EXCERPT: STAGE FRIGHT (The Jimmy McSwain Files) by Adam Carpenter

STAGE FRIGHT by Adam Carpenter (The Jimmy McSwain Files – book 3)


          Case file #101: THE FOREVER HAUNT

           He titled the thick file so because it was appropriate, the haunting unrepentant even on sunny days but mostly on dark nights when sleep would come and his nightmares consumed him. What lived inside the recesses of his mind were unsolved mysteries, but also deep in his aching heart, seemingly lodged there for forever. Being unable to close this case represented his own phobia, a fear that answers would always elude him. He had been fourteen when the deafening shot rang out, claiming the life of NYPD officer Joseph McSwain and leaving his son as empty a shell at the spent bullet. That son was thirty now, and on stormy nights when thunder rumbled across the sky and he tossed in bed alone, he heard that gunshot over and over. The blast would make him jump. He would awaken in a bath of sweat, the events of that warm spring day having come screaming back.

            The police—his father’s brethren–had never solved the murder, relegating the case to a steel file cabinet in the basement of some dusty precinct where it had grown, at least figuratively, cold. For Jimmy McSwain, his son, not now or never a cop but a private detective, had sworn to keep the heat on, and only when the truth was uncovered would he find peace. In the past year, he had redoubled his lone efforts, the tragic realization that fifteen years had passed fueling him. The senseless execution of NYPD officer Joseph McSwain remained as much a mystery now as it did then.

StageFright 28

             And execution was how Jimmy defined it. Someone had wanted him dead.

             And someone knew something, still, and that person continued to remain quiet. A case-altering clue existed out there, it had to, waiting to be found. He just had to search in the right place. To find it, he was forced down to the lowest depths of the human condition, perhaps even to the highest ranks of the NYPD. Sometimes he felt they were one in the same.

            Jimmy felt he’d gotten close this past summer. A crime wave of robberies at Manhattan delis had mirrored the manner of his father’s death, but the suspect—a recent parole—had been shot dead during a tense hostage situation. Gunned down by Captain Francis X. Frisano of the 10th Precinct, an ambitious career cop with his own secret. Jimmy fought an attraction to him, even as they once spent a passionate night. But that relationship was over, another case of hope bled out by the blast of a gun. The suspect had died on the spot, never able to confess to being involved in the shooting years ago of Joseph McSwain. Since then, the case had grown colder still, as the city had boiled, as the heat and humidity of August raced to the top of the barometer.

            On this hot day, Jimmy McSwain, dressed only in a pair of shorts and sweating despite the hard-working air conditioner, sat on the floor of his office, really just a studio apartment on the second floor of a building owned by his uncle. Paddy Byrne ran his own pub downstairs, and the floorboards often failed to hold the raucous music and laughter at bay; one of the reasons Paddy allowed his nephew to use this space for his private detective business, and at quite the discount. Any other tenant might object to those late-night disturbances, but as Paddy explained, “You can’t complain, the rent is cheap.”

            “As cheap as that swill you serve as beer,” Jimmy had once shot back.

            “Talk to me that way again, I’ll have Maggie wash your mouth out with soap.”

            Maggie was Paddy’s sister, Jimmy’s mother. “Better than your beer.” HiddenIdentity

            Paddy had been a much needed father figure throughout Jimmy’s teen years and as he hurtled toward his adult life. The two men could joke about anything, knowing their banter fed good times. And as much as Jimmy appreciated having his uncle a part of his daily life, he couldn’t replace the tough-as-nails, heart as big as Manhattan Joseph McSwain. No one could.

            Speaking of beer, Jimmy had a sweating green bottle at his side, Yuengling. He took a sip while he flipped through the recent articles he’d added to his father’s case file. They were from the Post and the Daily News, both of which had covered the deli robberies closely, and had, on July 4th, splashed across the front pages the bloody hostage situation which had ended Rashad Assan’s reign of terror. A photo of the day’s hero stared back at Jimmy: Frisano was dressed in his uniform, slightly disheveled from an afternoon of staving off a killer but still as sexy as ever. Regret wound its way around the strings of Jimmy’s soul, and he wondered, not for the first time, if he’d been hasty in dismissing Frisano from his life, and his bed.

