Author Archives: thedarkphantom

Chapter reveal: The Guardian, by Anna del Mar

The Guardian-SMName: Anna del Mar

Book TitleThe Guardian

Genre: Romantic Suspense

Publisher: Mermaid Press

Find out more:

http://www.annadelmar.com/pages/books_guardian.html

Amazon / Kobo / Nook

Chapter One

Jade

Flying had never been my definition of fun and yet here I was, with my stomach stuck in my throat, traveling across Africa in a dilapidated, single-engine plane that rode a lot like a moped in the sky. According to our rakish South African pilot, the six-seater had rolled out of the factory in 1956, thirty long years before I’d been born, in a century far, far away. I could’ve done without the trivia tidbit. I was the sort that worried about metal fatigue. But I’d made it to Africa at last. Africa!

Three other passengers crammed with me in the sputtering little plane, a gaggle of excited grad students of about my age with some impressive academic credentials. They were on their way to work as research assistants at the private wildlife conservation reserve that was also my destination. Loud, chatty, and excited, they looked alike. They were perky, enthusiastic, and all blonde to some degree, a quirky fluke that, in my current state of jetlag, struck me as a little funny.

I was decent at identifying wildlife species, but terrible with names, so I made an effort to keep my traveling companions straight. Short-bob Sarah and curly-haired Lara sat in the seats directly behind mine. Like me, they were new to Tanzania. Poor pony-tailed Cara was jammed in the very back seat between loads of supplies. She’d been working at the reserve for the last year and was returning to the station after a break in Arusha.

In the three hours since I’d met my traveling companions, I’d learned a lot. Talk about information overload. Sarah was a Rhodes Scholar, shrewd and observant, kind of like me. The big difference between us was that she was also charming, totally unlike me.

Lara had confessed to being a card-carrying member of MENSA. Holy Cow. Talk about nuclear brain power. As to Cara, she hemmed and hawed about her gigantic student loans, but at the tender age of twenty-nine, she’d already published in several journals and staring at her bright future required heavy-duty shades. Sarah, Lara, and Cara. I giggled inside. What were the odds?

From the moment the women hopped in the plane, they’d slammed me with a crushing wave of friendliness that defied the loner in me. Sarah kept telling me that I looked familiar, but she didn’t put two and two together, which was fine and dandy by me. Not even our pilot, Peter Drake, knew who I was.

Incidentally, he was also blond, and the owner of an impressive set of surfer curls he wielded with panty-melting capabilities. I’d paid him double to fly me without asking questions and he’d been more than agreeable to bend to the will of the mighty dollar.

Anonymity was my preferred MO. Even though my face was on the Nat Geo channel a couple times a month, my job was way easier when I flew under the radar. I liked working alone and I hated when the attention focused on me instead of my work. Honestly? I wasn’t exactly amiable—or particularly sociable for that matter, a tendency I’d cemented during the first shitty fourteen years of my life.

But thanks to a belated set of kickass adoptive parents who’d checkmated me into manners, culture, and higher education, these days I passed as a semi-civilized creature. Now I just had to ignore my terror of flying, suppress the jetlagged witch I’d become somewhere over the tropic of Cancer, and do my best to fit in, even though, technically, I was the only brunette in the plane.

“Fasten your seatbelts, ladies,” the pilot announced in his melodious accent—definitely sexy. “We’re beginning our descent.”

The little plane punched down through the clouds and hit a patch of turbulence, courtesy of some wicked afternoon thermal currents. I clutched my backpack, dug my nails into the nylon, and tried very hard to keep my lunch down.

“Look ahead,” our pilot shouted. “We are officially in the reserve’s air space. Over to the north, you can get a glimpse of the twin lakes that give the Pacha Ziwa Reserve its name.”

I took in the glimmer of the long, finger-like lakes on the horizon, twin mirrors sparkling in the savanna’s endless expanse. The headache blooming behind my eyes lifted. My spirits soared. I’d been dreaming about the Serengeti since I was a little girl. Not even the jetlag could suppress the sheer joy that swelled in my chest.

“We’re in luck.” The pilot shot his million-dollar grin in my direction. “Beneath us you’ll see your welcoming committee, a big ass giraffe of the Maasai variety, as indicated by its distinctive starred blotches.”

I pressed my nose to the window and scanned the ground. Several other giraffes appeared around the first, long necks randomly popping out from between the trees. Keeping my eyes on the bush below, I unzipped my backpack and groped for my camera. Fighting for focus, I began to shoot.

Sarah squealed. “There are like seven giraffes!”

“No, look, there’s more!” Lara counted aloud. “Twenty-two to be precise.”

Fan-freaking-tastic. A huge smile hijacked my lips. Click, click, click. This was why I’d come to Africa, to see these animals in their natural environments, to share my wonder with the world, and to help protect the last few places on earth where the wild still roamed.

The landing strip was a grassy line carved onto a landscape of plains and brush. The pilot buzzed by the first time around, to clear the zebras from the runway. Pretty surreal. Laughter bubbled up my throat. On the second try, we landed safely, despite a couple of rough bounces. The girls cheered. Okay, fine, I cheered too.

When the plane finally stopped, I took a deep breath and combed my fingers through my hair in an effort to look presentable to the powers that be. It only took a sec. I’d gone hair-minimal for this trip, chopping off my long mane. Even then, my bangs fell right back over my brow, because that was the kind of hair I’d gotten in the hair lottery, bone-straight and dense.

I hung the camera strap from my neck, opened the door, and unfolded from my seat. My knees cracked as I climbed down from the aircraft. I felt like hugging the poor old plane and thanking it for holding itself together long enough to get me to the reserve. But I refrained from the impulse. No need to flaunt my addled brain in public just yet.

A pair of tan Land Rovers materialized from around the bend, rattling and sliding over a dirt track, pushing through the scattering herd of zebras as they drove our way. Not unlike the zebras, the girls took off, whipping out their cells and snapping selfies, with Cara leading the way and acting like the resident tour guide.

“Here comes our ring master.” Peter came to stand next to me and perched his Aviators on the top of his head, tracking the Land Rovers’ approach with a pair of huge brown eyes. “Lucky you. The boss himself is heading your welcoming committee. You get to meet the reserve’s game warden right from the start.”

I squinted at the truck, but the sun’s glare prevented me from seeing the man inside. There hadn’t been a lot of information about him on the website—a name, no pictures. I’d been intrigued about that.

In Africa, for many years, game wardens had been the custodians of private hunting reserves that had their roots in troubled Colonial times. But these days, the concept had evolved and at this huge reserve set aside for the study and conservation of animals, the game warden led the rangers who protected the wildlife and facilitated cutting edge research. According to my sources, during his two-year stint at Pacha Ziwa, this game warden had impressed with his performance.

“Hey.” Peter tugged on my arm and pressed a business card into my hand. “I’m here at least once a week. If you get sick of this place, if you ever need a ride, or want some cool aerial shots, I’m your guy.” He winked. “First three hours are free for you.”

God. Why did wasps and flirts always home in on me? The business card creased between my fingers. Peter was nice on the eyes, sure, and that accent had the potential to tickle my G-spot, but I hadn’t come to Africa for pleasure. I was here for work—in, out, no dudes, no complications.

With a screech of brakes, the Land Rovers parked next to us. The driver of the nearest truck stepped out, slammed the door, and sauntered toward us, scanning the airstrip and carrying a very handsome automatic rifle.

Niiiice.

It wasn’t only his top-of-the-line carbine that caught my attention, a lovingly maintained M4 different from the AK47 I’d expected to see on the ground in Africa. Or the way he held the weapon, pointed down in the low-ready position, both hands cradling the beauty to his chest like a pampered lover. It was the powerful vibes his body gave out and the systematic way in which he scanned our surroundings from behind mirrored shades, vigilant—focused and ready.

Warrior alert. My body snapped to attention. Here was a top-of-the-line soldier if I’d ever seen one. And then there was…well…the rest of him. And what a nice rest of him it was. Yes, sir. I was in the presence of hunkiness, which was very bad news for the Jade who’d come to Africa for work. Work, I repeated in my mind like a mantra. Not pleasure.

But a girl could look, right? No harm in appreciating a prime specimen, especially as he turned on his heel and methodically inspected the grounds, giving me the benefits of 360-degree views of his fine, fit body.

The guy was tall, even for a girl as tall as I was, somewhere in the neighborhood of six-four. It was hard not to notice the definition of his flexed arms beneath the rolled-up sleeves of his tan bush shirt. It was also impossible to miss the way in which his shapely ass fit perfectly into olive cargos. From one athlete to another, I appreciated the view of his finely built glutes, especially as they were mounted on a pair of muscular thighs that also impressed.

Work. Are you freaking listening, Jade? Not pleasure. I’d had a little trouble with adrenaline-driven hook ups early on in my career, but now I was over my addiction to bad boys and firmly established in the thinking zone.

The man strode over to us with feline grace, confident and yet cautious, fully engaged in a multi-level recon. Oh, yes. From his style to his weapons and down to his Oakley Jury mirrored sunglasses, he fit the profile. This guy had special ops written all over.

His gaze fell on the girls wandering among the zebra herd. His lips pressed together to amplify a severe, eyebrow-clashing frown. This soldier? He liked his order.

“Hey, Zeke,” he called out to the man climbing down from the other Rover. “Would you mind rounding up the arrivals before somebody gets kicked in the gut?”

“Sure thing.” The man named Zeke took off after the women.

The game warden’s polarized glasses aimed at me. “Ma’am.” He touched the rim of his wide-brimmed Tilley, then turned to Peter and extended a hand as huge as a lion’s paw. “Drake.” His veined, sun-bronzed forearm flexed as he shook the pilot’s hand with a firm grip.

“Matthias, my friend,” Peter said, trying to hide a wince behind a smile. “Good news. I have three new bushels of fresh quality grass or you today.”

Fresh grass? My spine snapped at attention. The cocky ass pilot could only count me as fresh grass if he included poison ivy in his botanical classifications.

Easy, Jade. A surly bitch lived inside of me, a highly reactive broad who’d come of age in a man’s world and had been put down one too many times for having a V instead of a dick. She wanted to have a go at the arrogant fool, but I held back and took a deep breath. I might need a triple shot of patience today.

The game warden’s perfectly proportioned lips thinned. I didn’t know the guy at all, but my bet was that he didn’t like Peter’s tone either. He looked at the card I held in my hand, leveled his gaze on the pilot, and spoke in a low, gravelly voice that reminded me of fast water tumbling over rocks. “Do I have to remind you that we’re a research outfit and not a dating site?”

“Nothing wrong with getting a jump on the crowd.” Peter chuckled nervously then turned to me. “Matthias here is the king of this jungle. He always aims for the windpipe, but his roar is worse than his bite.”

“Is that so?” Matthias glanced in my direction. “Allow me to warn you about the great predators among us.”

Man. I’d stepped right into a pissing contest and I didn’t like it. I’d served my time with dudes like these. I didn’t need a warning from anyone and I knew how to take care of myself.

“Whoa.” I fanned my hand under my nose. “This place reeks.”

“Excuse me?” Both Matthias and Peter looked at me in puzzlement.

“Testosterone.” I wrinkled my nose and made a show of grimacing. “It stinks, big time.”

“Let me guess.” The game warden’s lips twitched. “You’re the smartass who sits at the back of the class making snarky comments?”

I raised my chin and smirked. “Only when required.”

He parked those shades on my face a little too long. “Why is your face familiar?”

“No clue,” I said. “Why is your face not familiar?”

Under his hat’s wide rim, his eyebrows clashed. “What do you mean?”

“No picture,” I said. “On the website?”

“Ah.” His mouth set into that maddening straight line.

“Not photogenic.”

“Is that so?” I lifted my camera and focused on his face.

Click. “Problem fixed.”

His eyes were hidden beneath the shades but his strong jaw tightened ever so slightly. Oops. I’d known the guy for three minutes and I’d already rankled him. Way to go, Jade.

Peter let out a shrill laugh. “Matthias, my man, I think you’ve just met your match. She’s gonna be a joy to manage.”

“Manage who? Me?” The surly bitch almost bust out of control. “Back off, buddy. That’s not his job.”

“Well, unfortunately, it is my job,” Matthias said. “Not that I enjoy agreeing with Drake on anything, but managing people is the downfall of my job description.”

“Then by all means,” I said, aiming to nip whatever the hell this was on the spot. “Let’s rewrite the part of it that pertains to me.”

