Thriller

Corporate Citizen, by Gabriel Valjan

5-ccTitle: Corporate Citizen: Roma Series Book Five

Genre: Mystery-Suspense/Thriller

Author: Gabriel Valjan

Website: www.gabrielvaljan.com

Publisher: Winter Goose Publishing

Purchase link: http://amzn.to/2b9E2qE

About the Book:

A call for help from an old friend lands Bianca and the crew back in Boston. On a timeout with Dante, due to revelations in the aftermath of the showdown in Naples, Bianca is drawn to a mysterious new ally who understands the traumas of her past, and has some very real trauma of his own. Murder, designer drugs, and a hacker named Magician challenge our team, and Bianca learns that leaving Rendition behind might be much harder than she thinks. 

 

Excerpt from Corporate Citizen (Roma Series Book 5)

    “Is this Mr. DiBello?” said a woman’s voice through the long-distance connection.

“This is he,” Gennaro answered.

Bianca raised her eyes at hearing him speaking in English. She had just come into the room with their afternoon drinks. She was even more concerned that the call had come to Gennaro’s cell phone and not the house phone. They were apartment sitting for their friend Claudio Ferrero, La Stampa’s top investigative journalist, who was on assignment. This call also threatened their afternoon ritual of talks out on the balcony where they enjoyed the sights below of San Salvario, the neighborhood near Turin’s city center. Gennaro was motioning for her to come over and eavesdrop.

“What can I do for you?” he asked the caller.

“Not for me, Mr. DiBello. I’m calling on behalf of your friend, Diego Clemente. He asked me to dial your number for him. It’s not easy dialing Italy from a hospital phone.”

“Hospital?” Gennaro said, alarmed. His eyes flashed his concern to Bianca.

“I’m a nurse at MGH and he’s my patient. MGH is Mass General–”

“Hospital in Boston,” Gennaro stammered. “I know that. Scusi – I mean I’m sorry for interrupting you, but is Diego alright?”

“He took a fall at home and broke his hip,” the woman seemed to sigh, “slip rugs are dangerous, you know. He can tell you the rest himself. There isn’t much time.”

“Wait, please. Much time?” Gennaro asked, confused. “I don’t understand.”

“He’s due for surgery and I’ve started his IV. I’d say that you have about ten minutes before happy hour.”

Gennaro said, not understanding to Bianca. “IV…and ‘happy hour.’”

Bianca bared her forearm and explained in Italian: “Medication; probably anesthesia.”

The voice on the phone said, “I’ll hand over the phone to him so you two can talk.”

“Thank you, Nurse.”

“You’re welcome.” Gennaro heard the phone shuffle and heavy breathing. The connection improved. Gennaro and Bianca heard the pull of the curtain. “Diego?”

Another moment passed, and more ruffling sounds. Gennaro and Bianca huddled closer around the phone as Clemente spoke, “Slip rug, col cazzo.” Clemente had learned some Italian, but only the choice words. “That’s some hell of a story, from Mason Street to MGH and now a hip-replacement. Jesus, I can feel the drug working its way up my arm already.”

“You’re making no sense, Diego.”

“Gennaro, please listen to me, since I don’t know how fast Nurse Ratched’s cocktail will work.”

“Less than ten minutes. I’m listening.”

“Thanks. My head feels light. Damn.”

“Wait — where’s your wife? You shouldn’t be alone in a hospital.”

“My wife passed away. Look, Virgil showed me the apartment, the dead girl, and it’s a real mess, a real setup, and my life is going to hell. To hell, you understand, Gennaro, in a boat, hole in the bottom, and toothpicks for oars.” The voice was Diego irritated, in hyper mode.

“Slow down, Diego. I’m sorry about your wife. Why didn’t you tell me?”

A deep, relaxed sigh. “I didn’t want to trouble you. What could you’ve done? Send me a Mass card? You’ve been through it yourself.”

Gennaro’e eyes turned downward. He remembered Lucia. “But still, Diego. I’m your friend. Friends do something, and I don’t mean send you the latest self-help manual on grief.”

Bianca swatted his arm, “No time for sarcasm,” she said.

“I couldn’t help myself, he told her in Italian.

“Hello? Help me then.” Diego

“First, I need to understand what you’re telling me,” Gennaro said. “Who is Virgil?”

“I wish I knew, Gennaro. I wish I knew. I think Virgil is one of Farese’s people.”

“Farese?” The name, as it came out of Gennaro’s mouth, made Bianca’s eyes widen.

U.S. Attorney Michael Farese was a chameleon of a character, changing colors when he worked for the Department of Justice, when he handled diplomatic requests for the State Department, and when he worked for the CIA, as they thought he might have been after their last run-in with him during their investigation of the Camorra in Naples.

“Diego? Concentrate. Why do you think Farese?”

“That doesn’t matter. She’s dead and he’s dead.”

“Who? Who is she? Who is he?” Gennaro asked. His voice almost cracked.

“Norma Jean. She had such nice lingerie, too, and that son of a bitch was in such a nice bed.” Clemente’s voice was almost singing as he was speaking. The wonders of pharmacology.

Gennaro rubbed his eyebrows. He was frustrated. “Diego, stay with me. Who is Norma Jean? Who was in the bed?”

“Marilyn Monroe was a sad girl.” Diego giggled.

“He’s giggling,” Gennaro said to Bianca.

“Oh, it’s a party line!” Diego almost shouted. “Who else is there?”

“Bianca,” Gennaro announced. “She is staying with me.”

“You naughty boy,” Diego said. “Put her on, please.”

“Here,” Gennaro handed his cell phone to Bianca. “Talk to him. I think the medication has gotten into his brain.”

Bianca seized the phone. “Clemente, this is Bianca,” she said, hoping that using the man’s last name would snap some momentary sense into the man’s head. “Forget about Marilyn Monroe. Who is dead?”

“Marilyn, of course. Somebody murdered her,” Diego answered.

“That’s right, but who is in the bed?”

“James Guild, former special agent, FBI, scourge of my loins.”

Bianca put her hand over the receiver and repeated, “Guild is dead.”

Porca puttana.” Gennaro stepped in closer to the receiver. “What happened, Diego?”

“Hell if I know. Virgil gave me the tour of hell. I got nice slippers, though. He had a needle in his arm.”

“Virgil had a needle in his arm?” Bianca asked.

Clemente became belligerent. “I just told you Guild had a needle in his arm. He was in that expensive bed. I saw it. No gun, too. Norma was out in the living room. He was in her bedroom. Nice bed, and what a nice view, and did I tell you what a beautiful kitchen she had?”

Gennaro asked, “I couldn’t hear that last part. What did he say?”

“Nice kitchen,” she said in English “He’s getting delirious.”

“I’m not delirious,” Clemente yelled. “I’m serious! Oh, that rhymes.”

“Please focus, Clemente,” Bianca said.

“I saw it. I saw the computer. My life, your life…it all goes to shit.”

Bianca, trying a soothing voice, said, “You saw a computer. What did you see, Clemente?”

“Black, black background,” Diego’s voice was now sputtering.

In a coaxing tone and hoping for more details, Bianca asked, “What else did you see?”

“Big, big.” More sputtering. Bianca closed her eyes.

“Big red R!” Diego said triumphantly.

Bianca and Gennaro understood what they had heard: black background and red R.

She said softly, “Fuck me.”

“Lingerie?” Clemente asked. Bianca handed the phone back to Gennaro. She put her hands to her temples, rubbed them. She thought of Boston, the Sargent case, Nasonia Pharmaceutical, and the body count.

“Diego, this is Gennaro again. We’re coming to Boston.”

“That would be nice. Somebody should feed the floor people. I feel sleepy now,” Clemente said, mewing. Gennaro stared at his phone before he put it to his ear again.

“Get some sleep, Diego. We’ll be there as soon as we can.” Gennaro heard more purring and then the cacophonous drop of the receiver on the floor on the other end. He ended the call on his cell phone.

“Did he say anything else?” Bianca asked.

“He said someone should feed floor people. I think he has cats.”

“How do you know he has cats?” she asked.

“Blame it on hanging around Silvio.” Bianca didn’t question the logic. Silvio was a translator, Farese’s interpreter, their friend, member of the team, and lately, animal whisperer.

“We should go to Boston,” Gennaro said.

“He saw the red R.”

“I know. You should call Dante.”

“Do I really have to?” she asked.

“Yes, and you have to tell him.”

“Which part? Clemente and Guild, or that Clemente saw the red R.”

“Doesn’t matter. Tell him everything,” Gennaro said. “It adds up to the same.”

Red R meant Rendition.

 

Excerpt published with permission from Winter Goose Publishing

 

Categories: Suspense, Thriller, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Gail Force, by Robert Lane

Gail Force Cover Art.jpgThe Gail Force

by Robert Lane

Mason Alley Publishing – Release date: September 20 2106

Available in trade paper (ISBN: 978-0692670446, $14.95) and eBook ($4.99) editions

 “a consistently entertaining crime thriller…The plot crackles with energy and suspense. The writing is crisp…clever.” –Kirkus

“Charm and humor permeate the pages of the surprising thriller. There’s little chance that anyone will turn the last page before developing a craving for the next installment.” –ForeWord Reviews

Award-winning novelist Robert Lane, who has drawn comparisons to John D. MacDonald, has created one of the most compelling characters in mystery today.  PI Jake Travis is tough, smart, wise and wisecracking. He’s hailed as “a winning hero”—and this time, Jake has an elaborate knot to untangle.

While trying to expose a corrupt Miami art dealer, Jake goes undercover for the FBI. The gallery’s owner, Phillip Agatha, is more enchanted with murder than he is with art. Aboard Agatha’s luxury yacht, the Gail Force, Jake is taken with Agatha’s hospitality—and with his alluring assistant, Christina, a woman who harbors her own secrets. Unknowingly, Jake plays into Agatha’s hands and initiates actions that could cause an innocent girl to die.

As Jake struggles to save the girl, unearth a rogue FBI agent, and bring Agatha to justice, his greatest challenge is to stay loyal to his girlfriend Kathleen—and to withstand the Gail Force.  As Jake himself observes, “After all, everything’s a game. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you don’t know what game you’re playing.”  This game is on…

The Gail Force is crime fiction writing at its finest.  With a storyline that races from the opening page, characters that stay with readers long after the final page is turned, and the wit, wisdom, lust for life, and cynicism of Jake Travis, The Gail Force will leave readers breathless.

 

The Gail Force 

1 

The Fat Man 

Karl Anderson knew he’d made a mistake when he got a sex change and neglected to inform his wife.

“What the—”

“It’s me, babe.”

“What the—”

“Hey, you know we talked about it and—”

“Karl, you dumbass. What—”

“It’s Colette.”

“What?”

“Colette. You know, French. Thought we’d make a cute couple. Whatdaya think?”

“Oh, babe.” Riley Anderson put down her grocery bag of fresh produce, fish wrapped in white paper—she suspected the paper was not as fresh as the fish it wrapped—and a loaf of French bread. She strode over to her husband and combed her hand through his hair, tenderly tucking a few renegade strands behind his left ear. “You’re a blonde, babe. We talked about it? Remember? You’d look so much better as a brunette. Besides, a French blonde—they even make them?”

“Don’t know why not.”

“Name one.”

“One what?”

“French blonde. Come on, Karl. They don’t exist. It’s like a happy Eskimo or—”

“Catherine Deneuve.”

“Cather—OK, so you got one, but dead or alive, right? And look at your shoes. You got to start thinking differently.”

“I’ll be fine. Pretty sure she’s still alive. Born in forty-three.”

“You didn’t, you know,” Riley said with a coy smile, “touch the private equipment, right?”

They stood in a seaside bungalow, the late afternoon sun filtering through the slats of the venetian blinds, casting shadowed lines on the wall. A spiritual sea breeze swept through two sets of open patio doors, ushering in air that hung heavy with the gummy fragrance of saltwater. The front doors faced the Caribbean, and the side doors the courtyard and pool, one floor beneath them. “Some island south of Florida,” the government man in the buttoned dark suit had retorted in response to Riley’s earnest question as to where they were. That was three nights ago when they’d been dropped off at 2:00 a.m. in the middle of a weed-infested runway.

“No shit, Corky. Which one?” Riley had demanded.

“Brig-a-fuck-a-doon.”

“Gotcha. Hey, thanks for the heads up. Now give me my phone.”

“We’ve been over this. They can trace you. No phone.”

“How long am I gonna be here?”

“Until you leave.”

“Yeah? Well, let me tell you, if you come knockin’ and I don’t answer, it means I’m finally showing signs of intelligence. Got it, Corky?”

“Don’t call me Corky.”

“Corky, Corky—”

Karl had stepped in before Riley got wound up. He was always calming her emotions and outbursts, like throwing a blanket on a fire. He believed his wife’s bravado stemmed from her diminutive stature, but he wasn’t the type of man who gave thought to such trivial things. He simply loved her every way times ten.

“You know I didn’t,” Karl replied to his wife’s question and gave her their last kiss. “It’s just another precaution. We might even have fun with it.” Their first kiss had been outside the prefabricated junior high classroom in Marion, Indiana, when they were fourteen years old. It’d been building for three days until finally, on the fourth day, Karl nearly knocked her head into the side of the building before attacking her lips with his own.

He folded her, all five feet and one inch, into his chest. She jerked back. “Boobs?”

“Little fakies. I’m thinking this might be a pristine opportunity for you to see if you swing both ways, you know, snuggle up to Daddy Big Tits, might find it rocks your boat. Make a real sorority girl out of you.”

Riley smiled, glanced up at her husband, and said, “I don’t think so, baby. You’ve been rocking my boat ever since the day you grabbed my shoulders, banged my head, stuck your lips on mine, and then dashed off like the Easter bunny being chased by a pack of starving coyotes.”

While not poetic, and certainly not the finely crafted lyrical notes she would, if presented the opportunity, have chosen, nonetheless, it was a fine thing for Riley Anderson to say to her husband, as they were the last words he would hear her say. The last words she ever heard him say were coming around the corner like a downhill runaway truck.

