About the Book
Seeking sanctuary, burned-out fund manager Ariel Mignolet retreats to the New Mexico desert near Prospero, an isolated settlement steeped in religious fundamentalism. Long runs on remote trails and a new romance with local police officer Mike Argyll help forge a path back to sanity.
But weeks into their relationship, Mike is brutally murdered and Ariel narrowly escapes the same fate. The ensuing investigation unearths the truth about powerful local figures whose acts of prejudice and deception have torn families apart for decades.
As the FBI closes in on Mike’s killers, a broken man bent on revenge is planning to take another life, and Ariel is getting in the way.
Unfolding in a land of ghost towns and restless spirits, The Torchbearers is the story of how love for God and neighbor can turn deadly.
As I watched Mike’s Jeep come into my field of vision through the telescope lens, I could hear Sergeant Marge Newlands’s measured voice over the phone, trying to calm me down and get more information. Her voice faded out as I let the hand that held the phone drift from my ear to devote all my attention to Mike’s movements. He pulled to a halt out of my line of sight, so I panned left to follow and saw him emerge from the vehicle with a flashlight in hand. He knelt down to what looked like two bodies lying side by side, face down in the sand. The scope’s night vision was incredibly clear but had a limited spectrum of shades, rather than colors, ranging from black to luminous pale blue. Naked skin and eyes reflected the light most, so Mike’s face and hands were easy to make out, and I could see that the stilled bodies were only partly clothed.
The sergeant’s voice on the receiver, still close enough to my ear to hear, crept back into my consciousness as I stood to look for the lights through the window. “Mr. Mignolet, are you still there? Could I please ask you to repeat Officer Argyll’s exact current location? I am assembling a team to assist. Can you hear me? Please respond. Are you still there?”
“Yes, I’m still here,” I whispered, having turned down all non-visual functions to keep total focus. “Why are you delaying? I’m watching him now. I’m looking through a telescope.”
I was at The Bank, Old County Road, next door to Caleb Freeth’s, I told the sergeant.
“He’s less than a mile southeast of here, out on the plateau. I think there are two . . . .”
I dropped the receiver as I saw Mike jump up from his crouched position and raise what appeared to be his gun. He was backing up quickly toward his truck. My pulse thrummed in my ears as I panned right to see what he was retreating from. I might not be able to find him again if my shaking hands inadvertently moved the optic to a new trajectory.
I looked out the window for a wider perspective, trying to see where the strange lights were. Now bunched together, they were moving northwest quickly toward where Mike was. Back to the scope, I panned left again just as the driver’s window of his truck smashed into pieces. His gun emerged through the shattered glass, and a blast of light told me he’d fired it. His truck began to move. It veered sharply right as it accelerated so that for a few moments, all I could see was the black well of the truck bed partly obscured by a cascading spray of sand as he gathered speed through the turn.
I didn’t know then what stopped his progress so abruptly, but investigations have since shown it was a second rock that hit the windshield. I redirected the scope slightly west to see the vehicle, now stationary, and what looked like partly clothed, torch-bearing assailants descending on it from every direction. Some climbed on the roof and into the bed; through the night scope, they looked like luminous baboons swarming on a safari truck. With the driver’s window now on the far side now, I couldn’t see Mike being pulled from the Jeep but, to my horror, he was thrown back into my field of vision and forcefully thrust onto his knees near the left front wheel. The horde of pale blue beings surrounded him. One brandished some type of long-handled weapon, raised it above his head with both hands, and swung it violently down onto Mike’s cowering form.
I grabbed a flashlight from the kitchen and ran out the open door, across the road, down the embankment and into the night. Never have I moved so fast. As though possessed. Possessed with the savagery of the image I had just seen. Possessed with fear of loss and a primal fear of the unknown threat. I didn’t draw breath in the normal sense as I covered the ground. The air stayed suspended in my lungs for too many strides to count before a heaving gasp would admit a new breath. Panic-laden words escaped between gasps during the five or so minutes it took to close in on the scene. Vain cries for help to no one. Mike’s name over and over again and, maybe, “God” and “Jesus,” as if they might intervene.
The beam of the flashlight in my hand glanced up, down, and around in the darkness with the metronomic rhythm of a sprint relay baton. I had no thought of the danger or how I might help Mike given the number of assailants, seemingly at least ten. I flew across the dirt, the odd fine strand of bush grass whipping my shins in the darkness as some maniacal force helped me surge ever faster.
As the headlights and one red taillight of Mike’s pickup came into view, I began to shout aloud into the blackness. “Leave him! Stop! The police are here. They’re here. Get back. Mike?” I repeated myself over and over, shouting as loudly as I could through jagged breaths, as I drew closer to the cluster of fiery torches With a couple hundred yards to go, the conical flames began moving toward me. The gap between us narrowed rapidly, and I could see plainly their mostly naked torsos bathed in firelight.
About the Author
Born and educated in Cork, Ireland, Bairbre Higgins worked in Dublin’s financial world for sixteen years but is now focused full-time on writing. A period of intensive coast-to-coast business travel in the U.S. during the early years of the twenty-first century helped provide the inspiration for San Francisco-based hedge fund partner Ariel Mignolet, the main protagonist in her debut thriller, The Torchbearers.
Wife of one, mother of three, and servant of two (dogs), she believes in the power of curiosity and that education is the cure for the world’s worst ills. She lives in Dublin.
Praise for The Torchbearers
“The Torchbearers is a superbly written and plotted debut—a thriller from beginning to end.”
—Joe Duffy, Broadcaster and Author
“The Torchbearers is a scorching debut, an enthralling character-led thriller with breath-stopping twists and turns. Higgins is a born storyteller. If you are a fan of Lee Child, you will love this.”
—John Stack, Author, Masters of the Sea Trilogy
“An immersive, atmospheric thriller that cleverly plays with the reader’s assumptions.”
—Catherine Ryan Howard, Author, Distress Signals and The Liar’s Girl
“Bairbre Higgins brings the vibrant New Mexico landscape as powerfully alive as she does the intolerance and penchant for violence toward non-believers exhibited by some fundamentalist sects.”
—Myles Mcweeney, Irish Independent
A fast-paced, gripping crime debut, woven with skill and full of intrigue. Thrilling!
—Irene Graham, The Creative Writer’s Workshop
A new voice in fiction that shouts to be heard from each page. Full of insightful characterizations and so many plot turns you feel as if you are at the wheel of a Formula 1 car. Compulsive read from beginning to end.
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