The mirrored shades lit me up. “You’re a funny firecracker.”

I sneered at my own reflection. “And you haven’t seen my sparklers yet.”

His well-defined lips came up in a smirk that wasn’t a smile so much as a dare. It implied that his mouth had no problem adapting to his moods and was capable of great range, not to mention delicious improvisation. A tingle of excitement pebbled my skin and prickled my most contractible parts. He’d have no trouble seeing my sparklers and doubling down on his own pyrotechnics.

“I bet your sparklers would be something to see.”

Matthias’s smirk widened into the kind of challenge I had trouble resisting, on account of my faulty DNA. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard the whoosh of a fire starting. The game warden? Not a safe bet, not if I was going to keep to my professional resolutions. I tried a mental dip in a glacial lake.

“What’s with the big guns?” Peter gestured to Matthias’s weapon. “And why are you in such a particularly ramped-up mood today?”

Matthias shades kept me in the crosshairs. Hard to know what someone’s thinking when you can’t see his eyes. Whereas I, I had no choice but to keep my chin up and my gaze leveled on him. He took his sweet time before he finally quit staring at me.

“Did you see anything from up there?” he demanded, shifting his attention to Peter. “Trucks? Helos? Tracks?”

“Nothing.” Peter sobered. “Trouble with poachers again?”

Matthias’s gaze skimmed the bush. “Somebody shot at our rhinos yesterday.”

Holy shit. I could totally understand the warden’s edgy mood now. The reserve’s black rhinos were an endangered species. I started to take mental notes right away. I’d been on the ground for less than five minutes and I already had a story in the works.

“Damn those poachers.” Peter swore under his breath.

“Did they get any?”

“It ain’t gonna happen,” Matthias said. “Not under my watch. We chased the sons of bitches all the way to the reserve’s fucking boundary.” He flashed me an apologetic glance. “Sorry about my French, ma’am.”

“No worries,” I said. “I’m fucking fluent in the same kind of French.”

“Good to know.” His lips twitched again, but the smile never fully realized. It stayed smothered beneath the pile of worries that deepened the vertical lines permanently etched between his eyebrows. When I thought about the rhinos, I couldn’t blame him.

“Jesus, they’re getting brash.” Peter shook his head.

“Sudanese rebels, you think?”

Matthias lifted a brawny shoulder. “Probable.”

“Those fuckers poach the animals, trade the goods, and buy weapons,” Peter explained to me as if I hadn’t done my homework before I came out. “In between, they murder, abduct, rape, and pillage.”

“I’ve heard.” The sarcasm in my tone rolled right over Peter’s head.

“I hope you get the poachers,” he said to Matthias.

“Count on it.” This time, when the game warden’s jaw tightened, a muscle twitched on the side of his face. I didn’t know much about him, but I believed him.

“Mind if I stay the night?” Peter asked.

“We’re tight,” Matthias said. “A bunk at the ranger’s camp is all I’ve got.”

“I’ll take it.”

“Then make yourself useful.”

Matthias whirled on his heel, stuck his fingers in his mouth, and let out a whistle that chiseled my brain and resuscitated my headache. At the end of the airstrip, Zeke signaled with a hand in the air. He and the women started in our direction.

Peter and Matthias got busy unloading the plane. The game warden had a lot of questions for Peter. He wanted to know what the pilot had seen from the air and if he’d heard anything about poachers in the area. I helped unload, happy to melt into the background, listening to the in-depth interrogation.

As soon as the luggage was loaded on the trucks, Peter climbed back in the cockpit, restarted the plane, and drove it over to an old metal hangar that stood nearby. Matthias rearranged the supplies in the back of the Rover, slammed shut the trunk, and turned to me. A bunch of questions glimmered in his eyes, but he didn’t get to ask them, because Zeke and the women joined us.

“Hey, Matthias.” Cara fluttered her long eyelashes, all sweetness and smiles. “Miss me?”

“Welcome back.” Matthias ignored Cara’s flirting and went straight to business. “Ladies, please, let’s get the formalities out of the way so we can get out of here before the mosquitoes come out for dinner.”

The women bunched up around Matthias, eager and excited. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and leaned against the truck, happy to speed things along. Mosquitoes always seemed to crave my sweet Spanish blood. Despite the course of preventative antibiotics I was taking, I didn’t want to test the limits of modern medicine and contract malaria or some other nasty bug during my first day in Africa.

“For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Matthias Hawking. I’m the game warden here, which makes me chief of security as well.”

“Are you American?” Sarah interrupted him right away.

“I am.” He inclined his head. “I’m from Montana.”

“Yay.” Lara clapped her hands. “Viva the USA. Love the rugged west.”

“What’s a guy from Montana doing all the way out here?” Sarah asked, demonstrating curiosity that matched mine.

“Can’t a guy get a job in Africa?”

Not for anything, but he sounded a little defensive to me.

“Ex-military,” I spoke my thoughts aloud, not one of my finest habits. “Muscle for hire?”

His mouth curled into a sneer capable of freezing the tropics. “So now you think I’m a goddamn mercenary?”

“Just a theory.” My spidey senses were all agog. “But I’ve heard you’re doing a good job here. Care to clarify your bio?” “Not really.” He turned his attention to the other women. “I’d like to introduce you to my associate, Zeke Logocho, one of the best rangers in Africa.”

He slapped a paw on his companion’s shoulder, a tall, dark, muscularly lanky fellow sporting high cheeks, a bony, meandering nose, and a wide, benign smile. One could’ve driven a small truck through the gap in his front teeth. Zeke was talking to someone on his headset, but he waved at us.

“If I’m not around, Zeke is your man.” Matthias grabbed a tablet from the Rover’s front seat and tapped on a list, eyes shifting from the screen to the girls standing next to me. “So, right, introductions. You must be…Sarah Stevens from Cal Tech?”

Sarah’s blue eyes brightened. “That’s me all right.”

“Welcome to the reserve.” He shook her hand and moved on to the next woman. “And you have to be Lara Quinones, from Harvard.”

“Glad to meet you.” Lara pumped his hand, back straight, tight curls shaking around her head with enthusiastic vehemence.

Matthias turned to me. I was pretty sure he’d left me for last to punish me for giving him attitude. I would’ve preferred to have this particular conversation in private, but his stare was fixed on his tablet and he never saw the request in my eyes.

“That means that you are…let’s see…” Matthias took off his glasses, scrolled down his list once more and looked up in triumph. “Pat Schumer, from Stanford.”

Those eyes. The color. They were so unusual. I guess they could be called hazel mostly, but a rim of bright amber speckled with darker flecks surrounded the black pupil like a ring of fire. The gold in his irises echoed the reddish glint in the closely-cropped, straight-trimmed stubble that edged his jaw, adding power and intensity to a sun-bronzed face that needed absolutely no help in the power and intensity department.

Next to me, I felt the wind shift as the girls gasped in unison. Then his gaze met mine and the women disappeared, and so did the airstrip, hell, the whole of Africa vanished from my map. Direct hit.

The fire in his stare went straight to the center of my brain, overloaded my logic circuits, and connected. My body clenched in all the right places and his body pulled on me like a freaking magnet. It wasn’t a one-way thing. He stared at me as if I were a particularly delicious ingredient to the twelve-course meal he was planning.

Oh, no. No way. Cool it Jade. No more bad boys in my future. I’d made that mistake before, because—as my true mom liked to theorize—I’d learned my sexual habits from some very bad examples. My blood ran hotter than the pits of hell, and the scalding flow plunged me straight into the no-thinking zone. It wasn’t as if I believed in love at first sight. That was a bunch of fried baloney. But lust at first sight? Yeah, it happened. To me.

But I’d learned my lesson and this new and improved version of Jade didn’t react to a pair of hazel eyes as if she’d been stricken by a bolt of lust, or act on her body’s hyperactive sexual cues, or engage in gratuitous erotic exploration. She didn’t toe the line to the point of disaster, mix personal with professional, or sleep with strangers, either.

Heads up, Jade. I tried to blink Matthias off my retina. Eyes like his should be strictly prohibited on a face like that. Get it under control. Enough with the hunkiness already.

“She’s not Pat,” Sarah said before I could speak up for myself, something I was usually very good at. “Pat’s flight got delayed in Amsterdam. She won’t be arriving until tomorrow.”

His stare returned to scan me. Whatever warmth I imagined I’d seen in his eyes was gone, transformed into cold, calculated intensity. “If you’re not Pat Schumer, then who the hell are you?”

Uh-oh. Somewhere, somehow, somebody had dropped the ball. “Your director didn’t tell you?”

His eyebrows clashed over his nose. “Tell me what?”

“Her name is Jade,” Sarah volunteered in an obvious bid to try to help. “Jade, you know, like her earrings?”

She caught one of my earrings between her fingers, a green jade stone carved into the stylized figure of an elephant. The antique pendants had been a gift from my parents on the cataclysmic occasion of my adoption at the ripe age of fourteen. My parents had “Jade-proofed” the earrings, commissioning a custom-designed mount capable of withstanding “Jade-force winds.” Since then, I’d worn them almost every day of my life, even while I was out in the field.

“J-a-d-e,” Sarah pealed. “Easy to remember. Her earrings match the color of her eyes.”

Matthias’s gaze lingered over my face before he decided on the spot that I wasn’t supposed to be here. “I’m gonna tell you right now.” Aggravation whetted his voice. “We don’t do tours of our research facilities and you need special permission to be here.”

“I have authorization,” I said, hoping and praying I was right. “Call your director.”

“Answer me first.” He’d rather give orders that take them.

“Who are you?”

No way around this. I stuck out my hand. “My name is

Jade Romo.”

“Hang on.” Matthias blinked blankly several times, but he didn’t take my hand. “Did you say Jade Romo?”

“Yes.” I dropped my hand to my side and dug my nails in my palm.

“From Mission Protect,” he said flatly. “The Jade Romo?”

“In the flesh.”

The girls gasped in unison. Zeke stared, his mouth slowly expanding into a silly grin on his face. My hopes for negotiating some sort of anonymity clause with the station’s powers that be died under their gawks. The tension that straightened Matthias’s mouth and sparkled in his eyes anchored the most intimidating scowl I’d ever come across. Something curdled in my stomach and I felt a little sick. His stare was all steel and fire as he uttered the word that shoved him to the top of my shit list.

“Goddamnit.”

This was going to be a wild ride.

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Excerpt reveal: Desert Kill Switch, by Mark S. Bacon

Front cover - Full Cover DKS v3 (1)Title: Desert Kill Switch

Genre: Mystery

Author: Mark S. Bacon

Website: www.baconsmysteries.com

Publisher: Black Opal Books

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

Set against the backdrop of Nostalgia City, an Arizona retro theme park that recreates, in meticulous detail, an entire small town from the 1970s, Desert Kill Switch features stressed-out ex-cop Lyle Deming.

Deming, a cab driver for Nostalgia City, finds himself in strange circumstances when he discovers a bullet-riddled body next to a mint-condition ’70s vintage Pontiac Firebird on an empty desert road. Stranger still, when Lyle returns to the scene with sheriff’s deputies, the car is gone—and so is the body. Could this somehow be tied to Nostalgia City?

Nostalgia City VP Kate Sorensen, a former college basketball star, is in Nevada on park business when she gets mixed up with Al Busick, a sleazy Vegas auto dealer who puts hidden “kill switches” in cars he sells. Miss your payment by a few days—and your car dies. But when Busick is murdered and Kate becomes the prime suspect, Lyle arrives to help his tall, blonde, not-quite-girlfriend. As they plow through a twisted tangle of suspects and motives, Lyle and Kate soon realize that the best way to clear Kate’s name is to find out who killed Busick.

Turns out there were a number of people who might’ve wanted Busick dead. But when a video implicating Kate appears, along with a ransom demand, things take a deadly serious turn. Blackmail, murder, and a lengthy list of potential killers: hardly a wholesome or inviting image for Nostalgia City.

As the tension ratchets up, Kate and Lyle find themselves in increasing danger. Against a ticking clock and scorching desert heat, Lyle and Kate launch a pulse-quickening quest to clear Kate’s name, find the dead body, and figure out how a million-dollar antique Italian sports car fits in this deadly game. But time is running out—and it’s all fun and games…till someone loses his life.

