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No way am I gonna survive this.
That's what I was thinking as I tore down the icy slope, at what had to be a ninety-degree angle. There was nothing between me and the mountain but a thin fiberglass snowboard. One mistake, one rock or slick spot or bad turn, and I'd be history.
What a rush.
O f course, it didn't matter that my adrenaline was pumping. This wasn't about fun. Frank and I had a big problem: Regardless of how fast we shredded down the mountain, Chaz and Brad were faster. It made sense, since they were pro snowboarders or pro snowboarders turned drug dealers, to be more exact. But that didn't mean Frank and I weren't gonna catch them.
This was our latest ATAC mission. We'd successfully targeted the bad guys, staked 'em out, and gathered all the evidence. Their meticulous record of drug deals as well as their latest stash were both secured in the inner pocket of my snowboard jacket. Problem was, the bad guys were getting away
The chase began twenty minutes after the lifts stopped running, so other than the four of us, the mountain was deserted.
Just as we started making progress, Chaz and Brad took a detour. They were leading us down Doomed River Run, which had been closed all season because of avalanche threats.
"They think we're not gonna follow them," I called to Frank. "Like a few skull-and-crossbones danger signs would ever stop us!"
"Yeah, they thought wrong," Frank replied, as he took a sharp left and barreled past another warning sign.
In the distance I saw the guys in front of us crouch down, and then soar into the air. We were coming up on a jump. "Get ready," I warned Frank.
"I'm always ready," my brother replied.
I got into position, holding the edge o f my board with one gloved hand.
Then I went for it. Suddenly I was flying through the air weightless and graceful like an eagle. It was awesome. And before I could even blink, I made a smooth landing, pointing the left side of my board straight down the mountain. I had to pick up speed otherwise, these crooks would get away.
When we hit the next clearing, the guys disappeared. Not good. If they made it to the bottom of the mountain they'd be able to blend in with the crowd and eventually flee. Plus, the sun was setting, and finding them in the dark would be impossible.
There had to be another way.
Just then I saw it. Zip line the two words came to me in a flash of genius. Above our heads was an empty steel cable, linking the top of the mountain to the bottom in a clean, straight line. It must have been part of an old ski lift. There weren't any chairs or gondolas attached, as far as I could tell. Using it as a zip line would get me to the bottom of the mountain in no time. I yelled my plan to Frank.
"You're crazy!" he said.
"Says you," I replied, as I skidded to a stop and ditched my board. I pulled my scarf from my neck. I was sure the fleece and wool blend would be strong enough to hold me. Well, pretty sure. Working for ATAC, I've jumped out of planes with broken parachutes, survived explosions and roaring fires, scuba dived to dangerous depths and more. What's one more risk?
By now Brad and Chaz were two specks in the distance, and even Frank was fading from my view. I had to act fast. I scrambled up the pine tree closest to the steel cable. When I was high enough, I jumped.
Bingo. I was on, hanging literally by a thread. My legs dangled down, swaying with the wind. I slung one end of my scarf around the cable and held on tight. Then I pushed off, shifting the bulk of my weight forward.
Woo-hoo! I was really flying.
Trees whipped by so fast that all I saw was a blur of green. A steady rain was falling, but at my speed, the drops felt more like an assault. They stung every part of my face that wasn't covered by my mask or helmet.
I shot past Frank, and soon, past Chaz and Brad. It was awesome. At least, that's what I was thinking until I spotted the gondola at the end of the line.
Brakes. Why didn't I think about brakes?!
Too late. I was about three seconds from crashing. I'd broken bones before, but never all o f ' em at once....
I glanced down at the thirty-foot drop. Too bad for me. I had no other choice.
I let go and fell, too scared to even gasp.
My stomach shot up to my throat. And then, all I saw was white.
I felt no pain, only cold. That was good. The powder broke my fall.
Of course, the powder also buried me.
First thing I did was carve out an air pocket in the snow so I could take a deep breath. Then I raised my hands above my head and started digging. I scrambled out as quickly as I could, pushing past the snow furiously. You'd think that powder would be light, but let me tell you when it's packed into a ten-foot pile that's been sitting around since last week's snowfall, it's not. The powder was heavy. Very heavy. When I finally crawled to the surface my arms were sore and I was gasping for breath. Still, I bolted to the base of the run.
On my way there I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and dialed Chief Chizzle, the head of the Lake Tahoe police department. "We got 'em at the bottom of the mountain south side, at the end of the Doomed River Run. Yeah, I know it's closed. It wasn't my idea. Anyway, their ETA is about fortyfive seconds. Better get a move on."
When I reached the base, Chaz and Brad were on their butts, unlocking their feet from their boards. I got there just in time to get whacked in the face with Brad's snowboard.
Oh, man, that hurt. Doubling over, I tried to catch my breath. M y brain felt like it was exploding. My eyes were tearing, and I seriously saw stars. But there wasn't time for pain. I couldn't let those sleazebags get away I stood up, my whole body aching.
I was still recovering when Frank came down the mountain, full speed ahead, and crashed right into Chaz and Brad. They went down like bowling pins.
As Frank took off his board, the guys got up, but I managed to stall them with a quick right hook to Chaz's chin and a fake, then a one-two punch in Brad's fleshy gut.
The guys were still on the ground when the cops showed.
"Good work, boys," said Chief Chizzle.
A couple of his officers hauled Brad and Chaz to their feet so they could slap on the handcuffs.
"We'll get you for this," Brad yelled.
"You're gonna have to wait about thirty years," I replied. "And that's only if you get out of jail early, for good behavior."
Chaz tried to lunge for me but the cops restrained him.
"Come on, Joe," my brother said. "It's over now."
"Hey, he started it," I argued, nodding my chin toward Chaz.
"He's already in handcuffs," Frank said. "We're done here."
"Fine," I said. Turning to Chief Chizzle, I handed over the envelope. "All of your evidence is in here."
As the chief looked through the contents, he said, "Well done, boys. Please send my best to your father."
"Will do," said Frank, with a quick salute to the chief. "Speaking o f...Hey, Joe, what time is it?"
I checked my watch. "Almost seven o'clock."
"Uh-oh." Frank's face went pale.
I knew exactly what he was thinking.
We both took off at a sprint. Surviving Doomed River Run and delivering a couple of sleazy drug dealers to the cops was nothing compared to our new problem: If we were late for dinner, our mom was gonna kill us.
Copyright © 2006 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.