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by Mark Nykanen
Description: "Dan Brown meets Al Gore" says one reviewer of PRIMITIVE. "Gripping" and "profound" say others. Spine-tingling intrigue, environmental doomsday secrets, a beautiful, kidnapped fashion model, her tough, activist daughter, a sadistic bounty hunter, and worldwide suspense combine in this story of a brutal but idealistic neo-primitive cult battling Big Oil and corrupt government factions. Sonya Adams steps into a limo at a Montana airport expecting to be driven to her next modeling assignment. Minutes later she realizes the horrifying truth: she's been tricked and kidnapped. Plunged into the world of a neo-primitive survivalist cult in the snow-locked mountains of the Pacific Northwest, Sonya becomes a pawn in their mission to reveal a doomsday environmental secret--a secret the government and the energy corporations will kill to keep. Former NBC News Correspondent Mark Nykanen is a four-time Emmy winner and an Edgar-winning documentarian. Now, as the author of acclaimed thrillers including HUSH, SEARCH ANGEL and THE BONE PARADE, he takes readers on a chilling journey into intrigue and terror. Visit the author at www.marknykanen.com
eBook Publisher: BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books, 2009 Trade Papperback
eBookwise Release Date: September 2009
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [504 KB]
Reading time: 311-436 min.
"Dan Brown meets Al Gore"--King Syndicate "Gripping ... a profound, cautionary tale." Amazon.com top reviewer Harriet Klausner "Primitive captures the raw and rugged alpine environment...a furiously-paced thriller about a mother and daughter, and the radical environmentalists who want to use them to deliver a desperate message to the world." Christopher Van Tilburg, author of Mountain Rescue Doctor Praise for Mark Nykanen's previous novels: "Bone Parade goes down easy. Real easy." Entertainment Weekly "[The creepiest page-turned since The Silence of the Lambs." US Weekly "Nykanen has the style and the ability to grab the reader by the throat." The Salem Statesman Journal
Finally, some down time, was Sonya's first thought on the day she was abducted, as she awakened to the last hours of simple, sweet normalcy that she would ever know.
She rolled away from the light leaking through the mini-blinds of her heritage home in a historic Denver neighborhood. Sonya had been booked solid for the past two weeks, and this morning offered the rare luxury of sleeping in after working until ten thirty last night on a major magazine ad for Nordica ski boots. She snuggled the comforter around her neck as the phone began to ring softly.
Dutifully, she picked up the receiver and checked caller I.D. Chatwin Modeling Agency. Then she did her best at nine a.m. to sound awake, alert, and, most of all, young and energetic. Sprightly.
Her voice cracked on, "Yes?"
"Sorry-sorry-sorry, but I gotta wake you up because you are the flavor of the month."
Jackson, Jackson, Jackson, she thought, turn down the flattery.
"Are you up for Bozeman, Montana, honeypants? It's a last-minute thing. The art director says he's gotta have you."
"Hold on." She sat up, covering the mouthpiece to clear her throat, trying to sound if not youthful, at least alive. "How last-minute is it?"
"Not that." A pause. "Say an 8:40 flight tonight?"
"Sure." She rose from the bed, arched her lower back, and heard a distinct pop that felt good.
"You still having trouble with your email? Because I tried sending you the shoot schedule and it came back."
"Yes." Waking up. "I'll just come by." Downtown Denver was only ten minutes away. "I've got to drop off my laptop anyway."
"The shoot starts early tomorrow."
"How early is 'early?'"
"Oh, you'll definitely be catching the sunrise."
Sonya hadn't seen that for a while. She opened the blinds, and noticed that the last of the red and orange leaves had fallen on her quaint, snow-dusted street. That's when the memory of her daughter's birthday jolted her, as if it had been hiding in the back of her mind waiting for the right moment to leap out. Much as Darcy herself had been known to jump out of her shadowy life with a suddenness that had been shocking to her mother.
Sonya sighed. Twenty-three years ago, to the day, she'd given birth to her only child, an extraordinarily difficult daughter, but also an amazing--and passionate--young woman. On Sunday, she'd left Darcy a phone invitation to a birthday dinner. Now it was Thursday, and she hadn't heard back from her. No surprise there, which was the saddest part of all--realizing that even though her expectations of Darcy had sunk to heartbreaking depths, they could still be exceeded by reality.