Author Mark S. Bacon 5052 - smlrAbout the Author: Mark Bacon began his career as a newspaper reporter in Southern California covering crime and city beats. As a writer, his work has appeared on television and in radio, magazines, newspapers, websites and fiction and nonfiction books. He and his wife, Anne, live in Reno with their golden retriever, Willow. Bacon is also the author of Death in Nostalgia City.

www.baconsmysteries.com

https://baconsmysteries.com/blog-2/

https://www.facebook.com/markbaconmysteries/

 

Desert Kill Switch

By Mark S. Bacon

Chapter 59

Lyle didn’t know if Sergei had a gun or not.  If he didn’t, maybe Lyle had a chance.  But the Chechen stood a half head taller and looked like he had seventy-five pounds on Lyle.  He walked slowly over to Sergei.  Shit he’s big.  But maybe.

Before Lyle came within ten feet of Sergei, the Chechen reached behind him and pulled out a large-caliber semi-auto.  Lyle continued his stroll in a large circle, heading back toward the Mustang.

“Okay if I get out of the sun?”

Sergei motioned with the barrel of the gun.  The car door was already open.  Lyle sat in the driver’s seat and watched through the windshield as Sergei wandered along the road.  He turned his back to Lyle, looking off the pavement to the dirt trail.

Lyle reached down, under the dashboard, and felt around for the wires he’d been working on.  He twisted two bare wires together then slowly put his hand on the ignition,  the key still in place.  He turned it hard.  As the engine burst into life, Lyle threw the car into gear, crushed the gas pedal, and the car’s nine-inch-wide tires grabbed the pavement.  The Mustang sprang forward, the driver’s door slamming shut.   Sergei spun around and saw the car racing toward him.  He started to bring up the pistol but seemed to realize the car would smash him whether he fired or not.  He leaped toward the side of the road, like a base runner diving face-first into home plate.  The Mustang’s bumper caught the bottom of his legs and spun him halfway around before he hit the sand.

Lyle jammed on the brakes and jumped out.  Sergei lay on the sand, groaning and clutching his left ankle.  Lyle seized the gun and ejected the magazine and the round in the chamber.  He threw all of them as far as he could into the brush. Sergei couldn’t stand so Lyle patted him down on the ground.  He found Sergei’s cell phone, dropped it on the pavement, and stomped on it before throwing it into the desert.

Dashing back to the Mustang, Lyle saw one of their suitcases and a string of clothes along the pavement behind the car.  The trunk lid had remained open after the Chechen’s search.  He grabbed the clothes and stuffed them into the suitcase.  Before tossing the case in the trunk, he opened a hidden compartment near one of the taillights and pulled out two handguns.

Like a thoroughbred, the Mustang was eager to run, its twin exhausts grumbling.  Lyle gave it gas and the high-powered American fishtailed when it hit the dirt road, then righted itself and dug in.  Lyle knew his dust tail would advertise his arrival, so speed was essential.  But the Ford Mustang was not made for dirt roads.  Four hundred horsepower is only as good as the traction.  Lyle turned the wheel left and right to avoid ruts and keep the rear wheels on the ground.  When he heard gun shots, he thought he was too late.

* * *

Kate touched the boulder to steady herself and almost pulled her hand away when she felt its heat.  Nina tucked her small body into the ravine and kept her head below the level of their temporary fortress.  Kate could see Alex and Viktor walking slowly toward them, holding their guns, ready to fire again.  She ducked as low as she could.

“We come out there and kill you, woman,” Alex said as he advanced.  “Then we just throw your body in desert.”

When Kate raised her head again she sighted down the barrel of a .38—the gun she’d taken from Viktor’s shop coat the day before.  She fired.

One of her shots just grazed Viktor’s shoulder, the other thudded into the side of the SUV, but she got the reaction she wanted.  Both men looked on in terror.  Alex returned one shot that missed by six feet and the Chechens scampered over the rocks and back to safety behind their Suburban.

“Where’d you get the gun?” Nina asked, holding her ears.

“Took it from them yesterday,” Kate said.  “Stay down.”

Kate knew she had only three shots left.  If they just traded shots, she’d be defenseless soon.  A ridge off to their right could give one of the Chechens cover to circle around behind her and Nina.  Just a matter of time.  Maybe if she fired at the Suburban they might decide it was too much trouble, too dangerous, and drive away.  Dream on, lady

Blam, the shooting started again.  Kate ducked until she realized the Chechens weren’t firing.  She looked to her left and saw Lyle’s Mustang kicking up dust as it tore down the road spitting bullets. Staying behind the Suburban protected the Chechens from Kate’s shots, but exposed them to Lyle’s fire.  Kate stuck her head up and fired twice.  Lyle, too far away to be accurate, drove with one hand and fired with the other.  But it was too much for the Chechens.  Alex and Viktor got in the car and pulled out so fast they looked like actors in a Keystone Cops film.  Kate stood up and waved at Lyle as he came to a stop where the Suburban had been.  She still held the .38 when Lyle walked up.

“You okay?” Lyle said, stepping around the sagebrush.

“Yes,” Kate said expelling a big breath. “We’re glad to see you.” She gave Lyle a bear hug and held her head close to his for a moment.

“They were like, going to leave us in the desert,” Nina said coming out from behind the boulders.  “Alex and Viktor, you should have killed them.” Nina’s face glowed red from anger, fear, or the sun.  Maybe all three.  They walked to Lyle’s car, Nina holding her blouse closed with one hand.

Lyle pointed to the revolver in Kate’s hand.  “I assume that’s the gun you took from Stark’s guys yesterday.”

“Yeah, that idiot Alex didn’t even search my purse.  Women don’t carry guns, do they?”

 

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Excerpt reveal: LIVIN’:  From the Amsterdam Red Light to the African Bush, by Frankie Hogan

Front ADN3395 Digest-Soft-Cover (1)Title: LIVIN’:  From the Amsterdam Red Light to the African Bush

Genre: non fiction

Author:  Frankie Hogan

Website: www.livintravelbook.com

Publisher: Wharton Reed

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book: In spite of a lifelong passion for travel, author Frankie Hogan admits that he often fell victim to “life getting in the way” until he decided, once and for all, to stop giving in to easy excuses, stop yielding to the reasons not to—and stop the cycle of procrastinating, putting off and waiting for the right time, the right circumstances, and the right companions.  It was time, Frankie decided, to get out there and see the world, to take in the history, nature and nightlife of places far away from home.  It was time to get out of his own way and travel—really travel—to off-the-beaten-path, exotic, far-flung destinations.  And Hogan, a South Philly native and streetwise everyman, did just that.  Livin’ is the story of the ride, the road, and the reward.

A travel guide like no other, Livin’ presents a first person look at the joys, the wonders, and the occasional woes of busting out of the comfort zone and seeing the world.  A tale told by a tour guide like no other—the affable, outspoken, and hilariously observant Frankie Hogan,  Livin’ is part memoir, part adventure story, part unconventional travel guide,  part laugh-out-loud narrative and totally irresistible.  Consider what would happen if you traveled the world with a Charles Bukowski-Jack Kerouac hybrid leading the way, and you will get a sense of what this tantalizing tome has to offer…

Unfiltered, uncensored, and unapologetic, Livin’ takes readers beyond the glossy brochures and postcards and lays bare the good, the bad, and the ugly.  A memoir that celebrates wanderlust (with its fair share of both wandering and lust) Livin’ is vibrant and vivid, irreverent and inspiring, uproariously ribald but abundantly real.

Come along for the ride as Hogan leads a tour from Egypt to South Africa, Amsterdam to Vietnam, Peru to Cambodia, India, China and more.  Livin’ is a larger-than-life tale about taking chances, conquering fears, taking the road less traveled and rolling with the punches.  A book that could inspire even the most steadfast homebody to hit the road, Livin’ is a journey in itself.

A hell of a storyteller with one hell of a story to tell, Frankie Hogan pulls no punches in this refreshingly candid narrative. Eminently readable and wholly unforgettable, Livin’ charms with its friendly, conversational tone and mesmerizes with its fascinating accounts of some of the most enviable travel destinations in the world. Moreover, Livin’ comes alive with Hogan’s colorful observations, joie de vivre, unmistakable wit and keen eye for the comical, the sublime, and the absurd.   Quite simply, Livin’ is a real trip.   

FH

About the Author: Frankie Hogan is an American writer, director and filmmaker. He is founder and principal partner of Corner Prophets Production Company, a film production company.  A native of South Philadelphia’s Grays Ferry neighborhood, Hogan lives in Los Angeles. Livin’ is Hogan’s first book—a book he wrote in hopes of inspiring others to stop making excuses, and make their dreams of travel a reality.

Links: https://www.facebook.com/Livin-by-Frankie-Hogan-483490791821612

https://www.facebook.com/Livin-by-Frankie-Hogan-483490791821612

www.livintravelbook.com

Excerpt:

 As noon approached, we split into different groups, depending on which optional tours were scheduled that afternoon. Two of our group, Austin and Brett, stayed put. They had chosen to bungee jump from the Victoria Falls Bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia, with the falls as the backdrop. We watched one of the jumpers, and I give them credit; it takes balls. Not that I would have been against jumping myself, but I had a scheduling conflict. I was joining with the bulk of the group downtown to visit a local craft village. We walked the outdoor markets for an hour. There was good haggling to be done. However, the locals dealt in US dollars, and that priced up even local crafts. I was glad I had made it down to the market to meet some locals, but I was also glad I had done most of my shopping in South Africa. When I ventured back to our pick-up location, I ran into Laura and Luis. Laura was our group’s lone Mexican woman (who usually took longer than the rest of us to get through border control). She had brought her nephew Luis with her on the trip. Luis was wise for his age, wide-eyed eleven-year-old who had a look of amazement almost everywhere we went.

“Frank, I am glad to find you,” she blurted out while I (self-deprecatingly) wondered why.

She had booked the falls helicopter ride, which didn’t allow children younger than teens. That’s right. It was babysitting time. Really, it was no big deal. He was a great kid. “No problema,” I assured her. She was relieved when she hopped on a bus to the chopper helipad. Luis, Tom (who was sick from malaria meds), Singh, and I hopped another bus back to the lodge.

We let Tom limp back to his room and sleep it off (poor guy). Now where to take the kid and what to do? What does the responsible adult decide? To the bar and poker table! All right, all right, I kid. It wasn’t a bar, per se. We took him to the outdoor deck of the main cabin that overlooked the watering hole. Singh and I grabbed a beer and ordered Luis a ginger ale, and we all looked down at a family of impala. The kid was right at home too. With a genuine fascination, he recited facts about impala. You came to the right place, Luis. I was no slouch on animal behavior, and Singh knew his shit too. This was a Nat Geo kind of table. We circled around and traded different animal facts for the first half hour. We took out binoculars and my camera long lens and looked for hidden gems in the bush. Luis took out the deck of cards he had bought at the market. We decided to have a go at a game of poker. We played a few hands and then he balked at the fact that we had nothing to bet with.

“Okay, let’s play for dollars,” I dared him.

His grin grew wide and he immediately accepted. I was dealt two pairs and chuckled to myself.

“How much you bet?” I taunted him a bit.

“Five dollars,” he proclaimed.

“Are you sure?” I teased.

He confirmed with a nod, I agreed, and he laid down four of a kind. He gave me a coy grin.

“All right, no more games for money,” I said.

Hustled by an eleven-year-old. Singh had a good laugh. We then went down to the deck below and watched as swarms of vultures circled overhead. The hotel held a daily vulture feeding that the giant birds must have timed, as over fifty of them seemed to come from nowhere ten minutes before a staff member brought a tray of meat to the lower level. Their size and wingspan took center stage as they flocked to the kill. When Laura returned, I promised Luis I’d get him his money when we all grouped back up. He was on his way to an elephant-ride safari but was envious of where I was going, which was another place he was too young to visit. My optional tour for the afternoon was a lion walk.

When I first booked the lion walk, I had preconceived notions. The main attraction for me was to be out in the bush, in the lions’ territory, and hiking with the future kings of the joint. Another assumption was that they would be future kings. I believed the lions on the lion walk would be knee-high youngsters. Maybe a hundred pounds, but far from fully grown. This might have been reinforced by online pics of the walk. My walk proved half of those assumptions incorrect. Lilly, Singh, and Sharon joined me as our bus picked up tourists and volunteers. Some of the volunteers were there on summer holidays from their universities. Man, to have your shit together that young. First clue of the reality when we arrived was the safety talk and precautions. The guide passed out indemnity forms and basic legal paperwork.

