It’s been awhile since I’ve published a story. There’s a good reason, trust me. You see, I’ve been assailing my computer keyboard with a mad flurry of prose. Dinosaur Wars book three, Blood On The Moon, is on its way. That’s why I haven’t put out a new Peyton McKean mystery short story or a science fiction quickie recently. I’ve been engaged in a titanic struggle of epic proportions to bring you the third and final book of the Dinosaur Wars trilogy. Just in case my preoccupation with this matter has left you lacking anything of mine to read, let me offer up a little teaser to get you in the mood for DW3 when it’s finished, which should be in a month or two. The following is an excerpt, as they say. It’s taken from just about midway through the book, which happens to be where I’m at in the writing process. In fact, I just finished writing this scene a few minutes ago so forgive any typos, and enjoy it!
In The Tules
Ranger Michael Deacon rolled his California State Parks pickup truck to a halt beside another pickup, a battered and rusted brown old beast that he thought looked about right for the personal conveyance of an elk poacher. On this very late and very dark night in the Tule Elk Nature Reserve in the southern San Joaquin Valley, the day’s hundred degree heat was nowhere near dissipated at one AM, and Deacon felt a sweat break out on his brow under his ranger hat in response to the oven-like heat as he stepped out of the air conditioned comfort of his vehicle. He moved toward the pickup with great caution, his hand touching the service revolver holstered at his side. He’d driven up with headlamps out, rolling slowly along the graveled road that led to this remote parking area in order to take the old pickup’s occupant, or occupants, by surprise. He’d reported the license plate to the local sheriff’s night dispatcher, but he didn’t expect help with this situation and it hadn’t been offered. The sheriff’s department was undermanned by budget cuts as well, and this might prove nothing more than a couple of teenagers parked for a romantic interlude. He didn’t think that would be the case but he’d get no help from the sheriff or the state patrol until he had a bona fide crime to report.
As cicadas chirped their harsh songs, Deacon moved nearer the darkened pickup until he could see by the light of the full moon through the cracked back windshield that no one was in the cab. No heads, no shoulders, no feet up in the air. He moved from the rear of the truck to the front, eyes darting left and right, searching the dark landscape for the shape of the man or men whom he was sure had come tonight, as they had several times before since the park was closed by budget cuts, to take an elk or two for the purpose of putting meat on the table. Other than the cicadas and a few crickets, there was no noise disturbing the night, no breeze rustling the willow thickets or tule-rush choked waters of the stream running through the flat landscape of the Reserve. The road end where the pickup’s driver had chosen to park was a prime poaching lookout near a favorite watering hole of the tule elk herd. Tule elk were a federally protected species and Deacon was here, volunteering for dangerous night duty because of his strong belief that species should not vanish from the earth as a result of the greed and excess of individual people who cared for nothing but their next meal, or their next fix.
Deacon’s sweat grew worse as the heat sank into this uniform and got under the band of his smoky bear hat. It wasn’t just the heat, though, that had Deacon sweating. He knew from experience and stories other rangers told, that elk poachers were a nasty breed of man, often desperados who were down on their luck or washed out by drugs, or both. They would be armed with rifles at least, and perhaps more firepower than that. If he found them working over the carcass of an elk, as he expected to, then they would immediately know they were in for jail time, perhaps revocation of parole, and that could mean a long time behind bars—the kind of time that might make a desperate man shoot a ranger.
Still, urged forward by his belief in animals’ rights to exist, he pushed along a game path among tall tule rushes, his service boots squishing in wet mud, until he spotted something dark on a low grassy slope across the stream channel. He paused in mid stride to carefully observe an indistinct mass spread over the ground for six or eight feet. It was in motion. His mind tried to make out the shape of a man or two working over the carcass of an elk they’d shot, gutting it, skinning it and carving up the meat. But the vague dark blob wasn’t quite a match to what he expected. He was momentarily confused, but determined to act anyway. He pulled his revolver from its holster, flipped off its safety, took his flashlight from his service belt and held them both out.
