Mystery

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.

Advertisements
Categories: Mystery, 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.

////////////////////////////////

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

Chapter reveal: WHITE WITH FISH, RED WITH MURDER, by Harley Mazuk

WhiteFish_RedMurder Final.jpgTitle: WHITE WITH FISH, RED WITH MURDER

Genre: Mystery

Author: Harley Mazuk

Website: www.harleymazuk.com

Publisher: Driven Press

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

P.I. Frank Swiver accepts an invitation from a wealthy connoisseur to attend a wine tasting on a private rail car. The host, General Lloyd Thursby, entices Frank with an offer of much-needed work, and the other guests with the promise of a pour of a rare California wine, Ravensridge Blackbird Noir.  On board, Frank, accompanied by his secretary and lover Vera Peregrino, finds an old flame, the recently widowed Cicilia O’Callaghan, among the guests.  It turns out that Thursby wants Frank to investigate the murder of his good friend, Rusty O’Callaghan, Cicilia’s late husband.  But all does not go as planned:  General Thursby is murdered before the wine tasting has even begun. Locked into the private carriage and steaming north from San Francisco, the guests proceed to pull some corks and theorize who among them could be the killer. The cops arrest Vera for Thursby’s murder and while she languishes in her cell, Frank’s renewed affair with Cici heats up.  But another murder follows and Frank realizes that his romance with Cici is poisonous.  He’ll have to change his perceptions and find the real killer—or lose both Cici and Vera…and maybe even his life.

 

EXCERPT:

A few lights were on in the lounge; I could see burgundy wallpaper with dark wood trim. To my right were two dining tables, each with four seats, and on the left an upright piano with a light oak finish. Beyond that, a group of folks sat in the far end of the car. I led Vera partway down, until the man facing us spoke.

“Ah, you must be Frank Swiver,” he said.

“I am, and this is Vera Peregrino.” There were nods and greetings, and the man who had spoken rose. I strode across to shake his hand.

“Lloyd Thursby,” he said. He was an older gent with gray hair and clear, alert blue eyes. He wore a camel hair topcoat draped on his shoulders like a cape, over a dark brown, well-cut suit. He stood a couple of inches taller than me, maybe six foot two, and he carried himself ramrod straight, so he appeared even taller. I had the idea he was fit and powerful for his age. “This is my majordomo,” he gestured at a man standing near the rear corridor of the train car, “Fenwick.” He was younger and three or four inches shorter than Thursby.

Fenwick stepped forward. “I’ll take your bags, sir.”

I gave him my duffel and Vera’s suitcase, and when he reached out his arms to take them, his sleeves slid up, revealing thick, dark hair on the backs of his wrists and hands. He carried the luggage into the corridor, and his wrists stayed down out of his sleeves making his arms appear long and apelike.

General Thursby held out his left hand toward a dame in a chair on my right. “This is Sally DeBains.” She was well dressed and well coiffed, fiftyish, and blond—though I suspected the hair color came out of a bottle.

“How do you do?” she said. She had plenty of ice on her fingers, and I clasped the hand she extended and gave it a light kiss. I thought about biting one of the rings, but she didn’t strike me as a big Three Stooges fan.

“I’m well, thanks,” I replied. “How do you do?” More jewelry drooped around her neck, and she obviously had gained a couple of pounds as she aged. She may have been shaking her maracas a bit lower than she used to, but she had probably been a hot number twenty years ago. For my money, she was still hot enough.

Thursby stepped back toward his chair and extended his right hand. “Over here, allow me to present Marcus Aurelius Wolff, our philosopher, and a fellow collector.”

Wolff was a huge, fat man, whose bulk blocked much of the light from the window behind him. His three-piece charcoal  pinstriped suit oozed polish and quality, and he held a pearl-gray hat in his lap. Although it was cool, and I still had my trench coat on, the fat man was perspiring. He beamed and drew a silk hanky out of his breast pocket, then wiped his bald head.

“An honor, sir, an honor to meet you,” said Wolff.

I assured him the honor was all mine. “A collector of what?” I asked.

“Why wine, Swiver, wine, of course.” Thursby laughed. “That’s what brings our little group together, you know. We taste wine, we savor it, we debate about it.”

“And what do you do, sir?” Wolff asked me.

“I drink it.” I gave him a grin.

Thursby stepped in. “Frank is a writer working on my biography.” Writer was as good as anything. General Thursby had enclosed a hand-written note with his invitation:

 

Swiver,

 

I hear you know a little about wine, but that’s not the only reason I’m inviting you to my tasting. I’d like to hire you. I’ll brief you about the job on the train. You can bring another operative if you like. Make it look as if you’re along for the party—I don’t want to tip my hand. Whether you take the case or not, I’ll pay you for your time and you’ll get to taste some good wines.

 

Thursby

 

That was all I knew; it wasn’t much, but it was enough to get me there. I hadn’t had a case for weeks, other than the contract work at the hotel, and I needed the money. He didn’t want to tip his hand. I would play along.

“Miss Peregrino is my research assistant,” I said. Vera smiled.

And so we circulated around the room and met the guests, and Vera and I shook hands like a couple of politicians at the Orange County Fair.

And then as the introductions were coming to an end, I saw her, to my left, by the piano. A short black dress, low cut, raven-dark hair, emerald eyes that almost glowed, over robust cheekbones—it was Cicilia Ricci, girl of my dreams.

“And last, this is Cicilia O’Callaghan,” the general went on. “Cicilia—”

“We’ve met.” A chill ran up my spine.

“Hello, Frank. It’s been a while.”

“Fourteen years. You look good, Cicilia.” The widow O’Callaghan, formerly Cicilia Ricci. Her hair was cut a little shorter than when I knew her—wavy on top, parted in the middle, and falling down to her shoulder blades in curls. Her dark eyebrows curved high over her big eyes in graceful roman arches. She’d been seventeen when I met her; she’d be thirty-two now. No longer a budding teenager but a woman in her prime, and more ravishing than ever, if that was possible.

“You look well too, Frank.” Her voice was deep, smoky, seductive. It was Cici’s normal voice.

I shook another Pall Mall out of the pack and fumbled with a box of wooden matches like a nine-year-old trying to light up in the schoolyard. “Having a little trouble, Frank?” Vera noticed. She tilted her head down and to her right, and angled an eye up at me, amused. She relieved me of the matches, struck one and held it out, steadying my hand as I lit up.

C’mon, Swiver, get a grip on yourself. You’re on a case. I clenched and unclenched my fists, and turned away from Cicilia to face the general.

 

 

 

WhiteFish_RedMurder Final.jpg

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

NASHVILLE: Music and Murder, by Tom Carter

cover-low-resTitle:  NASHVILLE:  Music and Murder

Genre: Mystery

Author: Tom Carter

Website: http://www.authortomcarter.com

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

Set against the backdrop of Nashville’s thriving country music industry, Nashville:  Music and Murder introduces an unforgettable protagonist: country music’s reigning queen for over two decades, legendary vocalist Maci Willis.

When the novel opens, Maci Willis has taken the stage at Bridgestone area. Performing an unbelievable string of hits to legions of adoring fans, Maci is back for her fourth encore…until a gunshot rings out in a shocking attempt on her life.   But who would want country music’s queen dead?  And why?

Beloved to fans, but widely known offstage for extraordinary talent and unnecessary drama, Maci miraculously escapes with her life—a life that quickly begins to spiral out of control.  Eager to do damage control for the scandalized starlet, Maci’s record label launches an extensive publicity tour in the wake of the shooting. But when an overzealous fan gets way too close for comfort and dies under dubious circumstances, Maci is forced to flee.

Out of the spotlight and on the run, Maci has to face the music.  As her carefully-constructed façade crumbles, Maci realizes just how empty, hollow, and meaningless her life has become.  But soon, Maci discovers a shocking truth:  there’s something sinister behind the music, and beneath the glittery veneer of fame and fortune lurks an unseemly underbelly of greed, deceit, and deadly intentions.  Could it be that Maci Willis is worth more dead than alive?  Seems like someone is poised to make a killing in country music…

Will Maci finally come to see the light?  Or will she even live to see the light of day?

About the Author: 

Bestselling author Tom Carter is a longtime Nashville who lives with his wife, Janie, a few miles from Nashville’s legendary Music Row.  

Connect with the author on the Web:

http://www.authortomcarter.com/

https://www.facebook.com/authortomcarter

https://www.instagram.com/authortomcarter/

Chapter One

Singer Maci Willis faked another smile, then gazed wearily across a sea of 18,000 jubilant fans. Twenty years ago, she would have given her heart and soul to

draw a crowd this size. But tonight, the demanding masses were draining her of everything she had.

As her eyes scanned the room, she heard not the adulation of an army of admirers, but the deafening roar of a thousand lions that had just spotted a solitary gazelle named Maci.

Looking down, she told herself that she could hold her composure together for a few more minutes. The rhythmic stomping of feet told her what she already knew – that people were hungry for more musical manna – and were hoping for a third encore.

With her nod to the band, the opening chords of one of her signature hits filled the arena. Then, as a sea of smart- phones flashed at her, she waved her hand, a gesture to stop the music.

“You probably heard I’m not too big of a fan of these phones,” she said.

A few hundred fans who had seen the previous month’s tabloids hooted in approval. They’d read the story of how Maci, while dining at a riverside restaurant, was approached by a fan who tried to force her into an unwanted selfie. In one swift, nearly choreographed motion, Maci snatched the boy’s phone and threw it into the river. When the press called the next day, her only comment was, “I don’t know why they call it a smartphone when there always seems to be an idiot attached to the  screen.”

Now, in front of a capacity crowd, Maci decided to double down. Rather than address the entire audience, she turned her attention to a pudgy teenage girl in the front row, who was still squinting into her phone as she recorded Maci.

“Darlin’,” she said. “You. Open your eyes. You’re sitting beneath a thirty-foot Jumbotron. Me and my band are standing here in front of you, larger than life. And your mama paid two hundred dollars for that seat. And now, you want to squeeze us all down into a teeny, tiny, four-inch screen.

“Well, I’m waaay too big for a four inch screen!”

The crowd roared in support of Maci. When the Jumbotron captured the image of the young offender, it finally dawned upon her that she was the target of Maci’s  remarks.

“Honey, just look at yourself,” said Maci in a voice that blurred the chasm between sarcasm and concern. “You’re scarcely fourteen years old, and you’re already at least thirty   or forty pounds overweight, maybe more. That ain’t living, darlin’. Put down that stupid phone. Throw it out. Get out of your chair. And get up on your feet and   dance!

“In fact, everybody, put down your phones!” Maci yelled  to the audience. “Get up on your feet! You  didn’t come here   to see Samsung! You didn’t come here to see Apple! You came here to see the greatest female singer alive—and to hear the best songs in the history of country music! Now get up and dance!”