“Here is where we sign our life away,” I joked.

“Yes, death by lion is now your choice,” the guide agreed. He went over safety tips. “We have teenage lions right now, and as those of you who are parents know, teenagers can switch their moods very fast.”

The humor by the guides on this tour was tip-top.

“Let’s keep you safe. The lions are the leaders here. You are now a part of their pride. Never walk in front of them. Keep behind their back legs. If they stop to scratch or lie down or go to the bathroom, you stop.

Do not pass them. You will receive walking sticks. If a lion makes eye contact with you and then approaches you face-on, take your stick, hold it out at arm’s length, and say ‘No!'” he continued.

We chuckled a bit. He did too but then concluded, “They know this word. But if a lion decides you are a meal, it will be hard to stop him.” His face was serious now. “Stay safe. We want you to be safe. There will be a gunman leading our group. This gunman is for other wild animals, not our lions. We are here for the preservation of these animals, not to become their food.”

It was a good reminder of the pecking order. Let’s do this.

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Excerpt Reveal: ‘A Measure of Murder’ by Leslie Karst

Measure CoverTitle: A Measure of Murder

Genre: Mystery

Author: Leslie Karst

Website: http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/

Publisher: Crooked Lane

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

Sally Solari’s plate is beyond full between juggling work at her family’s Italian restaurant, Solari’s, and helping plan the autumn menu for Gauguin, the restaurant she’s just inherited. Complicating this already hectic schedule, Sally joins a chorus, which is performing a newly discovered version of her favorite composition, the Mozart Requiem. But at the first rehearsal, a tenor falls to his death on the church courtyard—and his soprano girlfriend is sure it wasn’t an accident. Now Sally’s back on another murder case seasoned with a dash of revenge, a pinch of peril, and a suspicious stack of sheet music. And while tensions in the chorus heat up, so does the kitchen at Gauguin—set aflame when Sally starts getting too close to the truth. Can Sally catch the killer before she’s burnt to a crisp, or will the case grow as cold as yesterday’s leftovers?  When this unseemly stew of greed, jealously, secrets and lies threatens to boil over, Sally had better watch her step—because someone could get badly burned.  If Sally isn’t careful, her sleuthing could be a real recipe for disaster.

Intelligent, engaging, and peppered with wit, humor, and tantalizing twists and turns, A Measure of Murder is mesmerizing.  Leslie Karst serves up an irresistible tale resplendent with charming characters, a to-die-for setting, and decadent recipes.  Readers will blissfully lose themselves in this smartly plotted, delightfully detailed and sumptuously suspenseful story.  A Measure of Murder is a story to be savored from beginning to end.

karst headshot

About the Author: The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family dinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. An ex-lawyer like Sally Solari, her sleuth, Leslie also has degrees in English literature and the culinary arts. Leslie and her wife, Robin, divide their time between Santa Cruz, California and Hilo, Hawaii. Leslie Karst is also the author of Dying for a Taste, which was released to rave reviews in 2016.

Connect with Leslie Karst on the Web:

http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/

https://www.facebook.com/lesliekarstauthor/

https://twitter.com/ljkarst

http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/blog

 

EXCERPT

At around eight-thirty, we got a whole slew of orders all at once for our special, poussin à la Grecque, and Javier moved me over to the charbroiler. We now had close to a full house, unusual for a Tuesday, and everyone was feeling the pressure caused by having only the minimal weeknight staff, made all the worse by Kris’ absence.

I was happy for the move to the charbroiler, to return to a station I felt more confident at. And as I stood there at the grill, flipping eight orders of spatchcocked game hens slathered in garlic and oregano and then basting them with lemon juice and olive oil, I felt focused and calm, oblivious to the tempest awhirl about me.

“Fire the rib-eyes for twelve!” Brandon shouted, poking his head through the pick-up window.

“Got it,” I answered and, grabbing one of the two steaks I’d taken from the cooler on seeing the ticket come in, threw it onto the back of the grill behind the hens. It would be the medium-rare order; the rare steak would go on a minute later.

I started to step back to give myself a respite from the intense heat blasting from the grill, but jumped forward again on hearing Javier’s voice call out, “Behind you!” The head chef scuttled past me and made his way to the end of the line, where he stood conferring with Brian.

Time for that second steak. I laid it next to the first, and then inspected my Cornish game hens. The two nearest looked done, so I pulled out the insta-read thermometer I keep clipped inside the breast pocket of my chef’s jacket and inserted it into their thighs: 166 and 167 degrees—perfect. Snagging the pair, I set them on two warm plates and handed them over to Reuben, who finished the entrées off with a mushroom and basmati rice pilaf and a stack of thinly-sliced roasted zucchini and eggplant. He had just passed the plates through the pick-up window to Brandon when there was a shout from the other end of the kitchen.

“Fire!”

I turned toward the voice, wondering if the shouter was upset about an order of mine that hadn’t yet been fired, but then realized it was the prep-cook, Tomás, who was doing the yelling. “It’s on fire!” he shrieked again, gesturing with the stainless steel containers he held in each hand.

Before I could identify where exactly he was pointing, the ANSUL system was activated and its fire suppressant agent started spewing from the nozzles above the Wolf range, causing all of us to jump back out of the way. Within seconds the hot-line was enveloped in several inches of white foam.

The entire kitchen staff stood there, stunned.

“Damn,” Reuben finally said, breaking the silence. “It’s a freakin’ winter wonderland.”

I stared at the charbroiler and stove: at my beautiful game hens and rib-eye steaks, and all the sauté pans and sauce pots whose contents were now hidden under a blanket of who-knew-what noxious chemicals. What a nightmare.

Javier was standing next to me unmoving, his eyes wide and mouth slack. Once it was clear the nozzles had finished extruding their white goo, he shook his head as if to clear it, and then stepped forward to shut off all the burners on the Wolf range. “Go ahead and turn the charbroiler and salamander off, too,” he called out to me over his shoulder as he reached down to dial the oven knobs to their off position. “We don’t want to risk any gas leaks or electrical fires.”

I did as he instructed and then turned to Tomás. “You saw it,” I said. “Did one of the pans catch fire?”

“No,” he answered. “It was in the garbage can.” The prep cook indicated the waste bin at the far end of the Wolf range, now also covered in white foam. “There was smoke and flames coming out of it.”

“Really?” I said. “That’s weird.”

But then I remembered my dad telling a story about a fire starting in his garbage can after he’d thrown away some rags with paint thinner on them. It had been a hot day, and the rags had apparently spontaneously combusted. The fire could have caused a lot of damage to his house if a neighbor hadn’t seen smoke coming out of the can and rushed over to warn him.

It was certainly hot as blazes in the Gauguin kitchen right now, what with all the cooking elements having been on full blast. “Did anyone throw any grease or greasy paper into the trash?” I asked, raising my voice above the din that had erupted in the kitchen once the shock of the ANSUL system going off had passed. “Or see anyone who did?”

No one admitted doing such a thing, or to seeing anyone do so. But then again, all our staff had been trained never to place highly inflammable items into the kitchen garbage can.

So who could be lying? It had to have ignited for some reason.

I walked over to the waste bin; it was now a charred, foamy mess. So even if I wanted to sift through its no-doubt disgusting contents, I seriously doubted I’d be able identify the fire-starting agent.

Looking back up, I surveyed the people now crowding around the stove and realized I was standing next to Brian, who hadn’t moved from where he’d been immediately before the fire—right next to the waste bin. As I stared at the cook, apprehension growing in my chest, he turned to meet my gaze. I wasn’t positive, but I thought I detected the trace of a smile before he leaned over to murmur something to Javier.

Brian then strode out of the kitchen, and as he left, he pushed up the sleeves of his chef’s jacket, revealing the tattoo I’d noticed the first time we’d met: that bright orange and yellow flame running up the inside of his forearm.

 

 

 

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Excerpt reveal: Beautiful Mess, by John Herrick

Beautiful-Mess-Low-Resolution-Color-Book-CoverTitle: BEAUTIFUL MESS

Genre: Fiction

Author: John Herrick

Websitewww.johnherrick.net

Publisher: Segue Blue

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

Protagonist Del Corwyn is an aging relic—an actor who climbed from errand boy to Academy Award nominee; who kept company with Hollywood’s golden era elite; who even shared a close friendship with Marilyn Monroe. But now, Del Corwyn is facing bankruptcy. Humiliated and forced to downgrade his lifestyle and sell the home he’s long cherished, Del is destined to fade into a history of forgotten legends—unless he can revive his career. All he needs is one last chance. While searching through memorabilia from his beloved past, Del rediscovers a mysterious envelope, dated 1962, containing an original screenplay by Marilyn Monroe—and proof that she named him its legal guardian.  Seemingly overnight, Del goes from bankrupt, washed up has-been to the top of Hollywood’s A-list. But the opportunity to reclaim his fame and fortune brings a choice: Is Del willing to sacrifice newfound love, self-respect and his most cherished friendship to achieve his greatest dream?

Beautiful Mess follows one man’s journey towards finding love and relevance where he least expects it—and proves that coming-of-age isn’t just for the young.

About the Author: A graduate of the University of Missouri—Columbia, John Herrick explores themes of spiritual journeys and the human heart in his works. Herrick’s debut novel, From the Dead, hailed as “a solid debut novel” by the Akron Beacon Journal, achieved Amazon best-seller status, while Herrick’s second novel, The Landing, was named a semifinalist in the inaugural Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Herrick’s nonfiction eBook, 8 Reasons Your Life Matters, received over 160,000 downloads and landed at #1 on Amazon’s Motivational Self-Help and Christian Inspiration bestseller lists.  His third novel, Between these Walls, garnered high critical acclaim, including Publishers Weekly’s prediction that “Herrick will make waves.” John Herrick is a native of St. Louis. Visit him online at: www.johnherrick.net

Connect with the Author on the Web:

www.johnherrick.net

https://www.facebook.com/johnherrickbooks

https://twitter.com/johnherrick

https://www.youtube.com/c/johnherrick

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2121201.John_Herrick

http://johnherrick.net/main-blog/

BEAUTIFUL MESS

JOHN HERRICK
EXCERPT

            Arnie’s cheeks turned rosy as he grinned at Del. A wide, toothy grin. The discoloration of enamel betrayed a long-entrenched penchant for red wine. He rolled the script and slapped it against his palm.

“Do you realize how many people would dry-hump a flagpole to get their hands on this?” exclaimed the agent. “We’re talking history here! Hollywood’s best-kept secret!”

Del felt a bittersweet quiver in his gut but suppressed it. His life was about to become interesting again.

Arnie paged through the screenplay further, scanning the dialogue. Several minutes ticked past. Del savored the silence which, in this case, was the sound of power.

“Have you read this, Del?”

“I have.”

“Pretty deep shit in here. Dark shit, the kind that scares the hell out of you.” Arnie skipped to the screenplay’s midpoint and read some more. “And talk about explicit. The profanity, the sexual content, everything.”

“She made herself vulnerable, no doubt.”

“Damn, Del. This woman must’ve been more fucked up than we thought.”

Del winced. “Arnie, cut it out.”

“Sorry, I forgot you two were pals.” The agent shook his head in an absentminded manner, his mouth hanging open as he read further. “No wonder she didn’t show this to anybody else. Can you imagine how people would have reacted to this in 1962? The film would’ve been X-rated—if ratings had existed back then—and gotten banned from theaters. People would’ve protested outside. This script would’ve ruined Marilyn Monroe’s career.”

“But today—”

“—it’ll resurrect it.”

The men stared at each other for a moment, sizing each other up.

“But why you?” Arnie asked at last. “You said you two were buddies, but she knew tons of people. For all intent and purposes, she bequeathed it to you without realizing it. One of her final acts before she died. Why did she put this into your hands?”

Del shrugged. “I never betrayed her.”

He made his way toward a mini-fridge Arnie kept behind a bureau door and helped himself to a bottled water. He took a swig and began to pace the room, piecing the puzzle together with each stride.

“Many people aren’t aware of this,” Del said, “but her emotional state took such a dive, she was forced into a mental institution against her will for a brief period. That event left a permanent scar. Toward the end of her life, she didn’t trust many people, especially since people she trusted betrayed her and sent her to that place. Once she escaped, she feared the day would come when they’d lock her up again.

