08-26-2010 08:35 PM - edited 08-26-2010 08:47 PM
Please welcome author GRAHAM BROWN to B&N Mystery's Month of Suspense & Thrillers!
08-26-2010 08:37 PM
Covert government operative Danielle Laidlaw leads an expedition into the deepest reaches of the Amazon in search of a legendary Mayan city. Assisted by a renowned university professor and protected by a mercenary named Hawker, her team journeys into the tangled rain forest—unaware that they are replacements for a group that vanished weeks before, and that the treasure they are seeking is no mere artifact but a breakthrough discovery that could transform the world.
Shadowed by a ruthless billionaire, threatened by a violent indigenous tribe, and stalked by an unseen enemy that leaves battered corpses in its wake, the group desperately seeks the connection between the deadly reality of the Mayan legend, the nomadic tribe that haunts them, and the chilling secret buried beneath the ancient ruins.
08-26-2010 08:38 PM
Danielle Laidlaw sat alone on the terrace of a small café overlooking the great river. In the heat-induced calm of a sweltering afternoon she watched the sun paint traces of gold on the river’s surface. It was a mesmerizing and hypnotic sight, and one she’d gazed at for too long.
She turned her attention to the café, looking past the tables and their bright yellow umbrellas to what she could see of the café’s interior. In the heat of the afternoon the place was all but empty. Certainly there was no sign of the man she was waiting on, a man who was running atypically late.
With quick hands, she retrieved her BlackBerry, checked for any messages and then typed a none-too-subtle text. It read: Where the hell are you?
Before she could press send, she caught sight of him, speaking to a waiter in the café’s foyer.
She spotted his silver hair first, and then his craggy face as he turned in her direction. He walked toward her, as nattily dressed as always, today in dark slacks, a button-down shirt and a navy blue dinner jacket. She wondered how he could wear such clothes in the heat of central Brazil, but then Arnold Moore didn’t do compromise very well, not even with the vagaries of nature.
“You’re late,” she said. “Did you have trouble finding this place?”
He pursed his lips as if the suggestion itself was ludicrous. “Of course not,” he said. “I simply asked where one might find a brooding, dark-haired woman angrily checking her BlackBerry a hundred times a minute. Surprisingly, onlyseven different people pointed me in your direction.”
As she smiled at his barb, Danielle sensed the eyes of the waitstaff upon them. It happened more often than not. She was thirty-one, tall and fit with high cheekbones and glossy chestnut hair, and he was twice her age, gray and refined, almost continental in his bearing. People who saw them together commonly gawked, assuming her to be his mistress or trophy wife or perhaps, less cynically, a niece or daughter. The truth would have surprised them: she was his partner, his protégé and one of the few people in the world he actually trusted.
As ranking field operatives for an American organization known as the National Research Institute, Danielle Laidlaw and Arnold Moore had traveled much of the globe together. In just the prior year they’d spent time in eleven countries, studying everything from oil field resuscitation in the Baltics to nano-tube production in Tokyo. They’d even been to Venice as the NRI partnered with the Italian government on a plan to protect the island with a band of giant sea gates.
Their stock-in-trade was to examine cutting-edge projects and determine what technologies, if any, could be valuable to the United States. Then, through a combination of relationship building, bribes, or even outright theft, they were to secure for their country what might be of interest.
To that end, she and Moore spent their days in cutting-edge labs or at illustrious seminars. Their nights resembled those of the jet set, attending state functions and elaborate parties thrown by corporations and wealthy entrepreneurs. It was often as glamorous as it was rewarding. So far, however, the mission to Brazil was proving to be an exception.
The NRI’s interest in the country was unrelated to anything being designed, developed or produced there. In fact, it concerned the past as much as the future, beginning with a group of artifacts recovered from the Amazon by an American explorer named Blackjack Martin.
A fortune hunter more than anything else, Martin launched his expedition in 1926, in search of anything that might bring him fame. He returned a year later having mostly failed. The stories he told were laughed off as fanciful exaggerations or outright lies. And the few artifacts he did bring back raised little more than passing interest and were soon consigned to the dusty backrooms of various museums, forgotten if not lost. At least, that is, until a chance encounter with one of them, and an examination with modern tools, had drawn the NRI’s substantial interest.
Since then, Danielle and Arnold Moore had been in Brazil, trying without success to pick up on Blackjack Martin’s trail. After months of fruitless effort, Danielle believed she’d finally found something that would help.
“I have good news,” she said. “And something to show you.”
Moore grabbed a cloth napkin and snapped it open. “And I have bad news,” he said, “straight from the mouth of our director.”
The words were spoken in a tone that Moore reserved for moments of disgust. She sensed a hint of resignation on Moore’s face, the bitterness of another argument lost or some new and bizarre order being implemented over his objection, something that had become a pattern on this particular assignment.
“What’s happened now?” she asked.
Moore shook his head. “You first. Perhaps something positive will take the sting out of what I have to tell you.”
“Fine,” she said, reaching into a small leather bag at the foot of the table. She pulled out a flat gray stone and placed it in front of Moore. “Take a look at that.”
About two inches thick, the stone was roughly rectangular in shape, with jagged edges on three sides and a face slightly larger than a postcard. It tapered at one end and was covered with weathered symbols, including one that resembled a skull and others that appeared to represent animals.
Moore took the stone from her, holding it out at arm’s length. He squinted hard before giving in to necessity and pulling a pair of bifocals from his pocket. With great precision he placed them in their proper spot at the end of his nose.
“Hieroglyphic,” he noted.
“And clearly Mayan,” she said.
He nodded, angling the piece for a better view. As he did, the edges of the glyphs caught the sun. “My, my,” he whispered to himself. “Now, this is a sight.”
“Take a look at the top right corner,” she said. “Recognize that one?”
