Exclusive Excerpt: Trapped to Death: A Jamie Brodie Mystery (Book 13) by Meg Perry

Blurb:

Autumn brings a fresh start in academia, but there are signs that Jamie Brodie’s autumn quarter might bring trouble. First, his next door neighbors unexpectedly drop off the grid. Several days later Jamie discovers – with the help of his dog – that something very bad has happened in the neighbors’ house. When the victim is identified, Jamie briefly becomes a suspect – but something far more dangerous is lying in wait for Jamie. And he doesn’t recognize it until it’s too late.

Excerpt:

Sunday, September 25

I was dreaming that Pete and I had returned to Jennifer’s former apartment. We knocked, but it wasn’t Jennifer that answered the door – it was Barb Simmons. Behind her, the apartment was stacked to the ceiling with thousands and thousands of books. She scowled at us. “What are you doing here?”

I said, “We came for your books.”

“Oh, no, you don’t.” Barb tried to slam the door shut. Pete stuck his foot out to block her, and Ammo began to bark…

I woke up. Ammo was on his feet, ears perked, growling. I raised my head to look at him, and he woofed. Not a full-throated bark, but enough to make his point. Something was going on.

I squinted at the clock – 3:30 am. Ammo woofed again and went to the door. Pete made a “mmph” sound and rolled over. I slipped out of bed and pulled on a pair of briefs. The windows of our bedroom were above head height, so I couldn’t see out of them. I parted the blinds in the door leading to the deck and peered out, but I couldn’t see much.

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When I opened the bedroom door, Ammo shot downstairs to the back door. I tiptoed after him and went to the peephole. There was nothing on the first-floor deck or the steps leading to the pavement. Everything else was in darkness. I went to the living room; there was nothing outside the front door peephole. I cracked the blinds on our large front windows and saw nothing out of place.

Ammo stood at the back door, growling. He barked twice, sharply. I went back to the kitchen and opened the back door. Our back porch light revealed nothing. The rest of the alley was in shadow. I listened for a moment. Silence.

Ammo had his nose pressed to the screen door, sniffing and whining.

Hm.

Whatever it was, it didn’t seem to be a threat to us. I said, “I don’t know, big guy. Wish you could tell me what you heard.”

Ammo looked up at me and whined again.

I closed and locked the back door. “Back to bed?”

He knew the word bed. He turned reluctantly and trotted back up the steps.

When I slid back into bed Pete grunted softly. “What?”

“Ammo heard something, but everything seems quiet.”

“Mmph.”

“Sorry I woke you.”

“Was Ammo’s toenails.”

“Ah. Go back to sleep.”

He followed orders as well as Ammo did and was out again in seconds. Before I went back to sleep myself, I made a mental note to clip Ammo’s nails.

 

We spent the afternoon working in the garden. Remembering Ammo’s disturbance during the night, I checked outside our front gate and around the side of the building. Each of the four front yards of our building was enclosed by an eight-foot wrought iron fence. From the sidewalk, visitors entered the yards through a gate the size of a full door. The gates had decorative curlicues of wrought iron between the bars. Pete and I were screened from view when behind our fence by jasmine vines, planted by Pete’s uncle years ago, but we kept them trimmed back from the gate.

Everything appeared to be undisturbed around our house. I strolled a few feet in the other direction, to the front of the Carters’ unit, and studied their front yard. Seemed fine.

As I was standing there, a Santa Monica patrol car rolled up. It wasn’t the same female officer I’d seen before, but a middle-aged male officer with a buzz cut and overly bulky shoulders that screamed steroids to me. He frowned at me as he got out of his vehicle.

I smiled and tried to appear nonthreatening. “Hi, Officer. I was just checking the neighbors’ front yard.”

“And you are?”

“Jamie Brodie. I live right here.” I pointed to our gate, behind which Pete was thinning carrot sprouts but watching me. “Our dog heard something last night around 3:30, but nothing appears to be disturbed.”

“What did you hear?”

I spread my hands. “Not a thing. The dog’s barking woke me up. I looked out the back door, but there didn’t seem to be anything wrong.”

“We didn’t get any calls.”

“Yes, sir. It was probably nothing. Did you come to do the house check?”

“Right.” The officer rattled the gate and tried the handle; it was locked, as it should be. “I’ll go around back and check the doors. Have you been back there?”

“No, sir.”

“All right. If you see or hear anything unusual, call us.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have a good day.” He went back to his car.

I said, “Thank you,” to his retreating back and rejoined Pete. “Maybe Ammo was imagining things.”

“I’m sure he heard something.”

“Maybe it was a cat. Or a car door slamming. Or nothing.”

“Maybe you should quit worrying about it and pull some weeds.”

I laughed. “Yes, sir.”

 

Thursday, September 29

On Thursday morning we intended to go for a short run and take Ammo with us. But when we got to the bottom of the steps, he began whining and tugging us toward the Carters’.

Ammo had been a bomb detection dog, and that’s where my mind went first. “Shit, does that mean he smells explosives?”

Pete, who was on the other end of Ammo’s leash, said, “No, he’s trained to sit and bark once he finds explosives. He’s not exactly sitting.”

Ammo was straining to go up the steps to the Carters’ back door. Pete unhooked the leash and Ammo bounded up the stairs, sniffing almost wildly at the bottom of the door. Pete followed him and said, “Okay, buddy. What’s going on?”

I was standing at the bottom of the steps. “What is going on?”

Pete had an odd expression on his face. “Call him to you. Don’t come up here.”

“Ammo, come.”

He glanced at me and went back to sniffing. I said, “Ammo, COME.”

He came, reluctantly, and Pete tossed me his leash. I reattached it as Pete stood at the door, sniffing, then got down on his hands and knees and lowered his nose to where Ammo’s had been. He sniffed once and stood right back up. “Fuck.”

What?

“Decomp.” He came back down the stairs, his phone out, tapping numbers as he descended.

Well, hell. Why couldn’t this have happened yesterday? I let Ammo pee on the trash bins then dragged him up to our deck, urged him inside and retrieved my phone. I went back outside and separately emailed Dr. Loomis and the instructors of the two classes I’d had scheduled for the morning. Dr. Loomis responded immediately. Oh dear. Keep me informed.

I replied, Yes, ma’am.

One of the instructors responded as well. Good grief. Yes, we can reschedule. One week from today works for me.

I replied, Thank you. As I did, two police cars rolled up and stopped at the foot of our stairway.

One of the officers was the buzz cut with the steroid shoulders who’d questioned me the morning after Ammo’s barking had woken me. The other was the woman I’d seen checking the Carters’ house last week. She got out, speaking into her radio, then said to Pete, “Sir, you called this in?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“What happened?”

