IN THIS ACTION-PACKED THRILLER, GREED BRINGS ABOUT UNKNOWABLE EVIL AND HORRIFYING REVENGE-YET WHEN ALL SEEMS LOST, ONE MAN IS GIVEN AF INAL CHANCE AT REDEMPTION.
A decade has passed since Dan and Keely Castle, worn from the pressure of scheduled lives, decided to jettison their corporate careers, purchase a cattle ranch in northern Arizona, and nearly empty their bank account to convert the property into an intimate guest ranch. As they go about their daily lives, ensuring their guests enjoy themselves, Dan and Keely have no idea their idyllic existence is about to be shattered.
When the couple accidentally discovers a treasure while hiking deep within the mountains, Keely wants to investigate its origin. Dan is only curious about its value. As they unearth bag after bag of government gold, possibly worth millions, Dan believes he and Keely are about to become very wealthy. Instead, his life goes wildly awry, and unforeseeable events brand him a murderer in the eyes of the law. After the ranch is lost and his wife is kidnapped, Dan embarks on a dangerous journey into the mountains to confront his adversaries, his only resources a clever burro, a flashlight, and two single-shot, black-powder rifles.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)|
Read an Excerpt
GreedA Love Story
By Douglas Beach
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Douglas Beach
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDan Castle rented a room above a ramshackle market near Mexico City's el Zócalo. The steel balcony railings had long since rusted away, the sink leaked, and the bed sagged. The chair and table in the corner peeled blue paint. Dan figured it to be the kind of place where an out-of-luck gringo would attract little attention. Within days, his bowels had sorted out the abrupt change in food and water, and he extended his daily travels beyond the quick reach of the cracked and stained toilet.
Dan discovered a pay phone in front of the plaza and risked a call to Keely. He inserted several ten-peso coins in the slot and dialed the number of their guest ranch in Arizona. A recorded message advised him that the ranch telephone was out of order.
Phone numbers of relatives and friends flitted through his head. He scribbled figures on paper scraps, arranged and rearranged the sequence of digits. Familiar voices answered the few numbers he had remembered correctly. In each case, he winced at the abrupt slam of the receiver. He searched out the local oficina de correos and mailed a postcard to Keely. The scrawled message asked her to call his favored pay phone any day at eight o'clock in the morning Mexico City time. For six weeks, he ate breakfast at a food stall within earshot of the phone. It rang often, but not for him.
After nearly twenty years of not smoking, he again practiced the habit. The harsh flavor of Mexican cigarettes blunted his loneliness. During dream-plagued nights, Keely's trim image sat in the blue chair; other times, his dreams had her astride him in bed, her auburn hair falling across her breasts, her tears pooling in the depression of his rib cage. He startled awake on sweat-soaked sheets and embraced air but nothing more.
Winter eased into summer and on hot, stretched afternoons, he sat in front of the open window drinking tequila and watching the market scene on the street below; his nostrils filling with the layered aromas of decaying fish, roasting coffee, and ripening fruit.
He often walked the urine-stained sidewalks and flipped cigarette butts into trash-filled gutters, or he lay on threadbare sheets in the little room and drank cheap tequila until filmy images of the killings and the blasts of gunshots would no longer sprocket through his skull.
After months of self-exile, a fugitive without a plan or a prayer, the certainty of pending impoverishment overcame his fear of returning to the ranch. He offered up the last of his cash to purchase fake identification from a trafficker of phony documents—an Arizona driver's license and a Visa card. Dan thumbed northbound rides along the Mexican autopista and two weeks later arrived in the Arizona border town of Sasabe.
A US official eyed his tattered backpack, stirred a latex-gloved hand through his laundry, and asked if he possessed restricted produce, firearms, or liquor. Dan shook his head. He possessed nothing. The officer glanced at Dan's ID and waved him home.
