Authors: Erik Storey
NOTHING SHORT OF DYING
“Immensely enjoyableÂ .Â .Â . [Clyde is] a Grail Knight in Âdisguise, rescuing the good and punishing the bad.Â .Â .Â . Encounters with bad guys are appropriately, cinematically violent, and the rich, sensory descriptions enhance a well-told story.”
“Grandly cinematicÂ .Â .Â . What makes Clyde Barr great isn't just that he's haunted, driven, and lethal, but that he's paired with a strong, independent, and capable woman who refuses to be a victimâAllie Martin is exactly my kind of gal. Together, they make a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde out for their own kind of justice.”
âTaylor Stevens, author of
“Nothing short of thrillingÂ .Â .Â . Erik Storey is a gene splice of Lee Child and Joe R. Lansdale. In this modern-day gunslinger classic, everyone is a bad guy and Clyde Barr is the baddest of them all.”
âScott Sigler, author of
“Jack Reacher fans will delight in meeting the shrewd loner Clyde Barr, but it's his fearless companion, Allie, who will sass her way into readers' hearts. Highly recommended!”
âKira Peikoff, author of
No Time to Die
Nothing Short of Dying
is a relentless thrill ride that hurtles the reader into dark and interesting places. Erik Storey's somebody to watchÂ .Â .Â . and read.”
âRobert Ferrigno, author of
The Horse Latitudes
Prayers for the Assassin
“GrittyÂ .Â .Â . authenticÂ .Â .Â . a terrific page-turner.”
âHoward Roughan, coauthor of
Truth or Die
and author of
The Up and Comer
For Stephanie, for taking my hand and walking with me down the root-strewn path of life. Without you this book would not exist.
Love beyond words,
t started with a phone call in the Utah wilderness, about a week after I'd been released from prison.
I'd been enjoying one of those perfect spring mornings in the mountains. Baby-blue skies, soft breeze out of the northwest, sweet sage dripping with dew, and wildlife that practically ran from the trail into the frying pan. A great morning, I thought, on the way to many more like it in the Yukon, where I planned to live in the peace and cold.
I'd spent the morning tracking and then shooting a young mule deer buck. He led me through creeks swollen with muddy runoff, across hillsides so slick with fallen aspen leaves that I took a few ungraceful dives, and into a meadow of young lupine, where I pulled the trigger on my big African rifle as he turned broadside with his nostrils flaring.
The rest of the day was spent cutting the buck into steaks for dinner and strips to be smoked and air dried for later use. That night I built a small campfire out of wrist-size branches of juniper and sat staring at the flames as I fidgeted with the little hunk of plastic and wires I'd bought to contact my sisters as I passed through.
I'd hoped for a storybook homecomingâme calling them
and telling them I was home and them suggesting I come over straightaway so they could cook for me. In my daydreams we'd have a merry old time catching up and talking like the family we used to be. In reality Deb didn't answer and Angie told me I could go to hell. Jen wasn't in any phone book, so I didn't call her. Odds were good that if I did, she'd tell me something similar, so I put the phone away and set about cooking the steak.
I was sitting in a camp chair, listening to the crickets and the night wind, and had just finished rubbing salt and pepper into the meat, when the damned plastic contraption started chirping in my pocket. The sound was like an Atari video game, and I couldn't push buttons fast enough to make it stop.
“This is Barr,” I said.
“Clyde.” It was Jen, her voice barely a whisper. “I need you to come get me.”
I looked up at the night sky, pulling on my beard. As happy as I was to hear her voice, the tone scared the hell out of me and lured me back to a time of fear. It was the same tone and pleading I'd heard as a child on the bad nights. The nights that Mom and Dadâor Mom and some new guyâwere fighting, or when one of those guys, drunk and out of control, chose to hurt us.
Back then Jen would often crawl into my room and wake me with a trembling whisper. Together, we'd push the dresser against the door, huddle in a corner, and ride out the storm.
“Where are you?”
“Clyde, you need to
He's going to kill me. After I help him, I'm dead.”
“Who's going to kill you? Help who with what?” I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about or where she was.
“Jesus, Clyde.” Even though she whispered, I could hear her panic. “After I help him get inside a week from now, I'm no use to him. Please,
get me the hell out of here. You owe me.”
She was right about the obligation. “Okay. Tell me where you are.”
you'll come get me.”
This part was important, and she knew it. If I gave my word, nothing short of dying would stop me. It hadn't
. I stood and watched the constellations disappear, blanketed by invisible clouds. “I promise,” I said. “Now, where the hell are you?”
Suddenly there was a muffled shout and what sounded like a crash. I heard a male voice, then silence.
There was no reply. I looked at the phone's screen. The call-time numbers were still running. “Jen?” I said, louder.
There was a faint click and the line went dead. I flipped the phone shut and shoved it in my pocket.
