Radical Action lives up to the title. If you like Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, and Vince Flynn, set your cross hairs on Radical Action: A Colt Kelley Thriller!
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Radical Action: A Colt Kelley Thriller
E-Force lurks in the Colorado Rockies, unleashing destruction at prominent ski resorts. While the media validates the extremists' radical action, Colt Kelley, a disillusioned environmentalist, finds himself inescapably linked to their crimes. When people close to Colt start dying, a dark conspiracy below the eco-terrorist facade thrusts him into the cross hairs of merciless killers and an organization with unfathomable power. In a race against time and ruthless evil, Colt is the only obstacle between E-Force and a terrible hidden purpose. To stop both, Colt must take his own radical action...or die trying.
Wednesday, May 16
Sitting at her kitchen table, Deb Olson’s heels tapped up and down like pistons. Her jerky movements mimicked those of a nervous squirrel. A parrot sat on a perch in a gage in a sunlit corner. With tired eyes, casualties of another fitful night, Deb glanced at the telephone on the counter. It beckoned, but she resisted. Slurping more coffee, the mug felt heavy in her shaky grasp.
“Go away. We don’t want any.” At the outburst, Deb jumped as if she had been branded with a hot iron.
“Stop that, Rascal!” She admonished the parrot. “It’s not the time.”
Turning back to her coffee, a shiver racked Deb’s body. Fear was taking its toll. Each tiny noise in the night and every shadow were catalysts of terror. She imagined Cain stalking her, bent on ending her existence. Paranoia was transforming her life into a parade of unbearable hours. It had to end. Standing up, Deb approached the phone with trepidation, as if it were an alien object that had just fallen to earth. But the pull was irresistible. Her breathing quickened as she picked it up and dialed the number written on a scrap of paper.
“FBI,” a bored-sounding voice answered. “This is Special Agent Price.”
“I’m the one who called you about EcoFriends. We talked a while back.”
“Yes, I remember.” Price perked up. “You never told me your name.”
Deb was unapologetic. “You never told me people would find out I called.”
“What happened? Who knows about our conversation?”
“My boss, Howard Anderson, found out. You lied to me! Now everyone in EcoFriends is on a witch hunt. I’m in big trouble!”
“I had nothing to do with this.” Price was insistent. “But we’ve got to take counter-measures. Where are you?”
“I’m at home.” Deb winced as if she was about to receive a shot. “I know you can trace the call anyway.”
“That’s right. Does anybody in EcoFriends know you’re the leak?”
“Not yet.” Deb decided not to mention Colt. “But Anderson is hell bent on rooting me out. The stakes have gotten higher. Remember that EcoFriends money I told you about? Anderson is using it to fund E-Force. And one of our board members is an E-Force operative. If they find out how much I know…they’ll probably try to kill me.”
“This is serious.” Price sounded concerned. “How long have you known about this?”
“Awhile.” Deb fidgeted with her coffee mug. “You’ve got to do something to help me.”
“Have you talked to anybody else about this?”
“No, just you.” Stress overwhelmed Deb. “Look, I don’t want to keep talking on the phone. I’ll give you any information you want, but I need protection.”
Price concurred. “You’re right. I’ll send people out from our field office in Boise. That’s close to where you are.”
Deb shuddered that the federal agent had deduced her location. “When will they get here?”
“They’ll be there this afternoon, Ms. Olson. That’s your name, right?”
“That’s me.” Deb’s response was barely audible.
“Our agents will keep you safe.” Price’s voice was reassuring. “Hang in there.”
“I don’t have a choice.” Deb ended the call. She folded her arms and squeezed her eyes shut in hopes of chasing the nightmare away.
* * * *
Luke Parson took a deep breath and rapped on the door of the publisher’s office. A gruff voice beckoned him inside. Saunders didn’t smile when Luke ventured into the office.
“Have a seat.” Saunders motioned to a chair in front of his desk. “Keyser was in here a little while ago. It sounds like we have a problem.”
Keyser had edited Luke’s political campaign reform article into an abomination. Luke considered the piece that ended up in Issue Insight Magazine, supposedly penned by him, to be a professional embarrassment. His subsequent confrontation with the editor had gotten ugly.
