Apr 252018
 

Dead Air by Cliff Protzman Tour Banner

Dead Air

by Cliff Protzman

on Tour April 1-30, 2018

 

Synopsis:

Dead Air by Cliff Protzman

Dead Air signals trouble at the radio station. Glenn Beckert discovers his high school best friend is shot in the head while on the air. Beck, the owner of Blue Water Security, is employed to provide security for the station.

He becomes willingly embroiled in the investigation by the not-so-innocent widow. The list of potential suspects is long, gleaned from the numerous extramarital affairs of the victim and widow. The pending sale of the radio station has created friction between his now dead friend, Richie Zito and the major stockholders. Motives for murder becomes increasingly murky after the search reveals an encrypted file on Zito’s laptop.

Beck enlists the help of a friend from college, Irene Schade, to break the code, revealing a money laundering network leading to the financial and political powers of his beloved city of Pittsburgh. Their collaboration ignites the flames of passion each had considered extinguished.

A former college teammate, police Lieutenant Paglironi delivers a message to back off. Arrogantly, he ignores his friend’s advice. The threats from less friendly sources are more ominous, forcing Beck to move in an unfamiliar world. A startling revelation from his client forces Beck to deal with his inner conviction of right and wrong, challenging the gray areas of his ethical principles. Betraying his client’s confidence could expose the killer. The alternative is to confront the suspect and take matters into his own hands. Either way his life is in jeopardy.

 

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
Published by: Indie
Publication Date: October 2017
Number of Pages: 308
ISBN: 1545607141 (ISBN13: 9781545607145)
Don’t Miss Your Chance to Purchase Dead Air from: Amazon & Barnes & Noble! Plus add it to your Goodreads list!

 

Author Bio:

Cliff Protzman

Cliff was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. Cliff’s family relocated to Northeast Ohio when he was in high school. Immediately after graduation he returned to his hometown to attend the University of Pittsburgh. Cliff planned to major in journalism and write the great American novel. Instead, he switched to Business Administration and began a 30-year career in accounting and finance.

Cliff rekindled his passion for writing acquired as a reporter for his school newspaper. He published his first novel, DEAD AIR: a Glenn Beckert Mystery in September 2017. Cliff also writes short stories. He was a winner in the Unfinished Chapters anthology in 2015. Cliff is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Pennwriters.

 

Q&A with Cliff Protzman

Do you write from personal experiences and/or current events?

I don’t know how a writer can dismiss personal experience from their stories. The underlying theme is personal, from the soul. The author is trying to convey a personal message. The plot can be something foreign to the author’s background, but the story is unique. It is our life events that make us who we are and we must include them in our writing.

I write contemporary stories. Current events can’t be avoided. They are actually part of the scenery. However, unless they are germane to the plot, current events are a backdrop.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story brings you?

When I started Dead Air, I had a victim, an investigator, and a killer planned. As I wrote and the characters developed, I let them lead me through the story. Along the way the motive developed differently than I originally planned. Indeed, the killer I planned was actually innocent. The one character I envisioned as a guide for Glenn Beckert actually proved just the opposite. I didn’t know, but fortunately Beck did.

The timeline is important to creating the suspense. An investigation requires cues to be assembled and leads followed in progression. Writing sequentially allows me to maintain that timeline.

Are any of the characters based on you or people you know?

Absolutely. I try to blend characters based on the many people I have met. Irene is the perfect example. She is beautiful, intelligent, and the perfect compliment to Beck. She is based on two women that have influenced my appreciation of strong women. The police lieutenant is based on a former teammate of mine. Beck and I do share many of the same personality quirks. It would be extremely difficult to create believable characters without depending on the people in our world.
Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I grew up in Pittsburgh, a neighborhood of homes packed closely together. In the summer people hung out on the front porch since there was no air conditioning. Each porch had a radio tuned to the Pirates game. We would play ball in the street and listen to the echoes of the game throughout the neighborhood. When there was a late game form the West Coast, I took a transistor radio to bed listening until I fell asleep or the batteries died.

Today, I like to write when there is a game on. In my office the television is behind me. I listen when I write.

Tell us why we should read this book.

I could give a number of reasons, but I will defer to the readers and reviewers. They have the ultimate opinion.