The band instantly ripped into the opening bars of the third encore. Maci had worked the crowd into such a frenzy that only a few noticed the glistening tears rolling down the chastised girl’s reddened face. Just as two other teenagers left their seats to console her, the Jumbotron cut away from her and back to Maci, and the cries of the crowd reached a new crescendo.

Winding down from two hours of singing and shuffling across a 40-foot stage, Maci took a deep breath. The sprawling screen above the platform magnified the sweat that beaded on her brow. Her normally erect posture was slightly bent, as if she carried not just the weight of the night’s performance, but of the entire world’s.

“Maybe not the entire world,” she thought to herself. “Just thousands of fans, a production crew of sixty, and five truckloads of equipment. Plus a sizeable part of the country music industry.”

Outside, additional Jumbotrons on the façade of Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena thrust Maci’s voice and image out to the throng of fans without tickets. Throughout the evening, she’d intermittently talked directly to the sidewalk followers, who for the most part were a bit more drunk that those inside. A drone-mounted camera occasionally panned the crowds who came to life each time they saw themselves on the massive screens. One man shot the moon to his fellow fans and a few women flashed their  breasts.

The frenetic sea of Maci’s fans stretched down Broadway for two blocks, nearly reaching the bank of the Cumberland River. From that vantage point, most could neither hear nor see Maci’s show; they’d come primarily to drink and mingle with other folks, and occasionally they’d contribute their own song and dance. Temporary beer stands had taken root in the middle of the road, which had been closed off to accommo- date the crowds. In each booth, bartenders poured a   steady stream of ice-cold lagers for the mob, who had come as much for the beer as for the  music.

“You folks outside should have scooped up some tickets from the scalpers,” Maci shouted into her microphone. “The cost would have been outrageous, but I’m worth the money!” The lilt in her voice hinted that her energy was waning like a jet aircraft leaking fuel. Even so, her little asides ignited smatterings of applause from both inside and outside the arena.

“How much more do these people want from me?” Maci mumbled off microphone. “How much more can I give? Let’s see what the old gal’s got left.”

Lifting the microphone to her lips, she blasted out the first few words of “Come and Get It,” her chart-topper from nearly fifteen years earlier. As the band joined in, the audi- ence once again rose to their feet. Maci crossed the stage, dragging the spotlight with her, toward her steel guitarist. Feigning astonishment, he leapt from his seat on cue, and Maci playfully pushed him away. Sitting in his chair, Maci sloppily played a three-string verse without a chorus, and then jumped atop the borrowed chair where she wobbled back and forth to the delight of her  audience.

Just as she expected, a hefty faction of the crowd mimicked her movements by jumping up and teetering on their seats. Unaccustomed to balancing on their chairs, people were laughing, spilling beer and falling like leaves in a windstorm. Holding her microphone to her waist, Maci made sure her admirers could see, but not hear, her exaggerated breaths, which were worthy of a boxer after going twelve rounds with Muhammad Ali. The theatrics once again worked the crowd

into blistering ecstasy as the lights began to  fade.

“Bye bye, folks,” she thought as the darkness embraced her. “I’m leaving my stage, leaving it without an ounce of remaining energy. Time for y’all to go back home to your bored and boring lives.”

Precisely as the curtains dropped, the room’s semi-dark- ness was shattered by the burst of the arena’s house lights which pierced the air like a thousand tiny suns. Their idol gone from sight, fans squinted into the glare, contorting their faces like animals surfacing from a long winter’s hibernation. Many hummed or sang as they headed toward the exits. Most were smiling, and a few were teary eyed from having finally seen a living legend. The Queen had left her throne. There was no High Princess in the wings. The music had silenced, and so had the listeners’ world.

Or so they thought.

Before the fans could leave, the arena was thrust into total blackness. Scattered exit signs eerily dotted the  darkness like flickering fireflies. Some fans wondered aloud if there had been a power failure. Then, in a flash, the surprised audi- ence released a collective gasp as spotlights sliced through the ocean of black. As the crowd slowly realized what was happening, their murmurings rose from unexpected joy, to unbridled jubilation to outright nirvana.

“Nobody returns to the stage four times!” shouted the announcer through the sound system. “Except for Maci Willis!!!!”

Like shoppers squeezing through a Black Friday turnstile, the departing fans wrestled madly to get back to their seats. “The show must go on—again!” yelled the announcer. “You won’t miss what you don’t see, so you’d better see what

you might miss!”

Shouts, sometimes profane, resounded from fans, espe- cially those bottlenecked inside the exit tunnels where ushers struggled to herd them back  inside.

Then she appeared.

Alone in seven spotlights, Maci stood motionless as she was lifted through the stage floor, bathed in an aura of pastel footlights. Then, as the band played the opening chords of another signature song, she began to frantically dance in place with the fervor of a barefoot child on a tar roof.

“You didn’t think I’d leave without singing my favorite song, did you?” she screamed into her earset microphone. “You ain’t getting rid of me that easy. I’d NEVER leave you!” Separated from their assigned seats, the confused audi- ence shifted like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces had sprung to life. As the band began to play, Maci ripped away her designer gown, flashed her legs beneath her mini-dress and the musical madness became as loud as New Year’s Eve at Times Square. The crowd, startled yet joyous,   unanimously

wondered how long the show would actually go on. Except for one fan. He knew exactly how   long.

Having followed Maci’s touring extravaganza through  three cities, he’d memorized the show down to its smallest detail. He knew this encore was truly the last. He knew just when Maci would strut across the stage,  and  exactly  when and where she’d stop to pose for one last flurry of photos like   a gloating minstrel. Like a legend finally at rest.

Like a perfect target.

While the houselights had sent most of the crowd to the exits, he waded against the plethora of fans, working his way closer to the stage. He knew the arena well; the route back- stage, the nearest exit, the gateway through which he could sink safely and silently into the night.

Like a child seeking a hidden toy, he slid his hand gently under his black, all-weather coat to reaffirm the presence of his .357 Magnum whose steel jacket bullets could penetrate an engine block. Patting the weapon’s cold steel contours, he marveled at its sleeping power which he would soon awaken.

“The entire crowd’ll want to kill me,” he whispered to  no one. “But that won’t be personal. They’ll want to kill me because I killed  her.”

Like a salmon battling its way upstream, he wove his way through the widening flow of torsos engulfing him.

Still too far to see Maci clearly, he repeatedly glanced upward at the Jumbotron as he inched toward the stage. The face he saw no longer had the youthful glow that had filled her early album covers. He could see the streaked mascara and the tired lines on her face that resembled creases on silk. “Maci’s  exhausted,” he told himself. “She needs to   rest.

She needs . . . me.”

He drifted, lost in the crowd, moving slowly but methodi- cally closer to the stage. As the song entered its second verse, he smiled wryly, realizing he could now ignore the Jumbotron and look straight into Maci’s eyes.

“I love you, Maci,” he yelled, his voice buried beneath the blare of the music and the roar of the crowd. “I understand your songs better than all of these simpletons!”

As he continued his journey toward destiny, his excite- ment over seeing Maci was matched only by his disdain for the audience. They were fools. They didn’t understand Maci. They didn’t understand her or her songs. Not like he did. Idiots. All of them.

Maci and four backup singers slipped into an a cappella refrain as the band members raised their hands high to kindle a round of unified clapping throughout the arena. Not content to merely clap, the crowd began to stomp their feet in time with the music. Feeling their cadence through the soles on his boots, he knew the crowd’s emotions were rising. As were his. None of them realized how close they were to the end of Maci’s show, and of her life.

But he did.

An unimpressive row of security ushers, dressed in canary yellow sport coats, stood rigidly a few feet apart from each other, forming what passed for a protective line in front of the stage and the performers standing on it.

“Useless geezers,” he smirked aloud, safe  and  smug  in  the knowledge that his spoken words still could not be heard above the din and fray. He could announce his plans aloud and no one would hear. He shook his head at the inept, unintimi- dating guards. “A Girl Scout could get by you. Maci deserves better than a handful of escapees from an old folks’ home.”

His heart raced. He was now close enough to count Maci’s finger rings, and was more energized than ever. His voice beginning to rasp, he couldn’t hear his own words this close to the stage, no matter how forcefully he shouted.

Realizing he was no longer struggling amid the masses, he drew a deep breath as he turned to gaze at the people in the front row, who rhythmically danced in place. Like the Pied Piper, he would soon abandon everyone on the ground floor before scaling to his lofty perch, and taking his place onstage aside his beloved Maci Willis.

“I’m closer to Maci than anyone else in the hall except her people on stage,” he said, congratulating himself.

His starstruck eyes suddenly filled with lust, he barely noticed the nearby security guard waving at him. For a moment, he was tempted to leap up, grasp the lip of the plat- form, and pull himself onstage.

“Not now,” he told himself. “Move now and they’ll stop you.”

The guard continued to  wave.

“Me?” he mouthed as he pointed to himself, faking confusion.

The glorified usher nodded and signaled for the misplaced man to come to him.

Forcing a smile, he walked slowly toward the yellow coat and the old man wearing it. As if seeing a long lost friend, he thrust his arm around the fellow and pretended to yell into his ear. Moving stealthily, he slid his hand into his coat’s inside pocket. With a magician’s sleight of hand, he quickly found his Taser and dropped the guard.

Maintaining his grasp on his prey, he called out to two of the nearby guards.

“Need some help here,” he shouted. “Looks like heatstroke.”

The two guards discretely eased their companion to the ground, trying their best to not distract attention from the show.

A drunk from the front row, deciding that a dousing of liquid was the best way to revive someone, flung the contents of his plastic cup into the fallen guard’s face. Upon seeing this, two more guards left their posts to drag the drunk away.

With five guards out of the way, half the stage was now  his.

“Hell’s bells,” he shouted, his voice still inaudible to the crowd. “I was expecting a challenge. Seems like you clowns are actually trying to help.”

A shiver ran through him. “Like you’re trying to help,” he said. “Like it’s meant to be. Like it’s   destiny.”

Glancing at his watch, he counted in time with the beat as the music approached its bridge into the third  verse.

“Three . . . , two . . . , one . . . ,” he shouted. “Showtime!” High above the arena, a thunderous cloudburst exploded from the ceiling, raining colorful, vibrant foil confetti    upon

the crowd like blessings from Walmart.

Despite the full saturation of stage lights, he knew the torrent of tinsel would conceal his movements as he pulled himself onstage in one quick, coordinated maneuver.

There, behind the cascade of colored paper, illumination and glitter, he slowly rose, invisible to the audience. While the crowd was swept away by sensory overload, his focus sharpened. His entire world was now reduced to Maci, his gun and his hand.