Moore studied the glyph, a grin creeping onto his face. “The same mark we saw on Blackjack Martin’s cradle,” he said. “Xibalba: the underworld.”
Her eyebrows went up in triumph. If they were right, this was the first real proof they’d found supporting what Martin had described in his wild journals. “Hard to believe, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he said. “Very hard.” He looked at her suspiciously. “Where did you get this?”
“I bought it from a logger who’d taken his crew upriver for contraband hardwoods. Mahogany, for the most part.”
Mahogany was an important cash crop in the Amazon, but the trees grew slowly and most of those in accessible areas had been felled long ago. Others were protected. As a result, increasing amounts of illegal logging took place far upriver, where the loggers went in search of untouched lands to harvest. As time went by, this trade took them deeper and deeper into the watershed, to places where few others journeyed.
“How far in was he?’ Moore asked with renewed enthusiasm.
“Eight days from here, a trip we could make in four or five.”
As Moore examined the stone, Danielle felt a new surge of energy. A reverberation of the jolt she’d felt when first viewing the stone herself—and something sorely needed by both of them.
“Did he know what he was selling you?” Moore asked, flipping the stone over.
“Not the specifics,” she said. “But he knows where it came from and he claimed to have seen a much larger stone nearby, one with similar markings. Too heavy to carry, apparently, so he took this one instead.”
She watched as Moore ran his fingers across the sharp edges on the back of the stone; the rest was relatively smooth and weathered.
“Recent break,” he said. “I wonder if he chipped this piece off of the bigger one.”
“My thoughts exactly,” she said.
Moore looked up. “What else did he tell you?”
“He said they hired some members of the Nuree tribe to act as guides upriver. One of the tribesmen pointed out the larger stone as they were hiking along the banks of a small tributary. They treat it as a marker of some kind, denoting the border of a land they consider to be cursed. Beyond it lie terrible things, apparently: shadows darker than the night, a tribe that converses with the spirits and controls wild animals . . . and a wall,” she said, “made with the bones of human beings.”
It was local folklore—more often outright false than even partly reliable—but in this case they had reason to trust it, at least enough to hope. One of the few landmarks Blackjack Martin had used in his journal was a place he called the Wall of Skulls. If they could find it, they might be able to trace the rest of his movements and locate the source of the items he’d brought back. And if they could do that . . .
“A wall made of bones,” Moore repeated.
08-26-2010 08:41 PM
In the heart of the Amazon, NRI operative Danielle Laidlaw makes an incredible discovery: a translucent Mayan stone generating massive waves of energy while counting down toward the infamous apocalyptic date: December 21, 2012. And somewhere, there are three more just like it.
What power will be unleashed if all four stones come together? Who created them—and who has them now? Using a cryptic Mayan map and a prophecy that points to the end of the world, Danielle and her team race toward answers. But one staggering question remains: Were these artifacts meant to save us—or to destroy us once and for all?
Graham Brown is also the author of Black Rain and Black Sun. A pilot and an attorney, he lives with his wife, Tracey, in Tucson, Arizona.
08-26-2010 08:42 PM
Southern Mexico, December 2012
Danielle Laidlaw scrambled up the side of Mount Puli?mundo, sliding on the loose shale and grabbing for pur?chase with her hands as much as her feet. The frenetic pace of the ascent combined with the thin mountain air had her legs aching and her lungs burning. But she could not afford to slow down.
Thirty-four years old, attractive, and athletic, Danielle was a member of the National Research Institute, a strange hybrid of an organization, often considered a science-based version of the CIA. That they were currently searching for the truth behind an ancient Mayan legend seemed odd, but they had their reasons. The fact that another armed group was trying to stop them told Danielle that those reasons had leaked.
She glanced back to one of the men climbing with her. Thirty feet downslope, Professor Michael McCarter struggled. “Come on, Professor,” she urged. “They’re getting closer.”
Breathing heavily, he looked up at her. Imminent exhaustion seemed to prevent a reply, but he pushed forward with renewed determination.
She turned to their guide, a twenty-year-old Chiapas Indian named Oco. “How much farther?”
“We must get over the top,” he told her, in heavily accented English. “It is on the other side.”
A few minutes later they crested the summit. McCarter fell to his hands and knees, and Danielle pulled a pair of binoculars from her pack.
They stood on the rim of a volcanic crater. A thousand feet below lay a mountain lake with a small, cone-shaped island bursting upward at its center. The island’s steep sides were thickly wooded but unable to disguise its volcanic nature. Yellowish fog clung to it, drifting downwind from vents and cracks.
“Is this it?”
Oco nodded. “Isla Cubierta,” he said. Island of the Shroud.
Danielle studied it through the binoculars. If Oco was right, this place would be the key to finding what they were searching for: a Mayan site that legends referred to as the Mirror, a reference to Tohil, the Mayan god of fire, who wore an obsidian mirror on his forehead. It was a symbol of power and might, and if Danielle, McCarter, and the NRI were correct, a symbol of far more than that. But so far the Mirror had remained hidden. To find it they needed help, help that supposedly existed on the Island of the Shroud.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“The statue is there,” he insisted. “I saw it once. When I came with the shaman. He told me that the time was coming, the time when all things would change.”
Danielle scanned the terrain. To reach the lake required a hazardous descent, down a steep embankment of loose and crumbling shale on the caldera’s inner cone. It would be rough, but much easier physically than the climb they’d just completed.
She tied her hair into a ponytail to let the breeze cool her neck, then settled her eyes on McCarter. He’d managed a sitting position now, though his chest still heaved and fell. His loose linen shirt was open; the T-shirt he wore underneath was drenched in perspiration. Sweat poured down his face, leaving brackish, salty trails on his dark skin.
McCarter was in good shape for a sixty-year-old university professor. And they’d brought only small packs and limited supplies, having discarded all else in the name of speed. But three days of constant hiking and climbing had taken its toll.
