen Officer Dupont around town, and her beauty was truly breathtaking. She was perhaps the equal of Raven in the looks department and it was a rare woman who could make that claim. The connection between a pretty go-getter like Sharon Dupont and an alcoholic loser like Earl Manning had initially mystified Max. There was no accounting for taste, though, as the old saying went, and his discovery of Dupont’s alcoholism explained a lot. Addicts liked to hang together.

Max stood back a couple of paces and watched Raven struggle to remove Manning from the Porsche. The subject had been roused from his torpor but still seemed logy. Manning peered around confusedly, clearly attempting to get his bearings but just as clearly unable to do so. Max wasn’t surprised. He had leased a home in one of the most out-of-the-way, obscure little corners of an out-of-the-way, obscure little town. It was entirely possible, likely even, that Earl Manning had never seen the house or even visited this area despite being a life-long resident of Paskagankee.

Raven grabbed Manning by the elbow, yanking, pulling the drunk out of the car with surprising strength for such a delicate-looking woman. The drunken man scrabbled for purchase as he exited, trying to get his feet underneath his body, standing too soon and smacking his head against the car’s frame with a loud clunk.

“Come on baby, slow down,” he protested, rubbing one hand vigorously over what was going to be a good-sized bruise on his forehead. “We’ll get started soon enough, don’t you worry, I’m gonna—" He froze when he saw Max in the shadows and began backing up, shrugging out of Raven’s grasp. Only now did he seem to suspect that his anticipated night of passion was never going to happen. But now, of course, was much too late for this potentially life-saving insight to make any difference.

Max moved forward quickly and flanked Manning on the left, leaving Raven to steady his right elbow, and together they began escorting their guest across the driveway in front of the Porsche and up the cracked flagstone walkway toward the front door.

“What’s this all about?” the drunk sputtered, turning his attention to Raven and in the process spraying her with spittle. She grimaced and wiped a palm over her face and didn’t answer.

He looked to his left. “Who are you?” he asked Max, who didn’t have to wipe any saliva off his face but who didn’t answer, either. They were moving quickly, taking advantage of the surprise factor to hustle their guest into the house. He would be joining them inside now no matter what—that particular die had been cast the moment Manning joined the seductive Raven in the Porsche—but the farther they could move things along before he got truly frightened rather than just angry and confused, the easier and more painless the whole process would be.

At least for them.

They bum-rushed their stumbling, complaining guest up the three rotting front steps, through the door and into the house and as they did, Max withdrew a heavy plastic bag from the back pocket of his sharply creased dress pants. He moved methodically, taking his time. It would not do to drop the damned thing now that they were so close to completing the first step in the plan.

Raven continued to shepherd Manning into the living room and Max hung back after pulling the front door closed. With their guest safely inside the house, there was no need for haste. Their victim’s fate was now sealed.

__________
 
Tomorrow will feature Chapter Three. REVENANT is a 75,000 word novel which works as Book Two in the Paskagankee series and also as a stand-alone supernatural suspense novel. It's priced at $3.99. Thanks for reading!








Monday, July 2, 2012

REVENANT excerpt: Chapter One

It's Day Two of the week of excerpts from my brand-new supernatural suspense novel, REVENANT. Yesterday featured the prologue, today is
Chapter One:

1

Present day

Hank Williams—senior, not junior; the real Hank Williams—blasted through the ancient speakers of the Ridge Runner, warbling about love and loss and liquor, not necessarily in that order, his vocal stylings floating through the tavern like a little slice of down-home heaven. Earl Manning held down his usual stool and drained the last of a Budweiser, simultaneously signaling for another with his left hand as he slammed the empty mug down on the table with his right. The smoke of a dozen lit cigarettes hung thick and heavy in the unmoving stale air. Smoking in bars and restaurants was against the law in Maine, but nobody cared about such minor details inside the Ridge Runner.

Earl had lost track a couple of hours ago of how many beers he had drunk, not that it mattered. He would continue drinking until one of two things happened: He ran out of money or the bar closed. Right now the two outcomes were running neck and neck, although drinking through all his money seemed to be pulling ahead in a race that would likely come down to the wire.

Earl had been a regular at the Ridge Runner for so long no one dared consider sitting in his spot, even when he wasn’t there. Far end of the bar, wobbly two-person table kitty-corner across the room from the entrance. Close to the john, far enough from the door to be out of the firing line of the almost lethal gusts of frigid air that swept into the room any time a patron entered or exited from late October through late April, day or night. Winter was by far the longest of the four seasons in Paskagankee, Maine.

