Sample Chapter

SHADOW GIRL - Chapter One

 Mom Chao Cherry hunched forward in a broken wicker chair and stared anxiously across the Mississippi River toward the University of Minnesota campus. Almost unrecognizable as a wealthy khunying from Bangkok, she wore a polyester blouse and baggy pants, cheap rubber flip-flops, and carried an eightball of cocaine in her handbag. Only her red lacquer nails, edged in twenty-four karat gold, hinted at her ridiculous wealth.

 “Time?” Mom Chao Cherry asked in an accent that probably sounded Thai or Chinese to a Westerner, but to a linguist’s ear, clearly betrayed her American heritage.

“Paed nalika,” Narong replied. Eight o’clock.

 The corners of Mom Chao Cherry’s mouth crinkled faintly, giving her aging face the appearance of a patient but ravenous crocodile. “Di yeiym,” she said.  Most excellent.  

 She hadn’t been back to America in more than sixty years, ever since her missionary parents had dragged her off to Asia to bring the word of Jesus to the impoverished, war-ravaged people of China. But this homecoming felt incredibly sweet. Like sweet revenge. Now, relaxing slightly, she reached into her bag and pulled out a cigarette. Lit it with a hissing lighter and inhaled deeply. She would have preferred to imbibe her drug of choice, cocaine, but that would have to wait. Right now there was wild work to be done.

 Narong, who was old beyond his years at twenty-four, lifted the PF-89 rocket launcher onto his right shoulder and braced himself. Two years of compulsory service in the Royal Thai Armed Forces and another two years in the private employ of Mom Chao Cherry had taught him to truly love all forms of weaponry. He was in awe of the cold precision and impersonal way in which they delivered death. Narong, whose name literally meant to make war, hungered for the moment when he could sight a potential target in his crosshairs, gently squeeze the trigger, and feel the pulse-pounding rush of total destruction. For close-up work, he was an expert in awud mied, or Thai knife fighting.

 They’d come to this third floor room above the Huang Sheng Noodle Factory some two hours earlier, right after they’d received the call from their hospital contact. Entering through the back door, eyes downcast, they’d pushed past the cooks and dishwashers that toiled in a hot, humid, clattering kitchen where bean sprouts littered the floors and orders were barked out in green grocer Cantonese.

 Up to the top floor they’d been led by the nervous owner, and then down a long hallway lit with bare bulbs. They’d ghosted past small cramped dormitory rooms that held two and three sets of narrow bunk beds, finally emerging in this end room with a lumpy bed and the smell of rancid cooking oil and mouse droppings. A room with a single window that afforded the perfect prospect of the slow rolling Mississippi River and, beyond it, the University of Minnesota Hospital complex. 

 The helicopter swept in from the north, decelerating to approximately five knots. Two pilots in a Bell Jet Ranger who’d made this run a hundred times before. They’d just dropped out of an indigo blue sky scattered with bright stars, like jacks strewn haphazardly across a lush, cashmere blanket. A mile to their right, Minneapolis skyscrapers twinkled in the night. The IDS tower, Capella Tower, Wells Fargo Center, as well as a dozen high-rise luxury condominiums. Closer still was the newly-constructed football stadium, raking the skyline with its harsh, unforgiving wall of reflective glass.

 The chief pilot, Captain Sam Buell, had his hands on the cyclic stick, his feet working the rudder pedals. He was carrying no emergency patients tonight, just medical cargo he’d picked up in Madison, Wisconsin. So, an easy run for Buell who was looking forward to spending the night with his girlfriend who lived in a nearby North Loop condo. She was an assistant producer at a TV station, a hot chick with a killer body and a healthy appetite for experimental sex. She had no clue that Buell had a pregnant wife waiting for him back home. Or if she’d figured it out, she didn’t much care.   

 Buell’s feet worked the pedals as he swung the helo around in a wide arc over the turgid Mississippi. He was preparing for their final approach. All he had to do now was coast in slowly and drop the skids. The landing zone, with its sixteen green perimeter lights, shone like a Christmas tree. No problem.   

 “Looking good,” his copilot, Josh Ansel, said. “Ten degree angle, LZ dead ahead. Almost there.” Ansel was young and unmarried so he might be hitting the clubs tonight. First Avenue, where Soul Asylum and Prince got their start. Like that.

 Buell hovered the Bell 407 over the dark ribbon of river as easy as a giant bubble floating on a summer breeze. He was just about to throttle back and adjust his airspeed and pitch when a tiny flash, no bigger than a lightning bug, caught his eye. 

 Buell frowned, concerned that someone might be aiming a laser pointer directly at his windshield. There were dormitories close by, jammed right up to the edge of the towering riverbank, so there was always the chance some dumb ass kid would pick him out as a target.

 But dumb ass kids were the least of Captain Buell’s problems at this moment. The rocket slammed into his helicopter with an angry hiss, piercing the metal skin, pulverizing the gearbox, sending the bird into a perilous and lethal spin. In the darkened cockpit, with all hydraulics gone, sensor gauges, warning lights, and control switches went crazy. Ansel screamed in fear, or maybe it was pain from the raging inferno that suddenly engulfed them.  

 And when the big explosion came, a riotous event of incandescent shrapnel and glass, Ansel was already gone, bones and flesh sizzled into an unrecognizable carcass. Buell had maybe a split-second longer, time for a fleeting regret about a baby he’d never see.

 Two students walking back from Stoll’s Bar in Stadium Village witnessed the eruption overhead. A raging, pulsing beacon that looked as if a big ass rocket had just blown up in space.

 “Holy shit!” one of the men cried, as the remains of the flaming bubble jerked and throbbed in the air and then, like an angry demon cast out of the bowels of hell, hurtled downward in a furious arc, screaming directly toward them. The two men had just enough presence of mind to dive beneath a bus shelter before sheets of fire and twisted hunks of metal rained down upon them.   

 Nearby, on Washington Avenue, a bus was hit by an enormous fireball of white-hot metal that shattered the windshield and sent the vehicle crashing into a light standard. A rotor spun free of the plummeting debris and carved its way into the side of the chemistry building. More debris rained down as students returning from Walter Library, a Chekov play at Northrup Auditorium, and a French film festival at the Bell Museum, all began to shriek in terror. A minute later, a dozen sirens cranked up to join the unholy cacophony.

An Afton Tangler Thriller

Shadow Girl
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