“This script exposed some of the inner workings and torments of her mind. What if authorities used it as evidence of a dangerous mental condition and sent her back to the one place she feared most? It was Joe DiMaggio, another ex-husband, who worked to get her out of there—and she barely made it out. If they had recommitted her, she would have lost her freedom forever.”

“But something must have prompted her to give this script to you, Del. If she was so paranoid, why did she risk giving the script to anyone? Why didn’t she keep it to herself?”

“She mentioned possible trouble ahead but didn’t go into detail.”

“You’re telling me Marilyn Monroe was a psychic?”

“Of course not. More like intuition. A sense that something was about to happen.” Del returned to his seat and crossed one leg over the other. He interlinked his fingers across his knee. “And she was right. A few months later, she died from a barbiturate overdose. Some speculated it was accidental, but the amount of drugs in her system were so high, it was hard to believe it was anything but suicide.”

Arnie tapped a pen against a legal pad. Del’s heart stirred. The memory of her death threatened to bring tears to the resilient man’s eyes.

Del leaned forward and locked eyes with his agent.

“For Marilyn, this script wasn’t about business. It wasn’t about fame.” Solemn, Del added, “This script is my chance to bring Marilyn Monroe back to life, one more time—on her own terms. To position her as a serious artist, the way she craved people to view her.”

“Your sentiment is honorable. That said, this revelation will set in motion a feeding frenzy.” Arnie paused, and Del caught a glint in his eye. “And I know you, Del. You like the cameras, the adoring fans. You want a career comeback—and this is the best ticket you’ll ever get.”

“Arnie—”

“All I’m saying is this: I don’t doubt your motive to honor Marilyn Monroe’s memory, but once we set this in motion, you’ll get caught up in the whirlwind. I’m warning you now because I don’t want to have to dig you out of a guilt complex later.”

“I’ll be fine, Arnie. Trust me.”

His agent regarded him for a moment, then nodded in resignation. “In that case, we need to set a plan in motion. How do we release the news of this discovery? How do we consider contenders? Where do we set the minimum bar for a deal? We get to call the shots here. They’ll need to play by our rules, and this script needs to be on strict lockdown.”

“Agreed.”

“In that case, the first thing we need to do is establish its authenticity. I’ll get the proof lined up and we’ll keep it in our back pockets. Next, we’ll hold a press conference to announce the existence of the screenplay—but let the press speculate about whether it’s authentic. We’ll hem and haw for a while, tease them a bit, make them think they have us cornered.”

Del didn’t want to look like a fool in public, regardless of how temporary or intentional, but he was willing to hear the rest of the idea. He stroked his chin and clasped his hands upon his chest. “And what happens next?”

“Then, when attention is at its peak, we release the evidence. It’ll be good for another round of marketing. So instead of releasing the evidence at the first news conference, we’ll get twice the bang for our buck.”

“Makes sense to me.” Del felt much more at ease. He exhaled and took a swig of water. The bottle’s thin plastic crackled in his grip.

“We’ll need some time to strategize this while the thumbprints are verified. I know a guy who can get it done under the radar. Meanwhile—and I’m sure you know this, but I’ll stress it anyway—don’t breathe a word of this until the day of our big announcement. Not to the media, the studio people, producers—not even to the chef at your sushi restaurant. The element of surprise will strengthen our bargaining position. Agreed?”

“Agreed.”

Arnie exhaled, as though in relief, and scratched his bald head. His fingers left behind red streaks. “This is big, Del.”

Del’s pulse increased with anticipation, yet he maintained his composure. He finished his water and crumpled the bottle.

‘Big’ didn’t do it justice.

This wasn’t just Marilyn’s final chance.

It was Del Corwyn’s, too.

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Chapter reveal: The Prom Dress Killer, by George A. Berstein

ThePromDressKillerprintcover5.5x8.5_BW_30018mar2017Title:  THE PROM DRESS KILLER

Genre: Mystery/Suspense

Author: George A Bernstein

Websitehttp://www.suspenseguy.com

Publisher: GnD Publishing

Find out more on Amazon

Beneath the blazing sun and sizzling streets of Miami, a cold-blooded killer is at work.  His victims?  Young, auburn-haired women—four, so far—kidnapped and murdered.  These victims show no signs of trauma, but all bear the distinct hallmarks of a serial killer.  And this serial killer leaves behind a sickening calling card:  each victim is found clad in a prom dress.

Homicide detective Al Warner is on the case but this killer has left shockingly few clues, leaving Warner with more questions than answers.  Why were these girls taken…and then killed?  Is this psychopath intent on killing redheads, and why?  What, if anything, connects the victims?  Why were the bodies arranged in peaceful repose, wearing prom dresses?  How does that square with his leaving these carefully-arranged bodies in dark alleyways, discarding them as if they’re trash? And how long until this killer strikes again?

Sadly, one question is answered quickly when promising young attorney Elke Sorenstan captures the killer’s deadly attention and becomes the fifth victim. All signs say the killer is escalating—and that can mean only one thing:  the killer is bound to strike again, and soon.  With the stakes mounting and every tick of the clock marking that fine line between life and death, Al Warner doggedly pursues the ruthless killer before another victim falls prey. Warner’s worst fears are realized when newly-minted Realtor Shelly Weitz finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Al Warner will have to act fast: the clock is ticking in this deadly game…and Shelly Weitz is dangerously close to dancing with the devil himself—a dance that will surely be her last.  But as Detective Warner gets closer to stopping the madman behind these murders, he’ll risk losing everything—including his life.

A mesmerizing Miami mystery that ratchets up the suspense from page one, The Prom Dress Killer will leave readers breathless. Resplendent with pulse-pounding action, nail-biting suspense and unexpected twists, turns and surprises, The Prom Dress Killer is an outstanding new mystery that takes readers on a high-octane quest to catch a killer.  George A Bernstein has crafted an eerily real, masterfully- plotted mystery that delivers thrills and chills from beginning to end.

George photo

About the Author: A native of Chicago, George A Bernstein is a retired president of a Chicago manufacturing company. After leaving Chicago for South Florida, George started a world-wide fishing and hunting tour service, Outdoor Safaris. He is a world class fly-fisherman who has held 13 IGFA World Records and authored the definitive book on fly-fishing for pike and musky, Toothy Critters Love Flies.  He and his wife of 57 years, Dolores, live in South Florida. George is also the author of two previous Detective Al Warner suspense novels, Death’s Angel and Born to Die. He is currently at work on the next Detective Al Warner novel, as yet unnamed.

 www.suspenseguy.com / http://facebook.com/georgeabernstein /                                    https://plus.google.com/114243818981488647845/ /                             http://twitter.com/georgebernstein

Chapter 2

“What d’ya got, Jack?” Al Warner asked, settling his lithe, hard muscled six-foot frame on the corner of his ex-partner’s desk.

“Not much, Al. The criminalists swept the entire area of the parking lot, but they didn’t come up with anything.” Jack Harris flipped through his notebook, shaking his head.

“We know for sure she was snatched in the lot?” Warner asked.

“Yeah. Security cameras picked her up, entering from the library. There’re two cams on every deck, but unfortunately, Miss Williamson was parked where there was no real coverage, and we never saw her leave.”

“Terrific!” Warner said, his fingers gently probing the spot at the back of his skull, more itchy than tender now, under the mat of thick curly black hair.

“That whack on the noggin still bothering you, Al?” Jack asked.

“Nah, not really. Just habit. Good thing I got a hard head.” Warner picked the crime scene report from Harris’ desk.

“Yeah, lucky for you. Not so lucky for the guy who beaned you … or his two nasty partners.” He grinned, delivering a little punch to Warner’s arm. Harris marveled at the steel hardness of his friend’s forty-year-old body.

“Easy, there, bud,” Warner said, his lips ticking upward. “So no video of the snatch …?”

“If it was one. I ain’t so sure.” Harris stood, coming around the desk.

“The third redheaded gal to go missin’ in the last three months? No longer a coincidence, Jack.” Warner self-consciously dropped his hand from another visit to his itchy scalp.

“If it’s the same perp,” Warner continued, “which now seems damned likely, we got five, maybe six days to find her alive. This guy’s got a timetable, and he sure doesn’t waste much time between vics. He drops one in an alley and has usually swiped the next within two weeks, max.

“Did the cameras at least pick up auto traffic in and out? We need something, Jack.”

“Sure, they got every vehicle coming and going. Problem is, we don’t have an exact timeline when she went missing. She left the library at about five p.m., and we got no shot of her leaving the garage.”

“Let’s review the tapes, startin’, say, at four-thirty, through about six. Look for the same vehicle comin’ and goin’ durin’ that time. He had to drive in and out. Maybe we’ll get lucky,” Warner said.

“Okay, boss, but he coulda followed her there and just waited for her to come back.”

“Good point. So look for her arrivin’ about three p.m. ID the next three or four vehicles behind her, and then look for one of them leavin’ right after we think she was snatched.”

“That’s kinda thin, boss … and it’s gonna give me a lot of sore eyes.”

“What else we got, Detective? Put one of the techs on it, if you’re gettin’ too old,” Warner said with a mischievous grin.

“Shit, you think I’d leave something like that to some nerd punk. I got a bottle of Murine.”

“Yeah, I figured. So get your lazy ass in gear. Let’s try to find this gal before the sands run out. I’m gonna zip by the parkin’ lot again, just in case we missed something. Her car been towed to the lab?”

“Yep. The Tech boys are about done.” Harris had returned to his desk, tilting his chair back. “I thought you might wanna take another peek at the scene. It’s still taped off, all the markers in place, and we got two full-time blues on the spot, so nothing gets disturbed.”

“Okay. Give me a copy of your interview notes of the lot’s attendants, and get on that film ASAP.” His voice raspy, he leaned forward, balancing on his arms, fingers spread like claws braced against the top of the desk.

“I don’t want a third pretty young corpse, all dolled up in a fancy prom dress, lyin’ in an ally somewhere. Not the goddamned Angel of Death, all over again.” Warner’s face contorted, as he slammed his fist down hard enough to spill the pencil container.

“Easy, boss.” Harris pushed away from his desk. “We’re doing the best we can, with what little we got.”

“Well it’s not fuckin’ good enough.” Warner straightened, catching himself from reaching for his last head wound again.

“I’m goddammed sick and tired of serial-killers around here. Three in the last three years is three fuckin’ too many! Let’s get this bastard before this last gal becomes his third vic, and before he takes a fourth.”

“We’re doing what we can, Al. He’s gotta make a mistake soon. I just hope we can do it this time without ya catching a bullet or rock off the noggin. Ya gotta stop playing those sympathy cards.”

Warner glared at the smaller man, but couldn’t contain his laughter, bubbling up, erupting like a ruptured dam … which in a sense, it was.

“Goddammed little shit! You always know how to cool my fuse when it gets too hot.”

Harris grinned. “Someone’s gotta chill ya out. You’re the best cop I know to solve these things, if ya don’t get too emotional about the vics. Never knew a detective who cared as much as you do, boss.”

“Thanks for the bucket of cold water, Jack. I get too wound up and I could miss something. Can’t afford to do that, ’cause this perp’s on a serious mission. I’m pretty sure bodies of pretty young redheads are gonna keep pilin’ up if we don’t nab ’im soon.

“Anyhow, get on that film, and get one of the techies to help. Two sets of eyes are always better. I’ll be back in a couple of hours. I‘ll wanna go over the patrol canvas reports, too.”

“Gottcha. Is Doc Guttenberg working on a profile?”

“Not yet. I’ll see Eva tonight and see if she can come up with something that might help.”

“Right. That’s real tough duty!” Harris grinned. “At least you two getting together is one thing good coming outta the last caper.”

Warner smiled. “Always lookin’ for the silver lining, huh.”

“Gotta be some perks in this job. I’ll call ya if anything comes outta those videos.”

Warner nodded, scooping up the file from Jack’s desk and heading out of the Miami-Dade Homicide Department. Something had to break, but time wasn’t on his side.

It never was, with a nut out there, killing innocent victims. Three years ago, it was teenagers. A year later beautiful young women … almost including Sharon. Now this nut— just sixty days after he snagged the perps with all those SIDS infants dying … and him taking a small boulder on the noggin in the process.

It’s redheaded women this time, meticulously groomed and dressed to the nines. Each was smothered, dying peacefully while apparently in a chloroform daze. It looked like the Unsub didn’t want them to suffer, but that seemed at odds with him laying them out in dark alleys like so much trash.

