Radical Action is available at Amazon.com. Check out this excerpt from Chapter 6!
The suspension on the mountain bike reverberated from the relentless descent of the Scout Trail. With teeth rattling, Colt squeezed the brake levers and slid into a sharp switch-back turn. At the right instant, he hopped his back tire to the outside, changing direction. A steep path studded with rocks and roots loomed ahead, ready to punish rider and bike alike.
Colt charged forward. With the skill of a trials rider, he negotiated the obstacle course constructed by nature. His movements were instinctive, refined with balance and timing. Reaching a smoother stretch of trail, he cranked hard and the bike shot down toward the next challenge that stood between him and the town.
Victorious, Colt finally entered Glenwood Springs and ground to a halt. After a refreshing shot of water, he pulled a cell phone from his CamelBack. His temporary escape from the consequences of his poor judgment with EcoFriends was over.
“I haven’t heard from you, Deb. What’s going on?”
“I’m getting the hell out of this mess.” Deb’s tone was that of a suffering mother, driven to her wits end by a colicky baby.
“You’re going to go to the FBI?” Colt imagined himself being marched into a courtroom to face a federal judge.
“I’ve already talked to someone named Price. He’s sending some of his people out.”
“Then it’s over for EcoFriends.” Colt was somber. “We all have to face the music.”
“Colt, it’s the only way.” Deb’s voice broke. “The cat’s out of the bag, and I’m scared. I have these terrible premonitions about Cain. In the nightmares, he’s coming for me. I can’t go on like this.”
Colt’s mind flashed back to the parking lot encounter with Zed Cain. Does Cain know about Deb’s revelations to me?
“I understand.” Colt felt helpless. “You’re doing the right thing. And you’ve got to protect yourself.”
“Price said the FBI will keep me safe.” Deb’s voice steadied. “When they get here, I’ll be fine.”
Colt paced next to his bike. “Maybe I should come up there with you.”
“You don’t need to do that,” Deb said in a gentle tone. “You’ve always been there for me, Colt. I’ll make sure the FBI understands you’re on my side in this.”
“Thanks, Deb.” Colt’s confidence was bolstered a little. “Just stay safe.”
When the call ended, Colt walked over and picked up his bike. As he mounted, he wondered if he could escape the morass of quicksand he found himself in before he sank too deep. He was filled with self-loathing and guilt.
Colt muttered a quiet reprimand to himself. “This is all your fault.” He bent over the handlebars and pedaled toward his Land Cruiser, parked several blocks away.
* * * *
Carrie Forde was breathing hard as she leapt across a little stream. Her running shoes kicked up sand when she landed and charged after her loping shepherd-mix mutt. This was the farthest she and Bandit had ever advanced into the canyon that was carved into the ancient rock of the Uncompahgre Plateau. The rock walls contrasted with the green desert plants, adorned with spring flowers.
After a few hundred more yards of climbing, Carrie decided she had come far enough. There was nobody around to invade her space…to see her weakness.
Carrie sat down on a boulder worn smooth by water flowing eons ago. She placed her sweaty face in her hands and cried. The tears flowed silently. The evening wind ebbed. Bandit trotted back and sat near her feet. His gaze suggested that he shared her pain.
It was one of those rare days when Carrie felt hopeless. Tough and independent, she was used to dealing with problems. But sometimes she just felt alone. The self-built wall around her kept the painful past at bay, but it was also a prison that prevented striking out anew and forging fresh relationships. Shame goaded Carrie to continue paying penance, keeping the barricades erected. Some days they were close to crumbling.
For several minutes, Carrie let her emotions pour out. “You’re so weak!” She boiled with self-deprecating anger. It was as if the tears inside had sublimed into pressurized steam. Leaping to her feet, Carrie picked up a rock and hurled it at a cliff. Crack! The impact echoed off the canyon walls.
When Carrie sat back down, her tumultuous feelings flowed as wild as a mountain stream. Likewise, they were slow to recede. The beauty of her surroundings helped ignite the embers of hope. It was a reminder that God’s creation was full of wonderful things that transcended the darkest hours of personal crisis. In reality, problems were fleeting, and Carrie asserted that her faith would be the key to perseverance.
You’ve got to live day by day, minute by minute, she affirmed, standing up.