One reviewer called Dead Air a modern noir. I loved that comment. The characters are believable, strengths and weaknesses alike. Many commented about Irene specifically. If readers can involve themselves in the characters, the action and suspense is more intense.

Readers were intrigued by the twists and unexpected revelations. The crime was complex, but clearly explained. The “wrap up” in this mystery was outside the norm.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Max Allen Collins, Grandmaster of the Mystery Writers of America, wrote a series featuring PI, Nathan Heller. Heller worked famous case from the Lindberg kidnapping to the Kennedy assignation.

Troy Soos wrote a series involving Mickey Rawlings, a journeyman ball player in the early twentieth century. Rawlings played in various cities, each time finding himself involved in a murder. Fascinating historical mysteries.

Also, Sue Grafton, Raymond Chandler, Robert Parker, David Baldacci, and many others.

What are you reading now?

Detroit Electric Scheme by D E Johnson, a murder mystery set in 1910 Detroit. The protagonist is the son of the owner of the leading electric car manufacturer. He finds the fiancé of his former girlfriend dead in his plant and quickly becomes a suspect. He battles alcoholism and the police to clear his name and find the killer.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us about it?

The next novel will be the second in the Glenn Beckert series. Beck is asked to find a missing man the week before his wedding. Beck figures it is a case of wedding jitters until the man’s dead body is fished out of the river. Beck is distraught that he dismissed the case so casually, he is determined to find the killer. The dead man is a developer of artificial intelligence for a large defense contractor. In addition, the deceased seems to have some problem with past lovers. Beck has to sift through conflicting motives to find the murderer, while resolving a conflict between him and Irene.

Your novel will be turned into a movie. Who would you cast?

Dead Air would be a great movie. Michael Keaton would play Beck. He has the ability to show the many emotional challenges Beck faces and add the witty comments. The story is set in Pittsburgh and Keaton is a native, a good match. Also, Keaton will always be the best Batman.

Tea Leoni would make a great Irene. Leoni herself is a strong-willed personality, an actor and producer. She would be convincing as the tech wizard assisting Beck. Leoni can bring the flirty nature of Irene to life.

What is your favorite leisure activity?

As a youth, I played baseball for fifteen years through college. As a parent, I coached for another fifteen years. As a grandparent, I love to watch my grandchildren play. This past winter I decided to play Senior Baseball. Despite the sore muscles, the game is still fun, even if it seems to be a slower pace. I look forward to the summer playing the game I love.

 

Catch Up With Our Author On His Website cliffprotzman.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

Dead Air. It was the most unforgivable of sins. I was standing at the bar in Jergel’s Rhythm Grille in Warrendale, PA when the overhead sound system finished blaring “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” the seventeen-minute, two-second version, then dove into silence… and stayed there.

Minutes crawled past while WZOC, better known as Z-Rock to Pittsburgh-area listeners, remained silent. The long version of the Iron Butterfly song was played when DJs need extended bathroom time. Apparently, it was not enough time.

The seventeen-thousand-square-foot bar and restaurant was beginning to fill up. The stage hands scrambled over the stage in a well-orchestrated dance as they prepared the stage at the rear of the building. I was at the front bar, one of six serving the customers. The crowd noise increased due to the silent overhead system. The bartenders and service personnel went about their jobs, oblivious to the lack of music. I appeared to be the only person who noticed it. The dead air was an unexpected lapse for a normally proficient staff at Z-Rock. The station owned by my high school best friend, had been my first client, so I was always glad when the bar staff piped it in to provide background noise.

A Pittsburgh favorite, The Clarks, were scheduled to take the stage in forty-five minutes. Their classic rock style was often compared to Tom Petty. Z-Rock had introduced The Clarks to the Pittsburgh market, and it remained a strong supporter of the band. They had parlayed the station’s promotion into a broader following along the Southern Atlantic states. The quartet was almost as well-known in the city as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting lineup. I had had the great fortune to see many of their local performances.

Before heading to the front door, I finished my IC Light, a low- calorie brew from Pittsburgh Brewing. The bartender grabbed my empty bottle and asked, “Another one, Beck?”

“No thanks; probably later.” I headed toward the entrance, featuring solid wood double doors, the left side closed to restrain the incoming crowd. The line stretched outside beyond my view.

My firm was in charge of crowd control for the event. Even though I was on duty tonight, my plan was to be more of a spectator.