So at 8:40 tonight Sonya would hit the road again. Grab the work while you can--the model's mantra. You never knew when you'd hit a dry patch that would turn into an endless professional desert. Always a worry when you're a middle-aged model. Forty-four, to be precise. Advertisers needed mature faces to sell products to aging baby-boomers, but not too mature.
She hadn't asked about the client. Most likely a catalogue shoot or a newspaper ad. Maybe a billboard. Or a new product. Her smiling face had also adorned packaging for everything from yoga mats to orthopedic pillows (the two were not unrelated, in her experience).
She fixed a cup of chai tea and settled at her vanity to do her face, studying the fine lines that had formed above her lips.
And here you thought you were getting too old for pleats. You just didn't know that they'd show up on your face.
She saved her lips for last, smoothing on a sienna-colored gloss, and strode back into the bedroom to slip on a silk and rayon jacket with a jacquard vine pattern. Fall colors. Then she gave herself a strict once-over before a full-length mirror, straightening the mandarin collar on her crisp white shirt before judging herself fit enough to walk in the door of the agency.
Chatwin Modeling Agency occupied a spacious suite on the fifth floor of one of Denver's oldest and most distinguished buildings. With its stone-and-mortar, ornamental turrets and tall, mullioned windows shimmering in the snappy, late autumn sun, it looked as much like a fortress as any castle Sonya had ever seen. A broad band of stained glass depicting Saint George slaying the dragon arched over the red brick entryway.
The elevator opened to Jackson pacing behind an elegant black-enamel reception desk that swept away from the far wall of a brightly lit lobby, appointed with teal leather chairs, brushed steel end tables, and fuchsia walls. Jackson remained on his feet most of the day, working the phone and pausing only to tap away at a keyboard or to direct the work of his two young female assistants.
Aspiring models waited on both sides of the lobby, balancing portfolios on their laps and flipping through magazines, bringing Joni Mitchell to mind, singing about lots of pretty people
"...reading Vogue, reading Rolling Stone..."
Lots of pretty faces on the walls, too. Hers was sandwiched between photographs of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit star and a plus-size model famous for her three brief lines in an ad for a popular ice cream bar: "This is real pleasure. And I won't deny myself. Ever!"
Both of them had moved on to New York agencies. Sonya had seen other models come and go, less illustriously in most cases. Her own photo had been updated yearly for the past two decades. She wondered how many more times she'd sit before Ms. Katie Chatwin's camera before her features disappeared from these walls forever. If adulation of youth really was the cold hard face of fashion, then every month saw more of her future melting away.
Jackson flaunted his own brand of eye candy: Tall, lean, handsome in an overtly angular manner that suited him at twenty-nine, but cursed with an upper lip so sparse that his head shots had never landed him a reputable agency. Now he directed the daily flow of models and tended to Ms. Chatwin herself, who referred to him as her Girl Friday, a tired moniker that he embraced fully.
"Here you go, honeypants."
Sonya skimmed the travel arrangements to make sure there were no surprises (that's the last thing you wanted on a shoot).
Bozeman. Alaska Air. 8:40 p.m. Return tomorrow 6:25 p.m.
Flipping the page, she noted her day rate: $1,500. Pretty much the top of the food chain for a middle-age model in these parts. Scanning further, she saw that the client was The Frontier Ahead catalogue (buckskin jackets and western skirts, Navajo blankets and silver bracelets). They'd plucked her from the cyberspace cattle call on the agency website. All the particulars for all the world to see: Sonya Adams. 5'10". Size 6. Bust: 36 inches Waist: 27 inches Hips: 36 inches Shoe: 8. Eyes: Brown. Hair: Brown.
A near-perfect figure, but she thought she'd probably nabbed the job with her smile. Sonya wasn't coy about her assets and liabilities. The smile made her appear healthy, wholesome, "Bright as a peppermint Altoid," in the memorable words of her favorite art director.
"Katie busy?" As long as she was down here she'd like to slip in and see her agent.
