Read an Excerpt


Why the Rock Falls - Excerpt

By J.E. Barnard

The first, faint cry came from above, and might have been a bird-call. Lacey lowered her screwdriver and listened. The second cry was unmistakable. “Help!”

She hustled down the ladder, her work boots ringing the metal rungs, and charged up the terrace stairs three at a time At the outdoor pool she scanned the sun-dazzled water.

One floating chaise, empty.

One decorative waterfall, tumbling off a rocky ledge into the pool.

Two women being churned by the waters, their long dark hair twining like eels.

As she dropped her tool-belt and prepared to rescue, Lacey realized only one of them was struggling….

 

  Four Days Earlier….

 The helicopter’s blades shredded the hot August afternoon, their every thwap vibrating up through Lacey McCrae’s work boots. Fed up with gazing down on the barren dust of clear-cuts and oil wells, she looked the other way, into the green cirque of Black Rock Bowl, at deserted ski chalets half-hidden amid fluttering aspens. The ski slopes lay golden in the sun, their late-summer grasses split by peninsulas of pine and spruce. The chopper swung away, around the mountain. Immense limestone walls closed in, their jagged gray faces ripped by white granite veins. Ominously close, it seemed to her.

Jake Wyman, in the copilot seat, sat calmly as the rocky valley narrowed. He’d have been this way lots of times, visiting his well-sites out in the Ghost Wilderness. Today was Lacey’s first ride-along. After a day baking in the boulder-strewn wilds, she longed for nothing more than cool water and dust-free clothing. At each site she’d tested cameras and motion-sensor lights, replaced one solar panel – and didn’t mention aloud the irony that oil companies used renewable energy to power their equipment. There’d been no sign of the vandalism her boss told her to watch for, only normal wear and tear from exposure to harsh mountain winters and the scouring winds of summer. She opened her phone and added ‘no sabotage’ to the report, The sooner she emailed the document to Wayne along with her time-sheet, the sooner she could stop the clock and jump into a shower.

The chopper flew straight at a vast, sheer cliff, like a hummingbird about to splat on a picture window. She’d almost compared it to a mosquito but that label belonged to the neon splash that was surely a mountain-climber, clinging to bare rock a hundred metres from anywhere.
 
Soon she made out tanned limbs splayed against the gray cliff, and traced the rope that anchored the climber from above. The helicopter hovered at a distance as the climber edged across the rock-face The pilot’s voice came through her headphones.

“Up or down, sir?”

Jake’s thumb went up. The machine followed. Soon the cliff top lay below them. Two more brightly-clad climbers sat in the sun while another guided the rope that dangled over the edge. As the helicopter settled on a flat spot well back from the valley, one of the sitters pulled off a helmet, revealing short auburn hair. Jake said, “That’s her.”

The woman jogged to the chopper and scrambled in. Clearly an experienced passenger, she clipped herself into her seat and put on her headphones before speaking.

“Thank you, darling. You have my luggage, too?”

Jake nodded. The helicopter lifted off. The new passenger turned dark glasses on Lacey’s work boots and sweat-stained T-shirt and as promptly looked away, chatting to Jake about her last climb, a 5.11b – whatever that meant – and her son Earl, the one still climbing. “He’s head of our Denver office now,” she said. “A far stronger leader than any of his brothers, although they won’t admit it. Bart fills his desk chair when he remembers, and Ben is still rebelling against his father by protesting the company in ridiculous ways. He’s been arrested more times than I can remember.”

Nobody Lacey knew. She tuned out and watched the scenery unroll below: the Bow River braided turquoise and blue; the navy depths of Ghost Lake where boats darted around like waterbugs; a dusty sage pasture dotted with black Angus cattle; the TransCanada highway slicing the rolling prairie from Calgary to the mountains. The chopper picked up the greeny-gray Elbow River and followed it to Jake’s estate overlooking Bragg Creek. After a gentle landing on the gravel helicopter pad, everyone except the pilot piled out. A young man in a green staff polo shirt brought a golf cart for the baggage and passengers. Jake offered a hand to the red-haired woman.

