Salvation Beach

A Novel

By Scott L. Allen

When John Drake, a grieving Silicon Valley entrepreneur, witnesses a man drive a Lamborghini into the ocean for no apparent reason, he’s thrown into a world of Hollywood stars, political insiders, and criminals — all after a briefcase full of secrets.
Drake manages to stay a step ahead until he recovers the briefcase and is drawn into a trap at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada, where he learns you do get a second chance at happiness, provided you can stay alive. 


Enjoy this four-chapter preview of the novel. If you like what you see, Salvation Beach is available on Kindle or paperback from Amazon.


Chapter One

We all betray our dead by forgetting.

The thought startled me, appearing unbidden as I sat alone on the jetty in the last of the twilight.

A crescent moon hung over a black sheet of ocean. I closed my eyes and saw an image of my wife the way she’d once been, the curve of her cheek, the melody in her eyes, the smile she blessed me with when she thought I wasn’t looking.

My friend Erin says we can’t be free of the past until we’ve paid for our sins. We’ve never talked about what happened with my wife, but Erin’s intuitive, and she may be right. On the one-year anniversary of my arrival in Southern California, and 18 months after I’d kissed my wife and said my final goodbye, all I knew for sure was that memories of her still beat in my blood.

I cracked a can of Guinness and listened to the roar of a car out on Pacific Coast Highway. Below me, the water rippled with a tidal push, eddying against rocks and swirling around the neck of a wide-eyed doll wedged in a crevice. I stepped down and grabbed it, glad there were no witnesses. Who rescues cleverly fashioned plastic?

The high-performance engine sounded again, more insistent this time.

A line of pelicans skimmed the breakers near the beach. Behind them in the gloaming, a couple strolled the sand, their laughter carrying on a breeze fragrant with salt and seaweed. I drank some beer and hoped they’d never learn the hard truth I had, that our lives can be undone in a moment, consigning us to a kind of purgatory we escape only if we can.

The car was closer now, engine revving. The jetty protected the southern end of the harbor and hosted Cove Road, a straight stretch of asphalt that ran out to a circle turnaround with a small park in the middle. I ignored the car until it blew by me in a blur, the driver just a silhouette.

There wasn’t much road left. I expected to see the flash of brake lights and hear the squeal of tires.

Instead, the car accelerated behind a wall of sound and hit the curb at the end of the circle with a crunch that registered in my bones. Then it went airborne, glinting and sailing high over dark water like an image from a dream, engine droning, wheels rotating skyward. A few seconds later, I heard a boom and saw a splash out near a blinking channel buoy.

My ears rang with silence. Had I imagined the whole sequence?

Someone at the turnaround screamed, jolting me. I scrambled over weathered rock, jumped up to the road, and broke into a sprint. The smell of high-octane fuel rode the wind. My heart was pounding as I approached the park.

A brunette in a long coat and jeans was standing in a pool of light, staring toward the ocean. A blonde sobbed beside her. There were two wine glasses and a bottle of Cakebread Reserve on a picnic table.

Out on the breakwater near the harbor entrance, a piece of bumper flashed. If someone was trapped in a sinking car, time was running out.

I tore off my shirt, kicked out of my Topsiders, stumbled and hopped from one foot to the other getting out of my jeans. That left me in nothing but briefs, covered in goose bumps.

I looked at the women. “Either of you carrying a cell phone?”

The blonde kept crying. The brunette turned to me and shook her head.

I grabbed mine from my jeans pocket and tossed it to her. She made a nice catch. Early thirties, features like you see on the covers of glamour magazines.

“Call nine-one-one,” I said. “My name’s John Drake.” Her expression changed. A look of surprise maybe, but I didn’t have time to ponder it. “What’s yours?”

“Riley.”

“Okay, Riley. Watch me and show them where I am when they get here. I’m counting on you.”

She nodded, took a deep breath, punched numbers into my phone.