When Carrie glanced at Bandit, he was sniffing at a paw print. It was from a mountain lion…a large one. The big cats started hunting at dusk. With unease, she looked up and down the canyon. The waning light revealed nothing. She was glad she had the dog along.
“Let’s go, Bandit.” Carrie started the retreat toward the mouth of the canyon. “We’ve still got a lot to live for.”
Her cadence was broken by frequent anxious glances over her shoulder.
* * * *
The vintage Dodge Charger’s engine rumbled. Trigger Ruddock loved the sound of a predator. It was ominous, emanating power. The mechanical vibrations of the muscle car, racing along a rural road, transformed the passenger seat into a massage chair. The experience tempered Ruddock’s impatience. Gravel crunched under the wide tires when the vehicle veered off the road onto a driveway. The name Olson was painted on the side of a metal mailbox.
A hundred yards from the pavement, Cain parked near a weather-beaten barn. The structure appeared on the verge of collapse. Ruddock lifted his dark glasses and studied the house. It was a sturdy looking place surrounded by a picket fence. A contingent of pinion and juniper trees occupied the rolling ground behind the building.
“It looks pretty quiet.” Ruddock turned to Cain. The fresh haircut and professional attire made him snicker. “That suit is you. You look like the most tight-ass FBI agent ever.”
Cain didn’t bother with a response. “Go to the front door. I’ll take the back.”
Wearing sunglasses, the two men got out of the car and straightened their suit coats. Ruddock tugged at his tie. “We could be the freaking Beatles in ’62.”
As he neared the dwelling, a breeze carried the odor of cut grass and fresh-turned earth to Ruddock’s nostrils. The flower beds were tilled and awaiting planting. A mower was on the front lawn. When he placed his hand near the machine, heat radiated from the engine.
“Little Debbie’s home.” A cruel smile creased Ruddock’s face.
Wood planks groaned and creaked when he ascended the steps and strode across the porch. Ruddock pushed the doorbell and listened. Reverberating chimes were followed by silence. When he rapped on the door, the result was the same. Eyeing the knob, Ruddock resisted the temptation to force his way inside.
With his footsteps echoing off the overhanging roof, Ruddock stalked to the end of the porch. Glancing in the windows, he saw no sign of Deb Olson. Peering around the corner of the house, he noted a shed tucked in the trees. It was about the size of a single-car garage. A window on the building was bronzed by the low-hanging sun. The door was open, swinging gently in the evening draft.
“Are you in there, Little Debbie?” Ruddock whispered. The pistol in his shoulder holster suddenly seemed to strain against the confines of the suit coat.
Sounds of movement escaped the little building as Ruddock advanced. Cain materialized off to his side. The leader’s harsh expression demanded an explanation for the change in tactics. Without a verbal response, the lean subordinate motioned toward the open door. Cain nodded, giving notice to proceed.
Ruddock called out. “Is anybody in there? We’re with the FBI.”
“Go away! Nobody’s home,” a cracked voice said. The scratching in the shed didn’t abate.
“Don’t be alarmed.” Ruddock’s hand was on his weapon. He eased closer to the entrance. “We’re here to help you.”
“Go away. We don’t want any.” The doorway remained vacant.
Ruddock drew his gun and leapt into the shed. Deb Olson wasn’t among the clutter of lawn furniture, garden tools, and flower pots. Frantic fluttering of wings pulled his eyes and aim to the birdcage on a workbench below the window. The incarcerated parrot settled back onto the perch and faced the muzzle of the pistol.
The bird cackled, “Nobody’s home.”
Ruddock resisted the urge to pull the trigger and darted back outside. “It’s a freaking bird!”
An engine came to life with the squealing of a serpentine belt. Cain and Ruddock whipped around. It was in the old barn.
“Son-of-a bitch!” Ruddock cursed as the pair sprinted to prevent their quarry from escaping.
A loud crash was accented by splintering wood. By the time the would-be assassins reached the driveway, Deb Olson’s Subaru was tearing away. Gravel sprayed until the tires screeched on the asphalt of the road. A piece of the wrecked barn door careened off the vehicle and cartwheeled into the weeds.
“Damn it!” Ruddock leapt into the Dodge Charger and slammed the door. “She’s getting away.”
Without a spoken word, Cain jammed the accelerator to the floorboard. The tires ripped across splintered boards, flinging one into the empty space of the barn.
