Ronan Frost's White Peak is a fast-paced action thriller full of death-defying adventure.
Greg Rask, a dying tech billionaire, has invested millions chasing miracle cures. None of them are worth a damn, but he refuses to give up. Now, he’s gathering a team willing to go to the ends of the earth chasing life.
Each of Rask's crew has beaten incredible odds to rise from the ashes of their old lives to where they are now. Together, their next task is to retrieve a painting that is believed to hide a map which, if genuine, marks it as a treasure of the Ahnenerbe, the occult wing of the SS, who had devoted dozens of expeditions in search of the three cintamani stones for their combined properties, and the lost city where they were rumored to lay hidden: Shambhala. But a mystical brotherhood sworn to protect the secrets of the ancientsthe same secrets that allow its members to defy deathwill stop at nothing to ensure that Rask’s crew fail.
In an adrenalin-pumping quest through some of the most savage terrains known to man, the crew will be pushed to the limits of endurance and beyond.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
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Ryerson McKenna listened to his wife's death on the telephone.
He fed another quarter into the slot. The radio was playing his favorite song. No one in the roadside diner said a word. They all stared at him.
He pressed the phone against his ear.
"Rye? Rye? Can you hear me?"
"I'm still here," he said, then cupped his hand over the mouthpiece to yell at the waitress behind the counter, "I need coins. Quickly. Please."
On the screen above her head the words ACTIVE SHOOTER scrolled across the aerial shot of the black smoke and Sheridan Meadows shopping mall where less than five minutes ago the shooter had rammed a truck through the plate glass windows of the anchor store and kept on driving right into the heart of the perfume department. The smoke was more than just the settling of debris; the truck, with a beer company logo on the side, had been carrying a crude fertilizer bomb that had detonated less than sixty seconds after the engine died, barely giving the driver time to get free of the vehicle and start shooting his way clear.
Ryerson was down to three bucks in change, enough to keep the line alive for less than two minutes at the rate the pay phone was eating through the coins.
He pushed it all into the slot.
He couldn't afford to let the connection die. The cell phone networks were overloaded. No other calls were getting through. If the line dropped, he lost contact with Hannah. It was as simple as that.
Three gunshots in rapid succession punctuated his next words. "I'm going to get you out of there, Hannah, I promise." It was a stupid thing to promise, but he needed her to believe him. This was what he did for other people; he could do it for her. "Just stay with me, okay?"
"Okay," she said, unaware that the clock on their call was running out fast.
The world narrowed to vivid snapshots, brittle too-bright images of a life that had, in a couple of seconds, become incredibly fragile: the foam crescent of his lips slowly sliding down the side of the glass as his coffee went cold in the booth; the yolk of his sunny-side up eggs congealing on the greasy plate; the short-order cook with grease on the front of his apron and bacon sizzling on the hot plate; the candy-stripe straws in the glass jar on the countertop; the yellow sunflowers on the tables, petals wilting in the too-warm interior; the trucker leaning against the bar with a piece of green from his burger stuck between his teeth as he hit on the waitress; the coffeepot burning dry with nothing but dregs in the bottom.
The trucker emptied out his pockets, pushing another three bucks in quarters toward Rye, who fumbled them up and fed them into the phone, buying another two minutes on the open line.
The cash drawer chimed as the waitress opened it, scooping out another handful of silver. It still wasn't enough. No one paid by cash anymore. Not even tips. She pushed the tip jar across the counter. There was maybe another seven or eight minutes in there at best.
"More. I need more," he said, his gaze sweeping across the diners. Not including the two waitstaff, there were seven people in there with him, and two of those were kids. One of the diners, an art student type with plastic flowers in her hair, pushed back her chair and went around the table with her hat, collecting every last quarter the diners had between them, and brought it over to him.
He could only pray it was going to be enough to stay with Hannah until she was out of there.
The problem was he didn't have a religious bone in his body.
He stared at the screen, trying to think.
He needed to do this like it was a complete stranger in there, not the woman who was his world: keep her moving, keep her away from the crowds, find a place to either hide out or get out.
"Han, I need you to look for the mirrors," he said, thinking on his feet. "You should be able to see rows of them between the storefronts?"
"I see some," she said.
"Good. That's great. Okay. You need to find the one that opens into the service corridors. It's probably in the middle. Don't panic if it doesn't immediately open, some are false fronts. You need to find the one that opens, and go through it, before that main aisle becomes a shooting gallery."
He regretted the choice of words as soon as they were out of his mouth.
She breathed heavily in his ear. Running. It was hard to hear anything over the screams and panic on the open line. It was midafternoon. Not peak hours, but there must have been a thousand-plus people in the mall. More, probably, counting employees.
He was forty miles away, helpless, and his money was running out. It was one of the modern pay phones, with a little LCD display counting down the cents.
He fed the coins from the tip jar into the phone. "I need more," he shouted at the girl with the hat. She nodded, but they both knew she couldn't just magic up money from nowhere. Thinking on her feet, she ran outside to the parking lot.
"I can see them," Hannah repeated, but this time she wasn't talking about the mirrored doors. Another burst of gunfire underlined exactly what she could see.