“We brought our dog out and he dragged me up the Carters’ stairs, sniffing at the bottom of the door. I got down there and took a whiff. Smells like decomp to me.”

The cop narrowed her eyes. “You’ve smelled decomp?”

“Yes, ma’am. Ten years with LAPD.”

She looked surprised. “Ah. All right. Did you touch anything? The door handle?”

“I was on my hands and knees sniffing at the bottom of the door. Otherwise, no. I didn’t touch the door or knob.”

“Okay.”

While Pete and the female officer were talking, Steroid Shoulders pulled on a pair of gloves, went up the Carters’ steps, and tried the door handle. It didn’t budge. He stepped back and studied the door. “That’s a heavy duty deadbolt. We’re going to need the fire department.”

The female officer shot us a look. “You two sit tight.”

Pete said, “Yes, ma’am.”

The officer – whose last name, according to her tag, was Fox – got back on her radio. Steroid Shoulders came back down the steps and waited. I turned back to my phone – I’d gotten a response from the second instructor – and added both of the cancelled instruction sessions to my calendar. I asked Pete, “Can someone cover your classes?”

“Not with this last-minute notice. They’ll attach a sign to the door instructing the students to check the course website. Are your classes covered?”

“Rescheduled for a week from today.”

Another patrol car rolled up as we were talking. A gray-haired cop with sergeant stripes got out, glanced at us, and conferred with Fox in hushed tones. Pete said, “Patrol supervisor.”

Another few minutes and the fire truck appeared, parking behind Fox’s vehicle. By this point, Helen and Alyssa were both outside. Helen joined Alyssa on her deck and they conversed, worry on their faces.

I wondered whether Ammo’s waking me at 3:30 am on Sunday was significant, assuming there was a body in the Carters’ house.

At the moment that seemed like a sound assumption.

The firefighters piled out of the truck and talked to Fox and the supervisor for a minute, then one of them returned to the truck and retrieved an axe. He donned his helmet and face shield then climbed the Carters’ stairs and began to chop.

The Carters were going to be pissed off.

Unless it was them lying in there.

 

Amazon: E-book & Print:

https://www.amazon.com/Trapped-Death-Brodie-Mystery-Mysteries/dp/1539985008/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1480520441&sr=8-1&keywords=trapped+to+death

Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/679858

 

Exclusive Excerpt of “Lay Your Sleeping Head”; the new Gay Mystery Novel from Michael Nava

Blurb:

michael-nava

Thirty years ago, The Little Death introduced Henry Rios, a gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer who became the central figure in a celebrated seven novel series. In a brilliant reimagination of The Little Death, Lay Your Sleeping Head retains all the complexity and elegance of the plot of the original novel but deepens the themes of personal alienation and erotic obsession that both honored the traditions of the American crime novel and turned them on their head. Henry Rios, a gifted and humane lawyer driven to drink by professional failure and personal demons, meets a charming junky struggling to stay clean. He tells Rios an improbable tale of long-ago murders in his wealthy family. Rios is skeptical, but the erotic spark between them ignites an obsessive affair that ends only when the man’s body is discovered with a needle in his arm on the campus of a great California university. Rios refuses to believe his lover’s death was an accidental overdose. His hunt for the killer takes him down San Francisco’s mean streets and into Nob Hill mansions where he uncovers the secrets behind a legendary California fortune and the reason the man he loved had to die.

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Exclusive Excerpt:

A movement in the shrubs outside my bedroom window woke me. I glanced at the alarm clock: 3:18. The soft shuffle of footsteps on the sidewalk was followed by a quick rap at the front door. I pulled on a pair of pants and felt my way through the darkness to the living room. I stood at the door and listened. There was another knock, louder and more urgent. I looked through the peephole. Hugh Paris stood shivering in the dark. I was startled but not surprised, maybe because I’d thought of him so often in the past few weeks, it was as if I’d finally conjured him up. A breeze blew his hair across his forehead. I opened the door.

“Hugh?”

“Don’t turn on the porch light,” he said. “I think I’m being followed.”

“Come in.” He slipped through the door and I closed it softly behind him.

Followed? Was he high? I guided him to my desk and switched on the reading lamp to get a good look at him. His eyes were clear and alert. He was wearing jeans and a black T-shirt; I scanned his arms for signs of track marks. The ones I saw were old and healed.

“I’m not high,” he said, watching me. “But I could use a drink.”

“Sure thing,” I said.

I went into the kitchen and poured a couple of shots of Jack Daniel’s. When I returned to the living room he was poking around the stack of orange crates that held my books and music. The last time I’d seen him, the oversized jail jumpsuit had concealed his body. The form fitting jeans and T-shirt revealed a slender but muscled frame; a gymnast’s physique. I was appropriately appreciative.

“Here you go,” I said.

He turned and took a glass from me. “Prost,” he said, touching his glass to mine. Smiling slightly, he openly appraised my body. “Not that I’m complaining, but when I pictured you naked, I saw a hairy chest.”

“It’s the Indian blood,” I said. “What are you doing here, Hugh?”

“You gave me your card, remember, told me to call you day or night, for whatever I needed.”

He set his glass down on the coffee table, took mine from me and set it beside his. He stepped forward into my arms, tipped his face upward and we kissed. His tongue slid lazily into my mouth and I savored his taste and the warmth of his hard, little body against mine. I licked that elegant neck and cupped his hard little butt. His fingers worked the buttons of my 501s and grazed the tip of my cock. With a last, lewd kiss, he dropped to his knees. I reached down, hooked my arms around his armpits and lifted him to his feet.

“Stop,” I said.

“You want me to stop? I’m famous for my blow jobs, baby.”

“Sit down,” I said, directing him to the couch. I buttoned up my jeans and sat down beside him. “I gave you my card weeks ago. If all you wanted was sex, you could’ve called me anytime. I would have come running. Instead, you show up at my apartment in the dead of night telling me you’re being followed. You’re not obviously high, so what’s up?”

When he picked up his drink, I caught the glint of his watch. It was very thin and silvery but not silver. Platinum. Watches like that went along with trust funds, prep schools and names ending with Roman numerals.

“I’m sorry I didn’t call. I really wanted to. I felt, you know, that we connected.”

“Me, too,” I said. “I tried to find you. Looked you up in the phone book, had a friend at DMV run your name. I even went to the Office a couple of times thinking maybe you’d show up.”

“I’m not easy to find,” he said. “Precautions.”

“Against what?”

“I told you I came back from New York to deal with some family things and they’ve been getting pretty heavy. I got a scare tonight. I needed to find a safe place. I thought of you.”

“You need to fill in some blanks for me.”

“I don’t want to mix you up in my drama.”

“You already have. So let’s hear it.”

He picked up his glass and took a slug. “I come from money.”

“I guessed that from the watch.”

He glanced at the watch. “Good eye,” he said. “Vintage Patek Philippe. It was my dad’s. I managed to hang on to it through—everything.”

“Everything meaning junk.”

“Everything,” he said empathically. “Including junk. But like I told you at the jail, I’m clean now.”

“I’m glad you kicked, Hugh. Go on.”

“My family has a lot of money. My grandfather controls most of it through a family trust. While I was out there using, the only thing I cared about was that he give me enough to maintain. Eventually, he cut me off. I had to find other ways to take care of myself. After I got clean, I began to look into the trust. All I wanted to know was what was mine, but I discovered some things about how my grandfather got control of the money. Criminal things.”

“Like what, diverting funds? Embezzlement? ”

“Murder,” he said.

“What?”

“He had people killed. That’s how he got control of the money.”

I had heard enough incredible stories from interviewing clients that I knew to keep a game face, ask leading questions and wait until they tripped themselves up.

“Who do you think he had killed?” I asked.

“My grandmother and my uncle,” he replied.

“Why them?”

“It was my grandmother’s money. She was going to divorce him. He killed them to prevent it.”

“What does this have to do with you being followed?”

“He knows I’m on to him,” Hugh said. “I felt like someone was following me tonight. I freaked out. The city didn’t feel safe, so I came here.”

“What do you think you’re grandfather’s going to do to you?”

“If he can’t scare me off, he’ll kill me, Henry.”

I finished my drink and said, neutrally, “Your grandfather wants to kill you. Really?”

He frowned. “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”

“Put yourself in my position. In the middle of the night, a guy you met once shows up at your house and tells you he’s being stalked by his grandfather who’s some kind of serial killer. What would you think?”

“See,” he said angrily. “That’s why I didn’t say anything to you at the jail.”

“How did you get out of jail?” I asked him. “Who did you call?”

“My Great-uncle John, my grandmother’s brother. He has some influence down here.”

“I’ll say he does. I heard the DA dropped all the charges,” I said. “Does your uncle know about your allegations against your grandfather?”

Hugh shrugged. “I told him. He thinks . . . He thinks I’m angry about how the old man’s treated me.”

“He doesn’t believe you,” I said.

“I have evidence,” Hugh said.

“Then you should take it to the police,” I said. “There’s no statute of limitations on murder and if your grandfather is cheating you out of money that belongs to you, I can refer you to a good civil lawyer.”

He stood up. “I’m sorry I bothered you, Henry. I’ll be leaving now.”

I grabbed his hand. “Wait. This is what I think, Hugh. You come from money but you ended up on the streets shooting junk and now you’re clean. While you were out there, your grandfather cut you off and you’re angry about that. Maybe he was practicing tough love or maybe he’s an asshole, I don’t know. I do know that depending on how long you used, it might be awhile before your head clears up completely. In the meantime, I’d be very careful about accusing people of being murderers.”

“You’ve got me all figured out, don’t you?” he said with a small smile.

“I’m just trying to make sense of what you’ve told me.”

He looked at me. “You want me to go?”

I shook my head. “I want you to take your clothes off.”

He smiled. “If you still want me to stay after what I told you, you’re as crazy as I am.”

“I haven’t stop thinking about you since we met.”

He pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it to the floor, kicked his shoes off, unbuttoned his pants, pushed them to his feet and stepped out of them. He hooked his fingers into the waistband of his briefs and slipped them off. He stepped between my legs. This time when he sank to his knees, I didn’t stop him.

Buy link:

http://korimapress.com/buy-books/4586050572/lay-your-sleeping-head-pre-order-available/10917762

Check out the interview I did with Michael Nava in May 2014 below:

Author Michael Nava; Creator of the Highly Popular Henry Rios Mystery Novels

Website:

Lay Your Sleeping Head

 

Excluslive Excerpt: Slip and Slide (Death and Destruction series Book 3) by Patricia Logan

Blurb:

ATF special agents, Thayne Wolfe, and his partner, Jarrett Evans, have gotten into sticky situations in the past but nothing prepares them for the daunting task of being loaned out to a coal mine in West Virginia where Jarrett’s grown up. Investigating a deadly mining explosion may be the end of them yet.

In one of the most beautiful places on earth, Jarrett is familiar with the territory, growing up working in a nearby mine for a couple years before joining the Marine Corps just after high school. When he and his partner encounter a dubious mine CEO, two ATF agents who they’re tasked to investigate, and a good ‘ol boy who has a pickaxe to grind, all they can hope, is to solve this case before ending up dead and buried in that mine.

From the beaches of California, to the coal-rich mountains of Appalachia, Jarrett’s dubious past seems to rear its ugly head wherever they go. Join our heroes as they are forced to face danger, fear, and maybe the most frightening thing they’ve ever faced together… family.

slip-and-slide-take-2Excerpt:

They headed out to a local bar where the hotel staff said the food was good… a place with a pretty nice T-bone which Jarrett wanted, and a great selection of appetizers and salads for Thayne. The concierge told them that some of the locals stopped in there as well as an eclectic mix of those passing through and when Jarrett had asked about moonshine, the concierge smiled and told them that they had a good selection of various flavors made by some of the locals.

“They have flavors?” Thayne asked Jarrett as they sat down at the bar at the Silver Dollar Saloon.

“Not everywhere. Some of the hillbillies’ resist putting anything in there that ain’t in their pappy’s recipe but they can sell more if they can make it appeal to the ladies and they like that flavorful shit.”

Thayne leaned close. “So if I ordered for example, peach moonshine, I’ll get jumped in the parking lot?”

Jarrett snickered, making those deep dimples appear and his light eyes twinkle. “Probably safer than if you asked for a peach Bellini but are you willing to risk it?”

Thayne chuckled just as the bartender walked up. He was a huge man and he was cleaning a shot glass with a bar towel.

“What can I get for y’all?”

“My friend here has never tried moonshine,” Jarrett drawled, letting his accent come out in full force. “Thought since he’s visitin’… it might be the perfect time to change all that. Give him the good stuff, not that tourist trade shit.”

The bartender smiled beneath his long mustache as he raised a bushy eyebrow. “That’ll be two then?”

“Yes, thanks,” Thayne answered. “And a green salad with chicken,” he said, reading off the bar menu.

“Fair ‘nuff,” the bartender replied, turning to Jarrett. “You?”

“T-bone, medium rare and a baked potato, with all the trimmings.”

“Comin’ right up.” The bartender reached under the bar and poured something, finally producing two mason jars filled a quarter of the way with clear liquid. He set one in front of each of them before moving away to put in their food orders.

Jarrett picked up the mason jar, holding it up to toast Thayne. “We drink to those who love us… we drink to those who don’t. We drink to those who fuck us… and fuck to those who won’t.”

Thayne laughed as he watched Jarrett take a long drink of the moonshine as he shot the whole thing down. His eyes squinted, then closed, and then he sucked in both cheeks before opening his mouth and letting out a satisfied “Ahh…”

“Good?”

Jarrett’s eyes fluttered open. “It’ll put hair on your chest, that’s for sure,” he drawled. Thayne lifted the jar and took a deep sniff of the moonshine. There wasn’t much scent to it. He lifted his glass, toasting Jarrett like his partner had.

“Here’s to the ideal woman… who could ask for more? She’s deaf and dumb, oversexed… and owns a liquor store.” He threw back the moonshine as Jarrett burst into laughter. Thayne instantly felt the hot burn of diesel fuel pour down the back of his throat. He gasped and when he was able to cough out a breath, he felt like he could breathe fire. Jarrett clapped him on the back as he sputtered and the bartender appeared in front of his watery eyes. He was grinning like crazy, his mustache twitching.

“That was fun ta watch. Entertain me with another?” the bartender asked with a deep drawl.

Jarrett nodded his head. “Yep. One more before dinner.”

Thayne turned his head, still gasping, and looked at his partner. “You didn’t tell me this stuff packs this much of a wallop.”

“The next one will go down easier,” Jarrett promised. His eyes were dancing as he snickered. The bartender came over and set down two more mason jars. Thayne’s head was buzzing already but he was not going to let Jarrett best him in this game he was playing. He watched as Jarrett picked up the mason jar and toasted him again.

“One shot, two shots, three shots, more… if she’s ugly, shoot some more.” Thayne laughed as Jarrett shot back the moonshine and then slammed the thick glass mason jar back on the bar. Watching him drink was almost as much fun as drinking with him.

“Okay, the last one,” Thayne said. He picked up his mason jar and held it up to toast Jarrett. “No matter how fine, that ass is to hit… remember somebody, is sick of his shit.” He shot back the moonshine and set down the mason jar. Jarrett was right. This time the moonshine went down a lot easier. Thayne watched his lover dissolve into laughter. He looked stunning with deep dimples in his cheeks and his eyes twinkling. Jarrett’s laughter was contagious and soon Thayne was laughing along with him.

Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Patricia-Logan/e/B007RESZJA/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Exclusive Excerpt: The Next One Will Kill You by Neil S Plakcy

Blurb:

If Angus Green is going to make it to a second case, he’s needs to survive the first one.

Angus wants more adventure than a boring accounting job, so after graduating with his master’s degree he signs up with the FBI. He’s assigned to the Miami field office, where the caseload includes smugglers, drug runners, and gangs, but he starts out stuck behind a desk, an accountant with a badge and gun.

Struggling to raise money for his little brother’s college tuition, he enters a strip trivia contest at a local bar. But when he’s caught with his pants down by a couple of fellow agents, he worries that his extracurricular activities and his status as the only openly gay agent will crash his career. Instead, to his surprise, he’s added to an anti-terrorism task force and directed to find a missing informant.

It’s his first real case: a desperate chase to catch a gang of criminals with their tentacles in everything from medical fraud to drugs to jewel theft. With every corner in this case—from Fort Lauderdale’s gay bars to the morgue—turning to mayhem, Angus quickly learns that the only way to face a challenge is to assume that he’ll survive this one—it’s the next one that will kill him.

the-next-one-will-kill-you-600

Next One Will Kill You Excerpt 1

Angus Green is a newly-minted FBI agent in the Miami office, and in the opening scene of The Next One Will Kill You he’s competing in a gay strip trivia contest at his local gay bar, Lazy Dick’s, when he spots two straight agents from his office in the audience. In this scene at the office on Monday, he talks with the agents he met.

When my alarm went off at seven I didn’t feel like I’d slept at all. I was at my desk reviewing weekend surveillance reports when Roly came to my office door. “Conference room,” he said. “Now.”

Roly was a Cuban-American guy who’d been in the Miami office for a dozen years, turning down promotions to stay near his family. He was a snazzy dresser, always wearing tailored suits. He’d brought a machine into the office to make Cuban coffee and he often brought tiny cups of it he called cortaditos to meetings.

My adrenaline level shot up as I followed him down the hall. And it went through the roof when I saw the SAC in the conference room. He sat at the oval table, talking to Vito, who sat across from him.

Had the SAC vetoed my chance to help Vito and Roly when he discovered I’d taken my clothes off in order to win a measly thousand bucks?

Vito was Italian-American, a career FBI guy who had moved around the country, getting a promotion each time. Like every male agent, he wore a dark suit to work, though he often switched the standard white shirt for a pale blue or green one. He was heftier and taller than Roly, but they were both the kind of guys whose looks screamed “federal agent.”

I hadn’t mastered the FBI look yet. I bought my suits at a warehouse store and my white shirts at Sawgrass Mills, the big outlet mall. When I looked in the mirror after getting dressed, sometimes I felt like a little kid wearing an adult costume. And walking into that conference room was like being summoned to the principal’s office.

I hesitated in the doorway as Roly slid into a chair next to the SAC, a middle-aged guy, neatly trimmed hair, ordinary suit. “Come in, Agent Green. Sit down,” the SAC said, motioning to a chair next to Vito. He looked like any attorney or accountant you’d run into on the commuter trains in the northeast. “You’re working on the armored car detail, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” I said as I sat.

“I’ve heard you’re doing good work there. They’re going to be sorry to lose you.”

My mouth dropped open. “You can’t fire me for taking my clothes off. I wasn’t even naked.”

The SAC’s eyebrows rose. “Nobody’s firing you,” he said. “Though you should be careful where you’ve been taking your clothes off. Roly and Vito have asked to have you transferred to a case they’re working. Any problems with that?”

I shook my head, my stomach churning and my head spinning. “No, sir.”

“Good.” He stood up. “Young agents need good mentors. You’ve got two of the best here. I expect you to learn from them.”

“Yes sir.” I waited until he had left the room to turn to Roly and Vito and say, “Now will one of you please tell me what the fuck is going on?”

“What’s going on is that you got yourself right in the middle of a tip that came in,” Vito said, leaning back in his chair so far that I worried the buttons on his white shirt might burst over his stomach.

“An interesting one that has come to a dead end,” Roly said. “We’re hoping you can use your unique talents to give us a jump start.”

I slumped back in my chair. “I thought I was getting fired.”

“Yeah, that was kind of fun to watch,” Vito said.

I glared at him. “You’re going to mentor me, you might try being nicer.”

“Niceness is not Vito’s specialty,” Roly said. “There’s a wholesale jewelry show coming up in Miami Beach in mid-October. Week from now. It’s one of the biggest in the country, and attracts buyers and sellers from around the world. Over a hundred million dollars in precious gems there.”

He shot back the cuffs on his immaculately tailored black suit and rested his forearms on the conference room table. “We had a tip that there’s a major theft in the works. Source was supposed to meet us Saturday night at that bar but he never showed.”

He slid a manila folder across the table to me. I opened it and saw a single sheet of paper inside, the contact form we filled out each time we spoke with an informant or did any investigation. “Paco?” I asked. “All you got was Paco? Isn’t that a common Spanish nickname?”

“Read the material, rookie,” Vito said.

Paco, whoever he was, had called our tip line from a number that couldn’t be traced and said that he had information on a possible breach of homeland security.

Well, he hadn’t said it in those words, but the operator had figured that out and routed his call to Roly as a member of the JTTF—the Joint Terrorism Task Force, one of nine FBI squads under the broad umbrella of counter-terrorism. The JTTF included thirty-eight participating agencies with over a hundred and fifty personnel, many of them from local law enforcement agencies detailed to work with us full-time on domestic terrorism.

Roly had taken careful notes on his conversation with Paco, who had worked for a food vendor at the Miami Beach Convention Center and knew all the back entrances and where security was stationed. He gave specific examples. “These true?” I asked, looking up.

“Would we have been waiting around at a gay bar if it wasn’t?” Vito asked.

I was still pissed about the way I’d been tricked. “I don’t know anything about your personal life.”

Vito scowled. “Watch it.”

“Boys. Play nice,” Roly warned, but there was a hint of a smile on his face.

I was being invited into a case that might be a lot more interesting than sitting behind my computer analyzing data. Time to stop acting like a child and be professional.

I continued to read. Someone had paid Paco a thousand bucks to draw a diagram of the convention center and identify all the security breaches he knew about. He didn’t know what was being planned, but he was worried they were going to do something to hurt people. That was why he had come to the FBI.

Roly had asked him a series of questions, and the end result was that it didn’t look like terrorism, but a plan to rob some of the jewelry wholesalers at the trade show. That was why Vito was involved; he worked in the Violent Crimes Unit, which handled a whole range of criminal activities, from those on the high seas—cruise ships and container ships—to theft of art, jewelry, or other high-priced items. Pretty much anything that was a violation of the Hobbes Act, which governed interstate commerce. Since the wholesalers were coming to Miami Beach from lots of different places in the US and abroad, any theft that occurred there could technically be considered a Hobbes Act case, giving the FBI jurisdiction.

“Did Paco pick Lazy Dick’s, or did you?” I asked, when I finished reading.

“He did,” Roly said. “He said he was a busboy there, and that he’d slip us the information when he was clearing our table. But after a while with no contact, we asked our waiter if Paco was there. He said Paco hadn’t showed up for work.”

“Running into you was our only piece of luck,” Vito said. “We didn’t know it was a gay bar or we would have sent you in the first place.”

So they knew I was gay, even when they hardly knew me. I hadn’t been hiding my orientation since coming to Miami, but I hadn’t been bragging about it either.

“Seriously?” I asked. “A bar in Wilton Manors. Called Lazy Dick’s. You guys had no clue the clientele would be gay? Doesn’t say much for your intelligence-gathering abilities.”

“I live in Miami,” Roly said, as if that explained it. “You tell me a bar on South Beach, sure, I wonder if it’s one of the gay ones. Vito here is the Fort Lauderdale expert.”

“I know there are gay guys in Wilton Manors,” Vito said defensively. “But I didn’t realize the bars were so, you know, segregated. We have a gay couple lives across the street from us in Cooper City. They go to the same restaurants and stores we do.”

“Be that as it may,” Roly said. “We figure if you’re a regular there, you can find out more about Paco and what’s going on than we could. You saw the way Vito and I stood out in that bar. Nobody was going to talk to us. You, though, they’ll talk to. Find Paco, and find out what he knows. Then come back and tell us, and we’ll figure out how to proceed.”

“You want me to go in there and start asking about a jewelry heist?”

“No, rookie,” Vito said, adjusting the shoulders of his plus-sized suit. “We want you to go in there and be your charming self. Chat guys up. See if Paco comes back to work, and if not, find out who he hung around with, what he might have known. And remember, intelligence is like milk. It goes sour after a couple of days.”

“When does this jewelry show take place?” I asked.

“Starts a week from Thursday,” Roly said. “So you’d better get moving. When you find anything, run it past me or Vito. We’ll be around, but this case is yours from now on. Capisce?”

“You’re not working it with me?”

“You pull us in when you need resources.”

I nearly tripped over my feet in my eagerness to get back to my desk.

 

Neil’s website:

http://www.mahubooks.com/

 

Exclusive Excerpt: The Mystery of Nevermore (Snow & Winter Book One) by C.S. Poe

Blurb: 

It’s Christmas, and all antique dealer Sebastian Snow wants is for his business to make money and to save his floundering relationship with closeted CSU detective, Neil Millett. When Snow’s Antique Emporium is broken into and a heart is found under the floorboards, Sebastian can’t let the mystery rest.

He soon finds himself caught up in murder investigations that echo the macabre stories of Edgar Allan Poe. To make matters worse, Sebastian’s sleuthing is causing his relationship with Neil to crumble, while at the same time he’s falling hard for the lead detective on the case, Calvin Winter. Sebastian and Calvin must work together to unravel the mystery behind the killings, despite the mounting danger and sexual tension, before Sebastian becomes the next victim.

In the end, Sebastian only wants to get out of this mess alive and live happily ever after with Calvin.

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Exclusive excerpt

Winter turned his gaze on me, and I stared back up at him. Of all the serious issues I could have been focusing on, I was instead obsessing over his curious-looking eyes again. And those freckles. God, he even had them down his neck, disappearing under the collar of his shirt. I started to consider just how extensive that freckle trail was—

“Get those clothes off.” He pointed expectantly at the woman who appeared at my side again to collect the damning evidence.

“Winter,” Lancaster called as she stepped into the store again with a man who had to be the city medical examiner.

Winter gave me one last glare before leaving.

I learned the evidence woman’s name was Martha Stewart—no relation, she added—and she had no sense of privacy.

“Honey, if you think I’m trying to sneak a peek, you’ve got nothing to worry about,” she said, carefully putting my jacket into a collection bag and labeling the front.

“No? Why’s that?” I asked, trying my best to ignore the fact I was now naked from the waist up in a cold room, with half a dozen cops nearby and a coroner shoving a liver thermometer into the body of my former boss.

“You aren’t my type,” she indicated while putting away my T-shirt next.

“I bet you say that to keep all the boys from blushing.”

“I got a wife, sweetie,” Martha said casually. “Pants. Come on. I’ve got a lot to do here.”

I had never unbuttoned so quickly for anyone, but she was about to start tapping her foot. “You’re not my type either, Martha.”

“Oh, I can tell,” she said, chuckling to herself.

“What does that mean?”

“It means you sure aren’t checking out my goods when you’ve got a ginger to ogle.”

Instead of vehemently denying the fact that I found Detective Winter even remotely attractive, I asked, “So his hair’s red?”

She stared curiously.

“I can’t see color,” I clarified.

“Oh. Yeah, it’s red. Well, more orange, like that fiery color. You know.”

“I don’t know, but I’ll take your word for it,” I replied. I glanced back toward Mike. The coroner was crouched beside him, talking to Winter, who did a real good job at looking like a sexy, imposing badass you’d see in a TV drama. And I had to pause while undressing because I was now painfully aware that I had an erection.

Of all places, times, and people to be aroused by.

“Hey,” Martha said, snapping her gloved fingers.

“Can I put my new shirt on?” I asked, stalling.

She sighed heavily and picked up her camera. “Hold on. I need to photograph.”

“Whoa, what, all of me?”

“I’ve never met such a prude,” she mumbled. “Hold your hands out, palms down.” Martha took several photos of my hands at different angles, as well as my chest, where a small smudge of blood had ended up. Upon finishing, I was allowed to put on my new shirt, which had given my body enough time to stand down from saluting.

I quickly finished stripping, having to pause for another photo before Martha deemed me finished, and she waited expectantly as I made myself proper. “Pleasure to meet you, Martha,” I said, unsure what else I was supposed to tell a woman after I stripped and posed for her. Would “thank you” have been better?

She hummed absently in response while putting her camera aside and gathering up the bags. “Want a word of advice?”

I paused, one arm through the sleeve of a jacket that was more suited to cool autumn weather than the shitstorm outside. “Sure?”

“Don’t go giving Winter a hard time, or he’ll book your ass faster than you can say heartless.”

What did that mean? “Uh….”

“He’s seen it all,” she said in a tone of warning. “And has patience for none of it.” Martha left me alone after that.

I pushed my sunglasses back up and crossed my arms over my chest. I was suddenly freezing, but it wasn’t a chill that shook me to the bone. Fear, that’s what it was.

Let’s take a step back, look at this objectively. Neil had taught me a lot about crimes and evidence, and I needed to use that to my advantage. I had zero interest in becoming a suspect—or worse, being arrested by Detective Winter.

Rigor mortis starts to set in around two hours after death, and the human body can decrease in temperature at an average rate of one point five degrees per hour. I needed to factor in, however, that the shop door had been open for who knows how long, which could affect the temperature reading on the body. If rigor was setting in, I could suspect poor Mike had been dead since….

I turned to squint at the wall clock behind me.

The officer who had been watching me the entire time asked, “Got somewhere to be?”
“I can’t read the time.”

He glanced at the wall. “Just after twelve.”

All right. I had been there close to an hour, which means it had been around eleven when I found Mike. So at a minimum, he was killed around eight that morning. I had alibis. Pop, the one employee at Little Earth—hell, I’d even drag Neil into this if it meant my head.

When I looked up from counting points off my fingers, Winter was standing in front of me, a strange expression on his face. Amused? Indulgent? Curious? It was hard to tell.

“Hi,” I said.

“I’ve got some more questions.”

Lancaster was giving orders in the background to have space made as a gurney was brought in and Mike’s body was placed on it. So long, Mike….

“Where were you at seven this morning?” Winter asked.

Ah-ha! “Mike has only been dead a few hours?”

“Answer the question.”

I knew it. Rigor mortis started with the face—the eyes, jaw, down the neck. His entire body wasn’t affected yet, which meant he had to have been attacked when I was around other people. Given, also, how much snow had piled up in the doorway, it roughly corresponded with what the news had been saying about the city’s expected precipitation per hour.

“Seven? I was home.”

“Doing what?”

“Thinking about getting out of bed.”

“Do you live alone, Mr. Snow?”

I felt the muscle in my throat jump. If I said yes, I would be lying to a cop, which was never good. If I said no, Winter would want the contact information of the second individual.

Would Neil mind?

Of course, but given the circumstances, would he be willing to out himself to a fellow detective, who he believed was a homophobe, if it meant the safety of his boyfriend?

It concerned me greatly that I didn’t have an answer to that question.

“No, not exactly,” I heard myself answer.

Winter looked expectant.

Purchase links:

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Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Mystery-Nevermore-Snow-Winter-Book-ebook/dp/B01HM8F0OS

OmniLit: https://www.omnilit.com/product-themysteryofnevermore-2064015-376.html

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Exclusive Excerpt: Last Room at the Cliff’s Edge (A Detective Linda Mystery) by Mark McNease

 

Blurb:

Retired homicide detective Linda Sikorsky and her wife Kirsten McClellan head to Maine for a long weekend of rest, relaxation and rewrites as Kirsten finishes drafting her first novel. Bad weather alters their plans, forcing them to stop for the night at the Cliff’s Edge, a motel known for secrecy and indiscretion. Something murderous goes bump in the night, sending the women on a search for justice when a young reporter’s body is found dumped and violated on a back road. A road Linda must now go down, no matter where it takes her, or what it reveals.

mark-mcnease

Exclusive Excerpt: Part I

CAYLEY DREES was nervous. She hadn’t heard from her confidential source for two days and she was supposed to meet him tonight. The timing could not be worse. A storm had made land the past six hours, covering Maine in thickening sheets of rain. She’d not had far to drive, just from Wathingham, where she lived and worked, to the outskirts of Lonesome Pointe, but the driving had been slow and treacherous. Drivers, including herself, had pulled off the highway at intervals to let the rain slow enough for them to see again. Visibility for parts of the 90 minute trip (now closing in on two and a half hours with weather delays) was approximately zero. She was relieved and curious to finally see the fading billboard announcing the Cliff’s Edge Motel just two miles up the road. At the rate she was going it would be a long two miles, but she was comforted to know her destination was in sight.

facia of the car and drops on the windshield
facia of the car and drops on the windshield

At twenty-three Cayley was already among those young achievers who made names for themselves on “30 Under 30” lists and nods to up-and-comers that appeared annually, praising the next generation’s best and brightest. She was going places, and like others of her type, she was the first to declare it. A natural journalist, Cayley had ignored the probability of an internship at the Boston Globe or the Philadelphia Inquirer, choosing instead to learn her reporting chops at little Wathingham, Maine’s, All Pointes Bulletin. But she had her reasons: she was a small pond girl at heart, and she intended to be the biggest fish in it. Had she gone with the Globe or the Enquirer she would be covering news that mattered to much of the world, but she would be the fourth journalist down on the left, in a cubicle listening to a hundred other journalists talk to sources and crank out stories with bylines nobody noticed. The ladder they climbed was steeper, and much more crowded. This way she could move back to Wathingham where her family lived and be a star. It would take time to reach the top, but not as much time. The All Pointes had a staff of only seven, including the part-time receptionist. It was a fiefdom she could find herself running in just a few years.

She wasn’t happy being assigned the obits, but it was part of the game she had to play. Everyone had to start somewhere, and it was the kind of assignment a new reporter was expected to do. The paper’s publisher and editor, a no-nonsense woman named Lucille Proctor, had taken a liking to Cayley when she’d known her casually as a high school student in town and Cayley’s journalism class had spent the day shadowing All Pointes reporters. Lucille accepted her internship application the day after it arrived. She could have said yes that same afternoon, but why seem too eager? Few young people as talented and determined as Cayley ever returned, and certainly showed no interest in internships at the All Pointes when they could cover celebrity drug overdoses for the L.A. Times, where it also happened to be warm most of the year.

Cayley had been reporting on dead people for almost a year now. She covered other things, too: local festivals, some interviews, and an occasional movie review for which she was reimbursed the cost of one ticket, a soda and a small popcorn. It was the opposite of glamorous. There was a time during the summer when Cayley questioned her decision to return to Wathingham. She’d posted a dozen death notices, contacted a few next of kin when something they’d submitted was questionably written or, in one case, to determine if the deceased was truly dead, since she swore she’d seen the man in the pharmacy the day before.

And then it happened: the call from her source. He sounded nervous—in fact, he sounded nervous every time she subsequently spoke to him, as if someone might hear them. They never emailed. He insisted all emails were read by the government, or at least by the employers of everyone sending them. He wanted nothing in writing, he said, he just wanted her to know what happened. But first, about that obituary you ran for Russell Drover …

“Russell Drover?” she’d said, trying to remember which one it was and when it was published.  She had been sitting at her desk rewriting copy when the call came in, the last of the day to be transferred by Rudy, the part-time office guy. (Rudy was sweet, distracted and more interested in finding a girlfriend than furthering his career, which was why he was a part-time receptionist at twenty-six.)

“The old guy who owned the Cliff’s Edge outside of Lonesome Pointe,” the voice said, sounding as if he’d cupped his hand over the phone.

“The Cliff’s Edge …”

“Are you a reporter or a parrot?”

She’d almost hung up on him then. She’d been pranked a few times, always by kids who thought annoying strangers on the phone was hysterical. But something in his tone, his nervousness, made her take a deep breath and refrain from snapping.

“I’m a reporter, Mr …?”

“Never mind that,” he’d said. “I just called to tell you that you got it wrong.”

“Wrong?” she’d said, immediately regretting repeating him again.

“Yes, wrong.”

“How’s that?”

She was sitting up now. She’d taken a pencil from an All Pointes coffee cup she used for them and poised it over a thin white reporter’s notebook. Something told her this was different, this had substance.

“He didn’t shoot himself like they said.”

“We didn’t say that either, Sir. Suicide never reads well in an obituary.”

“You think I’m playing with you, is that what you think?”

His sharpness startled her. She sensed she had to be careful if she wanted him to keep talking.

“Are you telling me he was killed by someone else?” she asked, still not recalling the obituary in question but certain it had said nothing about suicide. Families preferred to say “a sudden illness.” It didn’t matter now. She was being offered something she knew was bigger than the obituary beat, something people would talk about.

“He was murdered, yes,” the man said. This time his tone was flat, almost sad.

She waited a moment, letting him breathe while she decided how best to proceed. “Is there more, Sir? Is there something you’d like to tell me, like … who you believe killed Mr. Drover?”

“Oh, I know who killed him.”

Cayley felt the chill through the phone. Yes, she thought, yes, I’m sure you do know, but will you tell me? Pretty please? Or will this be difficult

“And I know why,” he said. “It was because of what happened.”

“What happened?”

“Yeah, what happened.”

Very carefully now: “When?”

“A long time ago.”

Excerpt Part II

LINDA SIKORSKY wasn’t looking forward to the drive to Maine but she would not tell Kirsten. It would take at least six hours, much of that in a storm the weather service had been warning about for the past week. She’d thought of suggesting they postpone the trip, but she knew the price for it would be days of sulking by Kirsten, delivered with a large side order of disappointment. Her wife had been planning this trip for two months, convinced it would be just what she needed to finish her first mystery, whose central character was transparently modeled after Linda. “The Rox Harmony Mysteries” had become Kirsten McClellan’s obsession. Linda was so relieved Kirsten had found a calling in retirement, even if writing was an avocation Linda thought put food on very few tables, that she withheld her reservations about a fictional lesbian detective based on her. Nor did she speak to Kirsten of the ego deflation that surely lay ahead in mixed reviews, unpredictable book sales and that small matter of finding a publisher. None of these things were worth causing Kirsten to fret more than she normally did. For Linda, just driving to Maine in terrible weather, after an unexpected delay caused by her mother’s emergency in Philadelphia, provided stress enough.

The women lived in a small house in Kingwood Township, New Jersey, that Linda had inherited from her Aunt Celeste. Her mother’s only sibling, Celeste had died on the back porch the spring before last, watering the flowers she’d kept for years in plastic beds hung from a wrought-iron railing surrounding the small space. There was just enough room on the porch for a table and four chairs. Linda had spent many Sunday mornings having coffee with her aunt after driving from New Hope, Pennsylvania, across the river into Jersey. She usually visited her mother the day before, making those weekends a sort of twofer: visit Mom one day, Aunt Celeste the next, and promise to be back in two weeks, three tops if something came up to delay her.

That “something” was sometimes homicide. Linda was then on the New Hope Police Force as its only female detective. She’d put in nearly twenty years, the last six in homicide, when Celeste died and left her the perfect place to retire: five acres of wooded land, a mile’s drive on 651 from the Delaware River. Timing, as Linda knew, was everything. She’d met Kirsten McClellan that January, inherited the house in September, and married Kirsten the following March. Now they were living very rural lives and slowly but surely adjusting to them.

Excerpt Part 3

On their way to a B & B in Maine, Linda and Kirsten are forced by the storm to stop at the Cliff’s Edge Motel.

LENNY SAW the car pull in. It was 7:30 p.m. now, dark and drenched outside as far as the eye could see, which was not far given the driving rain that had brought traffic to a standstill. The storm did not have a name but it was strong enough to be called something besides a Nor’easter. It deserved more respect than that. While it wasn’t an Irene or even a Sandy, it was a nasty one and it packed a punch. That’s why the Cliff’s Edge was almost full. Lenny had worked the front desk for the past six years and had only turned on the “No Vacancy” sign three or four times. This just wasn’t a place people looked for or added to their travel websites’ favorites list. It was exactly what he saw tonight: a place folks ended up because they had to. Just like the two women who came in as he watched from his stool—wet, unhappy and stamping their feet as if the water were snow they wanted off them.

“Evening,” Lenny said. “You ladies get stuck in the storm? Everybody else did.”

“Yes, we did,” Linda said. She regretted not bringing their rain ponchos, or at least a couple trash bags to put over themselves. Her jacket was soaked just getting from the car into the lobby, if it could be called that. It looked more like the front room in a house that should have been torn down decades ago.

“Well, you ladies are lucky tonight, let me tell you. I got one room left.”

Kirsten hung back. She was still stewing over not driving on to Cape Haven. She’d been relieved to get a cell phone signal in this weather, knowing it was hit and miss. It wasn’t great but it was good enough for her to tell the desk clerk they had to stop two hours short of Serenity House and they’d be there first thing tomorrow. The clerk curtly told her she would have to charge them for the night. Kirsten said go ahead, then filed it away for her Yelp review. She had no problem being charged, but she didn’t care for being spoken to as if she’d inconvenienced someone with nothing else to do.

Linda looked at the skinny man behind the counter. She hoped he would not call them “ladies” again. She disliked the term and found it patronizing. Coming from someone who looked like his other job was pumping gas at the only station for twenty miles made it seem smug and deliberate.

“We’ll take it,” Kirsten said, stepping up next to Linda. She’d sensed her wife’s hesitation, as if they had any choice but to check into the Cliff’s Edge and get the hell out at sunrise. She just wanted to get into a room, settle in and fire up her laptop for some revisions on Bermuda Shots.

The clerk reached under the counter and brought up a key attached to a diamond-shaped piece of plastic with the number 7 on it.

“Last room at the Cliff’s Edge,” he said. “Lucky, lucky.”

Linda had the distinct feeling their luck had run out, being forced into a rundown motel in the middle of somewhere.

“What town is this?” Linda asked, unsure they were even in a town.

“If it had a name,” Lenny said, “It’d be Unincorporated. Nearest town is Lonesome Pointe, about three miles from here. That be cash or charge?”

Linda was surprised: she’d never stayed in a motel that took cash.

She pulled her wallet from her purse, slipped out a corporate AmEx and handed it to him.

“I’m Linda Sikorsky,” she said. “And this is Kirsten, my … ”

“Friend,” said Lenny, winking at her.

Linda cursed herself and hoped Kirsten hadn’t noticed the exchange. She glanced to the side and saw her furiously trying to get an internet connection on her phone. Good, the conversation had been ignored. She hated it that she was still uncomfortable referring to Kirsten as her wife. It had taken her months to get used to partner, and spouse was just too … animal-husbandry. She had to get past this. What difference did it make that some creepy desk clerk might disapprove of lesbians?

“Something like that,” Linda replied, knowing Lenny had pegged them as a couple.

“Is there WiFi in the room?” Kirsten asked, frustrated at being cut off from the virtual world. The phone call to Serenity House was the last connection she’d had.

Lenny spoke patiently and slowly, as if to an uncomprehending child. “No,” he said. “We don’t have no internet connection here. This ain’t Portland. But we got TVs you can watch. Not sure what kind of picture you’ll get in this rain …”

“So it’s not cable?”

Lenny did not respond, believing he’d made his point well enough. If the Cliff’s Edge did not have an internet connection, why in the world would they have cable for the few people who stayed here? Mostly they came from surrounding towns to have sex with their secretaries or someone else’s husband. Nobody had time for HBO.

“No,” Linda said, answering for him. “I don’t imagine it is. Let’s just get our stuff from the car and settle in. It’s going to be a long night. Isn’t that right …?”

“Lenny,” he said, handing her the credit card receipt to sign. “

“Does Lenny have a last name?” Linda asked.

Lenny felt the hair on his arms rise. The woman was not smiling, and there was an intensity in her eyes he didn’t like. That’s how predators looked at their prey. He knew, he was one. He’d looked at countless teenage girls and a few of the boys that way, usually before he got them high on something and screwed them. And he’d looked at old man Drover that way just before he’d put a hole in his chest. The girl reporter, too. But she was still in the queue. He suddenly didn’t like putting these women next to the room Cayley Drees was in, but he didn’t have any choice. It was the last room, after all. He’d be extra careful when he slipped into #6 sometime after midnight.

“You can just call me Lenny,” he said. He was glad he’d talked Russell out of making him wear a name tag. What did the old fool think he was, a bellboy?

“Lenny it is,” said Linda, handing him the signed receipt and taking the key.

“You ladies have a good night. And if you need anything, come on down.”

“I can’t call you from the room?” Kirsten asked as they were about to head back to the car.

“Phone works sometimes, but there’s no intercom or nothing,” Lenny said.

“Of course not,” Kirsten replied. “Why would there be?”

Linda pulled the door open and held it for Kirsten. Rain flew into the lobby in the moment it took them to leave. Walking back into it was like walking into a powerful showerhead aimed directly at their faces. They got the last room, and they’d taken the last parking space, which meant they had to grab their belongings—none of which Kirsten was willing to leave in the car at this fine establishment—and hurry down the long motel front to room #7. Hopefully nothing would be damaged by the rain.

Lenny watched the door close. It was a lie they didn’t have internet access. They just didn’t have it for anyone but him, in the back apartment where Russell Drover had lived and where Lenny enjoyed his new life alone. Linda Sikorsky. He hadn’t asked for her driver’s license so he didn’t know where she lived, but he could get the state off her license plate. He planned to see if he could find out anything about her online. There was something chilling in the way her manner had changed while they were at the desk, as if she, too, had sensed something about him. Two snakes who’d come upon each other in the tall grass. He had the unsettling feeling one of them would be eating the other. He hoped not; he did not want to draw attention to himself or, by extension, his employer. He wanted to take care of the reporter, see the women off in the morning when they turned in the key, and wait for it all to blow over. There was a fat paycheck and an extended stay in Puerto Vallarta on the other side.

Author Website:

http://www.markmcnease.com/