Three people are pursued at breakneck speed across a mountain pass in the high rain forests of Central America. As fiendish assassins corner each of them in a darkened restaurant above a steep jungle ravine, they ask the same terrifying question: How did I end up here? For Detective Jennifer Larsen, the answer came easily. It started with a brutally tortured body in a South Boston slum. For Dr. Rodolfo Zommoro, it began with a simple request in a mysterious email, and for Ellis Brookes, it began with a life-changing surgery and the trial that would change the pharmaceutical industry forever. Now each of them had to ask one more question. Will I live to see another day?
Set in Honduras, Costa Rica, the Mayan Riviera, and the winter blizzards of northern New England, Edge of the Cliff is a masterfully woven suspense thriller that will keep you turning pages until the small hours of the morning.
A compact thriller with intriguiing characters, setting, and plot. Edge of the Cliff incorporates modern forensics, computer sciences, old-fashioned detective work, and ethno-botany in an exceptional story. The characters are fascinating, displaying taut, real emotions.
Edge of the Cliff
Andrew L. MacNair © 2010
The man knew he was dying. He wasn’t afraid. He just wanted it to be done. His lips trembled as he struggled to form the words again. They came out slurred, beyond recognition, and the man couldn’t remember what he had just said. His vision blurred, the pain now outside any of his training to endure. He watched the gloved fist raise above his eyes once again, suspending there a fraction of a second for him to see. Then he felt it shatter the left side of his face.
“Who has them?”
“Who has them? Where are the others?”
Pain shot through his lower legs again. The man wasn’t afraid. He just wanted it to be done.
The voice asked again. “Who has them?”
“The Crazies,” he stammered.
“The Crazies? Where are they?”
Pain flashed through his legs. He felt the slow explosion in his chest begin and welcomed the grayness that began to steel across his vision. He heard himself muttering something, and then the voice above asked, almost casually, “I‘ve forgotten the name. You told me before that the collection has a name. What did you say it was called?”
The dying man’s breath slowed to hiss of spittle. Gray deepened to black. “Acintya,” he whispered, “They call it Acintya.”
Fifty-six minutes later a Lear 35 leveled into the airspace eighteen thousand feet above southern Massachusetts. The pilot throttled back the twin turbofans and settled into a cruising speed of 780 kilometers an hour. The jet would maintain a straight course for Miami, where it would refuel, cross the Gulf of Mexico, and descend to its final destination at an airfield outside Belize City.
In the cabin, the assassin tapped the keypad of his laptop and, with a thin smile, closed the cover. It was done, the information transmitted, and a new assignment received. The assassin splayed the fingers of both hands and leaned into the softness of his seat. The slow memories of inflicting intense pain returned. Such pleasure.
His partner sneered, raised a glass in a celebratory manner, and took a large gulp of a rum and coke. Squeezing the lime against the glass, he asked, “So, who the hell are The Crazies? Some kind of gang?”
The cold eyes of the assassin stared back. With a shrug he replied, “Who the hell cares.”
Larsen gasped. Christ Almighty, how the hell did I get here? The truck skidded through another hairpin turn at the ten-thousand foot marker on the Cerro de Muerte, and she yelped and squeezed Rudy’s arm like a small vice. Her head spun to see section they had just passed. Half the goddamn road was caved away back there. No wonder it’s called the mountain of death. She looked ahead. And it’s black as tar outside the headlights and there are no fucking lines on the road.
“Are they getting any closer?” She asked again, digging her nails into his wrist this time.
Rudy checked the mirror. “No, it looks like they’re staying back right now, half a kilometer, maybe.”
It was tight with three of them into the front of the Hilux. They were pressed close together, and with the lawyer in the back seat of the cab it was heavy--too heavy. The lawyer groaned as they jolted over another pothole. God, it must hurt like hell for him, she thought. Larsen rolled down the window and leaned forward to adjust the passenger mirror so she could watch the movement of the high beams behind them. Rudy was right; the bigger car was staying back. For the moment.
Two minutes later that changed. As the Hilux was struggling up the final grade to the summit, the lights behind them began moving closer. Rudy, sitting in the middle, glanced at Jen Larsen and then at Chito in the driver’s seat. His eyes smoldered and, with a growl, he said, “They may be better armed than we are, but they are in my country.” He kissed Larsen’s hand. “Pecho Amarillo, verdad?”
She smiled back nervously.
