Sunday, June 21, 2009

Aspen Exposé -- Group Novel -- Chapter 8

Chapter 8

You don’t know jack.

~Anna Steffl

Rachel clicked the door’s deadbolt and secured
the chain. They didn’t want her out; she didn’t want
them in. It was a dandy arrangement.

Laptop tucked under her arm, she headed to the
bed. Imagine—she hadn’t thought to pack her set of
screwdrivers. If it was an FBI computer, it probably
had remote tracking goodies inside. Oh well, she’d
have to take her chances. What was Tom going to
do? Bust down the door? Shoot the lock?

Rachel kicked off the Manolo Bhalniks, propped
a pillow against the headboard, and nestled in.
“Okay password hacker, do your thing.” A line of
code popped on screen. “Yes. Let’s see Karen do that.
She couldn’t hack her way out of a cardboard box.”

There was a knock on the door, followed by
Tom’s velvet voice. “That was fast. Good job. Go
ahead and finish.”

Rachel sat the laptop on the nightstand, sprang
from the bed, twisted the deadbolt and opened the
door until the chain clinked taut.

Tom held his cell phone in through the gap. It
showed Jack’s computer screen. “Go ahead and
finish. Jack’s not sloppy. He wouldn’t leave his
laptop in there with you by mistake.”

“You know,” Rachel seethed, “I’m more than a
little tired of these games.”

“Can I come in?”

Between the easygoing way he flicked the phone
closed and the disarmingly earnest brown eye that
peeked in, it was hard to distrust him. A woman
could snuggle into his arms like into her favorite
overstuffed chair. He’d smell familiar, like
Thanksgiving dinner. He was the opposite of Jack,
who was sinew, steel and blue arctic sky. It would be
so easy to fall for Tom just because he wasn’t Jack.

Rachel shut the door to take off the chain, and
then opened it halfway. “Okay, you can come in, but
only if you level with me.”

“I’ll tell you what I can.”

Tom dragged a chair into the middle of the room
and positioned it so he could watch the door. Darn. It
was obvious he was going to keep his charm
professionally in place.

“Van Buren is using Mira to launder money
from his overseas shell companies,” he said, all the
laidback drawl gone from his voice. “Overseas drug
trafficking and child prostitution pays for over half
of the Mira hardware you’re sending to foreign

“Child prostitution? For real?”

“For real.”

Rachel’s lips tightened along with her fists.
She’d given a year of her life, working evenings and
Saturdays beyond count, to a company that paid her
with dirty money from child prostitution.

“Tomorrow night,” Tom said, “we think Van
Buren’s going to add another shell to the game. A
Thai national is coming in. Jack’s job is to put the
financials you ran on the table and sell Mira’s
impeccable accounting. We’re hoping Van Buren will
let him stick around as he details how the accounts
work. But if he doesn’t, I have his suite bugged.
We’ll get him.” He nodded to the laptop. “I was
serious that you should finish the job you started.”

Rachel unclenched her fists and shook the anger
over Van Buren’s slimy tactics from them. She sat on
the edge of the bed and balanced the computer on
her thighs. There was only one file on the hard
drive—Livingston. A document with an FBI logo
came up. It was a dossier of her personal
information. She scrolled down to an FBI
employment application with her information
already filled in. At the bottom was a
recommendation signed by an Agent Jack...“Soloski?
Is that his real name?” Soloski was a name you’d see
embroidered on a second-hand bowling shirt at
Goodwill. The Jack she knew wore cufflinks and
Italian suits.

“Code name Han. Born and raised in Kearney,
Nebraska. Accounting degree from the University of
Iowa. Law degree from Tulane. And, the best
marksman in our class.” Tom grinned. “Except for
me. You want me covering your rear.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Rachel said, then
returned to reading Jack’s recommendation.
Brilliant. Cooperative. Ethical. Levelheaded. Rachel
twitched her lips. He might reconsider levelheaded
after she’d bolted out of the ladies’ room. Grabbing
his balls probably counted heavily in her favor,
however. And, her kiss had made Agent Jack Soloski
a bit sloppy.