“Ready?” she asked.
He looked up, clearly in a state of unreadiness.
“It’s all downhill from here,” she promised.
“I’ve been hearing that load of tripe since I turned forty,” he said, between breaths. “And so far nothing has gotten any easier.” He waved her on. “Go. I’ll try to catch up.”
McCarter and Danielle were an unlikely team, but they’d formed a bond two years earlier, when Danielle had recruited him for an expedition to the Amazon. Things had started well enough, but in the depths of the jungle everything had gone horribly wrong. By the thinnest of margins, the two of them and a very few others had survived.
In the aftermath of that mission, Danielle had quit the NRI and McCarter had gone back to New York to teach. At the time, he had seemed far more likely to sue the organization than to ever work for it again, but in answering to his own curiosity he’d agreed to do just that. Despite her own reasons not to, Danielle had rejoined as well, in hopes of protecting him. The way she figured it, she owed him that much. He would never have heard of the NRI if she hadn’t recruited him. After eight months in the field and several close calls, including a car bomb and two shootings, she wasn’t about to leave him now.
Besides, her only chance of returning to Washington, D.C., and the semblance of a normal life she’d been building was to finish this job and deposit McCarter safely back in New York.
“We stick together,” she said. “Besides, you’re the expert here. You’re the one who needs to see this. All we have to do is get down there before them, learn what we need to know, and follow the lake out.”
“And what happens when they catch us?”
“They want the statue. They’re not going to chase us.”
She extended a hand, which McCarter eyed suspiciously before reaching out and grasping.
She helped him to his feet and the three of them went over the side, skidding and sliding and running where they could. As they reached the bottom, she could hear shouting far up above. Their pursuers had come to the crest.
“Hurry,” she said, racing across the last ten yards of solid ground and diving into the cold mountain lake.
When they were halfway across, gunfire began cracking from the ridge. Shots clipped the water around them and she dove under the surface and kept kicking until she could no longer hold her breath.
She came up shrouded in the sulfurous mist. McCarter and Oco surfaced beside her.
The gunfire had ceased but another sound caught her attention: a distant rhythmic thumping reaching out across the mountains. It was the staccato clatter of helicopter blades, somewhere to the east. Apparently their enemies had a new trick in store.
“Where is it?” she asked Oco.
He pointed toward the summit. “At the top,” he said. “Hidden in the trees.”
They climbed the steep angle of the island’s slope, using the trees as handholds. They found the statue at the dead center. A great block of stone with the outline of a man carved into it, a Mayan king in full regalia. In his right hand he carried what looked like a net holding four stones. In his left was an orb of some kind. Hieroglyphic writing was scrawled across the bottom and a great snake twisted across the top, with its large open mouth stretching down as if to devour the king with a single bite.
“Ahau Balam,” McCarter said, reading the title glyphs. “The Jaguar King. Spirit guide of the Brotherhood.”
Oco, who was of Mayan descent, fell silent in awe. McCarter did likewise.
Danielle was more concerned with the danger closing in on them. From the sound she guessed that the helicopter was no more than three minutes away and that the men behind them had to be scrambling down the cliff by now.
“We need to get this information and disappear,” she said. “What do you see?”
McCarter studied the writing, eyes darting here and there. He touched one glyph and then another. He seemed confused.
“I’m not sure,” he said.
The sound of the helicopter lumbered closer, growing into a baritone roar.
“We have two minutes,” she said. “Maybe less.”
He shook his head in disbelief. “There’s no story here. No explanation. It’s mostly just numbers.”
“No. Just random numbers.”
Her mind reeled. She couldn’t believe what he was saying.
“Maybe if I—”
She cut him off. “No time.”
She pulled out her camera, snapped off a shot, and then checked the screen. The stone was so weathered that the glyphs didn’t come out clearly. She took another from a different angle, with a similar result. There just wasn’t enough definition.
The helicopter was closing in. She could hear the men on foot shouting as they came down the caldera’s embankment.
“It’s not clear enough,” she said.
McCarter stared at her for a second and then tore off his shirt, dropped to the base of the statue, and pressed it up against the raised hieroglyphs. Holding it there with one hand, he began rubbing fistfuls of the volcanic soil against the surface of the shirt. Oco helped him.
08-26-2010 08:45 PM - edited 08-26-2010 08:45 PM
They gave us the power...
Left us their words...
And asked us the question:
Do You Believe?
2012 is coming.
Forget everything you think you know.
Graham Brown's latest release: Black Sun,
hits bookstores on August 31st.
BLACK SUN will be in bookstores everywhere on August 31st, 2010
08-26-2010 08:54 PM
Graham Brown grew up in Illinois, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, moving often with his family. As far as he knows they weren't in the witness protection program or part of any top secret government agency - but then - would they really tell him?
Graham went to college in Arizona, earning a degree in Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona and went on to get a law degree from Arizona State College of Law in Tempe.
A former pilot and lawyer and later part of a start up health care firm, Graham decided he hadn't had enough different careers yet and decided to become a writer.
A huge fan of Michael Crichton, Stephen King and television shows like the X-files and Lost, Graham's first novel Black Rain was a adventure thriller, steeped in suspense. Debuting in January 2010, it's plot melded the quest for cold fusion with the Mayan creation legend from the ancient text of the Popul Vuh - writings that are basically the Mayan version of Genesis.
The main characters in Black Rain are Danielle Laidlaw - a government operative forced to take over a mission she wants nothing to do with, Professor Michael McCarter, a university scholar reeling from the death of his wife and a mercenary named Hawker, who once worked for the CIA, ruined his life and - at least initially - thinks he is willing to do anything they ask to get back in their good graces.
Black Sun, Graham's second book and the sequel to Black Rain comes out on August 31st. It follows Hawker, Danielle and McCarter as they race to stop an apocalypse associated with the Mayan prophecy of 2012.
