The Price of Silence
By ULLA HÅKANSON
INTRODUCINGDrama, Romance, Suspense
Excerpt from Chapter 1
A rust-riddled Dodge crept into a lonely gas station, its wide tires crunching over loose gravel. Its headlights were off, and its dark shape blended with the night until it reached the light left on at the pumps. The driver cut the motor by the station’s phone booth and scanned the area. He slipped from the car.
The phone booth’s light flickered on above his unkempt hair, highlighting his blood-covered face as he reached up to smash the bulb with the butt of his pistol. His haunted eyes probed the darkness. No traffic on the road, no movement from the store: no sign of life to disturb him.
He spat blood on the floor and picked up the receiver with a shaking hand. Squinting at the keypad in the weak light from the pumps, he dialled a number. He cursed as the answering machine kicked in and slammed the phone down. He waited, peering into the night to see if anyone might be creeping up on him. After a moment, he dialled again. No answer. Woozy and not thinking clearly, he soon got caught in a loop: call, hang up, scan the roadside, repeat. All the while, one foot tapped a nervous rhythm on the floor.
Out of change, he slammed the receiver down one last time, surveyed the empty street, and then slipped back into his car.
He drove south through the night, fretting about why his contact hadn’t picked up. He needed somewhere to hole up for a time. Going back to his rented room in Vancouver was not an option: they’d be waiting for him there.
Blood oozed from a deep gash along his jaw. The pain played games with his vision. It took all his concentration just to stay on the road. After his second near-crash, he pulled onto the shoulder and stretched out on the seat, still shivering from shock.
A whiff of damp leather mixed with the stink of blood jolted him upright again to stop his stomach from turning. He switched on the reading light. Parts of his black leather jacket gleamed. He touched it and held his fingers up to the light to see they were a dark shade of red. Splotches on his jeans and boots told him he was covered with blood spatters. He flipped the visor down to check his face in the mirror, then quickly flipped it back up. He was alive—he didn’t need to see the damage. Shaking, he took a deep breath and slowly lowered himself back down.
It’d been a close call. He’d been warned of the danger, and even so had barely survived. His excellent hearing and reaction time had saved him, as it had many times before. His mind roiled with images of the assault: how he’d picked up on that special sound that didn’t belong. He’d dropped his body a few centimetres the instant before an arm tightened around his neck. It had been low enough to cause the attacker to miss his throat and carve a deep cut in his jaw instead. It was a dark night. The pain was excruciating, but he’d collapsed to the ground without a sound and stopped moving. The assailant must have thought they’d succeeded in cutting his throat. Heavy footsteps had pounded away from him, followed by the screech of a car speeding off.
He stared into the darkness outside the car window, wondering what the hell he was doing with his life.
Excerpt from Chapter 2
Amy enjoyed the brisk, twenty-minute walk back to her apartment. The rain had stopped. A few stars were visible in the night sky. It looked like a promising start for her mini vacation.
Weeks earlier, Amy’s cousin Willa had asked her to come along with six of her friends on a kayaking trip in Bowron Lake Provincial Park, about eight hundred kilometres northeast of Vancouver. “We’ll be moving across several interconnecting lakes and rivers that go in a circuit inside the park,” she said. “I hear the scenery is stunning, and we’ll see plenty of wildlife.”
“Thanks, Willa, but I don’t think so,” Amy had said. “I have enough drama in my life. Exposing myself to rapids, bears, and cougars doesn’t sound like my idea of getting away from it all.”
But Willa wouldn’t take no for an answer. She knew about Amy’s break-up with her fiancé four months ago and could tell she was going through a hard time. She trotted out scenic pictures and glowing articles. Finally, Amy had agreed.
Amy smiled at the thought of the tip-and-recovery course Willa had insisted they take. The course took place in a sheltered bay. They both had their own kayak; they’d tipped it and learned how to turn it upright again with the help of paddles and floats. That course hooked Amy on kayaking. Now her waterproof dry bags were packed. She couldn’t wait to go.
Back in her apartment, Amy pushed the blinking message button on her landline. There was a brief sound of movement, then the line went dead. The rest of the messages were blank. She poured herself a glass of juice.
Her cell phone rang. She flipped it open. “Yeah?”
No, not again. Amy’s heart sped up. “What do you want?”
“I’m in trouble. I need to borrow some money.”
“Not my problem.”
“Dammit, Amy, you have to help me.”
“You’re out of your mind. We’re finished. Stop calling me.” Amy hung up and tossed the cell on the sofa. Leave me alone, she thought. She clutched her T-shirt with damp hands, trying to calm down. It drove her crazy that her ex-fiancé kept calling after all this time.
Excerpt from Chapter 3
The man in the car jerked awake at the sound of a passing semi. What the hell was he doing, sleeping in a stolen vehicle with half of his face hanging down his neck? A cop might come by anytime and check him out.
He swallowed a couple of amphetamines and got back on the road. He drove south, thinking about how things had changed. Only a week ago it seemed he’d been able to get away with anything…
He’d first met Ken Ross, a member of a Vancouver drug gang, at a nightclub. They’d hit it off, and a few weeks later Ken had a business proposition for him. They met at a waterfront warehouse the following night. There, he learned that Ken was skimming from his gang but now needed help from an outsider to funnel the money. They reached an agreement and started their skimming operation.
Feeling like he needed protection, he’d joined a small gang in Squamish, just north of Vancouver. When he told Ken about this, Ken flew into a rage.
“What the fuck were you thinking, Don?” he yelled. “You’re jeopardizing our business—you joined a rival gang, for fuck’s sake. How long do you think it’ll take someone to figure that out? That doesn’t help our business.”
“I have no intention of skimming from them: their drug business is too small, anyway. Besides, they look out for each other, man. More than you’re able to do for me, that’s for sure.”
“Look out for each other, eh? Only if you’re fucking careful with what you’re saying from now on. You don’t want to give them any reason to check you out. You screw up once, you’re dead. Once.” Ken slapped Don on the forehead.
“Hey, don’t worry. I gave them another name; they won’t be able to connect the two. Our business is as important to me as it is to you.”
He and Ken had skimmed for months without a hitch. Then, out of the blue, Ken called, warning him that Ken’s boss in Vancouver was on their tail. Moments later, some thug tried to slash Don’s throat, putting him on the run and forcing him to sleep in a stolen car on the side of some goddamned country road in the middle of nowhere.
“Ulla continually challenges me with realistic and intriguing questions! It is incredible to watch as she builds the story detail and background. Having been involved in hundreds of the most serious investigations in British Columbia I can say she has developed realistic and thoughtful twists that will challenge her characters and excite her readers. Her depth of thought, energy and effort is fascinating and it is my privilege to be a small part of the process!”