Tom stood. “Think about it, Rachel. Mira is
going down. You’ll need a job and we need your kind
of talent to bring in creeps like Van Buren. We ran a
complete on you before authorizing Jack to bring you
here. It’s twenty hard weeks of training at Quantico,
but...” Tom gave her a head to toe look. “You’re up to

Any other time Tom’s look would have set her
pulse sprinting, but Rachel was picturing herself
with an FBI badge. That was never in the plan. Her
life operated like a computer program. Nothing could
happen outside the parameters she’d written for
herself. Class valedictorian. A scholarship to one of
the most prestigious computer science schools, the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A
great-paying job in gorgeous Denver once she’d

Maybe that was why she jumped at the chance
to come to Aspen with Jack. She wanted outside the
parameters for once. But the FBI was too far out. It
was a boys’ club, complete with goofy nicknames like
Han Solo. Would she always have to be pretending
to be someone different? Use people like Jack used
her? Sure, she was getting five thousand dollars for
this stint of make-believe, but she had to admit she’d
wanted something more than the money from Jack.

What did Jack want from her? To help him
make a bust and recruit her for the FBI, that’s what.
It was part of his professional shtick to tease her
with garbage about wanting to make her glow, and
then walk away.

Rachel frowned. “I don’t know, Tom.”

“Okay, but think about it.” Tom headed to the
door. “Can we count on you to play along, though,
until tomorrow night? We’re so close to busting this

Playing along meant skiing the beginner slopes
tomorrow afternoon with Allison while Jack and Van
Buren did macho guy stuff on the harder terrain.
Sure, she could put up with Allison for a few hours
knowing that with her husband in jail, she wouldn’t
have a rich-bitch high heel to stand on. A thousand
bucks an hour was about the right compensation to
put up with Allison. Then, she wouldn’t owe Jack
anything more for the money. “I’ll play along—on
one condition.”

Tom paused in the doorway. “What’s that?”

“Jack needs to sleep somewhere else tonight.”

Tom saluted as he left. “Han is solo tonight.”

At the edge of the hill, Jack buckled onto the

“Let’s make this last run a good one.” Van Buren
pierced his pole through the foot of powder that had
fallen last night. He flashed a daring smile at Jack.
“Take Bell Ridge down to Shoulder of Bell. I want to
hit a few moguls before calling it a day.”

Jack nodded and smiled to himself. It would be
that son-of-a-bitch’s last run for a long, long time. By
tonight, he’d be in federal custody.

Van Buren launched himself down the hill. The
ridge run was steep, but smooth. Jack got in a good
rhythm, shifting his weight and balance to make the
short zigzags. The snow flashed so fast across his
goggles that he couldn’t see the flakes anymore, only
a haze that the goggles tinted orange.

Van Buren angled to the right side of the slope
and stopped at a gap in the trees. A double-black
diamond sign marked the Shoulder of Bell trail.

Joining him, Jack lifted his goggles. Moguls
were hell on a snowboard, and there were trees
everywhere. Still, there was nothing like taking on a
tough hill, having every bit of consciousness focused
on navigating the valleys between the bumps. It was
the ultimate way to live in the now. There were no Rachel. He needed a clear mind
this evening. Maybe it was good she’d locked him out
of the room last night. This thing with her was
getting out of control just at the time he needed his
wits the most. When he had her on the bed by the
wrists, it took everything he had to walk away. If
she’d have let him in the room, there was no
guessing what would have happened. He’d have
been up all night finding new ways of putting
together the puzzle of their bodies.

Ridiculous. When had the FBI penetrated that
part of him? Puzzles? Damn.

“I’ll give you a third of the way head start,” Van
Buren said. “That board is slow on moguls. Last one
down buys the beer.”

“Deal,” Jack said as he pushed his goggles down
and lifted up on his heels.

The moguls were tough—all twists and turns.
He was halfway down when Van Buren, riffling up a
wave of powder, cut into his peripheral vision. What
the hell? Van Buren was cutting in front of him—
way too close in front of him. Jack swung around
backwards to grip the board’s toe edge into the snow
for a good stop, but he kept sliding. The board hit
something, and then went airborne. Jack held his
hands out to brace the fall. He hit, something
cracked and popped, and then he rolled over and
skidded before coming to a sitting stop. He clutched
his left arm to his chest. “Shit. I broke my wrist.”

Van Buren released his bindings, slung his skis
over his shoulder, and began to trudge up the slope.

Jack peeled off his glove. His wrist was bent like
a dinner fork. Not good.

After sticking his skis in the snow in an “X”
behind Jack, Van Buren took out his phone. “I’m
calling the ski patrol.”

“No. Give me a minute. I can make it down.”

Van Buren had the phone to his ear. “Like hell
you can. I don’t want you passing out and crashing
big time. I need you patched up and ready for

“Fine,” Jack admitted. The pain was ricocheting
between his hand and elbow.

