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Excerpt: Double Threat by F. Paul Wilson

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Double Threat is a new stand-alone thriller from New York Times bestselling author F. Paul Wilson.

Daley has a problem. Her 26-year life so far has been unconventional, to say the least, but now she’s got this voice in her head. It claims to be a separate entity that’s going to be sharing her body from now on. At first she thinks she’s losing her grip on reality, then considers the possibility that maybe she really has been invaded – but by what? Medical tests turn up nothing, yet the voice persists… and won’t stop talking!

When she finally she accepts the reality that she has a symbiont, she discovers that together they can cure people of the incurable.

Maybe hosting a symbiont isn’t such a bad thing.

She retreats to a remote town in the southwest desert to hone her healing skills. But there she runs afoul of the Pendry clan, leaders of an obscure cult that worships the Visitors who inhabited the area millions of years ago. They plan to bring them back but believe Daley is the prophesied “Duad” who will undo all the cult’s efforts. She must be eliminated.

You know things are bad when the voice in your head is the only one you can trust.

Double Threat will be available on June 29, 2021. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


WEDNESDAY—FEBRUARY 18

1

The very idea of hiding in a cave gave Daley the deep creeps.

This one was shallow, basically a cleft in the rocks, maybe twenty feet deep. She’d done an inspection using the mini Maglite she always carried on her key chain and found nothing but a grayish mossy patch on the ceiling. Lichen, maybe? She’d heard the term but had no clear idea of what lichen was, except that it wasn’t going to bite her. She’d been more concerned about finding some of the more disgusting things that liked to make their home in desert caves. Bats, for one. And rattlesnakes. And scorpions. Probably tarantulas too.

None of those, thank you. But just the thought of them . . .

She shuddered but stayed put. She needed this cave. At least   for the moment. At least until she was sure a certain SUV full of angry Coachella hausfraus had given up on finding her. What was the saying? Hell hath no fury like a woman scammed? Something like that.

Miles away in the sandy valley below, the glittery blue of the stagnant and stinky Salton Sea dominated the view. Not high desert out there—low, low desert, with not a Joshua tree or saguaro in sight.

She studied the expanse of sand between her perch and the palm-tree farm that bordered the highway, looking for a dust cloud, the telltale sign of an approaching vehicle. But as she watched, she couldn’t  resist  repeated  glances  over  her  shoulder.  The  cave  was empty. She’d checked. So why this feeling she wasn’t alone?

No dust cloud in sight out there yet, so Daley did another quick check of the interior with her mini Mag. But just like before: nada except for the lichen patch. A crazy idea that it had moved wormed into her head but she laughed it off and went back on watch.

Not her first time running the car-raffle game, but those pissed-off marks might make it her last if they caught up with her.

The game was simplicity itself: She rented a space where she could display the brand-new sports car—also rented but no one knew that. This time out she’d brought along a fire-red Mazda Miata. They go for less than 30K but look soooo sexy. As usual, a carefully chosen Talbot’s wardrobe combined with her wide blue eyes and innocent twenty-six-year-old face made the raffle tickets sell like Girl Scout cookies outside a cannabis store.

The lure was winning off the books. If you win a car worth thirty grand, it’s the same as winning an equal amount in a casino: The IRS and the governor want their cut. And you’ve got      to cover that in cash, which, depending on your tax bracket, can add up. Daley’s lure was to keep the lottery under the table, which meant winner take all. To some extent—in some folks more than others—everyone has a little larceny in their soul. Nothing like appealing to the dark side to add a little spice to the game.

Then comes the drawing. Daley had found that Wednesday tended to be a good day for this. The usual process is to take the winner to the display space and present him or her with a junker, explaining how the raffle’s backer had, well, backed out, and this is the best Daley could do. When the winner squawks, Daley makes amends by refunding the price of the winner’s raffle ticket plus      a little extra to compensate for the inconvenience. The winner walks away disappointed but not angry—after all, they got back their investment and then some—and Daley walks away with the proceeds from all the losing tickets.

But  in  today’s  case,  the  winner—Amber  Seabolt  by  name— returned with a crowd of her angry friends who all wanted refunds plus compensation. Well, Daley wasn’t having any of that, so she’d been forced to beat a hasty retreat—in the junker Jeep, of all things. She’d raced south along the 86. Being a state highway instead of an interstate, it has stoplights here and there along the way. Her pursuers stayed close behind until she beat them through the light at the Avenue 66 intersection. While Amber and her posse waited for the cross traffic to pass, Daley increased her lead.

Somewhere south of Desert Shores she spotted a side road on the right through a palm-tree farm. Side path was more like it, running parallel to a drainage ditch. Once clear of the palms she shot off into the desert toward the hills, going totally off-road into the Santa Rosa Mountains. Of course, that was where the old Jeep started coughing and wheezing  and  losing  power.  She’d  rented it from a garage in Indio—the cheapest thing they had—and it looked like she’d got her money’s worth.

With the Jeep bucking and making death rattles, she spotted  a group of major boulders and pulled in behind them before the thing died. Farther up the slope she spied this cave, its curved, oblong entrance looking like a toothless grin. The shadowed interior offered shade and a long view of the valley—early warning of trouble approaching. She’d accepted that offer.

Still no sign of pursuit. She’d lost them. Yay for me. But she’d also stuck herself in the middle of nowhere with a dead junker. She seriously doubted she could get an Uber or Lyft to drive out here and take her back to her own car in Coachella, which meant she was going to have to walk to some outpost of civilization along the shore of the Salton.