“I want to tell my side of the story.” Luke dropped his stout frame into the seat.
“I don’t need a recap. How long have you been at Issue Insight--about a year?”
“That’s pretty close,” Luke said, fuming at the thought of Keyser.
“And how many conflicts have you had with editors in that time?”
“I don’t know.” Luke threw his hands up in frustration. “These things get blown out of--”
“It’s a weekly thing for you, Parson. It’s going to stop now. This isn’t some damned high school newsletter!”
“I know that, but my campaign finance piece was well-researched.”
“You didn’t follow the guidelines of your assignment.”
Luke knew he was pushing his luck. “That doesn’t justify Keyser destroying my article without any discussion.”
“Keyser did his job. You broadened your scope without authorization.”
“But Senator Cardin sits on only one side of the political fence.” Luke squirmed.
“Keyser directed you to write a perspective piece about Edward Cardin and his push for campaign finance reform.” Saunders’ face was flush with anger. “John Harris should have been a footnote.”
“But Cardin and Harris are in a huge Senate battle,” Luke said. “Harris has rallied up so much opposition that the vote on Cardin’s bill is postponed.”
“I don’t give a crap about any of that!” Saunders looked ready to leap from behind his desk. “Issue Insight is in business to sell subscriptions. I know what the readers want and I make sure they get it. If they’re not interested in what we print, then we don’t have a magazine. Does that make sense to you?”
“Of course.” Luke held back his true opinion. He didn’t want to lose his job at Issue Insight…yet.
Saunders went on. “Senior editors like Keyser are paid to keep this publication marketable. From now on, I expect you to stick to the assigned topic. There’s no room for mavericks here.”
“I understand.” Luke’s disappointment grew. He had expected employment at Issue Insight to provide opportunities to blossom as a professional. Instead, he was being instructed to compromise his journalistic principles.
“If we have another meeting like this, it’ll be our last.” Saunders glowered before Luke turned and hurried out the door.
* * * *
Marla Wells’ hostile gaze was fixed on the computer screen in her office. For the third time, she tried to send her document to the printer. The process failed again. An error message informed her that there was a problem with the network.
“Those stupid idiots in IT.” Marla shoved her chair back and grabbed the phone. “Get up here, Rajah,” she said when the head of the station’s information technology department answered. “You guys have got my computer system all screwed up again.”
The phone rang seconds after Marla slammed it down. It was another interruption. In her foul mood, Marla was ready to lay into somebody. Her tone was rude when she took the call.
“Marla, this is Ted Rogers from the network offices in New York. Did I call at a bad time?”
Marla was mortified. “Oh, Mr. Rogers. I wasn’t expecting you on the phone.”
“You sound upset,” Rogers said.
“I was just working through a problem.” Marla stammered. “Everything will be okay.”
“From the quality of your work, I imagine you know how to overcome adversity. Your work is the reason I wanted to talk to you this week.”
“That’s quite a compliment.” Marla’s trepidation transformed into pride. “Thank you, Mr. Rogers.”
“Please, call me Ted. Marla, I like the way you’ve handled this E-Force drama.”
“I don’t know what to say.” She was careful to sound humble.
“I want you to come to New York.” Rogers got to the point. “I’d like to discuss your career goals. Have you ever thought about working at the network level?”
“I’ve always just tried to do my job.” Marla lied even as she subdued her excitement.
“We think you have a lot of potential. The UMN is expanding its array of news shows. There’re opportunities for ambitious seasoned journalists like you.”
“I’m very flattered. This is so unexpected.”
“We can talk about the details when we meet,” Rogers said. “It’s short notice, but could you come up on Friday?”
“That’s two days from now.” Marla was surprised. “I could probably make it work though.”
“The UMN will make the arrangements for your trip and cover the expenses. I’m looking forward to our meeting.”
When the phone call was over, Marla tingled with excitement. Her career was about to rocket upward at breathtaking speed. It was fate when E-Force had first called. But her ingenuity had pulled the pinnacle of success within reach.
* * * *
John Harris, the senior Senator from Colorado, perused a menu at a restaurant near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. He sat alone at the table. He glanced at his watch. Edward Cardin was ten minutes late. It was the same with every meeting between the two adversaries. Harris knew it was a deliberate tactic to irritate him.
