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After the End
An Owen Taylor Story
With Brendan DuBois
Formats and Prices
- ebook (Digital original) $3.99 $4.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 4, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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It’s a gorgeous day along the frozen shores of Lake Marie in New Hampshire. In my warm, enclosed porch, I’m sipping a cup of coffee while admiring the view of the distant snow-capped White Mountains, the thick forest bordering this rural lake, and a little knot of public safety officials. They’re busily working around a hole in the ice where about a half dozen of my neighbors and four snowmobiles crashed through, into the dark and frigid water last night.
It’s a pretty sight.
And my coffee is made just the way I like it, and it tastes damn good.
All in all, a nice start to the day. I’m thinking about going out for a nice long run, but I’m content to stay here and watch the goings on.
I take another sip, watch a second tow truck gingerly back its way to the open hole. A man dressed in a tan and padded jumpsuit guides the way, looking for cracks and fissures. A State Police diver bobs in the center of the open water.
There are three shapes under gray wool blankets on the nearby ice. I’m sure the blankets aren’t doing very much to warm them up. It’s been nearly twelve hours since the snow machines and their riders went into that water. No matter what they might say to the eager news media or the grieving family, this is no longer a search and rescue.
It’s just a recovery, and a damn cold one at that.
I take one more sip, raise the coffee cup in salute. “I offered you a peace treaty,” I say to the silent shores. “You should have accepted.”
Then there’s a loud knock on the door.
Coffee cup in hand, I walk into the wide living room, still smelling of fresh paint, and I go to the merrily burning fireplace. I take a poker and stir the embers, and add a couple of chunks of dried oak, and the flames jump up, warming my face and hands.
Deep in the embers and ash are the remains of four painted signs and some orange rope. Hours earlier the signs had said DANGER! THIN ICE! But now the evidence is gone; its molecules have been transferred into smoke and ash.
I stir the fire again.
A really, really good forensics agency—perhaps the FBI or some office deep within Homeland Security—could probably come in right now and seize me and the fireplace, and through a long and intricate analysis, determine that at one point, the wood’s ashes contained within belonged to painted signs.
A lot more investigation later, perhaps—and a very big perhaps—they could determine these ashes could be matched to the wood and paint of the departed signs, thereby linking me to their destruction, and the ultimate ice disaster that happened last night.
Another knock at the door.
I carefully replace the poker, reach up to the mantelpiece, take down my SIG Sauer P226 9mm pistol, and slip it into my rear waistband, under my shirt.
Perhaps this little state—my adopted home for less than a year—has access to such forensics equipment.
I start walking to my front door.
It’s a doubtful prospect, but still, it’s good to consider possibilities and probabilities.
I’m about twenty feet away from the front door now.
Time for possibilities, time for probabilities.
Like right now.
If there’s a member of the law enforcement community on the other side of that door, I’ll do my best to cooperate without being helpful.
I’ve grown fond of my home and have no intentions of exchanging it for a concrete and steel holding cell.
If there’s a friend or neighbor of the chilly deceased at the door, well, this interesting morning is going to get a lot more interesting.
I open the door with no hesitation, and for the briefest of moments, the strong winter sun strikes my eyes, making me blink, almost making me believe in ghosts for a second. A young woman is standing on the granite steps leading into my home.
She’s nearly my height, with dark black hair, almond skin, and sharp, bright brown eyes. Her hair is cut right at the shoulders, and she’s wearing a black wool coat that reaches to her knees. She’s also wearing black slacks, and sensible shoes for this time of year and place.
She nods. “Owen.”
“What a surprise,” I say.
“A good one, I hope.”
She flashes a quick smile, perfect white teeth. We go back a long way, from different hemispheres, office parks, and battlegrounds, those firing off memos or 7.62mm NATO rounds. I note her fine black wool coat has buttons down the side, but she’s fastened the coat by its cloth belt, in a slipknot, easy to undo in a quick motion.
“I smell coffee,” she says. “How about a cup?”
I look behind her and there’s a dark blue Chevy Marquis parked near my highway salt–stained pickup truck. She’s alone.
At least I think she’s alone.
There’s a faint dusting of snow on the ground around the Marquis, and there’s only one set of footprints: hers.
A good sign.
“Hello?” she asks. “Coffee?”
I snap back, step aside. “Come on in,” I say. “I’ve got some fresh brewed.” After the slightest of pauses, I add, “After you, Allison.”
A faint smile. “Thank you, Owen. Always the gentleman.”
She passes by and I catch a scent of lilac, and admire the sure way she walks into the room with her back toward me.
Perhaps I’m a gentleman, but I’m also a survivor.
I like Allison, I’ve worked with Allison, but I know if she had been ordered to, she would have followed me into my house, quickly undone her coat, drawn out a suppressor-equipped pistol and put two in the back of my head. And because I embarrassed my former employers recently, the odds aren’t on my side.
In my kitchen, I silently pour her a cup of coffee, hot and black. Early on in our professional relationship, I had twice uttered the stale joke about Allison taking her coffee like she took her men. The third time I made the joke, only a quick move on my part prevented a flying ceramic mug from splitting open my forehead.
I pass her the cup and she takes it, wanders off to the porch, sipping it gently. “Nice view.”