As quoted in an interview Graham said: "I know its not the first 2012 book on the market but I think we've managed to take most of what people expect out of a 2012 book and turn it upside down. Our tag lines is: 2012 - forget everything you think you know."
Graham recently signed a contract with Random House for the third book in the series.
Graham has spent the better part of the last 21 years in the deserts of Arizona and southern California. He mistakenly went back to Philadelphia one winter and vows never to do that again. He does however follow the Philadelphia Eagles and bleeds Eagles green when they lose. Like many Eagles fans he will soon need a transfusion, but he believes they will win the Super Bowl some day and he intends to be there when it happens.
Graham currently lives in Tucson, Arizona.
08-26-2010 08:55 PM
Late last week a good friend of mine named Steve flew out from the east coast. He's a corporate pilot an old college roommate and a pretty good athlete. We decided to get together and his idea of fun was an 11 mile hike in the superstition mountains east of Phoenix.
Now, before you go thinking I agreed too easily, trust me I didn't. I suggested golf (with a cart and a few cold beers and no real scoring rules). But his father was coming out on a commercial jet and to do this hike and if I didn't think I could hack it...
Are there any words in the English language that have gotten more people into trouble than "If you don't think you can hack it."? If there are I don't them.
Of course I could hack it. So despite the fact that I had spent five straight weeks in front of my computer working on the next draft of Black Sun without moving more than 11 yards at any one time, I decided to meet up with them on this 11 mile hike.
The plan was simple: They would start from one end, I would start from the other, and like the railroads meeting in Utah where the golden spike was driven we would meet just before the summit of Superstition peak. That was the plan anyway.
So I drive up to Phoenix, find the trail head and begin the hike. First hour goes well. I have water, PowerAde, a few snacks and a camera.
Phone contact is spotty but it'll get better as I get higher.
Ninety minutes in I encounter the first problem. Power bars I thought were in the pack are sitting on the passenger seat of my car. And I'm starving. OK I can push on, and I still have plenty of water, so maybe I can barter some other hiker for food. How's that for getting back to nature?
Problem number two: I haven't seen any other hikers, or really any sign of the trail for about thirty minutes. Could I be lost? I'm a man, I live by the man code: Chapter 5 Verse 7 tells us: one is not actually lost until they ask for directions. Besides - there's no one around to ask. So I refer to Verse 8 of the same chapter which states: If the possibility of being lost occurs, move (walk, run or drive) faster in whatever direction you happen to be pointing at the moment. Ah, the wisdom of the ages of men.
I push on.
Amazingly, I come to an area of fresh water running down the granite rocks of the canyon. I'm so amazed by the sound and sight that it takes me a minute to realize there are hieroglyphics carved all over the rocks - pictographs really, deer and hunters and what looks like a pre-Columbian snow boarder. (I'm not kidding - check out the photo.)
The code has conquered again.
So I take some photos and continue on - problem three hits, what looked like a nice trail on Google Earth is actually a dry river wash, strewn with boulders the size of Volkswagens. Some of them are bigger, like busses just tossed here and there. So instead of walking, it is now climbing, scaling, dropping down. (You ever see an ant walk across a field of gravel? That's what this feels like.
I climb an avalanche area to get a better view - almost causing another one, but that's a different story. Te truth is not good. This is the only way to go.
And thus problem number four. My friends expected me to reach them in two hours and it has already been three and a half. By the time I get to them we will be losing the light, and you don't want to be hiking down through all this in the dark.
We make contact and they head for the summit alone. I head back to hieroglyphics and wait for them. Two hours later I see a pair of ants, walking out through the gravel. Finally.
Years ago I hiked with these same two, my friend Steve and his Dad. They're no different now, in fact they remind me of Terminators. In the immortal words of Kyle Reese, "They don't stop, they never stop!" So far I've done three miles and they've done eight. So be it.
We start to hike out, Steve tells me he's thirsty. I look at him like he's some kind of Rookie. Didn't you know to bring enough water? He grins. "I guess not. For some reason I brought all this food though."
I stare jealously. Let the bartering begin!
08-26-2010 08:58 PM
(I know these dates are past, but I thought Graham's comments were interesting)
August 19 - 22: I will be in Nashville at the Killer Nashville Writer's Conference, where I will be discussing pacing, combining history with fiction and of course signing books.
August 23: I will be reporting back from Nashville and posting photos and details of the trip, plus photos of my tour of the Mayan Ruins in Chichen Itza. It was amazing - a place engineered not only for sight but for sound. I recommend seeing and HEARING Chichen Itza to anyone who has the chance.
--Okay so here is the report for Killer Nashville - it was a fantastic conference. If you are an aspiring writer, avid fan of mysteries and thrillers or just interested in the process of writing and getting published this is a great place to go. I've been to dozens of conferences over the years and few of them let you just rub shoulders in the halls with all the writers.
The panels I saw were funny and informing - there was a crime scene staged in one of the hallways - I wonder what the other hotel guests thought of that - and talk of some lucky winner getting a Taser experiancce next year??? Come on - you know you're wondering how it really feels to be Tased.
Jeffery Deaver, who is writing the next Bond book in addition to all his own, was there, also Sherrilyn Kenyon of Acrehon fame and Charles Todd who was funny and interesting the whole time. Plus dozens of other writers including me of course.
Now - I didn't take any pictures - except one of my foot, accidentally with my I-phone. But that's because I was having such a good time I completely forgot. But trust me - fun and educational was the conference and a good time was had by all.
08-26-2010 09:03 PM - edited 08-27-2010 09:27 AM
I labeled this incorrectly when I posted it last night. The prologue to Graham's upcoming release BLACK SUN is posted above. This is the prologue to BLACK RAIN:
There came one called Destroyer; who gouged out their eyes and another called Jaguar who devoured their flesh. They raced for the trees and they raced for the caves. But the trees could not bear them and the caves were now shut.
