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Ten Thousand Suspects by Rayanda
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Genre/Category: Crime, Thriller, Mystery
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Ten Thousand Suspects by Rayanda
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Share in the thrills and spills, murderous mayhem, love and laughter of TEN THOUSAND SUSPECTS, geeky but sexy stolen-art sleuth Rane Lavita's, first case.

A child is abducted, a hiker falls to his death and a man has his throat cut to keep him from revealing secrets that lure Rane, and her close friend into the serpentine underbelly of the brutally lucrative world of pornography and forgery. This is an arena where fakes look extraordinarily real, where love is menacing and tedious realities like baseball caps and innocuous, smiles become sinister weapons in a death-defying struggle to outwit ten thousand suspects. obooko.

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In a few masterful strokes I capture the upthrust and sigh with unadulterated pleasure. Ahh. But fruk, I'm ravenous. One more stroke, and I'll be ready to smack my lips on pretty well anything. The person who said that it's possible to have too much of a good thing must have been the same fool who said that you can't improve upon nature. I turn an admiring gaze from my painting of Mount Rundle's dueling peaks to the monstrous beauty itself, and a flash of light from below the summit ridge catches my eye.

Thought so. Just a pack of climbers advertising to heaven that they've arrived.

Another flash. Followed by sparks.

I grab my binoculars and zero in on three hikers malingering on a buttress ridge. One is sitting, reading a book, while the other two enjoy the view of themselves in a mirror. Too bad it's a clear day. Any old lightning bolt would give them enough of a kick to stop preening themselves long enough to write home:

Hi Bunny Buns! We were up on this mountain that's way bigger than it looks on the telly, believe you me, Love. Crikey, lightning zapped--like totally fried--our credit cards. So could you send….

We'd rather lose our virginity, integrity and sanity than our credit cards. Could be because all bad credit is honored in Hell, that celestial burb on the wrong side of Heaven.

I focus the binoculars on the--Whoa! The rock under my right foot slips out from under me, and I teeter forward on the edge of the rib I'm perched on. I glimpse down at hundreds of feet of sheer vertical ending in a murderous ledge littered with rock coffins. I jump back and keep my obscenities to myself. The mountain never gives the last word to any mortal.

A third flash, this one higher up.

I scan the peaks above the climbers. Nothing. I lower the binoculars, and a shadow plunges through my view.

What the hell?!

I jerk the binoculars down sharply to get whatever it was back into view.

Ah. A boulder bounces off the blue-gray wall of rock before disappearing behind the overhang of another ridge. Intoxicated by their nearness to the divine, those shitterbrains must have kicked

away a piece of the mountain right into the eyes of the lesser gods hovering between them and the earth.

Guess what, Bunny Buns?! We knocked off a piece of the mountain. Blimey, the world's falling apart.

I scan back to the top of the bluff. Only two of the hikers come into view. One with his back to me steps behind a rock, while the other, a hulk of a man in a Homburg and burgeoning green jacket, holds up a camera to shoot him. Guess they can't see anything else worth shooting.

Eyeing the sun-broken rock beneath my feet, I make sure it's secure then go back to my painting and soothe the sky with an ermine brush dipped in azure. A shadow clouds the sky.

I look up.

A hawk.

"Enjoying the view, Rane?" a stranger's voice says over my shoulder.

Turning around and stepping back, I see a man, standing tall and proud like the mountain he's dwarfing behind him. "Not particularly," I say, looking right at him. Although he's wearing casual clothes, his face has a starched quality that effectively masks his intent. Is the sun playing mischief with my eyes, or did someone chop off the top of his head and plunk down a florescent yellow mop?

"The signs in these parts tell you not to mess with the wildlife," I add. "That means everyone and everything that isn't a tourist."

"Including Bambi?" He gives me a secret smile, smarmy in its familiarity.

My words fly by him in the breeze without ruffling him in the least. I flip down the brim of my canvas hat to keep his glare out of my eyes. "How do you know my name?"

"If you don't want anyone to know your crimes, then don't sign your name to them. That's one mother of an ice-cream cone."

Bloody hell, there are just some things in life you can't escape. Go to the ends of the Earth, or to the Moon and turn over any rock. And sure as hell, a critic will pop out. A lot of creeps avoid paying taxes, but it's damned well impossible to avoid being taxed to hell by critics.

Mounting suspicion runs roughshod over my chagrin. He wants something from me. Something that he has no intention of asking for. At least not with mere words.

"If you don't get lost, I'm going to call the cops." I throw down my brush, grab a palette knife and point it at him.

"We're in the wilderness," he says, his eyes catching the glint of the blade.

"We're in an echo chamber crawling with sightseers. One scream, and you'll be buried under an avalanche of tourists."

He steps towards me, a cutesy smile twisting his lips like I have ice-cream smeared on my face and he's not going to let anything stop him from licking it off. The fool's baiting me to use the knife.

"Darien!" a woman's voice echoes around us.

He mouths something incomprehensible as he swings around in the direction of a towering blonde further down the slope. She waves at him, her long, thin limbs gyrating like an agitated spider's.

He signals her to wait. Then as he turns back to me, I launch my knuckles straight into his venomous smile. Before he can retaliate, my boot helps him down onto the rock face. He lets his body rag doll into my carryall bag filled with painting supplies.

Laughing like a lunatic with a mind-blowing secret, he springs to his feet and charges at her instead of me.

Jerk. Dumb, dumb, fruking dumb jerk. What was all that macho crap about? Why did I have to go and sock him? I could have diffused his ego in a way that would have helped me learn what he was really after. So much for a quiet day of meditating, painting and strolling amongst the fragile yet ruthless, unforgiving beauty of an alpine meadow.

In my beater, I rattle and rumble down the sinuous road to the highway leading back to Calgary. Suddenly, the engine starts to sputter, and I swerve to a stop. I stomp my foot and have to retrieve it from the hole in the floor. "You rotten piece of garbage!" I scream, clutching the steering wheel and forcing it to vibrate along with me. I get out, check under the hood, take a flying kick at the fender then get on my cell.

"Yo, Chanlee, you witch. You said my beater would choke on me. The regulator's shot, so the alternator's going bonkers." I try with unrelenting futility to kick some life into it. "Coming with me to the unclaimed vehicle auction on Saturday?"

"Can't. I'm working Friday night. But you're going to miss your workout for the fifth day in a row. Keep this up, Rane, and you'll flunk your physical again. Buck up, kiddo, you want to take a, 'Yes sir, she's a fighting machine.' to Europe with you, don't you?

Without it, you're not going to be sexy enough to nab the clients who'll pay you obscene retainers to find their stolen fakes."

"Whaddya mean I'm going to miss my workout? It's not you who has to haul her butt back up the mountain to get help."

"I'll send Bruno to give you a lift."

"So you're on with him again?" I say. His name grates like the sound of my faithless junk heaps before they die on me.