Twenty-one-year-old Shelby Lee plunges into dangerous terrain when blatantly - and very foolishly - he robs Aspen, Colorado's most notorious cocaine dealer, fleeing the scene with five kilos of Peruvian flake and $75,000. Shelby escapes to the sagebrush hills of southwestern Wyoming, hoping to disappear into the wilderness until after the furor dies down. Then he plans to return and wrest his old girlfriend, Laura, from the dealer's clutches. Shelby's half-baked scheme goes awry when a chance encounter with a teenage Bonnie and Clyde puts him in the middle of a shootout with two highway patrolmen, intensifying his challenge to stay hidden off the grid.
About the Author
Jim Satterfield holds a Ph.D. in fishery and wildlife biology from Colorado State University and worked for more than ten years as a biologist for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. During this time he also taught at the University of Denver and received the Colorado Governor's Award for his work with inner city youth. In 1995, he moved to Montana, to work for the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Saving Laura is Satterfield's third novel.
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By Jim Satterfield
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2013 Jim Satterfield
All rights reserved.
I'll start my story in the town of Baggs, Wyoming, not much more than a wide spot along State Highway 789, just a few miles north of the Colorado border. Even though this all happened nearly thirty years ago, I vividly remember the early fall evening in 1979 when I climbed out of the eighteen-wheeler and thanked the trucker for the ride from Laramie. I don't recall the man's name anymore, but I still laugh at him warning me not to forget my rucksack as I scrambled to get out before he headed up to Rawlins. He was needling me for keeping the pack at my feet the entire trip rather than letting him stow it in the rear of the cab. No way I'd let that pack out of my sight.
I hopped off the last step and waved as he headed north. In the dying light, I made my way across the road to the only restaurant and hotel in town, the Drifter's Inn. Dog-tired and hungry, I'd been on the run for days and couldn't remember when I'd last slept well or eaten a real meal. I pulled open the heavy double doors and let two drunken highway workers stagger outside before I entered the old wooden building. Inside, I walked down a dark corridor lined with ratty old deer heads and glanced into the open doorway of the bar to my right.
The place was packed and you could have cut the smoke with a chainsaw and sold it. Most of the revelers were highway workers staying at the inn, a few cowboys scattered about, and some hunters, too, judging from their camouflage. A big mahogany bar was stocked with every kind of booze you could imagine as well as the obligatory gallon mason jars of pickled pigs feet, sausages, and hardboiled eggs. I softly cursed when I spotted two sheriff 's deputies hulking over a man seated at the end of the bar. Edging back from the doorway, I turned toward the restaurant across the hallway.
I took a seat at a table for two with my back against the wall and my pack at my feet. Gazing out the west window, I was just in time to watch the last bit of sun slip behind the sagebrush hills. The joint wasn't too smoky, not nearly as bad as the bar, nor was it as crowded. Drinking was evidently a higher priority than eating for most of the Drifter's guests. Fine with me. I planned to enjoy a quiet meal before I found another ride that night south into Colorado.
A waitress brought me a glass of water and a menu. She was around fifty and wore her gray hair in a tight ponytail. Judging from her ruddy complexion, lined and creased from wind and sun, I guessed she lived on a nearby ranch. Her name tag read "Donna."
"Beef ribs are the Friday night special, hon," she said, as she wiped my table clean.
"I won't need that, then," I said, nodding at the laminated menu. "I'll have the ribs."
"They ain't that good, though," she said in a whiskey-and-tobacco-seared voice. "They're pretty tough."
I chuckled and shrugged my shoulders. "Well, I'm hungry. I gotta eat something."
"You probably can't go wrong with a hamburger."
"I'll have two, and fries."
Donna jotted down my order and moved on to freshen an old rancher's coffee.
I sipped my water and kept an eye on the doorway leading to the entrance hallway. I tried to relax a while before I had to hit the road again. All I needed was about half an hour of peace, and I'd be fed and on my way to Colorado. I left my seat for a moment, keeping an eye on my pack, and fetched the Rocky Mountain News from the end of the counter. I just wanted to catch up on the news and enjoy my meal.
I was in the middle of the sports page when my food came. I put down the paper and eyed the burgers hungrily, smelling the wonderful aroma of greasy cooking.
"Anything else, hon?" She asked in that raspy voice of hers.