"Get out of there, Han. Don't look at anyone. Just focus on the mirrors. Get through the mirrors."
"Oh god, oh god ... oh god ... Rye ... Oh god ... They just ... oh god."
"Hannah, listen to me. Hannah, you can't help anyone. I need you to concentrate on my voice. You're coming home to me. Okay?" She didn't answer him. "Go through the mirrored doors. Hannah, can you hear me? You need to get out of there."
The girl with the hat came back into the diner and offered up more coins. Her hands were shaking as she held out the hat. There was a felt flower pinned to the front, and maybe six bucks in coins and a pearl button inside it. It wasn't going to buy him enough time.
He needed more.
Rye grabbed a handful of silver and fumbled the coins into the slot, each one adding precious seconds to the call.
The message on the television screen changed, the ticker adding more detail to underscore the horror: EXPLOSION AT SHOPPING MALL. EYEWITNESS REPORTS OF MULTIPLE SHOOTERS. CASUALTIES.
He'd been concentrating on getting her away from a single point of danger, but before he could think about how that changed things she was back with him. "I'm through. I'm in some sort of passageway. It's all concrete and pipes." As the mirrored doors closed behind her they muted the sounds of dying. "I can see signs for Bay One and Bay Two."
"Follow the one that's heading away from the shooting," he said. "Every time you get a choice, head away from the shooting. Eventually you'll see signs for the fire exits."
"I can see an arrow," she said breathlessly.
He heard her hustling down the service corridor. The countdown on the phone said he had less than ninety seconds with her. She was on her way out now, away from the worst of it. He looked up at the television screen, thinking: god help those other people. ... There was a distance to it now.
He'd made good on his promise.
She was on her way out.
"I can see light up ahead," Hannah told him.
"Great," he said, "head toward it. You're coming home, love. Just get out of there. Don't stop. Don't look back. Just run and keep on running until you're behind the wheel."
For the next dollar, the only sounds he heard were Hannah's heavy breathing and the slap of her footsteps echoing in the industrial passage.
And then they stopped.
Again, he cupped his hand over the mouthpiece. "I need more money." He saw the poker machine beside the door and pointed. The waitress understood. She grabbed the key for the coin box and emptied it out, spreading the coins out across the counter. She sorted through them quickly.
He looked up at the television screen.
The message hadn't changed.
"Rye," Hannah said in his ear, only that, but it was the way that she'd suddenly stopped, like there was nothing else to say, the way that last footstep had dragged as she faltered, the way her breathing had changed in that last second, that told him she was in trouble.
He'd led her away from one straight into the path of another.
There were no last I love yous.
With eleven seconds left on the display, the gunshots rang out. Seven of them in less than a second. There was no more brutal sound in the world. With nine seconds left on the display he heard the phone fall from her hand. Eight, silence. Seven, silence. Six and the only sound was the slow measured approach of heavy booted feet. Five, and it was the scratch of the cell phone's case on the concrete floor as the gunman picked it up. Three, a man's voice told him, "She can't come to the phone right now."
The one thing he didn't hear in any one of those last eleven seconds was Hannah breathing.
One final shot killed any remaining hope.
The waitress had more money for him.
He didn't take it.CHAPTER 2
Rye didn't make a good widower.
He didn't look after himself. Didn't eat properly. Didn't go to bed, sleeping on the couch instead because he couldn't face going into the bedroom where she should have been. He didn't clear her clothes out of the closet or any of her lotions and soaps and perfumes from the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. He didn't take her last note down from the refrigerator door, even though it was a reminder that she would be home late because she was going to the mall. He didn't get rid of any of the happy stuff they'd spent too little time together amassing: the shared record collection, the book she'd never finish reading, the teacup she kept beside the kettle and the stupidly expensive rooibos and honeybush tea bags she liked so much, the photograph albums she'd insisted on instead of backing everything up to the cloud. In other words, all of the stuff that made Hannah Hannah.
He didn't take his ring off, either.
He wasn't ready to let go of who he had been.
He stared at the bottle, knowing that was one way out.
But every time he reached for the bottle, the one thing he kept coming back to was how much shit she would have given him for living this badly, and that stopped him. It didn't heal the Hannah-shaped hole in his world, though.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd cooked a meal.
When he did eat, like today, it was at the diner.
He pushed open the door and went inside.
Aggie, the waitress, offered him a smile and started with his coffee, not asking what he wanted. Why would she? He was a creature of habit. He'd been having the same stuff for five months. She never let on if she realized it was what he'd ordered the day Hannah had died.
Aggie steamed the milk while he took a seat at the counter. She was thirty-seven, in an on-again off-again, mostly off-again, relationship with Declan, the short-order cook, whose real name was something East European with a jumble of consonants that just made Declan so much easier to say, so it stuck. She was short, just nudging five foot, with delicate elfin features and a complexion that didn't appreciate the grease in the air. She smiled a lot. He quite liked Aggie because she knew better than to ask how he was doing. She just let him be.
He looked up at the television screen. It was still tuned to the local twenty-four-hour news cycle, waiting for the next tragedy to revel in. Aggie was in the middle of spooning froth onto the top of his drink. Some piss-poor Springsteen clone was on the radio. Little slices of Americana.