I’d surfed a head-high point break earlier in the day, comfortable in a three-two Quiksilver wet suit. It was a northwest swell, water temperature below 50, which meant I’d start going hypothermic in 20 minutes. My dive watch said 8:16. Out by 9:00, no matter what.

I scanned the ocean, trying to recall the car’s trajectory and looking for the glow of submerged headlights. Nothing but gleaming water. I marked a light on the far coast 10 degrees west of the channel buoy and dropped in. The ocean stole my breath.

I surged forward and started swimming toward the light, hoping I was right about where the car had landed.

It had been mid-tide and rising when I’d hauled my board out at 4:45 that afternoon, which meant it was close to high tide now. How deep would the car be? Probably no more than 20 feet.

I picked up the pace, pulling and kicking hard, calculating elapsed time. Thirty seconds on my sprint to the curb, another 30 getting my clothes off and talking to Riley, a 200-yard swim that would take at least three minutes. Then I had to find the car and dive.

The math was ugly, and my chances of locating the vehicle were slim. The cold invaded my thighs, penetrated the muscles of my chest and shoulders, numbed my face. The smartest move would be to swim back while I still could, but I had to try.


Chapter Two

Lieutenant Leahy handed me a cup of coffee. He wore a trench coat over a suit with an Ocean Institute pin in the lapel. He had a tanned face, thinning hair combed back, and eyes that didn’t miss much. I’d told him my story twice, stammering and coughing through it, so the coffee was the least he could do.

I nodded my thanks and pulled the rescue blanket tighter. The coffee smelled great, but I was trembling too much to sip it.

Police cars and fire trucks lined Cove Road, engines idling, lights flashing, radios crackling. Harbor Patrol boats with bright search beams ran grid patterns out where I’d been swimming.

My dive watch said it was only 9:33. A lot had happened in a short time. I’d emerged from the ocean into a different world.

“We have divers in the water,” the lieutenant said. “You’re lucky they’re not looking for your body too.”

“They find the car?” I asked. I couldn’t talk at all when they’d hauled me out, bleary and spent, close to a place you don’t return from.

“The car, but not the driver. Odd place to park your Lamborghini.”

Odd indeed.

“One of the divers just got the plate number,” he added. “We’re running it now.”

My ability to analyze was returning as I thawed. “Aren’t you a little too senior to respond to traffic accidents, Lieutenant?”

“The woman who called nine-one-one… you know who she is?”

I shook my head.

“Well, I respond when it’s someone like her. Chief’s on his way, matter of fact.”

His coat started to play “Moon River.” Why not? It had been one of those nights. He grinned and pulled out his cell phone. “My wife loves this song,” he said, stepping away to take the call.

An OCTV News van pulled in next to an ambulance. Behind a group of bystanders, the window on the passenger side of a Cadillac Escalade slid down. A man cloaked in shadow gazed toward me, eyes points of pale light, cigarette tip glowing. For a moment, I felt like I was looking at a place inside myself that I didn’t want to admit existed. Then the window went up and the car continued on its way, leaving me wondering whether an overactive imagination was one of the effects of hypothermia.

“I can’t believe you went into that water.”

It was Riley, the woman who got police chiefs and lieutenants out to the beach after hours. Something quickened in me as we regarded each other.

“I’ve had better ideas.”

She responded with something close to a smile and held out my clothes. “You ready for these?”

No way was I going to try to get dressed in front of her, shaking and fumbling like an idiot. “Not quite.”

She did a better job with another smile and draped my pants and shirt over an arm. I liked the way she did it.

“You okay?” I asked.

“What was he doing?”

I’d assumed the driver was male. She must have caught a glimpse of him as he went by.

“He never hit the brakes,” I said.

She bit her bottom lip and hugged my clothes to her chest. I liked that, too.

A tall guy in a good suit left a group of officials he’d been huddling with and strode toward us. I recognized him as he got closer. Chandler King, candidate for governor. Little donkeys adorned his tie. What was he doing here?

Riley turned and he took her in his arms.

“Thank God you’re safe,” he said, voice deep and resonant. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”

She buried her cheek against his chest. He held her and gazed at me. He looked curious at first, and then his expression tightened into something less pleasant.

I grinned, thinking about my clothes between them.

Lieutenant Leahy returned. He nodded at me, shoved his hands into his pockets, and waited until King broke the embrace with Riley.

“Sir,” he said. “You’re not gonna believe who the Lamborghini’s registered to.”


Chapter Three

I kissed the woman who would become my wife for the first time on our second date in a sparkling city on the cusp of fall, kissed her with a soaring heart and no idea of how quickly our seasons would pass, or how soon winter would separate us.

The buzzing of my cell phone separated us again. I tried to stay in the dream world where she still lived, but the taste of her lips faded when I opened my eyes.

The digital clock on the nightstand said 2:24 a.m. I grabbed the phone and checked Caller ID. Restricted number.

“Yeah?” I said.

“I’m looking forward to working with you should circumstances require it,” a man said.

He had an Irish accent, and his words were edged with menace. The line went dead before I could respond. Wrong number. Had to be.

Shadow inked the room. I swung my feet down to hardwood and shivered, not completely recovered from my evening adventure. When I’d left at 10:00, they still hadn’t found the driver. Stupid stunt, going into that water. Lieutenant Leahy was right. With a little of the wrong kind of luck, they would have been looking for my body too. I stared into pooled darkness, pictured my wife’s face, then realized with a start I was seeing Riley.

I wrapped myself in a blanket and went out to the balcony. The smell of the ocean rode the updraft, kelp and iodine and a hint of murky funk from exposed tide pools.

The moon had risen higher while I’d slept. The harbor spread out beneath me, silent and still, water glimmering in the channels, boats nested in orderly rows. The harbor was bounded on one side by the northern headlands, massive and dark, and by Cove Road and the jetty on the other.

A sliding glass door snicked and Erin appeared. The partition between our balconies ended three feet short of the railing, which minimized privacy.

Her hair was the color of dark honey, her features fine and delicate.

I adjusted my blanket and rested my forearms on the railing, looking down at the tree-shrouded frontage road 200 feet below. The sheer drop put a tingle in my gut.

She asked, “Ever think you could fly?”

I worry about Erin. She’s smart and funny and tough, but there’s something ephemeral about her.

I shook my head. “The human body has the glide ratio of a rock, so it’s not a real good idea.”

“What are you wearing under that blanket?”

Not so long ago the question would have rattled me. I knew her better now. “Same thing you’re wearing under that nightshirt.”

“White thong panties?”

I chuckled. “Don’t you ever sleep?”

“About as much as you do. You alone tonight?”

I nodded.

“Want to come in for a beer?” she asked.

“Where’s Tiny?”

“Still at the Wonder House.”

“He might not like coming home to find me sitting on his couch drinking his beer.”

“It’s not his beer, and it doesn’t have to be the couch.”

I grinned and she laughed, a sound I loved. We both knew it wasn’t an offer.

A wall of fog pushed in from the ocean. Past the headlands, sea, sky and coast disappeared in a luminous haze. The company I’d built and the home I’d left were 400 miles farther north.

She lit an American Spirit cigarette. “You should have seen it earlier. Cops and fire trucks, sirens and lights. I heard someone drove into the water.”

“A Lamborghini.”

“I also heard you went in after him.”

“Word travels fast.”

She smoked and tapped her cigarette on the railing. The breeze swallowed the ash. “You have too much free time. Running and surfing and dating new women isn’t a life. You need a job.”

“I have one. I just haven’t done it for a while.”

“They pushing you to come back?”

“They are.”

“And?”

“There’s a difference between a job and purpose. You also forgot the time I spend at Gracie Jiu-jitsu.”

“Tiny says you got him with a triangle choke.”

Tiny and I had been studying mixed martial arts with a professional fighter from Brazil. I was in the best shape of my life, rope-like at 200 pounds. Tiny weighed 260 and was explosive as hell on the mat.

“Dumb luck,” I said.

“No such thing.” She smoked and gazed toward Cove Road. “They winched it out around midnight.”

I was glad I hadn’t stayed for that. For some reason, I didn’t like the idea of seeing the car tethered at the end of a steel cable, water sluicing out of its compartments.

“It was registered to a commercial real estate developer,” she said.

I didn’t ask where she’d gotten the information. A division of my company provides network security services, and Erin works magic online, materializing inside protected data bases and then disappearing without a trace. We’ve learned to avoid the subject.

She tucked a tendril of hair behind an ear. “His body was trapped under the car, which is why it took so long to locate him. Might be interesting to find out why he did it.”

“It’s a police matter now.”

“His name was Preston Darling. Once upon a time, he and Chandler King were business partners.” Her smile was knowing and shrewd. I waited for the next piece.

“Riley St. Claire is King’s fiancé,” she said. “Probably just a coincidence, her being there.”

Coincidences are a mathematical certainty, but I was pretty sure this wasn’t one.

“Forget it,” she said. “Only assholes drive Lamborghinis anyway.”

A heron cruised into the top of a jacaranda tree draped in shadow. Out past the harbor, a patch of water rimmed by fog shimmered like dark tinsel.

She took a last drag on the cigarette and twisted the tip on the railing.

“I’ll pay you a thousand dollars to quit,” I said.

She was quiet a moment. Considering my offer, I hoped.

“Why are you down here, Drake?”

It was a question she’d never asked. I could have told her the truth, that you get lost and find your way back if you can, but there are times when silence is better.


Chapter Four

The next morning I ran the waterline under a brightening sky. Waves crashed on the beach and raced over the sand in glassy sheets. I liked guessing how far up they’d come, angling as close as I could without getting wet. It helped pass the miles. I’d only been wrong once, a hundred yards back, and my Nikes were still sloshing. You don’t beat the ocean, even at silly games.

The headlands loomed half a mile away. A flock of gulls pecked and screeched between me and the cliff. I picked up my pace at the beach club as usual, leaning forward and working my arms. The birds heard me coming. There were hundreds of them, and they squawked and strutted. The closest gulls hopped into the air just before I ran into them.

Wings full of morning light beat like drums. I felt feathery touches, caught flashes of open beaks and blinking eyes, watched birds tuck their feet as they rose. For a few amazing seconds I flew with them, my stride long and fluid, my breathing rhythmic, and I knew how the driver of that car must have felt, arcing high and floating free.

The gulls streamed out over the water. Spent feathers fluttered down like snow. Salt stung my eyes and the smell of bird shit and rotting fish surrounded me. My heart pounded and my gut cramped and lactic acid worked its evil magic in my legs, but I sprinted all out, willing my body to stay relaxed.

I took it easy on the way back. At Cove Road, I stepped up to the asphalt and jogged out to the circle, thinking about the Lamborghini’s final burst.

Kelp and seaweed littered the jetty. Two men were standing near the bait shop, a skinny, white-haired guy in a gray suit and a green tie, and a big guy in a leather coat. Something about them bothered me.

I hiked out onto the rocks and gazed toward where the car must have landed. The water looked like beaten silver. Catalina Island hovered on the horizon. If there was anything else to see, I missed it.

The men intercepted me where the jetty met the turnaround. The old guy coughed. “Nice morning for a run.” His words were touched with the cadences of Ireland.

“It is.”

He gave me a shadowed grin and slipped a cigarette out of a shiny case. His companion leaned in and flicked a lighter.

“This is Morris,” the old guy said. “You can call me Seamus. Buy you a cup of coffee?”

Morris had hooded eyes, brows notched with scar tissue, and an expression that hinted at familiarity with the language of pain and fear. Did they drive a Cadillac Escalade?

“Already had my coffee.” It was true. Two mugs of Ethiopian dark on my balcony at dawn, with a banana from Chile and a protein bar from Trader Joe’s.

