Saturday Sampler: Blind Marsh by Oliver Chase
July 25, 2015
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Saturday’s Sampler features Blind Marsh by Oliver Chase. If you’re looking for award-winning and action-packed thriller, this is the book you want to read. As one reviewer said: Blind Marsh is a well-crafted, fast-paced, thrilling mystery with a dash of romance. And talk about stunning characters. Phil Pfeiffer is one of the best damn characters I’ve seen in ages. He’s down to earth, has multiple flaws and strives for a normal life. That’s why I like him.
Blind Marsh was a semi-finalist in the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards contest.
Ex-Army Ranger Phil Pfeiffer agrees to protect a former singer from an unpredictable ex-boyfriend and a vengeful Las Vegas Mob. Struggling with his own demons and disappointments, Phil survives a Wild West shootout and uncovers a plot to steal a trillion dollar industry that will kill America in a highjacked world economy.
In this thrilling conclusion to “The Hirebomber Series,” Phil weighs his own life against a psychotic hit man, and chooses to take both.
The First Chapter
At first, I mistook the knock for the alarm clock and sat forward with a jolt. The astronomy book shot from my chest and hit the floor. The knock repeated with a bit more urgency.
In the gray haze of my mind’s half-sleep, I thought Maff was out there returning from some gruesome crime scene. We’d been good friends since the Army even if I wasn’t a cop or a Lab Tech like him. He dropped by sometimes if he saw my lights on, and we’d drink a beer or a soda. I liked those impromptu visits, but he can’t now, and besides, I’d moved since the explosion. Maff was never in this apartment, and I killed him just as sure as if it were me that set the Plastique.
“Heck of a blast!” Those had been the deputy Sheriff’s words.
Why did I recall that insensitive kid? Tender times, maybe. The young guy with a career yet to be made was stuck guarding the crime scene wreckage of cars, motel rooms, and remnants from a fire. My vestige was a scar − little more than a single pink reminder, eyebrow to hairline, across a hardening face nothing close to handsome. I walked with a cane on cool, humid days, but not too often anymore. The Arizona monsoon rains would not be back for many months.
Jogging was the hardest habit to give up, so I swam at the YMCA. Every morning at six, I’d flash my little keychain card to the nice lady who unlocked the doors. Forty-five minutes later, a quick shower, and off to work. Work-a-day guy. Hey, that’s me. That’s the new me.
In September, I gave up my apartment and moved closer to Radio Shack and the cheaper side of the city. The old Chrysler remained in its parking spot for weeks on end because I walked everywhere. My last case, Bernice Trimble, left me a little money after she died. That was long gone now, paying off the California hotel damage and replacing the rental car. My insurance company found a loophole and paid so little, personal bankruptcy was my only alternative if I wasn’t careful. Seventy-six bucks in my billfold and a paid off credit card was pretty much all that remained.
Every other week, the Shack passed me a check with all the taxes taken out − Federal, state, local, and both socials. Everybody took their cut of my piddling forty hours. I paid the gasoline tax, the car license tax, the sales tax, and the property tax to the gouging landlord. Things were tight, yes, but I was not destitute. The Army sent me a little check for a percentage of what I used to make before my back was broken in the Blackhawk crash. Life’s extras weren’t there, but it was nothing like the poor bastards − some of my ex-brothers in arms − who slept outside every night. They got a cut of my check, too, but with a smile.
One day last spring, I received a packet in the mail accompanying an invoice for the municipality’s trouble in returning my suspended PI credentials. Another tax. I never renewed the ad in the phonebook. I let my website lapse, too, and the calls all but stopped. Besides, I was deep into my walking and swimming routine because who knew when I’d have to swim with the sharks again.
My one highlight was Radio Shack. The job bordered on fun. Gloria Bonterra was certainly right about that. She was my former girlfriend and a most lovely redhead who moved to San Diego after the explosion that killed Maff. I don’t blame her. If it wasn’t for her, I would have never found the Shack. They offered just a little structure and only had a few requirements of me. In fact, they were happy that I got to work on time and kept a smile on my face with the most tiring of customers. The geeky types like my dead best friend, Dennis Maffessanti, would come in with big ideas and little glitches. We’d talk as I enjoyed poring over their conundrums and finding a way to make a resistor and a capacitor stop a high-pitch squeal that only he could hear. I spent extra time with these guys as my boss grew apoplectic.
