Thursday, September 17, 2009

Excerpt - High Risk by Jane Toombs

HIGH RISK Prologue

The take-off roar of a 747 blasted across the tarmac as Clint Hastings strode through L.A.'s smog-diffused sunlight to the private pad where the small, sleek jet waited.

Keep cool, man, he urged himself as he stifled an impulse to glance behind him. No one from the casino's going to check at the bank for at least two days. Nothing can go wrong.

His skin prickled with unease. As though an invisible being trailed him.

Clint straightened his shoulders. He didn't believe that shit. Anyone with half knew there was nothing in the stories the old men told. Hell, he'd never even heard about invisible watchers until his mother caught up with him and dragged him off to the reservation when he was twelve.

He shifted the heavy suitcase to his left hand and slowed his pace. I'm no more a goddamned Indian that Powers is, he assured himself. Why couldn't the old lady leave well enough alone? She didn't want me when I was born, why'd she expect I'd want any part of her and her people when I grew up?

The pilot stepped from the jet's shadow and approached him, his glance taking in Clint's beige suit, bronze shirt and tie. Poor bastard, Clint thought.

"Nice day for a jump," the pilot said. "You making it in that outfit?"

"You fly this crate," Clint said, "and I'll take care of the rest. Okay?"

The pilot shrugged and turned back toward the jet.

Once they were in the air, Clint unsnapped his safety belt and opened the suitcase. He carefully lifted out an attaché case and slid it just as carefully out of sight under the seat. More of Powers' careful elimination of any witness, but bombs made him nervous. He stripped to his shorts and took a jumpsuit from the suitcase. By this time tomorrow there’d be Sara.

He zipped up the jumpsuit. He wanted Sara Powers--God, how he wanted her. The sound of her hesitant voice on the phone yesterday had made him hard right there in the booth. She was so small, so helpless, so elegant. A lady. Randall Power's lady.

His lips curled into a half-smile. He planned to change that. All it took was money. The money would give him Sara. Among other things.

He fastened a thick width of leather around his waist and stared from the jet's window. The smog was far below; the sky was cloudless. Beneath him the Tehachapis leveled off into the great basin of the San Joaquin Valley. He checked his watch. Powers had timed this to the second. In a few minutes he'd tell the pilot the jump would be sooner than planned.

"Don't let him know until you're approaching the Sierras," Powers had said. "Tell him there's a bonus waiting in Reno if he keeps the switch to himself. When the chute deploys, keep your eye out for the yellow X in the meadow. "

Clint nodded. Powers thought of everything.

Everything except me. Powers doesn't have a clue about my plans or about me and Sara. He sat on the edge of the seat, smiling to himself, seeing Sara's blue eyes, her fair hair.

"I wish you wouldn't take these risks," she'd said when she'd called him back three days ago, before she left for the lodge. "What if Floyd tells Randall you called?"

"Floyd didn't recognize my voice."

"You shouldn't have taken the chance. For all I know, Randall monitors every call."

"I doubt that."

Sara sighed. "He doesn't miss much."

"All he can find out is that a man called you and left a phone number. This is a phone booth, Sara. Relax, we took enough chances last fall and never got caught."

"I must have been crazy."

"You drove me crazy. You still do."

Her soft intake of breath ignited him but all she said was, "Randall and I leave for Deerhead Lodge this afternoon."

"Everything's set?"

"Marlyn and Elise are both coming. It'll work out."

The phone had clicked in his ear before he could say anything more.

Clint's smile faded as he checked the .44 Remington magnum in his arm holster. He didn't exactly figure on trouble with Powers but he'd have no qualms about using the gun if he had to.

He lifted two large, heavy pouches from the suitcase and unbuckled his thick leather belt to slide them onto it, one to either side, then refastened the parachute harness. Almost like dropping into South America that time, going in loaded.

Had he overlooked anything? The bunch at the casino hadn't a clue, he was

sure. To them he was old buddy Clint, a blood brother, returning to the tribe when they needed him. Why should they suspect? Damn it, he'd worked hard to help them get the casino set up and running. Even now, when it was pulling in money hand over fist, he’d helped out when they asked him.

So they'd find out you can't trust anyone. You'd think Indians--no, what the hell, they were Native Americans now--would know better after undergoing two hundred years of having their faces shoved in shit. He had a slight twinge of guilt about one thing only--his half-brother.

Clint grimaced. He'd tried to sound Frank out, sort of wanting to let him in on it, but his brother was one thick-headed Indian. Once he realized Frank was a complete straight arrow type, he'd shut up, not daring to let him suspect what was going down. You couldn't trust anyone. Not even your brother.

Not even Randall Powers?

With his hand touching the switch on the attaché case, Clint hesitated. It wasn't too late to fly on to Reno and forget the jump. Keep the money. Get out of the country. Forget Powers.

That'd mean forgetting Sara, too.

How long would he last with Powers after him? Powers and those types Powers dealt with, men even Powers was polite to. Powers was taking a chance by shafting one of them--Bandini. If Clint Hastings was dumb enough to take all the money, Powers and Bandini would team up and zap--he'd be ashes.

Carrying out Powers' orders was a better shot. And safer. With some modifications in his own favor. Like Sara.

Clint flicked a switch on the attaché case. Now there was no turning back. . .

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