Authors: Jeramy Gates
Tags: #kindle thriller, #new thriller, #female sleuths, #kindle mystery, #Thriller & Suspense, #new mystery, #new kindle mysteries, #Mystery, #best selling mysteries
Valkyrie Smith, Book One:
Published by Timber Hill Press
Valkyrie gripped the wheel, all of her focus directed at a single point just beyond the hood of her 1934 Packard, where the dense coastal fog obliterated the beams of her headlights into shimmering halos. The slick pavement climbed, twisted, and dropped down next to the Pacific shoreline. The Packard’s ancient vacuum-powered wipers made a quiet
as they flipped back and forth. A dull static buzzed out of the radio, the white-noise remnants of a jazz station that had vanished somewhere outside of Fort Bragg. In the darkness outside, the sporadic rain seemed to ebb and flow like the tide, now furious and driving, now little more than a mist, but never entirely gone.
Valkyrie’s cell phone rang, and the noise snapped her back to reality. She wondered how long she’d been listening to static on the radio. She glanced at the screen and it said, simply:
Her phone hadn’t rung in days, but now that she was flying down a dangerous road in the middle of the night -during a storm, no less- it just had to. Valkyrie was surprised it was even getting a signal. The indicator said one bar, but she doubted that was accurate.
Val scanned the area for a safe place to pull off the road. Through the haze, she saw the meridian curving along the side of the pavement, the thin barrier of sheet metal the only thing protecting her from a two-hundred-foot plunge straight into the icy black waters of the Pacific. To her right, she caught a glimpse of foamy waves crashing against the rocks. To her left, the silhouetted shapes of ancient sequoias and jagged coastal mountains frowning down at her, almost willing her to spin the wheel and slip quietly over the cliffs.
The phone continued to ring as Valkyrie sped through a tight inside corner. She eased off the accelerator and then punched it as she climbed the ridge on the other side. As the highway straightened out, Valkyrie reached out to turn off the radio. She tapped the speakerphone that was built into the car’s custom burl-wood dash, and it spat out a tinny beep.
“It’s Val,” she said.
“Valkyrie, it’s time for us to talk.”
It was a man’s voice, low, broken by the lousy reception, but still familiar. The sound sent a chill crawling down her spine.
“Who are you?”
“I’m on your side, that’s the only thing that matters.”
“If that were true, you wouldn’t be playing games with me. You’d tell me where to find him.”
“I already tried that, remember? I told you, and you let him slip out of your hands.”
“You got me arrested,” Val said. “I was stuck in that cell for three days.”
Subdued laughter. “Valkyrie, you can’t blame that on me. I want you want to catch the killer, but you’re going to have to do better.”
“How can I even be sure that
“If I was, would I tell you where to find me?”
Valkyrie bit her lower lip. She flew around a sharp corner and her heart caught in her throat as the road vanished. She worked the brakes, careful not to lose traction as she brought the Packard’s speed down to a crawl. The steep incline dropped her into a fog so dense that she couldn’t even see the edges of the road. Valkyrie flicked a switch on the dash, activating her high beams, supplementing the low beams and fog lights that were already running. The fog became a glowing wall in her path. She took a slow breath as she eased the car back between the lines. She glanced at the phone and realized her call had been dropped.
For the next few minutes, Valkyrie’s only company was the flap of the wipers, the low rumble of the Packard’s massive twelve-cylinder engine, and the
of wind across the old car’s convertible top. She came over a rise and the road straightened out ahead of her. The fog lifted just enough that she could see the three-hundred-yard patch of land that now distanced her from the cliffs. In a clump of trees near the ocean stood a ghostly old church. Based on the dilapidated condition of the structure, it had been abandoned for decades.
There were no other homes nearby. In fact, other than trees and sagebrush, Valkyrie hadn’t seen any signs of life in miles. She felt an overpowering inner conflict as she looked at that barren, isolated landscape. She was alone, possibly more so than at any other time since Tom’s death, and that was frightening. Or, it should have been. Valkyrie had never been comfortable in places like that; places where anything could happen and no one would ever know.
But now she felt something else. Valkyrie felt a sense of power, a kind of quiet confidence she hadn’t known in her previous life. Not long ago, Val would have been afraid to drive alone on a night like that, especially in a place so remote. She would have been terrified that she might run out of gas, or get a flat tire and be trapped out there alone. Valkyrie wasn’t afraid anymore. She could feel the weight of her semi-automatic pistol pressed against her rib cage, and she knew that it would be more than enough to protect her from anything she might encounter on that road.
Valkyrie Smith was a hard woman to kill, and she knew it. She had paid a steep price for that knowledge, and the experience would haunt her for the rest of her life, but it had also liberated her. Liberation, Val had learned, was not a simple matter of casting off stereotypes and social conventions. Nor was it a mere change in perspective. Rather, it was an evolution in state of being, a release not from consequences, but from fear. Having experienced and survived such profound torture, Valkyrie had emerged from the experience reborn, with a single-minded intensity and an insatiable hunger to deliver justice to the creature who had made her.
For he was a creature, there could be no doubt about that. He was a demon wearing the guise of a man, and just as sure as the old Valkyrie had died at the bottom of that well, the avenging angel she had become would seek the killer out and send him straight back to hell. She’d follow him all the way down, if she had to.
The phone rang, and this time Valkyrie pulled off the highway so she wouldn’t lose the signal. She eased onto the wide, gravel-covered shoulder and parked, turning off the ignition so that the only sound was the wind howling around her car. She pressed the speakerphone button again:
“I’m here,” she said.