And then came the torrent; a rain of black resin that poured from the sky. Rain through the day and all through the night and the earth was blackened because of it.
--The demise of the Wooden People from the Mayan text: Popul Vuh.
The darkness of the jungle loomed above, its dense, tangled layers spreading like a circus tent from towering pillars of massive trees. Gorged on the rain, it grew impenetrable and unyielding, a home to thousands of species, most of which never left the confines of its elevated embrace. In this place, life was lived in the canopy; the ground was for shadows and crawling things and for that which had died.
Jack Dixon allowed his gaze to fall from the lush world above him to the soil beneath his feet. He crouched, examining a set of tracks. The tread of the heavy boots was easy to discern, but subtly different from those he’d found earlier. These were deeper at the toe, pressed down into the earth and spaced farther apart.
So the targets were running now. But why?
He looked around, wondering if he’d come up too quickly and given himself away. It seemed unlikely. Knotted undergrowth blocked most of the sight lines. And where one could see, the vaporous fog grayed the distance to infinity. It was as if nothing else existed, no world beyond, only endless trees, clinging moss and vines hanging limp in the mist like ropes from an empty gallows.
Besides, if they had seen him, he’d have already been dead.
Dixon motioned to a man trailing him, pointing to the tracks. “Something spooked them,” he said.
The second man, whose name was McCrea, studied the print for a second. “But not us,” he guessed.
Dixon shook his head. “No. Not us.”
As cicadas buzzed in the distance, a subtle tick fluttered across McCrea’s face. But nothing more was said and the two men moved on, holding their assault rifles in front of them and creeping even more slowly than before.
A few minutes later they came upon what Dixon had begun to expect. Another kill. A fresh kill with no stench, though the birds had found it already. As Dixon brushed past the last of the blocking undergrowth, the carrion flock scattered, squawking in alarm and flapping to safety in the trees.
Exposed by their departure was the mangled body of a man wearing the same jungle fatigues as Dixon and McCrea. He lay facedown on a swath of crimson mud with a native spear broken off in his back. Chunks of flesh had been gouged from his legs and his right arm and shoulder were gone, not cut clean but torn away. Strips of tattered flesh lay draped over bloody spits of protruding bone.
“What the hell is this,” McCrea said.
Dixon stared, disturbed but pragmatic. “That’s what he gets, for trying to leave me behind.”
Beside him McCrea fought to hold it together. “The bastards did a number on him.”
The bastards were a native group known as the Chollokwan, a tribe that had been harassing them ever since they came west of the river. In a pair of skirmishes weeks before, Dixon and his men had gunned down a handful of the charging natives. But it seemed one lesson was not enough.
“Saved us the trouble,” Dixon said. “Search him.”
McCrea dropped to ground and rifled through the man’s pockets and field jacket. Finding nothing, he pulled out a small device and switched it on. It began clicking slowly, accelerating into a rapid buzz as he zeroed in on the right spot.
“I told you he had them,” Dixon said.
McCrea put the Geiger counter away and dug into the man’s pack, freezing in place as shrill cry echoed through the trees around them.
“It’s just another bird,” Dixon said.
“It sounds like. . .”
Dixon glared at McCrea. “It’s a long way off,” he growled. “Now just find the damn stones and we’ll get out of here.”
Under the weight of Dixon’s gaze, McCrea went back to work, soon plucking a greasy rag from the litter. Unfolded, it revealed a group of small stones, slightly larger than sugar cubes but twelve-sided and shimmering with a dull metallic gloss. Beside them lay a scratched, colorless crystal.
Dixon eyed the stones, the crystal and then the tortured face of his former charge. “Thief,” he said finally; a last pronouncement on the dead man, an epitaph for a traitor who would never see a proper grave.
McCrea rewrapped the bundle and Dixon took it.
“His papers too,” Dixon said.
Reluctantly, McCrea held out the man’s wallet and passport.
As Dixon took the ID packet, the shrill cry sounded in the distance once again. And this time, a second call answered. It was louder than the first, closer; a wailing screech that seemed to bypass the ears and pierce the brain directly.
“That’s not a goddamned bird,” McCrea said.
Dixon did not reply, but silently he agreed. They’d heard that call before, back at the temple, just before everything went to hell. He wasn't happy to be in its presence once again.
He tightened his grip on the rifle, the veins on his massive forearms bulging. His eyes darted around, as he strove to see through the mist and the trees and the same blocked sight lines that had hidden his own approach.
His thoughts turned to his dead former comrade. This was not good ground to be stalked upon.
Beside him, McCrea mumbled something unintelligible and then added. “We stayed too long.”
Dixon ignored him, drawing a machete from the scabbard at his hip and stepping forward, rifle in one hand, long metal blade held high in the other. He pushed through the fronds and then stopped.
On the jungle floor, beside another trail of dark, coagulating blood, he spotted a new set of tracks, deep two-pronged depressions, like someone had shoved a tuning fork into the earth and then bent it forward.
Try as he might, Dixon could think of nothing that left such a mark.
He crouched to study them, smelling a familiar odor. Pungent, almost ammonia like. And then the piercing call echoed through the forest once again, rolling over them like a wave and off into the distance.
“We need to get out of here,” McCrea said.
“Quiet.” Dixon studied the tracks.
“Man, don’t you see? It’s happening again.”
“Shut up!” Dixon ordered. He struggled to concentrate. Running would get them killed, but staying. . . There was something wrong with this place, a truth he hadn’t recognized until it was too late. Men were not the hunters here but the hunted.
Far ahead of him, there was movement, soft, like the flutter of owl’s wings, but at ground level. Dixon put the rifle to his shoulder.