"Just a check, ma'am."
"Check? You ain't even et yet."
"I might have to leave quick," I said. "Wouldn't want to stiff you —"
As if on cue, the two deputies entered the restaurant and took a seat on the other side of the room, next to the doorway. Donna looked over her shoulder and saw the two lawmen. Then she looked at me and spoke low, "You're in trouble with them, ain't you?"
I said nothing.
"I know 'em both," she said. "Worthless as tits on a boar hog."
As scared as I was, I still laughed.
"See the fat one? I went to high school with him. He couldn't track an elephant with a nosebleed in six feet of snow. T'other one ain't as tall as this tabletop, but he's a mean little bastard." She looked me in the eyes with kind of a sideways stare. "You ain't done nothing too bad, now, have ya?"
"I haven't hurt anyone, but —"
"How old are you?"
"I'm twenty-one, ma'am."
She rubbed my freshly shaven face. "You look all of about sixteen," she snorted and walked away.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched her serve the lawmen coffee. They didn't speak much to her, and I could swear they were both looking my way. I wolfed down one hamburger in about four bites, knowing I wasn't going to be able to stick around much longer. I pulled a ten spot from my wallet and placed it partly under my plate. Donna headed my way, stopping to top off the old rancher's coffee again.
"How are those burgers?" she asked in an overly loud voice. Before I could answer, she whispered, "They're talking about you. Better git."
Using the waitress to shield me from their view, I asked, "Any way out of here, besides through that doorway where they're sittin'?"
"Only other way out is through the kitchen."
I wondered how I was going to heft my pack and get out without drawing their attention. She read my mind. "You'll have to make a run for it."
Just about then, one of the deputies, the short one, rose from his seat and left the room.
"He's either headed to the can or the pay phone at the end of the hallway. I'll try to distract fat boy, then you git."
"Why are you helping me, ma'am?"
"You remind me of my own boy."
I thought I saw her eyes water, but before I could thank her she turned on her heels and headed toward the rotund lawman. I wrapped my second hamburger in a paper napkin and put it in my jacket pocket. Eating my fries as nonchalantly as possible, I tried to appear disinterested in what was happening on the other side of the room. When she stood squarely in front of the deputy, blocking his view, I grabbed my pack and slipped into the kitchen.
My head swiveled, looking for the exit to the outside and temporary freedom. To my right, the cook recoiled from the grill, apparently not used to strangers barging into his kitchen. He was dark skinned and a mane of black hair flowed from under his white cook cap to well past his shoulders. He yelled, "Salga de aqui!" and waved a spatula at me.
"¿Donde esta la puerta?" I hollered, hoping he could understand my piss-poor accent.
He nodded toward the far corner of the room by the two walk-in freezers. I nearly slipped on the greasy vinyl floor and bolted for the white metal door. Leaving the kitchen, I heard him yelling and recognized a few familiar cuss words. I didn't stop, though, just dashed into the darkness of the rear parking lot. Hiding among the cars and trucks, I shouldered my backpack and tried to decide on my next move.
Across the road and a hundred yards south stood an old Sinclair station, with a green dinosaur emblem on the window. A white truck pointed south next to the nearest pump. I ran for the rig, praying the driver would give me a lift. At the edge of the parking lot, I heard two men yelling behind me, but I didn't stop, just sprinted across Highway 789. Nearing the station, I saw a young fellow, probably a high school student, filling a battered Ford pickup that had Colorado plates. He was tall and skinny and wore a black cowboy hat. I took a pretty girl with big blonde hair in the passenger seat to be his girlfriend.
I slowed to a brisk walk to keep from alarming the lad and asked, "Headin' towards Craig?" Before he could answer I followed with, "I'll buy that tank of gas for a ride!"
He stuck his head in the cab and spoke to the blonde, then he looked my way. "Mind ridin' in the bed?"
"Not at all." I glanced at the pump and dug a twenty out of my wallet, which more than covered the gas. I glanced back toward the Drifter's Inn and watched the two deputies sweep the parking lot with their flashlights. I threw my pack in the bed of the truck and climbed in, looking for a hole amongst the fence posts and rolls of barbed wire. I sat low and held my breath, waiting for the young cowboy to pay the station attendant. He used the change to buy a six-pack of Budweiser, which was fine with me. I just wanted to get the hell out of there.
