Outtabounds

It was just ten degrees when I took my dog cross-country skiing around the farm this morning. (I actually had to scrape ice off the bottom of my Karhus!) But the sun was bright and the skiing was great. I usually spend the time thinking through whatever book I’m working on, but this morning I kept going back to Outtabounds, my ski-patrol novel. (The tag line is, Not afraid of ski lifts? You will be . . .)

Anyway, this is the prologue. I hope you like it!

 

PROLOGUE

Twenty-four years earlier . . .

Ebook CoverTEN-YEAR-OLD Jeffrey Christopher crouched over his skis as he raced down the snowy hillside. A bump appeared on the side of the trail and he shot toward it, tucking his poles beneath his arms like an Olympic racer. He waited until the last instant, then pushed up with his knees and popped into the air, whooping with excitement. He landed in an explosion of snow, zigged and zagged to slow himself, then turned his skis and braked to a stop.

He turned and looked uphill.

“C’mon, Dad, hit it!” he shouted. “Hit it!”

James Christopher knew he’d be taking the jump the moment he saw Jeffrey heading for it. The boy loved watching his father fly through the air as much as he loved being airborne himself. James wasn’t really interested in bumps and jumps anymore—growing old sometimes did that to a man—but risking life and limb (and watching his father do the same) seemed hard-wired into his son’s DNA. It made the boy smile. And that was all the reason James Christopher needed to take the jump.

He was Jeffrey’s hero and he knew it. Jeffrey once told a friend his dad was “the best skier in the world!” After that, James would have taken an Olympic ski jump blindfolded rather than disappoint his son.

He bent his knees as he made his approach, then hopped and popped into the air. He splayed his arms and legs—a classic spread-eagle—and landed cleanly. He braked hard, spraying Jeffrey with an icy shower of fresh, frosty, sparkling powder.

“Yes!” Jeffrey exclaimed, grinning from ear to ear. “That was great!”

James smiled. He looked back up the hill for a moment, then turned back to his son. “So where do you want to go?”

“Loose Moose!” Jeffrey said without hesitation.

“Sounds good,” James agreed. “Let’s go.”

James took a moment to catch his breath as Jeffrey planted his poles and pushed off. He knew before asking that they’d be hitting choose Loose Moose. It was their signature run. Narrow monkey trails snaked through the pine forest on both sides of the creamy corduroy, and father and son both enjoyed darting between the trees, ducking beneath snow-laden branches, hopping fallen logs, and slicing through piles of loose powder before blazing back onto the groomed run again.

James breathed deeply—the air seemed unusually thin this morning—as he followed Jeffrey down the slope. Whenever they skied together, James insisted on Jeffrey taking the lead. He enjoyed watching the little firecracker, for one thing. But he also preferred being uphill in case the boy took a spill. It was much simpler to reach him that way than if—

James gasped, abruptly overcome by a wave of nausea and dizziness. He wedged his skis to slow himself, suddenly confused and out of breath. His chest began to burn, felt as if it were being crushed. He braked to a stop and bent over his skis as he tried to catch his breath. His head swam. His ears rang and his chest flamed. He could feel his heart pounding.

He had no way of knowing it, but an aneurysm—a weak spot in the aorta below his kidneys—had burst and begun spilling blood into his abdomen. The result of a genetic defect, the aneurysm had gone undetected for years. But now—weakened by a recent infection and aggravated by the stress of hard skiing—it had given way.

His heart began pumping faster to compensate for the diminishing volume of blood. The extra fluid in his abdomen created pressure against adjacent veins and arteries, further slowing the circulation of blood and depriving his body of oxygen.

Searing pain slashed through Christopher’s chest and he fell to the snow, gasping and clutching at his coat.

Jeffrey turned to look back uphill just as his father collapsed.

“Dad!”

The boy slammed to a stop, popped off his skis, and struggled to run back up the slope. He sank to the top of his ski boots with every step in the soft snow but didn’t quit. He clawed his way up the hill with all the speed he could muster.

“Dad!”

By the time Jeffrey reached him, his father was unconscious.

“Dad!”

Confused and frightened, Jeffrey shook his father, then shook him again, desperately trying to wake him. There was a shushing sound and he looked up to see a skier slicing down the hill. The boy stood and frantically waved down the passing skier.