Dan walked across the border, sat on the topmost step of the Sasabe general store, and waited for the Tucson shuttle bus. Upon arrival in Tucson, he bought an Amtrak ticket to Flagstaff, and to avoid possible confrontation with the law, he waited in a stall in the train station men's room. When he heard and felt the rumble of the locomotive, he exited the restroom, walked quickly through the crowded train station, and went trackside to board the first Pullman car behind the engine.
Five hours later, he arrived in Flagstaff and disembarked into familiar juniper and pinyon pine scented high country air. Behind the train station were the restaurants that he and Keely had frequented and the lounges where they had often danced until closing.
He walked inside the railway station to a simple gray metal desk that served as the Hertz counter.
The clerk surveyed Dan's blue, faded trousers, straw sombrero, sweat-soaked shirt, and scuffed cowboy boots.
"What do you want to drive today, sir?" the clerk asked.
"Ford pickup, four-by-four."
"You goin' off-road?"
"No," Dan lied.
"Be a right stiff cleanin' charge if the truck comes back mud-packed." Dan nodded.
The clerk stretched out a hand. "ID, please."
The photo on the Arizona driver's license displayed his gaunt face, scrubby beard, blue eyes, disheveled brown hair. The description on the license fit Dan almost perfectly: six feet tall, one hundred seventy pounds, fifty-seven years old.
Dan passed the phony documents across the desk and held his breath, ready to grab the credit card and driver's license back and run like hell if the clerk gave the slightest sign of trouble.
The license and credit card supposedly belonged to a hapless American tourist—a recent robbery victim in Mexico—so recent that the counterfeiter had told him that the card would likely not be reported stolen for several days. Dan felt a pang in his heart. He hoped like hell that did not mean the owner of the card had been robbed and killed for his identification.
Dan turned the pickup onto Route 66 and then traveled west for several hours before turning onto Crookton Road near Ash Fork, Arizona. An hour later, he left the pavement at Stinson Trail, a thirty-mile dirt track that ended at the ranch. The pickup bucked and lurched over the unimproved road; the open bed boomed like a kettledrum each time the frame struck rocks in the gloomy canyon. The dirt road turned to switchbacks along the chasm wall, and he soon burst onto a bright desert landscape of juniper, cactus, and sage.
The ranch gate, secured with an unfamiliar padlock, halted his progress. He lowered his hat to shade his eyes and blinked through the windshield at the distant adobe ranch house, guest casitas, and the burnished reflection of the red steel barn roof. A grassy slope beyond the buildings held the empty corrals—gray, bony, sun-bleached log frames stark against the dark green backdrop of forested mountain peaks.
Dan parked the pickup in front of the gate, climbed out, squirmed beneath the barbed wire fence, and hiked toward the distant structures. He recalled the disconnect message on the telephone nearly a year ago, but still, he held a vision of Keely standing on the porch to welcome him. As he drew near the buildings, a curtain of despair fell upon him. Plywood panels covered the doors and windows. Sage grew along adobe walls and erupted from graveled walking paths; dried chino grass sprouted from gutters filled with the dirt of dust storms. Neglected elms and willows, now leafless dead skeletons, reached into a cobalt sky.
The barn door stood ajar. He drew a deep breath and willed himself to enter. Dust from his footfalls roiled in the sudden shaft of sunlight. Startled finches beat overhead and shot out the open door. Rakes, shovels, and an ax still leaned against the back wall.
He cocked his head to shield his eyes from the cut of sunlight. Relief spread through him. The canvas saddlebag still hung from the rafter. He walked across the concrete floor, removed a ladder from brackets, and rested it high in the shadows next to clusters of finch nests wedged among the roof beams. He climbed the ladder, removed the heavy saddlebag, descended, grabbed the ax, and walked out of the barn toward the house.
He dropped the saddlebag on the ground near the backdoor, chopped away a corner of the plywood panel that sealed the doorway, and then wedged the ax handle into the ragged gap. After a few pries, the plywood barrier popped free. He beat back the nails with the ax blade, pushed past the panel, and opened the door.
