Those of you who read my post from a few days before will understand why I have complied with my commitment to the tour operator to host this title but I certainly WILL NOT be reading or reviewing this title.
On the Edge
by Dick Hannah
After Joe Malone was run out of the Marines due to debilitating agoraphobia brought on by a fire fight Iraq he was forced to turn to his former Marine father for help. Having made some strides back to normalcy, Joe’s rocky relationship with his father is destroyed when he fires Joe after one their clients is found brutally murdered during a class at their military style fitness bootcamp. Things only get worse when a second client is murdered right in front of Joe three days later. Joe is forced to decide what he wants more, the safety and security of staying at home working as a model builder for his old friend Kathy or the chance to reclaim his father’s respect and potentially own the bootcamp business by tracking down the killer. Determined not to let anymore of his friends get hurt, and desperate to return to his father’s good graces, Joe agrees to accompany a group of their clients on a trip to West Texas for a three day adventure race.
The challenges Joe expected to face are magnified during the train trip across Texas when he finds that his boss, Kathy, is along for the ride. The dangers continue to escalate the farther west they go, with Joe no longer sure of who to trust, with Kathy having to join a team on the race, and with his brother and father shadowing him across the state. Add to this that Joe’s own personal nemisis, Horne, shows up with his own team of adventure racers and is overtly trying to endanger Joe. Joe is forced to find the motivation to continue the trip, the personal dedication to overcome his fear of crowds and of open, even when his past and the associated memories keep rising to the surface and threaten all the gains he’s made since returning from the war. The adventure race is the least of Joe’s concerns. The rafting, climbing, rappelling, biking, running and other obstacles are nothing compared to the personal challenges Joe is forced to confront.
Eventually the anger dropped off and my thoughts turned to Georgia. She is a good runner, one of our best. There are only four in our group who could beat her in a race. Some days even I have trouble keeping a comfortable lead on her. She's also one of our most conscientious clients. She would only have left the group if there was trouble. I ran faster, each step carrying me closer to the point where I dropped her off.
She wouldn’t have wandered off, or gone for a run on her own, the further I went the more I was sure something was wrong. My breath came in loud gasps. I prayed as I ran that my message to Luther would read: "Six mile run, found Georgia with twisted ankle." Something, anything that would make the day turn out okay.
Georgia had been the third road guard that I left behind that morning. She had been stationed just beyond the coffee shop. My last words to her were, "Wait here. Have everyone cross the street here, and run that way. Catch up after the last person." No room for confusion. No reason for her not to follow us eventually.
I rounded a corner and was confronted with a major intersection. The tree-lined section of the sidewalk ended and I was back out in the open again. The sky, a dull blue now, was just a moment from becoming full daylight. This was the spot where I had left the first road guard, Mr. Totten. "Stay here. Make sure the others go straight on. Catch up after the last man," I had said. He had caught quickly, why hadn’t Georgia? Where was she? I looked both ways before crossing, not just for traffic but for any signs of her.
I made it to the next intersection in just under a minute, sprinting the whole way. I looked up and could just make out the coffee shop further down the road. My breath was ragged now, heaving. I had left Mr. Gilbert here. He got the same directions, "Stay here. Tell the other clients to keep up the pace. Catch up ASAP." Once Gilbert had stopped, it had been just me and Georgia out front.
Now, with the coffee shop coming closer with each step, worry overcame the fatigue I felt and I forgot about my burning lungs and sore feet. I looked ahead and saw that the sun had broken over the horizon. I dredged my legs for some small bit of reserve strength that I could use to run faster, to find Georgia, to outpace my anger at Gentry and Totten but mostly to beat the coming daylight.
The sun hit my eyes and made me miss a crack in the side walk. I tripped and fell, but rolled into the grass that bordered the pavement. I came up quickly with a sharp pain in my knee. A quick loud curse followed. I kept my focus on the coffee shop and grimaced through the pain as I ran. I wondered at the possibility of Georgia having hurt herself. Georgia could have tripped on the path, knocked her head and stumbled somewhere on the side of the road. I should have been more careful on the run to listen for her calling for help. I looked over my shoulder but decided against the idea of going back as quickly as I had considered it.
Just a few paces from the coffee shop a man wearing a bike helmet and biking shoes ran awkwardly out of the vacant lot that bordered Glen Oaks. He ran inside and He shouted at the lone employee and pointed at the lot next door. Something was wrong. Panic and fear were etched across his face. I felt the same unease and panic in the pit of my stomach. It blossomed into something more as I sprinted by the coffee shop, pulled up to the vacant lot, knowing what I'd find there without needing to be told.
There was a path that disappeared into the trees. I plunged head-long through the trees and almost collided with a mountain bike lying in the middle of the trail. The light filtered through the trees and let me make out where the biker had walked, his trail highlighted by the disturbance in the blanket of dew that covered the tall grass. The man had probably stopped to take leak, or maybe wanted to ride down toward the creek.
I found Georgia's body crumpled in the middle of the lot, surrounded by tall grass and trees, just a couple of meters in front of the bike. Her shirt was ripped and cut, and running shorts missing. Her stomach, breasts, legs, arms, all covered in cuts and stab wounds. Her skin was covered in blood. The leaves of the plants were splattered and coated in blood as well. The smell made me gag and I stepped back instinctively. I heard the biker coming back, his footsteps and panting breath dominated the stillness around us. Everything around me was alive, as if this moment was making me hypersensitive. I took in the blood, the vacant stare from two open, lifeless eyes. A car passed loudly on the road behind us and somewhere far away a bird chirped and called. The biker was saying something, his lips moved but I couldn't hear him. I bent down and felt Georgia's neck. Her skin was cold beneath my fingers. There was no pulse. For some reason my mind finished composing my morning letter to Luther. "Seventeen clients. Six mile run. Lost seven. One dead."
Imagine Dick Francis listing toward adventure races instead of horse racing. Or Diane Mott Davidson writing about triathlons inlieu of catering. With a background in adventure races including competing in the Army Best Ranger Competition Dick Hannah provides a fresh voice and real world glimpse into the world of adventure racing and fitness in his thriller novels.
Prior to starting his writing career he spent four years as a Ranger team leader and continues to stay sharp by working as a fitness consultant at a fitness bootcamp. When not racing or writing, Dick works full-time as technical writer, business analyst and trainer.
Dick followed up Toe the Line, his first full-length novel, in 2013 with On the Edge. He has already started on his third thriller, Vapor Trail, which he plans to release in 2014. He can be contacted through his blog at www.puborperish.blogspot.com.