Before he got in the cab, the fellow asked me, "Goin' all the way to Craig?"
"Nope, just a ways past the border," I said. "I'll tap on the rear window when I'm ready to get out."
He nodded, and I got my first good look at him from under that big hat. He was a redhead and looked like he'd fallen in the freckle barrel. "Have a beer? You paid for 'em." He laughed and waved the six-pack at me.
I was tempted, but figured I better stay clearheaded, because I doubted my running was done for the evening. "I'll pass, but thanks anyway."
"Suit yourself." He jumped in the truck, and we sped away south into the night. The truck ran rough, and I hoped it would get us where we were going. We motored up a long uphill grade, and I looked back toward Baggs. When we neared the top of the hill, around half a mile south of town, I saw the red lights of a police car leaving the Drifter's Inn and coming our way. Then we reached the summit, and I lost my view of the little town. With the help of good old gravity, the Ford picked up speed. Through the cab I heard Merle Haggard singing "Mama Tried."CHAPTER 2
I had graduated a few months earlier with an English degree from Mesa College in Grand Junction. Only taking one course in math, College Algebra and Trigonometry for Non-Majors, I didn't claim to be a whiz with numbers, but as we hurtled down the two-lane highway toward the border, I ran sketchy calculations through my head. I figured we had about a thousand-yard lead on the vehicle chasing us. Peering through the cab window — not easy with two rifles and a lariat resting in the gun rack — I discerned my unwitting accomplice was driving his truck around eighty miles an hour. Even if those lawmen drove over a hundred, they'd have a hell of a time catching up with us before we drove another mile and a half to the state line.
I sat with my back to the cab and ate my second hamburger, watching for the emergency lights to clear the northern horizon. The country was hilly, the road like a big roller coaster ride, steep hills followed by long downhill runs. As we reached the bottom of a swale and labored up the next summit, red flashing lights appeared behind us. The border loomed beyond the next hill. We were going to make it, I thought.
We reached the next hilltop and again sped downhill. I knelt and looked over the top of the cab to the south. On our left, a wooden sign with a picture of a cowboy riding a bronc read, "Leaving Wyoming, Come Again!" and then out of the darkness on the right shoulder of the highway a shiny metal sign emerged. "Welcome to Colorful Colorado!"
I laughed in the cool night air. Only eight more miles to the county road where I'd be bailing out. I dropped my guard and enjoyed the evening. The moon rose, full and nearly red from the dust of the windy range, and stars twinkled overhead, a good evening for a hike. To the east, beyond rolling hills, loomed my destination, Baker's Peak, a dark silhouette towering above the prairie.
At the bottom of the next swale, I nearly choked on the last of my hamburger when I looked behind us and saw red flashing lights. Well past the Colorado line, those Wyoming boys weren't giving up the chase. They had cut our lead in half, and were gaining, within a quarter of a mile now. Over the din of Charlie Daniels's "Devil Went Down to Georgia," a siren keened. How long before my young driver pulled off the road? Was there enough cover on the dark prairie to make a run for it?
The music died and the truck accelerated. The blonde stuck her head out the passenger window and hollered, "Hold on, dude! We ain't stoppin' for no pigs!"
At first, their temerity elated me. Then I wondered how I was going to exit the truck in the midst of a high-speed chase with rogue Wyoming lawmen. I glanced at a mileage marker along the shoulder of the highway and calculated my destination lay only five miles to the south. Behind us, the pursuers had lost ground, but they were still coming, no more than a half mile away. We flew by another mileage marker, and I shouldered my pack. One way or another, I needed out of that truck bed in short order.
Heading up the last hill before we reached my turnoff, the old Ford pickup solved my problem for me. First, I heard a loud blast, like a rifle, and figured the cops were shooting at us. Then I realized the explosion had come from the exhaust pipe. I smelled burning oil and a dark cloud of oily exhaust spewed from the rig. We lurched to the top of the ridge as the engine ground itself in death throes with sickening screeches and rattles. After one final shudder, it stopped dead in the middle of the highway. A few hundred yards away, the patrol car bore down on us.