“Good afternoon, John.” Cardin wheezed without apology as he arrived. “It’s been a busy day.”
Harris shrugged off the tardy arrival. “You just missed Arnie Tillman.”
“What’s he up to?” Cardin asked, unable to hide his dismay.
“He’s got his finger on the pulse of the people. We just talked shop for awhile.”
“I’m sure he had a take on campaign reform.” Cardin fished for information.
“You could have asked him about his polling data if you’d been here on time.” Harris smiled. “Lunch is on me.”
Cardin’s face turned red, but he contained his anger. Harris smiled inwardly. He had scored a point and nudged his rival off balance. The old man settled his portly frame into the chair across from Harris and picked up a menu.
“You’re busy, so let’s get started,” Harris said after the waiter took their orders. “What’s the agenda for this meeting?”
Harris studied the Senator from New York while waiting for an answer. It was obvious that the aging politician’s health was declining. Cardin was in the twilight of his long Senate tenure. The campaign reform bill was probably his last chance to establish a legacy after a career scarred by scandal.
“I’ll make a deal with you,” Cardin said like he was making a gracious concession to his opponent. “We’ll strike the private spending limits, and you call off the dogs. Let’s get this bill up for a vote and onto the President’s desk. The American people want these reforms.”
“That’s not a compromise.” Harris leaned back and scratched his mostly-bald head. “Private political advertising would still be prohibited. What are you going to spend the money on?”
“It gives your big business interests a way to stay in the game,” Cardin said, “but it keeps them on a leash.”
“That’s not the real issue. I disagree with the entire premise of your bill.”
Cardin sputtered after nearly choking on his glass of water. “Your statement is outrageous. These reforms will open politics to the common man.”
“You want to put limitations on free speech.” Harris didn’t waver. “That’s unconstitutional.”
Cardin’s voice raised another decibel. “Regulating funding and advertising is the only way to keep the special interests from corrupting our political system.”
“Dictate is a better word than regulate. And it won’t stop corruption by dishonest people.”
“There’ll be an agency to manage all aspects of funding.” Cardin’s jowls shook. “You know the stipulations.”
“And who’s going to control this new agency?” Harris leaned forward and leveled a finger at his adversary. “Will it be your party or mine?”
“This is a waste of time!” Cardin was clearly flustered.
Harris knew he was prevailing in the battle. There were enough votes in the Senate to defeat Cardin’s bill. If he could keep ratcheting up opposition, the outlook for the elderly Senator was grim.
“Ed, I’m not trying to insult you,” Harris said as the older man struggled to his feet. “This thing just goes against everything I stand for.”
“You’re blinded by partisan politics.” Cardin couldn’t contain his fury. “I won’t forget this, John.”
Harris said as the old man waddled away, “You already ordered lunch.”
“Get a doggie bag.” Cardin didn’t look back.
* * * *
The suspension on the mountain bike reverberated from the relentless descent of the Scout Trail. With teeth rattling, Colt squeezed the brake levers and slid into a sharp switch-back turn. At the right instant, he hopped his back tire to the outside, changing direction. A steep path studded with rocks and roots loomed ahead, ready to punish rider and bike alike.
Colt charged forward. With the skill of a trials rider, he negotiated the obstacle course constructed by nature. His movements were instinctive, refined with balance and timing. Reaching a smoother stretch of trail, he cranked hard and the bike shot down toward the next challenge that stood between him and the town.
Victorious, Colt finally entered Glenwood Springs and ground to a halt. After a refreshing shot of water, he pulled a cell phone from his CamelBack. His temporary escape from the consequences of his poor judgment with EcoFriends was over.
“I haven’t heard from you, Deb. What’s going on?”
“I’m getting the hell out of this mess.” Deb’s tone was that of a suffering mother, driven to her wits end by a colicky baby.
“You’re going to go to the FBI?” Colt imagined himself being marched into a courtroom to face a federal judge.
“I’ve already talked to someone named Price. He’s sending some of his people out.”
“Then it’s over for EcoFriends.” Colt was somber. “We all have to face the music.”