“There’s something wrong with my dad!” the boy cried as tears coursed down his cheeks. “Please, you’ve got to help him!”

The skier took one look at the man lying crumpled on the snow. He could see blood trickling from the corners of the man’s mouth and knew the situation was more serious than a broken leg or a sprained ankle. Certainly beyond any help he could offer. He knew he could stop … but he didn’t know first aid.

But he knew where to find someone who did.

“Stay here,” he said. “I’ll get the ski patrol.”

Before the boy could respond the skier planted his poles and shot down the hill, relieved to have a task he could handle.

Jeffrey knelt beside his father feeling lost and alone and more frightened than he’d ever been in his young life.

Hot tears seared his eyes.

“Dad,” he whispered between sobs. “Oh, Dad …”

***

CHASE ROGERS slalomed through the fresh, creamy snow carrying a mongo—a steel bar used for driving holes into hard snow and ice. The bamboo poles and plastic ropes that marked closed and out-of-bounds areas were constantly working themselves loose, and keeping them buffed out was a never-ending chore.

He skied easily, enjoying the feeling of long skis on groomed snow. He stopped frequently to pull up the slack in a sagging rope or use the mongo to drive a new hole for a leaning pole. The sun was high in the sky—bright and warm—and it felt good on his face as he hopped over a rise and onto the face of a steep pitch.

There was a skier down on the snow near the bottom of the hill, someone kneeling beside him. Chase was a rookie ski patroller, but he’d skied long enough to recognize the scene of an accident. Forgetting the ropes, he turned his skis and within seconds reached the stricken skiers.

A young boy looked up with swollen eyes, instantly recognizing the red coat and white crosses. A look of overwhelming relief flooded the boy’s face.

“It’s my dad!” the boy cried, choking on his words. “Please help him! Hurry, please!”

Chase punched out of his skis, a million thoughts whirling through his mind. The man on the snow appeared unconscious, and there was no mistaking the blood trickling from his mouth. Chase knew he was facing a dire situation. Knew he needed help and knew he needed it fast.

He reached down to his chest harness and keyed his radio.

“Wrangler Patrol, Seven Forty-seven.”

A scratchy voice rumbled back. “Wrangler Patrol.”

“I need an Oh-two pack, backboard, and toboggan at the bottom of Powderkeg.” And then, though he knew it was unnecessary: “Please expedite.”

“Copy your Oh-two, backboard, and toboggan. Ten-four, patroller en route. Wrangler Patrol clear.”

Chase dropped beside the man on the snow. He took in the blood trickling from the man’s mouth, the clenched eyes—

He looks like he’s in pain.

—and the lack of discernible breathing. He shook the man roughly.

“Sir? Sir! Can you hear me?”

Nothing.

“He just fell!” the boy cried frantically. “He was grabbing his chest!”

“How long ago?” Chase asked.

“I … I don’t know! Five minutes? Ten? I don’t know!

“Okay,” Chase said. “Just relax.”

He placed his ear close to the man’s mouth and watched his chest. He heard no sound of breathing, felt no breath upon his cheek, saw no telltale movement of the chest.

Damn!

Chase quickly tilted the man’s head, pinched the nose shut, and blew two breaths into the mouth, ignoring the stubble of whiskers against his lips. The breaths went in and Chase saw the man’s chest rise.

Chase placed his fingers alongside the man’s neck and felt for a pulse: nothing.

He moved his fingers, felt again.

Nothing.

He ripped open the man’s coat, placed his hands in the center of the chest, and straightened his elbows: he shoved, compressing the man’s heart.

One, two, three

He winced as the man’s ribs cracked under the pressure, but forced himself to focus on his work.

four, five.

He repositioned himself alongside the man’s head and blew again into the whiskery mouth. He felt the breaths go in and saw the chest rise.

It’s working!

He quickly returned to the man’s side, positioned his hands and shoulders, began compressing the chest.

One, two, three

He knew help would be coming. Knew too that he couldn’t stop working. Couldn’t stop unless the man began breathing on his own or someone arrived to take over … or until he himself dropped from exhaustion.

He completed five compressions—the accepted protocol of the time—blew twice into the man’s mouth, began another cycle. He knew—he’d been warned—that cardiopulmonary resuscitation was a difficult, draining procedure. But he was surprised by how quickly he was tiring. His arms began to ache, his back already burning from the strain.

