Shotgun Mine - In this sleepy mountain community, a shocking secret lurks beneath the surface. Can an aging spy expose the truth before an avalanche of violence swallows the valley?
Layne Parrish knows he has to make peace with his dying father. But a trip to his old stomping grounds reveals a bitter city guarding a lifetime of lies. As soon as Layne starts asking questions, he discovers there’s a bounty on his head.
Undaunted, Layne launches an investigation into his hometown’s cryptic silence. And as he fights deeper into the web of deceit, truckloads of goons arrive to hunt him.
Can Layne foil a conspiracy before a bullet finds the back of his head?

 

Layne Parrish Series by Jim Heskett Book Chapter One

 

Layne Parrish flexed his hands on the steering wheel. His palms ached from hours of driving. Eyes red and weary after continuous hours of concentrating, blinking less, having all the moisture sucked from his eyes at this higher elevation.

George hadn’t been at his house. Shotgun Diner had already closed for the evening. That left only one place in town to find a man like him: Shotgun Tavern.

Every business in this little western Colorado mountain town of Shotgun used a naming convention like this. The first of any kind put the town’s name on it. Everyone knew Bob’s Diner was the second diner in town.

As Layne stared at Shotgun Tavern, he didn’t want to enter. Like many businesses at the edges of the town, Shotgun Tavern backed up to the foothills. A log cabin and concrete structure with a roof replaced many times over due to the relentless snowfall at eight thousand feet.

He knew exactly what he would find on the other side of that door; the same bar he’d tried to enter as a teenager. Then, he had obviously been turned away because the town was small enough the bartender knew every one of the teens’ parents. High schooler Layne Parrish had never attempted again.

He and his friends had learned painful lessons about partying in small towns. They would either go to the mines, a hiking trail, or out of town. Shotgun didn’t hold too many urban spots for teens to drink in peace.

With a sigh, Layne pulled a blue skullcap down over his ears and left the car. The mountains lining the edge of the national forest loomed over the town, shielding it on three sides from the elements. Good thing he had found mild weather today, because the October snow had already coated the town in white. In Shotgun, winter lasted from October to May, before a single glorious week of spring would give way to a temperate summer.

Layne didn’t sweat the cold, however. He had bigger things on his mind.

In that bar, Layne knew he would find a man named George. A man Layne Parrish hadn’t spoken to in a long time. The hulking beast who used to beat Layne, his brother Randall, and their mother on a recurring basis. A man who was just as full of rage whether drunk or sober. A man who demanded respect but never offered anything to earn it.

As far as Layne was concerned, George Parrish was a sad monster, and Layne would have been content to never speak with him again. He could have spent the rest of his natural life in and near Denver, raising his daughter, working when he needed to work, and enjoying time outdoors now and again.

But not all things were in Layne’s control.

He pulled his jacket close and shuffled across the frozen gravel toward the bar’s entrance. Late in the evening, angled floodlights lit up the parking area. Haphazard flakes of white trickled across the light.

Layne stood before the door and spent a few beats composing himself. Part of him wanted to do an about-face and return to his SUV, but he knew he couldn’t do that.

“Okay, let’s get this over with,” he grumbled under his breath.

He pulled the door back, and it felt like a wave of nostalgia washing over him. A thousand pieces of sensory information hit him at once. The grimy bar with its rusted stools on the left side. The booths on the right wearing the same burgundy fabric, with many of them tattered and faded. Dozens of framed pictures behind the bar, mostly of miners gathered in front of those dark entrances, lined up like class photos. Also, real class photos of the last few high school graduating class. As well as one special section Layne remembered, the yellowed newspaper headlines from around the time of the Shotgun Bank robbery. The most exciting thing to ever happen to the town, now five decades removed.

Low light shielded the tired faces of the inhabitants. Honky tonk music played. But unlike the jukebox Shotgun Tavern had placed in the corner back in Layne’s younger days, now that same music pumped from wireless speakers anchored to the walls.

Layne scanned the faces. About two dozen people filled the bar and tables. He hadn’t expected to recognize anyone, because he hadn’t set foot in this town in twenty-five years. Not since soon after high school graduation. While he’d had contact with various town residents since then, he’d spent a quarter of a century away.

The bartender looked at him a little funny, but Layne expected that. The young man stood behind the bar, wiping his hands on a white dishrag as he cocked his head and studied this stranger.

“What can I get for you?” the bartender asked.

He’d said it a little too loud, trying to get Layne’s attention from twenty feet away. Up until that point, no one else had paid much attention to this newcomer. Now, a few heads pointed toward him. Most took one look and then refocused on their beverages. A quick scan of their faces turned up a few that felt vaguely familiar, but none snapped into memory.

“Nothing for me,” Layne said. “Just looking for someone.”