“I’ll have a car for you in five minutes, Giselle.”

“Make it twenty and give me a drink first,” said the redhead. She linked her arm through his and told the driver to take them to the house.

Left behind, Lacey strolled toward the main swimming pool at the west end of the sprawling ranch-house. The breeze cut off when she stepped inside the high walls. The pool was an oasis of luxury, with a waterfall tumbling down a fieldstone chute, a huge hot tub, a swim-up bar, and floating devices that ranged from inflatable alligators to lounge chairs complete with drink holders and water-proof phone docks. After her dusty afternoon a swim would be heaven, but today she was technically staff - well, Wayne’s staff, but he worked for Jake - and her privileges did not extend to this area. Reluctantly she open one of the glass doors beyond the bar and followed the dim corridor to the airless, windowless security office.

The good news for Wayne would be the lack of vandalism. Drunken off-roaders sometimes broke stuff for fun, and hunters occasionally shot up equipment, but there’d been no sign of those today. No radical environmentalists either. She wasn’t sure how real that last problem was, but every oilman she knew was convinced eco-sabotage was a real threat. They told each other stories of the lunatic up north who’d waged a years-long campaign of pipeline damage before being caught. There hadn’t been wide-scale sabotage elsewhere but the oilmen’s concern ran deep. An undetected pipeline blowout could poison a wilderness watershed and hand anti-pipeline activists a potent public relations weapon. Still, if oilmen weren’t worried about eco-saboteurs, Wayne wouldn’t have half his clients and she wouldn’t have the job of maintaining his on-site security equipment.

She finished the report, hit Send, and stretched. Day’s work done and still time to do a few laps in the swim machine on the lowest level before Dee arrived for her workout. One small perk of her gray-zone existence between staffer and neighbour was Jake’s willingness for her and Dee to use the workout space he’d built for his frequent hockey guests. He’d only offered because he still felt guilty about last summer’s mess. Even though he’d played no intentional role in Dee’s near-fatal attack, he had deviated from his own code and inadvertently exposed her to it. Access to his fully-equipped workout area up the road from Dee’s made her rehab a lot more convenient.

Returning to the sunny pool, Lacey strolled past chaises with their striped cushions, and headed down the cliff stairs to the terraces below. Halfway to the lowest one, she realized its glass wall was drawn back, opening the workout area to the lovely afternoon. The swim machine’s hum warned her someone was there already. Dee wasn’t supposed to swim without supervision in case her weakened leg gave out. Lacey hurried.

The swimmer was a stranger. Pinned against the back wall by the current, her thin arms scrabbling at the small pool’s rim, she dipped beneath the surface.




Where the Ice Falls
-
Excerpt
By J.E. Barnard

Wind shrieked through the vent-screens, sending skirls of hard snow at Eric’s closed eyes. His head snapped upright. How long had he leaned against the wall, half-dreaming? Clutching the aspen splits against his chest with one arm, he stumbled to the plywood door and pushed. It didn’t budge. He kicked, with the same result. He threw his shoulder against it. Dropping his kindling, he shook the panel, hammered with his gloved fists, and yelled for someone, anyone, to let him out. The wind mocked him with a howl like his own.
Before dawn the blizzard abandoned the smothered wilderness, the drifted roads and ice-rimed oil derricks. Far out on the shoulders of the Rockies, the scattering of elegant chalets at Black Rock Bowl welcomed the coming day half buried and seeming deserted, save for a lone, thin spire of chimney smoke. The sun rose, blinding in the all-white world. It kissed the woodshed’s snowy rooftop all the day through, melting droplets that trailed toward the half-buried door in ever-lengthening icicles. A day went by with more sun and more ice, and another, and three more still before the snowplow from Waiparous reached the resort. It rumbled around the Black Rock Loop from the northern end, the operator keeping a fruitless eye out for a red Toyota Camry reported overdue from the first day of the storm.
The sun added more icicles to its artwork day by day and week by week until the woodshed’s front resembled nothing so much as a creek flash-frozen in mid-tumble off a ledge. Its diamond clarity reflected the snow, the sky, the forest, and, if anyone had been standing at just the right angle to see it, the golden logs of an elegant ski chalet. But no-one left the plowed road. No-one crossed the snowy glade. No car, no footprints, no traces drew searchers toward the huddled figure of a young man.  
November ended. December began. The ice-fall thickened.