Her back turned to him, he watched her take her first step to stage right. There, she’d halt to wave goodbye to fans, lingering for a moment in a frenzy of camera flashes. He waited until she struck a photo-worthy pose, which she’d hold for several seconds, just as he’d seen in her last two concerts. Inhaling slowly, he steadied his breath as she hit her mark at stage right. He vowed she’d never make it to stage left.

Holding his breath, he pointed his gun squarely into the back of her heart. His thumb cocked the hammer as he made a mental note to squeeze, not pull, the trigger. Resting rigidly on his knees, he felt his forefinger easing toward him.

The impact of the policeman’s tackle ignited the shooter’s reflexes. His elbow buckled and his grip tightened as the officer collided with his arm. The force knocked the stalker violently to the floor, sending the pistol sliding across the stage.

The officer had acted quickly—but  not  quickly  enough.  As his head hit the platform floor, the shooter saw a spurt of blood and hair from the left side of    Maci’s  head.

Amid the blinding spotlights and the relentless storm of tinsel, most of the audience had failed to see the three-feet- long flash from the weapon’s  barrel. Those who discerned   a policeman wrestling a man to the floor assumed it was another case of an overzealous fan trying to get too close to the star.

But onstage, it was a nightmare come to life. The stage- hands and musicians had been close enough to hear the cannon-like blast of the weapon. A few of them joined in the melee, helping the officer subdue the stalker. Others started to join, but were stopped mid-step by the sight of a fallen Maci Willis, whose head lay in a widening pool of crimson.

On cue, the thicket of confetti stopped. People in the higher seats, along with everyone viewing the Jumbotron, saw the ongoing skirmish taking place on the stage.

And they saw the fallen Maci.

The crowd emitted a bone-chilling chorus of shrieks, as  if the entire arena had been cast into an inferno. The music ceased, the house lights were raised, and everyone under the cavernous ceiling could now see the four-man fracas at stage right, violent and unexplainable.

As the shrieks gave way to shouts, sobs and pandemonium, Maci’s sparkling dress reflected the spotlights that were still swirling in time to the now-silenced music. Only the scurrying of first-responders was able to lower the arena’s volume, and a concerned, unintelligible murmur filled the air. In seconds, Maci was hoisted upward by emergency personnel, while the stagehands and musicians fumbled about helplessly, equally torn between the urge to look and the urge to look away.

From the first row to the top tier, confused and terrified fans fell into a hush. For the first time all night, the arena was silent.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: Naked Alliances, by S.K. Nicholls

nakedalliances_jpeg

Title: NAKED ALLIANCES

Genre: Mystery

Author: S.K. Nicholls

Website:  www.sknicholls.com

Publisher: Brave Blue Heron Books

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book: In Naked Alliances, novelist S.K. Nicholls takes readers on a witty, wild, wickedly fun romp that exposes a side of Orlando tourists rarely see. The debut release in The Naked Eye Private Investigator Series, Naked Alliances introduces lone wolf P.I. Richard Noggin.

 When a young immigrant woman and an exotic dancer are forced to flee men with guns and have no place to hide, Richard Noggin, P.I., can’t turn his back—even if helping out makes him a target. Richard plans to impress an aspiring politician by taking on a big white-collar case that could take him from the streets to an air-conditioned office. Instead, he’s handed a cold case and quickly finds himself sucked into a shadowy world of sex, secrets and…murder. Marked for a bullet and stretched thin by his investigations, Richard reluctantly teams up with the unlikely, brassy custodian of the young woman on the run. With bodies piling up, Richard and his companion are forced to go undercover in a most unlikely locale: the Leisure Lagoon, a nudist resort.  Going undercover in this instance will mean going uncovered…but lives are at stake—and this Naked Eye will have to juggle to keep his balls in the air and connect the dots before anyone else is murdered. As his pulse-quickening quest for answers leads from the dark corners of Orlando’s Little Saigon to the sunny exposure of the Leisure Lagoon, Richard will be put to the test. Just how much will this Naked Eye have to bear…or bare? The heat is on in this quirky Sunshine State crime thriller.

soft_DSC4762b.JPG

About the Author: S.K. Nicholls’ family owns and operates one of the oldest and largest nudist resorts in the nation located in Central Florida, Cypress Cove. Her experience gives her a deep understanding of the lifestyle choice and how it is extremely different from the sex industry, yet harbors clandestine elements of intrigue and fascination. Social issues are at the forefront of her writing. A former sexual assault nurse examiner, she has a special interest in the subject matter of sex-trafficking. A native of Georgia, she lives in Orlando, Florida with her husband, Greg.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sknicholls/

////////////////////////////////

CHAPTER ONE

There was only one thing worse for business than not solving cases and that was keeping a new client waiting. Already running late for a meeting, Richard Noggin drove north on Orange Avenue through moderate nighttime traffic in his silver, two-seater Mercedes convertible, the top down and the air-conditioner blowing high cool. As he approached Michigan Avenue, coming into downtown Orlando, two figures darted onto the road from his left.

Swerving and slamming on the brakes, tires squealed as he screeched to a halt. They stood in the light of the headlamps, transfixed, a tall woman and a young girl. An eighteen-wheeler thundered by, its horn blasting him senseless. The woman whacked the car’s hood with a pair of stilettos and jumped, grabbing the girl close.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Richard yelled as cars whizzed past. The woman marched the girl by the shoulders around to the passenger’s side. “Hurry. Let us in!” Releasing the girl, she tried the locked door, then grabbed the window ledge with both hands, shoes dangling.

He eased off the brakes, starting to roll, and looked across the car. Standing in the street in her sequined white halter and miniskirt, the woman looked terrified, panting and wiping her windswept, auburn locks back from her face. The almond-eyed girl even more so, with facial bruises and a busted lip. He took his foot off the gas. Dammit, he couldn’t drive off and leave them there in the middle of the road. Before he could let them in, the woman tossed the high heels and her oversized shoulder bag inside, threw her long, lean leg over the door, and plopped herself into the passenger’s seat. She yanked the young girl over onto her lap.

“Drive,” she screamed. “Drive!”

Richard raced to the intersection.

“Turn left here!” she ordered.

“Isn’t this the direction you came from?”

“Just do it!”

He had a green light and took a hard, fast left in front of oncoming traffic, heading for Orange Blossom Trail, a highway known locally as O.B.T. Then it hit him – these two had come off the hooker trail in the red-light district. This was asking for trouble, but his investigative curiosity took over. “Why are you running?”

“Because standing on the curb waiting on a bus wasn’t an option.” A black car raced past in the opposite direction. She crouched down in her seat, forcing the girl forward. “I don’t think they saw us.”

“How could they have missed you? She’s sitting with her face pressed against the windshield.”

“You’re exaggerating.” The woman sat upright, shifted the girl in her lap to one side, and stroked the dash of the car. “Damn, your payments on this pretty girl must be more than Donald Trump’s monthly tab for hair spray.”

“She’s paid for.” He rolled his eyes and shot her a quick look. “Who are you hiding from?”

“Men with guns. Damn, I hate guns.”

“What men?”

“All I know is I was coming out of the Brown Pelican Lounge on south O.B.T. when this girl came charging across the parking lot next door in front of the Shady Breeze Motel, screaming, ‘Help, men with guns!’ I looked at her and her bloodied lip, and hearing ‘Guns!’ figured we ought to run. I snatched off my shoes and did just that.”

“Why didn’t you take her inside and call the police?”

“Let’s just say there were a few gentlemen inside whose company I didn’t care to keep.”

“So, you ran with her?”

“You catch on real quick. Two guys chased us on foot and two ran for their car.”

“Now what am I supposed to do?”

“Turn right at the light and take me home.”

“You live on the Trail?” he asked, only half-joking. He slowed for traffic at the intersection. Her scent caught him. The voice was mellow and raspy, like a smoker, but her fragrance was cinnamon and oranges, her skin, the color of fine café latte. Arms wrapped around the young girl made her cleavage deepen. She turned to him with emerald eyes sparkling.

“I’m staying at the Parliament House.”

“The gay club?”

“Resort. The Parliament House Resort. I’m a showgirl. Name’s Brandi, formerly Brandon.”

Richard did a double take, swallowed hard, and took a right turn, proceeding north. “Where were you taking her?”

“The twenty-four hour pharmacy on Michigan, to get something for her lip, and let them figure out what to do with her. I dunno. What would you do?”

“I’d probably call the police.” He sped up and passed a few cars ahead.

“I’m sure those guys with the guns would’ve waited for us to do that.” Her sarcasm as strong as her perfume. “I used to be a cop and I know they’re not gonna do a damn thing for her. As far as they’re concerned, she’s just another poor girl walkin’ the streets.”

“Somehow, you don’t strike me as a cop.”

“It was a brief stint.”

He ran through the caution light at Kaley Avenue. “Call the police and have them meet us at the Parliament House. I have an important dinner appointment in Winter Park and I’m already late.”

“And I have a show to do tonight,” Brandi fired back.

“Well, I can’t keep her.” He glanced at the silent girl. “What’s your name?”

“Cara Kieu.”

“Where do you live?”

“I not know much English. Cara Kieu scared.”

Richard gave Brandi a hard look. “Listen, I can’t manage her. You’re going to have to figure this out.” He reached into the pocket of his sport coat. “Here’s my card. Call me later if you can’t deal with her, and I’ll see what I can do.”

She took the card. “Richard Noggin, P.I. Just my luck, I get picked up by Dick Head, P.I.” She tucked the card into her purse at her feet.

“Yeah, I get that a lot.”

He felt her soft touch on his shoulder and cringed, her hand caressing as it moved up his neck. What the hell was he getting himself into?

She nudged him and smiled. “Has anyone ever told you that you have the most striking crystal-blue eyes? They’re really set off by your thick, dark hair.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot, too.”

“I notice things about men.”

“I’m sure you do.” He leaned away, hoping she’d get the message that he wasn’t interested.

They crossed the intersection at West Church Street. A black Nissan pulled out behind them. Brandi jerked back her hand and ducked, pulling Cara down with her. “Holy shit, it’s them!”

“Hold on.”

He took a fast right onto West Central and another onto Parramore. The Nissan followed. He sped through the stop sign at Jackson and turned left into oncoming traffic on South Street, a busy, three-lane, one-way road. Cara screamed and clung to Brandi.

“You’re going to get us killed!”

“Wasn’t that your problem in the first place?” In his rearview, he noted the Nissan cross South Street behind them.

Horns blared as cars roared by left and right. He saw a black Nissan speeding along on the next street over. Dodging angry traffic, he careened past the Amway Center, turning onto yet another one-way at Hughy. With no sign of their pursuers behind them, he plowed through.