Bartender and longtime Ridge Runner owner Bo Pellerin slopped a fresh beer on the table as Billy Ray Cyrus—the real Cyrus, not wannabe rock-star daughter Miley—whined and complained about his achy-breaky heart, whatever the hell that meant. Earl Manning considered himself something of an expert in the field of achy-breaky hearts, as his last trip to the doctor, roughly three years ago, had resulted in a stern warning from the old quack to slow his drinking pace. Earl didn’t think that was what Billy Ray was talking about.

Actually, “Stop drinking entirely,” was what the quack doctor had said, “before all that alcohol kills you.” The guy spun some bullshit about mitral and tricuspid valve deficiencies and plaque buildup in the arteries—apparently Earl’s achy-breaky heart had less to do with love and loss than a weakening muscle critical to the body’s continued operation, at least if he believed the quack, which he didn’t—just before hitting him with almost a three hundred dollar charge. Earl had ignored the outrageous bill just as he had ignored the diagnosis, vowing at that time never to return to the fucking quack’s office.

That was three years ago, and look at him, still sitting at his table just beyond the far end of the bar, still drinking—more, if anything, not less—and still very much alive. Sure, he suffered from the shakes some mornings (most mornings if he was being honest with himself); and sure, there were those disconcerting moments when he had trouble catching his breath climbing a normal flight of stairs and was forced to stop and rest halfway, but that sure as hell wasn’t due to heart trouble. After all, Earl reasoned, he was only in his late twenties, and achy-breaky hearts were for geezers, Billy Ray Cyrus’s opinion on the matter notwithstanding.

The front entrance swung open and then slammed closed. Earl barely noticed. It was almost midnight and the Runner was hopping, so the damned door seemed to be on a swivel, anyway. Plus it was early summer, meaning the cold air that normally accompanied the arrival of a new patron had gone on vacation for a few months. It would be back soon enough, but for now, the only things that might have entered the bar were a new customer and a few mosquitoes, and Earl couldn’t care less about either one. As long as he could still get Bo’s attention when his thirst demanded another beer, he didn’t give a damn if Billy Ray Cyrus himself had just walked in.

His disinterest didn’t last long, though. He glanced up, bleary-eyed, and discovered it was a woman who had entered, a woman he did not recognize, and a beautiful one at that. Aside from Blanche Raskiewicz, who had been frequenting the Runner longer than Earl and whose skin was so weathered and dried out it looked like her face had been patched together out of strips of old leather, the “fairer sex” tended to stay away from the Ridge Runner. It was not an establishment that saw many female faces.

Especially female faces like this one.

The woman was young and beautiful. Long jet-black hair cascaded in waves halfway down her back, terminating in lazy ringlets a few inches north of her butt, which was accentuated in skin-tight faded jeans with no visible panty lines. Earl knew because it was the first thing he checked. His eyes might be red-rimmed from all the Budweiser and he might almost have reached the point where he would soon begin seeing double, but he was as much an expert in panty lines as he was in achy-breaky hearts, and he would have bet his miserable life this chick wasn’t wearing any.

The face framed by that black hair could fairly be described as angelic, with flawless copper skin, a delicate, slightly upturned nose and the most intense green eyes Earl had ever seen. Her mouth was a slash of vivid red as she pursed her lips in concentration, walking slowly through the crowd, clearly searching for someone specific. Ridge Runner patrons parted before the beautiful young woman like the Red Sea before Moses. She didn’t seem to notice. She was probably used to it.

She meandered through the bar and the raucous cacophony of drunken voices dimmed, eventually fading away entirely. Even the music seemed to have stopped for the time being. An occasional cough and the shuffling of boots on the dirty floor were the only sounds. Earl wondered who the lucky bastard was that she was looking for and, more importantly, why. He knew pretty much everyone in here, and all of these dumb fucks put together didn’t have the class this babe had in her little finger. That much was obvious.

Earl didn’t care how classy she was, though. He had a prime view of this chick’s pantiless ass and that was good enough for him. She had made a hard right turn after entering the bar and was moving steadily counterclockwise around the outside of the room, still searching, peering left and right as she walked. Soon she would pass directly in front of Earl’s mesmerized face and shortly after that would be right back at the front door where she started.