In my earpiece, I heard my site manager of Jergel’s security, Lance Parisi. “Beck, we have a problem at the front door. This patron is drunk and belligerent. He may be armed. I’m trying to get him to leave.”

I replied, “On my way.” As the owner of Blue Water Security, I was always glad to help with situations like these. I tried to hire only the best, so backing them with my support was always a pleasure.

An obviously intoxicated man was pointing a finger at Lance who had to be at least six inches taller than the swaying man. “You fucking asshole! I have a ticket! You can’t keep me out!” I heard the word motherfucker and that was that. This wasn’t going to end well for the drunken ticket holder.

In my mouthpiece, I said, “Stay cool, Lance. He’s all talk,” but before I could arrive, the man took a swing at Lance. So much for my expert analysis. In one quick movement, Lance had the man’s right arm twisted behind his back, Lance’s left arm firmly around his neck in a choke hold.

I rushed to Lance’s side. The man’s open coat displayed the butt of a gun in his waistband. I jerked the .38 Special from his belt holster and turned to look him in the eyes. The combined stink of beer and whiskey oozed from him.

Adrenaline was pumping through my body as if facing a 3-2 pitch. I regained my composure before speaking in a calm, determined voice. “Sir, even with a concealed carry permit, it is illegal to bring a gun into a bar, especially when you are intoxicated.” The other patrons waiting to enter had backed away when they saw the gun. “The man with his arm around your neck is going to escort you to the office. The police will be called. I hope you have your permit with you. You can walk to the office quietly. If not, I’m certain Lance will find a way to get you there. Is that clear?”

The man nodded as best he could with Lance’s muscular arm wrapped around his neck. Lance released his stranglehold, keeping a firm grip on the man’s arm. I handed the gun to my employee. The drunk remained calm and allowed Lance to lead him away. Using my mic, I paged Jason Weaver, who had been assigned to dance floor security for the night, to come to the front door.

I remained at the door, checking tickets for the anxious concert fans, until Jason appeared. It was then I realized there was still silence coming from the sound system. The normal professionalism of Z-Rock’s staff made me wonder about the cause of the extended silence. I could imagine engineers scrambling to locate and repair whatever technical problems had occurred.

Jason arrived, assuming Lance’s position at the door. I turned back to the bar as my cell phone rang. “Glenn Beckert,” I answered.

“This is John Waner at Z-Rock.” He paused and I wondered if I was truly surprised to be hearing from my security guard at the station. His voice was high-pitched, his words rushed as he said, “There’s a big problem here.”

“John, what’s the problem?”

“Beck… H-He’s… I don’t know what to do. R-Richie’s been murdered.”

***

Excerpt from Dead Air by Cliff Protzman. Copyright © 2018 by Cliff Protzman. Reproduced with permission from Cliff Protzman. All rights reserved.

 

Tour Participants:

Visit the other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

 

Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Cliff Protzman. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com. The giveaway begins on April 1 and runs through May 2, 2018. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 

Apr 242018
 

Lying, Cheating, and Occasionally Murder

by Ginny Fite

on Tour April 16 – May 18, 2018

 

Lying, Cheating, and Occasionally Murder by Ginny Fite

Synopsis:

 

When it comes to murder, even brilliant scientists aren’t immune.

The night Harold Munson is shot dead in his car, the primary suspect is the man’s brainiac wife. But Charlotte, who has a passion for science and sex with strangers, swears all she wants is a Nobel Prize for curing brain cancer, even if that requires fudging her research and a few dead patients along the way.

When the next body drops, all signs point to Charlotte, but Detective Sam Lagarde doggedly follows the clues until he has his own Eureka moment.

 

Book Details:

Genre: Fiction-Murder Mystery
Published by: Black Opal Books
Publication Date: February 10th 2018
Number of Pages: 270
ISBN: 9781626948 (ISBN13: 9781626948648)
Series: Sam Lagarde Mystery Series, Book 3 (Each is a Stand Alone Novel)
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Kobo 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

 

Author Bio:

Ginny Fite

Ginny Fite is an award-winning journalist who has covered crime, politics, government, healthcare, art, and all things human. She has been a spokesperson for a governor, a member of congress, a few colleges and universities, and a robotics R&D company. She has degrees from Rutgers University and Johns Hopkins University and studied at the School for Women Healers and the Maryland Poetry Therapy Institute. She is the author of I Should Be Dead by Now, a collection of humorous lamentations about aging; three books of poetry, The Last Thousand Years, The Pearl Fisher, and Throwing Caution; a short story collection, What Goes Around; as well as two previous Detective Sam Lagarde mysteries: Cromwell’s Folly and No Good Deed Left Undone. She resides in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.