Cara Kieu screamed again as he swerved to avoid a head-on collision with a city bus. After a couple of blocks and a quick left, he drove around the State Marshall’s Building, then made several fast turns through the downtown neighborhood streets.

With tousled passengers shrieking, he’d made a complete, albeit dangerous, wide circle. Relieved when they reached Orange Blossom Trail in front of the Parliament House, he parked on the corner. “Get out.”

Brandi looked at him in disgust. “You can’t just leave us here.”

“You need to get out and run. I don’t know how long we’ve got before these guys are back on our tail.”

“Okay, we’re outta here.” She opened the door, pushed Cara from her lap, grabbed her shoes and bag, then jumped from the vehicle and slammed the door. “Thanks for the ride, dude.”

Richard watched as they crossed the busy highway. RuPaul’s Raja: Heaven Scent gleamed on the billboard. Beneath all the neon multicolor, Brandi dazzled, looking like she was right where she belonged.

He sped away north up the Trail, and east onto Colonial through Little Saigon, then headed north on Mills Ave, with no sign of the black Nissan all the way to Winter Park.

 

 

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: Death Steals A Holy Book, by Rosemary and Larry Mild

cover-artTitle: Death Steals A Holy Book

Authors: Rosemary and Larry Mild

Release: September 2016

Publisher: Magic Island Literary Works

Available at Amazon

Husband-and-wife mystery novelists Rosemary and Larry Mild have created a tightly woven, cleverly plotted and supremely suspenseful tale in Death Steals A Holy Book.  Resplendent with action, intrigue, wit, and a to-die-for cast of characters, Death Steals A Holy Book is bound to delight.

Reluctant sleuths Dan and Rivka Sherman yearn for a tranquil life as the owners of The Olde Victorian Bookstore in Annapolis, Maryland. But when the Shermans acquire a rare volume, they find themselves embroiled in a firestorm of deceit, thievery, and violence.

Israel Finestein, renowned restorer of old books in Baltimore, has just finished his work on the Menorat ha-maor, “The Candlestick of Light.”His life is brutally snuffed out and the book disappears. What makes this rare text so valuable that someone is compelled to kill for it? Two Baltimore detectives find a puzzling number of suspects. Is it the controversial woman whom Israel plans to marry? The rare book agent who overextended himself in the stock market? Israel’s busybody cousins who resent his changed lifestyle? Or the wayward lad who thinks a gun is the way to big bucks?

This case could be one for the books…

Chapter 1

Loss of Innocence

Monday, January 8, 2007 

A wooden sign over the door read “Fine Old Books Restored.” The tiny shop at 59 Beuller Street reeked of fermenting leather, neatsfoot oil, and musk—exuding from rare tomes and the noble attempt to resurrect them. Could such an unusual stench follow the dreadful journey of two rare manuscripts?

The shop’s small front room served to greet customers. Beyond it lay the inner sanctum, the artisan’s hallowed workroom. A man in a yarmulke, a black knit skullcap, sat hunched over his large work table, deep into the project before him: a rare ancient manuscript he had just restored. No longer any sign of mildew—the pages more pliable—their stains now barely perceptible—the cover and binding newly supple. With a tweezer-like tool, this fifty-two-year-old artisan carefully tugged at a frayed re-weave of the original stitching. His cotton-gloved hands and sinewy forearms moved with a deftness and assurance that only an experienced and loving craftsman might display. No ordinary shopkeeper or tradesman here. Nothing was bought or sold here. He simply provided a valuable, singular service.

A broad blue mask with thick binocular lenses hid the upper half of his angular face, while its strap disappeared behind his head into ridges of bristled, gray-black hair. The skullcap personified his belief in the ever-presence of God above him. Beneath a generous coffee-stained mustache, his thin lips exposed a hint of protruding pink tongue, a boyish gesture suggesting the deep intensity required by the task at hand. There, almost finished, he thought.

The tiny bell above the street door jingled, startling him. He’d flipped the OPEN sign to CLOSED several hours earlier at 5:30. He wasnt expecting any customers this late. Ah, it’s probably my lovely Peggy schlepping my supper. He had left the shop’s door unlocked for her. She’s such a good woman, a friend like I’ve never had before. A little meshugge with all that Goth makeup and jewelry, but I’m in love with her anyway—God forgive me.

He heard footsteps in the dark front room, and wondered why she wasn’t calling to him.   Pushing his chair back, he stood up, eager to receive her. But actually seeing who had entered was impossible with the magnifying aid in place. As he slipped the mask up his forehead, a gold-monogrammed briefcase caught his attention. It dropped to the floor near the table. Without warning, the business end of a Saturday Night Special loomed into his view from out of the darkness. Before he knew who or why, Israel Finestein heard a shot and looked down to see blood pouring out of his own chest. He never heard the second shot, nor the abandoned .38 caliber revolver falling with a thud on the vinyl floor. Israel slumped first into an awkward heap. Then gravity slowly leveled him out flat.

The killer picked up the tan leather briefcase, set it upright on a corner of the table, and undid the buckles on the two straps. Black-gloved hands removed a chamois cloth and spread it out on the table. The dark-clad figure gently closed the rare old text and laid it in the middle of the cloth, wrapping it securely before tucking it into the briefcase. After buckling the straps, the killer turned off the lone lamp and exited quickly to the faint sound of the doorbell jingle.

* * * *

Peggy Fraume was on a happy mission: to bring her lover his supper. In her left arm she cradled a tuna-noodle casserole inside an insulated bag. Under the streetlights, she began walking to his shop only a few blocks away. Izzy had entrusted her with the keys to his apartment. It was his supper she carried—in his yellow crockery bowl, prepared by him in his kosher kitchen, and merely reheated by Peggy in his oven.

Peggy worried about him. He often skipped meals or ate them unheated, so a few times each week she took his own hot food to him at his shop, enough for a couple of days, knowing that he sometimes slept in that old schleppy recliner in a corner of his workroom. This woman with short, punk, black hair and wild gypsy eyes felt far more than compassion for her friend. Peggy and Izzy lived in adjacent apartments on the eighth floor of a quiet Baltimore City neighborhood. They had immediately connected when they discovered they both played chess. After several months of casual dating and hours-long chess games, fondness had bloomed into passion to the point where they were planning a most unlikely marriage. They had even sent out save-the-date notices without considering all the contrasting consequences. They were blindly in love.

As Peggy approached the first-floor shop, she hesitated. Why is it so dark inside? Could he have left early without letting me know? She looked at the illuminated dials of her watch: eleven minutes past eight. The hairs at the nape of her neck bristled. She tried the door. Surprisingly, it wasn’t locked. She stepped inside and flipped on the front room light switch next to the door. Without looking about, she lifted the yellow crockery bowl out of its insulated bag and set it, along with her purse, atop the nearest display case. Only then did she venture into the darkness of the workroom.

Peggy moved cautiously. This is so strange. Where’s Izzy? Is he okay? She fumbled for the overhead light switch on the wall to her right, and while she adjusted to it, she heard a muffled moan. It came from behind the massive work table. She followed the source of the faint uttering. Izzy was sprawled out on his stomach, with the left side of his head on the floor and his face turned toward her. She knelt beside him. He wasn’t moving, but his mouth whispered what sounded like the Sh’ma, the prayer at the heart of Judaism, a pronouncement of the Oneness and Greatness of God. Then he mumbled something she couldn’t quite discern. The letters M-P-S or N-T-S maybe. Peggy knelt closer. Did he say “briefcase”? Then she thought he was asking for the police. As soon as the pitiful mumblings ended, her Izzy died.

As the pool of blood rapidly expanded, Peggy, still on her knees, backed away until she encountered something hard under her left shin. Reaching down, she grabbed the uncomfortable object—and screamed. She had retrieved the murder weapon. Realizing she’d left her fingerprints all over the grip, she gathered up the hem of her long skirt with the intention of wiping away those prints.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said a booming voice behind her. “Just lay the damn gun on the floor and get up. Slowly now, woman! Keep your hands where I can see them. It’s murder all right, and I’ve caught you red-handed.” A stocky, red-faced, uniformed police officer stood over Peggy with his service weapon pointed directly at her.

“But…But I found him this way!” Peggy screeched. “Izzy was already dying.”

“His name was Izzy?”

“Israel. Israel Finestein, but I called him Izzy. Officer, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t kill him. He was my fiancé! I loved him. Why would I kill him?”

“Put both your hands on the arms of that recliner,” the officer commanded. “You have the right to remain silent…,” he recited while frisking her one-handed, clumsily, near her breasts and down her hips and legs. Satisfied with the search, finding no additional weapons, and having finished with her Miranda rights, he seized and cuffed each of her wrists behind her back and pushed her into the front room. The officer followed so closely she could smell his cheap aftershave.

Nodding toward the yellow crock on the display case, she decried her innocence once more. “I was just bringing my fiancé his supper. See there on the counter? It’s a tuna-noodle casserole. I just heated it up for him. Doesn’t that make sense to you?”

But Officer James Francis O’Mera wasn’t listening. He was busy reporting a crime, speaking into his shoulder microphone. “Yes, sir! A woman yelled out a second-floor window at me. Said she heard shots in the shop downstairs, and I responded….No, sir! I didn’t get any names yet. Found a woman perp hovering over the male victim with a recently fired gun in her hand. Yeah, she’s in custody. Got ’er cuffed. Sure I read ’er her rights….No, I didn’t touch anything….Okay. I’ll wait for the detectives and transportation.”

Letting go of the transmitting button, Officer O’Mera turned to his prisoner. “What’s your name, lady?”

“Fraume, F-R-A-U-M-E, Margaret Fraume. But I tell you I’m innocent. You’re letting the real killer get away.”

“Sure, sure, I got it all wrong. That’s what they all say. I got you dead to rights, ma’am. You got any ID, Fraume?”

“My purse,” she said, tilting her head toward the counter and indicating the black cloth shoulder bag sitting there. She watched him upend the purse contents onto the countertop: lipstick, compact, cell phone, keys, handkerchief, a Kleenex mini-pack, and a vinyl wallet. He flipped open the snap and spread the wallet until he saw her driver’s license in its compartment window.

“Ah, Margaret Fraume it is. Age forty-eight. You don’t look it, lady.”

“Thanks, but I—”

“So who’s the poor slob on the floor in the other room?” Officer O’Mera began to write in a small notebook he’d taken from his breast pocket.

“His real name is Israel Finestein, but everybody calls him Izzy. And don’t you dare call him a poor slob. I love him. He’s a wonderful, hard-working mensch, and the proprietor of this shop.”

“Does he own the joint?”

“He rents from some lady upstairs. I don’t know her name.” Peggy shuddered. She suddenly realized she was talking about her beloved as if he were still alive.