Five compressions, two breaths, five compressions, two breaths, the motions becoming automatic, his actions almost mindless. He couldn’t stop. He struggled to ignore his tiring muscles and focus upon his work.

Get oxygen into the lungs, into the blood.

Keep the blood circulating.

Breaths.

Compressions.

Breaths.

Compressions.

Breaths.

His shoulders burned, his aching elbows, knees, and back howling for relief. He began to worry that he’d become too tired to continue. The thin mountain air was insufficient to sustain him, the cold draining his strength as rapidly as the strain of performing CPR.

Focus! he ordered himself. I’m not stopping!

He’d seen the look in the kid’s eyes—the boy had looked at Chase with an expression of trust and confidence—and Chase was not going to fail him. Not for anything. No matter how tired he became.

Come on! he thought as he blew into the cold mouth. Breathe!

Breathe!

He continued compressing, breathing, compressing, breathing, compressing, breathing. He became dimly aware of movement around him.

People.

Activity.

Voices.

He wanted to look, to see what was happening, but couldn’t tear his eyes away. Was too tired, too numb, too exhausted to do anything but continue the rhythmic cycle of chest compressions and breaths.

One, two, three

More motion.

A hand gripping his shoulder.

A voice.

“Chase …”

“No,” he whispered numbly. “Can’t … stop …”

“Chase,” the voice repeated, a little more urgently. “It’s okay … we’ve got it. Stand down …”

“Can’t … stop …”

Hands gripped his shoulders, began pulling.

No!

“C’mon, Chase, it’s okay. C’mon, man, let go … let go, Chase … we’ve got it.”

Chase felt himself being pulled away. He resisted, struggled briefly, finally let go. He blinked, saw people in red coats kneeling over the stricken man as they continued administering CPR. More breaths, compressions, breaths. Someone feeling for a pulse. More breaths, more compressions. Other skiers had stopped to watch and a patroller had his hands out, shooing them away.

After several minutes a grizzled patroller—the patrol doctor—motioned the men performing CPR to stop. The doc placed a stethoscope against the unconscious man’s chest. He listened, repositioned his stethoscope, listened again. By now a rescue toboggan had arrived and a patroller was preparing it for transport … but without the urgency Chase expected. It was several moments before he realized why.

It was over.

He sat back on the snow as icy beads of sweat trickled down his back feeling … what?

Distress?

Failure?

Defeat?

None of the words seemed exactly right.

He was completely, utterly drained, both physically and emotionally. He looked to the side and saw the man’s son kneeling in the snow beside his father. Tears streaked the boy’s cheeks, the young face flushed and filled with anguish. The boy looked like he was on the verge of losing control.

After a moment the boy looked up and their eyes met. For a brief, horrifying moment Chase thought the boy might show some sign of anger that Chase had been unable to save his father. But despite his grief the boy managed to mouth the words, Thank you.

It was as if a dam suddenly burst within him. A flood of emotions overwhelmed him and Chase collapsed on the snow. He began to cry, sobbing like a baby.

He was twenty-two years old.

It was his second day on the job.

 

Wow . . . reading that always takes me back to the mountain. Anyway, I hope you like it! You can read more details here!

Brex and the Snowboard

I was doing a Q & A with a

local school not long ago, and one of the kids asked if I ever use real stories in my books. Right away I thought of this story, that made it into Time Jam. It’s a silly story–and pretty disgusting!–but it really happened!

EXCERPT FROM TIME JAM:

“No, seriously, man.” Zach peeled a blackened chunk of pterosaur steak from the engine and tossed it onto a growing pile of burnt flesh and filthy rags they planned to burn later. “This has gotta be, like, one of the top five most disgusting jobs I’ve ever had.”

Snowboarding
Snowboarding sport photo

He shuddered as he plucked an unidentifiable piece of pterosaur from the engine, holding it between two fingers the way he’d hold a dead snake.

“Probably top three.”

Chase laughed again. “Top three? What in the world is number one?”

Zach didn’t even pause to think about it. “Snowahlamie Mountain.”

Chase stopped what he was doing, suddenly nauseated. “Oh, jeez,” he said. He not only knew what Zach was referring to, but ranked the experience as his own number one.