Obviously, the guy she was looking for wasn’t here, which was hard to believe. Earl figured if he was the lucky son of a bitch who had made plans to meet up with this hot piece of ass at the Ridge Runner, he would camp out a couple of days in advance, just to be sure he didn’t miss her. Although, in his case, that wouldn’t have meant doing much of anything different than usual. His waking hours more or less coincided with the Runner’s hours of operation, anyway.

The girl reached Earl’s rickety table and instead of continuing past as he assumed she would, she took a seat, easing onto the empty chair next to him and fixing him with a stare from those curiously green eyes. They were spellbinding, and it took a few seconds for Earl’s brain to process the fact that she had just spoken to him. “Uh . . . ‘scuse me?”

A knowing smile flitted across her face, as if she had this effect on men all the time. Probably she did. “I said hello,” she repeated. “How are you doing tonight?”

“Just great. Getting better all the time, in fact.” It finally occurred to a stunned Earl Manning that he was the one she had been searching out, as hard as that was to believe.

“Buy you a drink?” Earl asked, frantically attempting some basic math in his alcohol-addled brain. He wasn’t sure he had enough cash left to buy anything for this gorgeous specimen, but didn’t really care, either. If he couldn’t pay that asshole Bo Pellerin at closing time he would worry about it then.

“White wine would be lovely,” she said, still smiling, her eyes locked onto Earl’s. God, but they were captivating.

Earl signaled Bo and the bartender approached with a look of incredulous disbelief written all over his face. Earl figured the same look was probably on his own face. “White wine for my friend, please,” he said, wondering if anyone had ever ordered wine before inside the Ridge Runner.

For just a moment he thought Pellerin was going to make some sort of wise-ass remark. The bar’s owner didn’t, though. Instead he turned without a word and walked back behind the bar. Bo grabbed a dusty bottle Earl had never noticed before off one of the mirrored shelves and poured the contents into what Earl guessed was a wine glass. Who the hell knew? Hopefully the damned thing was at least clean, although the prospect seemed unlikely.

Bo placed the glass in front of the chick and walked away and Earl realized he had no idea what to say next. He wracked his slow-moving brain as panic threatened to overwhelm him. This was the most stunningly beautiful girl he had ever had a shot with. The only other one who even came close was that bitch Sharon Dupont, and that had been a long, long time ago, back when she was still a high school kid, years before she had kicked her drinking habit and become a cop, of all things.

His mind snapped back to the present, and to the awful knowledge that if he didn’t say something soon, preferably something suave or at the very least semi-coherent, this gorgeous babe was going to think he was mute and maybe mentally deficient, too. The only thing he could think of was, “Do you come here often?” which was pointless. For one thing he already knew the answer to that particular question, and for another he realized, even in his present state of drunkenness and rising panic, it was the most clich├ęd pickup line in the book.

She saved him.

“So, do you come here often?” she asked, and coming from her it sounded like the wittiest conversation-starter ever. Bo Pellerin dropped the wine bottle down on the bar with a thud and walked away, shaking his head as he went. The girl continued gazing at him, smiling softly, acting like he was Jake Freaking Gyllenhall or something, rather than what he was: a twenty-nine year old rail-thin raging alcoholic with bad skin and a balky heart sitting in a dive bar in the middle of God-forsaken nowhere, a rifle shot from the Canadian border.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do,” he answered, surprising himself by speaking clearly and not slurring his words. He wondered how long he could keep up that little bit of verbal gymnastics. “But I know you don’t; I would definitely have remembered you.” Earl had no idea what the hell was going down here, but he was determined to ride this train all the way to the station, and felt like he was doing a pretty damned good job so far, even if all he really was doing was hanging on for dear life and waiting to see what would happen next.

She sipped her wine and Earl gulped his beer. “I’ve been looking all over for you,” she said, as if they were a couple, rather than total strangers, as if it was perfectly normal for a model-beautiful young woman to be sitting here in the Ridge Runner chatting up a loser like Earl Manning. He was acutely aware that every man in the place—every single one—was watching them like some practical joke was being played and they didn’t want to look away because they were afraid they might miss the punch line. For just a second Earl wondered if that might be the case.

“Is that right?” he finally ventured. “Well, now that you’ve found me, what are you going to do with me?”

“Everything.” She smiled suggestively, placing her hand lightly on his arm. Earl thought briefly he might lose it right then and there, and wouldn’t that be hilarious?