Vehicles screeched to a halt out front and car doors slammed shut. “Homicide!” the first man through the door said. “Officer, I’m Detective Sergeant Shap and this here is Detective Sullivan. He’s assisting me in this investigation. Anything appear to be missing from the shop? Cash or something else valuable?”

“Nothing obvious, sir. I haven’t had much of a chance to look around yet.”

“Good thing,” said Shap. “Wouldn’t want you lousing up my crime scene now, would I?”

“Yes, sir. I mean no, sir. Didn’t touch a thing.”

The two detectives perused the crime scene room for about fifteen minutes before calling in the lab people. Then Shap called Peggy into the workroom and sat her down in the recliner. He stood before her in a leather jacket and black pants, almost six feet tall, with a clean-shaven, handsome face and wavy walnut-brown hair brushed back with no part.

“Ma’am, I’m Detective Sergeant Shap. Did you know Mr. Finestein well?”

“Very well. We are—I mean, we were—neighbors and best friends. More than that. He was my fiancé, for heaven’s sake.” A sob caught in her throat. “The only reason I’m here is that I brought Izzy his supper, in that yellow crock in the front room on the counter. I didn’t kill him. I couldn’t do anything to harm that lovable man. Did you know we were engaged?”

“No, I didn’t know?” he responded sarcastically. “How could I?” Shap circled behind her, and examined her cuffed hands. He saw two rings on her right hand, one a carved silver rose, the other a black onyx stone. “So where’s the diamond ring if you’re engaged?”

“We hadn’t gotten around to that yet.”

“I see,” said Shap. “And if you were engaged, why would Officer O’Mera believe you murdered your lover? Was it a lover’s quarrel?”

“No, no, no!” Peggy, near tears now, said, “I’ll explain everything, but can’t you take off these horrible cuffs? They’re cutting into my wrists and my shoulders are getting sore.”

“No way.”

It occurred to her that the detective was enjoying her misery. She had no choice but to relate her whole story, beginning with finding the shop dark and ending with the attempt to wipe her fingerprints from the murder weapon. At several junctures she proclaimed her innocence. She was so despairing, so distraught that Izzy’s final utterings had completely slipped her mind. She offered them now.

Shap said, “You say you found the room dark. Why would Finestein be working late in the dark?”

“That’s just it,” she replied. “He wouldn’t be in the dark. He’d be working late to finish the rare holy book for Rivka and Dan Sherman. They’re supposed to pick it up the day after tomorrow. The book is gone! It should have been on the work table with the light over it. That’s why I became so concerned.”

“Who are these people, the Shermans?”

“They own The Olde Victorian Bookstore in Annapolis and they’re good friends of mine as well.”
“So where’s this so-called holy book now?” asked Shap.

“I just told you—it should have been on the work table. Otherwise, it would be stored in the locked cabinet for safekeeping.”
“In there?” he pointed. The steel cabinet’s door was slightly ajar, indicating that it had been left unlocked. Shap swung both doors open wide and saw two books and a rolled papyrus parchment. “One of these?” He gestured with his open hand.

“No!” Peggy said. “The Shermans’ rare book was at least twice the size of either one of those. And much older.”

“Just how holy was this book?” Shap pressed on. “It’s obviously not the Bible or the Torah or Haftarah.”

Peggy eyed him with curiosity. “How would you know? Are you Jewish?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Shap was once Shapiro. My father’s idea entirely.”

She’d never met a Jewish cop before. “Well, Detective, it’s the Sefer Menorat ha-maor.”

“Never heard of it.”

Sefer means book. Menorat ha-maor means The Candlestick of Light. The way Izzy explained it to me, it’s a precious book of religious truths and ethics. This copy is in Yiddish and there are other translations, too. It was the most popular book in Jewish households in the Middle Ages. How the righteous should live their lives.” She steadied her voice, praying that she was appealing to his more rational side. “So you see, robbery is the real motive here, and I don’t have the book. Ergo I am innocent.”

“Not so fast, lady. You could have had an accomplice. Mrs. Fraume, I—”

“It’s Ms. now since my divorce and I don’t have any accomplice.”

“Ms. Fraume, while your version of what transpired here may well be plausible, there are circumstantial facts sufficient to cast doubt on your explanation. Enough for you to remain in custody, at least for the time being. The question of your guilt or innocence may well rest with the courts. You may be able to get bail fixed at your arraignment.”

In the front room, Officer O’Mera shifted from foot to foot. He was alone and had nothing to do. He’d worked with Detective Shap before, arrogant SOB, and right now O’Mera’s stomach grumbled, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten anything since two doughnuts on his morning coffee break. He lifted the lid of the yellow crock, plus a corner of the Saran wrap, and sniffed. Mmm! Smells good and it’s still warm. It’ll go to waste if it just sits there. Besides, it can’t be evidence. Who’s gonna miss a coupla mouthfuls anyway? He took another sniff and checked to be sure nobody could see him. Using three fingers, he scooped up a small bundle of tuna and noodles covered with cream of mushroom soup, and popped it into his wide-open mouth. Delicious. He faced the door so no one would see him chew and swallow. With nobody watching, he repeated the procedure until only a quarter of the casserole remained.

Just as Peggy and the two detectives emerged from the workroom, the crime scene investigators arrived in a long white van. At the door, gloves and cloth footies were distributed to the team. Soon both rooms were taped off, leaving only a narrow passage from the entrance to the workroom. They even covered that with heavy brown paper. A crime-scene announcement prohibiting entry to unauthorized persons was posted on the window next to the shop’s front door.

No one noticed Shap lifting the cover off the yellow crock. He peeked under the Saran wrap, smiled, and nodded. Just as I thought. “Let’s get out of their way so they can dig up some more juicy evidence,” he said to Sullivan. His sidekick shrugged. Blue-eyed, with a crew cut, he tended to be an obliging sort.

“What about my purse?” Peggy blurted out as Shap guided her toward the black unmarked cruiser.

“Your purse is now inventoried evidence. It will be returned to you as soon as the lab people have cleared it.”

“But it’s my whole identity,” she protested.

“Sorry, miss,” replied Shap, his voice hard and not at all sorry. He pushed down on her head as she reluctantly entered the rear seat of the unmarked police car.

 

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chapter reveal: Dating Death, by Randy Rawls

DD Cover for MGTitle:  DATING DEATH

Genre:  Mystery

Author: Randy Rawls

Website: http://www.randyrawls.com/

Publisher: White Bird Publications

Purchase at Amazon

About the Book: 

Dating Death, the latest mystery by acclaimed novelist Randy Rawls, features South Florida PI Beth Bowman.   She’s tough, tenacious, brash, and bold, but Beth Bowman knows that when the Coral Lakes Police Chief calls, she’d better listen. So when Chief Elston invites Beth for a meeting at the Coral Lakes police headquarters, Beth agrees to hear him out. Seems Elston has a rather unseemly request…

To Beth’s surprise, the topic du jour is South Florida politician Roger Adamson.  Adamson may be loved by his constituents, but he’s for sale to the highest bidder, a fact not lost on the local police.  Elston wants Adamson not just for normal bribes and influence peddling, but for access to the crime lord who supports Adamson’s extravagant lifestyle. Adamson agrees to cooperate— at his own pace, on his terms—if Elston agrees to keep him safe.  And that’s where Beth comes in. After all, someone will have to protect Adamson during public appearances, and who better than Beth Bowman?

Beth agrees, even though accepting the assignment means temporarily upending her life, including her burgeoning romance with Dr. David Rasmussen. Unbeknownst to Beth, this dirty job with a dirty politician could take a shockingly nasty turn…

Adamson’s a sleazy, arrogant jerk, and protecting him is certainly no walk in the park. But this job is leading Beth down a dark, dangerous, and downright deadly path.  Quickly and viciously swept up into a vortex of kidnapping, multiple homicides and violence, Beth Bowman is on the edge of losing everything—including her life.  Backing down isn’t Beth’s style, but this time Beth may have met her match… 

Swiftly paced, shocking, and full of twists of turns, Dating Death is a sizzling, action-packed tale.  Brimming with edge-of-your-seat suspense and a pulse-racer of a plot, Dating Death is hotter than a South Florida summer.  Randy Rawls, who has earned a well-deserved place among the fine writers who call the Sunshine State home, delivers a solid, irresistible and entertaining tale in Dating Death.

About the Author:

Randy Rawls grew up in North Carolina, then spent a career in the Army before retiring to Florida.  After retirement, he returned to work with the Department of Defense as a civilian. Somewhere along the way, he fell in love with writing—a natural progression as he has always been an avid reader. Randy Rawls lives in Delray Beach, Florida.

DATING DEATH

By Randy Rawls

CHAPTER ONE

Beth Bowman, P.I. pulled into a visitor’s parking space and killed the engine on her nondescript Toyota Camry. She sighed and leaned back in the seat staring at the building. Not her first choice for a place to be at ten in the morning, but she felt obligated to be there. The invitation from Chief Elston to meet with him at the Coral Lakes police headquarters could have been declined, but she needed to keep a good relationship with him and his people—or stated differently, she didn’t need to make it any worse.

She stepped out of the car and felt the heat and humidity slam into her—South Florida was living up to its reputation. She knew to enjoy it while she could. Since it was the rainy season, the afternoon and evening could be filled with thunderstorms, lowering the temperature but raising the humidity.

Beth entered through the front door and saw Officer Gantry manning the desk. “Hi. The Chief called me in for a meeting. Can I go back?”

“Yep, he told me to keep an eye out for you. The meeting is in his office. You know the way, don’t you?”

Beth walked past and headed down the hallway. At the Chief’s office, she stopped and blew out a long breath before tapping on the door.

The door swung open. “Come in, Beth. We’ve been waiting for you.” Chief Elston stood and ushered Beth to a chair at the end of his desk.

She looked around. No one there except the Chief and a man she didn’t recognize. He seemed familiar, though. VIP came to mind, but she couldn’t be sure of it. Whatever, he looked like he either had a severe case of heartburn or would prefer to be about anywhere else.

Before she could sort through her memory bank, Chief Elston performed as host. “I’m sure you know Roger Adamson, one of our city councilmen. Mr. Adamson, this is Beth Bowman, the lady I told you about.”

“I gathered that when you called her Beth. Now that introductions are behind us, I’m not sure why you’re wasting my time. Like I said before, how the hell do you expect a five foot, hundred-pound piece of fluff to keep me alive?”

Chief Elston smiled, but it appeared strained. “What I expect is for you to keep an open mind. As I told you, I know what I’m doing. You’re judging the package, not what’s in it.”

