About the Author
Ripley is a native Missourian who has been a sportswriter, a successful high school and college basketball coach, and well-respected educator. He enjoys watching football and playing golf, spending time with friends and family, and enjoying a good cigar when his wife, Penny, allows it. He's a father, grandfather, and unapologetic Schnauzer lover.
Read an Excerpt
A Wyatt Storme Thriller
By W. L. Ripley
Brash Books, LLCCopyright © 2015 W. L. Ripley
All rights reserved.
The afternoon sun hung like a bruised peach in the autumn sky when I stepped over the sagging, rusted fence into the biggest marijuana field I'd ever seen.
It was enormous. A field of a thousand hazy daydreams stretching like a Kansas cornfield and disappearing into the tree-lined ridge rising up behind it. A breeze from the west washed across my neck and by my face, rustling the spiked plants. Golden-orange leaves from the overhead trees drifted and danced, then settled among the green cannabis stalks.
It was the deer, killed and butchered, that had brought me here.
I had been bowhunting the public-use land of the Missouri Ozarks when I discovered the dead buck. Its antlers had been sawed off at the base of the skull and removed, the carcass left to rot. Two hundred pounds of wasted meat. It was a fresh kill. The wet sheen of scarlet blood glistened against the dull fur. It smelled like a fistful of dirty pennies.
There were five bullet entries. Three in the gut. Smell of dirty pennies and three in the gut. Gun season was still a month away. Poacher. The ground around the corpse was fouled with manprints, smooth-soled boots heading east, deeper into the timber. I followed them. As I did I nocked an arrow and secured the arrow's shaft with the flexible holder on the compound bow. I wanted to find the man who would kill a buck for its rack and then leave it to rot. Wanted to look at him. See what kind of man would do that. Maybe shake him a little.
I slipped through the October woods, the damp soil soft under my boots. Smelled the heavy aroma of decaying leaves. I found one of those miniature liquor bottles like the airlines serve. Jim Beam. Found a cigarette butt. Marlboro Light. Drinks whiskey, smokes cigarettes, litters the countryside, and shoots deer for kicks. Had to be a real man. I crossed a creek that cut like a vein through the forest, while the sun pulsed and spat yellow-orange rays through the crooked fingers of the timber. Shadows reached for me. A squirrel skittered through the leaves, then scampered up a tree, his claws clicking and scraping against the bark. He sat on a limb, chattering excitedly, scolding me. Two hours of light left.
I crossed the brown-crusted fence and saw the marijuana then. The stalks were head-high. Enough grass to keep Paradise County blurred and mellow for a month. There was raw stubble for a few rows where the plants had been harvested. I was three miles in, and most hunters wouldn't come this far before turning back. Besides, this area didn't get much traffic until the November gun season, by which time the crop would be gone and rolled into Zig-Zag papers.
I stepped into the stubble. On one side of the field was a small garbage pile of Miller beer cans, Maxwell House coffee cans, various tins from beans, soups, and other canned items. The gray-speckled blackness of an old campfire spotted the edge of the field like a scab. Thoughtful of them to bring garbage. Made it more like civilization. Just bring your own. From the amount of debris it looked as if several men tended the crop. There were more cigarette butts, none of which looked fresh. I heard a rustling noise in the marijuana stalks. Another deer? Or the poacher?
Then I heard something I'd never heard in the woods. A sound that sent an electric chill along the back of my neck. I was gripped by an ancient, paralyzing fear. Older than bullets and steel. It was the low, guttural snarl of carnivore, an animal rumble followed by the quickening whisper of slapping weeds.
Getting closer. Coming toward me.
I saw the low shadow first; then the black, triangle face and red mouth appeared through the spiked plants. There are few terrors to equal that caused by a huge hound, especially a Doberman pinscher. The lean, black body and viperlike head are the child nightmares of fiendish monsters and shadowy terrors grabbing at you out of the night. Fetid breath and dripping yellow fangs, snapping and tearing at you.