“Hey, don’t hold out,” Captain Jenks said as he tried to loosen a stiff bolt. “What happened?”

“Last winter,” Zach said. “Me’n Chase and my ten-year-old cousin Brex were snowboarding at Snowahlamie Mountain. Out in Utah?”

“Dinosaur country,” the pilot said. He gritted his teeth as he leaned against the stubborn bolt. “Okay …”

“There’s a big lodge halfway down the mountain,” Chase added. “And one of the underground sewer lines burst.”

Zach: “It wasn’t real deep, and all the warm … sludge … began eroding away the dirt, and the snow—”

Chase: “Making a hole about five feet across—”

Zach: “And filling it with … sludge—”

Chase: “But people coming down the hill couldn’t see it.”

Captain Jenks stopped work on the bolt to listen.

We saw it,” Zach said, nodding to Chase. “And just barely missed it. But because it had just happened, the resort didn’t know anything about it—”

Chase: “We didn’t know what to do—”

Zach: “So Chase called nine-one-one.”

Captain Jenks: “You called nine-one-one?”

Chase spread his hands. “Hey—who you gonna call?”

Zach laughed. “And the poor dispatcher thought we were prankin’ her. Chase kept saying, ‘Seriously!’ and ‘I’m not kidding!’ and ‘This is for real, man!’ ”

Captain Jenks: “So what happened?”

Chase: “Dispatcher finally called the ski patrol—”

Captain Jenks: “The ski patrol?”

Chase: “Yeah, I didn’t get it either.”

Zach: “But then we looked up the hill—”

Chase: “And here comes Zach’s little cousin Brex.”

Chase and Zach exchanged somber glances.

“He was flying down the hill,” Zach said. “I mean, if it was the Olympics, he would have gotten the gold.”

Chase: “We started waving and yelling—”

Zach: “But he thought we were telling him to go faster—”

Captain Jenks could see where the story was going and began to chuckle.

“Yeah,” Zach said, seeing the pilot had figured it out. “And he went right in—”

Chase: “Massive belly flop—”

Zach: “Right into the … sludge.”

Both boys shook their heads.

“We had to help him out of the hole,” Zach said. “I mean, he was literally drowning in it—”

Chase: “Flopping around like a fish—”

Zach: “Splashing his arms—”

Chase: “Still strapped to his snowboard—”

Zach: “And man … it was horrible.”

“You can’t even imagine how bad it was,” Chase said. “A ski patrolman finally came to help—”

Zach: “His name was Chase, too—”

“Yeah,” Chase said, remembering. “He took us down to the patrol locker room where they have showers so we could clean Brex up and stuff. But still”—he shuddered—“it was the worst! I mean, I’ve never, ever, been around anything so disgusting.”

“We just threw his clothes away,” Zach said. “I mean, who’d want to ever wear ’em again?”

Chase: “We found him some stuff in lost-and-found to wear home. And poor Brex drenched himself in cologne and aftershave every day for a month, thinking he still smelled like … well, you know.”

Zach: “It was like a mental thing: no matter what he did and no matter how many times he showered, he was certain he could still smell it. For like a month!”

Chase shuddered again, then turned back to the gooey mess in the engine.

“You know, come to think of it,” he said, getting back to work, “this really isn’t all that bad …”

Ooh! I can’t read that without shuddering! And remember, it really happened! And it reminds me of the time . . . well, we’ll save that story for another time!

Shredder

ebook coverShredder” has a new cover, and I’m totally jazzed over it!

A lot of times I can’t put a finger on the exact moment or circumstances that inspired a new book. But this is one where I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the idea hit.

I’ve been skiing since I was in high school (both downhill and cross country), and I took up snowboarding in the early 90s. My first time was at night, with a kid named Steve who’d had exactly one lesson. (He was going to be my teacher.)

What a miserable way to learn to ride!

I had my skis in the back of my truck (just in case) and the whole way down the mountain I was thinking, “Soon as I’m down, I’m gonna chuck this board as far as I can throw it and get my skis!” Man, it was just terrible! I couldn’t do a thing, and I was spending more time on my rear end–or my face–than I was on my board.