“Humph. Do I have to remind you it’s my life that’s in play, not yours? From what I see, she definitely won’t do. You’re going to have to—”

“Just a damn minute—”

“Hold it,” Beth said. “I didn’t come here so you can talk over me like a head of cabbage. Somebody better tell me what’s going on, or I’m out the door.” She scowled at Adamson. “Getting a bikini wax is more enjoyable than listening to this jerk.” She hesitated. “Also, I’m five feet, five inches tall and weigh one hundred twenty-five pounds. I can run a half-marathon, am an expert in self-defense, and trained in the use of firearms. And, just so there’s no misunderstanding, I don’t need shit from you—whatever you are.”

“Not only that,” Chief Elston said, “she can shoot the wings off a gnat, drop a six-six linebacker, and turn a hungry pack of wolverines into a passel of docile pussycats. There are folks in this town who learned the hard way not to get on her bad side. A couple of them are on my force. She kicks like a mule. Now, either you settle down and listen, or I call the Assistant State Attorney and tell her no deal. Make your choice.”

Beth looked from Elston to Adamson and back. City Councilman versus Assistant State Attorney? Good story potential. She leaned back in her chair, willing to listen.

Adamson puffed up like a blowfish, then deflated. “Alright. You’re holding the high cards. I’ll listen, but if this is the best you have, I might be better off in a white-collar lockup. In fact, right now, I’m tempted to change my mind.”

Too much. Beth stood. “I’ve heard enough. If you boys decide to get serious, give me a call. I didn’t come down here to watch two sumo wrestlers circle one another.” She started toward the door.

“Beth, please stay,” Elston said. “I’m sorry. This is not the way I intended the meeting to go. Let me start from the top.”

She stopped. “Okay, but for the record, and you can write it in permanent ink, if this character cracks on me once more, I may kick his flabby butt.”

“If he cracks on you once more, he’s on the short path to a solitary jail cell. That, I promise.”

Beth studied Adamson, her mind pulling pieces together. Roger Adamson, Coral Lakes Councilman. She’d seen an article in the Coral Lakes Post about an official under investigation for accepting bribes. No name, of course, a confidential source. Could Mr. Adamson be the person of interest? If so, where did she fit into the picture?

“Okay, Chief.” She looked at her watch. “I have a manicure in one hour—thirty minutes from here. That gives you twenty-five minutes to convince me I didn’t rush breakfast for no good reason. Let’s go.”

Chief Elston took a deep breath and laced his fingers on his desk. “Mr. Adamson is a dirty politician. By that, I mean he admitted—after we nailed him red-handed—that he takes bribes. Many of them are the standard South Florida stuff—land developers, folks wanting zone changes, unions, etc. You know, the routine leeches that make politics profitable here. However, we believe he also is the beneficiary of some really nasty people, folks who have no qualms about feeding witnesses to the fishes. Those are the people I’m interested in.”

Beth studied Adamson. “I can’t say I’m surprised. He looks the type—greasy, slicked back hair, scruffy beard, Hollywood looks. Where do I fit in? I’m not about to get involved in any kind of undercover stuff.”

 

 

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chapter reveal: Irish Jewel, by Julie Ann James

Irish Jewel JpegTitle:  IRISH JEWEL

Genre: Suspense

Author:  Julie Ann James

Website:  www.peppertreepublishing.com

Publisherwww.peppertreepublishing.com

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

When Irish Jewel opens, bride-to-be Amy Reid is living out a fairy tale.  She’s engaged to be married to the love of her life, Michael Cambridge, an Irishman. Michael, a member of one of Dublin’s most  prominent families and heir to the Cambridge precious gem business, is everything a girl could dream of—and more.   He’s handsome, loving, charming, smart, successful, and, as icing on the wedding cake, Amy and Michael will be married in an elaborate ceremony in Dublin. This lavish, spare-no-expense event will be an exquisite dream-come-true-affair—a beautiful beginning to their lives together.

But this dream-come-true quickly turns into a nightmare:  what begins as a vague threat quick escalates into something much more sinister. On the eve of what should be the happiest day of her life, Amy is quickly swept up in an insidious web of danger, kidnapping, and murder.

When long buried truths emerge and dark secrets come to light, this fairy tale will be irretrievably fractured.  Nothing is as it seems—and the only way to win this deadly game is to get out alive. But the odds are stacked against Michael and Amy.  Will they even live to see “till death us do part”? Expect the unexpected in this twisted tale…

Irish Jewel

Julie Ann James

Chapter One

The captain’s deep monotone voice interrupted the restless sleep of some 120 passengers to prepare them for touchdown. They were about 20 minutes outside the Dublin airport at the end of a smooth but long flight, something that Amy Reid was still getting used to since her engagement to the love of her life, an Irishman, Michael Cambridge. They had met two years earlier as seatmates on a flight out of Dublin to her hometown of Sarasota, Florida.

Since then, they had been inseparable, other than the exasperating fact they lived across the pond from one another, which put an unexpected spin on the term, “long distance relationship.” Last summer, his proposal was sweet and romantic. Following a shared meal, he offered her an after-dinner mint, and hidden inside the wrapper, a princess-cut diamond ring, a whopping three-carats! His family is in the jewelry business. How lucky can a girl be to wear on her left hand what are literally the family jewels?

It was hard to believe that their wedding would take place in ten days after months of planning, choosing the perfect dress, and brilliantly persuading her entire family to make the trip to Ireland. Now that most of the details had fallen into place, she felt as though she had conquered all. A March wedding in Ireland—inside a castle—was a dream come true for any girl.

The seatbelt sign turned off, giving passengers permission to move about the cabin. Amy rifled through her purse making certain all her belongings were in order, pulled her carry-on out from the overstuffed compartment, and took her place in the crowded aisle.

The flight attendants thanked the passengers for flying Aer Lingus and provided concise directions on how to get from the gate to the baggage claim. Amy couldn’t care less what they were talking about, as her mind was in an entirely different place. She couldn’t believe she was going to marry someone she considered to be her soulmate. As corny as that sounded, she made sure complete strangers were aware that she was about to marry a “Cambridge.”

The Cambridges were known for their generosity, as they donated to charitable organizations throughout the country. They hosted elaborate parties at their estate located just outside County Clare—all on behalf of the miracle of medical research for so many causes. This made a lasting impression on Amy and was one of the many traits she admired about Michael. The Cambridge donations made a huge difference in many deserving lives. The family’s name and pictures were plastered in the newspaper quite often, but for the greater good, which was refreshing to say the least.

Michael wasn’t able to pick her up from the airport due to a work thing, so she was prepared to hail a cab to take her to their temporary flat in the city. It felt so good to be back in Ireland, where the Celtic history overflowed in each charming town. It wasn’t unusual that one of their endearing people would offer a 30-minute dissertation of that history in response to one simple question.

To her pleasant surprise, a limo waited for her arrival outside the airport doors—Michael’s doing no doubt. The driver, in a sleek black suit and top hat, rescued her from her heavy bags and opened the door with a gracious nod and smile.

“Thank you so much—this is great. I can’t believe Michael did this for me. Wait, what am I talking about? Of course, he did this—he’s Michael. You will have to forgive me, driver. I often talk to myself, so pay no attention to me. I am just so very excited to be getting married in ten days—count them, ten days—in Ireland for that matter.” Amy held up her freshly manicured hands to give the visual of ten days as she slid into the back seat.

“So I have heard, Miss Reid. That rumor has been spreading all around town. Believe me, everyone knows of your upcoming wedding. The Cambridges might just as well be royalty.” His eyes sparkled directly at hers, and then he closed the door.

“I am going to be a bride, Michael’s bride.” She giggled and danced her feet on the floorboard of the moving limo.

Amy settled back into the plush leather seat and pulled out her overstuffed wedding planner, skimming the pages for the final “to dos” before the “I dos” actually took place. Of course, her newly launched ad agency back in Sarasota had been somewhat difficult to leave behind and was always on her mind. But she had great confidence in her staff. They should be able to hold down the fort in her absence.

Her clients were few, but the word of mouth proved to be steady and went beyond her wildest expectations. She hoped to double her clientele by the end of next year. She wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty with the rest of them and push her business hard, all the way to the top. Her goals, which had been in place since she was twelve, were to get married before she turned thirty, start her own business, and travel the world—not too shabby for a 28-year-old University of Florida graduate.

Now that her feet were touching solid ground, the reality set in about why she was in Ireland, and the butterflies started to work on her stomach. There was a chill in the air, the kind that went straight to the bone. It didn’t matter how many layers of clothing were applied, one never seemed to warm up. A Florida girl through and through, the frigid cold was something she might never get used to.

The scenery was breathtaking as usual, never disappointing. It was picture-perfect and resembled one of the many postcards she had collected and received from Michael in the past two years.

Suddenly she realized she didn’t recognize the part of town they were driving through. “Driver, excuse me, but I believe you missed the turn back there somewhere, but I could be wrong. Didn’t Michael give you directions to our apartment?”

“He had a change of heart as to where you will be staying for the next few days and wanted it to be a surprise. By the way, my name is Matt—not driver.”

“My apologies, Matt. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I have quite a few friends and relatives flying into the Dublin airport. Will you be picking them up too?”

“Yes, I’m Michael’s new personal driver, and I’ve been instructed on your family’s flight plans, arrivals, and departures.”

“Great, I’ll check that off my list. I thank you, kind sir.”

Amy’s eyes were to her list and not the scenery, so her confusion and wonder peaked when they arrived at a 15-foot wrought iron gate, the entrance to the most enormous castle she had ever seen.

Matt opened the limo door and escorted her up the walkway to the massive entrance. Waiting for her on the other side was a familiar face.

At six foot two, Michael Cambridge’s rugged Irish looks and wavy brown hair would stop anyone in their tracks, as they might wonder how one person could be so amazingly handsome and perfect from head to toe.

“Darling you are finally here! Welcome.” He took her hands in his, and pulling her close, kissed both of her cheeks and her soft lips.

“Michael, what are we doing here? What is going on?”

“Now, don’t worry your pretty little head about anything. God, you look gorgeous. It is so good to see you.”

“I thought you were at work.”

“Nope, I lied,” he said with a sheepish grin.

“What do you mean?” Her voice ascended an octave.

“I lied because that’s the only way I could have pulled off your surprise.”

He opened the double doors to the ballroom proudly. Her entire family stood in the center of the room, each with a glass of champagne in their hand, ready to toast the birthday girl and soon bride-to-be.

“Oh my God, what did you do? I thought they weren’t flying in until midweek.” Tearfully, Amy hugged Michael.

“They wouldn’t miss your birthday, pretty girl.”

“Wait a minute,” she stuttered. “I’m still 28 in my head.”

“Not anymore. You are officially 29, Ireland time.”