"She is. New girl. Hot. But don't worry, she's a petite. Name's Taffeta. Don't you just love it? Mobile, Alabama." Said as if that explained everything. "Why? Is there something I can do for you?"
"I just wanted to talk to her about my daughter." Katie Chatwin called Darcy, "A diamond in the rough." Sonya still held out hope that her girl might try the modeling business. Maybe even end up liking it. "It can wait."
She spotted the smile starting to creep across Jackson's face, but he stopped short of using his pet name for Darcy, "Little Miss Makeover."
Bizarre to have a daughter so notorious for her appearance that she'd earned a slew of unflattering nicknames over the past several years, especially when you made your living with your looks. And not just looks. Sonya had achieved this success by having a predictably cheerful demeanor, while Darcy had gained her reputation by using harsh means--and behavior--to create a much starker image.
As chance would have it, her daughter rang her cell as she stepped back onto the elevator.
Take a breath.
Which she did, twice.
"Happy birthday, sweetheart."
"You still want me over for dinner?"
"Yes, of course..."
"The only uncertainty you hear is that a job just came up. I've got a flight tonight, but if you could come over at five we could probably do it?"
Sonya had been negotiating with this kid since she'd learned to talk, but four o'clock would never be enough time to get ready. "I'm sorry, it's got to be five."
"Remember what I'm eating."
"I know." She tried to keep impatience from bubbling over. And almost told Darcy to forget it, that you don't call me at the last minute. But a big part of the challenge she'd always faced in parenting Darcy had been knowing where to draw the line. Sonya still wasn't sure of the answer so she tended to err on the side of kindness, and often felt like a fool. "Okay, five," she said.
Look, you'll do dinner, she told herself. It'll be quick, and you'll be on your way to Bozeman. It'll be what it'll be. What it's been for too long now.
She stared at her watch as the elevator opened to the ground floor, already gripped by panic.
Forget the laptop. Get a move on.
By the time she got home she had three bags full of produce and a bouquet of flowers. A gift for Darcy was always problematic, but maybe she'd like the lilies. They were truly lovely.
Two hours later she'd worked the food processor so furiously that she expected to see a spike in her utility bill. But this was Darcy's birthday, so it would be a raw food fest: mock salmon pate, which bore as much resemblance to the real thing as it did to Milk Duds; carrocado mush, a blend of carrots, avocados, and dulse (basically seaweed, but "harvested from virgin tidal pools") and sprouted quinoa, which appeared a little too alive when she globbed it into a serving bowl.
Sonya wiped up the pits and peelings sliming every surface, loaded the dishwasher, and drew herself a bath, spritzing it liberally with lavender oil.
After lighting a scented candle and turning the Jacuzzi on low, she lay back, relaxing into the padded headrest.
And fell asleep.
She woke with a start at twenty to five, rose from the tub like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, and dried off so fast she left a towel burn on her bottom.
Sonya dashed into the bedroom and threw her clothes back on. Looked herself over in the full-length mirror and checked her face. It'll do. Stage one of Darcy triage was complete.
Stage two came when she packed her carry-on. She'd had to do this too many times in the midst of a hellacious argument with her daughter, and been left having to buy a hairdryer, eye makeup, underwear, or some other overlooked item on the road. Pack now, pay less later.
Sonya wished that she could have reacted less harshly, but Darcy had never seemed to understand that her mom was supporting her with no help from her feckless father.
Stage three came when Sonya fortified herself with a glass of wine.
The front doorbell sounded as she took another sip of sauvignon. Her hand froze with the glass inches from her lips.
More, she barked at herself with the kind of urgency normally associated with a 911 call. She took a mouthful, then smoothed the front of her slacks and headed calmly to the door as the opening notes of Pachelbel's Canon in D Major rose for the second time.
"It would help if you'd give me a goddamn key."
In response, Sonya managed a greeting and a hug, reaching out in word and deed to put aside Darcy's profane and familiar complaint, and received in return a stiff whiff of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms.
"Look at you, twenty-three. Happy birthday."
"Thanks, pork chop."
A term of endearment at one time. Now? Sonya honestly had no idea. Maybe it meant Meat Eater. Maybe, "You're a pig, Mom." Don't ask.