In a couple of minutes, two men wearing red and
black jackets with white crosses on them arrived.
“We’re going to get you down to the base and an
ambulance will transport you to Aspen Valley
Hospital,” one of them said as he pulled the rescue
sled alongside Jack.

The ski patrol wrapped Jack’s left arm to his
chest, then bundled him into the sled and secured a
yellow tarp over him.

“Do you want me to call Rachel for you?” Van
Buren asked. “Allison can take her to the hospital.”

Rachel. She was skiing with Allison. “Sure.”

“What’s her number, Jack?”

Hell. He didn’t know her cell number by heart
and his phone was in the jacket pocket underneath
where they’d wrapped his busted wrist to his chest.
Plus, the tarp bound him like a mummy. Think
quickly. “I don’t know. I have it on speed-dial.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll call Allison. We’ll take care of

The ski patrol clicked back into their bindings.
Van Buren knelt beside Jack. “My people tell me
you’ve never seen Rachel Livingston outside of the
office. What else have you lied about, Jack
Davenport?” To the ski patrol, he said, “He’s ready to

They started down the hill.

“I need to make a call. It’s an emergency,” Jack
roared to the ski patrolmen. He had to contact Tom.

“At the base, dude,” one of the men yelled back.

Jack thought about shouting “FBI,” but Van
Buren could be near. Jack couldn’t see anything.
Snow covered his goggles. A pain, different from the
one pulsing in his arm, shot through him. What did
Van Buren mean when he said they’d take care of


Wow! Didn't see that coming did you? Okay, now for the question.

Question for Chapter Eight

What doesn't Jack know:

A) How to snowboard

B) Rachel's middle name

C) Rachel's cell phone number

D) Who Han Solo is


Tami Brothers said...

Yeah. You'd think a guy would know his fiance's cell phone number.....grin....

LOVE this, Anna. Ohhhh, will Rachel be okay???? hmmmm.... Seems like I know the answer to this one...nananananana. Guess you all will have to come back next week and read how Sandy gets Jack and Rachel out of this jam...


Marilyn Baron said...

Apparently, we don't know jack and Jack doesn't know Rachel's cellphone number.

Wow, this is a great chapter Anna. So many twists and turns, literally.

Even though I know how it ends, it's still exciting.

Marilyn Baron

Mary said...

I just had that conversation with someone yesterday - about not knowing ph. numbers anymore because they're all on speed-dial!

He didn't know her cellphone number.

Great twist in the story!

Anna Steffl said...

TMT -- Tami, Marilyn & Mary

Thanks for reading and offering encouragement.

It is 100 degrees. Doesn't skiing sound so tantalizing?

Sally Kilpatrick said...


I love your sense of humor. This is such a great chapter, and I love how you took what we'd all written and corraled into a single suspenseful story.


Sandra Leigh said...

Jack didn't know Rachel's cell phone number, and now things are really sticky - I'm loving this. Only one more chapter to wrap this all up?

Maxine Davis said...

Great chapter! I loved it. You really did some shifting and turning! I love this and can't wait for the next chapter. Well, I guess I do have to wait! This is a great book.

He didn't know her cell number.

Anna Steffl said...

Dearest Sally, Sandra and Maxine,

Thanks for reading. But for a serious thrill, tune into Sandy's conclusion.

Lorraine said...

Jack didn't know Rachel's cell phone number. Also, Jack doesn't know what's going on with Rachel and Tom but we do, don't we readers? Or will our next writer
fool us all? Such suspense!

ECSpurlock said...

Yeah, not knowing your "fiancee's" cellphone number off the top of your head is a dead giveaway, Jack!

Killer chapter, Anna! Let's hope I don't mean that literally! Does Allison already have Rachel tied up somewhere? Is that really the ski patrol, and where are they really taking Jack?? And -- which of these wonderful hunks gets the girl?? I'm going to be on pins and needles until next Sunday!

Linsey Lanier said...



This is a wonderful chapter! Lots of excitement and action.

"Soloski was a name you’d see embroidered on a second-hand bowling shirt at Goodwill. The Jack she knew wore cuff links and Italian suits." Love it!


Barbara Monajem said...

He doesn't know Rachel's cell number.

OMG, this is exciting! Can't wait till next week!

Nicki Salcedo said...

I'm behind, but I'm still enjoying the ride. Anna S, you are awesome! I would have serious concerns if he didn't know who Han Solo is!

Phone number, the bad boy. I can't wait to read the whole thing together. Thanks for the fun.

Pamela-reader said...

Tsk, tsk... he didn't know the phone number! I admit, I had to groan on all the "Han" puns!!! (enjoyed them though!)