He turned to Chito. “Can you buy us some time and get us to the Mirador before they run us off the road?”
Chito answered with a wide grin. “They are in our country, hermano. I will get us there.”
The Land Rover, five hundred meters back, had more power and less weight with two people. It accelerated up the grade to within ten meters of the Toyota’s back bumper. The blond man in the driver’s seat began smiling. It had been a long chase, but the road was deserted, and the four pathetic clowns in the little truck ahead were unarmed, or at least had little experience in the art of killing. His own weapons, the tools of his trade, lay next to him on the seat. He would play with this prey for a while and then find the best place to disembowel them--hopefully, a place where he could watch their faces as they twitched in death. He inched the Land Rover closer.
A hundred meters further on, just at the start of a blind curve, Chito saw the freshly cut branch in the right lane. He motioned with his chin to Rudy who understood immediately. It was a small stroke of luck. To a foreigner, new to the ways of his country, it would signify nothing, especially to a Gringo from a big city in the United States. To Chito and Rudy, it was a familiar signal.
As Chito sped into the curve, he slowed just a fraction to assess the situation and instantly saw the reason for the branch. He decelerated, pulled the Hilux sharply to the left, and then pressed the accelerator to the floor.
The two Costa Ricans knew what the branch signified: car trouble--a common signal in an area of the world where drivers rarely carried flares or emergency reflector triangles. And it wasn’t a compact car with a flat tire or blown radiator, it was a massive semi jackknifed halfway through the curve. The entire right lane and part of the left were blocked with twenty tons of steel and an overload of teak logs. Larsen screamed as metal and wood whipped by inches from her face. Behind her, the lawyer gasped.
Chito downshifted skillfully, swerved again, and gunned the Toyota past the cab of the semi and up the hill toward the summit.
Inside the Land Rover the blond man sped into the curve unaware. He saw the wall of teak stacked fifteen feet high, swore, and slammed on the brakes, but not quickly enough. In his peripheral vision he saw his partner brace himself and grab his nine millimeter Glock--as if that was going to help. There was a deafening crunch and a tremor shuddered through the Land Rover. The rear bumper smashed into the semi’s back hub, shearing it off completely, and for a moment the blond man thought a rear wheel had come off, or that perhaps the axle had snapped. He fishtailed out of control for three seconds and slowed almost to a stop to regain control. He turned the steering wheel back and forth and edged forward. There was an ugly grinding in the rear. It was damaged but drivable. With a snarl he jammed the rental into second gear, floored the engine, and shot past the front of the semi. Gears winding to a screaming pitch, they flew up the grade. A kilometer ahead he saw the taillights of the Toyota passing over the crest of the summit. Fucking son of a bitch.
“Did they hit it?” Jennifer Larsen asked optimistically. She peered through the small window in the back. Ellis Brookes, Attorney-at-law, smiled back at her. He looked like he was ready to pass out right there from pain.
Chito nodded. “Si, Miss Jen, but it did not stop them. It only slowed them. They are still coming. Hold on.” He didn’t need to tell her that. She was already gripping the arm rest and Rudy’s arm with enough pressure to crack either one.
El Mirador was not a fancy restaurant. It was a large, open rectangle of rough wood, with three sides jutting over a steep hillside. Thick, cantilevered posts held it up, and in daylight hours it offered spectacular views of mountains, valleys, hill farms, and pueblos. At night it opened onto the yawning blackness at the edge of the cliff.
The Hilux shot across the crushed pebble of the parking lot and lurched to a stop in front of the railings that framed the front side. There were no doors, just two openings in the lacquered handrails. At the far side of the room, at the edge, a narrow, rough hewn counter ran with wooden stools pushed below it. Above it, there was a horizontal banister made from long lengths of split hardwood.
Larsen and the lawyer simultaneously wondered exactly how sheer the drop was beyond that counter.
Chito was out the driver’s side and moving quickly to the bed of the truck. He swept up two machetes, Rudy’s walking stick, and a small innocuous looking cloth bag. Larsen jumped out the passenger side and Rudy followed. Ellis Brookes, cane hooked over his arm, labored awkwardly out the back, his leg throbbing in agony.
A waning half moon painted the darkness with shifting splotches of pale light. The drop was barely discernible, but Rudy and Chito knew it well. They had eaten at that counter a hundred times in trips over the mountains and knew how the land fell almost straight down fifty feet before it met a sharply inclined slope. They knew the ravine and how thick the jungle was that covered it.