“Dixon,” McCrea begged.
The sound was coming toward them, faster now, racing through the forest but treading lightly.
Dixon rose up, but the sound dodged to his left, passing him. He spun, pulling the trigger even as a dark blur exploded through the trees.
McCrea screamed, gunfire boomed through the forest and a spray of red mist fanned out over the leaves. But there was nothing left to hit; no target, no enemy, no McCrea, just the low-lying fronds, swaying from the impact and covered in a sheen of human blood.
“McCrea!” Dixon shouted.
He listened for sounds of struggle but heard none. McCrea was gone. He was dead and gone just like all the others. Only this time it had happened right in front of him.
He began to back away. Not a man given to fear, Jack Dixon could feel his heart beginning to pound, the flight response growing uncontrollably within him.
He began to move, traveling in measured steps at first, though he soon found his pace quickening. His heart was pounding, his mind spinning. And then he took off, running with all he had.
Unbalanced and panicked, Dixon charged forward, crashing through the undergrowth like a bull, stumbling as the vines clutched at his feet. He twisted at the sound of hidden movement, turning one way then the other, shouting angrily and firing into the trees.
“Get away from me!” he screamed.
As he ran, he heard movement, crunching foliage and native voices, chasing him, closing on him.
He tripped, landed on his hands and knees and came up firing. The flash of a dark shape hit him and sent him flying. Tumbling through the air, he caught a brief glimpse of his attacker before it disappeared into the forest. Eight men dead and this was the first sight he’d had of their killer, its hide like polished, blackened bone.
He hit the ground with a jarring crash, aware enough to hold onto his rifle even as a stabbing pain shot up through his leg.
Wincing in anguish, breath coming in spurts, he rolled over and forced himself to look. The lower bones of one leg were broken, the tibia sticking through the skin. Running was no longer an option, he probably couldn’t walk.
In agony, he propped himself up and used his good leg to scoot backwards until he reached the base of a wide gray trunk. With shaking hands, he checked his rifle, then lodged it in the crook of one arm and braced himself for the painful, inevitable end.
In a few moments, he was shivering and growing weak. His head wavered and tilted backward until it rested on the fallen trunk. Far above, the branches swayed on a breath of wind that he would never feel on the ground. Pinpoints of light made their way through tiny gaps in the foliage, painful to look at with eyes grown accustomed to the shadows. As he watched, the light seemed to be fading, though perhaps it was his vision.
A minute went by without incident and then another. And as the seconds ticked away Jack Dixon prayed that he might be left to die on his own, to fade and fall into an endless, peaceful sleep. After another minute he even began to feel hope.
And then that bitter shriek rang out again, freezing his heart, piercing his skull and echoing across the depths of the Amazon.
08-26-2010 09:07 PM - edited 08-26-2010 09:11 PM
Read more about Graham here:
And another interesting article can be found here:
And another is here: http://booktrib.com/?p=21711
His website is here: http://www.authorgrahambrown.com/
08-26-2010 09:18 PM
08-26-2010 09:19 PM
Hi Graham! I've always been a fan of Aztec and Mayan mysteries, and I've been intrigued by all the 2012 legends. I'm also an Indiana Jones fan, and I suspect you might be, too.
What originally gave you the ideas that drive these two books?
08-27-2010 08:26 AM
Nice to see you. How'd you Photoshop that picture of yourself in front of Chichen Itza?
Just kidding. Though I'd be interested to hear if any of your real-life adventures in South America play into your books ...
08-27-2010 09:00 AM
Hi Graham, thanks for being here. I haven't read you, but thanks to Becke that will soon change. I love the Mayan content in any novel and I can't wait to get my hands on yours.
Should I read the novels in order or are they meant to also be enjoyed as stand a lones.
08-27-2010 09:22 AM
Nice to see you. How'd you Photoshop that picture of yourself in front of Chichen Itza?
Just kidding. Though I'd be interested to hear if any of your real-life adventures in South America play into your books ...
LOL - hey Brad, great to see you again! I was hoping you'd bring your interns along to keep Graham and the rest of us on our toes!
08-27-2010 09:23 AM
Hi Graham, thanks for being here. I haven't read you, but thanks to Becke that will soon change. I love the Mayan content in any novel and I can't wait to get my hands on yours.
Should I read the novels in order or are they meant to also be enjoyed as stand a lones.
BLACK SUN comes out on Tuesday - I'm eager to read it!
08-27-2010 09:25 AM
I'm blushing madly - I've just heard from Graham, and apparently I was paying so much attention to the formatting when I posted the prologue, I didn't realize I labeled it wrong. I'll go back and correct that, but in the meantime Graham has sent the REAL prologue to BLACK SUN. It comes out next Tuesday, but you can get a sneak peek here.
08-27-2010 09:26 AM
Black Sun - Prologue
Bering Sea, November 2012
The fifty foot trawler, Orlovsky Star, pushed on through frigid arctic waters and a lingering fog that seemed to have no end. The sea was unusually calm and the wind non-existent but with the outside temperature dipping to fifteen degrees Fahrenheit and the water holding just above the freezing point, the conditions were anything but benign.
Alexander Petrov stood at the wheel inside the darkened pilothouse, a grim air surrounding him. His weathered face, shaven head and clenched jaw all suggested a burden his broad shoulders were struggling to carry. He stared into the darkness ahead of the boat, listening to thrum of the heavy diesel engine and the occasional muted thump of ice banging against the hull.
So far the ice had been thin, small free floating chunks that his ship could slide through at half speed. But the pack ice formed quickly at this time of year, spreading south like a plague, and just an hour before there had been no ice at all.
Guiding the boat on feel as much as sight, Petrov knew the danger: if the ship didn’t reach warmer waters soon, they’d be trapped and the thin hull ground into metal filings long before any rescuer could reach them. Then again, perhaps they deserved such a fate for what they were attempting to do.