            He stole a look at his iPhone and picked it up. He scrolled through his contacts, landing on Frisano’s name. Was there a reason he hadn’t deleted the man’s personal number? Was he holding onto it because he was secretly wishing that he would once again find comfort in the burly cop’s strong arms? Or because he was an influential captain in the NYPD and might one day be useful in finding out what really happened the morning Joseph McSwain was stolen from him? Because Jimmy couldn’t be sure of his motives, he set the phone back down and closed his eyes. Usually he saw only blackness, but today the image of Frisano unspooled before him, their time in an upstate motel when the only thing exploding had been their passion for each other. He could feel that sizzling kiss on his neck, the scrape of his whiskers while slowly unbuttoning his shirt…temptation leading them toward more.

            Jimmy’s eyes flashed open and suddenly time forced him back to the present.

            He rose from the floor, finished off his beer and tossed the empty bottle into a trash bin.

            Frustration filtered through his system, and he knew he had to do something. Anything.

            The summer had been quiet, case-wise. Two simple assignments where he had to trail two separate married men whose wives thought they were cheating; both suspicions turned out to be true Jimmy filed his reports, took the money, and wondered if anyone was really happy. But the final two weeks of August were proving to be quiet; maybe all of Manhattan was on vacation. Maggie and his pregnant sister, Meaghan, were still upstate at Peach Lake, staying at Grandma Hester’s cottage. Soon enough they would both return to work at the Calloway Theatre, since its new show was scheduled to begin previews on September 13th. His other sister Mallory was on vacation at some luxury resort. All that meant Jimmy was alone, rattling around his office or at the McSwain apartment over on Tenth Avenue, or just stopping during the late hour into Paddy’s Pub for a pint or two, as directionless as he was miserable.


            He hated August. Life was as still as the air.

            Jimmy McSwain needed something to jumpstart his heart.

            As he put away his father’s file, securing it into the metal cabinet inside the closet, he put on his sneakers and then headed out of the office. Craving company, maybe he’d just go down to Paddy’s and drown his sorrows. That changed when he reached the bottom of the staircase, the ring of his phone echoing in the dim hallway. He looked at the screen. “No Caller ID.” He still preferred to answer the call. Prospective clients often hid behind the curtain of anonymity.

            “This is Jimmy. How may I help you?”

            “Hello,” came a woman’s voice, accented, timid, uncertain. “This is Jimmy McSwain?”

            “As stated. Who is this?”

            “I have information for you, at least, I think I do.”

            Again he heard that uncertainty in her voice. Jimmy paused mid-staircase, not wanting to trip himself up. This call had his attention.

            “I’m listening,” he said.

            “My name is Seetha,” she said, “Seetha Assan.”

            It wasn’t the first name that stopped him in his tracks. It was the last name.

            “Tell me more.”

            “Rashad Assan was my brother,” she said. “I’d like to meet with you.”

            “Where and when,” he said, barely pausing between words.

            There was a pause, and then he heard, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have called.”


            Did his voice betray his desperation?

            There was no reply. He looked at the screen and saw the call had ended. His heart raced as he stepped out onto Ninth Avenue and a busy summer afternoon. Cars and cabs backed up the traffic on the avenue, pedestrians passed by, immersed in their own lives. Countless souls, going through the motions of life, oblivious to what ailed Jimmy. Except there was one person out there who shared his pain. One person who maybe had access to that elusive clue he’d been seeking all summer, all his life.

            The call from the mysterious Seetha Assan had changed everything. The solution for the Forever Haunt was back on. Joseph McSwain, father, your killer will be found, Jimmy thought.

            He slipped on a pair of sunglasses, as much hiding as shading his expressive eyes, and then he allowed himself to be absorbed onto the crowded, steamy sidewalks of the city, his steps fueled with newfound confidence. Despite the humidity, he felt he could breathe again.

Case file #101: THE FOREVER HAUNT

Case Status: UNSOLVED





Exclusive Excerpt: Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind by Marshall Thornton

Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind

By Marshall Thornton


Chapter One

Chicago is famous for its wind, its snow, its frigid, bone-cracking cold. It’s not as well known for the one or two weeks each summer when the heat hits the high nineties, and the humidity grips you by the throat and squeezes. For those dog days, which almost always happen in August, we sweat, we overheat, we get red-faced and as angry as cats in a bathtub. Our brief summer heat waves explain why it’s actually a pleasure to wear an overcoat most of the year.

I’d cranked open all the windows in my tenth floor apartment. Joseph and I lay naked on my bed trying not to touch each other, while at the same time trying to spread our limbs so we weren’t touching ourselves either. Joseph had gotten us a plastic spray bottle and filled it with chilled water. Every so often we woke up and sprayed ourselves so the water would evaporate on our skin and cool us down.