He'd started coming here after the shooting. At first it felt like a way of connecting with Hannah, as though the pay phone on the wall might ring, and he'd hear her voice on the other end of the line. Then it became a way of punishing himself with the constant reminder that he'd paid to listen to his wife die one quarter at a time.
They hadn't known how to talk to him the second time he turned up at their counter, or the third or the fourth. Instead, Aggie and Dec had put a plate of scrambled eggs and a coil of sausage in front of him and simply said, "Eat." It was the first hot food he'd eaten in three days, but he didn't tell them that.
He didn't tell them he'd just been to identify Hannah's body, either.
The aftermath of the Sheridan Mall Massacre — that was what they called it on the news, savoring the alliteration of the Mall Massacre — had been chaos. It had taken the police five hours to secure the scene, fifteen more to recover the bodies. The next twenty-four hours was about identifying them, even if social media was filled with lists of the dead, official channels just took longer, not able to make any mistakes.
They'd warned him that they'd done their best to make her look peaceful, but there was some damage to her body.
They'd promised that it would be like looking at her sleeping, but that was a lie. Asleep, the body is so full of life: little twitches and muscular tics, the rapid-eye flutter of dreaming, the barely perceptible flare of nostrils; the body was a landscape of tiny movement. Dead, it was absolutely still. That's what they meant when they said she looked peaceful. All of those little tics of life were gone.
Identifying her body took its toll on his psyche.
He couldn't understand how people could forgive or move on. He was going to carry this grief, this anger, until the day he joined her in the ground.
Rye heard the bell chime above the door as new customers entered the diner.
He didn't turn around.
He took a sip of coffee as Aggie put a plate down in front of him.
His favorite song came on the radio.
"Turn it off," he said.
Aggie didn't need telling twice. She knew the significance of the song. It was a ghost that haunted the roadside diner. None of them could stand to listen to it these days. It was burned into their collective memories; the soundtrack of that day.
He felt the presence of someone standing behind him, before the man asked, "Ryerson McKenna?"
"Who wants to know?" he grunted, not looking around.
The man put an envelope on the counter beside him.
"Someone suing me?"
"No idea. I'm only paid to see these get into the right hands. You have yourself a good day," the courier said, and a couple of seconds later Ryerson heard the bell again as the guy left.
"Bastards, the lot of them," Aggie said, but Rye was looking at the envelope. It was too small to be a subpoena.
He opened it.
Inside there was a single black business card, with gold lettering. The words: Do You Deserve a Second Chance? were printed on one side, the other was blank. He assumed the whole mysterious "we're not telling you what this is all about" thing was meant to intrigue him. It didn't. It bored him. He didn't play games.
He pushed the card aside and concentrated on his food. It was good, or at least good enough, and that was all he ever asked. He had a second cup of coffee before he pushed back the barstool.
He left without the card.
As he stepped out into the warm night, he saw a giant of a man — easily twice as broad as he was, muscular, hairless, black skin slick with sweat, his white shirt stretched painfully across huge ham hock biceps — leaning against a quarter of a million dollars' worth of yellow sports car. The man watched him for a moment. How he could ever fit inside the cramped confines of the automobile was a puzzle for physicists everywhere. Seeing Rye step out into the light, the man pushed himself away from the wing and wandered over.
"Mr. McKenna?" he asked, his voice a deep basso profundo.
"No," Rye said, walking away.
The big man smiled. "Do you mind if I ask whether you intend to respond to the invitation?"
"You can ask," he said. "I don't have to answer."
"I'm not interested in whatever you are selling."
"That's a pity, I suspect you're everything the boss hoped you would be."
"I'm sure he's used to disappointment."
"Actually, no, he tends to get his way when it comes to things he cares passionately about."
"Well, then perhaps it's time he experiences what the rest of us go through every day. He can send me a thank-you card. He obviously knows where to find me."
"It's a fair question," the big man said. "Do you deserve a second chance?"
"No," Rye McKenna said, and walked away.CHAPTER 3
The knock at the door dragged him out of the recurring nightmare.
He lay on his back looking at the ceiling, disoriented. The ceiling fan wobbled in its arc. It did nothing for the ventilation. Half a dozen red pinpricks of light dotted around the dark room could easily have been a metaphor for his life on standby.
The knock came again, more insistent this time.
"All right, all right, keep your hair on. I'm coming," he called. His jeans were across the back of the couch, as was his shirt. He dressed quickly, still buttoning when he opened the door.
It was the black guy from the diner.
"We're going to have to stop meeting like this," Rye said.
"My employer is going to need an answer."
"Like I told you, I'm not interested."
"I think you might be. Can I come in?"
"Knock yourself out," Rye said.
The man took residence in one of the room's two armchairs. He looked like he was settling in for a child's tea party, twice as big as the chair beneath him. He put an envelope on the table. He didn't say anything until Rye had closed the door and sunk back down into the memory foam seat. "Okay, let's get this over with shall we? Who's your employer and why the fuck won't he leave me alone?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "White Peak"
Copyright © 2019 Steven Savile.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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