He switched on the light and simultaneously shouted, “All right! Put your hands up where I can see them!” When the flashlight’s beam illuminated the scene, a shot of adrenaline rushed through him like an electric shock. Lit by the beam, crouching over a carcass, were two Kra, not humans. Worse, the carcass they were working over wasn’t an elk. It was the body of the poacher.
“Hands up!” Deacon shouted. “Or claws up, I guess. Anyway, get ’em up!”
The two Kra, whose faces were smeared with the blood of the feast they had been making of the poacher, stared at Deacon, but didn’t raise their hands. “Claws up!” he shouted again. “Or wings up!” he corrected, seeing the feathers that lined their arms. One Kra raised his arms in response, but in its hands was a large shining metal object. Deacon instantly recognized the object as a tintza rifle. He needed no further provocation to squeeze the trigger of his service pistol, sending a bullet toward the Kra with the weapon. He simultaneously leaped sideways and down among the rushes, landing on hands and knees as a streak of laser fire went over his head. He lifted his pistol hand high and fired off a couple of wild shots in the direction of the Kra without hope of seeing if they hit. He crawled a ways to the side expecting more laser fire to come in, but there was none. Panting more from anxiety than exertion, he waited, remembering to switch off his flashlight. He anticipated more incoming fire or the splash of feet coming at him across the stream. He heard neither. Perhaps more upsettingly, he heard and saw nothing at all.
He held completely still, listening for sounds from his opponents but hearing only a few faint gasps, and then not even those. After a time, he rose and peered cautiously at the area where the Kra had been. The dark and indistinct mass still seemed to be there on the grassland where he’d seen it, but now nothing was moving. A question arose in his mind. Had he been lucky enough to drop two Kra with the three wild shots he’d sent their way? He doubted it, but as time went by and nothing moved, he dared to switch his flashlight back on.
Amazingly, lying on the dry grass of the slope, were the bodies of the poacher and the Kra rifleman, intertwined in death. The tintza rifle lay in front of the Kra, having fallen from its hands when Deacon’s shot struck its target. The Kra’s neck was soaked in its own blood.
“Huh!” Deacon murmured, amazed at his lucky shot. And then his nerves took another jolt of adrenaline when he realized the second Kra wasn’t there. He shone the flashlight quickly around the area hoping to see a wounded Kra dragging itself off to cover or lying where it had fallen after a few paces, but he saw nothing. The second Kra was just plain missing. Uneasy about a hidden enemy in the dark, Deacon made wider sweeps of his flashlight, especially looking to his own left, right, and rear, but still he found nothing. He shook his head, trying to figure out what his next move should be.
Suddenly he was illuminated by a powerful green light. Looking off to his right and across a field of grass, he saw that the light came from the searchlight mounted on the arm of a Kra walking machine, one of two that were hunkered in the willows on the far side of the field. Guessing what would happen next, he spun and ran back toward the pickups, just as a flash of laser light blasted from the weapon arm of the machine and tore a huge gaping gash in the mud where he had just been crouching.
The pickups were hidden from him by a fringe of willows lining the stream channel, and he plunged in among the willow branches as another laser blast crackled through the foliage over his head. He dodged left and tore through the ticket as yet another blast went wide of him, igniting flames among the willow branches but leaving him untouched. When Deacon broke out of the willows he raced past the old pickup, heading for his own, but was thrown to the ground by a huge explosion when the next laser shot hit the poacher’s gas tank. Instead of getting into his pickup, he crawled underneath just as the Kra machine strode out through the willows and into the parking area. He watched its two metallic feet circle his pickup and then move near the blazing wreck of the poacher’s vehicle where the Kra paused, no doubt to assess the effect of its fire. Then, to Deacon’s surprise, the machine moved off and headed back across the stream, leaving him shuddering under his pickup while the other pickup blazed, but leaving him unharmed and apparently, unnoticed.