“I was afraid I lost you.”
“It’ll take a lot more than bad weather to get rid of me.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Before we lose the call again, I should get to the point.”
“I wish you would.”
“I’ve found him, Valkyrie.”
A gust of wind hit the side of the car, shaking it. Through the fog, she saw tree limbs shaking. They looked like arms waving at her, warning her to go back the way she had come.
“Are you still in Oregon?” the voice said.
“Don’t worry about where I am.”
“Fine. The man you’re looking for is in northern California, a place called Sequoia County. Have you heard of it?”
“Yes, wine, hot-air balloons, mineral spas. You won’t have time for any of that.”
“Where can I find him?”
“I don’t know, but trust me, he’s there. You will find him.”
“It would be a lot easier if I had a name.”
“I have one for you, but you won’t like it.”
“He’s started calling himself Odin.”
Valkyrie closed her eyes. She gripped the steering wheel, squeezing the leather until it made cracking sounds.
“Why?” she said in a quiet voice. “Why is he making it personal?”
“It has always been personal. You’re the one that got away, Val.”
“I’m going to kill him.”
“I believe you might.”
The line went dead. Valkyrie stepped out of the car and the wind hit her like a splash of cold water in the face. She took her cane from the backseat, leaning on it as she walked around the front of the Packard, gazing out towards the ocean. The wind ripped at her, stinging her face, blurring her vision with tears. The fog swirled like a living thing, almost conscious in its movement as it folded around her. The wind moaned through the eaves of the old schoolhouse and she turned, breathing in the cold, humid air, wondering why in God’s name anyone would ever have chosen to live in that place.
It didn’t take long for the chill to cut through her wool coat and seep into her bones. Valkyrie ducked back into the Packard and sat there, letting the knots in her back unwind as the warmth enveloped her. It felt good, being safely wrapped up in three tons of solid Detroit steel. It wasn’t just that. What made it special was the fact that before his death, Tom had rebuilt that car from the ground up. There wasn’t an inch of it that he hadn’t in some way repaired, modified, or improved. Every inch of that car bore his fingerprints, and she knew his spirit was there, holding her, warming her, pressing close to her.
The rain returned with a fury. It came pounding down on the windshield and the vinyl top, and the wind hammered against the doors, searching, probing for a weakness. Valkyrie glanced at her phone and saw that she still had one bar. She tapped the speaker button:
“Say a command,” the phone demanded.
The phone rang five times before he picked up.
“Val? It’s after midnight.”
“Sorry, I forgot about the time difference.”
“I have a test tomorrow.”
“You’re back in school?”
“It was either that, or live on the streets.”
Val laughed. “Was that your father’s idea?”
“I guess. Mom and dad said if I dropped out, I’d better pack my bags. Besides, I’m still working on that degree.”
“You’ve been in school for four years already. What are you going to be, a doctor?”
“Very funny. You know very well that I missed a couple of semesters. Besides, I’m going for a master’s in computer sciences. The prerequisites are killing me.”
“I need a favor.”
Matt’s his voice rose in excitement. “Does that mean you found him?”
“Maybe. I got another call, just like the last time.”
“I remember. As I recall, you ended up in jail.”
“Never mind that. Do you think you can trace it? The number was blocked.”
“Don’t touch your phone. I’m transferring your memory logs.”
“I knew I could count on you.”
“Where will you be going?”
“A place called Sequoia County.”
“I suppose this means we’ll have to start over again? Newspapers, police logs, all that?”
“Everything you can find.”
“I’ll program your scanner to the local frequencies,” Matt said. “You’ll need a wifi connection.”
“Unlikely. I’m on the coast. I’m lucky to have a cell signal right now.”
“All right, I’ll start scanning. I’ll call if I hear anything.”
“Thanks, Matt. I’ll contact you when I get back to civilization.”
“Be careful, Val. This creep is dangerous.”
“So am I.”
Deputy Sheriff Nathan Kinney had been patrolling his usual route along the Sequoia County coast for most of the night. His extra large coffee was almost gone, and he was considering heading to the gas station for a refill and a rest stop when an old white van came speeding out of a side road in front of him. After hours of seeing nothing but fog and trees, the vehicle’s appearance had the deputy’s instant attention. Not many people were careless enough to pull out in front of a cop at eleven-thirty at night, especially with a broken taillight.
Nate noted the dilapidated condition of the old Dodge as he began following it: a missing taillight, rusted paint, numerous dents and dings, and a loose bumper barely hanging on by one bracket. The van also had blacked out rear windows, which made it impossible to guess how many occupants were inside, or what they were doing. It settled on a speed exactly one mile per hour under the limit, and Nate knew the driver must have made him.
Heading into Stumptown, the vehicle took several right turns, carving a rectangular shape through the woods that eventually led back to Highway 116. The driver didn’t make any mistakes, but there was no doubt about it: the van was trying to shake him. The deputy followed the van across the old steel bridge east of town. Crossing over the Russian River, the narrow two-lane highway plunged into the redwood-studded foothills and the fog once again closed in. Nate could see the rear end of the van, the white lines on the side of the road, and not much else.
“Robert five, this is Dispatch…”
said a woman’s voice through the police radio, followed by a momentary buzz. Nate squeezed the mic button on his left shoulder.
“Go ahead, dispatch.”
“You’re all clear on those plates. The vehicle is registered to someone staying at the Marigold RV Park.”