A voice spoke from behind him. “It’s getting thicker. We need to make better speed.”
Petrov glanced backward into the recesses of the darkened pilothouse. A heavy set man gazed back at him. His was Vasili, a Russian of mixed European and Asian descent and the broker of their unholy deal, the keeper of their unusual human cargo.
Despite the cold, Petrov could see a thin sheen of perspiration on Vasili’s upper lip. If Petrov was right Vasili’s mind was reeling in a battle between greed and fear, between the possibility of life altering wealth just days away and a horrible death in the crushing embrace of the ice.
“What are you really worried about, Vasili?”
“That we’re lost,” he said bluntly, glancing at an exposed circuit board and what had been their navigation system.
The GPS receiver had shorted out eight hours before, the screen flashing and the casing catching fire in a shower of sparks. Petrov had examined it briefly but saw that it was clearly beyond repair. For an hour he’d used the stars to guide them, but the fog had thickened and he’d been forced to rely on the vessel’s compass.
“I was a fisherman before I joined the Navy. I leaned to navigate at the hands of my father,” Petrov assured him. “I know what I’m doing,”
Vasili stepped closer to him. “The crew is worried,” he whispered. “They talk of our journey is cursed.”
“Orcas followed us down the channel,” Vasili explained. “And we’ve seen sharks every morning. Far too many for such northern waters.”
It had seemed odd, Petrov thought, as if the predators of the sea were shadowing them, waiting for a meal to be delivered into their hungry bellies. But he hoped it was mere coincidence.
“It’s almost dawn,” Petrov said, changing the subject. “We’ll have a few hours of light, nothing more, but it should be enough. The fog will lift and we’ll make a better time.”
Petrov’s statement was designed to ease Vasili’s fears, but even as he spoke, they found another mass of ice and a grinding resonance traveled down the starboard side. This was the trap he’d been hoping to avoid—one he’d warned Vasili about—thicker ice meant slower speed and thus more time for the ice to form up in the waters ahead of them.
He switched on the overhead lights, but the fog swallowed the beams and reflected the energy back, blinding him. He shut them off.
“We need a spotter,” he said.
Before he could call the crew, they slammed something head on. The nose of the boat pitched upward and their momentum died. Petrov cut the throttles. It was as if they’d run aground.
Petrov cut the throttles.
In utter silence he waited. Finally the boat began to move, sliding backwards a foot at a time and then settling once again. Petrov breathed a sigh of relief.
“We cannot stop here,” Vasili said.
A crewman popped his head into the control room from the lower deck. “We’re leaking captain,” the man said. “Starboard, forward.”
“How bad?” Petrov asked him.
“I think I can seal it,” the crewman said. “But we don’t want any more of that.”
“Wake the others,” Petrov said. “Get them into their survival suits. Then do what you can.”
It was a precaution only, and also a bluff meant to calm the fears of the men. But even in their suits they would not last long in the water.
He turned to Vasili. “Give me your key.”
“I don’t think so,” the broker replied.
“So you will take him, then?” Petrov asked. “If we have to leave the ship?”
Vasili hesitated, then reached under his sweater and pulled out a key that dangled around his neck.
Petrov snatched it from his hand and then pushed his way outside.
The fog hung in the air, cutting at his face like shards of suspended glass. Not a breath of wind could be felt and with the engines shut down the silence was as complete.
He looked around. A thick layer of frost covered the deck while daggers of ice hung from the bridge and the ladder and the rail. Every surface, every line, every inch of the vessel had become encrusted in ice.
The ship looked dead already.
Vasili came out a moment later, bundled from head to toe, but still too stupid to put his survival suit on. “What did you stop?”
“So we don’t rip the boat apart.”
“But we can’t stay here,” Vasili replied.
Of course they couldn’t, but they could no longer risk moving in the dark. The fog made it impossible to see the danger and impatience would soon destroy them. But to some extent they seemed to be in luck. A slight breeze had begun to move the air and the fog was beginning to lift. In addition, the thin light of the approaching dawn had begun to illuminate things. This far north, the sun would never get off the horizon, but the light would grow quickly. Petrov hoped it would show them a way out.
And yet, even then something seemed wrong. The sky was darkest ahead of him. It should have been just the opposite; the brighter light should have been out in front of them. It had to be some illusion of the fog, but it seemed as if the sun was coming up in the wrong place.
Before he could come to terms with this, something heavy bumped the boat pushing it to the side.
“What was that?” Vasili asked.
The slight impact could have been an iceberg moving on the current. But as he looked over the side, Petrov saw that the waters remained dead calm, the ice wasn’t moving.
“Alexander,” Vasili said.
Petrov ignored him and moved toward the bow. In the growing breeze, the fog had thinned considerably. Replacing it was a sight Petrov could hardly fathom; a field of solid white. Unbroken ice that stretched to the horizon in every direction.
“My God,” he whispered.
The ice was clearly impenetrable, but the truth was more damming than that. The weak sun had finally begun to peak its face over horizon, not ahead of them and to the left as it should have been, but behind them to the right.
Even Vasili realized the mistake.
“You’ve taken us the wrong way,” he shouted. “We’ve been sailing to the north all night!”
Petrov reeled from the error. Relying on a magnetic compass was tricky around the poles but he was no amateur. And yet somehow they’d spent hours tracking towards the danger, into the thickening ice pack instead of away from it.
“How could this…” he began.
“You god damned fool,” Vasili cursed him. “You’ve driven us to hell.”
Petrov’s legs almost buckled from the realization, but urgency pushed him on. He glanced toward the stern. The ice there had not yet formed into a solid block. If they moved quickly they might just survive.
He brushed past Vasili, driving for the pilothouse, and grabbing the door handle. Before he could pull it open, something slammed into the boat again, this time the blow was sharp a solid impact, rolling the boat ten degrees or more.