I bailed out of the bed and ran east up a hill overlooking the highway. By the time I pitched my pack over a barbed wire fence and climbed through, the siren's wail was earsplitting. Aircraft-grade headlights lit up the dead Ford. Away from the pool of blinding tungsten, I ducked behind a chest-high sagebrush and peered through it. The Wyoming cruiser pulled within fifty feet of my recent rescuers. A scratchy voice blared from the metal speaker mounted on the roof rack. "Come out with your hands up!" Both doors opened on the cruiser, and each deputy knelt behind one, revolvers drawn and pointed toward the truck.
I expected the young couple to emerge from the Ford with arms raised. There'd be reprimands for the short chase and open containers, along with a stern admonition to get the hell back to Craig or wherever the two belonged. But once the Wyoming boys learned they had lost their quarry, me, they'd slink back across the border. At least, that's what I figured would happen.
In one fluid motion, the young cowboy slipped out the door, scope-sighted rifle in his hands. He fired at the driver's door of the cruiser, and the fat deputy collapsed on the pavement. Gunfire burst from the other side of the sedan, shattering the rear window of the truck.
The young woman, still inside the cab, shrieked, "They shot me! I'm hit!"
The skinny cowboy slipped around the front of the truck and poured several shots into the open passenger door of the cruiser. The second deputy stumbled from the vehicle's cover onto the gravel shoulder of the road.
The cowboy dropped him with one well-placed shot to the chest. The young man pitched the rifle and lifted his girl out of the truck. Blood blossomed from a wound to her shoulder as he helped her into the passenger seat of the cruiser. He ran around the sedan, losing his cowboy hat in the process, and jumped in the driver's seat. Tires screeched as they sped away, heading south. Just before they cleared the horizon, the emergency lights died.
I was alone in the darkness.
"Son of a bitch!" I muttered. I closed my eyes and shook my head in disbelief. Now what? I stood and went to fetch my pack. From the road below, I heard moaning and crying.
I hesitated, backpack slung on one shoulder. Plaintive calls for help drifted through the night air.
As if I weren't already in enough of a fix, now a wounded cop had only one hope for survival: me.
I could walk away in the darkness. No one would ever know I'd been there.
"Will, help me!" the strangled voice pleaded.
Guilt got the best of me. I slipped out of my backpack and leaned it against a fence pole. Rummaging through the pack, I found my flashlight and hopped over four strands of barbed wire. I sidestepped down the slippery slope and ran to the highway. The driver, the fat deputy, was sprawled in the middle of the northbound lane, writhing in pain. I quickly shuffled past him, looking for the other lawman. I found him, facedown on the far shoulder of the road. As soon as I rolled him over, I knew he was dead. Blood from two wounds to his chest covered his torso, and his eyes were open and glassy, like a dead deer.
Excerpted from Saving Laura by Jim Satterfield. Copyright © 2013 Jim Satterfield. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A smart and exciting read from Jim Satterfield. This novel is a perfect example of the modern thriller, quick paced, full of action, layered, and delivers all the way to the end. A great summer read, or just a plain awesome read any time you’re looking for page turning entertainment that will keep you hooked from the beginning to the last. I think it’s fair to view the book in two main parts. In the first, Satterfield crafts a classic western. Even though the novel is set in the late 1970s, the feel to the writing and style is crisp and driven, just like you’d expect from the best of the Old Western thrillers. There’s a whole art and genre to this type of work, and Satterfield sets out with a strong example of wilderness survival and crime novel rolled into one package. For those trying to imagine it, think No Country for Old Men. But it’s clear that Satterfield is just getting started, and as Shelby makes his way back to civilization with unexpected plot twists to his escape, we arrive at a completely different novel. The book seamlessly transforms into a revenge novel as the narrator’s true intentions and back-story come into full play. Not only is Shelby thrust against the elements of nature, but as the plot unfolds he is brought into direct conflict with a notorious drug dealer and a scheming and ambitious DEA agent. Even with the help of an unexpected savior, Shelby soon realizes he bit off way more than he could handle in his attempt to save Laura, the perfect girl he let slide through this grasp. With the title of the novel we have a fairly good idea of how the ending will play out, but Satterfield still leaves us guessing all the way until the dust settles. And what an ending… I’ll be sure to invest in more Satterfield’s as they arrive. Couldn’t think of a better way to pass my reading time than flying though the pages until I finally force myself to turn off the lights and go to bed! Pick it up—you won’t be disappointed. The only thing you’ll have to lose is a bit of sleep.