 

Q&A with Ginny Fite

Welcome!
Writing and Reading:

Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?

Sometimes current events trigger an idea for a story but mostly, now that I’ve written several novels, I realize the story comes to me unbidden, and usually when I don’t expect it. I experience this as someone else telling me the story and leaving off just when it starts to get interesting. Then I have to knuckle down and follow where it was going on my own.

Independently of me, my brain seems to take in everything I observe, read, and hear. It sorts through all that stuff, categorizes, and synthesizes it. This is one of the brain’s main function, after all.

After it’s crunched all that data, it offers me a story that leads to understanding something, whether that’s how someone could come to kill another person or how people feel when they confront death. Mysteries are about the universal struggle of good and evil, about justice, and sometimes about mercy. I think these are issues we all grapple with from time to time.

I’m at the point where I wait for the story to find me and part of the fun is that I never know what it’s going to be. Somewhere in the process I will learn what I’m supposed to know.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?

I start from the beginning and go as far as I can by the seat of my pants until I hit a brick wall and can’t see my way out. At that point, I start making timelines—not exactly a plot but a tool that allows me to see where I’m going, or might be going, although I have to admit the story usually takes its own turn no matter what I think will happen.

Recently, I’ve been writing down a few words about the gist of each scene on a separate PowerPoint slide so that I can easily rearrange them but even that doesn’t nail down a plot. A story wants what it wants. I guess that means I’m not a slave to an outline.

Sometimes I know what the end is, who killed who, but with Lying, Cheating, and Occasionally Murder, the killer isn’t who I expected it to be. I got three-quarters of the way through the novel and realized I had the wrong killer. I had to go back and figure out who really killed Harold Munson and why.

Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?

I hope not! I assume that elements of people I’ve met—or even just glimpsed on a train, in the supermarket, or at a party—sneak into the characters I create. When a character presents herself, I ask what does she look like, sound like, move like, how does she dress, what does she like to eat, where does he work, what kind of car would he drive, and the answers show up. It’s a little like magic.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I think I have a relatively normal routine—if writing books could be considered normal. I work every day including weekends, within an hour of waking and with ample coffee for about four hours. Sometimes, if inspiration hits in the evening, I’ll go back to my laptop or make notes on whatever device is near at hand.

There are so many moving parts to the writing life, I could be occupied all day but I find that new writing, putting words on a page to craft a scene, takes a fresh mind. I do get cranky if my routine is upset by other events, even when I’m supposed to be on vacation and doing other things I love to do, like playing with my grandchildren or hanging out with my friends.

Tell us why we should read this book.

Hidden in the folds of Lying, Cheating, and Occasionally Murder is the story about how medical research is far too frequently fudged, fraudulent, and—if clinical trials result in applied therapies and drugs—sometimes fatal. No one is ever arrested and put on trial for those deaths. That struck me as a story that should be told to a wider audience than only the research community.

On a less serious note, LCAOM is intriguing entertainment that takes the reader along winding West Virginia roads with the loveable curmudgeon, Detective Sam Lagarde, in search of an unlikely killer. If you like Kate Atkinson’s Case Studies or Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, you may like Lying, Cheating and Occasionally Murder.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
I have many favorite authors: Anthony Doerr, Annie Proulx, Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich. Actually, often the last person I read becomes my favorite author.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend in print and Karen Dionne’s The Marsh King’s Daughter on kindle.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?

The next book schedule to come out in 2018, No End of Bad, is a standalone political thriller. When a DC housewife’s safe world blows up after her FBI husband is falsely arrested and killed by agents working for an international drug cartel, she and her daughter must fight his assassins to save their own lives and restore his honor.

I’m also working on a ghost story set in a small Maryland town near the Chesapeake Bay told in several voices.

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?

Ed Harris is Sam Lagarde, Jessica Chastain is Charlotte Rolle, Meryl Streep is Beverly Wilson, and poor Harold Munson would be played by Woody Harrelson when he was younger (say, his Cheers days). Yunjin Kim (from Lost) would play Betty Liu.