He shouted to his crew. “Reverse, reverse! Get us the hell out of here.”
The engines rumbled beneath the deck and Star began to back up, but another impact shoved the bow to the right, crashing it into the ice flow.
Yanking the door open, Petrov went for the wheel and pushed crewman aside. His hand found the throttles and moved the engines from a quarter astern to half.
“Something hit us,” the crewman shouted.
“Ice, moving on the currents,” Petrov said, strangely certain that he was wrong.
The impact had been powerful, deliberate, more like an intentional ramming. He began to think about the Orcas and the sharks.
Vasili stumbled back inside the bridge. “It could have been a submarine,” he said. “Remember the FSB.”
Petrov thought of their cargo and the importance it was deemed to hold. Agents of the FSB, the Russian successor to the old KGB had hunted them for weeks, trailing them across much of Siberian Russia. No doubt they were still looking, but a submarine, a ramming? Perhaps it made sense; certainly they would not risk destroying the vessel with a torpedo.
He spun the wheel, bringing the nose of the vessel around. After swinging through ninety degrees, he shoved the throttles forward. The boat began accelerating, bulling its way through the ice, pushing toward gaps of black sea, spots of open water where he could make better time.
If they could just…
Another impact caught the boat, jarring it to the right, lifting the bow and then dropping it. The hull couldn’t take much more.
Petrov gunned the throttles, grinding the metal hull and risking the props.
“Captain you have to slow down,” the crewman said.
“One mile,” he shouted back. “Then we’ll slow.”
But even before he finished the words, there was crushing impact on the port side. The wrenching sound of a car crash followed by a hideous scraping. Alarm began ringing as water flooded in.
“Get everyone topside!” Petrov yelled.
The crewman shouted something back to him, but the alarm drowned it out.
“Maybe we should make a distress call,” Vasili said.
Petrov glanced at him. “Too late now.”
A voice shouted from the deck. “Akula!”
It was the Russian word for shark. Petrov glanced out the window; saw a dark shape slicing through the black water towards them. It hit them below the water line and Petrov was thrown to the floor with the impact.
Another blow followed, stronger and heavier, multiple thuds, likes fists pounding on a door. The sharks were slamming themselves into the hull, ramming it like living torpedoes. Hitting the both with such force they had to be injuring themselves.
“What the hell is happening?” Vasili yelled.
Petrov could not fathom it. He had never heard of such a thing. It was as if some sort of madness had infected them.
He glanced to starboard. They were about to hit the ice.
The boat slammed into the ice shelf then recoiled from the impact. It rocked wickedly in one direction and then back in the other. For a brief instant it rolled to a level beam before beginning a list to starboard.
“Abandon ship,” Petrov shouted. “Abandon ship!”
The order was unnecessary. The men were already near the stern, readying the life boat. He counted five men there. Only Vasili and the crewman beside him were missing. And their passenger.
“Go,” he shouted. “Go now!”
As they pushed through the hatch, Petrov charged below deck.
Dropping into a foot of swirling water, his feet went instantly numb. He waded to a closed cabin door and pulled the key he’d taken from Vasili. He unlocked the door and forced it open.
Inside, sitting cross legged on a bunk, was a twelve year old boy with a round face and dark hair. His features were indistinct. He could have been European, or Russian or Asian.
“Yuri!”Petrov shouted. “Come to me!”
The boy ignored him, chanting and rocking back and forth.
Petrov charged forward, lunging and grabbing the child off the bunk. He slung him over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry and then turned back toward the door, just as another impact rocked the boat.
The Star groaned as it took on water. Petrov braced himself against the wall that leaned at a twenty degree angle. Regaining his balance, he fought on his way out into the hall.
With Yuri clinging to his neck, Petrov fought against the rushing water and made it to the stairs. He clambered onto them, dragging himself and the child upward, pushing through the hatch as the boat passed thirty degrees. She would roll over at any second.
He looked to the rear deck. The survival boat was gone, floating free a thirty yards from the floundering stern. But something was wrong, the men were in a panic, looking around, pointing to something.
A shape erupted underneath them, a huge grey body with a triangular dorsal fin. The life raft flipped sending the men flying into the sea. Dark tails slashed between the sheets of ice, cutting the surface like knives. Petrov heard the horrible sound of his men screaming.
Akula, murdering his crew. He had never heard of such a thing.
The boat tilted further and items came pouring out of open cabinets. He pulled himself through the doorway and stood on what had been the bridge’s side wall. It began dropping away beneath his feet. The ship was rolling. A rush of air came up through the water.
Landing hard on the pack ice, he tumbled. Yuri was flung free of his grasp, sliding and sprawling on the ice.
A thunderous crash erupted behind him and Petrov turned to see his boat plunging toward the depths of the sea. Pockets of air exploded as the vessel went down, concussions echoed through the frigid air and waves of debris came rushing to the surface.
And then it was quiet.
Roiling black water, floating wreckage and small chunks of ice swirled where the ship had been, but the noise of the struggle had ceased.
He looked to the south. The survival boat was gone and the only sign of the crew were a pair of empty lifejackets. In places he saw the sharks, crossing back and forth, searching for anything they might have missed.
Somehow he and Yuri had landed on the edge of the ice pack. Three feet thick and as hard as concrete, it might as well have been solid ground. They were alive, at least for now.
He turned to look at the boy.
Their cargo, paid for at a cost of ten million dollars, with lives of his crew taken for interest. Did he even know what he was? What he could do? Did it even matter anymore?
Already shivering, Petrov stood. He raised his eyes to what lay beyond them: a shelf of brilliant white, the barren wasteland of the ice pack, floating on the salt water of the sea. It was a continent, in all but name, with only two citizens to inhabit it. And all likelihood, they would dead before the sun rose again.