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The cabin she'd been told about was little more than a shack. The front door hung open and several windows were broken. Just visible from the corner of the shack was the rear end of a late model white sedan. Paige squinted at the license plate, then sighed when she identified the car as belonging to Lisa Johnston. She put the truck into park, then walked up to the front porch that ran the length of the cabin. Standing at the open door, she pulled her gun out, released the safety, and listened. The cabin was silent except for the chattering of a squirrel on the roof. Paige entered with the caution she'd learned as a cop.
One side of the front room contained a shabby vinyl sofa and a wingback chair with faded and torn upholstery. The other side of the room held a kitchen area that consisted of an ancient refrigerator, a stove, and a sink. Fishing gear littered the counter. The areas were separated by a small table with three chairs, one of which had been pulled into the living area. The place smelled musty and unused in spite of the open door and broken windows. Paige continued into the back of the cabin and pushed a door open with her foot, revealing a small bathroom.
Satisfied the cabin was uninhabited, Paige returned to the yard and walked around the dust-covered car. The seats were empty but for a leather briefcase with gold initials. L.M.J. Lisa Margaret Johnston. She pulled on a pair of latex gloves, drew a set of lock picks from her pocket, and knelt at the trunk. Working the picks into the lock her hands trembled, and one of the picks fell out. Cursing softly, she started over again, and after several minutes the lock clicked open. Paige stood up, took a deep breath, and slowly pulled open the trunk.
She staggered back from the odor of death and decay, even though she'd been half expecting it. The woman in the trunk wore casual cotton slacks and a print T-shirt. There were rope burns on her wrists and a plastic bag covered her head, secured around her neck with duct tape.
Paige turned and trotted back to her truck, jumped inside, and rolled the window up. Leaning her head on the steering wheel, she gulped in air and swallowed back the bile that rose in her throat. When her stomach settled, she flipped open her cell phone and punched in Nine-One-One.
"Nine-One-One. What is your emergency?"
"This is Paige Blackwell. I'm a private investigator with Parker Security and Investigations in Portland. I've just found a dead body."
After giving directions to her location, Paige surrendered to the tears that pooled in her eyes. Tears of frustration and anger.
Lisa Johnston had worked as an administrative assistant for Eastland Industries in Portland for three years. She was young and attractive, engaged to be married in November. She attended college part time, working toward a teaching degree. And now she was gone. Leaving behind a bereaved fiancé, her parents, and two siblings.
Paige brushed her tears away with a trembling hand and took a shuddering breath. She took a couple of fast-food napkins from the glove box and wiped her face. Sweat prickled on the back of her neck, and she twisted her long, dark hair into a knot and stuffed it inside a baseball cap. Minutes later a cruiser pulled into the driveway and parked behind her, effectively blocking her exit. Two Oregon State Police Officers got out and approached her truck.
"Ma'am. You called nine-one-one?"
"There's a dead body in the trunk of that car," Paige said, keeping her hands on the steering wheel. "I'm a private investigator. I was hired to locate Lisa Johnston after her disappearance. I believe she's the one in the trunk."
The officer at her window nodded to his partner, who walked over to the white sedan, then turned back to Paige. "You have any ID on you?"
Paige pulled out her driver's license and PI license and handed them to him.
"You touch anything?" he asked.
"No, sir. I wore gloves when I opened the trunk. I saw the body and backed away, and then I called nine-one-one immediately."
"You didn't check to see if she was still alive?" he asked.
Paige stared at him for a moment. "It was obvious from the smell that the body's been there for some time."
"I see. How'd you get the trunk open?"
"I used my lock picks."
"Well, now, that'd be illegal."
"Lock picks are only illegal in Oregon if they're used in the commission of a crime." Paige pulled on the door handle, but the officer put his hand on the door preventing her from opening it.
"Just stay in the truck, ma'am."
She sat back and wondered if she'd ever been that much of a jerk when she was in uniform. As soon as the officer walked away she got out of the truck. That didn't feel rebellious enough, so she walked over to where the two officers stood looking into the trunk.
"Looks like suicide," the older officer said, pointing to the plastic bag on Lisa Johnston's head.
"Suicide?" Paige shook her head. "I don't think so."
Both officers looked at her with identical frowns that she interpreted to mean she'd overstepped her place. "Not many murders are committed with a plastic bag," the younger officer explained. "However, it is a common method of committing suicide."