The phone rang around three that morning. My first inclination was to not answer as there was a fifty-fifty chance it was a wrong number. Curiosity got me on the sixth ring, though. I pushed myself out of bed and aimed toward the living room. I hoped I’d get lucky and hear a stranger ask for Mary or Bobo or José. But then I picked up the phone and wasn’t lucky.

“Nick? Nick, I need your help.”

I tried not to recognize his voice. I tried to think of a good reason to just hang up. The last person in the world I wanted to be having a conversation with in the middle of the night was Christian Baylor, intrepid journalist and all around pain in the ass.

“Why can’t you come to my office in the morning like a normal person?”

“I need help now. Can you come over?”

I hadn’t seen Christian since April. There was a chance he was calling about a detective named Devlin who had hassled us for a while over the death of the Bughouse Slasher. There was also a chance he was just trying to get me to come over and fuck him.

“I need you, Nick. You have to—” His voice was TV movie urgent.

“No, actually, I don’t have to.”

“There’s a dead man in my bathroom.”

That stopped me. I had no idea whether to believe him or not. I wanted to not believe him. I wanted to call him a liar. But he did strike me as exactly the kind of person who’d end up with a dead man lying around the house.

“Why do you have a dead man in your bathroom?”

“He’s one of my neighbors. Someone shot him and he ran to my apartment, so I let him in and tried to help him. But I couldn’t. It was too late.”

“And the someone with the gun?”

“Took off.”

“So you decided to call me…”


“Instead of the police?”

“I’m going to call them. I just thought it would be good to have a friend here when I do.”

Friend was pushing it. Still, I said, “Call them now. And I’ll come.”

“You will?”

“Call them.”boystown8


Christian lived in the only contemporary building on that block of Belden. It was about eight stories, red brick, and as architecturally bland as a cheese sandwich. It was about a half hour walk from my place. At that time of the morning it could take fifteen or twenty-minutes to get a cab and even longer to find a parking place if I drove, so I went ahead and hoofed it. When I got there thirty-five minutes later, it was no surprise to find an empty blue-and-white squad car sitting in front of the building with its lights flashing, next to a white van from the Medical Examiner’s office.

Someone had been nice enough to jam a phone book in the lobby door, so I let myself up to Christian’s fifth floor studio—well, close to his studio. When I got off the elevator I was stopped by a wall-sized patrol.

“I’m sorry, this area is closed,” he said.

In the elevator I’d decided to start this off on the wrong foot and had my keys ready in my hand. “I live down there,” I said, pointing at the door across from Christian’s.

“Are you just getting home?”

“Bartender.” I tried to look exhausted which wasn’t much of a stretch.

“You know the guy across the hall?”

“Not well.”

In a lowered voice, he asked, “He a faggot?”

I ground my teeth a little. Then I said evasively, “I try to keep to myself.”

He got a worried look on his face and I thought he was trying to decide whether he should let me by. In my days on the job I wouldn’t have let someone walk through a crime scene. When I set a perimeter it stayed set. But that didn’t mean this guy wasn’t going to let me by.

“This job, man. It’s getting more dangerous every day.”

I stared at him. Other than the fact that it was muggy as a swamp, I didn’t see what was so dangerous about standing in a hallway.

Without being asked, he explained, “There’s blood everywhere in there. Faggot blood.”

Oh. That. His fear didn’t faze me. Panic about AIDS had begun to reach the general population and all the wrong people were freaked out over all the wrong things. Doorknobs, toothbrushes, movie seats. The world was a continuing round of famine, war and genocide, but it was doorknobs that scared the shit out of people.

“I’ll just stick to my side of the hallway.”

He looked around as though someone might give him a yay or nay. Begrudgingly, he said, “All right. Go directly to your apartment.”

I walked down the hallway and stood in front of the door across from Christian’s. I looked over my shoulder. What I saw was disturbing. The patrol was right. Blood was everywhere. The door to the apartment was covered in a big splash of it. Honestly, it looked like someone had thrown a water balloon at the door and it had exploded…except it wasn’t water, it was blood. There was blood on almost every other surface I could see, handprints, splashes, smears; it was everywhere on the butter-colored hardwood floor. I didn’t see the medical examiner anywhere. I guessed he was in the bathroom with the body.

Underneath all that blood, the studio was preciously decorated with a twin-sized daybed covered in too many pillows sitting in front of the one wide window, a mod blue desk and a little cafe table with two metal chairs. The miniscule kitchen sat to the right of the front door. The bathroom was in the back to the left of the living room area.