“Colt, it’s the only way.” Deb’s voice broke. “The cat’s out of the bag, and I’m scared. I have these terrible premonitions about Cain. In the nightmares, he’s coming for me. I can’t go on like this.”
Colt’s mind flashed back to the parking lot encounter with Zed Cain. Does Cain know about Deb’s revelations to me?
“I understand.” Colt felt helpless. “You’re doing the right thing. And you’ve got to protect yourself.”
“Price said the FBI will keep me safe.” Deb’s voice steadied. “When they get here, I’ll be fine.”
Colt paced next to his bike. “Maybe I should come up there with you.”
“You don’t need to do that,” Deb said in a gentle tone. “You’ve always been there for me, Colt. I’ll make sure the FBI understands you’re on my side in this.”
“Thanks, Deb.” Colt’s confidence was bolstered a little. “Just stay safe.”
When the call ended, Colt walked over and picked up his bike. As he mounted, he wondered if he could escape the morass of quicksand he found himself in before he sank too deep. He was filled with self-loathing and guilt.
Colt muttered a quiet reprimand to himself. “This is all your fault.” He bent over the handlebars and pedaled toward his Land Cruiser, parked several blocks away.
* * * *
Carrie Forde was breathing hard as she leapt across a little stream. Her running shoes kicked up sand when she landed and charged after her loping shepherd-mix mutt. This was the farthest she and Bandit had ever advanced into the canyon that was carved into the ancient rock of the Uncompahgre Plateau. The rock walls contrasted with the green desert plants, adorned with spring flowers.
After a few hundred more yards of climbing, Carrie decided she had come far enough. There was nobody around to invade her space…to see her weakness.
Carrie sat down on a boulder worn smooth by water flowing eons ago. She placed her sweaty face in her hands and cried. The tears flowed silently. The evening wind ebbed. Bandit trotted back and sat near her feet. His gaze suggested that he shared her pain.
It was one of those rare days when Carrie felt hopeless. Tough and independent, she was used to dealing with problems. But sometimes she just felt alone. The self-built wall around her kept the painful past at bay, but it was also a prison that prevented striking out anew and forging fresh relationships. Shame goaded Carrie to continue paying penance, keeping the barricades erected. Some days they were close to crumbling.
For several minutes, Carrie let her emotions pour out. “You’re so weak!” She boiled with self-deprecating anger. It was as if the tears inside had sublimed into pressurized steam. Leaping to her feet, Carrie picked up a rock and hurled it at a cliff. Crack! The impact echoed off the canyon walls.
When Carrie sat back down, her tumultuous feelings flowed as wild as a mountain stream. Likewise, they were slow to recede. The beauty of her surroundings helped ignite the embers of hope. It was a reminder that God’s creation was full of wonderful things that transcended the darkest hours of personal crisis. In reality, problems were fleeting, and Carrie asserted that her faith would be the key to perseverance.
You’ve got to live day by day, minute by minute, she affirmed, standing up.
When Carrie glanced at Bandit, he was sniffing at a paw print. It was from a mountain lion…a large one. The big cats started hunting at dusk. With unease, she looked up and down the canyon. The waning light revealed nothing. She was glad she had the dog along.
“Let’s go, Bandit.” Carrie started the retreat toward the mouth of the canyon. “We’ve still got a lot to live for.”
Her cadence was broken by frequent anxious glances over her shoulder.
* * * *
The vintage Dodge Charger’s engine rumbled. Trigger Ruddock loved the sound of a predator. It was ominous, emanating power. The mechanical vibrations of the muscle car, racing along a rural road, transformed the passenger seat into a massage chair. The experience tempered Ruddock’s impatience. Gravel crunched under the wide tires when the vehicle veered off the road onto a driveway. The name Olson was painted on the side of a metal mailbox.
A hundred yards from the pavement, Cain parked near a weather-beaten barn. The structure appeared on the verge of collapse. Ruddock lifted his dark glasses and studied the house. It was a sturdy looking place surrounded by a picket fence. A contingent of pinion and juniper trees occupied the rolling ground behind the building.