“Wh-whass your name?” he asked, his diction finally betrayed by the combination of nerves and drunkenness. He was a little surprised it had taken this long.

“Raven,” she said, acting as though she didn’t notice his little slip-up, although it had to have been obvious. The young woman finally dragged her gaze away from Earl’s face and glanced disinterestedly around the bar, only now seeming to realize that they weren’t alone. Earl thought it might be the strangest thing he had ever seen. Of course, this whole bizarre episode would probably qualify.

Raven leaned over, supporting herself by placing one delicate hand in Earl’s lap, instantly bringing him dangerously close to losing it again. She whispered into his ear, “What do you say we get out of here and get started? I don’t think I can wait much longer.” Her voice was soft and girlish and Earl would have sworn her breath shuddered a little with anticipation. Or maybe that was his.

“Okay,” he agreed, rising unsteadily to his feet and reaching into his pocket. He pulled out all of his money and tossed it onto the table, not counting it, not even looking at it. He didn’t care how much was there. If it was more than he owed for this night of drinking then that asshole Pellerin could treat himself to a nice, undeserved tip.

Raven looped her arm through his and began walking toward the front door, leading Earl through the crowd of disbelieving drinkers. Again they parted at her approach and again she seemed unaware. Earl took the opportunity to slip his left hand into the left rear pocket of her jeans. They were so tight he had to work to slide it in, but he figured it was well worth the effort.

The rickety wooden screen door slammed closed as they walked into the gravel parking lot, Raven moving confidently and Earl half-stumbling along behind, hand jammed into her back pocket, feeling like a guy who has just found out he won the lottery even though he didn’t buy a ticket. The buzz of excited conversation swelled behind them and then faded with the closing of the door.

The darkness became more pronounced as the pair moved away from the dirty lighting of the tavern. Bo Pellerin had once confided in Earl that he didn’t see the need for exterior lighting in the Ridge Runner’s lot—not many women came here and most of the ones who did, well, Bo seemed to feel were better-looking in the dark, anyway. Dudes could damn well find their own way to their vehicles. Plus, floodlights were too fucking expensive to maintain.

Most of the time Earl didn’t even notice the darkness as he made his way to his fifteen-year-old Ford pickup. Hell, by closing time he was almost always blind drunk anyway, so what difference would lights make? Tonight, though, maybe as a reaction to the strange turn of events, he felt a shiver of fear worm its way into his gut. Anything could be out here. Anything.

Raven tugged insistently on his arm and, seeming to sense his trepidation, whispered, “Please lover-boy, don’t make me wait. Stop teasing me!” And just like that, Earl Manning forgot all about the darkness and what it may or may not contain.

The beautiful girl pulled him right past his truck, continuing on to a candy-apple red Porsche 911 parked at the outer edge of the lot next to the massive, looming northern Maine forest. She unlocked the passenger side door with a button on her key fob and dumped Earl into the leather bucket seat, then somehow managed to squeeze in too, falling into his lap and giving him a hard kiss, pressing her body into his.

Then she was up and gone, moving around the little car and sliding into the driver’s seat with the speed and grace of a feline. “Where are we going?” Earl asked, more out of a desire to make conversation than because he really gave a shit.

Raven smiled but didn’t immediately respond. She pressed a finger to his lips. “You’ll see soon enough, lover-boy. And I promise, this will be a night you will never forget.”

She turned the key and the engine started with a purr and the young woman gunned the Porsche out of the lot, spraying gravel, peppering the vehicles—mostly pickup trucks—clustered outside the bar. Earl Manning’s last thought before he fell asleep was that this whole bizarre episode was like some teenager’s wet dream.

__________


Tomorrow will feature Chapter Two. REVENANT is a 75,000 word novel which works as Book Two in the Paskagankee series and also as a stand-alone supernatural suspense novel. It's priced at $3.99. Thanks for reading!



Sunday, July 1, 2012

REVENANT Excerpt: Prologue

Back in January, I released a novel about a three hundred year old Native American curse holding a tiny, isolated town in northern Maine hostage, called PASKAGANKEE. When I wrote the manuscript, I envisioned at least a three book series of supernatural occurrences afflicting the poor townspeople of Paskagankee, Maine.