“I like it.”
“Looks professional,” she says. “Like someone wanted to eliminate a recurring problem or a threat without leaving a trace leading back to him.” She waits. “Or her.”
“Thanks for the compliment.”
She says, “Maybe it was an observation, not a compliment.”
“Either way, I appreciate it.”
Allison turns to me. “Retirement…looks pretty active out there for a retirement.”
“That’s life in the great north woods.”
“I have a job for you.”
“Let me tell you about it first.”
She takes a strong pull, holds the cup with both hands. “Do you remember a Ray Winston who worked with you in the sandbox a couple of years back?”
A smart, bulky African American from Georgia with a loud laugh, who served many years in the Army. He had a major in central Asian history and a minor in being a professional killer.
“He’s hurt. I thought of you. He needs some help.”
“What kind of help?”
“You’ll see when we get there.”
Ray Winston. That booming laugh. The thick, strong fingers that could easily disarm a roadside IED or make an omelet from local eggs.
“He needs your help.”
I’ve already made up my mind, but I want to hear more from Allison. She takes another sip from her coffee, now looking at the knot of people gathered around the hole in the ice.
“Eventually they’re going to come knocking on your door,” she says. “Wouldn’t you rather come play with me than put up with all the questions and accusations? The angry knocks on the door? The investigations? The court papers?”
“Good points,” I say. “But I like this place…Even though I would enjoy playing with you.”
“Just to be clear, I mean playing in the professional sense,” Allison says, frowning. “And you never liked any place before.”
“This one is different. I’m hoping it’s permanent.”
A tow truck starts working its winch, the strong cable emerging from the water.
“Arrangements can be made,” she finally says. “Someone to stay here for a while, make sure nothing untoward happens.”
A bubble of water and waves, and a red Yamaha snowmobile emerges from the water, brought up by the tow truck, swiveling slowly on the cable. A sodden shape dressed in a black snowsuit and helmet dangles from the snow machine, one foot jammed in the front.
“One more question?” I ask.
“Whose car are we going to take?”
I pack a small bag and join her in the kitchen, where she’s washing my coffee cup and hers. She turns and wipes her hands on a towel and I say, “I’m going to need some sort of cover to bring my firearm aboard any domestic aircraft.”
Allison says, “Would you like to be an air marshal?”
“I always dreamt of being a cowboy, but I guess that’ll do.”
She carefully folds up the towel, hangs it from the oven’s long handle.
“I know what happened on your last op.”
I keep quiet.
“In Serbia,” she goes on.
Suddenly, it’s so quiet I can hear the voices from within the frozen lake.
“Can you tell me—”
“No,” I say. “You know the rules.”
Her coat is still fastened with the cloth belt, and I feel that she’s quite close to opening the coat and removing something that will force me to talk, but that moment passes.
“Yes,” she says with resignation. “I know the damn rules.”
Outside the cold air is crisp and refreshing, and two chickadees are bouncing around a feeder I’ve set up near a dead birch tree. I make a mental note to make sure my future housekeeper keeps the feeders filled.
Allison heads to the Marquis, and I walk to my Ford truck. “Come on,” she says. “You can ride with me.”
“No, I’ll follow.”
“It’d be easier.”
“Easier for you,” I say. “But if I change my mind along the way, I want to be able to turn back and go home without jumping out.”
“Your choice,” she says, and opens the door to the Marquis and slides in. I admire the way her long legs straddle the edge of the car before she gets in. She catches me watching her and smiles, closing the door.
I get into my truck, give it three tries on the ignition before it starts up, and switch on the heater. Allison backs out and then I follow her up my narrow driveway, trees and brush on either side.
No offense to Allison and our lengthy relationship, but I want to minimize my risk of being in her company, in case an old enemy with a grudge tracks her down and puts an Israeli-made Spike anti-tank missile through the Marquis’ hood.
From the artificial comfort of her car, she waves at me.
I wave back.
It goes along nicely until we reach the narrow state road, and a dark green New Hampshire State Police cruiser pulls across, blocking us.
I slow down and put the truck in Park. Not yet my circus, not yet my monkey. Allison waits for a moment, then opens the door and steps out.
Two bulky State Police troopers, a male and a female, emerge from the front of the cruiser and advance on Allison. In their uniforms, Sam Browne belts, holsters, weapons, and round-brimmed hats, they look like brother and sister.
A strong, no-nonsense brother and sister pair with pistols.
Allison lets them come to her, and a discussion ensues. The faces of the two troopers get redder with each passing second. One looks to the other. There’s more discussion.
Allison slips a hand into her coat and I freeze—really, are you going to do something so drastic?—but no, she pulls out a cell phone. She apparently makes a phone call. Allison nods her head once, twice.
Holds the phone out.
A reluctance on the state troopers’ part. Who will accept whatever message is on the other end?
The female trooper takes the lead.
She takes the phone.
Ducks her head.
Nods once, twice.
Her partner shakes his head and steps back, like he wants no part of whatever the hell is going on.
The female trooper nods once more, hands the phone over to Allison, and Allison doesn’t even bother talking.
- On Sale
- Apr 4, 2017
- Page Count
- 144 pages