Skylights illuminated the hushed adobe rooms. Leather couches, Zapotec rugs, Navajo wall hangings. Glass-top tables, pine chairs. All as before. A coffee cup rested on the kitchen table; the one with the hummingbird painted above the handle. Keely's favorite. He lifted and swirled the coffeepot on the cold gas stove and removed the lid. Gray fur of moldy brown liquid. The dishwasher door lay open, a gaping mouth; white plates jammed endwise like long, narrow teeth. She always kept everything in place. Always kept the dishwasher door closed.
Dan moved through the rooms in a stricken trance. In their bedroom, her clothes hung in the closet, shoes and boots in neat rows. His hand brushed across her soft cotton underwear in the bureau. A shiver passed through him. No sheets on the bed. He peered at bloomed, rust-colored stains on the mattress.
Except for the few items he had taken to Mexico a year ago, nothing seemed missing. Dan swallowed hard. His heart galloped. What had pricked at his brain this past year—that Keely might not have survived—engulfed him like an icy wind. Sobbing, he dropped to his knees. His cries surging and ebbing throughout the lifeless rooms.
Chapter TwoDan stood among tall pines on a granite ledge above Big Chino Valley. He loosened Ghost's cinch and gazed across the backs of the dozen salt-crusted horses to his wife Keely and the ranch guests. She knelt on a white canvas tarp preparing to serve lunch, and the guests sat cross-legged in a semicircle around her. Keely sensed Dan's gaze and looked up. Her brown eyes glinted from beneath the brim of her straw hat. He remembered the first time he had seen those dark gleaming eyes.
Dan had pulled his parka tight against the wintry Seattle drizzle, crossed the wet, kerosene-scented tarmac, and hurried up the stairs extending from beneath the tail of the Boeing 727. The passenger cabin consisted of a few dozen seats bolted to the floor directly behind a cargo net that secured cases of canned goods, fresh produce, auto parts, furniture, and a myriad of other supplies important to the daily lives of Alaskans. He paused in the sudden warmth of the cabin to survey the backs of the heads of the passengers already seated.
From several years' experience flying these early-morning milk runs to Alaska's major cities, he knew that passengers who wore skullcaps and ball caps were generally commercial fishers or Alaska natives, likely candidates for hangovers after a weekend of partying in Seattle. He judged passengers in cowboy hats the most bothersome; transplanted oil field workers from Texas, boastful nonstop talkers intent on a final in-flight drinking bout before returning to the bleak reaches of northern Alaska. Dan regularly endured fellow travelers hung over from all-night binges, coughing phlegm into handkerchiefs and spitting tobacco into paper cups. One such traveler had vomited on Dan's pant leg. Years of these flights had taught Dan to board last and select seatmates with as much care as one might exercise when choosing a restaurant or a hotel.
He spotted his companion for this flight immediately. She sat in an aisle seat toward the front of the cabin. A smart, seasoned traveler, he thought.
Dan walked up the aisle toward the woman, shoved his carry-on into the compartment overhead, and slipped off his parka. He glanced down at the petite woman. Her head lay back on the headrest, her eyes closed. He guessed her age at twenty-five or thirty. Her dark brown hair was cropped short and stylish, her eyebrows were perfectly plucked, and her face was lightly freckled. A dark blue skirt lay smooth across her lap and fell below her calf. A wine-colored turtleneck accentuated her slim neck. Her clasped, manicured hands rested on a fashionable leather briefcase. He considered her presence on the plane. Women passengers on these flights were generally Alaska natives. A well-dressed, beautiful Caucasian woman was definitely not the norm.
"Excuse me." Dan nodded toward the two vacant seats next to her.
Her head did not move from the rest, but her eyes snapped open and seemed to study him. Small pearl earrings decorated diminutive earlobes. A brief smile crossed her face. She pulled back her legs and smoothed her skirt. He caught the scent of light perfume, sidestepped in front of her, and settled into the window seat.
"Thank you," he said.
"You're welcome." Her quiet voice measured and musical.
The aircraft backed from the gate, swung around, lurched, and lumbered across the tarmac toward the departure runway.