In the center of the living room, Christian stood talking to another patrol, a thick, tough-looking woman in her late twenties. Christian was slight and too pretty for his own good. He looked like he’d been clubbing; he wore a yellow mesh shirt and a tight pair of jeans with clean, white Chuck Taylors. There wasn’t a drop of blood on him. If he’d tried to help the dead guy like he’d said, his help must not have gone much beyond shouting encouragement. Clearly, he hadn’t been anywhere near the guy while he was bleeding to death.

“Just go into your apartment, sir,” the Wall said. His plastic nametag told me his name was some kind of Slavic, beginning with a V and ended with a -vich. There were ten or twelve letters in between. The Wall was easier to remember.

I turned, wondering exactly how I was going to worm my way out of this. Suddenly the door in front of me opened. A scrawny, fifty-year-old woman in a flowered housecoat stared at me as though I had the word RAPE tattooed on my forehead and then yelled, “GO AWAY!” Before I could, she slammed the door in my face.

Behind me, I heard Christian yell, “Nick! You came!”

I turned fully to look at him, ignoring the glare I was surely receiving from the Wall. Christian hurried out into the hallway, his patrol close behind.

“I can’t believe this happened! It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Who are you, sir?” the female officer asked, her nametag said McCready. “You a neighbor?”

“No. Christian called me. Asked me to come.”

Without turning, I could feel that the Wall had moved in and was now breathing down my neck. I’d lied to him and I could feel his anger floating my way.

“Name?” McCready asked.

“Nick Nowak.”

I decided not to mention my profession since no one was paying me. But Christian had other ideas and told them, “He’s a private investigator.”

McCready looked me up, down and around. “Nowak? You have family on the job?”’

“I do.”


“That would be them.”

“Then you know this isn’t a social occasion. It’s not a party. Your friend doesn’t get to send out invites. You don’t have any business at our crime scene.”

I tried not to smile at her possessiveness. Someone had been murdered and the crime scene belonged to her. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll go stand down the hall.”

“I’d prefer you leave the building entirely,” she said. It really was preference. She didn’t have the right to ask me to leave the building completely. I would have happily gone home, though, except for the panic in Christian’s eyes.

“Do you want me to call a lawyer?” I asked him.

“I didn’t do anything.” Which was actually one of the better reasons to call a lawyer. I didn’t bother pointing it out, though. He was a big enough boy to make his own decisions.

“I’ll be right down here if you need me,” I told him pointing down the hallway

I turned to walk down the hall, and as I walked by the Wall he gave my shoulder a shove as though he didn’t think I’d be able to walk away from the scene on my own. I stumbled a few steps then righted myself. I took a position near the elevator and lit a cigarette. The Wall took a position in the middle of the hallway and puffed himself out in case I tried to slip by him again.

Belden was just over the line into the 18th police district. Harker’s district. Detective Bert Harker had been my lover from the spring of 1981 until he died in September 1982. Eighteen months. The two-year anniversary of his death was coming up in a month. He’d been gone longer than we’d been together. But I didn’t really have time to be thinking about that. I needed to be thinking about Christian Baylor, who Harker had brought into my life.

Since the apartment was in Harker’s old district, I held a faint hope that his former partner, Frank Connors, might be the detective showing up for this investigation. He wouldn’t be happy to see me, but he’d be likely to let me know what was going on.

Unfortunately, after I’d been standing in the hallway by the elevator for about three cigarettes—exchanging cold stares with the Wall—a black guy in his early forties got off the elevator. I could tell he was a detective right off. His ill-fitting, cheap suit and the mean glance he gave me were big clues.

One of the very few times I missed spending time with my family was the year before, when Harold Washington got elected mayor and appointed the first black police commissioner. I would have loved to see the looks on their faces. Having spent decades under the thumb of an Irish mayor and an Irish-dominated police force, I would have loved watching them get passed over for the blacks. Of course, in their view—and there was a bit of truth to it—they’d been getting passed over for the blacks since the seventies, when the department was put under court order to recruit and promote in a way that more accurately reflected the makeup of the city. In other words, more blacks. Whoever it was who’d just walked by me probably got his job due to the court order. I hoped he deserved it.

I decided to try conversation with the Wall. “Where are all the neighbors?”

“We told them to go back inside.”

“Anyone hear anything?”

“Most of them heard someone yell and then the gunshot. There was a lot of peephole peeping, but everyone stayed inside.”

“Just one gunshot?”

He got a look on his face, like he realized he’d already said too much. “What difference does it make?”

“It makes a lot of difference to the dead guy.”

After that, the Wall clammed up. Even halfway down the hall, I could hear that people were talking in Christian’s apartment. I just couldn’t hear what they were saying. I did know that whatever Christian was telling them was a bald-faced lie. What I didn’t know was why he was lying. And why he thought he needed me there. He seemed to be doing a bang up job of lying to the police without my help.

Christian told me his neighbor had been shot and ran to his apartment for help. Of course, I thought it was ridiculous that anyone would run to Christian for help. But beyond that there wasn’t any blood in the hallway. Well, any blood other than the blood that had been tracked out of the apartment into the hallway, including a few bloody footprints on the low-pile, butterscotch-colored carpet in front of Christian’s door. I didn’t know whether they belonged to the killer or the patrol officers. As I stood there trying to work that out, I realized there was a faint set of footsteps that came away from the door and continued down the hallway toward me. The footprints were nearly undetectable, fading more with each step. But they continued toward me, then went by me and down the hallway becoming fainter and fainter with each step. I took a few steps down the hallway to find out where they went.

The Wall asked, “Where are you going?”

I pointed at the footprints in the carpet at my feet. The Wall squinted, but he saw what I was showing him. We followed the footprints, which disappeared as we turned the corner on the far side of the elevator. Halfway down a short hallway a garbage chute sat about four feet up the wall: a metal door, eighteen inches square with a handle smeared in blood.

The Wall reached out like he was going to open the chute and I instinctively said, “Don’t touch it.” He gave me a dirty look, mainly because I was right. There was blood, so there would be fingerprints. “Get the detective.”

“I’m not leaving you here.”

“Do you want me to go get the detective while you wait here?”

He pulled me by the arm back to where I’d been standing and then continued down the hall to the door of Christian’s apartment. He kept his eyes on me while speaking into the apartment. “Detective White? There’s something you need to see.”

The Wall kept looking at me and I managed to keep a straight face over the irony of a black detective being named White. The name was like the punch line to a joke that didn’t quite land. Detective White came out of the apartment and followed the Wall down the hallway. They breezed passed me and I followed them.

“Footprints,” the Wall said, pointing at the carpet, then at the garbage chute. “Smudge.”

“Go down to the basement and find out what this kid dropped into the chute,” White said.

The Wall gave him a concerned look. “Who’s gonna watch this guy?”

“I’ll keep an eye on him.”

Unhappy, the Wall turned and went around the corner to the elevator. White looked me over and said, “Your friend is telling a bucket full of lies.”

“I’d offer to tell him to stop, but I have the feeling he lies to me, too.”

“Do you know why he’s lying?”

“Not a clue.”

He shifted uncomfortably in his suit. It was about two sizes too big. I wondered if he’d recently lost a lot of weight and hadn’t bothered with a new wardrobe just in case the diet didn’t stick.

“Officer McCready says you have family on the job.”

“I do. I was on the job myself in the mid-seventies.” I pulled one of my business cards out of a pocket; it wasn’t too badly crumpled so I gave it to him. “Nick Nowak.”

“Monroe White,” he said, shaking my hand. He glanced at my card, “You’re a private dick.”

Dick was an old-timey nickname for a private eye. I figure he used it since it was an opportunity to call me a dick to my face. “Investigator. Yes.”

“Why’d you leave the CPD?”

“Creative differences.”

I could tell he didn’t like my answer. His dark eyes got a shade darker. “What are you doing here?”

“Christian called me.”

“He your boyfriend?” That made me wonder if he already knew why I wasn’t on the job.


“That offend you? Me thinking you’re a fag?”

“My boyfriend is an ex-priest. He’s teaching me forgiveness.”

“You fucking this one on the side, then?”

“No. I’m not.”

You would think that who’s fucking who was not the most important thing to figure out in a murder investigation, but you’d be wrong. It’s depressing how often love and death get tangled up together.

“What did Christian say to you on the phone?”

“That his neighbor got shot and ran to his apartment for help, and then died in his bathroom.”

White raised an eyebrow. “You believe him?”

“No. Someone came to the door, your victim answered and he was shot there at the door. He retreated into the apartment to get away or try to stop the bleeding. I’m only guessing, I haven’t been in there, but I doubt Christian was anywhere near here when it happened.”

“Unless he was the one with the gun.”