Years ago, in Vietnam, a Saigon pimp had burned a couple of Marines. Had his girls roll them. One of the Marines was a dog handler for the military police. I was on a three-day pass when I came across the pimp, lying in a heap of garbage, flies buzzing around his torn throat. The wound was raw and turning brown, like bad meat. Around the wound the skin was purple, and a flap of shredded dermis hung open like a leather pocket with bad stitching. His eyes were swollen, with the whites showing around the dark brown irises, a look of terror in them like I'd never seen, and I'd seen too much by that point in the war. A disturbing picture I had never fully shaken.
One more memory of Vietnam I didn't need.
The hound snarled, then flattened out in a dead run across the stubble. No tree close enough to climb before he was on me. When the black predator was fifteen yards away and closing, I sighted, allowed for his approach, and released a fluted arrow. The dog made a whuff sound as the wicked razor head bit into his shoulder. He faltered only slightly and came purposefully on. I bellowed a war cry of rage and fear and set my feet. He leapt at me, jaws popping, eyes yellow and narrow. I clubbed him with the bow like George Brett slapping a triple off the wall with the bases loaded. Arrows rattled off the quiver and scattered like burnt matches on the ground. The dog bawled in pain when the bow thudded against him. He landed heavily, like a sack of vegetables tossed from a truck, rolled once, then bounded to his feet.
He faced me, blood and saliva dripping from his mouth. The arrow's shaft was bent and the broadhead flashed silver and crimson where it escaped from his ribs. I dropped the bow and retrieved an arrow, ready to use it as a spear. Tore my skinning knife from its sheath. I waited, knees bent, weight evenly distributed, waiting for his rush. I could feel the hairs at the back of my neck, the sweat rolling down the backs of my thighs. My body tingled and the blood roiled in my head and ears; I felt the delicious ache of the anticipation of battle.
If I used the knife or arrow I would have to sustain a bite. I knew that. Accepted it. Not a conscious acceptance, but the acceptance of hundreds of messages streaming furiously through thousands of synapses and buried memories. I tucked my chin to protect my throat. I was wearing light camo. I could fend him off by feeding him one forearm while I stabbed with the knife, or I could stab at his eyes or down his mouth with the arrow. There was no good way.
One would die, the other live.
The hound gathered himself, legs splayed. A liquid growl rattled in his lungs, torn and lacerated by the razor-edged arrow. Reddish froth splashed his dark mouth. A stalactite of scarlet dripped syruplike from his side.
We stood and glared at each other. Man and beast. Ten feet separated us. My forearms began to stiffen and shake. The dog's breath came in shallow grumbles, like a worn bellows. He snuffed loudly, lay down, shuddered, and died.
Only seconds had passed, though it seemed as if we had moved in a slow dance of motion and emotion. My shoulders relaxed. I sank to my knees. Relief flooded me. My breathing came in short gasps, unable to satisfy the urgent thirst in my lungs. I fought the spasms of hyperventilation. Several seconds — or was it minutes? — passed before I gained control of my breathing.
There was a bad taste at the base of my throat. My arms and legs felt as if I'd run a mile carrying a fifty-pound rock. The cool air was delicious. Finally, I was able to stand. I walked to where the dog lay. I looked at his black, shining body and bloody mouth. Then I kicked him. Hard. My boot thudded and sank, gases escaped from the dog, causing a posthumous moan.
I was glad he was dead and I was alive. None of this man's best friend crap. That was for the puppy your father brought home for your birthday or for the Brittany spaniel walking at your side and pointing quail on chilled autumn afternoons. Not for this monster. He would have been more than happy to kill me, shake me by the throat until it came loose in his teeth, then stand over me and howl in triumph.
The hell with him.
I rubbed my forehead with the back of a trembling hand. My skin felt clammy. I gathered the fallen arrows and fixed them to the quiver. I was surprised at how my mind could suppress the fear. Shocked by the businesslike way I'd dispatched the animal. More automatic than calculated.
I'd forgotten about the poacher. Though the exchange between the attack dog and me hadn't been loud or long, it had attracted his attention. I heard the angry sizzle as the bullet zipped by before I heard the crack and rolling echo of a large-caliber rifle. In Vietnam you learned not to worry about the shot you heard — it was the bullet you never heard that put you in a body bag.