Morris frowned and rubbed the knuckles on his right hand. Seamus shook his head.

“Wrong answer?” I asked.

They both glanced around. A young couple in Pacific Sun sweatshirts had wandered onto the rocks. Three older women were standing on the grass near the picnic tables, talking and pointing at the water. Accident sites are like that, drawing the curious for days.

Seamus grinned again, cigarette dangling from his lips, hair wispy, eyes pale and lifeless. “Another time, then.”

Not if I could help it. I nodded and went on my way. I didn’t need to look back to know they were watching me. I wasn’t sure, but Seamus could have been the guy who made the call to me the previous evening. He would have needed my name and cell phone number. He also would have needed a reason, which I couldn’t figure.

I jogged Cove Road, legs stiff and heavy, and decided to take the stairs up the cliff rather than running the road, which climbs the headlands and circles back to where I live. There are 193 steps to the top, so I wasn’t slacking.

I was pleasantly drained and drenched with sweat when I opened the door to my place.

It was unlocked since I didn’t have my keys, or my wallet, or my cell phone. Either the cops had my stuff or Riley did. If someone didn’t contact me soon I’d hunt it down.

I’d rented the place for a week, and that had stretched into two, then three, and now I had a long string of weeks behind me. It had come furnished, and I’d warmed to the theme. The dining room table and chairs had been fashioned from fire-hardened oak, the chandelier was wrought-iron, and the lamps in the corners should have burned oil. The paintings that hung over the fireplace told a cautionary tale in three parts: a lighthouse on a cliff, a ship foundering in a gale, the ocean at rest. The walls, lacquered pine dark with age, rose 30 feet to the beam ceiling.

I had no television, no sound system, a lap-top computer that didn’t get much use. After living a connected life for years, I’d become a digital hermit with a only a basic cell phone for calls and texts, and it felt fine.

After I’d stripped off my shirt and grabbed a carton of juice from the fridge, someone knocked on my door. Seamus and Morris?

I set the juice on the counter and decided not to put on my shirt. Morris struck me as a man who might get insistent. If he did, I didn’t want to give him anything extra to grab.

I wiped my hands on my trunks, set my feet, and jerked the door open.

“Oh!” Riley said.

Her hair was pulled back and her eyes, a deep, crystalline blue, were wide with surprise.

Her face quickened something in me, just like it had before. The rest of her heightened the effect.

“Sorry,” I said. “I thought you were someone else.”

She chewed her bottom lip and smiled gamely. “I’m glad I’m not someone else. The look on your face wasn’t exactly welcoming.”

Sweat trickled between my pecs. I brushed it away, feeling foolish. What kind of moron answers the door without a shirt on? I stepped back. “Come in.”

She crossed the threshold and looked around. My place felt different with her in it.

“Why don’t you just live on a square-rigger?” she asked.

“I get seasick.”

She nodded. I wasn’t sure she believed me. She gestured toward a jacket draped over the back of a chair. “That looks a little small for you.”

“It belongs to a friend.”

“Good. Pink’s not your color.”

We traded smiles. It was nice.

She looked away first and opened her purse. “I have your things.”

“Thanks for bringing them by.”

“Your driver’s license has an address in Los Altos Hills, which I learned is in Northern California. I had to do a little research to find this place.”

That was interesting. How much research had she done?

She gazed through the open balcony doors. The harbor stretched postcard-like into the distance, with Cove Road anchoring the southern end. She worried her lip again, probably thinking about the Lamborghini. It was hard not to.

“You want to get a cup of coffee?” I asked.

She responded with a coy smile I didn’t expect. “Are you going to shower first?”

“You bet. I’ll get dressed, too.”

Her gaze touched my stomach and chest, moved up to my face.

“I’ve never seen you with clothes on,” she said.

Her comment surprised me until I realized it was accurate.

I grinned and said, “It’ll be a real treat.”


Salvation Beach is available on Kindle or paperback from Amazon.


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