The second book in the series in now here. REVENANT is a 75,000 word novel which continues the story of beleaguered police chief Mike McMahon and beautiful young patrol officer Sharon Dupont. In this go-around, a murderous, power-hungry cult leader steals a sacred Navajo ceremonial stone possessing a frightening power. Throw in a Seattle software billionaire and a super-secret software program developed for the U.S. Department of Defense and the result is a terrifying ride through your worst nightmare.

Revenant works both as Book Two in the PASKAGANKEE series, but also as a stand-alone supernatural suspense novel. It is not necessary to read PASKAGANKEE to enjoy REVENANT.

Over the next week I will be spotlighting a chapter a day, so you can check the book out if you think it might be something you would enjoy.

Without further ado, here is the prologue to REVENANT:


PROLOGUE


Three months ago

Don Running Bear’s brakes screeched out a complaint as he pulled to a stop at the end of his dusty driveway. He shut down the engine and his ancient Chevy pickup kicked and bucked like a temperamental stallion, eventually giving up the ghost and wheezing into silence.

He sat in the cab and mopped his face with a well-worn handkerchief. Faded renderings of sacred Navajo animals covered the light cotton, dulled by the passage of time from white to a sickly greyish-brown. The hankie had been a gift from his grandfather and was now threadbare and clearly past the end of its useful life. Don knew he should take some action to preserve it, maybe store it between the pages of a book or something, but he had used the damn thing for as long as he could remember and could not imagine going through even a single day without being able to touch the only remaining link to the man he so admired.

The temperature outside the pickup had soared to well over one hundred degrees, which meant inside the truck it was probably close to one-forty, but Don was in no hurry to get into his house, despite the fact the air conditioning would provide a welcome respite from this blast-furnace heat. Don needed to think, and to do that he had to be alone. So he sat in his truck, barely noticing the sweat running down his weathered copper face.

Don Running Bear was worried. He hadn’t been sleeping well, being assaulted nightly by dreams filled with violence and bloodshed, nightmares which were clearly meant as a sign. And worse, the problem was not that he didn’t understand the significance of his terrible dreams, but rather that he feared he did. In these visions, all of them disturbingly similar, a beautiful young Navajo girl wrought death and destruction, murdering strangers and cracking open their cold corpses, plunging her tiny hand inside their chests, ripping out the hearts of her victims, then turning to dust and disappearing.

In these horrifying dreams, the identity of the young girl refused to reveal itself to Don, although she seemed strangely familiar and he knew he should recognize her. Each morning he awoke trembling, drenched in sweat, certain that with just a little extra effort he might be able to identify the girl, and maybe then begin to decipher the meaning of the nightmares. But so far, her face had remained elusive.

Don wished he could turn back time and salvage a few hours with his grandfather. Niyol Running Bear had died more than a decade ago, and with his passing, so too had many of the mystical secrets of the tribal medicine man been lost. Niyol had adamantly refused to share his wisdom and knowledge with his son, Nastas—Don’s father—saying only that the knowledge was explosive and dangerous and he would not involve his family in any more of it than necessary.

Nastas had died young, killed in a horrific car crash driving drunk at a high rate of speed on the reservation, leaving only Don and his grandfather, and when Niyol had become seriously ill, he had reluctantly entrusted a very valuable relic—a stone—to Don, telling him only that it was to be hidden and protected at all costs, that it was sacred, imbued with ungodly power, magical and fearsome and terrible.

Don had been thinking a lot recently of both his grandfather and the stone. He wondered if the nightmares he had begun experiencing were somehow related to one or both of them. He suspected they were, but since his grandfather had never gone into specifics regarding the danger the stone represented or its awesome power, Don could do no more than guess. But the very fact he associated his dreams with the stone after Niyol had been gone a decade illustrated the impression the old man had made.

Don Running Bear sighed and stepped out of his truck. Dwelling on the dreams and their possible relation to the sacred stone, long tucked securely away, was pointless without further information, and he had no way of acquiring that information. He vowed to let it go, to forget about the damned stone, but he had made that vow hundreds of times, probably thousands, and knew he would never be able to follow through on it. The hot, dry wind which seemed to blow endlessly across the plains raised little eddies of dust around his shoes as he trudged across the front yard.

He stepped through the front door into the cool stillness of his small home, distracted and upset. He made it two full steps inside the house and then froze in confusion and fear. Seated directly across the room, facing the door so there was no way Don could miss the sight of them, were his wife and teenage daughter. They had been fastened to matching kitchen chairs placed side by side, immobilized by thick strips of shiny silver duct tape wound around their wrists and ankles. Don regarded his family in surprise and they stared back in terror, eyes bulging, utterly silent despite the fact they had not been gagged.