And that brought up the recurring question of whether these games were worth it. Just because she’d been raised by a grifter family, did she think she had to avoid the straight life?

Maybe. And maybe not.

Not like she hadn’t tried straight jobs. Once she’d ditched high school and struck out on her own, she’d found herself honest work. But nothing she tried paid more than minimum wage, mostly because she lacked marketable skills—legally marketable skills. Even if they paid her more, she invariably found herself, after only a few weeks on the job, ready to jump off a building from boredom.

That was her problem. Everything bored her, including most people.  High  school  had  bored  her  so  deeply  she  couldn’t  even consider college.

Because nothing—absolutely nothing in this screwed-up world— gave her a jolt of satisfaction that came even close to walking away from a game with someone else’s money in her pocket.

She supposed it was in her blood. Certainly in her upbringing. After her father’s murder, his extended family—“the Family”— insisted on raising her. They were all lower-lip-deep in grift. They believed in scamming rather than schooling. So, while her mom was out working a legit job as a grocery cashier—she wasn’t part of the Family—her daughter was having her left leg tied up behind her with her foot nestled against her butt and being put out on the street with an older cousin to beg for money for this poor little amputee. When she got older, she graduated to the big sister of the amputee. She was also dragged along as a cute little prop when her uncles would go door to door finding customers for their driveway-coating scams because, really, would a con man bring his daughter along? Little Stanka—yeah, her given name—also learned to pick pockets and rifle through an unwatched handbag in a shopping cart.

No guilt. Her mother tried to instill some sense of right and wrong into her life, but the vast majority of her extended family— virtually everyone else she knew in the world—took it for granted that grift was life. And so it became second nature for little Stanka, and carried over to grown-up Stanka.

With the sun sinking behind her and shadows of the Santa Rosa peaks starting to creep across the desert before her, Daley figured she’d better get moving.

But as she rose she felt something slap against the top of her head.

She screamed—couldn’t help it, screamed like a little girl and ran out of the cave frantically slapping at her head. Something    flat and oblong and slightly fuzzy there. The lichen patch? Still running / dancing / hopping in a circle, she gouged at it, trying to work a finger under an edge and peel it off but it was stuck fast to her hair—glued to her head. She screamed again as her scalp began to burn, like something was seeping into her.

Then her vision blurred and her legs went soft. She dropped to her knees. As she swayed there, still clutching at her scalp, her vision cleared and she was no longer looking at a desert. The Salton Sea had expanded to a huge lake or small sea that ran as far north and south as she could see, and lapped at the Chocolate Mountains to the east. Something huge roiled the water as it glided beneath the surface.

And then everything faded to black.

 

THURSDAY—FEBRUARY 19

1 

Daley awoke in the dark with her face in the dirt.

Where—? What—? Why was she—?

It came back to her: racing through the desert, the cave, the thing on her scalp—

“Oh, shit!”

She rolled over and clawed at the top of her head. That thing, that lichen thing or whatever it was, was still stuck to her.

“Oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit!

Wait . . . no, not so stuck. She hadn’t been able to budge it before but now it felt loose, ready to fall off. She peeled it away and tossed it aside. Good rid—

No, wait. She might need it. The thing had poisoned her or drugged her—done something to knock her out cold for . . . for how long? Across the valley, the eastern sky behind the Chocolate Mountains was growing pale.

Almost dawn? Had she been out cold all night? God, she was thirsty. The time . . . Where was her phone? In her bag . . . but where was her bag? In the cave . . . but where was—?

All right, stop. Get a grip.

She was scattering. She needed to take a breath and get it together. Which she did.

Starlight and predawn glow revealed the black grin of the cave a dozen feet behind her. She stumbled up the slope to the mouth where she made out the lump of her shoulder bag. Stretching, she snatched it to her without going inside. A quick rummage found her keys and mini Maglite.

Okay. Now she had some control of the situation. The flashlight helped her find the thing that had attacked her, although now it didn’t look like lichen or moss. An oblong shape, maybe five inches long, wider in the middle, tapering at both ends. Like a mini Nerf football someone had ironed flat and painted gray.

Though it looked dead as could be, Daley didn’t want to touch it. She flashed her beam around, looking for a stick, and found instead a short length of two-by-four, nailed to a square of plywood. She flipped it over to reveal a sign with faded red letters.

STAY OUT! DANGER!

Now you tell me?”

But danger from what? What was this thing? She felt pretty good now.  In fact, except for the thirst, she felt fine. But how had  it knocked her out? She knew she’d have to find out.

Using the sign like a spatula, she scooped it up and picked her way down the hillside to the Jeep. She dumped the sign and the thingy in the rear, then tried to start the engine. Lots of clunky whining noises sounding like forget-it-forget-it-forget-it but not a hint of combustion.

She stepped out and looked around. Down in the valley she spotted the lights of Desert Shores. Two choices: Start walking now and risk breaking her ankle or worse in a rattlesnake hole, or spend a few hours in the Jeep and start hoofing it at dawn.

But off to her right . . . a light. She watched it for a moment or two but saw no movement. Stay with the Jeep or check it out? With thirst pushing her, the latter seemed like the best option at the moment, so she headed that way.

 

Copyright © 2021 by F. Paul Wilson

Pre-order Double Threat—available on June 29, 2021!

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