Favorite meal?

I love eggplant parmesan, in all its many varieties, and so does Sam Lagarde.

Thank you for stopping by CMash Reads and spending time with us.

 

Catch Up With Ginny Fite On:
Website 🔗, Goodreads 🔗, Twitter 🔗, & Facebook 🔗!

 

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

March 30, 2016, 6 a.m.:

At two in the morning on a perfectly clear night, the full moon casting a beacon across western fields and along two satin rivers unfurling between dark mountains, Harold Munson ended his perfect day by crashing right through the clapboard siding of the Weigle Insurance Company office building.

Munson’s front bumper nudged the insurance agent’s desk into the printer, which interpreted the jolt as an instruction to print and began beeping its out-of-paper alarm. Dave Weigle, broker and owner of the company—awakened by a newly downloaded intruder alert app on his cell phone—threw on sweat pants and a jacket, padded out to his car in slippers, and arrived first on the scene.

He peeked through the window of the car in his parking lot and saw a man slumped over the driver’s side air bag, but Weigle was too preoccupied with the damage to his building to look closely. Unlocking his unscathed office door, he first examined the gaping hole caused by the front of a car ripping through the side of his building, turned off the annoying printer beeping, looked around at the mess, and called the police, just in case the new automated security system hadn’t notified them.

Then he took photographs on his cell phone. He had insurance. He might as well use it. If nothing else, he could prove to his wife he really had gone to the office in the middle of the night.

Munson had been going northwest toward Martinsburg, based on swerve marks made by his tires on the two-lane Charles Town Road, when his car rammed into the insurance building opposite the Kearneysville Post Office five miles west of Shepherdstown.

When Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies arrived ten minutes after Weigle, they bolted out of their vehicles thinking Harold was dead drunk, slumped over the airbag like that, not moving and unresponsive to their increasingly loud, shouted commands: “Hands where I can see ’em. Step out of the car. Get out of the car now.”

Sheriff Harbaugh was sure he saw Munson blink as officers approached the closed window of the driver’s side door, guns drawn, yelling at him to surrender. They attempted to wrench open the door to pull him out of the car and discovered it was locked. Then, in quick succession, they noticed a smear of blood and brains on the passenger seat and dashboard and two small holes in the driver’s side window surrounded by rings of spider-webbed glass.

Drunk or not, Harold had been shot through the head. That might have been the cause of his leaving the road and plowing into the building. Whether he hit the building first or the bullet smashing through his brain had caused him to veer off the road would be determined by further investigation. At that point, the deputies called in the West Virginia State Police with its forensics apparatus and crime lab personnel.

After his initial reconnoiter of the Munson crime scene, a conversation with Weigle, whose cell phone alert app had recorded the moment of impact and whose photos of the scene might prove useful, Detective Sam Lagarde, assigned to the State Police Troop 2 Command, based outside Charles Town, reminded himself he was only a short trip on winding, narrow roads up and down a few hills from his eighteenth-century farmhouse. He decided to go home and let his horses out of the barn before he went back to the office to file his initial paperwork. When he got to his house, coffee was already brewing.

Lagarde stopped describing his new case and looked down into the mug of coffee Beverly Wilson put on the kitchen table in front of him. It was the right color. He took a sip. It had the right amount of sugar. He took two gulps. It was the right temperature. He felt like Goldilocks. He still wasn’t accustomed to having someone take care of him, or even give two hoots about how he liked his coffee. He marveled at his good luck. It was six in the morning, and Beverly was a tea drinker. He took a moment to savor this extraordinary gift. In a month or two, he knew, he would take it for granted.

He looked up at Beverly, then out beyond the kitchen door, which he’d left open to let in the bracing spring air, and glanced toward the barn. It was too much to ask.

“Yes, Sam.” Beverly made a face at him and then smiled and put a hand on Lagarde’s shoulder. “I let the horses out and made sure they have water and a few leaves of hay. They’re set for a while, unless you want to ride, in which case you’re the one who’ll have to catch Jake.”

That was all it took, the mild pressure of her warm palm on his shoulder for him to feel completely calm and that the world was in order. The whole thing—Beverly Wilson, in his house, sleeping in his bed, making slight snoring noises that forced him to acknowledge her presence was real—was a marvel to him.