Their conversation began with the travelers' polite discussion of weather, both in Seattle and in Juneau, which she said was her destination. They discovered they both lived in Seattle. He told her of his frequent flights to Alaska on behalf of a communications company of which he was a vice president, and that the company would soon offer television service to secluded Alaska communities. He spoke also of his passion for fly-fishing Alaska's lakes and rivers.
He was surprised to learn that she was the editor of the airline's in-flight magazine. She explained that she held a degree in journalism from the University of Washington and frequently traveled throughout Alaska meeting writers and photographers and researching articles. She removed the in-flight magazine from the seatback pocket and showed him a column about the airline's newly inaugurated service into Skagway. A postage-stamp-size picture of her smiled from the page. The article byline read, Keely Armetta, editor.
While the aircraft descended into Juneau, he thought it timely to invite her to dinner at one of his favorite restaurants. The plane skewed into a narrow valley for final approach, rain spattered the windows, treetops poked menacingly through the ground fog. His heart pounded and his dry throat gulped as he awaited her reply. She glanced to her lap. The overhead vent flipped her swept-back hair against her cheek. She looked up and grinned.
"Only if we split the check."
"It's a deal."
That evening, inside a restaurant of boisterous diners and a roaring fireplace, she laughed at his jokes and listened to his Alaska fishing adventures. She spoke of her love of cooking, gardening, and reading. He learned that she was twenty-nine, and he reluctantly admitted his forty-one years, though she told him she thought him much younger. Her hands moved gracefully about the dinner table, lifted her fork, clasped her coffee cup, dabbed the napkin to the corners of her mouth. Smiles fleeted across her delicate features.
They left the restaurant and walked along the waterfront to their rooms at the Breakwater Hotel. In the lobby, Dan held her hand a moment, said good-night, and then watched her walk down the hall toward her room, the rhythmical motion of her legs and hips mysterious and elegant beneath her long skirt.
The next morning, Dan found her at a small table in a corner of the nearly empty hotel dining room, a cup of coffee in front of her. Bright sunlight poured through the windows, placing her in a quaking silhouette as she brought the cup to her lips.
He walked across the carpeted floor to her table.
"Hello, again," he said.
"Will you join me for coffee?" she asked.
Dan shuffled. "I have to catch the ten o'clock flight to Fairbanks."
"You have no business here today?"
He noticed in the reflected light from the Gastineau Channel just outside the windows how natural her face looked, no makeup, or need of it. She wore only lipstick. He hesitated, sought, and formed the right words.
"I only stopped for dinner."
A slight frown clouded her smile. She stood and extended her hand.
"Well, then, it was a pleasure. Good-bye, Dan."
He took her cool, slim fingers in his own, squeezed and released her hand, and slowly walked from the dining room and then outside into the cold sunlight. Neither had yet mentioned that both wore a wedding band.
"If you want lunch, you better get over here now, cowboy," Keely hollered, interrupting Dan's reverie.
"You won't have to call me twice," he said nodding.
At forty-four, Keely was twelve years younger than Dan. But as he watched her auburn ponytail swing about and her nimble fingers pop open lids from containers of fried chicken, he thought she acted and looked more like an excited teenager than his wife and partner in ownership of the D bar K Guest Ranch. A decade had passed since the two of them, worn from the pressure of scheduled lives, had jettisoned corporate careers and purchased an abandoned cattle ranch in northern Arizona.
Dan took a wide stance on the ledge and pinched down his eyes to sharpen his view of the valley. Hummocks dotted with juniper and prickly pear rose like motionless ocean swells to the western horizon. Several dark flecks on the valley floor at the merge of semi-arid desert and pine-covered peaks marked the ranch buildings.
Excerpted from Greed by Douglas Beach Copyright © 2010 by Douglas Beach. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The engaging characters of Dan and Keely are inextricably embroiled in exactly what the title claims: an adventurous and tumultuous story of greed and love. A very entertaining novel.
Highly recommended... You can't help admire the Love Keely and Dan share. I couldn't put the book down...Absolutly Fabulous!!!!