“Michael, you say the sweetest things.” As they laughed together, he handed her a glass of sparkling champagne and proposed a toast. Amy listened to his eloquent speech of adoration and flushed with embarrassment from the attention.

“To my blushing bride, Amy, Happy Birthday, my love.”

The sound of glasses clinking echoed, and the crowd called out, “here, here” and “to Amy.”

“Are you surprised, darling?” he whispered in her ear, his strong arm wrapped around her slender waist.

“Surprised? Of course! You never cease to amaze me, Michael Cambridge. This is why I love you so much.” Then she whispered, “I just wish I would have dressed more appropriately. I still have airplane on me, if you know what I mean.”

“But you look amazing to me. You could be wearing a potato sack and still look great.”

“Oh Michael, you are so funny. Who talks like that?”

“I suppose I do,” he confessed.

“I do,” she repeated. “I cannot believe we will be saying those two little words to each other in just a few short days.”

The next 30 minutes or so were spent getting reacquainted and greeting relatives from both sides of the family. Coming together for the first time, the Cambridges met the Reids. It was so odd to see, but at the same time, it felt right. The conversations were mostly small talk, both pleasure and business, but they always segued back to the happy couple.

Dinner was served sit-down style in a smaller room adjacent to the main ballroom. Irish food, something pureed no doubt. Either one loves it or hates it. Mostly, it’s tolerated.

Michael stepped out of the room to take a phone call from the concierge’s desk. While he was gone, one of the servers tucked a note next to Amy’s dinner plate, but said nothing and just refilled her water glass and walked away.

How strange, she thought. She glanced over her shoulder to see the server who had delivered the note, but she only caught a glimpse of the back of his head before he quickly made his exit.

She searched the faces at the table, but it didn’t appear that anyone was looking her way. They all seemed engaged in their own bubbly conversations.

Dabbing at the corners of her mouth with the embellished napkin, she unfolded the note and discreetly read it.

“He is not who you think he is…”

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: ON EDGE, by Gin Price

Title:  ON EDGE

Genre:  Mystery/YA Mystery

Author: Gin Price

Websitewww.thepoisonedpencil.com

Publisher: Poisoned Pencil

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

When a serial-killing graffiti artist starts painting your picture all over town…it puts a girl on edge.

Emanuella “LL” Harvey puts her gymnastic skills to good use as a member of her brother’s Parkour group. Freerunning, jumping, and climbing over their corner of the city like it’s an obstacle course gives them something to take pride in and keeps them out of trouble—sort of. But trouble finds LL when she runs into Haze, a talented graffiti artist whose sister Heather was murdered two years before. Freerunner and Writer promptly fall in love, but they decide to hide their relationship till they’re sure it’s the real thing—and until they can find a way to placate LL’s hotheaded brother, who has it in for Haze and his gang. But when portraits of LL—done in Haze’s distinctive style—start popping up on city walls, all hell breaks loose. LL’s brother threatens a gang war, which LL tries to avert by identifying the Writer who is really responsible for the paintings. But when another teen is murdered, it looks bad for Haze, especially when LL discovers that Heather’s killer and her portrait-painter are one and the same.

ON EDGE 

Gin Price 

Chapter One 

            I wasn’t going to make it.

I had a stitch in my side as widespread as the distance between the Pizza Pie Pagoda and the apartment roof we ran across, so the chances I’d screw up and smack my head against the concrete waiting below were pretty good. The waist of my yoga pants began to unroll, the fabric sliding down with every pump of my aching legs and I had to waste precious energy to pull them up. But if I didn’t, and I stepped on a hem, I’d stumble.

Stumbling would be bad—like lose a tooth on the balance beam the day before prom bad. Already I could feel the quiver of fatigue in my knees signaling my eventual burn out.

“He’s going to catch me, he’s going to catch me,” I chanted between panted breaths.

I spoke more to myself than my companion, but he answered anyway. “Nah, Baby-girl, you got this. Forearm, shoulder, booty, then knee up and walk away. Daily cake.”

I grunted. Easy for him to say. This fiasco made it five consecutive hours of balls-out athletics for me while he was on hour two and only slightly less out of breath than I.

“Get back here!” The voice behind bellowed, growing closer.

I threw off my rhythm a fraction to look behind me. “Damn, he’s on us. How’d he get up here so fast?”

“You realize I had you this time, right?”

Appalled at my friend Surge’s attempt to claim a victory when the game had clearly been called due to weather conditions—it was raining cops—I ran faster, pushing myself beyond my limits toward the roof’s edge. I didn’t care if my pants fell around my ankles mid-flight; I was going to win our little game today—and moon the state of Michigan doing it.

But first, I had to stay out of jail.

“Whoa! Come back.” The cop yelled. He sounded more concerned now than angry.

Too late. There was no coming back once we’d made the decision to run.

“Boosh!” Surge yelled as we both hopped the lip of the roof and leapt across the expanse between the buildings, sprawled out and reaching through the air like action heroes.

Unlike the movies, nothing happened slow enough for me to process the danger of a jump. I committed to the plunge and depended on ingrained knowledge to take over.

The Pizza Pie Pagoda building came up fast. I bent my legs to absorb the shock and let my exhausted body fall forward and to the side. The remaining energy of the landing pushed me over in a Side-Roll, taking the impact from thigh to shoulder until the momentum brought me up to my feet again. Hurray incoming bruise.

Surge’s Roll was swankier than mine, but for once he didn’t gloat. Probably because we didn’t have time.

“You kids all right?” The cop called from the building over.

We didn’t take the time to answer him verbally. We just waved off his concern and continued to ignore his command to give ourselves up. Surge grabbed my elbow and helped me to the side of the pizza place where we were able to hang off the side of the roof and drop down into the alley.

“How you doing?” Surge asked me, once we were making distance between us and the cop.

“Well, I worked my butt off in gymnastics practice, ran around the mall only to get kicked out because of your food court tabletop trick—”

“You’ve got to admit that was swank,” he interrupted. “How was I supposed to know they were going to call in the real blue?”

“And now I’ve spent the last ten minutes upgrading from a trespassing ticket to an arrest.”

“Only if we got caught, which we didn’t. So you owe me five bucks.” He grinned at me and I couldn’t help but return it.

“We aren’t off main, yet.” I slapped his extended palm away. “When I’m home and couching you’ll get your five.”

I tugged off my black hoodie as we walked, stuffing it behind a dumpster to come back for later. We knew the drill. You didn’t walk around wearing the same colored clothes after a cop was running you down. The next corner you turned would probably have you stuffed in a squad car before the first lie left your mouth. Changing shirts wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. Besides, with my hoodie on, most cops mistakenly took me for a guy. I guess they thought girls had better things to do than monkey around the cityscape.

“Damn, there’s the cop,” Surge said.

I looked down the block from where we stood and frowned. He didn’t seem to notice us any more than the other pedestrians, but to be safe, I tugged Surge into The Slow Drip.

The few tables the coffee-shop had inside were up front with a window view, while racks and racks of tee shirts and other gift items created an aisle to the registers in the back. Outside, a few more two-seater tables were full of the loitering public, making blending in a little easier.

“I guess we take a time-out for refreshments,” I said.

Surge paced, looking out the store front with his lips pursed. “He’s going to keep circling and look in here eventually. Not sure stopping was a good idea this time.”

“Hey Surge,” a girl called out from behind us.

I turned and nodded a greeting at Ramona as she chatted Surge up. Dressed in her coffee-pot-shaped apron and teardrop visor-hat, she was clearly working the counter.

Wenda, her best friend and my gymnastics nemesis, walked up and stood next to her. We were all on the same team but no one would know it the way they acted—except Wenda and I were both wearing our Kennedy Gymnastics Team tee shirts.

“Hey guys,” I said, trying to be a beacon of polite through the thick fog of seething hatred. Ramona tried to smile but settled on a grimace. Wenda didn’t even try to hide her nostril-flare face.

“Ramona-girl, you think you could get us out the back of this place?” Surge asked.

Standing on her tiptoes, Wenda leaned up to whisper something in Ramona’s ear while staring at me.

Subtle.

“I can take one of you through,” Ramona started to say.

Surge snorted. “Forget it.”

“No, no.” I knew this was a good opportunity to draw less attention to ourselves. “Surge, you go out the back and I’ll go out the front.” I smiled my second best smile at Wenda, while talking to him. “We’ll meet up at the library and finish what we started earlier.”

His glare at the two girls melted when he turned to me, and I suspected he did that on purpose to show anti-bitchery support. “Ooo. I accept your challenge! I’ll even beat you there.” He winked and then turned to Ramona. “Lead the way, mama.”

With Ramona taking Surge out the back door, Wenda and I were left standing there. “Guess I’ll see you next practice.” I said.

“Oh didn’t you hear? We’re going to do individual practices until coach returns from her vacation.”

Odd. I hadn’t heard, but I wasn’t exactly surprised. Since Regionals and even at practice earlier, I suspected some of the girls were mad at me. Now I had my suspicions confirmed.

“Well, then. See ya at school.”

“Whatever.” She did the hand brush-off and turned her back on me, cutting me down without saying another word.

Shaking my head, I turned and left the coffee shop.

No one had ever looked at me with such hatred before, and I couldn’t figure out where it came from. I knew gymnastics competition pitted us against each other a lot, and I’d definitely ridden the group hard at Regionals at the end of last season, but it seemed like there was more to her attitude than just rivalry, but whatever. I couldn’t puzzle through her bullshit when I still needed to get a few blocks away to avoid a tour of the city jail.

Losing my concern for Wenda was easy once I was Freerunning again on my way to the Library. No troubles or stressful thoughts stood a chance against the heart-pumping adrenaline rush that was Parkour.

I raced down streets using the objects in my way to increase my pace instead of slow me down. I swung under a metal railing and leaped over its parallel twin. I jumped over a fire hydrant and the three bikes locked on the rack right next to it, all without choking up.

My seamless movements cancelled out Surge’s head start, and as I rounded the corner on the last block to the library, I caught sight of my friend a block to my right.

At the same time, he noticed me.

I heard his laugh across the distance and the challenge within it spurred me on. “Oh you are so gettingshown,” I promised quietly, forcing my legs into motion.

So close, so close! If I could get to the lion statue first, I’d get the prize, but Surge wasn’t going to make it easy on me. We both ran full speed, coming closer to each other and to our destination.

I vaulted over one wide stone railing, Kong-style, with my feet straight out in front, ready to catch me for my landing.

I didn’t expect anyone to be standing there.

