FBI victim specialist Kyle Andrews is heading to snowy Montana to prove to himself, and others, that he can handle the duties of his dream job-to become a special agent. Assigned to a multiple homicide case on federal land in Flathead National Park along with Special Agent Lewis Edwards, Kyle arrives in Kalispell, Montana, the scene of three gruesome murders. Someone-or something-is on the loose on Shadow Mountain.
It is not long before Andrews meets Carrie Daniels, a grieving reporter who is attempting to solve the mystery behind her grandparents' murder in their lakeside cabin. While Kyle helps Carrie deal with her heartache, both quickly realize that nothing is as it seems. Legends of monsters persist and begin to spread throughout the tiny town, and the bizarre and brutal murders continue. Someone is hiding a secret so toxic that they are willing to kill to protect it.
In this gripping thriller, Kyle and Carrie must embark on an arduous trek into the depths of the forest to uncover the mystery behind the murders. But only time will tell if they will survive long enough to find the answers that have the potential to change their lives forever.
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|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.06(d)|
Read an Excerpt
By Lance Horton
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Lance Horton
All right reserved.
Jake Holcomb rocked and lurched in his seat as the snowcat churned its way through the dark line of trees. Even with the lights on, it was hard to tell if he had lost the trail again. On the radio, barely audible over the roar of the cat, the morning DJ droned on, "And finally, the cleanup efforts continue as emergency crews work around the clock to restore power and clear the highways after five straight days of record snowfall in northwestern Montana, adding to the stress of local residents who are suffering through one of the harshest winters on record. State officials have announced that Highway 2 between Columbia Falls and Glacier National Park, which has been shut down due to the heavy accumulations, should be reopened in twenty-four to forty-eight hours, provided there is no further snow. Now, back to the hits on Classic 93—"
Jake grabbed the thermos wedged between the seat and the center console. He spun the lid off and took a big swig of the Kahlua and coffee.
"Ahhh." He wiped his beard on the sleeve of his snowsuit. He didn't usually drink on the job—at least not this early in the morning—but he had been putting in sixteen to eighteen hours a day for the last three days, repairing downed power lines in the freezing snow and ice. He deserved a little reward. Besides, it wasn't like he had to worry about running over anyone in the middle of the damn forest.
He was almost on it before he spotted the top of the sign for Graves Bay sticking out of the snow. Ahead of him, the ground disappeared. He turned sharply to his right, following the ridge for a short way before making a hard left. The cat tilted perilously as the trail doubled back on itself and then slanted downward into a small clearing. Jake hit the brakes and knocked the cat out of gear. Somewhere out there in front of him was the lake. He sure as hell didn't want to end up in there. He wiped a circle into the fog-shrouded window and peered out at the cabin to his left. There were no lights on inside.
Grumbling to himself, he grabbed his tool belt from the passenger seat and then hopped from the cab into the waist-deep snow. He pulled out his Maglite, flicked it on, and began trudging around the south side of the cabin.
When he found the utility meter, he brushed the snow from the glass lens, but he still couldn't see if the dials were turning. "Fuckin' ice," he muttered, scraping at it with the butt of the flashlight.
A crack sounded in the forest behind him. Jake spun around, sweeping the light back and forth among the trees. Ice crystals sparkled in the dark, but nothing moved.
He turned back to the meter, and this time he could see that the dials weren't turning. He decided to check around front.
To his surprise, an SUV sat out front. It was buried up to the door handles, its windshield and roof blanketed with more than two feet of snow. Behind it was what looked like a trailer. Whatever it hauled was completely buried. He approached and raked his arm back and forth, clearing away the powder to reveal the handlebars and cowling of a snowmobile.
Jake tromped up to the front porch. He wondered if people had been stranded here or if they had just left the vehicle behind when the storm hit. He tried looking in the large picture window facing the lake, but the curtains had been pulled closed.
"Hello?" he called out as he knocked on the front door. "Is anyone here?"
He pulled back the hood on his snowsuit and listened for sounds of activity within, but the cabin remained silent. Around back, the idling cat was the only sound to be heard.
He jerked back, looking over his shoulder. What the hell was that? He shone his light on the Jeep, thinking an icicle might have fallen on the hood, but the snow there was undisturbed.
There it was again. Only this time, he realized it had come from the other side of the cabin. He stepped back off the porch and trudged around the corner to the north.
There was another door on the side at the back corner. As he approached, he noticed the door was ajar, slowly swinging back and forth. The trees whispered as a breeze passed through their upper reaches. The door blew inward to the left.
It came from the other side. Cautiously, Jake stepped inside, shining the light into the room. The circular beam revealed a table with three chairs around it. A fourth lay on its side on the green linoleum floor. A bowl of pretzels and four Budweisers sat on the table, surrounded by a pile of scattered playing cards and poker chips.
He pushed the door shut behind him and found an old washer and dryer in the corner. The dryer's metal hull had a circular dent in it where the doorknob had struck it repeatedly.
Jake crept on through the kitchen. The brittle linoleum crackled with each step, which sounded unnaturally loud in the silence. In the front room, a sofa faced the large window across from him.
In front of the sofa, a small coffee table had been knocked over. A foamy puddle of spilled beer had frozen into golden crystals. Next to it was another frozen pool of something dark and thick like motor oil. As he continued to pan across the floor, the light spilled over something that glimmered faintly. He stopped, trying to make out what it was.
The flashlight trembled in his hand.
Shit ... shit ... shit!
A part of his mind yelled at him to run, but it was drowned out by the part that was screaming in terror. He stood transfixed, staring at the man's head in the pool of frozen blood, the vacant, milky-white eyes gazing into nothingness. No body. Just a head.
A low, moaning cry escaped him. Legs trembling, he turned and ran. His breath came in short, ragged gasps.
Outside, he turned the corner and raced for the cat, but he stumbled, falling face-first into the snow. The flashlight flew from his hand and vanished into the deep powder with a soft whump.
Looking up, he saw a hand in front of his face, its fingers frozen in the semblance of a claw.
Jake pissed in his pants.
Screaming, he scrambled backward, struggling to get out of the thing's reach. His breathing came faster, racing in time with his heart. Spots swam before his eyes. His legs went numb; the corners of his vision went dark. Unable to stand, he clawed his way across the snow, desperate to reach the cat.
He grabbed the metal treads and managed to pull himself up enough to clamber into the cab of the big rig. He slammed the door behind him and grabbed the microphone of the two-way radio.
"Gladys, Gladys!" he screamed. "They're dead. They're dead. Oh God, they're dead!"
The FBI offices in Seattle resided in a plain, concrete and glass high-rise on 3rd Avenue overlooking the southern end of downtown and, a little farther to the west, Fisherman's Wharf and Puget Sound. Except for the height, the building looked similar to the bureau's headquarters in Quantico—which meant drab. To Kyle Andrews, it looked like something an architecture student might have designed overnight when faced with a project deadline. It appeared as if it was constructed of large, concrete rectangles with the windows recessed in order to provide a perfect roosting spot for the countless pigeons and seagulls. Its stark facade, however, seemed appropriate for the agency it housed.
When he stepped off the elevator into the third-floor lobby, Kyle switched the manila envelope he carried from one hand to the other as he took off his overcoat and hung it on the rack. He ran his fingers through his dark hair in an effort to help dry it out. He hated that it would get all wavy when it was wet, which was most of the time in Seattle.
Katherine, the receptionist, sat behind the large console desk, a dozen red roses taking up one corner of the counter. On the marble wall behind her loomed the seal of the FBI, flanked by pictures of the president and the director of the FBI. She looked up and greeted him with an understanding frown.
"How'd it go last night?"
"Same as always," Kyle said. How else was a mother supposed to take it when she was told her five-year-old daughter was never coming back?
Abby had been taken by her father three weeks ago. They had made their way down the West Coast to California, where he had taken her to Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm before they headed east. The FBI had tracked them down, locating them in a cheap motel on the outskirts of Las Vegas. They had waited until the middle of the night before they had made their move. But as the agents closed in, they heard two gunshots from inside the room.
When they broke down the door, they found the father dead at the foot of the bed on which Abby was laying. He had killed her before he had turned the gun on himself.
It was the part of his job Kyle hated the most—the death notification.
"I just don't understand how some people can get so messed up," Katherine said.
"I know." It was a question Kyle had been asked too many times before, and while he knew something of the reasons and motivations, he had grown tired of trying to explain them. They never understood anyway.
Katherine shook her head. "I can't imagine—" She stopped as her extension rang. She held up her finger and answered the call.
Kyle started down the hall toward his cubicle.
"Kyle," Katherine called after him. "It's SAC Geddes. She wants to see you in her office right away."
Kyle's hand tightened on the envelope. He wasn't ready to face the Dragon Lady yet. Did she know already?
Outside her office, Kyle adjusted his tie while he made a conscious effort to stand straight. He tended to slump when he was down, which caused his suit to hang on him as if it were two sizes too big. That didn't conform to the strong, confident image the FBI wanted its employees to project. Taking a deep breath, he rapped on the door.
"Come in," Geddes said, her voice raspy from a lifetime of chain- smoking.
Special Agent in Charge JoAnne Geddes stood behind her chair, rain streaming down the floor-to-ceiling windows behind her. The wan light of the day caused her hair to look darker than usual, turning it blood red. Shadows seemed to gather in the creases of her face.
Special Agent Lewis Edwards, an older black man with graying hair around his temples and a broad, flat nose, sat in one of the chairs across from Geddes's desk.
"How'd Merideth Aames take it?" Lewis asked.
"Same as they all do," Kyle said.
The silence lingered for a moment. Kyle cleared his throat as he thought about what he should say when SAC Geddes suddenly spoke, "Edwards here tells me you're interested in applying to become a special agent."
Kyle's eyebrows raised in surprise. He looked at Lewis, who nodded in encouragement.
He looked back at Geddes. "I've been thinking about it," he admitted as he clutched the envelope in his hands.
Geddes's green eyes narrowed. "I'll be honest with you, Andrews. I don't think you'd make it as an SA. I don't think you've got the stones for it. You're too ... compassionate," she snorted, as if the word left a bad taste in her mouth.
No wonder everyone calls her the Dragon Lady behind her back, Kyle thought. An image came suddenly to mind: narrow-slitted, reptilian eyes and red hair flaring out from her head, cigarette smoke flaring from her nostrils. Had he not been so fearful of her response, he might have laughed out loud.
"But Edwards here seems to think differently," she continued. "So here's what I'm going to do. I'm sending you to Montana with him. We've been assigned a multiple homicide on federal land in Flathead National Park. You'll officially be serving as a victim specialist on the case but will also assist Edwards with the investigation. He thinks it'll be a good chance for you to see what being a special agent is really like."
"Isn't Montana in Salt Lake City's jurisdiction?" Kyle asked.
"Normally, it would be, but the vics all appear to be from Seattle. We'll be handling the case in conjunction with the Kalispell office, the county sheriff, and the Forest Service. Your flight leaves in two hours."
Kyle started to thank Geddes for the opportunity and assure her that he wouldn't let her down, but he knew that would be pointless. Results were all that she cared about. Besides, it wasn't as if he was getting off easy. There were still death notifications to be made, families to console.
As they were leaving, Kyle stopped Lewis outside of Geddes's office. "Hey, thanks for that."
"No sweat, cowboy." Lewis clapped him on the shoulder. "Just don't make me look like an ass."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Kyle said with a wry grin.
"Anytime," Lewis said as he started down the hall. "Oh, and pack warm," he added over his shoulder. "I hear there's a shitload of snow where we're going."
* * *
On his way home, inching along in the crawling traffic and frigid rain, Kyle pulled out his cell phone and hit the speed dial.
"Hola, Andrews' residence."
"Miss Vera, it's Kyle." Valeria Sanchez had served as Kyle's nanny when he was a child and had been his family's maid for as long as he could remember.
"Oh, Mr. Kyle, how are you?"
"I'm fine, thanks. How's Janet?"
"Your mother, she is not so good today," Valeria whispered. "She asked about you earlier, but she is sleeping now. The treatments make her very tired."
"I know," Kyle said. "When she wakes up, just tell her I called back, will you?"
"Yes, I tell her."
"Thanks," Kyle said. He was about to hang up when Miss Vera spoke again.
"Your mother, she says you will be coming back to Dallas soon. Is this true?"
Kyle frowned. He had hoped to avoid the subject. "I don't know, Miss Vera. I ... something's come up at work. I'm going to be out of town for a while."
"Oh, I see."
"Don't tell Janet, all right? I promised her I'd let her know as soon as I decided."
"Okay, Mr. Kyle."
Kyle sighed as he hung up and looked at the envelope in the passenger seat. He could already imagine Janet's response when he told her he hadn't turned in his notice.
In an effort to improve his mood, he pulled out a Jimmy Buffett CD and stuck it in the stereo.
His love of the music had begun innocently enough when Angela, whom he had just started dating at the time, had invited him to a Buffett concert. She had just begun her residency in the emergency room at Parkland, and a bunch of the staff members there were big fans. They had invited her and Kyle to go along with them. Kyle hadn't really cared for his music and wasn't interested in going, but Angela had talked him into it.
It wound up being one of the best times he could ever remember. It wasn't just a concert they attended; it was a miniature Mardi Gras. People had dressed in Hawaiian shirts and grass skirts, sailor uniforms, bikinis, and countless other wild costumes. For three hours, they sang and danced and drank and acted like children, laughing and tickling one another. And after the concert was over, the people kept it going out in the parking lot. He and Angela had joined in, buying a bottle of homemade sangria from some hippie-looking kid with a cooler full of the stuff. They drank straight from the bottle as they danced the night away. Later, when they finally made it back to Angela's apartment, they made love for the first time. From that moment on, Kyle had been hooked. He had become a bona-fide Parrot-head overnight.
He thought about calling Angela to see if she had gotten the flowers yet, but he knew she was in the middle of her shift and he didn't want to bother her while she was working.
"Son of a Son of a Sailor Man" began playing. Normally, it conjured up thoughts of better times to come: the warmth of the sun on his face, the salty tang of the ocean air, and him at the helm of a thirty-foot sailboat making his way down the Baja Peninsula.
But this morning, his disposition remained as gloomy as the weather.
Excerpted from Shadow Dragon by Lance Horton Copyright © 2012 by Lance Horton. 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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