Friday, December 18, 2015

An Excerpt from Killer Fog by Bruce Wetterau

Omnimystery News: An Excerpt courtesy of Bruce Wetterau

We are delighted to welcome back author Bruce Wetterau to Omnimystery News.

Earlier this week we had a chance to talk with him about his second mystery in the Clay Cantrell series, Killer Fog (Bruce Wetterau; December 2015 hardcover, trade paperback and ebook formats), and today we are pleased to introduce you to it with an excerpt, the first chapter.

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1 — Pea Soup

CLA-A-A-Y!" SUSAN CRIED OUT, "YOU'RE WORSE than my brothers!"
  "Yes dear," he deadpanned and then laughed as she gave him a playful push on the shoulder. His grin lingered as he scanned the cone of light probing the road ahead. Thick woods — shrouded in black this moonless, early October night — closed in on both sides of the darkened interstate. The outstretched tree limbs, shadowy fingers curling overhead, seemed poised to claw at the edges of the highway. A herd of fallen leaves stampeded across the pavement, driven by a rogue gust of wind. For the moment, Clay and Susan were alone, riding in the only car to be seen on this section of I-64's two westbound lanes. Their destination, Staunton — home — lay a half hour's drive beyond this lonely stretch of rural Virginia countryside west of Charlottesville, Virginia. Not another soul was in sight, but right now their isolation, their aloneness, were the last things on Clay's mind.
  The reason, of course, would be Susan. He couldn't help teasing her sometimes. It was just too tempting when she behaved like this, a nervous teenage girl, instead of the self-assured, twenty-nine-year-old woman she was. He glanced at her, but she pretended to ignore him and idly tucked a lock of her shoulder length hair behind her ear.
  Susan Stratton was a ravishing brunette, a classic beauty in her prime. Certainly that didn't hurt, but everything else had clicked too when they met that night four months ago. They both were old enough to have been around the block, and at thirty-three, Clay had seen enough to know she was the kind of woman for him. Strange, though. With her, he already felt they'd known each other all their lives, yet their relationship still seemed fresh, alive, and fascinating. Teasing her was fun, but so was seeing her happy. That made him smile. Then his smile widened as he thought about her staying with him tonight at his place.
  "Susan, so far as mom and dad are concerned, you can do no wrong."
  "I want to believe that, Clay. But this dinner is so important. Everything has to be perfect."
  "That dress you bought today is perfect, honey. I promise, my parents are going to love you."
  "Will you be putting in a good word for me?" she asked with a sly grin.
  Clay turned to look at her and caught the impish look in her eyes. He grinned back at her. "Well, I suppose I might be persuaded."
  Susan's hand slid softly to his right thigh and she began idly tracing small circles with her forefinger. "Are you sure?" she teased.
  The warmth of her hand, and those soft circles on his leg, kindled a familiar fire. Clay's mouth opened as he turned to answer her with a heartfelt pledge of allegiance. But no words came out, his testament being rudely interrupted by flashing headlights. An oncoming car repeatedly flicked its brights up and down.
  "What is with that guy?" Clay grumbled at last. Looking at the rearview mirror, he watched the car swoop up behind them fast, then quickly switch to the left lane to pass. The light-colored, older model Mercedes four-door sedan, slowed sharply as it pulled up alongside and then wavered, edging dangerously close.
  "What the — ? Is this some kind of joke?" Clay growled as he and Susan focused on the driver. The old man had turned on the interior light so that they could see him mouthing words and signaling with wild gestures.
  "What's he saying?" Clay asked, turning his attention back to the road. The Mercedes was definitely too close. This was Susan's Volvo they were in and she wouldn't appreciate getting it banged up. Clay edged farther to the right.
  Startled, Susan put her hand up to her throat. "I think he's saying 'Help.' Something's really wrong, Clay."
  Clay checked his rearview mirror. The road behind them was dark, not another car in sight.
  "Call police," Susan said after a moment, then exaggerating, nodded her head yes to the man. The old man immediately floored the Mercedes and disappeared with a roar into the darkness.
  "Oh dear, I left my phone at home. Can I use yours?" Susan asked after nervously rummaging through her purse.
  "Mine's at home too. The battery was dead, so I left it."
  "Can't we get to a phone?" Obviously worried now, she added, "That poor man looked like he really was in trouble."
  Something was going on, but Clay couldn't be sure just what. Suddenly he was all too aware that they were indeed out in the middle of nowhere, a long way from home. They wouldn't be able to get to a phone for about ten minutes, until after I-64 took them up and over the Blue Ridge Mountains at Afton. The way the old man was driving, he would get there way ahead of them. So there wasn't much Clay could do but wonder what the old man's emergency was.
  Clay glanced up at the rearview mirror as a new set of headlights stabbing the darkness closed fast. "Jeez, another one! He's really hauling too," Clay exclaimed, edging Susan's Volvo rightward again. Light filled the Volvo's passenger compartment as the speeding car whooshed by at what seemed like 120 mph. The airstream rocked the Volvo, forcing Clay to correct to bring it back into the lane. Angered by that driver's recklessness, Clay's first instinct was to floor it to try catching the S.O.B. This wasn't his Corvette, though. Susan's Volvo wagon just wouldn't cut it in a car chase. Clay willed the muscles in his right foot to relax.
  "From the look of the taillights," Clay said, "I'd say that was an old Dodge Charger. With a big eight from the sound of it. Guy's in one hell of a hurry."
  "Maybe he's chasing after that old man. We really should call the police."
  "Could be, but I don't know what the heck is going on. I didn't even get his license plate, and for all we know, the old guy could have gotten off at the Crozet exit."
  "I still think we should stop and call," Susan said.
  "Okay, but there isn't any place around here where we can get to a phone. We're past the Crozet exit, so we'll have to wait until we get over the mountain. I'll get off at Waynesboro and call from a gas station."
  "Thanks, honey. It wouldn't be right if we didn't do something to help." Relieved, she sat quietly, watching him as he concentrated on the road.
  They were heading uphill now, climbing the long grade up the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and what had begun as a thin, wispy mist was quickly thickening into dense fog. Crossing over the mountain in fog was not one of Clay's favorite experiences, since it could get thick as pea soup up around the top. Clay slowed to fifty to keep his distance from the two blurry taillights of a car in front.
  "Looks like it's going to be really thick tonight," Clay said as much to himself as Susan.
  "Maybe you should slow down, Clay."
  "I just did. Can't go any slower or somebody will get me from behind. I'm going to follow those taillights. If he hits something then I'll have time to stop."
  "Oh, great! It took me a long time to pay off this car, Clay. Please don't wreck it."
  "Not going to happen, Susan. Just have to be extra careful that's all. We'll be fine."
  Being extra careful was getting harder to do, though. With the fog closing in, Clay could barely see the taillights up ahead and his headlights did nothing to pierce the thickening billows of silky white mist. Clay felt like a cocoon of blinding white had descended around him, allowing only fleeting glimpses of dim shadows here and there — of highway signs, an overpass, eerie unidentifiable forms.
  "Shouldn't we pull over Clay?"
  "We'd be sitting ducks, Susan," Clay answered matter-of-factly. "Sooner or later somebody would lose the road and run right into us."
  He was having trouble now keeping to the center of the lane, even though I-64 had nothing worse than gentle curves going up the mountainside. The visibility was so bad Clay was navigating partly by what he could see, partly what he remembered from his many trips up this mountain, and partly by the sound of his tires drifting onto the road's rumble strip.
  The first time he hit the strip, Susan put her hand on the arm rest as if to brace herself. Clay knew she was worried. But he wasn't about to let anything happen to her. So he doubled down on his concentration, focusing intently on the blinding white, looking for even the slightest hint of a shape in the murky white froth. The mist swirled, now a solid wall of white, now thinning enough to see a little farther ahead, as Clay pressed on at fifty, keeping pace with the taillights leading the way, his guiding star.
  Though it didn't seem possible, the fog got even worse as they approached the top of Afton Mountain. Both Clay and the car ahead slowed to forty mph. The red taillights now sometimes disappeared altogether and Clay couldn't see much beyond the Volvo's hood. That was nerve-racking. Twice more he drifted to the right far enough to hit the rumble strip before edging back to the center of the lane. He turned the windshield wipers up to high, a futile gesture, he knew, but he needed every bit of visibility he could get. The dim shadow of an overpass appeared in the mist like a sudden realization and, Clay, relieved as he passed under it, knew they were finally getting close to the top.
  "Almost there Susan. This fog should thin out as we head down the other side into the Valley."
  "I hope so, Clay. I can't see a thing."
  Neither could he, but he didn't want to say that. He edged closer to the car in front to keep the taillights in view, but the fog only thickened again, completely blanketing the red blurs here and there. Faced with a solid wall of white and a few fleeting shadows, Clay was simply guessing where the roadway was now, trusting to blind luck until the dim red of the taillights reappeared in the heavy mists.
  Then they were gone. Clay saw the faint shadow of another overpass before the realization hit him.
  "We're on our own now, Susan. Our guiding star just got off at the Afton Mountain exit."
  Clay barely had time to think about the tight curves coming up as I-64 headed down the Valley side of the mountain. A strange flickering light in the thick white wall caught his eye. His foot jumped to the brake pedal, but it was too late. The outlines of two wrecked cars splayed across the two westbound lanes popped out of the mist right in front of him. Flames spewed from the left one.
  "Oh Jeez! Hang on, Susan!" Clay exclaimed and desperately swerved toward the right shoulder. A strange mix of shock, fear, and anger swept through him as he spun the wheel. This was not supposed to happen. Not to him. Not to Susan.
  Susan's cry of "Clay!" hit him at the same time the adrenaline surged into his veins. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion now and he became strangely detached from it all. He had almost cleared the wreck when the Volvo lost traction on the wet pavement and slid sideways. He knew it immediately but there was nothing he could do. With a tremendous bang the Volvo hit the Camry, crumpling the Volvo's rear quarter panel. Clay spun the wheel the other direction to miss the shadow of the guardrail now coming right at him. The Volvo's back end kicked out to take the brunt of that glancing blow and now the Volvo slid, screeching metal against metal, along the guardrail. Clay saw Susan being thrown against her door. Again, nothing he could do. Another shadow popped out of the fog. Dead ahead. Wide-eyed, Clay watched Susan's Volvo slam into a wrecked Chevy pickup so hard that he felt the Volvo's rear end lift up off the ground.
  The deafening bang! as they hit nearly drowned out Susan's scream. Clay's seatbelt dug into his shoulder as he lurched forward and then bounced back against the headrest. The billowing airbag slammed into his face. For an instant he sat there disbelieving, then found himself staring at the Volvo's now uplifted hood as the airbags deflated. He shook his head and came around. It had all happened so fast.
  "Susan, are you all right? Susan!" She was dazed, but turned her head at the sound of his voice.
  "I — I think so, Clay. Where are we?"
  "In the middle of a big accident. Looks like a chain reaction pileup, and I don't think it's over yet. We'd better get out of the car. Can you open your door?" He turned off the ignition as he watched her. She lifted the handle and banged her shoulder against the door but it was no use. Clay tried his, but he succeeded only in getting it unlatched. Something kept it from opening.
  Feeling trapped, Clay's attention shifted to flames leaping out of a wrecked delivery van. No way, he thought. We're getting out of here. He pushed himself over to Susan's side of the car.
  "What are you doing, Clay?" she cried out. He practically shoved her against her door and then dragged his legs out from under the steering wheel.
  "Got to get that door open," he grunted and, swiveling his legs up onto the driver's seat, starting kicking the door with both feet. On the third whack, the door sprung open and he slid out.
  "Give me your hand," he called out and helped Susan slide out the driver's side. "We'd better get on the other side of the guardrail. It's not safe standing out here."
  "Clay, this is awful," Susan gasped, looking at the mist-shrouded shadows of three or four wrecks vaguely illuminated by the flames engulfing the van. The noxious smell of burning oil, plastic, and rubber assaulted their nostrils. Stifling a cough, Clay took Susan by the hand and together they stepped over the guardrail. He turned to look at her. "Are you sure you're okay?" he asked, pushing her hair back to check a scratch on her forehead. She was shaking, so he wrapped his arms around her and hugged her gently.
  "I'm okay now," she said after a minute. "I was just really scared. You holding me is what I needed."
  "Thank God you're all right. I saw you getting banged around in your seat."
  She settled her head back on his chest, gazing at the flickering lights in the mist. "Those two people out there might be hurt, Clay. Shouldn't we do something?
  Clay spotted the shadowy outlines of two people sitting on the ground next to their wrecked car. "If you're okay, I'll get them to come over here."
  Clay yelled at them, then let go of Susan, and stepped over the guardrail. With mist swirling around him, he walked out into roadway to help. Both women were pretty badly shaken up, but otherwise seemed okay. After helping them get to their feet, Clay herded them toward the guardrail.
  Heading back out onto the roadway to check another wreck, Clay heard a dull thud and turned to look uphill. A wrecked car whipped sideways and suddenly Clay found himself staring into the headlights of yet another car coming out of the fog. It slid directly at him at thirty mph, wheels locked and skidding.
  Clay heard Susan scream and did the only thing he could. At the last instant he jumped up in the air to come down with a crash on the car's hood. His head banged against the windshield, putting him almost nose-to-nose with the terrified driver. Dazed but still conscious, Clay hung on for dear life, locking his fingers on the back edge of the hood below the windshield. The car slid another fifty feet, coming to a stop within spitting distance of a burning fuel oil tanker lying on its side.
  "Quick, mister. Get out, and get over on the other side of the guardrail," Clay yelled at the driver after sliding off the car's hood. He yanked open the driver's door and helped the man out, almost shoving him toward the roadside. The dazed man walked uncertainly for a few steps, then turned to watch Clay head toward a burning wreck.
  Clay heard Susan yelling for him and then another thud and breaking glass farther up the roadway. Then two more, and a horn started blaring. "I'm okay, Susan! I'm over here. Come down here, but stay behind that guardrail. They're still coming, but they're hitting farther up the hill."
  "Clay, you should come over here too. That truck, it's burning."
  Heating oil, Clay thought, not much chance it's going to explode. He hoped. Then another wreck lighted by that fire suddenly caught Clay's eye. An old model Mercedes sedan lay flipped over on its roof. Could that be? Clay wondered. Two men knelt beside the driver's side window, apparently having trouble pulling out a struggling man. Clay hesitated for a second or two, waiting to see if they needed help. Then he called out, "Hey, I'll give you a hand," as he started toward the Mercedes.
  Now half in and half out of the driver's side window, the old man growled angrily and seemed to be trying to punch the men. One of them, with dark hair and a dark full beard, stood as Clay approached. Incredibly, the other quickly pulled out a knife and plunged it twice into the man's chest. Shocked, Clay couldn't believe his eyes. Square in the middle of this carnage, the stark realization raced through his mind, They're murdering him!

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Bruce Wetterau
Photo provided courtesy of
Bruce Wetterau

Bruce Wetterau, a former free-lance editor and author of eleven reference books, has been buying and renovating old houses in Virginia for over a decade. He lives in Virginia, where he writes, pursues his hobbies of hiking and landscape photography, and continues to work on houses.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at BruceWetterau.com and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook.

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Killer Fog by Bruce Wetterau

Killer Fog by Bruce Wetterau

A Clay Cantrell Mystery Thriller

Publisher: Bruce Wetterau

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)

• Prof. Willard Wentworth, an American scientist, is about to realize his ambition of making a world-changing discovery. His Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR) device, when perfected, will flood the world with cheap, clean energy — and end our addiction to oil.

• Homeland Security has just posted a nationwide warning that a terrorist attack is imminent. The target is unknown.

A devious scheme links these two seemingly unrelated events.

Clay Cantrell unwittingly stumbles onto the fringes of this shadowy world as the scheme is taking shape. He is no hapless victim, though. These days, Clay and his long-time friend and partner, Mac Harper, run a company that restores old houses, but they are both ex-Army Rangers and know how to take care of themselves. They are not the kind of men to back away from a fight, or to let go of a mystery until it's solved. That's good, because this mystery has a long tail — reaching all the way back to 1940 and a fanatical Nazi spy ring operating inprewar America.

With all the bad actors lined up against them, one mistake could cost Clay and Mac their lives. Meanwhile, the fate of that world-changing LENR discovery hangs in the balance.

Killer Fog by Bruce Wetterau

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