It took more than an hour to get down the hill, but by the time I did I was finally able to stay upright for more than a couple of feet. That improved my attitude, and I thought, “Okay . . . I’ll give it one more try!”

Well, things got a lot easier after that. And if you’ve ever ridden, you know that it’s actually easier to learn than skiing. After one season, most riders can shred better than skiers who’ve been at it for two or three years. And I was hooked! There was a time my first season when I went riding every single night for more than a week. There’s a resort called Brighton that offers inexpensive night passes, and I’d load my gear up every morning, go to work, and then head straight to Brighton as soon as I was done for the day.

And it was just awesome.

Brighton has a chair called Majestic (it was a two-rider lift at the time, maybe it still is) that went right over a terrain park. You could ride and be entertained by all the people crashing and going yard sale. Anyway, one night I was riding Majestic over the park, watching all the daredevils risking life and limb and it hit me: I wanted to write a book.

More specifically, I pictured a teenager boarder riding the lift, and having a tough, heart-felt conversation with someone older. I wondered what could have prompted such a conversation . . . and I was off and running.

A bit of trivia I’ve never shared before, not with anyone. Most of my books have a “theme song.” Some song that reminds me of the story, and that motivates me when I’m working. The theme song to “Shredder” is “Shakedown” by Bob Seger. (Long story.) Total coincidence, but just as I was finishing this post, “Shakedown” came on.

‘Course, I had to crank up the volume, and was instantly transported back to the slopes . . .

Outtabounds

My newest thriller (and my first adult novel for several years) is just about ready for release. It’s called Outtabounds, and it’s about a legendary ski patroller who–after he’s fired from a large, destination resort, and with his knowledge of avalanches and explosives–decides to take revenge upon the patrol, the mountain, and the resort. I’ve been working on it for a long time–years, actually–and I’m jazzed to finally have it done.

Here’s an excerpt:

NEWMAN Chopperwas twenty-two, with dreams of becoming a paramedic. He was brash, confident, and aggressive to the point of being overbearing. A self-acknowledged expert on every topic, he had an opinion on everything and an over-inflated sense of his own importance.

Newman was known for standing at the top of the ski lifts when he wasn’t busy, feet apart, hands on his hips, smiling at passing guests as if saying, Relax and have a nice day now, folks: Mickey Newman’s on the job . . .

With a grin, Chase remembered the time a patroller radioed for a snowmobile to transport an exhausted guest from a remote hillside. Hearing the call, Newman had gone running for the nearest ‘bile, jumping onto the machine like Batman into the Batmobile. The ‘bile was parked at the bottom of a steep incline and Newman gunned the throttle to make the climb.

Unfortunately, someone had left the ‘bile in reverse. It shot backward, throwing Newman up and over the windscreen. His coat sleeve caught on the throttle and the snowmobile dragged him flapping and flailing across the slope before finally slamming into a tree.

Chase rolled his eyes.

Ah, he thought.

Mickey Newman . . .

JADEN JEX, on the other hand, was as nice a kid as Chase had ever known, though it was said he had the thinking power of a potted plant. Chase had heard one patroller claim the kid had “to think to breathe.”

Jex loved the beauty of the mountains, and he loved gazing about and admiring the view as he skied. It was not unknown for him to become so enthralled with the scenery that he’d forget to look where he was going. The patrol jester claimed there were few trees on the mountain he hadn’t skied into.

Once, while doing avalanche control (and for reasons no one had been able to explain) Jex had been assigned to carry a pack of explosives. It was strictly against patrol policy and common sense to “catch air” while in uniform. But when a tricky jump presented itself, Jex had been too tempted to resist. He flew over the bump, but then caught an edge on the other side. He tumbled head-over-skis down the slope with his pack of explosives, completely out of control and expecting to be blown to smithereens.

When he finally rolled to a stop, he desperately tried to rid himself of the pack–flapping, fighting, flailing in the snow–completely forgetting the waist strap that held the pack secure until he finally fell exhausted to the snow.

The other patrollers laughed themselves silly.

Chase rolled his eyes. Newman and Jex . . .

The two patrolmen, Chase thought, were as different as gravel and grapes, as different was any two men could be. But their hearts and intentions were in the right place.

Ben’s right, Chase thought. It’s going to be an interesting day . . .

 

Look for Outtabounds toward the end of October, 2018.