The only closed section of the restaurant lay on the right. The lawyer peered through the darkness and saw a paneled bar, and behind it, steel-barred cabinets and a locked kitchen. To him it looked wrong. Totally wrong. There was no way out.
“This way.” Rudy moved with catlike familiarity around the tables and forward to the right. His purple walking stick was unscrewed and tucked, in two pieces, through his belt. Chito had both machetes strung in leather sheaths across his back, the small bag swung at his waist. Ellis Brookes hobbled behind them, until he came to the counter and the edge of the drop where, dangling from the railing into the darkness, there was a rope ladder. It was used for working on the cantilevered stays and footings, and descended forty feet to end at a five foot drop to the hillside.
The lawyer knew instantly that he would never make it. He might, with some effort, lift his throbbing leg over the railing, but there was no way he could make the climb down.
Rudy knew it too. He had been in Ellis’s company long enough to see the man’s abilities and limitations. As Chito flipped his legs nimbly over the railing and stepped onto the third rung to wait, Ellis pulled Rudy’s arm.
“I can’t do it, Rudy.”
The Costa Rican placed his hand quickly and firmly on the lawyer’s forearm. “I know, Amigo. But don’t worry. They won’t follow you. They will follow us, and I will make certain of it. Get behind the bar and hide. Stay down as low as you can, all the way to the back.”
Ellis limped his way around the back of the bar and knelt, the pain searing through his left side. He grimaced and, for the first time ever, wished he were much smaller.
The others moved quickly and made just enough noise to be heard. The sounds of the Land Rover’s engine and grinding wheel neared, then lights danced across the wooden ceiling as the Jeep bounced into the front lot. The whole restaurant was lit up from the beams. God, please turn them off, please. The lawyer huddled in the corner, petrified. They would find him almost instantly if they left the lights on. He heard two voices talking loudly, swearing, then the words “battery” and “escape.” A moment later the restaurant was doused in darkness again.
“Shut the fuck up,” a voice barked from somewhere near the center of the room. “Listen. They’re down there to the right.”
Footsteps clomped past the open end of the bar, and Ellis saw two silhouettes outlined against the night sky. Both figures seemed to slip like black oil over the railing and onto the ladder. Then everything was silent. Jungle sounds took over.
The lawyer rolled painfully onto his side and lay there for a moment before pushing himself to his knees. He had been in a bent position for too long, his left side throbbed violently. Stifling a moan, he gripped his cane, pushed himself to his feet and limped silently to the counter above the cliff. He placed his hands on the banister and leaned out to peer into the darkness. There were vague movements in the plants below. Sounds. No voices, just a rustling in the tangle of trees and vines far below. Then he heard another rustling. It came from behind him. “You really didn’t think I was going to leave you up here all by yourself did you, Mr. Brookes?” The lawyer froze.
Chito dropped off the bottom of the rope ladder and lifted Detective Larsen down the last two rungs, onto the slope. Rudy dropped quietly onto the earth behind them and coughed. He wanted the killers to follow, to enter the forest. They had their weapons, he had his.
“The quebrada, Chito.” Rudy whispered just loudly enough. “How long since the last rains?”
Even in the darkness he could see Chito smiling. “Three weeks, Dr. Rudy. It is dry, so everything will be quite thirsty.”
When they reached the bottom of the ladder and started scrabbling down the slope, Rudy knew he couldn’t, under any circumstances, let go of Larsen’s hand. He knew exactly where they needed to place their feet, exactly how they needed to move, and she would need to stay right there with him. They were in the high rain forest at night and would need to sense each others’ movements, like dancers in tandem, never letting go. Run fast, stand still, just like the lizards. If they could reach the bottom of the quebrada, . . .maybe they would have a chance. But half way down the slope Rudy’s feet slipped on leaves and loose earth and he slid. Her grip broke away from his, and by the time he regained his feet and looked back, he saw only a tangle of branches and darkness. Detective Jennifer Larsen wasn’t there.
A moment later the explosion of a handgun rolled through the ravine. At that precise second Detective Jennifer Larsen, Dr. Rodolfo Zommoro, and Ellis Brookes III were all thinking the very same thought, how in Christ’s name did I get here?
For Detective Larsen the answer was easy. It had begun with a dead body, five months earlier, on a bitter November morning in South Boston.