He hoped Eva could come up with something other than the killer seemed conflicted over his vic’s care. If nothing else, the lovely doctor would at least manage to drain off his tension.

He grinned, in spite of his anger. How was he so lucky to have that beauty love him? He thought briefly of Sharon, fleeing to Buffalo after her near deadly encounter with the Angel of Death. And then the blonde angel, Casey, consumed by the SIDS deaths of all those baby boys. That case eventually brought him to lovely Dr. Eva Guttenberg … and how lucky was that!

Will love last this time? He didn’t give it freely, and was too hard-case to receive it back very often. He was using up a lifetime of opportunities, and he didn’t want to screw this one up.

Unlocking his gray Dodge Charger coupe, he slid in, tossing the file on the passenger seat. He lingered, eyes focused on some distant, invisible spot, fingers tap-dancing on the leather cover steering wheel, considering the current serial lunatic.

This psycho wants something specific from these girls, and when they can’t feed his need, he discards them, cleaving to some unique, personal ritual, and looks for another. The fact they are in their twenties and redheads of similar size and build has a special meaning, but so far nothing has conjoined these gals except age group and hair color.

He sighed, firing up the engine, enjoying the rumble of its power.

“Better figure it out soon,” he mumbled, “or more bodies are gonna start pilin’ up. We’re one or two redheads away from city-wide panic.” Shifting gears, he drove out of the police lot, shaking his head.

They needed a break … and soon.


 

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THE FIVE MANNERS OF DEATH, by Darden North

The5MannersOfDeath_coverfinalTitle:  THE FIVE MANNERS OF DEATH

Genre: Mystery

Author: Darden North

Websitehttp://www.dardennorth.com

Publisher: WordCrafts Press

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book: The Five Manners of Death is a taut, tense, and gripping tale about a long-buried secret that once unleashed will begin a countdown of the five ways to die.  For Mississippi surgeon Diana Bratton, the novel’s protagonist, pages torn from a 1960s college yearbook reveal that murder is a family affair…

About The Five Manners of Death:  When a construction worker unearths  a decades-old human skull on the campus of the University of Mississippi, he sets in motion an eerie chain of events that leaves one  woman desperate to rewrite history and another woman desperate to find the truth.

After the discovery of her Aunt Phoebe’s 50-year-old note detailing the five manners of death, surgeon Diana Bratton is surrounded by bodies.  Suicide, accident, natural cause, and one death classified undetermined are soon crossed off this grisly list—leaving Diana to believe that only homicide remains. But the police prove her wrong:  Phoebe is linked to murder—not only by those skeletal fragments uncovered on the University campus but also to the recent deaths of two local men. Diana is torn:  should she try to prove her aunt’s innocence or accept police theory that her beautiful, beloved aunt is a woman who harbors dark and deadly secrets?

Stealing precious time from her young daughter, her surgical practice, and her hopes for a renewed romance, Diana launches a pulse-quickening quest to clear Phoebe’s name.  However, as she searches for evidence, Diana finds that her desire to reach the truth may be eclipsed by Aunt Phoebe’s need to rebury the past. When reality finally emerges, Diana faces the cold fact that murder is a family affair.  After all, things aren’t always what they seem. And some things never die…

With the precision of a surgeon, Darden North has crafted a confident and chilling tale about lies, secrets, deception and the conflict that erupts when the past and present collide.  Meticulous plotting, richly-drawn, engaging characters and a shocking storyline combine to create an extraordinary thriller resplendent with twists, turns, and the unexpected.  A unique but realistic story teeming with the right mix of medical authenticity, The Five Manners of Death plunges readers deep into the minds of the novel’s characters as each learns that no one can be trusted—and that everyone has his own agenda. With this sensational, skillful and highly suspenseful tale, Darden North claims a solid spot among today’s finest thriller writers.

About the Author: A board-certified physician in obstetrics and gynecology, Darden North writes murder mysteries and medical thrillers. His novels have received national awards, most notably an IPPY in Southern Fiction for Points of Origin. A native of the Mississippi Delta, Darden lives with his wife Sally in Jackson, Mississippi, where he practices medicine

Connect with the author on the web:

www.dardennorth.com

Instagram and Twitter: @dardennorth

https://www.facebook.com/DardenNorthAuthor

https://www.linkedin.com/in/darden-north-9b71749

https://www.youtube.com/user/dardennorth

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/351136.Darden_North

https://plus.google.com/107211094415566347824

http://blog.dardennorth.com/

CHAPTER 1

     Phoebe struggled against the sheets, pushing up with her arms. The glass of water on the silver tray rocked back and forth on the bed.

“Is the funeral home here?” she asked and settled against the pillow.

“No, because you’re not dead,” Diana said. “At least not yet.”

Diana blotted the sweat from her aunt’s forehead—skin hot enough to singe fingertips. She jerked away from the rattling cough that followed. Diana could not be sick too.

Phoebe managed to cling to the bed sheets instead of rolling to the floor. She shook her head when the hacking passed. “I told you to use one of the linen handkerchiefs, the ones with my initials.”

“Forget the Emily Post,” Diana said. “Here, take a sip of this.” She put the fresh Waterford tumbler from the nightstand to Phoebe’s lips. The red mane swung free of the pillow, strands of hair matted on Phoebe’s forehead. Diana bent and tried to fluff the pillow back into shape. The satin felt moist, almost gummy. She gave up and flipped the pillow over to the unused side.

“For heaven’s sake, please fill that glass with something besides water,” Phoebe said, swallowing hard. She almost floated back against the padding. Despite the cigarettes abandoned a few years ago, cocktails every afternoon, and a two-day fever racking her delicate frame, Diana Bratton’s aunt remained beautiful. No one judged her a day over 40, much less over sixty.

“Vodka and soda is in the rosewood cabinet inside my dressing room,” she said, handing the glass of water back to Diana. “Get it, please, and refresh the philodendron in the corner with this.”

“You should have listened to me about that flu shot,” Diana said.

Phoebe took the monogrammed linen handkerchief from her. “This is a family heirloom—my family. It belonged to my mother.” She blotted her forehead, then tossed the handkerchief atop the used pile near the lamp.

 

“I’ve never been much for free advice, even from you, Dr. Bratton,” Phoebe said. She reached for a fresh piece of linen from the Chinese porcelain tray near the bedside table, one of the pieces of china left uncrated for the move.

“I should have sneaked that syringe of flu vaccine out of the office and popped you with it myself—a real freebie.” Diana shielded her face just as more coughing and hacking racked Phoebe’s body. “It’s never too late for the pneumonia vaccine, but I give up.”

Diana opened the drawer in the bedside table and unwrapped the small package underneath the magazines, ink pens, and note pads. “Will you at least take a breathing treatment?”

Phoebe grabbed the nebulizer, inhaled twice and sputtered. “You mentioned your office—makes me think of your surgery partner. A woman I play bridge with calls men like that arm candy.”

“Brad’s been real busy. We just had our seven-year anniversary.”

“Should have been a wedding anniversary, my dear.” She grabbed an extra puff on the nebulizer. “Not long ago, you and your Doctor Brad Cummins were all but married—except for the ring.”

“I’ll ignore that,” Diana said. “Here’s a fresh handkerchief.” She dodged the path of the next coughing spell.

Arm candy,” Phoebe gasped. “Just thinking about that Dr. Brad Cummins makes an old lady feel better.”

“This thing isn’t doing you much good, even if overused,” Diana said. She tossed the nebulizer at the oxygen tank. It landed near the head of Phoebe’s four-poster mahogany bed and slid along the floor to behind the drapes.

“You sound worse.” She dug a digital thermometer and stethoscope out of her purse. “Inhale and exhale, deep,” she ordered.

Phoebe obeyed with deep breaths and release. “Where’s that other thing going?”

“In that know-it-all mouth of yours,” Diana answered. She put the stethoscope aside and placed the thermometer under Phoebe’s tongue. “Your lungs sound horrible—like a tornado—not to mention that your temp is still up.”

“I probably have pneumonia.”

“That’s another vote for the vaccine; and instead of a hearse, I’m calling Metropolitan for an ambulance.”

“Please, please, Diana, don’t. This is such a close-knit neighborhood, lots of busy-bodies. Sirens will cause such a stir.”

“You’re moving out of this place. You don’t care what the old neighbors say,” Diana said.

“Thank goodness we closed on the new house before I got sick, and I’m glad that I bought a place in town.”

“Regardless, I should have insisted you go to the hospital sooner,” Diana said. “Except for Kelsey, you’re the closest thing I have to blood kin.”

“I give up. Maybe you’re right.” Phoebe reached for the thick white cotton robe at the foot of the bed. The new silk one from Neiman Marcus remained boxed in her closet. “Here, help me with this thing and then get me to your car. Seeing your beautiful daughter once I’m settled into my room would really cheer me up.”

Diana wrapped the robe around the sheer pajamas, moist from sweat. Phoebe’s skin felt clammy. “Covering up is probably wise. This slinky outfit may get you arrested when we roll through admissions,” Diana said. She eased Phoebe into the silk slippers waiting on the Oriental rug. “Better yet, maybe we should change you into something less provocative. I’ll check your closet.”

A long row of cocktail dresses and tailored suits on hangers lined the walls to the left and right of the master bedroom closet. A built-in bank of drawers was located at the end of the space. Diana searched and found a pink fleece set neatly folded in the bottom drawer.

“I’m glad everything is not already boxed up,” Diana said. “Let’s slip you into this.”

“No, no. I’m much too weak to change clothes.” Phoebe stood, unsteady at first, then grabbed her purse from the dresser, clutching it to her chest. She coughed and sputtered as they moved down the hall toward the living room. “Doctors and nurses make note of expensive pajamas. I won’t part with these,” she said.

Diana caught Phoebe before she stumbled over the stuffed boxes and cartons piled in the entrance hall. “OK, you win. We’ll go as you are, but once I turn you over to the hospitalist, I’ll come back and pack a bag for you,” Diana said. “You won’t need much. The gift shop will have toiletries.”

She took Phoebe by the elbow and guided her out through the front door, past the white columns that anchored a wraparound porch extending across the front and along the sides of the house. Down the steps, at the foot of the narrow driveway, a dumpy, red-faced man in his sixties stopped to fumble with a plastic Wal-Mart shopping bag.

“Wouldn’t you know it,” Phoebe whispered under her handkerchief, “that fool, Carvel Eaves.”

“Afternoon, ladies. Lots of tidbits on my afternoon stroll,” he said. Like a pendulum, he swung the bag stuffed with empty soft drink and beer cans, crumpled fast food bags, and gum wrappers in Phoebe’s direction.

She frowned and opened the door to Diana’s car. “Interesting hobby you have, Carvel—keeping our Belhaven neighborhood free of litter during your walks. But I don’t have time for …” (The comment was stalled by another round of coughing, topped off with a protracted wheeze.) “… time for your nonsense today.” She slid inside the car into the passenger seat.

Carvel Eaves leaned toward Phoebe. “Never know what people will toss out into the streets,” he said. “Most of the time it’s teenagers throwing beer cans out the window before mom and dad see or discards flying out the back of their pickups. Sometimes it’s just careless trash collectors.” Carvel took a second look at Phoebe. “Looks like you’re a little under the weather, Miss Phoebe.”

“You’re not listening, Carvel,” she said. “My niece and I are in a terrible rush.”

“A rush? Just like during last Saturday’s bridge tournament?”

“That wasn’t me with the mistakes. Your game was off,” she answered. “When I trumped you and closed you out, I was just trying to end the misery for us all.” Phoebe tilted her head past him through the window for an even longer, deeper coughing episode—this time punctuated with two wheezes.

Diana opened the driver’s door and tossed her white jacket out of the way to the back seat. She patted Phoebe on the back until the coughing and wheezing ceased. “Tell Mr. Eaves goodbye. We need to get to the hospital,” Diana said.

“You do sound rough, Phoebe,” Carvel said. “Guess you’ll miss this weekend’s bridge tournament and your master points?”

“Seems I will. My niece thinks I’m on death’s door and insists on the hospital. She’s a doctor, you know … a surgeon.”

“Everybody knows that, Phoebe. She fixed my golf buddy’s hernia.” Eaves reached low for the plastic cup lid and drinking straw spotted near the curb and stuffed his bag. He smiled. “No complaints since.”

“Carvel, we have to go. Start the car, Diana.”

Diana pushed the ignition switch.

“Funny you said something about death’s door,” he said. Carvel leaned closer, then seemed to think better of it. He smoothed the piece of paper. “Let’s see … The paper is old. It’s some type of list … The printing is a little smeared and definitely faded, but at the top it says The Five Manners of Death.” Carvel tipped his Ole Miss baseball cap. “Better be careful at that hospital, Phoebe. Seems there are several ways to go.”

“My God, Carvel. Those were notes from a college English composition class, creative writing. I found that when packing for the move and threw that ancient garbage away,” Phoebe said. “Even now, I can’t seem to get rid of those papers—thanks to busybodies like you.”

He spotted a weathered, rolled-up newspaper flattened against the curb across the street. “I better get that. Newspaper decomposes quick.” Carvel stuffed the sheet of paper back into his makeshift trash bag and headed across the street.

“Unique little man, that Mr. Eaves,” Diana said and closed her door. Forgetting the car was already running, she again pushed the ignition, then placed her cell in a compartment on the console.

“Never mind that old fool. He tried to convince my bridge partner to go to the golf party at the country club last Christmas, practically begged her to date him.” Phoebe fished a fresh disposable tissue from her purse, which nearly disintegrated under more coughing and hacking. Then there were sneezes. “Her husband hadn’t been dead a month.”

“Maybe you should just rest quietly,” Diana said. “Let your seat back with that button between the seat and the door.”

Diana reached for her cell but remembered the Bluetooth. “I better give a heads-up to the hospitalist at Metropolitan,” she said. “He won’t mind; he gets paid per admission.” Diana pushed CALL on the steering wheel and spoke the name.

A voice blared from the stereo speakers. “Dr. Bahrain here.” Startled, Diana swerved to miss the edge of a brick pillar marking the entrance to a driveway.

“Diana!” Phoebe screamed. “Is it too late for that ambulance?”

Diana straightened the vehicle and slowed at the four-way stop to turn the corner. She took a deep breath and answered the hospitalist. “Ahmed, this is Diana Bratton. Can you take a look at my aunt? She’s not any better. I think pneumonia has complicated her asthma.”

“Sure, Dr. Bratton. Bring her on in. I’ll expedite the admission and fix her up in no time.”

“Thank you. We’re 15 minutes away.” They ended the call just before Phoebe started to wheeze and cough. Diana reached behind to rummage through the pockets of her lab coat in the back seat. “I think there might be an extra inhaler in here,” she said, “a sample from the office medicine closet.”

“Diana!” Phoebe grabbed Diana’s shoulder. “Something’s ahead in the street.”

Diana dropped her lab coat and swerved to miss the crumpled mound lying on the pavement. She slammed the brakes, the shoulder straps jerking them against their seats. Diana checked the rearview mirror, unbuckled her seatbelt, and sprang from the car.

Several aluminum cans, a rolled newspaper, and a plastic sack were nearby. It was Carvel Eaves. The note in Phoebe’s handwriting lay next to him.

 

 

 

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Little Girl Gone, by Margaret Fenton

LGGcoverTitle: Little Girl Gone

Genre: Mystery

Author: Margaret Fenton

Websitewww.margaretfenton.com

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

When Little Girl Gone opens, it’s September in Birmingham, Alabama, and Claire Conover is steeling herself. September—with its oppressive, unwelcome heat, back-to-school newness worn off, and skyrocketing reports of abuse and neglect—is a time of year Claire has come to dread.  As the crime rate increases, so increases the work load for Claire and the Jefferson County Department of Human Services Child Welfare Division. Seems this year is no exception.

When she takes into custody a 13-year-old girl found sleeping behind a grocery store, Claire is swept up in a case that turns out to be far more complicated, and far more dangerous, than initially meets the eye. Struggling to piece together the young girl’s identity, Claire finds herself with few answers and no shortage of questions.  Is the young girl a runaway?  An abuse victim?  Or something else?   But things go from bad to worse when the young girl’s mother is found murdered—and then the girl disappears.  Claire soon discovers that the mother was involved in an illegal gambling industry in Birmingham.  But even with this clue, the case becomes more complicated.  Could the young girl have pulled the trigger?  Is that even possible?  And where could she have run?  Did she run at all? In the midst of all the questions, only one thing is certain: Claire has to find the answers, and the girl, fast.

A swiftly paced, suspenseful, and shocking story, Little Girl Gone earns Margaret Fenton a solid spot among today’s best mystery writers.  Masterful plotting, extraordinary character development, and a pulse racer of a plot combine to create an extraordinary mystery resplendent with twists, turns, and surprises.  An unforgettable story informed by Fenton’s near decade of experience as a social worker, Little Girl Gone also shines a light on the plight of at risk children and the dedication of those tireless and compassionate workers who serve them.  A stellar entry into what Booklisthailed “a promising new series,” Little Girl Gone is mesmerizing.

About the Author:

Margaret Fenton grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and moved to Birmingham in 1996. She received her B.A. in English from the Newcomb College of Tulane University, and her Master of Social Work from Tulane. Fenton spent nearly ten years as a child and family therapist before taking a break to focus on her writing. Her work tends to reflect her interest in social causes and mental health, especially where kids are concerned. She serves as planning coordinator of Murder in the Magic City, a one-day, one-track annual mystery fan conference in Homewood, Alabama. She is President of the Birmingham Chapter of Sisters in Crime and a member of the Mystery Writers of America. Margaret lives in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover with her husband, a software developer.

Connect with the author on the web:

https://www.margaretfenton.com/

https://www.facebook.com/margaret.fenton

Chapter One

            I dread September every year.  The summer heat lingers, oppressive and unwelcome.  The kids in Birmingham have been back in school for two weeks, long enough for the excitement of new teachers, clothes, and school supplies to wear off.  Classes and homework have become things to be endured.  The lush green hills surrounding the city begin to fade to an unappealing dull brown, and it seems the crisp cool nights and the red and gold foliage of fall will never arrive.

Other typical late summer colors emerge, too.  Like the black and blue of bruises on a child’s legs, peeking out from under a pair of shorts at recess.  There’s the chalky complexion of the child who never gets enough to eat in the cafeteria, or the rusty skin of the one who never gets a bath.  Reports of abuse and neglect made by teachers skyrocket in September, swamping the Jefferson County Department of Human Services, Child Welfare Division, where I work.

To no one’s surprise the murder rate also spikes. The woman found in the ravine was the area’s forty-fifth homicide of the year.  I’d like to say the news of the poor woman’s death was more than mere background noise read by the perky morning anchor while I half-dried my hair in my usual scramble to get to work.  I’d like to say I paid attention.  Paused for reflection, a moment of silence, a prayer, anything.  But I didn’t.  It was Tuesday, the first of September, and another school year was well underway.  It was the busiest time of the year for me, and I was struggling every day just to keep my head above the flood of new investigations and everything that went with them.

I parked in the lot behind our downtown office at five to seven.  Russell, my cubicle-mate, trudged in ten minutes later.  As usual, his highlighted blond hair was still wet from the shower, his newspaper was tucked under his arm, and he clutched a cup of to-go coffee.

Russell and I are not morning people.  Both of us usually start out in a bad mood, but lately his had stretched into a day-long thing.  His boyfriend of nearly a year, Heinrich, moved back to Germany recently to be with his family.  They were trying to decide whether to maintain a long-distance relationship and Russell was miserable.  I was on the verge of placing a call to Munich and begging Heinrich to get on a plane back to Alabama.

I updated my To Do list for the day as Russell settled himself at his desk.  Every day he sipped his coffee, perused the paper, and read me little bits of news before he checked his voice and e-mail messages.

“You hear about the body they found?” he asked, skimming the front page.

“There was something about it on TV.  She was found in a drainage ditch or something?”

“Uh-huh.  Behind that fancy new golf resort they’re building in Homewood.”

“Russet Ridge?  Strange place for a body.”  The half-completed complex would feature a world-class golf course, five-star restaurants, and a hotel with a shopping area and a spa.  It was going up in one of Birmingham’s more affluent suburbs where murders weren’t supposed to happen.

“Yeah, it doesn’t sound like the usual stuff.”

The “usual stuff” was drugs and domestic violence.  They were two of the most common causes of death in Jefferson County.  And two of the most prevalent reasons why caseworkers like me and Russell took children into the State’s custody.

Russell continued reading.  “It says here she was shot in the head at close range.  Found by some kids out playing over the weekend.  Poor things.  If she was in the water in this heat for more than a day, even it was shallow–”

The bagel with cream cheese I’d wolfed down for breakfast suddenly lurched in my stomach.  “Russell, please.”

“What?”

“I don’t really want to hear the details.”

“I didn’t know you were squeamish.”

“Can I at least finish my first cup of coffee before we discuss decomposing bodies?”

“Sorry.  Anyway, your boy Kirk Mahoney wrote this story.”

At the mention of Kirk’s name, an uninvited image of his spiky black hair and blue eyes flashed into my mind.  I felt a strange tightening in my chest and a tingling sensation just in front of my left ear where he’d kissed me last.  I rubbed the spot, then tucked a strand of blonde shoulder length hair behind my ear.  “He’s not my boy.”

Kirk was anything but my boy.  More like my nemesis.  One who had dogged me relentlessly after the tragic death of one of my young clients this summer.  He’d turned out to be quite an ally, though, when it came to putting the pieces of that case together.  I hadn’t seen him in over a month.  “Besides, I have a boy, remember?  Grant.”

“Oh, right.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing.”

Grant was my boyfriend.  As much as he could be.  We hadn’t seen much of each other lately due to my thirteen hour days and his computer firm being awarded a contract to outfit an entire new medical clinic.  Grant owned a company called High Tech, and they were installing all of the facility’s new PCs and other equipment.  We’d squeezed in a handful of dates in August before the days got so crowded.  Our relationship now consisted of a lot of sleepy late-night phone conversations.

I focused again on the list of tasks in front of me.  I prioritized it into things I had to get done today, things for tomorrow, and stuff I’d get to when I could.  Russell logged on to his computer, and I picked up the phone to arrange some IM’s with clients.  IM’s were intervention meetings, during which the caseworker and the clients worked toward addressing the problems that had led to the department’s involvement.  Strict guidelines dictated when they had to be done, and I was falling behind in scheduling them.

I was on my third phone call when Jessica, our unit secretary, appeared in the doorway of the cubicle.  In her hand was a thin brown folder.

“Claire.”

“Oh, no.  Come on.  You’re kidding, right?”

“Sorry.  You’re next on the assignment rotation.”  She said it with a smarmy smile.  Jessica was the type of person who enjoyed giving people bad news.  “Mac says tag, you’re it.”

Mac McAlister was my boss, the Unit Supervisor.  He and I have kind of a love-hate relationship.  Okay, maybe not that strong.  More of a like-dislike relationship.  His somewhat tepid support of me after my client’s death in June still rankled.  I had no doubt that if that case had gotten any uglier, he would have thrown me under the bus.

“Damn,” I muttered, and held out my hand for the file.

“He’ll be by in a minute to give you the rundown.”

“Thanks so much.”

“No problem,” she called as she walked back to her desk.

I could feel stress tightening my shoulders.  Mac entered the cubicle and leaned his own beefy shoulder on the filing cabinet.  His ring of white hair needed a trim, and his out-of-style tie hung inches too short.  He fingered the cigar in his pocket, no doubt longing for the good old days when he could light up at his desk.  I picked up the folder Jessica had brought me and read the highlights while he talked.

“One of the Homewood police officers found her sleeping under a cardboard box behind the Piggly Wiggly on Highway 31.  They thought for a second they had another body on their hands. The reporting officer, Mary Nobles, thinks she’s about thirteen.  The girl won’t give her name or address.”

“Runaway?”

“That’d be my guess.  Or a throwaway.  That’s all I know for now.  Go over to Homewood and pick her up, get her something to eat and see what you can do with her.”

“Wonderful.  I suppose HPD can’t be bothered to bring her here?”

“I didn’t feel like arguing about it.  They said they were busy.”

“Like I’m not?”

“Touch base with me after you get her some breakfast.”

“Okay.”

I kissed my plans for the day goodbye and gathered my purse and briefcase.  I drove my aging white Honda Civic to Third Avenue North and made my way to the Red Mountain Expressway.  The morning commute traffic was at its peak, but I was headed south out of the city so it didn’t slow me down.  I took the expressway and within ten minutes pulled up to the square, beige-bricked police department headquarters.

I checked in with the officer at the desk, and as I was signing in I heard a familiar voice.

“Well, hey there, Miss Conover.”

I looked up from the sheet to see an officer enter from the back of the station.  He was in uniform, his gun dangling from his right hip.

“Oh, hi, Officer Ford.”

“Chip, please.”

“Chip,” I repeated with a nod.  Chip and I had worked together on a couple of pickup orders, taking kids into custody.  He loved his job as a cop, worshiped his badge, and probably slept with a loaded gun under his pillow.  He was a big ball of us-against-the-scum-the-earth, Dirty-Harry-movie fueled testosterone.  I couldn’t stand him.

Chip ran a hand over his dark blond high-and-tight.  “You here for the girl?”

“Yeah.”

“She’s in the break room.  I’ll take you back.”

I clipped a temporary pass to the pink and white lanyard around my neck that held my DHS ID and entered the back of the station with Chip leading the way.  “She’s not real talkative,” he said.

“So I hear.”

“Mary’s one of our best officers and she hasn’t been able to get jack out of her.  I told the girl that if somebody had messed with her, all she had to do was tell me and I’d take care of him. Put him under the goddamn jail, you know what I mean?”

I winced in frustration.  Chip had just made my job a hell of a lot harder.  If this girl was a victim of sexual abuse, the last thing in the world I wanted him to talk about was what could happen to the perpetrator.  First, prosecution in most cases was unlikely, and second, most kids didn’t want the abuser to go jail, especially if it was a loved one.  For many kids the thought of putting daddy or uncle in prison was too much to bear, no matter what he’d done.  I needed to figure out what had happened first, make sure she was safe, and let justice sort itself out later.

A small room off the narrow hallway held two tables and a couple of vending machines. An old color TV was perched on top of a humming refrigerator.  A fluffy morning talk show played with the volume muted.

A uniformed black policewoman sat in silence at one of the tables, writing on a thick clipboard, next to a teenaged girl.  The girl had an open can of Diet Coke in front of her.  Standing in the doorway of the break room, I got my first look at my new charge.

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

‘The Bronx Kill’ by Philip Cioffari

CioffariCoverColorTitle: THE BRONX KILL

Genre:  Suspense/Literary

Author: Philip Cioffari

Websitewww.philipcioffari.com

Publisher: Livingston Press

Find out more on Amazon

When Danny Baker returns home after a self-imposed exile, he finds himself face to face with what he’d run away from. On a hot August night five years earlier, a teenage brotherhood called the Renegades—Danny, Charlie Romano, Johnny Whalen, Tim Mooney and Julianne Regan, the lone female of the group with whom they were all in love—set out on a misguided and ill-fated effort to swim the East River from the Bronx to Queens. Under questionable circumstances, Tim Mooney, known affectionately as Timmy Moon, and Julianne both disappear in the failed attempt. Timmy washes up the next day, but Julianne’s body is never found. In the initial police investigation, the apparent drownings were ruled “accidental.” But Timmy’s older brother, Tom, has recently been promoted to the rank of detective in the NYPD—and he’s decided to re-open the case. Convinced that the death of his brother was anything but an accident, he’s determined to bring the surviving Renegades to justice by any means possible.  Now Danny must fight not only to preserve his childhood friendships but also to save himself and his friends from the detective’s vigilante brand of justice.  And that will mean having to confront the truth about what really happened on that hot August night…

With its richly-developed characters and seductive, suspenseful storyline, The Bronx Kill is a thoughtful, thought-provoking, exquisitely crafted tale.  Gritty, dark, and ominous, The Bronx Kill is an intense character-driven thriller that plunges readers headfirst into the mean streets of the Bronx. With characters that come alive within the novel’s pages, a plot that draws readers in from page one, and its poignant exploration of such universal themes of friendship, loyalty, loss, and redemption, The Bronx Kill is destined to stay with readers long after the final page is turned.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

phil in b&W

Philip Cioffari is the author of the novels: DARK ROAD, DEAD END; JESUSVILLE;  CATHOLIC BOYS; and the short story collection, A HISTORY OF THINGS LOST OR BROKEN, which won the Tartt Fiction Prize, and the D. H. Lawrence award for fiction. His latest novel is THE BRONX KILL (Livingston Press, 2017). His short stories have been published widely in commercial and literary magazines and anthologies, including North American Review, Playboy, Michigan Quarterly Review, Northwest Review, Florida Fiction, and Southern Humanities Review. He has written and directed for Off and Off-Off Broadway. His Indie feature film, which he wrote and directed, LOVE IN THE AGE OF DION, has won numerous awards, including Best Feature Film at the Long Island Int’l Film Expo, and Best Director at the NY Independent Film & Video Festival. He is a Professor of English, and director of the Performing and Literary Arts Honors Program, at William Paterson University. www.philipcioffari.com

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Categories: literary fiction, Suspense, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chapter Reveal: Echoes of Terror, by Maris Soule

EchoesOfTerrorFrontTitle: Echoes of Terror

Author: Maris Soule

Genre: Mystery

Publisher: Five Star

Websitehttp://marissoule.com 

Find out more on Amazon

The latest release by award-winning novelist Maris Soule, Echoes of Terror is a taut, tense tale about secrets, deadly intentions, and what happens when murder hits way too close to home.   Set against the backdrop of Skagway, Alaska,Echoes of Terror introduces protagonist Katherine Ward, a Skagway police officer who finds herself thrust in extraordinary—and extraordinarily frightening–circumstances when her past, present and future threaten to collide in a most dangerous way.

About Echoes of Terror:  Rural Skagway, Alaska’s small police force is accustomed to an occasional crime–a stolen bike here, a DUI there.  But when a teenager goes missing, the Skagway Police force is hardly prepared, especially with its Police Chief  in the hospital and an officer missing. Officer Katherine Ward is assigned the case, never expecting it to parallel her own kidnapping experience seventeen years earlier.  Soon, Katherine realizes what originally appeared to be the case of a rebellious teen runaway is anything but.  There’s something—or someone—sinister at work in this usually quiet town and a teenager’s life is in danger.

But missing teen Misty Morgan isn’t your average teenage girl:  she’s the daughter of a billionaire.  Misty thought running off with a college boy would get her father’s attention, but now she and another kidnapped teen are praying for their lives at the hands of a ruthless kidnapper. Stuck in China on a business trip, Misty’s father suspected his daughter was up to something and asked his longtime friend, Marine veteran Vince Nanini, to fly to Alaska and stop Misty. Problem is, Vince arrives too late to stop the kidnapping, and the police aren’t eager to let him help find the missing teen.

When Katherine realizes the same man who kidnapped and raped her years ago is the one holding Misty and the other teenager, the terror of those months in captivity resurfaces.  Together, Katherine and Vince must figure out where the kidnapper has taken two teenagers, and fast.  But nothing is at it seems in this race to stop a madman before he kills again. The clock is ticking—and this time, the past is close behind. Dangerously close behind…

Brimming with tension, filled with twists and turns, and resplendent with pulse-quickening suspense that reaches a dramatic and shocking crescendo, Echoes of Terror is a bone-chilling tale that grabs readers and doesn’t let go. Award-winning novelist Maris Soule delivers a briskly paced, masterfully plotted, spine-tinglingly realistic thriller that will leave readers gasping for breath.

According to bestselling novelist Libby Fischer Hellmann, author of the Ellie Foreman mystery series, “The pace and writing will keep you turning pages. And the twist at the end?  I didn’t see if coming. Do yourself a favor and read this thriller now.”

CHAPTER ONE

7:25 a.m. Thursday

“That guy is a frickin’ idiot.”

“Who’s an idiot?”

Brian Bane glanced at the girl sitting next to him before again splitting his attention between the twisting road in front of his Chevy Blazer and the tailgating Ford Explorer. On their right the roadway dropped over a thousand feet. As much as he liked excitement, this Internet-born adventure was not starting out as he’d imagined.

“The guy behind us,” he said, keeping a tight hold on the steering wheel. “He came up out of nowhere. Now he’s all over my ass. Like there’s any way for me to go faster up this grade.”

Misty—or Miss T as she was known on ChatPlace—twisted in her seat to look behind them. Her wild, blonde curls brushed her shoulders, and her mini-skirt showed a teasing view of her inner thigh. “Shit,” she hissed through her teeth.

“What?” Brian said.

“He sent Vince.”

“Who sent Vince?”

“My dad.”

“Your dad?” Brain didn’t like the sound of that. “So who’s Vince?”

“He’s a guy Dad knew in the Marines. He’s supposed to do computer security for my dad’s business, but he keeps acting like he’s my bodyguard. I can’t do a frickin’ thing without him showing up.”

She flopped back against the seat, and crossed her arms over her chest. The fact that her old man had sent someone after her, and the way she was pouting, didn’t bode well. For the first time since he’d picked Misty up in Skagway, Brian wasn’t so certain she was the eighteen years she’d advertised.

“How old are you, Misty? Your real age, I mean.”

She glared at him, and then looked away. “Age is meaningless.”

Meaningless, my ass, he thought. Damn, I’m so screwed. He was about to take an under-aged girl into Canada. No wonder some steroid filled ex-Marine with an over attachment to the boss’s daughter was after him. He’d be lucky if he wasn’t arrested as an International felon.

“Do you think—?”

A thump to the back corner bumper sent the Blazer into a fishtail, and Brian gasped, clinging to the steering wheel as he fought to bring the car back under control. “Jeez, Misty, your dad’s buddy just rammed us.”

“Then step on the gas,” Misty ordered, giving a quick glance behind them. “Outrun him.”

“In this thing?” The old Blazer was tired iron. The first part of the Klondike Highway, from Skagway to White Pass and the Canadian line, was a twisting, turning two-laner that rose from sea level to over three thousand feet. The steep incline was already taxing the engine. They’d be lucky to outrun a snowplow through this stretch.

Again the Explorer rammed into them, this time lurching them straight toward the guardrail as the road turned. Misty yelped and grabbed at the door. Brian swung the wheel. The sensation of the front right fender grating on metal vibrated through the steering column. When they came out of the turn, the Explorer was nearly side by side.

“Your dad’s buddy is nuts! He’s going to kill us.”

“Just go faster!”

“I’m going as fast as I can.”

The powerful Explorer began squeezing them closer to the guardrail. Jaw clenched and muscles taut, Brian struggled to keep his SUV on the pavement. Adrenalin pumped through his body, a bitter taste rising to his throat.

And then his heart nearly stopped.

Just a few hundred feet ahead, the guardrail turned into a twisted, jagged strip of metal that hung limply to the ground. Open air replaced protection. One bump from the Explorer as they passed that broken section of guardrail, and they’d definitely be going over the edge, tumbling down the mountainside.

“That’s it, Babe.”

Brian pulled his foot from the gas and began to brake.

“What are you doing? Don’t slow down!”

“Forget it,” he said in disgust. Man, his friends had been right about this whole hooking up online thing. They’d tried to talk him out of it, but all Brian had been seeing was a summer traveling through Canada with a hot chick. Instead of lots of sex and partying, after this ex-Marine got through with him, he’d be lucky if all of his body parts were intact.

Brian brought the Blazer to a complete stop, his entire body shaking. The Explorer angled in front of him, preventing a forward escape. With a sigh, Brian shifted into park, and then turned toward Misty—the beautiful, sexy Miss T.

The beautiful, sexy, under-aged, Miss T, he mentally corrected. “Wouldn’t you know I’d hook up with jailbait.”

She glared at him. “So it didn’t work out. Stop whining. Vince isn’t going to do anything to you.”

“Oh yeah?” Brian sure hoped that was true. “So, what was this, just a little joy ride for you?”

“What it was is none of your business.” Once again she looked away, out the side window.

Brian stared at her for a second, kicking himself for being such an idiot, then he stepped out of the car. As he looked toward the Explorer, he wondered if he should act angry—after all, Misty had duped him. Or guilty—because he should have known she was under-age.

The other car door began to open, and Brian called out, “Listen, man, I had no idea she was—” He broke off as the man straightened and faced him. He almost laughed when he saw the bear mask . . .

Then he saw the gun.

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MarisSoule2015

Acclaimed novelist Maris Soule is a two time RITA finalist who has won numerous awards for her novels over the last three decades. Born and raised in California, Maris majored in art at U.C. Davis and taught art for 8 years before retiring to raise a family. Maris and her husband divide their time between Michigan and Florida. Echoes of Terror is her 30th book.  Visit Maris Soule online at: www.marissoule.com

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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