“The shooting took place in a closed space. He’d be covered in blood.”

“He took his time. Called you. Maybe he took a shower.”

“Isn’t the body in the bathroom?”

“There are a hundred showers in this building. He didn’t have to get cleaned up in there.”

“Can you prove he took a shower somewhere else?”

“We got time,” he said and walked away from me.

I went back to the spot where I’d been standing to smoke and swelter. I wore a pair of jeans and a blue Cubs T-shirt that Joseph bought me when we went to a game. It was too much clothing. If I thought stripping down to my BVDs would have helped the situation I’d have done it.

The elevator pinged and the door opened. The Wall came out delicately holding a snub-nosed 38 by the barrel with two fingers. He walked quickly down to the apartment. The whole thing was beginning to annoy me. White was already focused on Christian as the main suspect. That was a mistake. Or at least my gut said so. Christian wasn’t the type to murder.

But it was more than that. As I stood there, I began to see little things that didn’t add up. If Christian did shoot the dead guy why did he do it at the front door? Given the mess the blood made on the door—and not in the hallway—it made sense that the guy answered the door and someone shot him. Why would Christian come home and shoot someone in his own doorway?

And why was he so clean? If he did murder the guy and then went somewhere else for a shower, then why not tell the lie that he’d been out and just come home to find this dead guy in his apartment? That was a story that fit the way he looked. The story he told me, that he’d tried to help his neighbor, didn’t fit with the way he looked. If he had murdered the guy, the last thing in the world he should do was take a shower and say he tried to save him. He’d washed the proof of his story away.

Christian was annoying me as much as White. If he didn’t kill the guy, and I was pretty sure he didn’t, then why was he lying? Was there something bigger going on? Something scarier? Something worse than being suspected—

Officer McCready pulled Christian out of the apartment. He was handcuffed and his hands were covered by brown paper bags. The kind mothers pack with lunch for their kids. As they walked by, I said, “Christian, you need a lawyer. Tell them you want a lawyer.”

But he didn’t. He just gave me a confused look that said he didn’t understand what was happening.


Marshall Thornton’s Website:


Exclusive Excerpt: The Dirt Peddler (a Dick Hardesty Mystery) by Dorien Grey

Exclusive Excerpt Available now from Untreed Reads – first time available in a decade!

The Dirt Peddler


Dorien Grey


Ah, Hughie’s. I hadn’t been there, I don’t think, since I met Jonathan. But it hadn’t changed. Hughie’s never changed. It was exactly the same when I walked in at four fifteen—early as ever—as it had been the first time I wandered in for a beer right after I’d first opened my office.

Bud, the bartender, saw me come in and automatically reached into the cooler for a frosted mug, drew me a dark draft, and had it on the bar by the time I reached it.

“How’s it goin’, Dick?” he asked, as though I’d been in yesterday afternoon.

“Fine, Bud. You?”

He just shrugged, took my money, and moved off to the register.

The place was starting to fill up. The hustlers—those who hadn’t already been there most of the day—were drifting in from the streets in anticipation of the imminent arrival of the johns as the local offices and businesses closed. I recognized a couple of them, but most were new; the turnover rate in hustling was always high, and I didn’t care to speculate as to the reasons.

One of the guys my crotch had been concentrating on—a really good-looking, rough-around-the‑edges blond started looking, then moving in my direction.

Shit! Now what’ll you do? my mind asked.

Yeah, like this is your first time, another mind-voice responded.


Luckily, at that moment I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to see Glen O’Banyon standing beside me. As with the other times we’d met at Hughie’s, this was not the executive tower, dressed-to-impress lawyer; this was a guy in a baseball cap, a Green Bay Packers sweatshirt, and pair of pretty threadbare Levi’s. Not one person in twenty he saw every day would readily recognize him.

“Thanks for meeting me, Dick.” He kept one hand on my shoulder while he signaled Bud with the other.

The blond number had stopped in mid step when he saw O’Banyon come up, and looked at me with one raised eyebrow. I gave him a quick half smile and a shrug, and he turned and went back to where I’d first spotted him. My crotch was not happy, though the rest of me was guiltily relieved.

“No problem. It’s good to see you in civvies.”

Bud had come over and O’Banyon waited until he’d ordered before turning to me with a grin.

“Yeah. I really need to get out more.”

He scooped a bill out of his pocket and exchanged it for the beer Bud had brought him.

“So what can I do for you?” I knew full well this wasn’t strictly a social get-together.

He pushed himself away from the bar, picked up his beer, and gestured for me to follow him to the far corner of the front of the bar, where no one else had gathered yet. We set our drinks on one of the tall, steering-wheel-sized tables flanked by two high stools.

“I may have a case for you.”

“Great!” I didn’t have to ask or say anything else; I knew he’d tell me.

He took a long swig of his beer and pulled one of the stools closer to sit down.

“I’ve got a client with a whole shitload of problems, most of which he brought on himself. Strictly between you and me, he’s a pain in the ass. Less than a year ago he was a very junior executive at Craylaw and Collier. Today people are falling all over themselves to cozy up to him, and his ego has completely run off with what little common sense he might have had to begin with.”

“And what did he do to deserve all this sudden attention?”

O’Banyon sighed, took another swig of his beer and set the bottle on the table.

“He wrote a book.”

He sat there watching me in silence for a moment until I said, “Not one titled Dirty Little Minds, by any chance?”

Dirty Little Minds,” he said.

Interesting, I thought. “And where might I fit into all this?”

O’Banyon smiled. “Oh, we’re just getting started. And by the way, I know I don’t have to even mention that I’m telling you all this with the full confidence that none of it will go any further than between the two of us.”

“Of course.”

He stared out the window for a moment, then said, “Tunderew is currently working on a second book, which promises to be an even bigger blockbuster than his first. He’s got every major publisher in the business practically throwing advance offers at him.”

“What’s the new book about?”

O’Banyon shook his head. “He won’t say, but he’s got a lot of people very nervous. As you probably know, Craylaw and Collier is a very big outfit with its fingers in a lot of pies. It’s primarily a consulting firm, but they have branches throughout the county doing public relations, financial planning, you name it. By no small coincidence, it handled the P.R. for Governor Keene’s last gubernatorial campaign. Tunderew left the company shortly before his book came out. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t keeping some sort of little black book on some of C&C’s other clients.”

Exclusive Excerpt: Amber Alert by Barbara Winkes

Amber Alert

by Barbara Winkes


When her two-year-old niece is kidnapped, Major Crimes Detective Ann McCoy uses every bit of leverage she has with Agent Cal Davis to stay on the case. More children are missing. Their parents, like Ann’s sister and her wife, are desperate for answers. While the investigators look at the disturbing possibilities, a pattern emerges. They find an organization hidden in plain sight that has no boundaries when it comes to pushing their agenda- even at the cost of harming families and children.

Exclusive Excerpt:

The world has lost its colors, or so it seems to Chrissie in her medicated state. Voices, faces, emotions are all tinged in grey. She didn’t want to calm down or relax, fall for a treacherous illusion, but she just couldn’t stop shaking and sobbing. She’d seen the fear on Rachel’s face and that made her give in. She agreed to lie down for a bit, and Rachel stayed with her. Rachel is different. She doesn’t show a lot of emotion in a crisis, so when Chrissie realized how scared she was, for her, she let the doctor do his job. There’s no time to be scared for each other, when the fear for Rosie takes over every conscious thought. Chrissie doesn’t tell anyone she feels even worse in the cocoon of drugs, like she’s walking around in a nightmare that she can’t wake up from. She prays that the man who took Rosie won’t harm her. There will be a call, a demand for a ransom, they will pay it and get her back. Rachel’s Dad has contacted his bank, and they are ready to act, whatever plan the police have. When is the man going to make the damn call? Something springs to mind, and she sits up, looking at Rachel in alarm. “I snapped at her this morning! Why did I do that? What if we never see her again?” “You didn’t snap. Don’t do that.” Rachel brushes her hand over her hair gently, a tiny bit of comfort in a reality that has shifted in a disturbing way. “Rosie will be here soon.” “She’s scared around strangers.” “Yes, I know,” Rachel says, her arms tightening around Chrissie. “I’m so sorry.” “Chrissie, don’t. It’s not your fault. It’s nobody’s fault.” She can’t just lie here and wait. It’s not fair to Rosie, or Rachel. She needs to stay awake, alert, preferably without another nervous breakdown. It’s hard, because whenever Chrissie pictures what happened in the park, her eyes well up and her heart clenches painfully. She can’t be without Rosie, and neither can Rachel. “I want to get up and call Ann. Maybe she knows more.” “If she did,” Rachel says softly, “don’t you think she would have called already?” Reason is the last thing Chrissie wants to deal with right now. “Did we really think of all the parents from the center?” “I gave the police all the names. Not that I think any of them would kidnap a little girl.” “What if it’s a relative of one of them, someone who needs money?” Chrissie thinks it’s not such a bad theory, and she’s continually warming to it. They know all the parents who send their kids to the center. They are good people with whom she and Rachel have shared proud moments, worries and cookie recipes. By proxy, Chrissie is willing to grant any relative of theirs can’t be pure evil. It could be a glitch of reason, a desperate situation maybe that has driven them to commit a crime. Make no mistake–once they find the man, she still wants to kick him, hard, where it hurts the most. It seems only fair. “The police will look into that,” Rachel reminds her. “True!” Chrissie says with renewed resolve that’s somehow breaking through the drugged haze she’s been in. “They’ll go through credit records and stuff. If one of them has an SUV like Deb saw, they’ll find him real soon.” “I’m sure.” Rachel smiles at her, as they hold on to each other’s hand. Chrissie can tell how hard it is for her. “I love you,” she says. “I love you too.” Rachel leans forward against Chrissie’s shoulder, trembling. She’s crying quietly. If there’s anything that will get them through this, it’s this certainty. Rosie will be fine. That is all there is to say, or think.

AmberAlert_150dpi_eBook* * * *

The trace has been set up, but there has been no ransom call yet as time is ticking away. I don’t need anybody to tell me this is not good. There are dumb, small-time criminals who think a kidnapping is easy money. There are people so desperate to have a child that they break the law in order to try and have one. Then, there’s the snake-pit. Cal has been quick to set up a task force, and his people are all highly skilled professionals. Well, so are we at Major Crimes. There are cops out in the field to organize volunteers for a search. The media has been informed, and an Amber Alert has been issued. On the other hand, the colleagues at Chrissie’s and Rachel’s house are instructed to keep reporters away from them. They want to control what information is given out at this point. Cal’s already been in a shouting match with Rachel’s Dad, because he wants a TV appearance in order to appeal to the kidnapper. Here, within the core of the investigation taking place at headquarters, I’ve been stuck with a dozen others, mostly FBI. They don’t sugarcoat the possibilities. They’re talking all possible areas, pedophiles, sex trafficking networks. I want to shoot somebody. Cal’s look at me doesn’t quite say “You asked for this”, but it’s “I told you so” at best. I square my shoulders. He’s right, I asked to be here, and I’m going to do my job. “Are those theories, worst case scenarios, or do you have actual proof that any of those groups is operating in this area?” I ask, proud of how calm my voice is, not giving away the rage inside. Special Agent Martinez points to the map behind her. “Unfortunately, hard proof is lacking. What we do know is that there’s been an increase in missing children. We’ve been reaching out to informants and undercover agents to identify any new players–” I feel sick at her choice of words, even though I don’t blame her. If I didn’t know Rosie, the use of the same detached language would be instinctive. “No luck so far.” I struggle to make sense of her words. I know they have their statistics. Those numbers aren’t conclusive to determine that the criminal landscape has changed, is there? “How long until you know for sure?” “Hard to say.” She casts me an apologetic glance. “We’ve seen these numbers increase over the past two months, within a rather wide area. We don’t know yet what this means.” I feel lightheaded. Two months? No. We need results sooner than that. There’s no way–I stop myself. I’m a guest here, and I’m not invited to criticize their proceedings. “How many?” She points to the map again. “There were five in this area in a matter of weeks, children between the ages of three months and six years. Two were taken from their homes. Before you ask, there’s no relation whatsoever between these families. This is definitely orchestrated by professionals.” “The kindergarten teacher saw the kidnapper. I wouldn’t call that a pro job.” Martinez shrugs. “We’d appreciate it if they started making mistakes this early in the game.” The cop in me agrees. Never mind it was my first impulse to shake her. It’s not Martinez’ fault–she is doing her job. Words have a different meaning when a case concerns you personally, and I don’t like the word “game”. My sensibilities don’t matter here though. We’re on the same side. I press my hand against my forehead, feeling a massive headache building. Where can we go from this? I give myself the answer. Initial responses are in motion. We’ll have to wait, for a ransom, a witness calling in, anything. I recall the last time I’ve seen Rosie, only yesterday, about to fall asleep on my lap. She’s such a smart and happy child. Her family and the little group in the daycare center are her whole world. She must be terrified. Hell, I am terrified, because with each minute ticking by, I have to give up the idea that the person who took her will show any regard whatsoever for her well-being. Whatever happens, though, that person will have to answer to me, and there’s going to be hell to pay.

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