Karl Anderson, who towered over his wife, gathered her back in his arms. He faced the open patio door. Riley, before looking up to his face, eyed the grocery bag on the kitchen counter. She wondered how she should prepare the fish but knew that Karl would likely step in and cook dinner. Maybe she’d slice up the French loaf, make garlic bread and croutons. Karl Anderson loved crispy croutons. Later, she would wonder if she hadn’t glanced at the damn groceries if she would have seen the panic—the sadness—in her husband’s eyes a split second sooner, and if that split second, of all the seconds the screwed-up world had ever known, would have made a difference in their lives.

When she did glance up, Karl Anderson was not looking at the object of his heart, but at the open patio door where a rotund, unwelcome guest stood blocking the salt air, the sun, the view, their future.

Karl, like a Polish weight lifter, jerked his wife over his head, took a giant leap toward the side patio that fronted the pool below, and heaved her over the patio rail and, with luck, into the pool’s deep end.

“Run, baby, run,” he screamed, praying that for once in her life, the little fireball would do the sensible thing and listen to him. That was assuming he didn’t miss and Riley went kerplat on the concrete pool decking. Karl spun and dove for the shelter of a desk. Like a runner on third knowing he was cooked, he closed his eyes, thinking it would be less painful when the bullet found him.

It wasn’t.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” the Fat Man said on entering the villa. He glanced behind him. “Find her. Go.” Two men were with him. The one who had shot Karl sprinted down the concrete stairs.

Mr. Anderson.” The Fat Man took several steps into the room. “Might I be mistaken or have you sprouted a pair of shapely—although the right one seems to be slightly off-kilter—breasts since our last meeting?”

“Eat me.”

“Yes, yes, yes. If only you knew. Why not now, Johnnie, while he’s still breathing?”

Johnnie Darling, who resembled the product of an incestuous relationship, slithered around his boss and snapped away with a Nikon D810.

“Fat little twerp,” Karl Anderson blurted out. His left hand grasped his Tommy Bahama shirt that Riley had sprung on him yesterday as a present. He tried to stem the bleeding that was turning the gold silk shirt into a rust-colored premonition of death.

“Why the animosity?” The Fat Man tapped his cane on the floor. “Is that what the end brings you, tied up in a bow? It is different with all of us. You should understand. Our minds are so similar in some departments, but apparently—and this, most unfortunately does not bode well for you—sadly different in others. But what a marvelous picture you make, especially now that you’ve made yourself such a conflicted creation. You know how I feel about art. It stimulates our senses. That which we are rarely exposed to, that which we dream about and participate in only through the voyeurism of our dreams, stimulates us the most. So considerate of you and, I might add, so utterly unselfish, to be our objet d’art.”

“Go fuck yourself.”

“Hmm…yes. Imagine the disastrous effect on the survival of the species if one could indeed finagle such an act.”

            Click. Click. Click.

The Fat Man prodded Karl Anderson’s shirt with his cane. He nudged the blond wig off to the side, taking care to keep a piece of it on Karl’s head.

            Click. Click. Click.

“This is exquisite. Exquisite indeed. Death comes to what? A man? A woman? We don’t know, Johnnie, what Mr. Anderson is trying to be. Perhaps one of your own. Death does not care, does it Mr. Anderson?”

            Click. Click. Click.

The Fat Man stepped around Karl and toddled into the kitchen, his back to Karl. “I thought we were getting along splendidly. The beauty of numbers—their simplicity and brutal honesty. It’s disappointing when those we trusted, our confidants, turn and drive a spike into our hearts. So sad. All of this, brought about by you.”

Karl groaned.

The Fat Man picked up the bag of groceries. He positioned a chair before Karl, sat, and bent over, his face close to Karl’s.

“Look at me,” the Fat Man said.

Karl did not. Karl Anderson decided to go deep inside himself, to choose his place of death, to envision the dimpled face of his sweet Riley as the last thing he would see. Did I throw her too far? I was afraid of coming up short. A short putt never goes in—oh God, please, I hope she hit the water.

The Fat Man poked Karl’s chin with his cane. “I said look at me.”

Karl did not.

“Very well then.” He leaned back and propped his cane against the side of the chair.

            Click. Click. Click.

The Fat Man gave a dismissive gesture with his hand, his fingers trilling the air. “Be done, Johnnie, until the closing shot. Why, Mr. Anderson? Why couldn’t you let me go? I told you that if you kept our secret, you would live. If not, you would create this egregious situation. What part of that simple statement did you not comprehend?”

Karl curled into a fetal position and coughed up blood.

“Now you understand, don’t you?” The Fat Man continued, undaunted by Karl’s lack of conversational participation. “And your little Riley? My! What a throw that was. My guess is that she’s bleeding out on the pink pool paver bricks. Pink. Pool. Paver. Bricks. What do you think, Karl? Or is it Pink. Paver. Pool. Bricks? Do you recall our number games? Of course you do. I got it right the first time, didn’t I? Words with the fewest letters lead the way. We resort to the alphabet for a tiebreaker. ‘Pink’ before ‘pool’ as ‘I’ comes before ‘O.’ Remember? We constructed whole sentences in such a manner, although paragraphs were beyond the scope of even our advanced minds. I will miss your stimulating company. I digress—Riley.

“Perhaps that wasn’t her fate; there’s always the cabana, a somewhat softer ending. You know which one I’m talking about, don’t you, Karl? Yes, that’s right. The one where the lady in the black bathing suit was spreading oil on her breasts yesterday as if she were making love to them. Remember now? Judging by the trajectory, I think that is where your little trinket might have landed. Johnnie, would you be so kind as to glance out the door. Take a few shots of Mrs. Anderson. Show them to Mr. Anderson in your viewfinder.”

Johnnie Darling went to the side patio door and peered down. He shook his raisin head at the Fat Man.

“Not there? Really—quite an amazing throw then. I’m sure Eddie will rope her in. Pity for her that she didn’t hit the bricks. Didn’t think of that, did you Karl? Really, have you nothing to add?”

Karl tightened his position, his arms and legs drawing into his center, as if in death, life compresses into you, growing small, dense, and close. Then, like a flickering flame reacting to a kindly puff, it was no more.

The Fat Man picked up the grocery bag. “I greatly admire your courage to control your last moments. Superb, actually. One never knows until the bitter end what kind of strength lies dormant in a man. With you, it is bottled animosity and structured silence. Think of the picture in his mind right now, Johnnie. The greatest art is that which we never see. Pity. Karl, are you tuned in?”

He reached into the bag and rummaged through the items. “I shall dine on your wife’s shopping tonight. Let’s see, Johnnie, French loaf, fresh produce, kiwi—excellent—such an integral component for a Caribbean salad.” He unwrapped the fish. “Yellowtail snapper. Enough for two, which means just enough for me.” He discarded the fish and stood, as if he’d instantly lost interest in it all. “I fear we’ve overstayed our visit, and we do want to be going before the police arrive; although I told them to give me an hour. One shot, Johnnie. With both instruments. Don’t cheat and rely on the camera.”

The Fat Man turned to leave.

“Shwell ill you.”

He turned and was surprised to see Karl Anderson’s eyes nailing his own. “Pardon me.”

“Riley,” Karl said with the greatest of effort, for he recognized his last breath. With that breath, he said, “She’ll kill you.”

“I think not. Johnnie.”

Johnnie circled the corpse twice and settled on a position. He took his time with the Nikon. Johnnie Darling always took his time with the last shot.

            Click.

 

 

Categories: Thriller, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: Write to Die, by Charles Rosenberg

cover-2Title: Write to Die

Author: Charles Rosenberg

Publication Date:  July 26, 2016

Category:   Mystery/Thriller

Formats:  Trade Paper, ISBN:  978- 1503937611, $15.95,  Kindle, $3.99

Page Count:   498 (approximately)

Publisher:   Thomas & Mercer

Publicity Contact:  Maryglenn McCombs  (615) 297-9875 maryglenn@maryglenn.com

Book description: Hollywood’s latest blockbuster is all set to premiere—until a faded superstar claims the script was stolen from her. To defend the studio, in steps the Harold Firm, one of Los Angeles’s top entertainment litigation firms and as much a part of the glamorous scene as the studios themselves. As a newly minted partner, it’s Rory Calburton’s case, and his career, to win or lose. But the seemingly tame civil trial turns lethal when Rory stumbles upon the strangled body of his client’s general counsel. And the ties that bind in Hollywood constrict even tighter when the founder of the Harold Firm is implicated in the murder. Rory is certain the plagiarism and murder cases are somehow connected, and with the help of new associate Sarah Gold—who’s just finished clerking for the chief justice—he’s determined to get answers. Will finding out who really wrote the script lead them to the mastermind of the real-life murder?

Chapter 1

SUNDAY

The story began when his phone rang.

He struggled out of a deep Sunday morning sleep, fumbled the phone to his ear, got out “Hello” and heard a deep voice say, “Rory, Joe Stanton. I need to see you.”

“Joe, I just saw you on Friday.”

“Well, so what? I need you again. My office. Five o’clock.”

Rory wanted to say, “It’s Sunday, and I have plans.” But he knew he had no real choice. Joe’s studio, TheSun/TheMoon/TheStars, was his firm’s largest client. Joe was the general counsel—the guy who distributed all of the litigation work on which Rory’s law firm feasted. But even as he stifled his real thoughts and said, “Okay, see you there,” he realized Stanton had already hung up.

***

Rory had been on the studio lot so frequently in the past few years that they had finally caved and given him a drive-on pass, something unheard of for outside lawyers. He flashed it at the guard gate—the security camera would later document that he drove through at 5:06 p.m.—and made his way, via the fake streets used to film cityscapes, to the oddly named Executive Office Structure. There were a few other cars around, but not many, and Rory amused himself by sliding into the slot reserved for the studio head.

Joe’s office was on the top floor, and Rory took the steps up, the better to add a little more exercise to his day. His bad knee always did better going up than down. It had surprised him that the entry door into the stairwell was unlocked and annoyed him that he was out of breath by the time he got to the top.

The door to Joe’s assistant’s office was wide open, and nobody was at the desk—amazing in itself because when Joe was in the office, an assistant was always there, too, day or night. The door to Joe’s own office was to the right of the assistant’s desk. It was closed.

Rory knocked. When there was no answer, he knocked again, louder, eased the door open and peeked around the edge. Joe was sitting in his leather chair, behind his over-large black granite desk, his body tilted slightly to the left. An ugly black-and-blue bruise spanned his neck from ear to ear, and his swollen tongue protruded from his mouth. Blood clotted in his hair.

What went through Rory’s head was remarkably rational, considering that his heart rate had accelerated to twice normal speed. If I go in there, I’ll get my fingerprints and probably my DNA all over everything. And the guy’s clearly dead, so I can’t help him.

He closed the door, but not all the way, called 911 on his cell, calmly reported the body and its location and waited. While he waited there in the assistant’s office, the door to Joe’s office swung entirely open again on its own. He wanted to turn away, but he had the odd feeling it was somehow disrespectful to the body to do that. So he just stared at it until suddenly a breeze, or something, slammed the door shut again.

The 911 call had apparently alerted studio security as well as the city’s emergency system, because within a few minutes a studio cop showed up, out of breath from running up the steps. Rory pointed to the door and tried to say “Dead,” but all that came out was a croak. He tried again and got the word out.

“Anyone else in there?”

“Don’t think so, but I’m not sure. I opened the door, but then it closed again on its own. The wind, maybe.”

The guard motioned him away, drew his gun, flattened himself to the wall beside the door and, while turning the doorknob with his spare hand, kicked the door wide open. Crouching slightly and holding the gun straight out in front of him, he cleared first the open doorway and then, moving inside, the space to each side of the door. Rory thought it a brave thing. If somebody had been inside with a gun or a knife, the guard could’ve bought the farm.

“The room’s clear,” the man said. Then, as if he had not yet really focused on the corpse in the chair, he added, “Oh my God.”

Rory heard the sirens as the police and paramedics arrived, and he watched LAPD uniforms stream out of the stairway, consult the studio guard and go through the same routine of clearing the room, guns drawn. Within ten minutes, there were six more people, including men and women wearing white coats with LAPD insignia stitched above the pockets. Suddenly, yellow crime scene tape was everywhere.

Rory heard the studio guard on his walkie-talkie telling the front gate, “Don’t let any media in here . . . No, nobody, even if they’ve got a pass . . . They’ll be coming soon, they’ve probably already heard about it on the police scanner. And post somebody on the walk-in gate on the back lot.”

A Detective Johnson, according to his name plate, a big African American guy who was actually taller than Rory’s own six foot five, and maybe heavier, too, emerged from Joe’s office wearing white booties and latex gloves. He peeled the gloves off and took out a small notebook. “You the guy who found him?”

“Yeah.”

“The other detectives will want to talk to you later. I’ll get the basics from you now.”

It didn’t take long. Rory answered that he didn’t know if Joe had any enemies, in part because he didn’t know the victim very well.

“Any idea why he wanted to meet with you?”

Rory shrugged. “I’m an outside entertainment lawyer representing the studio in a big copyright case. There’s a court hearing going on about it right now. Maybe he wanted to talk about that. But he didn’t say. Just said he wanted to see me today.”

“I see.”

“So, Detective,” Rory said, “is there any way he could have . . . choked himself, somehow? Is that possible?”

“Not unless you can strangle yourself and make the rope disappear afterward.”

“No sign of it?”

He shook his head. “It was good you didn’t go in there. A lot of people would have. How did you have the smarts not to?”

“A long time ago, I was a deputy DA. You learn stuff in that job.”

“And now you’re—what did you say? An entertainment lawyer?” Without waiting for Rory to confirm, he rolled on: “Hey, have you heard this one?”

Here we go, Rory thought. Even in the middle of a gruesome crime scene.

“What’s the difference between a dead lawyer and a dead armadillo in the road, Counselor?”

“I don’t know. What?”

“No skid marks in front of the lawyer.” He guffawed at his own joke.

Rory had been thinking up good responses to lawyer jokes for years. Maybe this wasn’t the time to try one out, but then again, maybe it was.

“That’s funny, Detective, but what about this one? How many clients does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

“Uh, I dunno.”

“Well, no one knows, because clients always call their lawyers to come over and help.”

“Huh?”

“It’s a client joke.”

“I gotta think about that one.”

“Yes. Do that. May I go now?”

“Yes.”

“You have my card. If any of the other detectives need to talk to me, please tell ’em to give me a call.”

“I expect they will.” He paused. “Say, do lawyers often tell each other client jokes?”

“Nope, but they should.”

Rory left Detective Johnson, walked back to his car in the parking lot and opened the door. Then he turned around and threw up on the asphalt, getting some on his pants. When he felt like it wasn’t going to happen again, he drove home, cleaned up and tried to eat something. But he wasn’t hungry. Then he tried to sleep but found it hard. He finally got up, rummaged in his medicine cabinet and found a bottle of Valium that an old girlfriend had left behind. He took one and fell into a troubled sleep.

 

Excerpted from WRITE TO DIE with permission of the publisher, Thomas & Mercer. Copyright 2016 (c) Charles Rosenberg. All rights reserved. 

 

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Chapter reveal: The Flying Dragon, by Georges Ugeux

9781480818569_COVER.inddTitle:  THE FLYING DRAGON

Genre:  THRILLER/SUSPENSE

Author:  Georges Ugeux

Website: http://www.georgesugeux.com

Publisher:  Archway Books

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book: 

Celebrated non-fiction author Georges Ugeux delivers an intense, imaginative and intriguing financial thriller in his debut novel, The Flying Dragon.  Set against the backdrop of the high-energy, high-tension world of global finance, The Flying Dragon plunges readers deep into a world where power, greed, money, and passion can intersect in a most dangerous way.

The Flying Dragon introduces protagonist Victoria Leung, a beautiful, brilliant, fearless, and highly accomplished financial fraud investigator.  Responsible for taking down Sun Hung Kai Properties’ Kwok Brothers, a real estate empire, Victoria not only established herself as a formidable talent, but earned the nickname “The Flying Dragon” in the process. When she leaves the fraud department of the Hong Kong Police, Victoria accepts a position as a senior detective at Pegasus, an international security firm based in London.  The Pegasus job affords Victoria much-needed freedom, but that calm is shattered when Victoria receives an urgent message from her close friend Diana Yu. It seems Diana’s ex- boyfriend Henry Chang is in danger.  Henry’s co-worker, Bertrand Wilmington, head of the derivative trading desk of a global bank, has fallen from a window of the twenty-second floor trading room.The Hong Kong Police Force quickly concludes that the death was a suicide, but is there more to this story than meets the eye? Henry Chang thinks so—and knows that if anyone can find answers, it’s Victoria, the Flying Dragon herself. Hong Kong and Mainland authorities are unsuccessful in cracking the case, but Victoria uses her expertise to discover key clues. And Victoria, a dogged, tough, tenacious investigator, won’t back down until she gets answers. As she races to piece together the puzzle of what really happened, Victoria is swept up in a world of danger, deception, and deadly consequences.   Can she extricate herself from this perilous web of arrogance, power, money and greed? Will she expose the corruption and bring down a financial giant?  Or will time run out? The clock is ticking….

Chapter 1 

The crowd around the Hong Kong Arts Center seemed happy as they streamed out of the concert by talented Chinese pianist Yuja Wang. They enthusiastically shared their impressions about her beauty, musicality, and talent. Some of the patrons had seen videos of Yuja Wang playing Chopin at the age of six. Victoria Leung was so in sync with the music she had played tonight: Schubert’s impromptus. She also felt so close to the pianist, who commanded the keyboard and seemed on the verge of tears when the third impromptu moved from lightness to depth and passion. At twenty-seven, Yuja Wang was one of the best-known pianists of her generation and now lived in the United States. She had the same drive, intensity, and grace as Victoria herself.

The Center’s superb architecture had always given Victoria pleasure. It was modern without ostentation, and its acoustics were close to perfect. Over the years, classical music had increasingly been a source of inspiration in the Chinese world, and the public was ecstatic. For a Chinese pianist to reach this level of excellence and artistry was a source of pride.

Since she had left the financial fraud department of the Hong Kong Police Force, Victoria Leung had enjoyed the freedom attached to her new status of senior detective at Pegasus, an international firm headquartered in London. She intended to fully enjoy this period of her life. Having a family was not on her agenda. Like most thirty-six-year-old women, though, she was starting to give it some thought. Her biological clock inexorably ticked. She knew it. But at the same time, she didn’t know what to do about that reality.

Victoria was an assertive and attractive young woman well aware of the impact she had on the male-dominated financial world of Greater China. She had initially faced difficulty demonstrating her leadership and competence, partly because of her good looks, femininity, and youth. She had learned to turn these qualities into assets that she used subtly and wisely. While she remained vulnerable to some aggressive behavior from male colleagues, she knew how to garner respect. Her body was slim and strong; she exercised regularly. She liked having the freedom to wear dresses and skirts rather than a police uniform. But what struck everybody who met her was the power of her demeanor and her smile, which revealed her complexity.

 

++++

 

Wearing a short red dress, Victoria drank her green tea as she peered through the glass of her office windows into the Hong Kong morning: Kowloon Bay on one side and the old British Empire buildings and parks at the center of Hong Kong on the other.  The traffic was penetrating and created an impression of energy and intensity. Hong Kong was not a city for the fainthearted.  Victoria was an early bird, and relished the atmosphere of the office before anybody else was in. She was in control and serene.

Victoria looked down at the document on her desk:

Henry Chang is in danger. I urgently need to meet you. Meet me at 9:00 a.m. at the Mandarin Oriental for coffee.  I desperately need your help. —Diana Y. 

Victoria was stunned. For Diana Yu to send such a dramatic message was unusual.  Henry Chang was Diana’s former lover until he broke it off and publicly humiliated her. Now, Diana was asking Victoria to help the bastard. It didn’t add up. Did Diana still have feelings for him? Victoria hoped not, but it was the only explanation that made sense.

She sighed. If it had been Chang asking, Victoria would have said no. But Diana was a dear friend. If she was willing to swallow her pride and ask for help, then the least Victoria could do was find out why.

Diana Yu and Victoria had started together at the Hong Kong Police Force. Soon after, Henry Chang became Diana’s boyfriend. While she had given the relationship all she had, she was never sure whether Henry was playing or being earnest. Unexpectedly, after they had dated for a year, he dropped her for a Hong Kong socialite, Helena Lee. He then became head of the fixed-income department of the Bank of Hong Kong and Shanghai, or BHS.

The breakup had been particularly painful for Diana since Henry had been cruel enough to do it publicly at a 2012 New Year’s party.

Diana was now reaching out through a confidential police cable; whatever had happened to Henry must have been fairly dramatic. The Wan Chai Police headquarters was close to Hong Kong Central and near the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

 

 

Categories: Mystery, Thriller, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chapter reveal: Adrenaline, by John Benedict

adrenalineTitle: ADRENALINE

Genre: THRILLER

Author: JOHN BENEDICT

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book: A sensational, skillful and highly suspenseful tale, Adrenaline introduces anesthesiologist protagonist Doug Landry. About Adrenaline: When patients start dying unexpectedly in the O.R. at Mercy Hospital, Doug Landry finds himself the focus of the blame. Is he really incompetent or is there something more sinister going on? As Doug struggles to clear his name and untangle the secrets surrounding these mysterious deaths, it becomes exceedingly clear that someone is serious—dead serious—about keeping the devastating truth from ever seeing the light of day. As he launches a pulse-quickening race against time to prevent more deaths, Doug soon finds that the lives of his patients aren’t the only lives at stake.  Seems that someone will stop at nothing to keep Doug from revealing the truth. Could it be that murder is the ultimate rush?

CHAPTER ONE

“Shit!  Don’t give me any bullshit!” said Dr. Mike Carlucci under his breath, as his gaze locked on the unusual rhythm displayed on the EKG monitor.  His warning was meant mostly for his patient, Mr. Rakovic, who was scheduled to undergo an arthroscopy of his right knee.  Mike’s plea was also directed at God, just in case he was listening, and at the monitor itself to cover all bases.  Mike didn’t expect a reply from any of them.  Mr. Rakovic was deeply unconscious with an endotracheal tube sprouting from his mouth.  Mike had just induced general anesthesia and was preparing to fill out his chart when the trouble began.

Mike stared grimly at the potentially lethal dysrhythmia known as ventricular tachycardia, or V-tach, and felt the first raw edge of fear scrape lightly across his nerves.  It occurred to him that he had never actually seen V-tach during a routine induction in his six years at Mercy Hospital, or during any induction for that matter.  It was something that happened in the case reports, not in real life.  He wondered if Doug Landry, his best friend and colleague, had ever seen it.

His first instinct was to doubt the EKG.  Frequently movement of the patient or electrical interference caused the EKG to register falsely.  He rapidly scanned his array of other monitors.  Modern anesthetic workstations had upwards of ten sophisticated computer-driven monitors.  Substantial redundancy of these instruments allowed him to check one machine’s errors against another.  The pulse oximeter, a small finger-clip sensor, beeped at a heart rate exactly the same as the EKG.  This unfortunately ruled out the possibility of EKG artifact; there was no false reading this time.

Mike absently fingered the gold crucifix dangling from his neck.  Grandma Carlucci had brought it back from Lourdes, and had given it to him when he had graduated from med school.  The medallion always comforted him.  He punched his Dinamap, the automatic blood pressure machine, for a stat reading.  The mass spectrometer system, which continually monitored the gasses going in and out of Mr. Rakovic’s lungs via the endotracheal tube, registered normal carbon dioxide levels.  Mike breathed a sigh of relief; it meant the breathing tube was properly positioned in his patient’s trachea and not in the esophagus.  He quickly checked breath sounds with his stethoscope to ensure both lungs were being ventilated normally.  They were.  The pulse oximeter showed a ninety-eight percent oxygen saturation level, confirming beyond doubt that his patient was being adequately oxygenated.  Again good.  However, nothing to explain the sudden appearance of V-tach.

The blood pressure reading would be key for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, Mike knew he must treat the offending rhythm; its cause was of secondary importance at the moment.  A normal blood pressure reading would mean Mr. Rakovic would still have adequate blood flow to his vital organs—brain most importantly—in spite of the rhythm disturbance.  Mike knew that as V-tach accelerates, the heart can beat so fast it doesn’t have time to fill and fails as a reliable pump.  The blood pressure can fall drastically or disappear altogether.

“C’mon you piece of shit!  Read, damn it!”  Mike hissed under his breath to his Dinamap.  Fifteen seconds never seemed so long.  While waiting for the blood pressure, he opened the top drawer of his anesthesia cart and pulled out two boxes of premixed Lidocaine, a first-line emergency antidysrhythmic drug.  He ripped open the boxes and assembled the syringes.  He glanced up at Diane, the circulating nurse.  She was busily filling out her paperwork, oblivious to any problem.

“Diane,” Mike called out, “I got trouble here.  Get the crash cart!”

“Jesus, Mike!  Are you kidding?” asked Diane, eyes bugging wide, pen frozen in mid-task.

“Serious badness,” Mike said, trying to keep the dread he felt out of his voice.  “Looks like V-tach.”  His voice sounded a little higher than he had intended.

“Oh shit!” she said as she hurried out of the room, almost tripping over the trash bucket.  Mike was thankful that Dr. Sanders, the orthopedic surgeon, was still out of the room scrubbing his hands.  No time to tell him just yet; he wouldn’t take it well.  If the blood pressure were unacceptably low, Mike would need to shock the patient back into a normal rhythm.  He injected one of the syringes of Lidocaine into the intravenous line and simultaneously felt Mr. Rakovic’s carotid pulse.  It was bounding, arguing against a low blood pressure.

250/120!  “Holy shit!  Where’d that come from?”  Mike asked the leering LED face of the Dinamap.  Accusatory alarms screeched from the Dinamap in response.  Mike truly had not expected such a high blood pressure and was momentarily confused.  The temperature in the OR seemed to have jumped twenty degrees, and he felt rivulets of sweat coursing down his arms.  The fear was back and not so easily dismissed this time.  Think, damn it, think!  What would Doug do?

He quickly reviewed what he knew of Mr. Rakovic’s medical history and his own induction sequence.  Mr. Rakovic was a sixty-two-year-old hypertensive with a history of coronary disease and a prior heart attack.  But, his hypertension was well controlled on his current regimen of beta and calcium-channel blockers.  Mike knew his patient had a bad heart, and had taken care to do a smooth induction along with all the usual precautions to avoid stressing the heart.  A blood pressure of 250/120 and V-tach at 160 beats-per-minute were about the worst stresses any heart could undergo.  Mike knew this, but was still baffled.  Be cool, Mike.  Be cool.

He had been stumped before; medicine was by no means an exact science, and anesthesia was one of the frontiers.  Mike also knew better than to waste precious time pondering this.  As long as he had reviewed it sufficiently to make sure he hadn’t overlooked something, it was time to move on to the immediate treatment.  He could replay the case to search for subtle clues when Mr. Rakovic was safely tucked in the recovery room.

What lurked in the back of Mike’s mind during these first few minutes, prodding him along, was the specter of ventricular fibrillation or V-fib.  V-tach was reversible with rapid proper treatment.  V-fib, on the other hand, was often refractory to treatment, leading to death.   The problem was that V-tach had a nasty habit of degenerating into the dreaded V-fib without warning.  The longer V-tach hung around, the more likely V-fib would appear.  So Mike knew time was of the essence.

“Gotta bring that pressure down,” Mike mumbled to himself.  He reached back into his drawer for Esmolol, a rapidly acting, short duration beta-blocker designed to lower blood pressure.  He drew up 30 mg and pumped it into the IV port.  He also punched in the second syringe of Lidocaine.  Mike tried hard not to take his eyes off the EKG monitor for long as he drew up and administered the drugs.  He wanted to see if the V-tach broke into a normal rhythm or converted into V-fib.  Irrationally, he felt that if he continued to watch the rhythm it wouldn’t convert to V-fib; if he took his eyes off it for too long, the demon might appear.

His Dinamap on STAT mode continued to pour forth BP readings every 45 seconds.  290/140.

“What the hell!”  Mike said.  Alarms were now singing wildly in the background, adding to the confusion.

Just then, Dr. Sanders charged into the room demanding answers.  “What’s going on here, Carlucci?” roared Sanders.

Mike didn’t have time to deal with the irate surgeon.  A wave of nausea swept over him as he felt events slipping out of control.  Things were moving so goddamned fast.  Fear threatened to engulf him.  “Hypertensive crisis!” he managed to blurt out while he grabbed for some Nipride, his strongest antihypertensive.  Unfortunately, it had to be mixed and given as an intravenous infusion rather than straight from the ampule.  This would take a minute Mike and his patient could ill-afford.  Diane returned with the crash cart and several other nurses.  She looked at Mike and said, “Do you need help?”  It certainly sounded like she thought he did.

“Get Landry in here stat!” Mike yelled in response.  He took his eyes off the monitor as he worked on the Nipride drip.  Just as he got the Nipride plugged into the IV port, he heard an ominous silence.

The pulse oximeter had become quiet.  Usually the pulse ox signaled trouble, such as a falling oxygen saturation, by a gradual lowering of the pitch, not an abrupt silence.  Mike could think of only three possible causes, and two of them were disasters—V-fib or cardiac standstill.  The third reason could be as simple as the probe slipping off the finger.  Although this third possibility was enormously more likely, Mike doubted it.  As he turned his head toward the EKG monitor, he knew with eerie prescience what awaited him.

V-fib greeted him from the monitor.  He had failed to get the blood pressure down fast enough.  The V-tach had degenerated into V-fib as the strain on the heart had become too much.  His Nipride was now useless; in fact, it was harmful.  He immediately shut it off.  Mike knew that in V-fib, the heart muscle doesn’t contract at all; it just sits there and quivers like a bowl full of jello.  No blood was being pumped.  High blood pressure had ceased to become a problem; now there was no blood pressure.  Brain damage would ensue in two minutes, death in four to five minutes.

Doug Landry, the anesthesiologist on call that day, burst through the OR door.  “What d’ya got Mike?” he asked, slightly out of breath.  Doug glanced at the EKG monitor and said, “Oh shit!  Fib!”

“Paddles!” shouted Mike, comforted by Doug’s presence.  “He went into V-tach, then shortly into fib,” said Mike, nodding at the monitor.

“Yeah, I see,” Doug said.  His large sinewy frame looked like it was coiled for action.  Diane handed Mike the defibrillator paddles.

“400 joules, asynchronous!”  Mike barked.

Diane stabbed some buttons on the defib unit and it emitted some hi-pitched electronic whines.  “Set,” Diane said shrilly.

“Clear!”  Mike shouted.

Mike fired the paddles, and a burst of high-energy electricity pulsed through Mr. Rakovic’s heart and body.  The EKG monitor first showed electrical interference from the high dose of electricity, then quickly coalesced into more V-fib.

“Shit!”  Mike said.  “No good.”  He had never appreciated how ugly those little spiky waves of V-fib were.

“Hit em again, Mike,” Doug said.

“OK.  Recharge paddles.”  The paddles took several seconds for the high amperage capacitors to charge between countershocks.  “Better start CPR,” Mike said as he began pumping on Mr. Rakovic’s chest.  His hands soon became slimed from the electrolyte gel left by the paddles on Mr. Rakovic’s chest.  God, he hated chest compressions.

“Paddles are ready, Doctor!” said Diane.  Her eyes were wider than before, and her mask ballooned in and out, as she gulped air.

‘Boom’ went the paddles again, and Mr. Rakovic’s body convulsed a second time.  Mike stared at Mr. Rakovic’s face as it contorted, reminding him of a medieval exorcism.  Mike held his breath and waited for the monitor to clear, pleading with it to show him some good news.

“Still fib!”  Mike growled.  He resumed chest compressions as he nodded to the circulator to recharge the paddles yet again.

“Epinephrine?  Bicarb?” asked Doug.

“Doug, I don’t think he needs epi,” Mike replied quickly.  Mike wondered if Doug was also feeling the pressure.  His voice was too damn even, though.  “His pressure went through the roof on induction.  I don’t know why, but I just can’t believe he needs epi.”

“Okay,” Doug said.  “The paddles are ready.”  Doug’s forehead creased momentarily, then he added, “V-fib in an elective case.  Unusual.  Any history, Mike?”

Mike stopped compressions long enough to fire the paddles a third time.  He smelled the ozone coming off the arcing paddles.  The V-fib continued.  Gimme a break, Mr. Rakovic!

“Shit!  Charge the paddles again,” Mike said to Diane.  He turned to Doug.  “Yeah, prior MI, stable angina, hypertension.  Doug, I think we better try Breytillium.  I already gave him two doses of Lidocaine.”  Sweat was now soaking through his scrub top, pants and surgical cap, and running down his face.

“Yeah, sounds like a good idea,” said Doug.  “I’ll take care of it.”

Mike glanced over at Doug and cursed his calm efficiency.  He knew ‘the Iceman’ was a veteran of the OR wars.  Doug had worked at Mercy for twelve years.  He had been on the front lines before and had always performed well.  Doug reminded Mike of his mentor in residency days, Dr. Hawkins.  Mike thought he could hear Dr. Hawkins now: “Retaining control and being cool are critical in these situations.  Split second decisions need to be made.  Panic is a luxury you can’t afford.”  The advice sounded hollow.

“Any allergies, Mike?” Doug asked.  “Malignant hyperthermia?  Breytillium’s ready.”

“No allergies.”  Mike was breathing hard now and had to space his words with short gasps.  “Doesn’t look like MH—no temp.  Hurry Doug.  Run that shit.  He’s been in fib for a while.  We’re running out of time.  He may never come out.”

“I’m bolusing now,” Doug said as he injected a large quantity, “and here goes the drip.”

Mike clung to Doug’s steady voice like a lifeline.  Mike realized that he was in danger of losing control.  He could see it in the trembling of his own hands and hear it in the huskiness of his own voice.  He wondered if Doug noticed.  Deal with it, Mike.  Deal with it. 

Hawkin’s words floated back to him again.  “It’s just like being in combat.  Soldiers can train and drill all they want, but they never really knew how they’ll react until the bullets are real and start to shriek by their heads.  Will they turn tail and run, or fight back?”  Leave me alone, Hawkins!

Mike looked around the room.  He felt they were all staring at him; he could read the expressions in their eyes:  “It’s your fault!  You screwed up!”

“Try it now, Mike,” Doug said, jolting him back to reality.

Mike grasped the paddles tightly to prevent them from slipping from his slick hands and applied them to Mr. Rakovic’s hairy chest for the fourth time.  He pushed the red trigger buttons on each paddle simultaneously to release the pent-up electricity.  All 280 pounds of Mr. Rakovic’s body heaved off the OR table again and crashed down, sending ripples through the fat of his protuberant abdomen.  Mike now smelled an acrid, ammoniacal odor and realized it was coming from the singed hairs on Mr. Rakovic’s chest.  He frantically wiped the burning sweat out of his eyes so he could see the monitor.  The V-fib continued stubbornly and had begun to degrade into fine fibrillations.  “Damn you!”  Mike yelled at the monitor.

“I’ll give you some bicarb,” Doug said.  Out of the corner of his eye, Mike thought he could see Doug shaking his head slightly.

The next fifteen minutes were a blur to Mike.  More chest compressions, more emergency last line drugs, many more countershocks were tried.  Nothing worked.  Mr. Rakovic continued to deteriorate, his pupils widening until at last they became fixed and dilated.  His skin was a gruesome, dusky purple-gray.  He was dead.  Doug finally called the code after fifty-three minutes and gently persuaded Mike to stop chest compressions.  Dr. Sanders walked out of the room without saying a word.

Mike was numb as he stared at the corpse in front of him.  One portion of his brain, however, continued to function all too well.  It kept replaying his initial encounter with Mr. Rakovic in the holding area.  He could see Mr. Rakovic in vivid color and hear him plainly, as the rest of the OR faded to silent gray.  They had joked about the Phillies’ pitching staff.  They wondered whether Barry Bonds would break Big Mac’s homerun record.  God, he wanted this to stop, to get his laughing, living face out of his mind.  But he couldn’t.  His mind was a demonic film projector playing it over and over.  He felt very sick to his stomach and had an overwhelming need to get out of the room and get out of the hospital with all its stinking smells.  Just go, anywhere but here.

God, this was what he hated about anesthesia.  One minute you’re having a casual conversation with a living, breathing, laughing, for God’s sakes, human being and the next you’re pumping on his chest.  He becomes subhuman before your eyes as his face turns all purple and mottled.  He cursed his decision to ever become an anesthesiologist.  What in God’s name was I thinking?  Frail human beings were not meant to hold someone’s life in their hands.  The responsibility was just too awesome.

“Mike.  Hey, Mike.  You OK?”  Doug put his hand on Mike’s slumped shoulders.  Mike came out of his trance enough to nod his head.  Several tears rolled down his cheeks.  “Mike, there’s nothing else you could’ve done,” Doug continued.  “We were all here too.  He must’ve had a massive MI on induction.  Not your fault.  Some of those guys just don’t turn around no matter what you do.  Don’t blame yourself.  We tried everything.”

“Yeah, I know Doug.  But I just can’t get his face out of my mind.  We were talking, joking just an hour ago.  Now he’s dead.”

“C’mon, let’s get out of here.”  Doug led Mike out of OR#2.  “I know you might not be up to this, but Mike, you’ve got to talk to the family.  Did he have any relatives here with him?”

Mike didn’t answer immediately.  As the adrenaline haze faded, he struggled to regain control.  He felt completely drained with an enormous sense of loss, but coaxed sanity back into place.  “Yeah, he came in with his wife.  Nice lady.”  Mike paused, feeling his vision blur again, this time with tears.  “What do you say, Doug?”

“Listen, I’ll go with you.  Just tell her what happened.  Everything was going fine.  He went to sleep and then bam, out of the blue, he had a massive heart attack.  Nothing in the world was going to save him.  We worked on him for almost an hour and tried everything.  Tell her we’re really sorry.”

“OK.  Help me, Doug.”  He would’ve rather stuck nails in his eyes than face Mrs. Rakovic at that moment.

The two men walked through the electronic entrance doors toward the OR waiting room.  Mike swallowed hard and entered the small windowless room.  Doug was right beside him.  Mike searched the faces until he found Mrs. Rakovic.  It wasn’t hard.  As soon as she saw him, she immediately leapt out of the chair with a quickness that belied her bulk.  Her frantic gestures revealed the depth of her hysteria.  Mike walked over and she collapsed into his arms.  “Tell me is not so!” she wailed in her thick, Slavic accent.  “Tell me Doctor Sanders made mistake.  Not my Joey!”  She cried convulsively.

“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Rakovic,” Mike said, blinking fast.  “He had a massive heart attack.  We tried everything.”  He felt her tears burn into his shoulder and then felt his own tears stream down his face.  “I’m sorry.”  Her wracking sobs shook them both.

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A Hidden Element, by Donna Galanti

?????????????????????????????????????????????Title: A Hidden Element

Genre: Paranormal Suspense

Author: Donna Galanti

Website: www.ElementTrilogy.com

Publisher: Imajin Books

Purchase on Amazon

In A Hidden Element evil lurks within…

When Caleb Madroc is used against his will as part of his father’s plan to breed a secret community and infiltrate society with their unique powers, he vows to save his oppressed people and the two children kept from him. Seven years later, Laura and Ben Fieldstone’s son is abducted, and they are forced to trust a madman’s son who puts his life on the line to save them all. The enemy’s desire to own them—or destroy them—leads to a survival showdown. Laura and Ben must risk everything to defeat a new nemesis that wants to rule the world with their son, and Caleb may be their only hope—if he survives. But must he sacrifice what he most desires to do so?

CHAPTER 1: The Beginning

Silent dark hung under a star-filled sky.

The dark deepened as they headed into the forest. Ancient conifers towered over them, blocking out the moon. Rain fell cold and lifeless. The nearest town of Benevolence, Oregon, was five miles northwest.

Caleb Madroc’s father stood across from him, waiting for his people to gather their belongings. Their pale faces glowed like orbs within gray hooded robes as they waited for his father’s instruction.

“We head toward town,” his father ordered. Caleb opened his mouth, but there were no words for his feelings of anger and loss at suddenly leaving the only home he’d ever known. It raged inside him, a tumult of emotion he must quell for now. At least his own black hair, like his face, was a constant reminder of his mother to his father. This made him glad.

Caleb shut his mouth and nodded, stepping in behind his father. Rain fell cold and lifeless. He fell behind as he helped the womenfolk with their bags. One young female sent him a furtive, desperate look as she touched his hand in passing.

I’m so scared. What will happen to us?

He smiled at her. Keep your thoughts to yourself. It’s safer this way. All will work out once we settle. She bit her lip, her eyes full of tears, and nodded looking back down at her feet.

“Father, how much further? Some of the younger females are struggling,” Caleb said.

His father’s eyes stung him through the mist rising up from the forest floor. They were eyes so different from his, and from his mother’s. Caleb had often seen sadness and pity for his father in his mother’s eyes. The day he had found her dead in the well her eyes held only nothingness.

“Can’t we stop and rest, Adrian?” A few in the group grumbled. They looked wet and tired, a sea of gray flowing before him. His father glowered at their weakness. As Caleb scanned the sodden crowd a female smiled at his father, holding the promise of submission. Perfect for his father, who wanted to breed another son to take his place. A worthy son.

“We do not stop.” His father’s voice rose over the line of people before him, and he smiled back at the female and a strange sense of relief washed over Caleb. If his father did create a new prodigal son to groom it might remove his first born from his watchful eye.

With that thought, anguish over his mother’s absence hit him fresh again. At eighteen and bigger than his father, he still needed his mother. She had been his kindred spirit, like Uncle Brahm. But now he was alone in this strange place. No longer did he have someone to be his true self with. He must step carefully.

His father continued to scan his flock. They stood still and silent, conveying their subservience. He nodded, apparently satisfied with their response. “You all took the oath to come here. Hard work lies before us in breeding our new community. Understood?”

They nodded in a collective wave.

Just like you bred with Aunt Manta while your wife lay dead? Caleb spewed out in his head without thinking.

His father moved closer, until his flaring nostrils touched his. Caleb stepped back, but his father gripped his arm. Dozens of eyes watched their battle.

Do not ever mention my brother’s wife’s name again, Son.

His father’s fingers pinched him hard and his hot breath pulsed across his face, but Caleb couldn’t stop. Mother’s dead because of you. And what about Aunt Manta? Did you kill her, too?

I didn’t kill anyone. And your mother should have been more careful.

You let her travel alone. She fell and died because she was alone.

It was your well, Caleb, she fell into. Your hideaway you carelessly covered up. Your fault.

His father’s accusations stabbed him with painful truth. He sucked in his breath. My fault. Yes. My fault.

He looked around the watchful crowd as his head reeled with the agony of what he had done. His people stared back at him, their thoughts hid behind blank faces. Why did they come? Didn’t they have dreams and wants and needs of their own, too? Or were they all obedient drones of his father?

His father thrust his arm away and turned around, plunging faster through the woods. Caleb hesitated then followed behind, trying to keep up. He envisioned himself standing still until everyone glided around him, leaving him to remain alone under a watchful moon.

Branches snagged his robe shooting him back to reality. His father’s people followed in silence. If they didn’t obey there would be consequences. As Caleb knew. He had no special privilege here as Adrian’s son.

At last his father stepped out onto a paved road. It stretched far into the distance, where welcoming lights beckoned them across the final mile. They reached the main intersection of town. A car flashed by. A radio blared. Faces stared out at them. He stared back. They were so different from himself and yet…not.

He broke his gaze realizing how out of place this group looked late at night. The people here wore jeans and shirts, the shapes of their bodies outlined under tight clothes. The female’s curves called to him, unlike his people who clothed themselves in shapeless robes to discourage free sexual thoughts. They were now to breed only with those chosen for them.

His father led them single file down the sidewalk. A handful of people sat behind windows drinking. They pointed at them as they walked by. “Gillian’s Bar” flashed in neon green above the doorway in the late evening hours. A man and woman, heading into the bar, stepped back from the sidewalk to watch them pass. Freaks, he heard the man say. And his father erased the memory of the encounter from these strangers’ minds in the seconds it took to pass them.

“Father,” Caleb whispered in his ear. “Where are we going?”

A large building rose at the far end of a parking lot. “Ray’s Lots” blinked over and over.

“Here is where we go.”

A woman pushed a cart filled with bags to her car, the only car left in the lot. She stopped and stared at them. Her hair framed her face in tight curls. A blue and white striped dress strained to contain her breasts and belly.

“Good evening, brothers,” she said with a hesitant smile.

His father motioned for them to stop. He smiled at her. She smiled back.

“Good evening, madam,” his father drawled.

“God bless you.” She grabbed his father’s hand. Caleb swallowed a laugh at the way his father looked at her with such a serious, doting face.

“And God bless you, my child.”

“What church are you with?” The woman fingered a cross at her neck. “Are you having an event in town?”

His father had said a church was the perfect cover. One of the many cultural ways learned before infiltration. All part of his father’s master plan.

“It’s the Church of Elyon,” his father said.

The woman took her hand away and frowned. “Never heard of it. You’re not one those crazy cults are you?”

Caleb stepped to his father’s side. Let me work her mind, Father. “What’s your name, Madam?”

“Sally.”

“I’m Caleb Madroc.” He shook her hand hoping his father didn’t have some depraved mission in mind. Caleb wanted to get food for their hungry group and shelter and have as little interaction with these town people as possible. “We’re simple folks. Our bus broke down outside of town. We seek food and a place to stay nearby. Can you help us?”

“What a nice young man you are. Of course I can help you.” She abandoned her cart and pulled Caleb toward the store. “My cousin runs this store and can stock you up with food. And the Mercenary Motel is down the street.”

He didn’t understand her eagerness as she dragged him along then it was made clear by his father’s mirthful laugh. His father had probed her mind and now controlled it—she would do whatever he commanded.

Caleb followed her into the store. Their people streamed in behind. Sally dragged him to a counter where a short red-faced man scowled at them. “Ray, these folks are here in town from a wonderful church. Their bus broke down and they need food.”

Within seconds Ray’s frown changed to a wide grin as Caleb’s father continued his mind games. “Come in, come in. Time to close up anyhow.” He flicked the sign on the front door and shut off the lights outside.

“Thank you,” his father said. “I need food here for my flock before we find a place to stay.”

“Help yourself to anything you want.” Ray ran his hands over shelves. “Pretzels, baked beans, cereal, Ding Dongs. We even sell the word of the Lord.” Sally and Ray beamed at them.

His father directed everyone to gather food and drinks. Sally and Ray stood by the counter, their minds blank except for what his father put into them. He dared not combat his father’s powers. Not here. Not now. But someday.

“Ray, I need all your money now,” his father said.

Ray clapped his hands together. “Of course.” He pulled money from a nearby metal box.

When his father’s bag burst full of items he handed it to a community member and cocked his head at Ray and Sally. “Time to go now, my new friends.” He motioned his people out the door. Ray and Sally stood with stupid smiles on their faces as the group filed out into the parking lot. All, except his father.

“Come on, Father,” Caleb pleaded, the dark knot in his stomach hardened. “Our job here is done.”

“Not quite.” His father moved toward the smiling cousins, a book in his hand. The Holy Bible. He thumbed through it to a passage and looked up smiling. “As for God, his way is perfect, is it not?”

“The word of God is true,” Sally sang out, clutching Ray’s hand. Her cousin nodded.

“Ray, isn’t Sally lovely? Look at her.” His father pointed at the heavy set woman.

Ray turned to Sally. His pants bulged and Sally’s eyes widened. She tugged on her dress top.

“Have your way with her Ray, you know you want to.”

“Father,” Caleb whispered, clutching at him but his father stayed his hand.

Ray licked his lips and nodded.

“Sally, unzip your fine dress and show Ray what you’ve got.”

Sally stepped out of her dress in a motion more fluid than one would have thought possible given her size. Her belly oozed over her thighs and her bra cut into her mountainous breasts. Ray panted, tapping his hands against his skinny legs.

Caleb moved toward the door.

“Stay, Son, I want you to watch this.”

“I won’t.”

“You will or you know what will happen.”

Caleb stopped and sighed, looking down at the floor. Eyes watched from the parking lot.

“Look.”

Caleb focused on the dirt in the floor cracks. His muscles twitched with anger. His father thrived on his hate, wanted him to hate—wanted his son to be a Destroyer like him. They had hidden their true selves for so long and now were free here to unleash it. Not Caleb. He refused to give in to the dark inside. He tried to release the hate for his father, but it now filled his every pore. He made a vow right then and there, he’d never allow himself to be controlled. No matter the consequences.

He finally looked up. His father nodded, pleased, and turned back to his playthings. Ray massaged his crotch. Sally moaned, squeezing her mammoth breasts, and stepped out of her underwear.

“Take her, Ray. Bend her right over the counter. Dive into all her lushness.”

“Lush, yes.” Ray moved toward Sally, fumbling to unbuckle his pants. She squealed with glee and bent over the counter to receive him, her white bottom rising like a pitted sea of blubber. Ray mounted her, forged a path through her two white mountains, and slapped up against her in his glory.

“Lordy, Lordy,” Sally sang out as she bounced up and down.

“Now that’s wholesome entertainment.” His father jabbed him. Caleb jerked away. “They’re both enjoying it.”

Caleb clenched his fists and shoved them in his pockets. “Can we go now?”

“Yes, Son, only one more thing to do.”

His father pulled out something that looked like a handle. He flicked it open to reveal a small knife he must have picked up in the hardware section. He placed it next to Ray on the counter. Sweat flicked off the red-faced man’s forehead as he plunged into buttery flesh.

“Ray, enjoying yourself?”

Ray grunted and grabbed on to Sally’s hips, sinking into her expanse. She moaned again in delight as her buttocks shuddered.

“Good. When you’re done fucking, kill the bitch.”

His father strode out the door, pulling Caleb along with him.

“Father, no.” Caleb struggled against him as his father shoved him hard through the door. Caleb spiraled his thoughts into Ray’s brain. Stop, Ray! She’s your cousin, your family!

Ray stopped his thrusting as if listening to Caleb, but his father’s punch to his face ended his brain probe. Caleb staggered back, blood gushing from his nose. Ray straightened his head and rammed into Sally with a loud groan. Caleb drew his hand back but his father’s fingers crushed his forearm. He fell to his knees. Blood spattered down his gray robe. The flock widened their circle, silent and watching. His father led as both law maker and enforcer.

“These lowly forms of life must be controlled,” his father said. “We’ve studied their ways. Now, this first act is how we begin their demise and our rule. We will grow in number with our selected breeding and thrive as these useless beings die out. Watch this historic moment, Son, for anyone who turns away will be marked weak…and unworthy.”

All eyes turned to the inside of the store as the desperate carnal scene played out to the end.

“I hate you,” Caleb whispered, watching the forced lovers before him.

His father smiled at him in satisfaction.

Ray arched his back with a moan and finished his business. Sally squealed and pressed up against him. And when Ray raised his knife and plunged into Sally in new ways, she squealed again. And again. Her blood ran onto scuffed tiles and still she squealed. And then she stopped.

Tears filled Caleb’s eyes and he closed them against the evil scene.

His father laughed. “Don’t you see, Son?” He shook The Holy Bible at him. “I am their Way, their Truth, their Life—and Death.”

Caleb did not answer. He remained inside his dark prison and swore someday he would end his father’s rule.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Supernatural, Suspense, Thriller | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Immortality by Kevin Bohacz

Immortality 7Title: Immortality
Genre: Techno-Thriller
Author: Kevin Bohacz
Publisher: CPrompt
Pages: 389
Format: Paperback/Kindle

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Without warning, something has gone terribly awry. In the remote and unnoticed places of the world, small pockets of death begin occurring. As the initially isolated extinctions spread, the world’s eyes focus on this unimaginable horror and chaos. Out of the ecological imbalance, something new and extraordinary is evolving and surviving to fill the voids left by these extinctions. Evolution is operating in ways no one could have expected and environmental damage may be the catalyst. Once discovered, this knowledge changes everything.

Excerpt:

AmazonForest: January, present day.

The rainforest had a humid, earthy smell that reminded him of home. Diego was twenty-two years old and, like most of his village, he’d spent half his life away from home. The bulldozer he was illegally operating was idling in neutral. In front of him were a half dozen control levers and gauges. With a worker’s rough hands, he compressed the squeeze-grip on a lever and pushed forward. He heard the sound of grinding gears. The tree cutter failed to engage. The huge dozer was thirty-year-old army surplus. There was a cable problem in the lever he was working. The problem sometimes caused the squeeze-grip to snap shut when the transmission grabbed. If he was not careful, the squeeze-grip could badly pinch his hand. Diego pushed harder on the lever. He could feel teeth missing in the gears from how the lever bucked back against his push. Without warning, the gears dropped into place as the squeeze-grip bit his palm. It was like a vicious dog. An angry welt throbbed in his palm. He cursed the dozer. He cursed the steaming heat. He’d drunk two quarts of water since breakfast, and lunch break was still hours away.

The rainforest was alive with insects. Diego had never seen this many in all the years he’d illegally logged the deep forests. There was a steady drone which was louder than the diesel engine he controlled. Tiny no-see-em’s, biting things, had left a rash across the back of his neck that felt like sunburn. Earlier, he’d scratched it raw but now had a bandanna tied around his neck to remind him to leave it be. The bulldozer rocked into a depression as the cutter began chew-ing through the trunk of a mahogany tree. Diego fed more fuel into the beast’s engine. The dozer’s treads dug in; there was a hesitation. He could feel the strain building. Tons of steel lurched forward pitch-ing him in his seat. Another tree tumbled, its branches snapping like rapid-fire gunshots as it crumpled into the ground. The front of the beast was equipped with a chain driven saw instead of a dozer blade. The fixture had a pair of serrated edges that shimmied back and forth like steel teeth. Pieces of shredded green leaves and bark caught on the teeth’s edges. Diego had long ago decided the beast was a sloppy eater.

The insect sounds of the forest had stopped. As far as Diego knew, these insects never stopped. He dropped the beast into neutral then switched it off.

There was silence.

Out of this stillness, a faint crackling sound rose from the distance, then disappeared, and then came again. He listened carefully. It took him a moment to realize the faraway sound was trees falling. The log- ging company operated a small army of dozers, far apart now; but by evening they would all meet up, connecting each of the separate cutting tracks into a solid plot. Diego swung round in his seat and gazed back. A swath of fallen tropical forest lay behind him: mahogany and cedar and even some rosewood along with countless varieties of plants and bushes. The largest trees were left standing so their canopies would hide the results of his work from the few government scouting planes that were not on the company’s payroll. Heavy tractors would come through later to drag out the good logs. He got paid by the yard for mahogany, rosewood, and cedar; the rest was trash. Today it looked like he would earn a small fortune; tomorrow might bring nothing. He lit a cigarette and left it hanging in his lips. After starting the engine, he ground the shifter into a forward gear and moved out. He drew cigarette smoke into his lungs then exhaled through his nose. No time to rest. He needed every bit of money he could earn. He didn’t blink as a cloud of insects flew into his face as their nest was churned into rubbish by his dozer’s teeth.

The humidity was so high that water had begun to evaporate into a fine mist. A steam cloud floated through the tops of the trees blurring the upper canopy into a milky green. Diego swung the beast around in a stationary about-face. The base camp was miles behind him by the river. The camp was a dock and tents with ratty screens. Beside the camp was a tree covered clearing that at night was filled with sleeping dozers and other heavy equipment. By now, a pot of beans would be simmering for lunch. A hunk of flat bread and canned beer would complete the meal. No meat. He’d lived worse. Everything here had been secretly brought in by river barge, including him and the other labors. With luck, he could cut a second swath back toward camp and arrive by lunch. Today would fill his pocket with more than two hundred Reals… a new record.

The logging ride out of the forest turned out to be easier than the ride in. The trees in his new path were an ideal size for cutting. Diego began thinking about his wife Carla and their dream. She’d been anx- ious to come with him into this hell. He had kissed her and told her no… no wife of his would suffer in a place like this. In seven months, he would be a father. The foreign company running this operation was taking good care of her. She’d written last week that the company had paid for a test with a machine that was like an x-ray but used sound. The nurse had told her the baby would be a boy. Diego smiled with that memory… it was a good one. He would have a boy who would grow up to be his friend. That was a new part of the dream; the old part was still a small house outside Maceio, the coastal city where Diego was born. Diego instinctively slowed the dozer to the speed of a man’s stride.
He squinted watching a cloud of rain moving toward him along the path he’d just cut from camp. The rain didn’t appear heavy, but when mixed with ground steam it was solid enough to bring a false twilight. Nothing could be seen inside the cloud. The dozer had a roll cage. A piece of corrugated sheet metal had been welded to the top of the cage as a roof. Diego switched on spotlights. Drops started hitting the sheet metal with rhythmic pings. The humidity grew heavier. The air surrounded him like a damp towel. He pulled off his t-shirt and wiped his face with it. A storm of birds fled from some trees his dozer was about to consume. Their colored shapes moved past him at eye level like watercolor paints in fog. Diego cocked his head to one side. He sensed something wrong.

Grinding the shifter into neutral, he idled the machine. As the noise of his engine simmered down, he was able to hear the far off sounds of a dozer racing at top speed. He heard an engine revving at its highest rpm… no, it was two engines. More than one dozer was racing through the forest. This was very unusual. A hollow feeling began gnawing inside his chest. He remembered stories of odd things that happened to people alone in the forest. He heard a different sound like a wet towel hitting the ground in front of him. He leaned forward, squinting into the fog. A bird tumbled from the air bouncing off the cab, the sound startling Diego badly. The bird fluttered, then righted itself on the ground and took off. He saw another bird fall a couple yards away, then another, and another. They would roll around a bit, then fix themselves and fly off. This was very strange… too strange. He now understood why dozers were racing through the forest. Something very bad was happening. He shoved the dozer into gear and slammed his feet into the pedals. The beast jumped forward at top power. He heard muck spitting into the air off the backs of the tread-plates. To devil with cutting the second track. To devil with the money. He was going to get out of here as fast as this dozer could race. The treads were clanking at an accelerating pace as the beast slowly picked up speed. He disengaged the tree saw to gain a few more drops of power. He plowed through the top of a tree he’d cut earlier, then another. He was doing close to ten miles per hour. A man might run faster, but not through this brush and not for the miles that remained to the camp.

Without warning, he felt dizzy, an ill kind of dizzy. The fingers on his right hand went numb, then paralyzed. He tried to move the fingers, but they were limp. Coldness was spreading up from his hand. The more he tried to flex his fingers, the worse it got. In seconds, his entire right arm was hanging flaccid at his side. Whatever had gotten the birds was working on him. He knew it. The trees kept moving past him in a blur. He realized with an odd disconnect that he was having difficulty drawing breaths.

He thought about Carla and the baby. His jaw squeezed tight. His lips formed a grim line. He would make it for them.

The dozer glanced off a large tree and kept going. The impact rocked him. He wheezed, attempting to draw air into his chest. Maybe two miles remained until base camp. He began veering off the trail. The saw-blade snagged on a mahogany six feet in diameter. Diego was pitched from his seat. Dizzy and unable to hold on, he fell from the cab. His shoulder hit a moving tread-plate, which tossed him off the rig. He was like a paralyzed sack of meat.

“Umph!” He landed on the ground. He thought how odd it was that he’d bounced. He didn’t know people could bounce when they hit the ground. The tractor rumbled beside him. Without his feet on the pedals, the dozer had stopped. The left side of his face was a mix of blood and dirt. He tried to draw air into his lungs but failed. His mind felt like it was beginning to evaporate. His entire body tingled. He felt no pain. The muscles that worked his lungs were no longer responding. He thought of calling for help, but without his lungs he could do nothing. He gave up struggling and stared skyward at the treetops and thought of Carla. Moments later, his heart stopped beating. He felt calm as what was left of his mind faded into a warm nothing.

New Jersey: January

Sarah Mayfair opened her eyes. The nightmare was still around her. Her vision was not in this world but in some other. The nightmare was of underground water, great arteries of rivers and streams and lakes. Where the liquid pooled, it was cool and deep. She sensed this water was alive with thoughts, evil thoughts. A teaspoonful of it teamed with plans of death. She was floating deep under the water, staring as drowned people glided past her face sinking into the depths of a bottomless pool. Looking down, she saw a trail of countless tiny bodies slowly pirouetting as they drifted into the yawning darkness below her feet… Headlights from a car traveled across a wall of her room. The lights dwelled on a wooden credenza, then moved on. She followed the glow with her eyes seeing reality for the first time. The simple act of seeing began to clear the veils of her nightmare. Her breathing slowed. She realized she was covered in sweat.

Outside, a subzero wind was blowing unimpeded through a forest of leafless trees and ice crusted snow. The windowpanes rattled and hummed. Small drafts snuck through the rooms. She shivered as the drafts caressed her dampened skin. She was in the living room of her home. She recognized the shadowy details of furniture and walls. Her boyfriend Kenny was in the bedroom asleep. She remembered getting up and walking out here to be by herself to think. The nightmares had grown worse, more of them with each passing week. She was starting to see the faces of people she knew in these nightmares. She sensed it was some kind of horrible parade of those who would die. She remem- bered Kenny’s image from the dream.
Her body stiffened. A disembodied voice was whispering into her left ear. The words were unintelligible… garbled, but unmistakably evil. This can’t be happening. She screamed out in frustration and grief at the seeds of budding madness.

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White Rogue by Dr. David Fett, Stephen Langford and Connie Malcolm

White Rogue 7Cold War era biological experiments are resurrected and after Boston experiences a seemingly inexplicable bio-terrorist attack, the Center for Disease Control’s Dr. Davie Richards and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Paula Mushari once again join forces to uncover who is behind it. An obscure reference to a Dresden project found amid crash site evidence marks them both for execution. Paula and Dave are forced to leave Boston in the middle of the night and head to Washington, D.C.,where they soon find that anyone they contact also becomes the target of assassins. When the daughter of the CDC’s director is taken hostage, Dave and Paula come face to face with an evil that forces them to question the very nature of duty and service to country. With the help of one man, they learn the true meaning of dark operatives while they desperately try to stop another bio-attack from happening.

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First Chapter:

There was a chill in the morning air.  A marine layer had moved into the Bay Area of San Francisco, creating a soft mist off in the distance as Anna looked up the street.  Anna Wheat was late to her job at one of the downtown branches of Bank of America.  She so wanted to be on time that she wished she could just jog the rest of the way, but her three-inch heels made that idea more comical than practical.  She had been a teller for the last two years and had been in line for a promotion, but like most things in the last few days, it had stalled.  Anna knew it wasn’t just her bosses were who preoccupied.  It seemed as though everyone in the country was distracted with the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Coworkers chatted about the evening news instead of last weekend’s football games.  Married friends told her of their concerns for their kids. And she too felt on edge from the constant news bulletins that came across the radio and filled the morning and evening TV news reports.  Anna just wanted to concentrate on her work, start her new job, and be preoccupied with something positive.

She knew the bank’s human resources division in Los Angeles was waiting for the paperwork to expedite the change in her employee status from Grade 1 to Grade 3.  Anna had done an amazing job that she jumped a pay grade, something that barely had been achieved in the bank’s history and even more rarely by a woman.  The bank’s manager, John Kiley, often cited Annie’s accomplishments to other employees, saying that hard work made anything possible and they should all reach for the stars.  He was fascinated with the NASA astronauts, and the Space Race with the Soviet Union inspired his language.  He would remind any employee that would listen that Americans didn’t like settling for anything, and setting goals was the surest way to focus a nation’s, or a company’s, energies.  President John F. Kennedy had set a goal for the country back in 1961, he would remind his staffers, and soon after, on May 5th, Alan Shepherd became the first American in space.  The Soviets beat us there, but we were catching up, Mr. Kiley would say.

Mr. Kiley’s cheerleading and holding up Anna’s promotion as an example didn’t go over well with other employees, especially other women.  Anna was very young, attractive, and ambitious.  And while she liked the attention she earned for her work, she hated the unpleasant glances from the other young tellers and the ashen-haired head teller with the droopy eyelids.  Some of the young women would whisper despairingly behind her back, lewd suggestions on how she had moved up the corporate ladder. Anna tried to ignore them and do her job.  She wasn’t going to let them have the satisfaction of knowing they upset her.

That morning, as she walked along the street, Anna passed a newsstand that featured papers emblazoned with warnings about the Cuban Missile Crisis.  There was a palpable fear in the fear in the city and across the country that the missiles placed in Cuba by the Soviet Union and now aimed at the United States would lead to nuclear war, if not by intent, by some accident or miscommunication. Anna’s sister in Virginia was so panicked about it that she packed up her kids and drove across the country to Monterrey, California, in order to live with their mother and father until the crisis ended. Anna’s personality was the opposite of her sister’s. In fact, it was her cool demeanor that made her a perfect fit for the banking world. She always managed to stay calm no matter how upset a customer was.

She passed a TV store as she headed up to California: one of San Francisco’s steeply inclined streets. The brisk morning walks kept her quite fit, but this morning, she didn’t seem to have the same vigor she usually had.  It had been difficult to get out of bed, and she had to skip breakfast because she was running late.  No food, no coffee—that was the problem, Anna thought. She really wanted to push past the fatigue and be on time for work.  She believed punctuality was important, especially if she wanted the men she worked with to take her seriously.

Anna was determined to be the first woman to become bank manager at her branch. She wasn’t like all her high school friends, who also were working, but whose long-term goals were marriage, a house, and kids.  She wanted those things too, but she knew she wanted something more.

Anna looked in at an appliance store window as she passed by, and all the TV screens displayed news coverage of President Kennedy in a press conference. The president looked tired and unusually grim. She had been a Richard Nixon supporter and felt he would have been better at handling such a dangerous confrontation with the Soviet Union. Anna continued walking, reached the top of the street, and had to stop to catch her breath. That’s unusual, she thought, and then noticed her hands trembling. She remembered there was a donut shop near the bank, and she planned to stop in there and get a coffee and something to eat.

She stopped again.  There was something more ominous going on than low blood sugar.  She wiped her forehead. Her breathing was rapid and shallow. She was perspiring. She tried to catch her breath but started coughing up thick, bloody mucous. A passerby showed concern. She held up her hand to signal that she was fine.

Anna straightened up and made her way another half a block to her Bank of America branch.  She reached for the door, but severe vertigo prevented her from grasping the handle. Her legs became wobbly, and she fell in a heap in the doorway.

Mr. Kiley came running out to her. “Anna. Anna. Can you hear me?”

She didn’t answer.

Mr. Kiley asked the other employees who had gathered around to stay with Anna as he rushed back into the bank to phone for an ambulance. Anna just lay on the sidewalk, semiconscious, vision blurred.

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First Chapter Reveal: Hitler’s Silver Box, by Allen Malnak

ATT00002Title: Hitler’s Silver Box
Author: Allen Malnak
Imprint: Two Harbors Press
Page Count: 328
Price US: $16.95
Genre: historical thriller

Novel’s WEBSITE

Purchase the book on Amazon and B&N.

A modern day historical thriller set in Chicago, begins with an elderly bookseller and Holocaust survivor, Max Bloomberg, being brutally murdered in his own home by a trio of thugs. Max’s closest relative, Dr. BRUCE STARKMAN, chief ER resident at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital is shocked when he learns his Holocaust survivor uncle is dead—his body already cremated, a violation of Uncle Max’s Orthodox Jewish views. A change in the will shortly before Max’s death provides a clue, allowing Bruce to find a hidden journal in Max’s handwriting detailing his uncle’s ordeal some fifty years before, during which Max is ordered by a Waffen SS Colonel to craft a silver box which is to be a birthday present for Hitler. The silver box contains a document written by Nazi leaders, which if discovered will lead to a worldwide Nazi resurgence. Max manages to hide the birthday gift after a strafing run interrupts their journey to Berlin to present the box.

Bruce decides to try and find the box and to solve the mystery of his Uncle’s untimely demise. He and a gorgeous Israeli female companion are followed by the thugs, who turn out to be present day Nazis intent on reviving the Reich.

The novel leads from Chicago to Paris to Prague in swift, hair-raising turns. And the novel concludes with a nearly heart-stopping climax.

The full journal of Max Bloomberg is included in the book and alone, is worth the cover price.

————————————–

PROLOGUE

Moscow: Wednesday, October 12, 1994

Daylight was fading on the late autumn day as Vasilevich made his way up from the subway and plodded the five blocks to his modest apartment in the Petrovka district.

The file clerk took the rattling elevator to the tenth floor, unlocked the heavy door, and began peeling off his coat. He momentarily wondered why there was no pleasant odor of shchi, his wife’s delicious cabbage soup, when out of the corner of his eye he noticed a tall stranger holding a handgun.

He carefully raised his hands and turned to face the man, forcing himself to move slowly and keep his breathing even. It was probably just a robbery, not unusual with the soaring number of drug addicts in Moscow. He’d give the man what money he had, and probably be fine.

But the intruder was too well dressed, too clean to be an addict. He waved his weapon and placed a finger over his lips. “Put down your hands and sit.” Passable Russian, but with a heavy German accent.

Vasilevich sank slowly into a large armchair in a corner.

“I’m not here to harm you,” the man said, “but don’t provoke me. You are Danislav Vasilevich, and you work for Rudolph Pikhoia?”

Vasilevich’s mouth became dry, and he had trouble forming the words. “Who are you? Where’s my wife? What do you want?”

The intruder waved his hand in a calming manner and spoke softly. “It’ll be better if you just listen and answer my questions. Then, perhaps, I’ll answer yours.”

Vasilevich took a deep breath to try to calm himself. Something strange and deep was going on here, but it left him with no choice but to obey. He lifted his chin. “Director Pikhoia is the chairman of the State Archival Service of the Russian Federation. While I work in the archives office, I’ve only met the director once. I’m just a clerk … a clerk. You must need someone higher up.” Knots formed in his stomach, and a wave of nausea hit. “Please, where’s my wife?”

The stranger smiled. “Svetlana is a lovely young woman. Don’t worry. No harm will come to her. Not if you pay attention to what I want.”

The gunman knew her name. And his. And where he worked. What were they doing to her? Vasilevich stood and took a step toward the armed man. “If you harm her … .”

The intruder waved the automatic again and said in an almost-kindly manner, “Sit back down and listen. My needs are simple. We know you have access to many German documents from what you Russians still call the Great Patriotic War.” The man pulled out a small notebook. “They are kept in the … Central State Special Archive, division 14B, room 2.” He returned the notebook to a pocket. “We need a small amount of information. If you obtain it without letting anyone know what you have done and deliver it to me, you’ll have enough rubles to enjoy a nice seaside vacation. With your wife.”

“My Sveta. You’ve not harmed her? Please don’t. She’s … very sensitive.” He heard a quiver in his voice but was beyond embarrassment.

“The Soviets captured a camp in the Czech Republic called Theresienstadt.”

“I mostly file old documents. I’m able to read some German, but I usually only read enough to get an idea of the contents, so the papers can be properly classified. Our great Soviet armies liberated a number of concentration camps. I can’t remember hearing that name before. Frankly, I’ve never paid much attention to what happened such a long time ago.”

“That’s not important. The Soviet NKVD grabbed many records from the camps, and we’ve discovered these documents are now in your Archives of the Russian Federation. We need you to find certain information and bring it to us. Quickly. You must start your search tomorrow.”

The Russian shook his head and was on the verge of tears. “Not easy. We need special permission to enter areas we aren’t assigned to.”

The German’s face registered no emotion. “I’m sure you can deal with that. I don’t want to spell out what will happen if you fail. Listen carefully now. No notes. Nothing ever in writing, except copies of the information I need. Back in 1945 an SS Colonel Steinhauser had a prisoner make a silver box while in Theresienstadt. I must know the name of that silversmith. It has to be in the archives here. My countrymen kept excellent records. I need any and all information about this prisoner. Everything. Understand?”

“But, what if—?”

The German speaker didn’t allow Vasilevich to finish. “Better you should not think of that.”

The man reached into his pocket and handed the Russian a cellular phone. “Tomorrow at this time, I’ll call you. Let the phone ring without answering. Then go at once to the Cafe Gallery. You know the place?”

“I know where it is. Not far from here.” He frowned and shook his head. “Never been there. Too expensive a restaurant for people like us.”

The intruder handed the young Russian a small stack of rubles. “Order a meal and start to eat. Sit near a window. While you’re eating, I’ll call you again. If you have the information, simply say ‘I’m busy.’ Otherwise, just say, ‘You have the wrong number.’ Better that you be busy. Understand?”

Still shaking and still sick to his stomach, Vasilevich simply nodded.

“I’ll give you instructions about delivery tomorrow. Remember, not a word to anyone if you want your lovely Sveta back home unharmed. Now sit on the floor and face away from the door.”

Unable to think of any other response, Vasilevich obeyed.

As the German opened the door, he murmured, “Remember, your wife’s life is in your hands. We have informers everywhere, so don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

And he was gone.

A few minutes later, just as he calmly exited the building, a shiny black Mercedes pulled up alongside. He jumped in before the car came to a full stop, and was whisked away.

“And so, Gerhard, did it work out?” the driver asked in German. “Can he do it?”

Gerhard nodded. “Your information on the archivist was correct. I think it’ll work.”

“Suppose he does obtain what we need to know about that Jew,” the driver went on, “how do we handle him and his woman, after we get it?”

“No question about Herr Vasilevich. He has to be erased. An accident. Can you arrange it?” His contact had better be able to, or of what use was he?

“Shouldn’t be a problem. And the lady?”

“That depends. Did she see or hear anything? Has she been touched by your people? You know what I mean.”

“Absolutely not. She was blindfolded and kept isolated. Given food and water. No one has spoken to her, except a few whispers. We even made her wear earplugs. She has a little bell she can ring with her fingers if she needs to use the facilities.”

Gerhard’s expression conveyed indifference. “In that case, no matter how this turns out, just take her somewhere, give her a few thousand rubles, and turn her loose. She’s young and pretty. She can still have a life.”

You’ve entered a different world from the one you knew. At home, we planted gardens. Here we only plant the dead.

Max Bloomberg’s journal

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

“I trust these ruffians didn’t harm you, Herr Bloomberg, and the bindings aren’t too tight?”

The tall, well-dressed man projected civility, even benevolence. He was perhaps thirty and handsome in a craggy-faced, broad-shouldered, athletic sort of way. Unlike the cracked and dirty fingernails of the others, the smiling man’s nails were professionally manicured. Speaking in fluent German, he seemed sincerely apologetic that his prisoner, whose arms were securely bound to his leather armchair with clothesline, was being inconvenienced.

Max Bloomberg understood every word, though he hadn’t used his native language in decades. If only he could get a grasp on what was happening here. The men must have crept in during the middle of the night and deftly disconnected the security system. They seemed well-armed, although Max understood little concerning firearms—except the ones that had been pointed at him by guards herding him and his fellow Jews into boxcars, herding them off boxcars, herding them through “processing” at the camp.

But that had been eons ago. Max closed his eyes, squeezing them tight to push away the memories. He opened them, blinked a few times, and glanced around. The home invaders had drawn the drapes before turning on the table lamp. Not amateurs, any of them, he supposed. It occurred to Max that the two rough men who accompanied the well-spoken, well-groomed, well-dressed man relished their work. He’d seen too much brutality not to recognize when someone enjoyed delivering pain.

Glancing toward his accomplices, the elegant interloper continued, “I told them not to gag you, but if you cry out, well, as they say in America, all bets will be off.” The stranger switched to English with only the faintest hint of a German accent. The man almost sounded Jewish, with a few Yiddish phrases thrown in, though Max considered that was probably an act, an attempt to ingratiate himself.

The intruder still spoke softly, but his almost coal-black eyes bore into Max Bloomberg’s own like steel daggers. There was something familiar about the man’s manner, something Max couldn’t help but recognize. He’d seen eyes such as these before—the color was of no importance. He’d heard voices such as this one long ago—the words didn’t matter. The words soothed and the lips smiled, while the hands choked the very life from your throat.

But, how could this fellow possibly know Max? Though he’d encountered the type, Max had never seen this particular man before. And this incident couldn’t be connected to what had happened so long ago. Not possible.

Since Winston, Max’s companion cocker spaniel, had recently died, Max lived alone in this two-story Georgian in River Forest, an affluent western Chicago suburb. Head throbbing, Max found concentration difficult. He’d been having trouble sleeping since finding Winston’s small body sprawled lifeless in the backyard. How long ago was it that his beloved Winnie had died? A week? Two? Max had taken a Seconal only an hour before the rough men, on the German’s orders, had dragged him—an old bookseller, not a rich man—out of bed and down to the small den that served as his library. Now they sat or stood among his treasured books, books Max had accumulated throughout his career and cared for like dear friends, though they had little monetary value. Were these devils here just to rob him? Could he be that lucky?

The other two men were each shorter and not nearly as well dressed as the German. They’d held handguns of some kind when they’d stormed into the bedroom, but the weapons were now out of sight. Standing almost like soldiers at attention on either side of Max, they stared at their leader as if awaiting orders.

A hint of a smile once again crossed the tall intruder’s face. “Bitter cold and snowing tonight. Mind if we light a fire in your beautiful fireplace? Make the room cozy, yes?”

Max didn’t answer.

The heavyset man standing to his left, wearing an old Navy peacoat, said, “Come on, we don’t have time for fuckin’ around. Let’s get on with this shit.”

An American with a hint of a Southern accent. Unusual here in Chicago. As he spoke, “Peacoat” played with a roll of quarters, tossing them from one hand to the other, sometimes grasping the roll tightly in his massive right fist.

The German held his left hand up, palm outstretched. “Now, now. Let’s be civilized, shall we?” He crossed his arms and nodded. “Perhaps—hmm—perhaps, we can even put the heat to some good use. Very good use. Verstehen?”

A pile of dry kindling was stacked in the fireplace.

The man on Max’s right, wearing a worn sheepskin bomber jacket, moved to the fireplace and nodded as well. “Yeah, Ich verstehen.” No southern accent, but not a German speaker, either. “I’ll need some newspaper to light the fire. Or something.”

The leader glanced at Max. “Our good friend won’t mind if we take a few of his old Jew books to use. That’s what they were made for, don’t you think?” Without waiting for a response, he continued, “Remember those good old days when the Führer burned all the Jew books, old man?” The tall stranger’s voice deepened, the tone no longer benevolent.

“Sheepskin” snatched several of the oldest books with Hebrew on the covers and ripped them into chunks, tossing the pieces onto the fireplace with the tinder and the wood. Although he couldn’t make out the titles, Max had placed each book in its slot so often he knew exactly the ones chosen. One was a siddur, a prayer book considered holy to Orthodox Jews. If such a sacred book accidentally fell to the floor during a religious service, the owner would instantly retrieve it, treating it as gently as one would an injured child, and plant a kiss on the cover. Tears filled Max’s eyes.

Soon, they had a blazing fire. The leader nodded to his henchmen. “Bring him closer. Careful not to mark this beautiful floor.”

With Max still bound securely, Peacoat and Sheepskin dragged the chair across the waxed parquet floor, only stopping when the well-spoken German motioned for them to do so. Now Max was so close to the fireplace his bare feet began to feel uncomfortably warm, although he didn’t yet feel any pain.

The German stared hard into Max’s eyes. “You know what we want. So, tell me where the box is. Hmm? Then, we go. We know all about you. You’ve hidden long enough, old man. Too long.”

Max shook his head. “No idea what you’re talking about.”

His aching head began to clear. He kept the rest of his words inside himself. He wasn’t crazy. Something had been going on around him in recent weeks. My God, after all these years. How? How’d they find him?

Max tried to lift his right arm, but was only able to raise his index finger. Pointing it as best he could. “Get out of my home! Now!”

He felt like screaming for help, but knew no one could possibly hear him. The closest house was perhaps fifty yards away, and the windows would be shut during the freezing weather. His house was modest—one of the least expensive on the block—but it occupied a quarter-acre corner lot, carefully landscaped with Northern Accents rose bushes as well as tall red oaks and American elm trees.

He tried to study the men, so he could describe them to the police, but they had handled him roughly when they’d forced him out of bed, and he had difficulty focusing. His heart was pounding. Did that mean the drugged feeling from the sleeping pill was wearing off, or was he becoming even more frightened?

The German simply stood there, allowing Max’s helplessness to sink in. “Oh, you’ll tell me whatever I want to know. Perhaps time has caused you to forget the methods we can use on you Jew bastards? You’ve forgotten the camps?”

Heaven forbid, the camps. That was going back over fifty years. Before these evil men were even born. What could they know about the camps? Only stories they’d read. Max knew—really knew. And, sometimes in the dark, alone at night, his flesh bathed in a cold sweat, he only wished he could forget.

In the next instant, it came to him. His dog, Winston. That was what had happened to his sweet little friend.

“You, you rotten, filthy Nazis. You killed my beautiful little Winnie.”

Now, for the first time, Max began to sob. He became even more short of breath as his chest tightened, and he began to wheeze. Prayers came automatically to his mind. Please, dear God, no time for my emphysema to act up. I’m choking.

He tried to take in deeper breaths, but it didn’t seem to help. If only he had the inhaler with him. But that was still atop his bedside table.

Ignoring Max’s comment and grief, Peacoat lit a Camel, flicking the old-fashioned kitchen match with his thumbnail near his prisoner’s face. The sulfur smell caused Max to cough, and the tightness in his chest increased. The room began to spin as his breathing became ever more labored.

“Go in the kitchen,” the German said. “Get a dish for those ashes, so you don’t leave a mess. No cigarette butts left behind. Verstehen?”

The leader had just confirmed what Max already suspected, since the men wore neither masks nor disguises. When they left, there would be no evidence of their crimes. Alive, Max would be evidence.

Resigned to his fate, Max turned his thoughts to his nephew, Bruce. If Bruce were half as smart as Max knew him to be, he’d find what Max had left for him.

Max silently thanked God he’d been suspicious. And that he’d carefully shredded his notes after finishing the detailed review of exactly what had happened to him so long ago. He had never spoken of it, even to his closest friends or family. But when he finished the journal, he’d hidden the document and left a clue for Bruce, should Max’s worst fears be somehow realized.

The German put his hands on Max’s shoulders and shook him, almost gently. “You haven’t answered. Where’s our box?”

Shortness of breath made speaking nearly impossible “Why … why are you here? Take what you want … leave. I just sell … a few old books.”

Peacoat laughed. “Look who’s asking questions now.” He turned toward the leader. “Better let this Jew vermin know who’s running the show. Before you know it, he’ll be ordering us around. And you’ll probably click your heels and say, ‘Yes, sir, your honor!’ That’s what guys like you are trained to do.”

The leader ignored Peacoat and tapped his right index finger on Max’s head. “Pay attention. I’m running out of patience, and, as you see, my friends here are not as pleasant as I. I must have that box and its contents. Then we’ll leave, and you can get on with your miserable life. You mean nothing, the box everything.”

At that second, the fire crackled and flared, and Max felt a burning sensation in his feet. He did his best to pull them back. His eyes closed for an instant, and he silently prayed. Please, dear God, let me be strong. This may be the last favor I ask.

Max leaned forward as if to whisper something. The German leaned in toward him.

Max spat into his interrogator’s face.

The German straightened, snatched a silk handkerchief from his pocket, and without uttering a sound, carefully wiped the sputum from his cheek. At almost the same moment, with the rolled coins clutched in his right fist, Peacoat punched Max on the left side of the head, knocking him and the chair onto the floor. Max let himself go limp. The pain in his head was excruciating, but he didn’t cry out.

“Pick him up and cut out that kind of thing!” the tall German shouted. “Leave that to me. You’ll kill the old Jew before we get him to tell us what we need to know.”

As the two men lifted the chair along with the apparently semiconscious Max, the German carefully removed three fluid-filled syringes from the side pocket of his cashmere topcoat and laid them on a little table. Max began to groan. The German strolled to a nearby armchair, removed his coat, and folded it over the chair back. He dragged the chair close to Max, who was thinking desperately, trying to dream up some way out of this. Through half-open eyes, Max watched the German sit down and cross his legs.

After a moment, Max slowly opened his eyes and blinked a few times. He shook his head, acting as if he were still trying to clear his mind. His whole body throbbing, he needed a few minutes to figure out if he had any options. From previous experience though, he knew these types wanted people to grovel, to be frightened out of their wits.

Max took a deep breath, sucking in as much air as possible. “Please, don’t hit me again,” he whispered. “I’ll tell you.”

“Speak up,” the German urged.

“Those papers. Burned ’em. In the woods. Didn’t … didn’t make any sense to me. That’s the truth.” Max looked the interrogator in the eyes without blinking. “They important?”

The German nodded. “Sure. And the silver box? What did you do with that?”

“Box? Oh, the box.”

“You know exactly what I mean. You made it. Called yourself a silversmith back then. Where is it?”

Max didn’t hesitate. “Melted … melted it down. Sold the silver.”

Peacoat stepped up to Max and waved his clenched fist, the roll of coins still in it. “You’re a filthy, fucking liar.” He turned toward the leader. “You going to let this piece of shit get away with this nonsense? Look! Let me at him. Leave the room, if you need to. Just give me ten minutes. Probably won’t take that long.”

“Patience, patience.” The German waved his hand. “Now, do me a favor. Take a deep breath and sit down.” Then the German whispered just loudly enough for Max to hear, “We do only what we have to in order to get what we need. Yah? After all, we are not animals. So.”

Peacoat stared hard at his leader, shook his head, and frowned. “Talk. Talk and experiment! That’s what you’re best at. The way you’re going at it, we’ll be here all fuckin’ night. My way will be lots faster. You’re too damned smart. And you know what? That makes you too damned soft.”

“And you never learn how to follow orders. So, shut up and maybe we’ll all learn something besides how strong you are and how brave when your victim is an old man, tied up and helpless, hmm?”

The German picked up one of the syringes. “So. Let us begin.”

Categories: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Political Thriller, Suspense, Thriller | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Threading the Needle, by Gabriel Valjan

ThreadingtheNeedle_3D-523x600Title: Threading the Needle

Author: Gabriel Valjan

Publisher: Winter Goose Publishing

Genre: Mystery/suspense

Purchase THREADING THE NEEDLE on Amazon / B&N

Milan. Bianca’s curiosity gets a young university student murdered, but not before he gives her a file that details a secret weapon under development with defense contractor Adastra. Guilt may drive her to find justice for the slain Charlie Brooks, but she is warned by the mysterious Loki to stay away from this case that runs deep with conspiracy. Bianca must find a way to uncover government secrets and corporate alliances without returning Italy to one of its darkest hours, the decades of daily terrorism known as the “Years of Lead.”

ROMA SERIES: Book 3

Threading the Needle

-Gabriel Valjan

L’Italia è l’antica terra del dubbio.

Italy is the ancient homeland of doubt.

—Massimo D’Azeglio

1

 

This was a bad idea from the start.

Isidore Farrugia sat in a car, watching Bianca from across Via Manzoni. He was off-duty, out of his jurisdiction, and doing the best and worst of all possible things: doing a favor for a friend.

But his gut was telling him this was a bad, bad idea.

She said that she had to meet someone with information, someone who wanted to meet her in person. Not good. Bianca had explained that in the past her drop-offs were anonymous and in public places. A postal box. A newsstand. Never face to face. The ideal was through the computer. Remote and anonymous.

None of them could forget Loki. None of them had forgotten Rendition.

Bianca wouldn’t say what the information was and when Farrugia asked, all she said was that her contact was a man. He didn’t ask her how she knew. Farrugia knew better than to expect a straight answer from a woman. The female brain was wired differently, processing nuances below masculine capability, and the female heart was attuned to the unknown frequency of feminine intuition.

She ordered something from her table outside.

Nobody seemed suspicious.

The waiter delivered her drink. She had ordered something sweet. Rabarbaro? Women and their sweet drinks.

Two university-age kids were sizing her up for flirtation.

Her contact, she said, did not know what she looked like. If this someone was expecting an American in jeans or some gaudy ensemble that American women thought was fashion, then he would be in for a surprise. Bianca fit into Milan with her Aspesi turtleneck, Alessandra Colombo leather jacket with the rose-accent, ruffle fringe, and a pair of Tod’s. He saw that she sensed the two amateur Casanovas, turned her head and dismissed them. Quite remarkable, since she was wearing sunglasses.

That must be him.

Definitely an American. Down the block, about to turn the corner onto Via Manzoni.

He was walking fast, hands in pockets. No messenger bag, no bag at all, so maybe this wasn’t him, despite what Farrugia’s gut was saying. A few meters behind him, two other men followed. Matching camel jackets, matching haircuts. The man in front peered over his shoulder.

This must be him. Farrugia knew that worried expression.

Bianca hadn’t seen him yet. No time to call her cell. Her contact was early-twenties, handsome with a nice navy jacket, although from the looks of him he’d had little sleep for a few nights. He glanced again over his shoulder.

The other two behind him picked up their pace. It was definitely him.

This was a bad idea from the start.

Farrugia opened up the car door. The car was a small rental and climbing in was like putting a sardine back into the metal tin. No typical American could fit in that automobile, and he knew the stubborn strip of fat around his midsection was what made his extraction an act for Houdini or Chaplin. The next risk was crossing the street and not getting killed by a real car or grazed by an angry Vespa.

The two tails on Bianca’s man had that experienced stalking gait. Several notches up from street vermin. Farrugia was thinking contract killers, possibly with a military background. Hair was short and they weren’t neo-Nazis. They were lean, looked foreign, and moved with precision. A career soldier’s walk was never erased from neurological memory. Their jackets were relatively short, so that might mean no shotgun, unless one of them had a sawed-off for the maximum amount of spray while his partner had the handgun for the final shot, usually to the head. Farrugia thought all of this in the seconds it took to negotiate one car horn and one silent obscenity from behind fast-moving glass.

He was on the divider in the middle of Via Manzoni when Bianca saw him.

She stood up and both their eyes drifted to the fast-walking man. Farrugia had hoped she wouldn’t do that. That is, stand up. Everybody knew everybody now.

The two men were almost there. His Beretta Raffica was ready.

The contact walked up to her, turned her shoulders so her back was to his two trackers. Air-kiss to her right cheek, air-kiss to her left. Pause. His hands slid down her hips. He said something to her, kissed her on the lips, then ran inside Bar Gadda.

What the . . .

The two in pursuit graduated from walk to run. They got into the bar before the door closed. Farrugia unzipped his jacket and withdrew his gun. Instinct. He didn’t think about the traffic after the divider. He ran. There was a squeal of rubber. Farrugia realized that he still had functional legs when he reached the pavement’s gray flagstones. Horns blared behind him, but he focused on the commotion inside the bar in front of him.

He slid through the door, eyes searching, and out of reflex said, “Stay calm. I am Commissario Isidore Farrugia.” The customers couldn’t have cared less once they saw the Beretta. Their eyes and a few of their arms pointed the way out back. With his adrenaline flowing as it was, he wouldn’t remember much of what he saw, but would always remember the old lady crossing herself and calling upon the saints and the Virgin. He did the same in his mind.

A restaurant kitchen was always a well-lit trap for a confrontation. Cops and bad guys. Rats or roaches and the health inspector. Illegals and Immigration Services. The Albanians and the Romanians made way for him and pointed. The broken plates crinkled as he stepped on the shards. The chef looked scared with a huge knife in his hand. Farrugia was trying not to look frightened with the pistol in his. Almost thirty years as a cop, pension calculations and the whisper of mortality moved through his head. The Beretta had two settings: three-round burst or single fire. His was set to single fire, and each round would count.

Ahead he spotted the streak of navy blue and then camel. Hunted and hunter. Then the metallic slam of the back door flung open to crash against a hard wall. There was some indistinct yelling. Farrugia’s eyes took it all in while he calmed his heart down with deep belly breaths and moved through the kitchen. His belt was tight. He promised himself that he would lose the stomach if he lived through the day.

The busboy on Farrugia’s right said, “Vicolo cieco.”

Dead end. That door would make him an easy target for two potentially armed men on the other side. He approached the door. He peeked through the sliver of light, since the door had returned home on its hinges. The busboy was right. A wall a few meters to the left, a large, fragrant metal dumpster against it, left you with no choice but a hard right turn and a fast run down an indeterminate alley out to Via Manzoni.

The American didn’t know that. He had turned left. Arms and legs appeared and Farrugia heard pleading.

The saints might not help him, but the Virgin had always been kind. He gripped the gun, breathed in, and trusted his eyes and trigger finger to think for him. In through the door and outside.

Too late.

Man One fired a single shot into the American’s chest. Man Two fired the headshot. Farrugia faced two automatics now turned on him, and the only thing he could do was resort to his lame academy training.

“Police. Put your weapons down.”

In this two-against-one dialogue their likely reply is to shoot him, knowing that at his fastest he could wound only one of them.

A choked siren, the screech of one blue-and-white cop car, its silent blue twirling lights now blocked the alley from Via Manzoni. Farrugia saw the first man’s eyes look leftward again. No weapons had gone down. No concession. Farrugia was the apex of the triangle with his gun, and these two were the base angles pointing theirs at him. Unequal . . . unlikely he’d survive if they shoot.

The car doors down the alley opened and closed. There was a squelch of walkie-talkie exchange. The siren lights played like a rave-party color on the walls.

Farrugia repeated himself. “Weapons down.”

Another leftward look. The second man lowered his gun. Farrugia almost breathed.

The gun went off.

The first man had shot the second in the head and, as Farrugia was about to step forward and pull his trigger, put the barrel into his own mouth.

The two cops walking down the alley stopped when the shot went off.

 

Four gunshots can have a way of ruining a drink. Four.

The orange zest, the hypnotic cardamom and the other curatives in Bianca’s drink suddenly turned sour. Two shots might be a matter of syntax, like a judicious comma and then the full-stop period. Or they could be a call-and-response exchange. But the second set of shots, Farrugia, her contact, and two suspects made four men.

One of those shots may have been for Farrugia.

She had to know before the other cops came. There were already sirens in the distance, she couldn’t tell whose. Here in Milan, ambulances and police cars sounded the same to her, like the European starling with their “nee-nah nee-nah” through the ancient streets. But within minutes Via Manzoni would be covered with screaming sirens, the smell of rubber, bright lights, a cacophony of voices, a multitude of colors, and every type of police, from authoritative uniform to the suited support staff to process the crime. There would be tape to cordon off the bodies, tape to section off each part of the bar and the path to the denouement in the alley, and tape to identify the section where the witnesses had been herded off for questioning.

She was worried about witnesses recalling the American embracing a woman. She was worried whether any surveillance cameras in the shops or on top of the traffic lights might have recorded Farrugia’s transit across the street, his momentary interest in the future victim. She was worried whether any surveillance cameras had captured her.

But she was most worried about Farrugia.

Down the street, a man in an eco-fluorescent uniform and ear protection was spray-cleaning the sidewalk with pressurized water from his l’agevolatore, a moveable, jointed steel arm on top of a truck. A policeman ran down the street and asked him to stop his work. The streets can remain dirty for a few more hours for the sake of preserving the crime scene. The imposing l’agevolatore stopped. The water stopped. Everything stopped.

She had to move.

Navy-blue cars with red pinstripes—the carabinieri—began to arrive as she cut through the crowd. She expected to see women making the sign of the cross and men bypassing the five wounds of Christ to simply kiss their thumbs as a way of kissing the Cross of Christ and acknowledging death. She had seen Italian-Americans do that thousands of times back home. Not here in Milan. She heard murmurs of inquiry, exchanges of speculation, and the confident assertion from someone that three men were dead. She flowed with the crowd to the open mouth of the alley, her head bowed in respect.

She saw Farrugia.

He was speaking to someone from the Omicidi, the Homicide Squad. He was visibly unnerved, but unharmed. She surprised herself by saying, “Thank God.”

There’s was a smaller crowd moving out of an old-style carrelli on Line One, a street tram like the ones in San Francisco. The street was blocked off at both ends.

She needed to call Dante.

She decided on the nearby metro, the Montenapoleone stop. That would lead her anywhere that was away from the noise, away from detection. She would have a chance to think, collect, and determine what was on the jump-key he had slipped into her pocket during that surprise kiss.

She would never forget that—not so much for the kiss, or that he was handsome and kissed well. But that he was young, terribly young, and now dead.

 

Threading the Needle
COPYRIGHT © 2013 by Gabriel Valjan
Excerpt appears courtesy of Winter Goose Publishing

Categories: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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