Darcy shrugged off her mother's hand and a dark wool jacket, then whipped her knitted cap across the room, where it landed with handsome accuracy on the arm of a tufted blue couch.
Her hair fell in clumps to her shoulder. Sonya found herself reaching for the tangled mess.
"Don't," Darcy warned. "I'm letting it go. I want dreads."
Dreadlocks. Of course. As predictable as her tetchiness. Dreads, like the ones festering on that white guy's head at a most unforgettable shoot two months ago. He'd had a bone handle knife, of all things, poking out of his locks of hair like an accessory. It had been a newspaper ad for McFaddins Fashions, a shot that had turned into an increasingly popular poster well beyond and outside of the original ad. The full-page spread had featured Sonya in a linen pants suit and pearls casting her most censorious look down at the neo-primitive, as he'd described himself, crouching at her feet in a loincloth ... and that's all, unless you were inclined to include the tattoos and piercings that had covered his entire upper body, from his neck to his navel, his deltoids to his derrière.
"Darcy, I wish you wouldn't get dreadlocks--"
"Not now. I'm not in the mood. I'm majorly PMSing."
"--because you have such lovely hair." When it's not a tangled, unwashed mess and dyed all colors of death. But again, those most chosen words remained unspoken, as they often must for a mother.
Darcy might not have heard them anyway, because she'd followed the flight of her hat to the couch before veering into the kitchen to root through the refrigerator for a Corona (she ate raw food except for beer and tequila). It was her birthday, so Sonya had stocked up.
Sonya pointed to the fruit basket.
Darcy fondled three of them before slicing up the ripest with such professional dispatch--she bartended nightly at a place named Rio deGenerate--that for the first time in Sonya's life she actually felt sorry for a piece of fruit. Her daughter stuffed the wedge into the bottle and took a swig that lasted several seconds, then eyed her mother.
Her mother eyed her right back, the better not to notice the piercings: eyebrows, nose, ears (half a dozen in each ... at last count), tongue and, reportedly, breasts, labia (major and minor), and the worst, by far, two tiny titanium barbells through the bridge of her nose, which gave Sonya's beautiful child the unmistakably deranged look of a bride of Frankenstein.
"I'm gonna do it," Darcy said.
It, in this context with this girl at this time was as loaded as two simple letters could possibly get. Did it refer to dropping the seedy job, the "art" classes (held in a squatter's loft), and the druggie friends, including her boyfriend, Kodiak, and their housemate, Lotus Land?
Or did it mean she'd finally return to school to get a Masters in Fine Arts?
If only, Sonya would think moments later, though Darcy's revelation wasn't absent of all artistic considerations:
"I'm gonna get inked. Finally."
"Inked," Sonya said in a tone that spoke more of incredulity than ignorance.
"Yep." Darcy pulled off her sweater, unveiling a ratty, "recycled" sleeveless camisole, once peach, perhaps, but now broadly stained and washed-out. "I'm gonna get a big tattoo for right here," stroking the whole of her bare shoulder like it was a pet.
Don't, Sonya warned herself. Not a word, not a single word. She knew in the pre-dawn of her emotions that even a lone critical note would buttress her daughter's decision to further disfigure herself, for that was the only view Sonya had on this subject. Piercings? Ugly as they were--and here her eyes rose to those belligerent-looking barbells in the bridge of Darcy's pert nose--the holes would eventually seal up. But a tattoo?
"A snake in the grass." Darcy said, "with its head coming up right here." Her thin, graceful fingers circled a patch of skin right below her ear.
"You'll be in turtlenecks the rest of your life," flew from Sonya. Dismayed not so much by Darcy's huge smile as by her own inability to restrain herself.
"I'll wear my apple earrings with it."
Sonya, still in shock, added bewilderment to her ever-expressive face.
"The Garden of Eden. Don't you get it?" Darcy grinned.
* * * *
Dinner went as well as Sonya could have expected, given Darcy's opening gambit and her dietary demands.
Now it was time for the cake, a mound of raw carrot clippings with almond "icing."