Behind the two women, looming over them in a stool taken from the breakfast bar in the kitchen, was a middle-aged man Don had never seen before. The silver haired intruder displayed a long, curved knife, holding it above Eagle Wing’s and Kai’s heads, turning it slowly in the air so that the sunlight pouring through the window winked and glittered off the polished blade’s surface. If the man was trying to get Don’s attention, his efforts had been terrifyingly successful.

For a long moment no one moved. Time seemed to stretch into infinity. The stranger lowered the knife blade so that its razor-sharp point pressed against the soft skin of his younger captive’s throat.

Eagle Wing gasped softly and Don finally spoke. “What’s going on here?” He worked hard to keep his voice strong and calm, fearing he knew the answer to the question but asking it anyway. Sometimes life’s little dramas must play out according to a script written by fate. He forced himself to direct his full attention at the man, not because he wanted to, but because he suspected that to do otherwise would be consigning his family to death.

“It’s very simple,” the stranger said, maintaining a steady pressure with the knife-blade at Eagle Wing’s throat. “An item of great value was entrusted to your care many years ago. You’re going to give it to me.”

Don had an instant to decide how to respond. What were the odds the man with the knife was talking about anything other than the sacred Navajo stone? Essentially nil. But for the heavy weight of responsibility his grandfather had laid on his shoulders, Don Running Bear was an ordinary Native American man living an ordinary life. He was the proprietor of the reservation’s General Store, a nearly invisible forty year old man who owned nothing of monetary value, certainly nothing worth breaking into his home and threatening murder to get.

Nothing except the stone.

And it was imperative the stone never see the light of day.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said evenly, and as he did, the man’s lips hardened into a thin bloodless line and he flicked his right wrist, drawing the tip of the knife-blade half an inch across Eagle Wing’s throat. Blood welled sluggishly out of a tiny gash. Eagle Wing drew in a breath, a short, panicked gasp, but seemed to realize instinctively that to scream, or even to move, would be to risk suffering much greater damage, perhaps even death.

Kai Running Bear knew no such thing. Don’s wife let loose a roar of rage and fear, thrashing helplessly in her chair in a desperate attempt to launch herself at the silver-haired man harming her child. The man rotated his left arm at the elbow, still holding the knife to Eagle Wing’s throat, and drove his fist into Kai’s face. The crack of her cheekbone shattering was followed by a dull thud as the chair and its suddenly unconscious occupant smashed backward onto the living room floor.

Don rushed forward instinctively, stopping only when the man with the knife leapt from the stool and screamed, “Come any closer and she dies!” and Don knew he meant what he said. The stranger’s eyes were black and determined and devoid of any shred of compassion or empathy. He might as well have been a Diamondback coiled under a rock in the desert, alert and lurking, prepared to strike.

For one second, then two, the men faced each other, locked in a silent standoff. Kai lay motionless on the floor, duct-taped to her toppled chair, her face already beginning to swell hideously. Eagle Wing panted, the point of the knife pressed into her throat, her body shaking as it reacted to the stress and the pain of the knife wound, as well as the sight of her unconscious and badly injured mother.

“Now,” the man said almost conversationally, “the next few seconds will determine the fate of your entire family. Do not make the mistake of assuming I won’t simply murder all three of you. I know that the object I seek is here somewhere; you would never risk storing it anywhere else. If necessary, I will kill you all and then conduct my own search at my leisure. So I ask one final time: Where is it?”

Don wondered what his grandfather would have done. The danger the stone represented was monumental; he could not allow it to fall into this man’s hands. But he would not allow his family to be butchered, either. In the end it was an easy decision; it was no decision at all.

Don held his hands in front of his face, palms out, willing the stranger to relax. He could see the knife blade bobbing in a steady rhythm against the soft skin of Eagle Wing’s throat, keeping time with her elevated pulse. “You win. I’ll do as you wish,” he said quietly. He began sliding sideways across the room, moving on the balls of his feet, hands still suspended in front of his face, never taking his eyes off the man with the knife.

At the far end of the room he stopped in front of a flat-screen television placed atop an imitation wood-grain TV table. The table supporting the television was mounted on casters and Don bent at the waist, wrapped his arms around the table, and rolled it heavily to the side. The intruder watched from behind Eagle Wing’s chair, his face expressionless, his reptilian eyes taking it all in. On the floor, Kai moaned and shuddered and then once again fell still.

Don knelt down on the spot formerly occupied by the TV table and hooked his fingers under what appeared at first glance to be a knot in the oak flooring. He lifted his hand and a hidden two-foot by two-foot hinged wooden square rose noiselessly, appearing as if out of nowhere. Bolted to the support beams beneath the floor with a pair of heavy iron bands was a personal safe, installed so that the safe’s door opened upward into the room upon removal of the trap door.

Don hesitated, still searching for a way out of this predicament that didn’t involve releasing the sacred stone to this stranger. He could think of only one. He glanced up at the man, sighed, and punched a series of numbers into a small alphanumeric keypad built into the safe’s door. Then he twisted a heavy handle and the lock gave way with an authoritative clunk that Don knew would be audible all the way across the room in the heavy silence.

He pulled open the door and reached inside. The safe’s contents were mostly obscured by shadows but it didn’t matter. The heavy steel box contained only two items and Don knew the positions of both in the darkness of the safe like he knew the back of his hand. He bent down, maneuvering his body so that its bulk formed a barrier between the stranger and the safe. At least he hoped it did, or else he was condemning his beloved daughter, his only child, to a sudden and painful death.

Don withdrew the two items simultaneously. One was a perfectly square wooden box, roughly ten inches by ten inches. It could have been a cigar box on steroids. Intricate Native American carvings of Southwestern animals decorated all sides of the box, similar in style and rendering to the ones adorning Don’s treasured bandanna. He lifted that item slowly and carefully with his left hand, while slipping the other item into the right front pocket of his cargo pants, praying the movement would go unnoticed. Then he stood and turned.

The man removed his knife from Eagle Wing’s throat for a moment and flicked his wrist, much as he had done moments ago when he nicked her, only this time he waved the knife in the air, indicating Don should bring him the box. He said nothing.

Don trudged across the room while the man returned the knife to its previous location, nestling it just under his daughter’s jawline. Don noted with relief that the cut the man had made was mostly for show; it had nearly stopped bleeding already. But there was little doubt he could end her life at any moment if he so desired.

Don stopped directly in front of Eagle Wing’s chair. Her eyes were closed and she was making an obvious effort to breathe normally. He was filled with pride for his sixteen year old child’s demonstration of composure and inner strength. He knew his grandfather would have been proud of her as well.

“Open it,” the man commanded.

Slowly, with extreme reluctance, as if by drawing the moment out he might somehow be able to prevent it from happening, Don lifted the hinged lid.

Inside the box was a stone, larger than a baseball but only slightly. The stone was perfectly round and smooth, as though it had been lovingly polished by its owner until it gleamed, although it had not been. He was aware of no more than a small portion of the stone’s history, but the knowledge he had was enough to give Don Running Bear a healthy respect for its fearsome power. He had opened the box only rarely, and never for more than a few minutes at a time, since Eagle Wing was a very young girl.

The man’s cold eyes flicked from the contents of the box to Don’s face and back again. “Is that it? It just looks like a rock.”

“You think I would keep an ordinary rock locked up in a hidden safe?”

The man gazed at Don, taking stock. Don stood impassively, the box held out in front of him, waiting. “You understand what will happen to your family if I am being misled.” It was not a question.

Don shook his head in frustration. “You’re not being misled, I told you that already.”

“Do you understand what will happen to your family if I am being misled?”

“Yes, yes, I understand! Please, if the stone is what you’re after, just take it and go, so I can tend to my wife and child. They need me.”

The stranger’s eyes bored into Don’s and for a long time neither man spoke. Nobody moved. Eagle Wing sat still under the knife blade, although her eyes were now open. They were trusting and guileless as she watched her father. Don loved those eyes. On the floor, Kai groaned and twitched, pulling against her bindings. She was still unconscious but would be coming around shortly and would need medical attention for the shattered bones in her face.

At last the man seemed satisfied. “Put the box over there,” he said, indicating a small butcher-block end table adorned with only a lamp. The table was located between the couch and the front door. Don eased the box’s lid closed, relieved not to have to look at its contents any longer, and turned his back, walking slowly toward the couch and placing the box next to the lamp as instructed.

“Now, go back to the safe. Close it and lock it and lower the trap door.” After Don had complied, the man said, “Roll the TV table back where it belongs,” and he did that, too.

“Now, stand in the corner.” Don moved to the point in the room opposite the front door. He hoped the stranger would not force him to turn around and face the wall. If he did, all would be lost. He arrived in the corner and stood facing the man, who said nothing about turning around.

The man withdrew the knife from Eagle Wing’s throat and Don breathed a sigh of relief. He had feared the intruder would try to kill them all before leaving with the box, but it seemed the man realized he would be in for the fight of his life if he murdered Don’s daughter in front of his eyes, and it appeared he wanted simply to take the box and make his escape.

The stranger slid off the stool, knife held chest-level between his body and Eagle Wing’s. He sidled around her chair and then began backing toward the door, never taking his eyes off Don Running Bear.

Don waited, not moving, forcing himself to maintain his impassive appearance, wondering how the hell he was managing to do it when his heart was hammering in his chest like a freight train pounding across the desert floor. At some point, the man with the knife was going to have to turn slightly to open the door, and Don had decided that was when he would make his move.

The stranger arrived at the end table, moving slowly and cautiously. He bent and hefted the wooden box containing the mystical stone. “It’s lighter than I would have expected,” he announced to Don, who said nothing in return. Then the man swiveled his head to the right, reaching for the knob to open the front door.

The moment the man turned his head, Don snaked his right hand into his pocket and grasped the Colt .38 revolver he had removed from the safe. His plan, if you could call it that, was to rip his grandfather’s gun out of his pocket and fire in one smooth motion, hopefully putting the man down. Even if he missed with the first shot, Don reasoned, the suddenness of the attack should catch the man by surprise, giving him the opportunity to fire again before the man could move in and either gut him with the knife or slice Eagle Wing’s throat open. Not a perfect plan, not by a long shot, but it was the best he could come up with.

And it might even have worked.

Except the gun’s hammer snagged on the metal ring holding the General Store’s keys. The ring hung from his belt loop and as Don pulled the big pistol out of his pocket, the hammer caught on it for an instant, not a long time at all, maybe half a second, but it was enough to twist the barrel toward the floor where Kai lay taped to her chair.

Don cursed, yanking the gun up toward its target and squeezing the trigger. Against all odds, he hit the exact spot he was aiming for, too, but the man with the knife was no longer there. He had dived toward the floor and into the middle of the room the moment he saw the Colt appear. His reflexes were razor-sharp. The wooden box fell off the table and the stone rolled out of it, spinning on the floor like a top.

A loud Boom! shook the tiny house on its foundation and the acrid smell of smoke filled the air. A ragged, splintered hole appeared in the front door where until a split second ago the man had been standing. Don cursed again without realizing he was doing it and adjusted his aim, preparing to fire a second shot, knowing everything was going to hell, knowing he was already too late.

The man rolled onto his back, less than a foot behind the injured Kai Running Bear. He flipped the knife in his hand, grabbing it by the blade without even looking at it, and with one smooth, easy motion, fired it at Don, who tried to flinch out of the way but didn’t stand a chance. The knife rocketed through the air with stunning speed, striking Don in the middle of the chest.

Pain blasted through his rib cage and he felt his arm go numb as he toppled to the floor. He heard the big Colt clatter to the floor as well, sliding across the polished oak and coming to rest in the corner.

The stranger rose and stepped calmly over Kai, whose eyelids were fluttering and who appeared to be on the verge of regaining consciousness just as her husband lost it. Don watched helplessly as the man stopped above him. The stranger stared for a moment, a contemptuous sneer on his hard face, then reached down and pulled the knife out of Don’s chest, twisting it viciously as he did so. Don screamed in pain and saw blood spurt frighteningly from the wound. Somewhere in the background he could hear Eagle Wing screaming as well, like they were performing some crazy duet from hell.

The man wiped the knife blade on Don’s shirt, which was already becoming soaked with his own blood. He retraced his path, stepping over Kai again, and picked up the stone. He replaced it in the ornate wooden box and secured the lid. Then he calmly looked the room over one more time and stepped through the front door.

The last thing Don Running Bear heard before losing consciousness was the rumble of an engine starting up and a car driving slowly away.

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Tomorrow will feature Chapter One. REVENANT is a 75,000 word novel which works as Book Two in the Paskagankee series and also as a stand-alone supernatural suspense novel. It's priced at $3.99. Thanks for reading!