I dropped to the ground and belly-crawled to the creek bank. Two more shots buzzed through the brush before I rolled over the edge and down the bank. The barbed wire tore a square of cloth from my shirt and my shoulder struck the branch of a blowdown as I tumbled. I lost my bow briefly, then retrieved it before I scrambled under the fallen tree. The silence of the woods screamed at me.
Where was he? The spacing of the shots suggested one man armed with a bolt- or lever-action rifle. A poor shot, though. Untrained. He tried to make up for his marksmanship by shooting often, as he had with the buck. Or maybe he was just trying to scare me. That part was working.
I had some advantages. I was camouflaged. Though there was sunlight left, the lengthening shadows would make it tough for him if I kept the sun behind me. He probably expected me to run. I expected me to run. But would he expect me to circle him and try to take him? Would he come after me? Could he take a chance of me getting away, now I'd seen the marijuana? People who go to the trouble of posting an attack dog have a lot at stake. The size of the field argued for that. No, my guess was he didn't want me to get out of there alive.
I wanted me out of there. Alive.
The shooting ceased. He couldn't see me now I was down in the creek hollow. If he was any distance he would have a hard time sighting me, then getting off a good shot. The sound of the rifle suggested a shot within 150 yards. I thought about the dead buck, his rack torn from its cape. It didn't always take a good shot. Even a blind hog finds an acorn, and the unlucky die.
If I tried to run I could blunder right into him. Maybe a distraction would give me an edge. I removed an arrow from the quiver, nocked it to the string, placed the sixty-yard pin on a thick oak tree and released the string. The arrow whistled away and struck the ancient tree with a solid thwok.
I was moving with the arrow's departure, circling in the direction of the gunshots. A dangerous tactic, but not without logic. If I got behind him I could keep my eye on him, and in a couple of hours it would be too dark for him to find me. I liked my chances after dark. Besides, I didn't want a man with a high-powered rife dogging my trail. Until sunset, he had the big stick and the black aces.
It took twenty minutes for me to maneuver to a point on the ridge where I could see a good distance. I took careful steps, avoiding sticks and placing my feet on clumps of grass. The key was patience and to move slowly, not allowing panic to hurry you, keeping to the shadows.
I positioned myself behind a forked tree with a stand of second-growth brush at my back to break up my outline and take advantage of my camo. I waited, feeling my body heat, smelling my own scent, the scent of exertion, anticipation, and anxiety. I watched for movement, searching with my eyes before panning with my head to minimize my own movement. A woodpecker tapped on a rotting tree behind me. I smelled crushed evergreen. Thought about the 9-millimeter Browning pistol in the glove box of my Ford Bronco. If I were the Lone Ranger I could've had Tonto circle back to the truck and bring it, or the cavalry. Never a sidekick around when you need one.
I saw the poacher then. Rather, a pair of crows saw him first and told me. Cawing and chiding him, they launched themselves from their perch 125 yards southeast of me. He was at the base of an oak tree examining my arrow buried deep in its trunk. If he was any kind of tracker, he'd notice there were no tracks leading out of the woods. The ground was damp and soft from recent rains — good for moving quietly, but not for concealing footprints. I watched him pause to look around. His movements were unsure, furtive. He stopped, looked up the ridge, then back to the field. He raised the rifle, pointed it, held momentarily, then slowly dropped it to his side. Fear of the unknown is a powerful anxiety. He had seen a man, then that man had disappeared, and now he was wondering where.
He moved toward the field, bent slightly, with the gun sweeping in front of him. Reaching the edge of the field, he paused to light a cigarette, took three quick puffs and looked around quickly. I sat. Silent. The hunter once more.
He found the dog. Bent down to examine the corpse, touched the bent arrow, then looked around. He puffed the cigarette, plucked it from his lips and flicked it away as if it were poison. Reaching under his jacket, he produced a walkie-talkie and spoke into it. I hadn't counted on that. I couldn't make out what he was saying. His eyes searched around him as he spoke. Calling in reinforcements? He put the walkie-talkie away and called out, his voice cutting the stillness.