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized, Young Adult | Leave a comment

Chapter reveal: Dying to Tell, by Tj O’Connor

DTT Cover 800 jan 2016 copyTitle:  DYING TO TELL

Genre:  Mystery

Author:  Tj O’Connor

Websitewww.tjoconnor.com

Publisher:  Midnight Ink

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

In Dying to Tell, the latest mystery by award-winning novelist Tj O’Connor, Oliver “Tuck” Tucker—dead detective extraordinaire—is back for the case of a lifetime, or, rather, the afterlifetime.  

A former police detective who now solves mysteries from beyond, Tuck doesn’t appreciate just how perilous the past can be till his wife, Angel, is nearly killed and reclusive banker William Mendelson is found dead in a hidden vault.  Tuck knows there’s more to Mendelson’s murder than decades-old skullduggery. As murderers, thieves, and spies descend on small-town Winchester, Tuck joins up with Angel, old detective partners, and a long-dead grandfather still on an army mission from 1942. With the case unfolding around him, Tuck must confront haunting family secrets and the growing distance between his death and Angel’s life.  The outcome could be a killer of its own, but Tuck is set on solving this case. Dead set.  After all, some things never die…

 CHAPTER ONE

Dying is as perilous as secrets and lies. Depending, of course, on

who is keeping the secrets and who is telling the lies. Trust me, I’m

in the secrets and lies business—I’m a homicide cop. Well, I was.

Secrets and lies can lead to big problems—like murder—although

it’s not in the secrets or the lies themselves. It’s that someone always

wants to tell. The urge is like an addict needing a fix. You need to

tell—you cannot help it—you have to tell. Sometimes it’s out of

guilt. Sometimes it’s for revenge. Sometimes it’s just spite. No matter,

in the end, someone is always dying to tell.

And then bad things happen.

An auburn-haired beauty with green eyes—eyes that could hypnotize

vampires—walked down the outdoor Old Town Winchester

mall through a dusting of blowing December snow. She stopped

momentarily to adjust her long wool overcoat over her athletic legs

and curvaceous, bumpy body—a good bumpy. She looked around

the mall, twice back from where she’d come, and turned down the

sidewalk to the annex behind the First Bank and Trust of Frederick

2

County. When she caught sight of me, her smile—one that normally

could charm snakes—looked more like that of a cobra ready to strike.

I ran to catch up.

No, not because I’m obsessed with vampires or snake charmers.

And no, I wasn’t stalking this classy university professor on her way to

some mysterious early morning appointment. She was my wife, but

she was on her way to a mysterious appointment—and I didn’t know

where or why. So, being the former detective I was, I followed her.

“Angel, where you going?”

“To the bank.” She reached the employee entrance door and stopped.

“Why are you following me?”

Silly question. “Because you’re going to the bank at seven in the

morning. It’s closed.”

She checked her watch. “And it’s almost seven thirty.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of banker’s hours? Who do you think is

here this early?”

She rolled her eyes—a signal that my wit or charm had disarmed

her. “I’ll explain later at home.”

“I’ll wait. We can get pancakes.”

“You hate pancakes. What’s wrong with you lately? Are you spying

on me?”

I did hate pancakes, but watching her eat steak and eggs—my

favorite breakfast—was much more painful. “Spying, no. Me?”

“I didn’t think the dead could be so frustrating.”

Oh, did I mention I’m dead? No? I’m Tuck, formerly Detective

Oliver Tucker of the Frederick County Sheriff ’s office. Now I’m just

Tuck to my friends—those living and dead. I was a hotshot homicide

detective before I went investigating noises in my house late

one night. Those noises led someone to put a bullet in my heart.

3

That was nearly two years ago. And it’s taken me that long to come to

terms with it. Sort of. It helped to catch the bastard who shot me and

put an end to his killing spree. And it helps to have my wife, Angel,

and Hercule, my black Lab, around, too. Dead and gone are two totally

different things. I’m dead, but as Angel and Hercule will tell

you—well, maybe not Hercule, he’s a dog—I’m just not gone.

“Angel, listen, I …”

The steel security door at the employee entrance door burst open

and banged against the brick annex wall. A masked gunman—a tall,

strong-looking figure dressed in dark clothes and the traditional bank

robber’s balaclava—ran from the annex, turned, and fired a shot from

a small revolver. He slipped on the sidewalk, freshly adorned with an

inch of snow, and crashed to the ground. He cursed, jumped to his

feet, and locked eyes on Angel.

“Run, Angel. Run!” I yelled.

Too late.

The gunman scrambled the three yards to us and grabbed Angel

by the arm. “Come here!” He spun her around, pulled her to him

like a shield, and faced the annex doorway.

A bank security guard emerged through the door, gun first.

“Freeze! Let her go!”

The gunman fired two shots in rapid succession. One hit the security

guard and the other slammed safely into the wall two feet beside

him. The guard grunted, staggered back, and went down, striking

his head on a stone flower planter beside the entrance.

“Angel, stay calm,” I said. “I’ll get you out of this.”

“Tuck, help me!”

I dove for the gunman and took two vicious swings trying to free

her. Both blows struck him in the face and neither caused him to

4

flinch. I struck again—lashed a kick to his knee, a jab to the rib cage.

Two more body blows.

Nothing.

“Angel, fight. You have to fight. I can’t help.”

Angel was not a timid or slight woman and she erupted like a

wildcat, taking the gunman by surprise. She twisted and fought

against his grip and nearly broke free.

“Dammit, lady, stop!” He jammed the revolved to her cheek. “Or

else.”

“Tuck,” she cried out, “help me! Tuck …”

Rage boiled over and the explosion started inside me everywhere.

A second later, my fingers tingled and my body burned from

the inside. Seconds were all I had. I lunged forward and struck the

gunman in the throat with the heel of my hand. He staggered back,

relaxing his grip around Angel. I struck two more vicious punches

to his face and followed with a kick to his midsection.

“What the f—” He released her and turned in a circle, his eyes

darting around.

I struck two kidney punches and a sharp kick to the inside of one

leg. He umphed and crumpled sideways down onto one knee. I

crushed him with a two-fisted hammer punch to the back of his neck.

“Run, Angel—go!”

She was only four or five strides from the gunman when he lifted

his revolver and took aim.

A gunshot split the air from behind us, searing a lightning bolt

through me on its way to the bank robber. It struck him in the upper

arm and spun him sideways. A second shot followed but missed him

by mere inches. The gunman was stunned but regained his footing—

his injury wasn’t stopping him. He staggered back, lifted his

5

revolver, and pulled off a shot before he ran around the rear of the

bank annex and disappeared.

“Angel?” I spun around. “Are you all right?”

Apparently, she was fine.

A tall, square-jawed, distinguished man in a heavy wool overcoat

stood beside her now. He had one arm around her, speaking slowly to

her—consoling her—and his other arm hung to his side, a black, compact

.45 semiautomatic handgun in his grasp. He looked like a younger

Clooney, but perhaps better looking. I instantly distrusted him.

“I’m fine, Mr. Thorne, really.” Angel slipped from his arm and went

to the security guard lying on the snowy ground beside the annex

door. She moved over him, checked his wounds, and tried to wake

him. “Call an ambulance. He’s been shot and is unconscious.”

Thorne—a man I’d never seen before—pulled a cell phone from

his overcoat pocket. “Right, and the police. Is Conti all right?”

“I’m not sure.” She investigated a small, thin hole over the guard’s

left breast through his blue suit coat. From inside the coat, she pulled

out a paperback book and held it up. “Agatha Christie saved his

life—Murder on the Orient Express. The bullet hit this and didn’t go

through.”

I put a hand on her shoulder to comfort her—or perhaps, to

comfort me. The rage had passed, and with it, the last of my connection

to the physical world. “Are you okay, babe? I …”

“I’m fine. Go see if anyone else is hurt inside.” She caught Thorne

eyeing her. “There may be more employees inside, right?”

“Not at this hour, no. Let’s wait on the police.”

No, I wasn’t waiting.

6

A voice beckoned me into the bank and I followed. It wasn’t a

voice—not really—it was more like someone telegraphing words

into my head: “It isn’t over, kid, follow me.”

The bank annex was dark. The faint morning light was barely

enough to cast more than a dull haze through the lobby windows. I

went through the grand lobby, down a long, dark corridor into the

executive wing. At the end of the corridor were three offices. I stopped

at the suite of William H. Mendelson, Chairman of the Board, First

Bank and Trust of Frederick County—or so said the brass plaque

below the oversized portrait of a silver-haired titan.

The voice from nowhere whispered, “Hurry up, kid. Inside.”

I followed the voice into the pitch-black office and through a

second doorway in the corner of the room—a closet, I thought—

but it was the entrance to a stairwell leading down into more darkness.

Two floors below, in a sub-basement, the stairwell opened to a

wide landing at a heavy steel security gate that looked like a prison

cell door. Beyond the gate was a small anteroom lit by a dim fluorescent

light overhead. The gate was unlocked and open and the anteroom

beyond was empty except for a small metal work table and

two battleship-gray chairs. In the rear of the room was a monstrous,

turn-of-the-century steel vault door—the nineteenth century. To my

surprise, the door was cracked open, and a sliver of eerie light from

inside the vault etched the anteroom wall.

“Inside, Oliver.” The voice was all around me now. “Go inside.”

Oliver? “Who the hell are you?”

“Just go. Quit stalling.”

I turned and found a strange man—a fellow wraith—leaning

against the anteroom wall watching me—not in a casual way, but

trying to appear casual. He had one hand in a pocket of his leather

7

bomber jacket and he tipped a baseball cap that had a big “W” on it

off his brow with the other.

“Trust me, kid. This isn’t the way it looks.” He threw a chin toward

the vault. “Go on in. I’ve done my part. Now it’s your turn.”

Inside I found the Chairman of the First Bank and Trust of Frederick

County.

William H. Mendelson always reminded me of Lionel Barrymore’s

Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life. He was a starchy, arrogant

old banker who made rare appearances around town. When he

did, he never spoke, didn’t wave, and never, ever smiled. And to

those who knew him, he was never William or Bill—God, never

Billy, either. He was Mr. Mendelson—or more often, the Chairman.

Like he was Frank Sinatra or something, right?

William sat behind a square steel counting table in the middle of

the vault, facing the door. He was dressed in the same blue doublebreasted

suit he must have worn yesterday—from the smell, he’d

been here a while. A dark blood stain ruined his starched white shirt

and expensive silk tie—the result of a small-caliber bullet hole in his

heart. Both hands rested on the tabletop like he was waiting for a

sandwich—or pancakes—and they were stuck to the blackish gooey

remains of his life.

And hanging in the vault air was the heavy, pungent odor of

smoke.

The bomber-jacketed man—strangely familiar—said, “Remember,

kid, it’s not what you think.”

“Hello, William,” I said, looking at the murdered chairman. “I’m

Tuck and I’ll be investigating your murder. Perhaps you can tell

me—what should I think?”

 

 

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: