Laurence MacNaughton recently released his debut novel, the supernatural thriller, Conspiracy of Angels (NLA Digital Platform LLC, June 14, 2012).
Noir Journal thanks MacNaughton for the following guest post, info and reviews, as well as a sneak preview: Chapter One of Conspiracy of Angels.
Guest post by Laurence MacNaughton
The Long Way Down
Before I became a full-time writer, I had a day job test-driving prototype vehicles. Trucks, luxury cars, experimental hybrids, you name it. We covered them in black padding to disguise their body contours, then wired them up with sensors to track everything from how many hours the headlights lasted to how much vibration we got when we slammed the door. Those hand-built vehicles sometimes cost the manufacturers a half-million dollars or more. So we tried to crash as few as possible. But sometimes, accidents happen.
My driving routes brought me through areas of Denver that few people ever dare to visit: abandoned factory buildings, mud-choked construction sites, railroad yards covered in graffiti. By the end of the day, my mind was a labyrinth of dark and dirty places, populated by the odd people I'd sometimes see there. I'd often write about them deep into the night, until they ended up populating my debut novel, Conspiracy of Angels.
But not all of my test drives were confined to the city. One crisp October day, we had an assignment to take a prototype SUV on a high-altitude test. Some Detroit engineer who had never set foot in the Rocky Mountains had made up a test route that took us up an old mining trail through an undeveloped mountain pass. My driving partner and I dutifully threaded our way up past the treeline around boulders and washed-out ditches, trying to cope with the fact that the "road" that we were supposed to follow basically didn't exist. The track was so narrow and steep that when you looked out one window, all you could see was rocks and tundra. Out the other window, nothing but empty air and steel-gray clouds.
As we neared the top, it started snowing. The visibility dropped. The temperature plummeted, and the rocks we were driving on got slicker by the minute. Right then, I knew that no one belonged there on that mountain trail. Not in a 4x4 truck, not even on foot. I stopped and checked our surroundings, but I couldn't see much more than rocks and falling snow. Something about that place was so lonely, so forbidding, that it's still frozen into my memory. We could die up here, I thought. And weirdly enough, at that moment I knew how my book would end. Funny how the mind works.
I think the best stories are born in moments like that. When we push beyond the boundaries of our everyday lives, we reach a limit that we never knew existed, and we have to make choices. Those choices define us.
I chose to abort the altitude test. My partner and I were professional drivers, and we got down off of that mountain without incident, but in hindsight we never should've gone up there. Not in those conditions, not in those vehicles. Our overconfidence led us up into that rarefied air near the mountain top and kept us going, even when one slip could have sent us plunging over the edge into nothing.
Moments like that never leave you. I don't know how everyone else makes sense of them, but I write stories.
Conspiracy of Angels is a story about what happens to people when they step up to the edge of the abyss, and they look out, and the decisions they make in that moment change them forever. You come down from the mountain just a little bit changed. And that's the moment I try to capture every time I sit down to write a story.
Author Bio: Laurence MacNaughton
Laurence MacNaughton's articles and stories have appeared in Writers' Journal, The Rocky Mountain Writer, Pyramid Magazine, Cabal Asylum and The Inkwell. He teaches fiction writing at YouCanWriteANovel.com. For more information please visit http://LaurenceMacNaughton.com.
Just out of prison, ex-convict Mitch Turner is determined to put his life back on track and find out the truth about his daughter’s mysterious death. But when his daughter’s best friend, Geneva, discovers a cryptic piece of top-secret technology, the two of them are thrust into the cross-hairs of a deadly living weapon.
It’s known only by a code name: Archangel. It’s fast, invulnerable, inhuman. And its next target is Mitch.
The Archangel is more than just a relentless killer. It’s a gatekeeper of the dangerous boundary that divides this world from the next. And it’s Mitch’s only chance of learning the dark truth about what happened to his daughter.
Outnumbered, outgunned and on the run, Mitch and Geneva race to outsmart an elite force determined to silence them. Can they uncover the conspiracy before the Archangel unleashes its deadly secret on all of humanity?
"Killer dialog, plenty of action, and an uber-cool cast of characters make this a must-read."
—J.A. Konrath, author of the Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels thrillers
"Conspiracy of Angels is a terrific read, a white-knuckle thrill ride that grabs you by the throat—and the heart—and doesn’t let go."
—Jenny Siler, author of Flashback and Shot
"Laurence MacNaughton's Conspiracy of Angels is a thrilling adventure--a mix of horror and thoughtful intrigue. A debut of a new talent well worth exploring deep into the night."
—James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of the Sigma Force series
Conspiracy of Angels
When Mitch heard the crash in the backyard, he thought about getting his .45, and then remembered it was all the way upstairs in his bedroom. He set down the plate of barbecue ribs on the kitchen table and picked up the big steel spatula Bryce had given him as a parole gift. As quietly as he could manage, he crept over to the back door and peered outside.
The backyard was knee-deep in weeds, the leaves shaking in the cold Colorado rain. A big tree limb had busted off the apple tree just inside the wooden fence. Bare splinters of wood littered the ground. As he watched, a girl climbed out of the branches, trailing leaves. She had straight black hair and eye shadow he could see from across the yard. The rest of her was lost inside an old black overcoat. She looked young, barely out of her teens. About the age Jocelyn would've been, if she were still alive.
She spotted him through the clear glass door, so he slid it open and stepped out onto the chilly back patio. As she brushed off the leaves, she never took her gaze off him. She had eyes that were older than her years. Tense, but not scared. Her breath steamed in the cold air.
Mitch had the impression she was sizing him up. A sleepy-eyed ex-con pushing fifty, sandy hair edging toward gray, arms thick from killing too much time lifting weights. She didn't look too impressed.
She brushed long strands of wet hair out of her face. "Your name Mitchell Turner?"
He walked out to the grill, ignoring the rain, and shut the lid. He leaned on the warm handle, suddenly conscious of the fact that he was still in his bathrobe in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, when ordinary decent people were at work. It embarrassed him a little. "Tell you what, kid. First, maybe you should explain to me why the hell you're trespassing in my backyard."
She came closer, her chin thrust out, trying to look mean. Like maybe she didn't trust a big, half-dressed ex-con who was old enough to be her dad. Of all things.
Her gaze went to the open door behind him, checking it out, then back to him. That seemed more than a touch suspicious. He didn't know what she was planning, considering she was half his size. Maybe she had friends out front. Mitch straightened up.
Quietly, she said, "Are you Jocelyn's dad?"
It caught him off guard, this punk kid bringing his daughter's name back from the dead, like it was no big deal. Like maybe Jocelyn had just run out for cigarettes and she'd be back any minute now.
Sometimes, he felt like that. Like she would just walk in, the door would bang, and she'd be home. Mad at him for something or other.
But she wouldn't. She was dead, four years now, died in a hospital in some mountain town he'd never heard of. He'd been called out of his cell and told by a counselor. He'd had to use the grimy prison phone to arrange the funeral.
"Hey, hello?" The girl waved a hand in front of his face. "Are you Jocelyn's dad or not?"
He cleared his throat and looked down at the girl with the eye shadow and black lipstick. "Jocelyn's passed away. I'm sorry."
"But you're Mitchell Turner. You're Jocelyn's dad. Yes or no?"
That caught him off guard. "You knew my daughter?"
"I'm the one asking the questions here."
"You heard me."
Mitch felt his temper lighting up. "Look, what the hell do you want, kid?"
"I want to know what they told you. About Jocelyn's death."
Mitch wanted to ask, What who told me? But he felt himself going into a slow boil. "Listen, kid. Whatever business my daughter had with you, it's finished. It's done. Now get the hell out."
"It was your project that killed her. It was your fault."
"You turn around and get the hell out of my backyard. Better yet, how 'bout I throw you over the fence myself?" He took a step toward her, went to grab her by the arm.
She stepped back out of reach, quick, and brought up a chunky black pistol in both hands. "Don't even." She didn't blink. The pistol didn't shake. She aimed it right at his chest.
It made Mitch hesitate.
He held his hands up slowly. This changed things. But he figured that as long as she kept asking questions, she wouldn't really shoot him. Not yet, anyway.
"Drop the thing," she said.
She pointed with her chin. "The thing."
The spatula. He was still holding it. "All right, fine." He reached over to set it on the grill.
"Drop it. Now."
"Take it easy. This is my favorite spatula." He set it down gently.
"Whatever." She glanced at the open doorway, then back at him. "You know, you don't look much like a scientist."
This kid just kept getting weirder. "Science wasn't my best subject. But I'll tell you what. I'll say 'billions and billions' a couple times. How's that?"
She didn't even hint at a smile. Probably didn't get it. And she was still aiming that funny-looking gun. Mitch didn't recognize it. He figured maybe it was one of those plastic guns, the kind that fooled metal detectors.
He tried a different tactic. "Honey, look. I just got out. Okay?"
"Of prison. You obviously got me mixed up with some other Mitch Turner. There's a lot of us in town. Just look in the damn phone book. I'm not a scientist. I'm not anything."
"Yeah? Well, I'm not your honey."
"Okay, fine. Long as we understand each other, you can put the gun down, huh?" He waited. "No? All right, listen, why don't we get in out of the rain, at least?" That way, Mitch figured, maybe there was a chance Bryce would pull his head out of the computer long enough to hear them and do something. God only knew what. Hopefully not call the cops. That was the last thing he needed, giving the cops an excuse to crawl around his house and find the guns he'd just bought.
She didn't budge. "I want to know why you started Project Archangel."
"Don't play games with me. You're Jocelyn's father. You were in charge of the program."
"Honey, I never been in charge of anything. And that's a good thing. A guy like me takes charge, things get a habit of turning all screwy."
She started to look a little unsure of herself. She glanced back over her shoulder, the way she'd come in. But with the tree limb busted off, there was no climbing back out. She was stuck here.
"So what's your name?" Mitch said.
She looked all around, like she was weighing her options. "Geneva."
"Geneva. That's a place."
"Ha. Ha. No, really, I've never heard that before."
He shrugged. "I'm going inside. You want to come in, you better put the hardware away. You like barbecue ribs?" She didn't answer, so he stepped inside and leaned on the door handle. As she walked by, he got a good look at the gun.
It wasn't real.
It was made out of plastic, for one thing, and a little green light glowed near her thumb. The barrel didn't end in a hole, but a lens, like one of those video game guns Bryce kept up in his room.
Mitch let out a long breath. Every muscle in his body seemed to unclench, and he felt like bursting out with a laugh. At least now he knew what he was dealing with. Some nutball kid with a toy gun.
She looked around the kitchen. "Nice place." The sarcasm was obvious.
He went around to the table and sat down. "Yeah? My brother kept it up while I was inside. All the comic book stuff, the Nintendo in the living room, that's all his. Don't touch it."
"So. Prison. What did you go for?"
"Breaking into people's houses and asking them stupid questions." Mitch picked up the biggest rib on the plate. The steam coming off of it made his eyes water. It looked so good, so charred and spicy and perfect, he had to swallow before he opened his mouth. "I been waiting five years for this rib. You know that? Five freakin' years."
He sank his teeth into it, and for a moment his mouth was overloaded with sensation. It was every bit as good as he hoped. Spicy, but not too hot. Tangy, with a touch of smoke. When he opened his eyes, the girl was still standing there, glaring with eyes thickly lined in black.
Still chewing, he pointed at the plate. "You want one?"
"Why'd you do it?"
"Oh, for the love of . . ." Mitch put the rib down and wiped his mouth. Damn, it was good. And she was ruining it. He talked around a mouthful of barbecue. "Look. I'm going to say this one last time. And that's it. So listen. I'm no scientist. I don't know any angels. And no amount of you standing there giving me the Morticia Addams is gonna change anything. You got that? So you can either get out of here, or sit down and have a rib. Either way, shut up and let me eat. That's the deal."
"Nice performance," she said, a hint of fake sweetness in her voice. "You get an Oscar."
Mitch hung his head. This kid was going to give him indigestion.
He heard Bryce come out of his bedroom and come thumping down the stairs. Please, Mitch prayed, let him be dressed. The last thing he needed to add to this mix was his three-hundred-pound brother walking in wearing tighty-whities and a Superman shirt.
Bryce stopped midway down the stairs. He was wearing pants, thank God.
Bryce looked at the kid, then Mitch. Mitch figured Bryce couldn't see the toy gun from the stairs, not with the way she was holding it down by her hip.
Bryce looked completely at a loss. Not used to visitors. "Who's this?"
"Bryce, this is Paris."
"Geneva," she said.
"Whatever. She was just leaving. You wanna get the door for her?"
She squared her shoulders. "I'm not going anywhere until I get some answers."
"What are you gonna do? Change my channel?"
"You don't want me to shoot you."
"Oh, yes I do. Go ahead." Mitch held his arms open wide. "Come on, you can't miss me from here."
She brought the plastic gun up in both hands.
Bryce gripped the banister like it was going to fall off. "Dude, she's got a gun!"
Mitch sighed. "It's not a gun."
"That's right," Geneva said. "It's a pulse weapon. Just like the one your people designed. It's the only thing that can hurt the Archangel. But it can't kill it. And that's what I need to know."
"You lost me in the middle there."
Slowly, she said, "How do I kill the Archangel?"
Mitch turned to Bryce. "You see what I'm up against?"
Bryce's forehead wrinkled up. "I think she's serious."
"Oh, for the love of God. You." Mitch stood up and came around the table. "Get the hell out of my house. Right now."
She backed up, the gun aimed steady at him. "Don't make me do it."
"You know, this was funny for a little while. Now you're pissing me off." He grabbed her arm.
The world went instantly white, like an insanely bright flashbulb had gone off with him in the middle of it. A bolt of lightning scorched through his body. Time stopped. All of his thoughts crashed into each other in a mad jumble of white heat. His body hung in the air, suspended in the blinding light. Behind him, glass exploded into ghostly crystalline whispers.