"With broken fingers?" Paige asked.
Paige pointed to Lisa's hands. Two fingers on her left hand and one on her right were bent at unnatural angles. "I doubt she inflicted that injury herself. And it's unlikely she gave herself those rope burns on her wrists."
"How come you noticed that?" The older officer squinted at her suspiciously. "Maybe you aren't telling us everything?"
"I was a cop for seven years, two in homicide," she explained.
"Should have mentioned that earlier."
"I didn't think it was relevant."
"Where'd you work?" he asked.
"And now you're a PI?"
"Couldn't hack it as a cop, huh?"
Paige turned and stomped back to her truck.
"You get right to the point, don't you?" He chuckled. "I'm actually recruiting for a new reality television show."
"You haven't heard about it yet."
Well, he had her there. "Okay. You've got five minutes." Paige wiped her brow and neck with a towel and sat on a bench.
Wade took a seat on a bench across from her and leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "It's a new show. Very secret, so I have to ask you to not tell anyone anything I say to you."
Paige nodded and looked at her watch.
"This isn't going to be like those other survival shows. There's no political stuff. Nobody gets voted off the island."
Paige lifted her eyebrows in disbelief. "Really?"
"Absolutely. This is real survival. That's why we're recruiting people who we think can handle it. You'll be rock climbing, swimming rivers, gathering your own food."
Paige leaned forward, interested in spite of herself. This was all the stuff she loved. "Like wilderness camping?"
"More. There'll be challenges, rewards, that kind of thing. But it won't be riddles and games. We're calling it Xtreme Survival." He sat back and grinned at her. "How's that sound?"
"Interesting. But I have a full-time job." She rose from the bench and held her hand out to him.
"That won't be a problem. You get vacation time, right?" He stood and took her hand, pulling her just a bit closer. "The first phase is just two weeks. You'll be on a team with five other contestants. Each team competes individually, then the top teams compete for the final win."
Paige hesitated but pulled her hand out of his.
"You get fifty grand up front. That's just for the first phase. Everyone on the two top teams gets another hundred grand. And the winning team members get three-hundred grand each."
Now he had her attention. She'd finally talked Shelby into selling her a part of the business. She'd been sure she could get a loan from the bank, but they'd turned her down. Probably Shelby would take payments, but it would take forever, and Paige wanted the deal to be finalized. Fifty thousand dollars would cover her thirty percent of Parker Security and Investigation and a little more.
"I don't know. It sounds interesting, but I'd have to think about it."
"That's great. How about I take you to dinner tomorrow night? We can talk about it more. You might have questions by then."
"That's not necessary. Just give me your number, and I'll call you with my answer."
Wade held up his hands. "Hey, it's not like I'm asking you out. I've been in town for a week, and I'm just tired of eating alone." He grinned. "And it's an expense account. We could do Emilio's."
Damn, if her mouth didn't water at the thought of Emilio's.
Excerpted from Natural Selection by Liz Wolfe Copyright © 2005 by Liz Wolfe. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted December 9, 2008
Former Portland homicide detective Paige Blackwell has become more than just a private investigator as she has bought a thirty percent share of Parker Security Investigations. Now she has to find a way to pay for it and it looks like Lady Luck has dealt her a winning hand when TV producer Wader Culver offers Paige a chance to become a member of the team for the ultimate reality show Xtreme Survival --- Paige agrees and flies to a Caribbean Island with five other group participants. The plan is to survive as a group in the wilderness for two weeks and each member receives $50,000 dollars. The pilot who flies them to their locale accidentally overhears a conversation in which Wade and three other men plan to hunt and kill the group. He warns them in time for Paige, as the team leader to hold the group together while evading the hunters and seeking a way off the island. When the group compares notes they find that each one has been involved in some way with Eastland Industries. If they get off the island Paige is determined to find out who wants six innocent people dead. --- NATURAL SELECTION is the ultimate cat and mouse thriller as the cats have all kind of weaponry and the mice have to scurry about if they want to stay alive. The action scenes are breathtaking and very visual so that readers actually feel what the group is feeling. The characters, including the secondary cast, are well developed and enhance each other¿s skills forging a good team. Readers will definitely enjoy this adrenaline pumping heart stopping thriller. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.