* * * *
There were two sharp raps on Price’s office door. Before he could bark an annoyed response, Malcolm Hill burst into the room.
“What is it?” Price asked from his desk.
“You wanted me to keep tabs on Marla Wells.” Hill’s breath came in sharp gasps. “She’s taking a little trip to New York.”
“Denver shopping doesn’t cut it anymore?”
“She’s got a meeting set at the UMN offices.” Hill raised an eyebrow. “Her contact is Ted Rogers.”
Price scoffed. “Let me guess. Rogers wants to make her part of his team.”
“That’s a pretty good bet.” Hill nodded. “I expect Marla Wells will jump at a promotion to the network.”
“How could she refuse?” Price had a vile taste in his mouth. “She’s looking to make the big time. That means E-Force is going national.”
“We’re in for trouble. She could become a real problem.”
“You let me worry about Marla Wells. I know how to deal with her. Besides, there’s been a positive development.”
“What are you talking about?” Hill lowered his voice and stepped closer to Price’s desk.
“The EcoFriends informant called again.” Price leaned back in his chair and pressed the palms of his hands together.
“Did she tell anything new?”
“EcoFriends is linked to E-Force.” Price couldn’t resist a smug smile. “She wouldn’t say more over the phone, but we got her name and location.”
Hill made a fist and drove it into his other hand. “That’s the break we needed.”
* * * *
Deb Olson didn’t apply the brakes until she was streaking into the curve. The car threatened to launch off the road. It took all her strength to cling to the steering wheel. Beyond the windshield, the mangled hood vibrated and threatened to tear loose from the tenacious grip of the safety latch. The vehicle held together and Deb escaped from the bend unscathed.
When Deb hit the gas, the Subaru resumed the reckless pace. Her speed on the undulating ribbon of pavement was double the limit posted on the steel sign that flashed past. But fear pushed her to flee faster…screaming for abandonment of the last shreds of reason.
Deb moaned. “My God, this can’t be happening. I don’t even have my cell phone.”
Only luck had placed Deb in the barn, car key in her jeans pocket, a moment before the black car arrived. Her dash for survival was spontaneous, fueled by primal fear. There were only a few more miles until the intersection with a busier road that led into the city. She had to get to a police station, a grocery store, a bowling alley…anyplace where there was a phone.
“I’ve got to call Price.” A tear streaked across Deb’s face. “If his men don’t stop Cain, I’m dead.”
A glance in the rearview mirror sent icy fingers down her spine. The black demon car was behind her. Deb’s speedometer needle refused to rise. “Come on, come on,” she begged.
A formula racer couldn’t have negotiated the curves better than Cain. And through each straight stretch, the horsepower under the hood of the vintage car propelled it forward like a rocket. Deb was no different than a swimmer being chased by a shark. It was hopeless. The Dodge Charger drew closer to the Subaru.
Deb screamed when Cain and his cohort were only a few feet from the rear of her car. “Leave me alone!”
The Charger drifted left and shot forward. Deb reacted too slowly to block the opening. The roaring vehicle filled the gap and pulled alongside the fleeing wagon. She kept a two-handed death grip on the steering wheel, but tore her eyes from the road to chance a glance to her left. The smoked glass of the passenger window slid down as if it were a guillotine. Cain’s henchman was brandishing a pistol. He leaned toward the opening, the hair on his head thrashing in the wind.
In a flush of panic, Deb stepped on the brake pedal. The bigger car instantly followed suit and stayed abreast of the Subaru. One side of the road dropped into a rocky ravine, terrain carved over eons by the creek far below. A mountainside adorned with trees and brush bordered the other edge of the pavement. There was nowhere to go. She was a gazelle, culled from the herd by a cheetah. In a desperate bid for life, she stomped on the accelerator again. The Charger was as inescapable as a shadow. Tears clouded Deb’s vision. The paint of the dark car was nearly scraping against the metallic blue tint of her fleeing vehicle.
“Get away from me!”
Ruddock sneered and beckoned her to come closer. Cain turned his head. For a brief second, Deb’s gaze locked with that of a killer. With the dark glasses, his expression revealed only indifference, an exterminator dealing with an insect.
Want to read more? Please purchase Radical Action: A Colt Kelley Thriller at Amazon.com