“It looks pretty quiet.” Ruddock turned to Cain. The fresh haircut and professional attire made him snicker. “That suit is you. You look like the most tight-ass FBI agent ever.”
Cain didn’t bother with a response. “Go to the front door. I’ll take the back.”
Wearing sunglasses, the two men got out of the car and straightened their suit coats. Ruddock tugged at his tie. “We could be the freaking Beatles in ’62.”
As he neared the dwelling, a breeze carried the odor of cut grass and fresh-turned earth to Ruddock’s nostrils. The flower beds were tilled and awaiting planting. A mower was on the front lawn. When he placed his hand near the machine, heat radiated from the engine.
“Little Debbie’s home.” A cruel smile creased Ruddock’s face.
Wood planks groaned and creaked when he ascended the steps and strode across the porch. Ruddock pushed the doorbell and listened. Reverberating chimes were followed by silence. When he rapped on the door, the result was the same. Eyeing the knob, Ruddock resisted the temptation to force his way inside.
With his footsteps echoing off the overhanging roof, Ruddock stalked to the end of the porch. Glancing in the windows, he saw no sign of Deb Olson. Peering around the corner of the house, he noted a shed tucked in the trees. It was about the size of a single-car garage. A window on the building was bronzed by the low-hanging sun. The door was open, swinging gently in the evening draft.
“Are you in there, Little Debbie?” Ruddock whispered. The pistol in his shoulder holster suddenly seemed to strain against the confines of the suit coat.
Sounds of movement escaped the little building as Ruddock advanced. Cain materialized off to his side. The leader’s harsh expression demanded an explanation for the change in tactics. Without a verbal response, the lean subordinate motioned toward the open door. Cain nodded, giving notice to proceed.
Ruddock called out. “Is anybody in there? We’re with the FBI.”
“Go away! Nobody’s home,” a cracked voice said. The scratching in the shed didn’t abate.
“Don’t be alarmed.” Ruddock’s hand was on his weapon. He eased closer to the entrance. “We’re here to help you.”
“Go away. We don’t want any.” The doorway remained vacant.
Ruddock drew his gun and leapt into the shed. Deb Olson wasn’t among the clutter of lawn furniture, garden tools, and flower pots. Frantic fluttering of wings pulled his eyes and aim to the birdcage on a workbench below the window. The incarcerated parrot settled back onto the perch and faced the muzzle of the pistol.
The bird cackled, “Nobody’s home.”
Ruddock resisted the urge to pull the trigger and darted back outside. “It’s a freaking bird!”
An engine came to life with the squealing of a serpentine belt. Cain and Ruddock whipped around. It was in the old barn.
“Son-of-a bitch!” Ruddock cursed as the pair sprinted to prevent their quarry from escaping.
A loud crash was accented by splintering wood. By the time the would-be assassins reached the driveway, Deb Olson’s Subaru was tearing away. Gravel sprayed until the tires screeched on the asphalt of the road. A piece of the wrecked barn door careened off the vehicle and cartwheeled into the weeds.
“Damn it!” Ruddock leapt into the Dodge Charger and slammed the door. “She’s getting away.”
Without a spoken word, Cain jammed the accelerator to the floorboard. The tires ripped across splintered boards, flinging one into the empty space of the barn.
* * * *
There were two sharp raps on Price’s office door. Before he could bark an annoyed response, Malcolm Hill burst into the room.
“What is it?” Price asked from his desk.
“You wanted me to keep tabs on Marla Wells.” Hill’s breath came in sharp gasps. “She’s taking a little trip to New York.”
“Denver shopping doesn’t cut it anymore?”
“She’s got a meeting set at the UMN offices.” Hill raised an eyebrow. “Her contact is Ted Rogers.”
Price scoffed. “Let me guess. Rogers wants to make her part of his team.”
“That’s a pretty good bet.” Hill nodded. “I expect Marla Wells will jump at a promotion to the network.”
“How could she refuse?” Price had a vile taste in his mouth. “She’s looking to make the big time. That means E-Force is going national.”
“We’re in for trouble. She could become a real problem.”
“You let me worry about Marla Wells. I know how to deal with her. Besides, there’s been a positive development.”
“What are you talking about?” Hill lowered his voice and stepped closer to Price’s desk.
