Former government operative Lee Trainer, living quietly in Montana, finds a dead man on his doorstep with mysterious computer chip in his pocket. The killers, desperate to retrieve the chip make several attempts on his life and open a trail of deception and murder. Following leads from Montana to the Cayman Islands, Trainer and a couple of old friends hunt down an elusive killer with a deadly agenda. While electrical blackouts plague the country, Trainer’s best friend is ambushed by hired assassins entangling him in a widespread conspiracy to destroy the national power grid.
Adrenalin fueled fear pushed him up the creek bank crawling on hands and knees through foot-deep snow. At the crest of the road he could barely see the distant light shining faintly through a wind-driven blizzard. The throbbing between his shoulders tore into his chest in radiating waves. He’d left the Toyota nose first in icy water, remembering vaguely sliding off the road. His pain-clouded mind concentrated on one thing; he had to make it to the house.
He rested for a moment at the edge of the road watching the heavy, wet snowflakes plaster his face. He shivered when the wind swirled around his thin coat, remembering the day, years before, when greed, and a desire for power started him down the path that eventually landed him on this lonely road, dying.
Visions flashed through his mind surrounded by fog. Surely, it wasn’t him, staring into the barrel of a suppressor-equipped pistol, turning, trying to run, slipping just as he reached for the car door, staggered by the hurt exploding in his chest. He had hit the ground hard but the snow cushioned the blow and he lost consciousness for a few seconds. He saw himself laying very still trying to make the hurt go away, yet terrified that the shooter would walk closer to make certain of the kill. The grinding of an engine starting came to his ears and the sound of a vehicle driving, crunching the cold snow. He had waited, unmoving until he was sure he was alone, before he got his knees under him, grabbed the door handle and pulled himself up. It took a moment of effort to open the door and side in, start the car and begin driving.
He remembered the wave of remorse that convinced him to contact the Justice Department, seeking escape from the cavernous hole he’d made for himself. Brokering a deal, he covertly fed information to his handler at irregular intervals. Now, the piper had come to collect his tithing.
Gathering strength to stand, he began walking, a shuffling, stumbling gait. Gulping air in shallow breaths, the snow tugged at his shoes, and he imagined the feel of quicksand. His legs numbed until he could no longer sense his feet nor the merciless cold. A chill penetrated his thin clothing, sapping his rapidly failing strength.. Just as he feared he wouldn’t make it, the door suddenly appeared. He groped for the doorbell and pushed the button, once, twice, as consciousness faded away.
When the doorbell rang, I barely heard it through a dinner induced slumber. My overstuffed deep-brown leather recliner wrapped comfortably around my carcass, bathing me in friendly warmth. I dozed, stomach full, muscles tired, listening to soft piano music and waiting for the hour to grow late enough to justify crawling into bed. Across the room, built into the massive timber framing of my house, the stone fireplace spread flame shadows across the room with its warmth. I grumbled at being disturbed. The bell rang again, demandingly, until finally I moved, shuffling wearily to my front door wondering which of my neighbors would be crazy enough to be out in a snowstorm. Mrs. Dixon, my surrogate grandmother, housekeeper, cook, secretary, and fairy-godmother, wasn’t likely, though not impossible, since she’d left less than an hour before. What I didn’t expect was an unshaven specter of a man dressed in a long thin coat barely able to hold off the bitter cold and driving snow. He stood bent-over in my open doorway, bareheaded, snow decorating his hair, and a pain racked face dominating his ghost-like features. Cold-stiffened fingers clutched my doorjamb. His sunken eyes cried out silently and his lips moved when he saw me, but no sound came forth.
I grabbed at his shabby coat as he slipped down the edge of my door expelling air from a narrow mouth. It sounded like an elephant had stepped on his chest. We ended up on the floor with the upper part of his body draped over my threshold. I groped for a pulse and the skin on his neck felt cold and clammy. Whatever he had wanted to tell me was gone forever. I dragged him inside and closed the door.
He looked familiar in a vague sort of way, older by years than I remembered. He’d been heavier then, muscular, handsome and on top of the world. In his hip pocket I found a folded leather mess that had once passed for a wallet. Inside, the identification card confirmed the name. I searched the rest of his mostly empty pockets and almost missed it. Deep in the left front pants pocket I found something strange. Inside a small kraft paper envelope rested a tiny, yet thick object, with fifteen prongs on each side. It looked like a miniature computer chip. Puzzled I went to my desk, found a small Ziploc plastic bag, slipped the little chip and its brown bag in and dropped it into my top desk drawer.
Robert Martin, when I’d known him, excelled at everything. He played football mostly, some basketball, and a little bit of everything else. If he couldn’t play it, he looked good on the sidelines in his varsity sweater. He dated the head cheerleader and they looked like the all-American couple, primed for two point three children and a house in the suburbs. I hadn’t seen him since the night we graduated from college.
I called the Sheriff, who I knew wasn’t going to like a call-out on a snowy December night. Homer Brenner served as Sheriff due to many friends in politics. It bordered on a miracle that he was decently competent. In the twenty years he’d held the position, he’d become very good at it. I had to give him that, but with the caveat that sometimes he allowed his need to be re-elected to color his decision-making process. Being a cop is hard enough these days, when the criminals have more rights than ordinary citizens. Brenner could be pigheaded at times, but then he worked under a periphery of rules and regulations that made his job frustrating and difficult. We weren’t exactly friends, but then I’d been partially responsible for that. Brenner had yet to forgive me for interfering a couple of times in ways he couldn’t understand and I couldn’t explain. As a result, I wasn’t on his favorites list. I’d campaigned for him simply because none of the other choices were better. That I’d called him out on a miserably cold and snowy night undoubtedly would make him grumpy and give me sadistic pleasure. It took the sheriff twenty-seven minutes to speed the eleven miles to my place in a blinding snowstorm.
Sheriff Homer Brenner stormed through my door like a rouge elephant, waving his arms and shouting orders. Two deputies, two volunteer firemen and two emergency medical techs followed him in. Brenner looked the part of Sheriff. Over six-foot and only a couple inches shorter than my six-four, Brenner stood ten pounds past slightly overweight, narrow faced, in his mid-forties and with just enough hardness in his eyes to convince most people he was tougher than owl-shit. Surprisingly, he was street tough and I liked him, I just didn’t want him to know it. He glowered at me and jerked a thumb at the body on my entryway floor.
“You move it?” he grunted.
“Of course, it’s ten below out.” I wasn’t going to wait for the Sheriff with my door standing open to the freezing wind. And I couldn’t shut the door without moving what remained of Robert Martin.
“Know him?” Brenner always asked questions in two or three word sentences while fumbling with the .40 Glock on his hip. It made his black leather holster squeak, a move designed to be intimidating, but I’d seen him do it too many times.
“His name’s Robert Martin. I knew him years ago, in college. I haven’t seen him since. He rang the doorbell and died. I don’t know what he wanted.”
“Don’t bullshit me Trainer, goddamn it,” Brenner snorted. “Nobody just happens at your door by accident. What the hell did he want?”
I know I’m in trouble when Homer calls me by my last name, Trainer. That’s me, Lee Trainer, ordinary citizen, innocent farmer, minding my own business, having a quiet evening at home on a winter night.
“Sheriff,” I replied, trying not at all to be civil, “the man dropped dead on my doorstep. I didn’t invite him. I haven’t seen him in years. I don’t even know what killed him. Give me a break, will you?”
Copyright© Dave Folsom. All rights reserved.