Sonya planted the candles in the concoction and watched them immediately begin to lean over, Tower of Pisa-style, so she jammed them in another half inch before firing them up. She carried the gleaming, orange and brown mass to the table singing Happy Birthday in French, a family tradition since Darcy had entered the third grade of the Denver International School. The girl's facility with her second tongue far surpassed her mother's, but the last time Sonya had tried to get away with singing Happy Birthday in English, Darcy had been sixteen and had screeched, "No, Mom, you ruined it." (But in French, of course, not that a translation had been necessary.) And, well, that had been the end of that. Bonne Fete A Toi it would be, qui-qui.
"Thanks," Darcy said as Sonya set the cake down in front of her.
She closed her eyes and could have been a pre-teen again for all the simple delight she squeezed into her face while making a wish.
As she blew out the candles, Sonya's hand settled lightly on her bare, blank shoulder, and Darcy squeezed it gently, an act of kindness so unexpected that it left her mother startled, shaken, and more wary than ever.
What's that tell you? Sonya asked herself later as she backed down her driveway. She was so nice to me there for a while, even thanked me for the flowers. It's like she'd just heard I had cancer or something.
And then she'd wanted to talk. Of all the days.
Sonya glanced at her watch and moved rapidly from surface streets to the freeway, darting through the last of Denver's drive-time traffic. One more quick turn took her into the airport's long-term parking, where she retrieved her carry-on from the back of the car.
Is that snow?
The cold damp spot on her cheek turned out to be rain. She hadn't noticed the clouds moving in, or the terminal up ahead, which bore the unlikely appearance of a tent, as if it might have rambled nomadically across the Front Range before settling here.
The strange design no longer shocked her, and she wondered if there'd come a time when a snake on Darcy's lovely neck would seem as normal.
Less than an hour after boarding, she landed in Bozeman. As she rolled her carry-on past security, she spotted her driver, a young woman in a white shirt and dark tie with a chauffeur's cap pulled low on her forehead. She held a plain piece of cardboard with Sonya Adams. It looked like a flap torn from the top of a packing box that had been scribbled on with red crayon.
Never a good omen when the client's penchant for penny-pinching begins with the modest cost of a neat sign.
What gives? Sonya wondered. Major catalogue companies had never been this cheesy.
At least they'd assigned a driver to her. And they certainly hadn't scrimped on the car: a white stretch limo. Town cars were much more typical, so no complaints there. A chance to stretch her long legs after the cramped seating on the plane.
Fat, cold raindrops pelted the dark windows as they pulled away from the terminal. Sonya checked her watch and figured she could be in bed by ten-thirty.
Several minutes later the driver pulled onto the shoulder by a stand of conifers, their wet bark shiny in the headlights.
"A warning light," the chauffeur said after lowering the vinyl privacy panel that separated them. "Got a phone?"
"Sure, but don't they give you one?"
"Yeah, but I forgot it."
Sonya dug out her new Nokia and scooted up to the opening. The driver took the cell with her eyes on the rearview mirror, never bothering to thank her.
As Sonya sat back down the electronic lock sounded for the front passenger door. She looked up to see a man racing from the trees to slide in beside the driver. With a start, Sonya realized that she recognized him.
He spoke without turning around. "You're locked in and you're not getting out. Don't try a thing or I'm coming back there."
"What's going on?" Sonya tried to sound outraged, but her hands, arms, her whole body had begun to shake.
The privacy panel rose, isolating her as the driver sped back onto the road.
Sonya lunged for the door. Locked. She stabbed the lock button with her finger and yanked on the handle again, then spun around when she heard a truck coming up behind them. She waved frantically, mouthed "Help, help," before realizing that the driver couldn't see her through the limo's smoked glass.
And no one would miss her at the shoot because this wasn't a modeling job. This was a trap, and she'd flown right into it. And the driver had duped her into surrendering her only means of calling for help.
But why me?
She hit the switch to lower the privacy panel. Nothing happened. In a sudden fury, she pounded the black vinyl. It started down, and she backed away, wishing she'd left it alone.
The young man stared at her. He looked the same as when she'd seen him before: bone-handle knife rising like a hair stick from his balled-up dreadlocks. The last time, he'd been crouching at her feet, posing for that McFaddins ad, affecting a feral taunt on his face.
He looked deadly now. And then he pulled the blade from his hair.