I recalled the day Maff and I talked about life after the Army. My back wouldn’t get any better and they were letting me go with a pension. Maff had another year of obligation for the wonderful MIT education paid for by the Army. I didn’t like the Maryland cold, so my next job had to be in the South. Didn’t like bugs, so that meant the Southwest, but not California. Way too many crazies. I needed a city, but not too big. I’d seen pictures of a snowed-in Albuquerque. That left either El Paso or Phoenix. Spent a year one night in a nice part of El Paso − Ft. Bliss. So, the choice was Phoenix. Pretty simple. I was more than a little surprised when Maff said, “Okay. Phoenix.” With only that much thought and a lot of faith, he followed me here. And then, of course, I’d killed him with just about as much thought.
The book I was reading sat upended on the paper-strewn floor. A page fluttered as the room’s central heat clicked. I’d fallen asleep in my uncomfortable chair again and would have another sore back at work.
The knock came again. Someone was there. My watch read two fifteen in the morning.
“A moment,” I called, and slipped out of the chair. I pulled the .45 caliber pistol from the coffee table drawer. Payback time. There was no other explanation. The hammer was notched to ‘safe’ on the old, sloppy slide. I thumbed it all the way to its lethal and cocked position. Seven in the magazine, one in the chamber. I killed the only light in the room and peered out the side window.
She stood in the dirty concrete tunnel of my apartment building. Her coat collar was little protection against the desert’s gritty wind, and her face was vaguely familiar. The alarms in my brain were ringing. As her hand reached to knock again, she saw me at the window and stopped. Large, dark eyes locked mine. For a long moment, we stared at one another. The corridor was vaguely yellow from a single gloomy bulb. I was about to decide she really couldn’t see me as her lips formed a single word. “Please.”
The curtain slipped from my fingers, and I stood alone in the tiny room. She looked more than just familiar. A cautionary intuition shortened my breath. Maybe one of my old divorce cases, but at two in the morning? I’d moved − twice. The people here didn’t even know I’d once been a private detective. She wasn’t here to reminisce about old times. I cracked the front door with the pistol gripped in my sweat, slick hand. One foot wedged the bottom jamb just in case. “It’s pretty late, you know.” My voice was a harsh whisper, not out of consideration for the neighbors, but because I was not making any spit in my dry mouth.
“Yes, of course. I’m so sorry.” She tried to see into the dark wedge of door. “Mr. Pfeiffer?” she asked. “Did I make a mistake?”
“Who are you?” I readied the pistol behind the door.
“Do I have the wrong apartment?” she said.
I didn’t answer. Even in the shadows from the closed-in apartment corridors, I could see a lovely and distressed face. I watched the corners of the concrete from the edge of my vision.
“I’m Lisa Calendar.”
My eyes snapped back to her as the short hairs on my neck straightened like a wire brush. My dreams. My prison. My Maff. “Heather Price,” I said, knowing her lovely face sans the bikini and sunglasses. “You’re Heather Price.”
“Yes,” she said in a breath of resignation. Her long, auburn hair whipped in the wind tunnel of the concrete walls. “But no. I’m so sorry for that, Mr. Pfeiffer. I’m Lisa and can explain, but could I please come in? I’m freezing.”
I dropped the chain and readied myself for a couple of Vegas thugs to appear from the bushes. The apartment house didn’t have bushes, but I did have the concrete corner. She slipped past me. I tightened my one-handed shooting grip. I wasn’t a coward or a big guy, but I was big enough and had seen my share of tight spots. No one rushed the door, even though there were plenty of thugs the last time. Talking with her at the Las Vegas hotel poolside set off a chain of events and an escape even I didn’t quite believe. I also recalled her heart-stopping figure in the tiny bikini when she walked away that day.