* * * * * Chapter * * * * *

“Do you want to find my emaciated body in the next Chinook?” Lizi pointed with her whole arm out the back door, her glitter nail-polish dancing in the reflected sunlight. “Niagara Falls froze over that woodshed. It’ll take me a year to get the door open.”
Zoe rolled her eyes. “Two hits at the top with an axe and it will all come crashing down. Now go, if you want a fire big enough to last until we’re done setting up.”
Sniffing with infinite disdain, Lizi flounced out to the varnished log porch and slammed the door behind her. A line of slender icicles shivered on the eaves. She stomped down the steps and set out across the glade, axe on her shoulder, ostentatiously lifting each leg high before lowering it gingerly into the next drift. The woodshed was barely three car-lengths away, well clear of the surrounding forest, but that girl had to treat it like a death-march across the Columbia Icefield. Teenagers. Ugh.
Zoe started the kettle and rested her butt against the silver-grey granite countertop to compare this cold room with the simple wooden kitchen she’d expected. The warm, rustic cook-space of her memories was erased by slate-grey cupboards, brushed steel appliances, slate tile backsplash, and a floor that appeared to be coated with concrete. Basically all gray apart from two rust-brown throw rugs that matched the stools along the breakfast bar. Nothing said ‘cozy ski chalet’ or ‘relaxed weekend getaway’ like a desolate industrial wasteland for a kitchen. Reflecting the state of JP’s second marriage? The kettle let out a whine, as if it too was conscious of its dismal surroundings. Boiling already? She reached for it.
The appliance was quiet, not even a hiss coming from its snub nose. The sound rose to a wail. Outside.
 Lizi came flailing through the deep snow, her mouth wide and pink half-mitts waving over her head. By the time Zoe had the door open she was halfway up the steps, gasping and screaming alternately like a broken steam-whistle. She lunged inside, grabbed the door from her mother’s fingers, and hurled it shut. Icicles plunged from the eaves and shattered, one after another, on the porch.



When the Flood Falls – Excerpt

By Jayne Barnard

At eight o’clock, driven indoors by mosquitoes, Lacey paced from room to deserted room. Without Dee or her gangly dogs, the house was too quiet. Her footsteps echoed from the glossy log ceiling as she reexamined the place. Had Dee really left her briefcase open on the hall stand, exposing confidential client papers to potential visitors? Those magazines on the dining room sideboard were scattered rather than stacked. The drawer beneath them was not quite closed either. Small things out of place were not like Dee. None of this should be triggering Lacey’s old cop senses. Yet she had been home for nearly six hours with no word from Dee, no hint about who she suspected of planting Friday’s nasty surprise. Could she have gone today to tackle someone? She couldn’t walk far with her ankle barely healed, and her vehicle was parked out front.
Lacey paused by the huge living room windows. Beyond the spiky shrubs and jagged borders, past the Nexus and her Civic, tall spruce-tree shadows edged across the driveway. The golden sunset vanished. Behind the peaks a spreading pile of murky clouds meant more rain on the slopes and the snow pack. More water slithering down the steep mountainsides. More of the churning brown torrent that was the Elbow River. She didn’t need to see it to know it was rising inexorably toward the bridge. The walking trail over on the town side had begun to fall away earlier. By now this bank must be crumbling too. Dee could walk that far, slowly, but she wouldn’t let Boney and Beau near the water when it was running high and wild. After months of the stalker, she hated and feared the darkness, too. She wouldn’t stay out alone if she had a choice.
At a dead end, Lacey called Dee’s phone yet again. Something buzzed upstairs, barely audible over the evening breeze singing in the spruce. She reached the upper hall in four leaps but the buzz had stopped. She hit redial and heard it again, almost at her left hand. On the hall table Dee’s phone vibrated, rubbing against a vase that amplified the slight sound.

 
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