From a table near the bathroom, a large man stood and then straightened his back to reach full height. The man grinned as he looked toward this new arrival. He was not quite up to Layne’s 6’4”, and not quite Layne’s 230 pounds, but he was big. And he had a face that sizzled the retired spy’s brain for a few seconds, trying to put a name to it.

And then Layne recognized him. Paul Clausing, a man who had been one year ahead of Layne in school. Not exactly friends and not exactly rivals, they had played on the same Shotgun High football team. They had attended several of the same parties.

“Looking for me?” Paul said, flashing a grin with a missing front tooth. He took a couple shaky steps toward Layne. His fists weren’t balled, but he kept them by his side, arms loose. An untrained eye might have thought this guy just drunk, but Layne knew better. He did not look like someone poised to greet an old friend with a hug or a handshake. Paul was looking for a fight.

Layne shook his head. “Hey, Paul. Good to see you again, but no, I’m not looking for you.”

Paul took another couple steps toward Layne. He wasn’t quite in striking distance, but if he came any closer, Layne would have to react. He had no idea why Paul had decided to bare his aggression like a gen-pop con in a prison yard.

“So you do remember me?” the man said. His eyes flicked down. “Those are nice shoes. Aren’t you worried about getting them dirty?”

Layne was wearing brand-new Carhartt boots, but they weren’t covered in diamonds or anything like that. Just regular work boots. “I’m not worried about anything, Paul. Could you scooch out of the way, please? Like I said, I’m not here for you.”

Paul took another step forward. His movement had become less wobbly, and his bleary eyes squinted to focus.

“Why are you doing this, man?” Layne asked. He tried to keep his reactions small and careful, so he wouldn’t trigger whatever testosterone bubble had made Paul Clausing smell blood in the water.

“I’m not doing anything,” Paul said. His eyelids were drooping, his shoulders and hips barely swerving as he stood in place.

Layne desperately tried to remember if he and Paul Clausing had any leftover grudges from back in those days. But, after a quarter century away, he couldn’t bring anything to mind. “I really don’t understand what’s happening right now.”

A man and a woman at the nearest booth scooted out and then shuffled to the other side of the room. Had Paul done this sort of thing before? So far, the bartender hadn’t become involved. He was now at the far end of the room, slicing limes on a cutting board.

“What are you doing back in Shotgun?” Paul asked.

“Looking for someone,” Layne said.

Paul took another step. He raised a hand, but didn’t make a fist. Instead, he pointed a finger and tapped Layne on the chest. Not enough to move him, just a little poke.

He’d dropped the glove.

Now, the bartender seemed to take notice. He abandoned the limes and drifted a few feet toward them. “Guys, I don’t know what’s going on here, but take it outside, please?”

Paul leaned a little closer. “What do you say, Layne?”

Layne shook his head. “I don’t know what you’re doing, but I don’t have time for this. I didn’t come back to town to settle an old score or anything like that.”

“Then what are you doing in Shotgun?” Paul asked, and he raised his finger to poke again. For a brief moment, Layne thought of his five-year-old daughter. He thought of the new lessons about patience she’d been teaching him by refusing to clean her room at his condo. Layne was now used to repeating himself ten to fifteen times before Cameron would acknowledge and take action. Maybe Layne needed to treat Paul like a stubborn preschooler.

But when he saw that angry finger poised to jab him again in the chest, Layne tossed that plan out the window. And even though Layne knew it was a bad idea, he couldn’t help himself.

He snatched the finger in midair and gave it a hard twist to the right.

Paul cried out and immediately sank to one knee as Layne broke his finger. Out of his peripheral, Layne watched a few people rise from their chairs and shuffle away. Vaguely, he could hear the bartender calling again for them to take it outside. But he made no effort to actually break it up.

Layne didn’t want to cause a scene, and he figured he’d made his point. He was ready to let go when he saw Paul readying his free hand to punch.

But, drunk and slow, he didn’t get it off in time. Layne stepped back and jerked the finger a twist in the other direction. Paul howled and collapsed to the floor, clutching his wounded digit. Half the bar had now cleared out, hurrying toward the front door. Maybe they were expecting bottles to start flying through the air, but Layne saw no need to escalate. Paul was on the floor, clutching his injured finger, with no apparent plans to retaliate.

And then the bathroom door opened. Out came George Parrish, Layne’s father. He had dropped sixty or seventy pounds since the last time they’d spoken. His hair was a dirty shade of white, his limbs gangly and awkward. Deep wrinkle lines turned his face into a roadmap.

“Damn it, Layney,” George said, and Layne noticed only half of his mouth moved when he spoke. The words had come out labored and weak, as if George lacked the oxygen to put weight behind his voice. An odd thing to hear coming out of his father’s mouth.

“What?” Layne said.

George scowled down at Paul, still nursing his broken finger. “He was my ride home!”