As the night wind stirred the trees, I pulled a soft pack of straights from my flannel shirt pocket and shook out one of the last cigarettes. After touching it to a glowing ember from the fire, I stood in the darkness next to a sweet-smelling serviceberry bush.
One of my resolutions had been to quit smoking when I went into the backcountry. It was reassuring knowing there's no better counter to the bad habit than fresh air and open spaces. But this new development put my vow on hold.
As reluctant as I was to delay my journey north, I'd made a promise. And this time it was to my sisterânot some villager or desperate campesino in one of the many jungles I'd
hacked my way through. My own flesh and bloodâwhatever the hell that meant.
I limped back to the fire and tossed the butt into the flames. From the valley came the lonely cry of coyotes. The wind rustled up the smells of melting snow and slowly caressed the pines as I looked back up at the stars and wondered what Jen had done this time.
Like me, and unlike our straitlaced sisters, she'd always been a troublemaker. She had a knack for finding the wrong people, the wrong times, and the wrong places. When we were young it had been us against the world. But then I leftâleft her to fend for herself, because I'd been selfish.
Now I had a chance to make up for it. First though, I needed a direction. A track I could follow. I called Angie again.
No answer, so I called Deb.
I got another one of those mechanical voices telling me to leave a message, so I did. I wasn't sure Deb would call back, so I went ahead and started breaking camp. The tent came down in the same amount of time it takes most people to strip their beds. It and my sleeping bag went in my big bag, a beat-up ruck I'd hauled halfway around the world.
I limped over and shoveled dirt on the fire. As the last few embers suffocated under the soil, I silently said good-bye to the oak brush, aspen, and pines that had been my home this last week. I tipped my hat to Mount Lena, who'd let me sleep on her for the last couple of days. It was the closest I'd been to a woman in three years.
The phone rang as I began climbing into the truck. I stepped back out into the cold mountain air and pushed buttons until the ringing stopped.
“Barr,” I said.
“This is Nick.”
I didn't know any Nicks.
“Oh,” I said.
“Stop calling. She doesn't want to talk to you. Ever. Got it?”
I nodded, watched the moon start to peek over the ragged horizon. Nick went on to tell me that I was a worthless bastard who'd abandoned his family. When his rant was over, I informed him what Jen had said. He told me that she was just as bad as I was and that he couldn't care less what happened to her. I eventually prodded him into telling me that he'd seen her in Clifton with “her lowlife friends” and that she was using drugs again.
“Okay, well, thanks forâ” He broke off the call before I could finish.
I got back in the truck, threw the phone on the cracked dash, then turned the key in the ignition. Nothing. I got back out, kicked the door, kicked the side panels, then slammed a fist on the hood. Satisfied with my mechanic skills, I got back behind the wheel and tried the ignition again. The dilapidated engine turned over, started, and made unhealthy grinding noises as I headed south.
I drove off the mountain, under a brilliant moon, back toward the country I thought I'd left for good. I smacked my hands against the steering wheel and felt both it and the truck wobble. The grimy wheel was connected by an iffy steering rod to a junk pickup that I'd bought for two hundred bucks from the coyote who'd driven me across the border. Listening to the creaks and moans of the aging steel, I wondered if either of us would survive the trip.
My eyes burned and the road blurred in front of me. I wanted to stop and crawl into my sleeping bag but decided
on a drink instead. I grabbed the paper bag that sat on the passenger seat, pulled the bottle out, put it between my legs, and then took a big, long pull.
After the liquor hit, driving away from my Yukon dreams and back toward the place I'd grown up didn't feel so bad. But deep down I knew I was kidding myself. The truth was, Jen's call had surfaced memories that I'd buried under many years and thousands of miles. With one phone call, she'd made me remember what I wanted to forget.
When our dad left, and our mom died, I did something stupid that almost got me killed. Jen did something worse that saved my life. If anyone ever found out what we'd done, we'd both be serving life sentences. Jen's keeping quiet kept me free. Because of that, and of what we'd endured together, I'd do whatever she asked.
awoke in a tangle of sweaty sheets. The screams of women and children and the popping of Kalashnikovs faded slowly back into the realm of dreams as the morning light filtered in through the slightly drawn curtains. Though I'd come to consciousness coiled for action, I relaxed when I spotted a cheap television perched on a nearby entertainment stand.
It was the TV that told me what country I'd woken up in.
The soft bed beneath me was another tip-off. I wasn't surrounded by snoring people wrapped in dirty blankets and crowding all of the available floor space. And there were no chickens or goats. I scratched my flat naked belly, felt the reassuring cold steel of the rifle by my side, and shook my head, amazed by what the developed world takes for granted.