“The EcoFriends informant called again.” Price leaned back in his chair and pressed the palms of his hands together.
“Did she tell anything new?”
“EcoFriends is linked to E-Force.” Price couldn’t resist a smug smile. “She wouldn’t say more over the phone, but we got her name and location.”
Hill made a fist and drove it into his other hand. “That’s the break we needed.”
* * * *
Deb Olson didn’t apply the brakes until she was streaking into the curve. The car threatened to launch off the road. It took all her strength to cling to the steering wheel. Beyond the windshield, the mangled hood vibrated and threatened to tear loose from the tenacious grip of the safety latch. The vehicle held together and Deb escaped from the bend unscathed.
When Deb hit the gas, the Subaru resumed the reckless pace. Her speed on the undulating ribbon of pavement was double the limit posted on the steel sign that flashed past. But fear pushed her to flee faster…screaming for abandonment of the last shreds of reason.
Deb moaned. “My God, this can’t be happening. I don’t even have my cell phone.”
Only luck had placed Deb in the barn, car key in her jeans pocket, a moment before the black car arrived. Her dash for survival was spontaneous, fueled by primal fear. There were only a few more miles until the intersection with a busier road that led into the city. She had to get to a police station, a grocery store, a bowling alley…anyplace where there was a phone.
“I’ve got to call Price.” A tear streaked across Deb’s face. “If his men don’t stop Cain, I’m dead.”
A glance in the rearview mirror sent icy fingers down her spine. The black demon car was behind her. Deb’s speedometer needle refused to rise. “Come on, come on,” she begged.
A formula racer couldn’t have negotiated the curves better than Cain. And through each straight stretch, the horsepower under the hood of the vintage car propelled it forward like a rocket. Deb was no different than a swimmer being chased by a shark. It was hopeless. The Dodge Charger drew closer to the Subaru.
Deb screamed when Cain and his cohort were only a few feet from the rear of her car. “Leave me alone!”
The Charger drifted left and shot forward. Deb reacted too slowly to block the opening. The roaring vehicle filled the gap and pulled alongside the fleeing wagon. She kept a two-handed death grip on the steering wheel, but tore her eyes from the road to chance a glance to her left. The smoked glass of the passenger window slid down as if it were a guillotine. Cain’s henchman was brandishing a pistol. He leaned toward the opening, the hair on his head thrashing in the wind.
In a flush of panic, Deb stepped on the brake pedal. The bigger car instantly followed suit and stayed abreast of the Subaru. One side of the road dropped into a rocky ravine, terrain carved over eons by the creek far below. A mountainside adorned with trees and brush bordered the other edge of the pavement. There was nowhere to go. She was a gazelle, culled from the herd by a cheetah. In a desperate bid for life, she stomped on the accelerator again. The Charger was as inescapable as a shadow. Tears clouded Deb’s vision. The paint of the dark car was nearly scraping against the metallic blue tint of her fleeing vehicle.
“Get away from me!”
Ruddock sneered and beckoned her to come closer. Cain turned his head. For a brief second, Deb’s gaze locked with that of a killer. With the dark glasses, his expression revealed only indifference, an exterminator dealing with an insect.
The road veered left, and Cain’s car pushed to the outside of the turn. The vehicle checked against the Subaru, slamming the smaller car. The wheels on the right side of the wagon lurched from the pavement. For a fraction of a second, the tires clawed at the small semblance of a gravel shoulder. Deb was helpless to prevent the little car from pitching sideways and careening onto a path to oblivion.
Deb’s drawn out screech was hardly human when her Subaru twisted into the air. In mid-trajectory the launched vehicle turned upside down. At the first impact on the rocks, smashing steel and exploding glass silenced her horrified cries. The crumpled roof snapped her neck the way a camper would break a stick before tossing it in a campfire.
On the descent to the bottom of the ravine, the coffin on twisted axles bounced and tumbled. Momentum increased all the way to the last violent smash against a giant boulder next to the cascading creek.
A flame burst from the concoction of fuel and automotive fluids. In seconds, a raging blaze eagerly consumed the twisted wreckage. On the road, the Charger departed the scene of carnage at a leisurely pace.