"Whoever you are, you better come on out. Or you better hope you're gone. People're coming to help me find you." Hated to hear that. I was hardly dressed for company and shy to boot. I fixed an arrow to the string. He was seventy-five yards away and moving in my direction. Too far for a shot. I waited.
"You killed Mr. Roberts's dog. He won't like that. Wouldn't want to be you when he finds out." He kept moving, looking behind him and all around as he did. Sixty-five yards away now. He called back over his shoulder. "Better come out, man. We'll find you soon enough. Might as well make it easy on yourself."
He was still moving in my direction. If he'd seen me and was trying to fool me, he was the best actor alive. If he saw me he would have no trouble hitting me from this distance. He was five ten, midthirties, with long, dirty-blond hair, a droopy Fu Manchu mustache of a darker shade, hangdog eyes, sallow complexion. And he was moving right at me. He must have been making his way to a vehicle. His movement suggested departure, not pursuit. Trying to vacate the woods before whoever killed the dog found him. By some dreadful fluke I had placed myself in his path. My throat was dry, and I fought the impulse to clear it. He was forty yards away now and still coming. I could see the sweat on his forehead and the Spanish leather boots on his feet. Heard his feet crumple the leaves and branches underfoot. No matter how well camouflaged I was he would soon see me.
I raised the bow and placed my fingers on the string.CHAPTER 2
Later, when I had a chance to reflect on the situation, I decided there was nothing else I could've done. He was nervous and wired to the gills on cocaine or booze. Or both. Saw it in his eyes. They were glazed. Manic.
"Put the gun down, partner," I said, as calmly and soothingly as I could. "And everything will be fine."
Maybe it was the sight of a camouflaged man rising up from the shadows of the woods, face smudged, only the whites of my eyes to suggest it was just a man and not some dark apparition materializing before him. I raised up behind one of the tree's forks, where little of me showed except the bow and the nasty razor-tipped shaft. I was off to his right, so he would have to turn slightly to shoot at me. I wasn't going to make it easy for him.
Maybe it was the unreality of the situation. Or the memory of the dog, now cold and stiff. Whatever caused it, he panicked. He didn't hesitate when he heard my voice, just swung the rifle quickly, snapping off a shot before he was ready.
The roar of the gun was deafening, filling my head and ears as if I were closeted in a small, soundless room. The bullet smacked into the tree as I relaxed my string fingers and sent the shaft away. The noise and flash of muzzle caused me to flinch slightly, but the arrow punched into the hollow of his right shoulder, then disappeared as if it had never touched him. The sixty-pound pull of the Browning compound powered the arrow through his shoulder and out the back. Cleanly. Five yards farther back and I might've missed him.
Excerpted from Hail Storme by W. L. Ripley. Copyright © 2015 W. L. Ripley. Excerpted by permission of Brash Books, LLC.
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
I've just finished reading W.L. Ripley's "Hail Storme", the first book in his Wyatt Storme series. What a great ride it was. I'm happy to say there are several more Wyatt Storme mysteries for me to sink my teeth into so I'll have many happy nights reading meaty books. We meet the main character Wyatt Storme in the forests of Missouri where he's bow hunting. We're told he's a former professional football player and Vietnam vet. Storme just wants a calm week hunting and enjoying down time at his cabin. The problems start when he comes across a large marijuana field guarded by a vicious doberman and a man with a gun. Storme is forced to kill the dog and wound the gunman. When Storme reports the incident and the marijuana filet to the local sheriff he unknowingly begins a domino effect that will end in a bloody battle for his life. "Hail Storme" was an incredibly complicated and totally enjoyable read. I was completely immersed and invested in Storme's character and had trouble putting it down at night to allow myself some sleep. It took me several nights to finish Ripley's novel because it was so wonderfully deep yet easy to read. I found myself really getting to know Wyatt Storme. The writer fleshes his character out so expertly that Storme felt real to me. I'm not surprised that many have compared Ripley's Wyatt Storme to John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee, it's an apt comparison This is a five star winner and I can't wait to read the next in the series.