, for instance. I loved water heaters. Their existence meant I could take a gloriously long shower without any work. I was absolutely filthy. A week on the mountain swirled around my feet and down the drain in a black slurry. After toweling off, I wiped condensation from the bathroom mirror and used my scissors to trim back my unruly hair and beard. The sight of gray tufts mixed with black should have
been depressing, but I had a slightly different thoughtâhow much I'd changed in the years I'd been away. I was staring at a naked ape with wide straight shoulders, hard sinewy limbs, and hairy tanned skin. I actually looked
lean. If I didn't get some calories in soon, I'd drop to under two hundred pounds for the first time since high school.
After pulling on a pair of jeans and a denim shirt, I sat down and drew a little notebook out of my pack. I bit the inside of my cheek and flipped through the pages, staring at the phone numbers written inside.
Who do I call first?
I decided to call Juan. He was my only real friend from Riverside High. While other kids focused on geometry and biology, Juan taught me how to steal cars and pick locks. In return I taught him how to shoot and brawl. I hoped he still had his family connections.
“This is Barr,” I said when Juan picked up on the third ring.
“Barr?” There was a brief silence, then hushed Spanish.
“Yeah. I need some help.”
“Well, I'm good, thanks for asking.”
“Sorry,” I said. “How you been?”
“Good, man. It's been a
of years. Where have youâ”
“I'll fill you in later. Right now I need info.”
“What kind?” Juan asked warily.
“Jen's in troubleâ
. Maybe mixed up with somebody very dangerous.”
“I'm not sure how much help I can be, now that we're outside of it.”
“Me and Maria.”
I didn't say anything for several moments, tried to ignore the punch to the gut.
“Oh, manÂ .Â .Â . you didn't know?” Juan said.
“You still live in the same place?” I asked.
“Yeah, but, ClydeÂ .Â .Â .”
“I'll be there in thirty,” I said, and hung up.
TWENTY MINUTES AND A STOP
for smokes later, I pulled into Riverside, Colorado, and stopped in the public park. The cottonwoods were finally beginning to leaf out and the grass was short and green. On the far side of the park, protecting the town from the river, was the levee where kids played and rode their bikes on the crest. From behind it wafted the sweet, earthy scent of the mighty Colorado.
The park nearly overflowed with very large families in the middle of various get-togethers, birthday parties, and picnics. I got out, leaned on the hood of my truck, and lit a fresh cigarette. Most of the folks were Hispanic, happy, and boisterous. I could have been standing in a village in any of the Latin countries I'd wandered through, but I wasn't. I was home, staring at the central gazebo that had changed my life. Memories of this place came flooding back, as if the levee had suddenly given way.
Down the street, Juan's house sat next door to the one Maria had grown up inâMaria, the girl I'd dated all through high school, the one who'd taken my virginity with relish and let loose feelings I'd never had before.
Sixteen years ago, I'd sat with Maria under that gazebo, my arms wrapped tight around her thin waist, and told her I was leaving. She didn't cry, just looked into my eyes and nodded. It was inevitable, she'd told me. She said I needed to escape, run away.
Is that what I'd been doing all this time?
I crushed out my cigarette, got in the truck, and drove to Juan's.
I WAS SITTING IN HIS
backyard, in a flimsy white plastic chair, my chukkas propped up on a cooler, drinking a Bud Light, and trying to pretend I wasn't uncomfortable as hell.
“So, I can try to help, but like I said, we're out of the life now,” Juan said.
I took a sip of beer. “About this
“Sorry you didn't know. We would have invited you, but no one knew where you were.”
I looked at the ground.
“Really,” he said. “You can't be
mad, right? I mean, you've been gone for almostÂ .Â .Â . When
“A year after high school,” I said.
Juan shook his head. “Sixteen years, then. So, you gonna hit me or just drink all my beer?”
“You happy? Is
happy?” I asked.
“Of course, man. Especially now. Two little ones running around, her finally finishing nursing school. I just got a raise at the shop.”
“Then that's all that matters.” I reached into the cooler for another beer, popped the tab on another can of Bud. “I thought you guys only drank Coronas?”
“That horse piss? You probably assume we eat burritos three times a day, too.”
“You mean you
?” I said.
Juan laughed. “Well, that's what we're having tonight.”
Maria came out then carrying paper plates loaded with food that smelled of cumin and pepper. Flies flitted around the burritos. I couldn't meet her gaze, stared at the top of
my beer can instead. She and Juan exchanged love sonnets in a fast Spanglish that I had a hard time following. I told her thanks, but she ignored me and walked back inside. My eyes followed her soft retreat, imagining a past that could have been. I took one bite, then finished the burrito in three more.
“I'll call my cousins,” Juan said. “My brothers, too. They still got a hand in all that. See what they can find out.”
I nodded, not really paying attention. The house, the kids, the jobs. They were living the American dream, one I could have had if I'd stayed.
“So I'll call you,” Juan said.
“Sure,” I said, draining the dregs of my beer.
When I finished, I crushed the can, tossed it into a steel drum set out for that purpose, and stood. “Thanks, man. And, uhÂ .Â .Â . tell Maria she's beautiful, okay?”