Here she was talking to him as if it was the most normal thing in the world for them to be living together. How had this happened? He didn’t feel entitled to such a miracle. After love, women were the second most indecipherable mystery he had never solved. But then, neither had anyone else.

***

Excerpt from Lying, Cheating, and Occasionally Murder by Ginny Fite. Copyright © 2018 by Ginny Fite. Reproduced with permission from Ginny Fite. All rights reserved.

 

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

 

Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Ginny Fite. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on April 16, 2018 and runs through May 20, 2018. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 

Mar 282018
 

The Fix

by Robert Downs

on Tour March 1 – April 30, 2018

Synopsis:

The Fix by Robert Downs

Professional gambler, Johnny Chapman, plays the hand he’s dealt, but when he’s dealt a series of losers, he decides to up the ante with more money than he can afford to lose. Just when he thinks his life can’t get any worse, it does. The loan shark he owes the money to demands that he pay up and sends his goons after him. The man offers Johnny one way out—fix a race by fatally injecting the dog most likely to win. A piece of cake, Johnny thinks, until he looks into the big brown eyes of the beautiful dog, and the price suddenly seems too great to pay. Now Johnny’s on the run and the goons are closing in…

 

**Read my review HERE and enter the giveaway**

 

Book Details:

Genre: Noir
Published by: Black Opal Books
Publication Date: December 2nd 2017
Number of Pages: 166
ISBN: 9781626948174
Grab your copy of The Fix on: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, & Goodreads!

 

Robert Downs

Author Bio:

Robert Downs aspired to be a writer before he realized how difficult the writing process was. Fortunately, he’d already fallen in love with the craft, otherwise his tales might never have seen print. Originally from West Virginia, he has lived in Virginia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and now resides in California. When he’s not writing, Downs can be found reading, reviewing, blogging, or smiling.

 

**Q&A with Robert Downs**

Welcome!
Writing and Reading:

Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?
I draw from anything that’ll help me tell a good story. I’ve gotten inspiration from reading the news or novels, watching movies, personal experience, overhearing snippets of conversation, and writing prompts. Creative individuals make excellent thieves. I like taking an interesting concept and attempting to put my own spin on it. The process can be very cathartic.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?
Most of the time I’ll start with the beginning, and have an ending in mind. Getting there is normally the fun part, and when it’s going well, it’s filled with twists and turns along the way. Most of my stories are told in a linear fashion, but I’ve also explored nonlinear storytelling. I like to challenge myself, and I wanted to see if I could make it work. My next novella, assuming my editor doesn’t change this particular concept, will be told in a nonlinear fashion.

Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?
Absolutely. I like to think I am creative, and I believe I make an excellent thief. I’ll steal whatever I need to make my story work. Most of my characters aren’t based on one individual, but conglomerations of multiple individuals. There are exceptions to this, but I won’t say which ones to protect the innocent.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
No real idiosyncrasies. I’ll write anywhere I can bring my laptop. I’ve written on airplanes, in coffeeshops, hotel rooms and lobbies, and I believe I’m on my fourth desk, and my third or fourth laptop. I do have a pen in a wooden box my brother gave me in 2016 as a groomsmen gift, and it sits on my desk. He’s one of the reasons I started writing. His retelling of his dreams at the breakfast table both intrigued and fascinated me.

I’ve written first thing in the morning, and I’ve written after coming home from work as well as weekends and days off. I’ve discovered that days that begin with writing are better than days that do not, and that because I have a full-time job, my writing time feels more precious because I have to carve it out of my schedule.

Tell us why we should read your book.
Honestly, I have no idea. There are plenty of books out there, and there are plenty of authors that are better than I am. But I do know there aren’t a lot of stories or movies on gambling, and Johnny is a fun anti-hero. My characters aren’t always likeable, at least that’s some of the feedback I’ve gotten, but I always like ’em. I like to think I write honest characters, flaws and all. I believe my stories will resonate with the right readers, and when I find ’em, I’ll do everything I can to keep ’em coming back for more.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
How much space do I have? I’ll read just about anything and everything I can get my hands on, and while I read primarily mysteries and thrillers, I’ve stepped outside these two genres on multiple occasions. I like Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver, Lawrence Sanders and Robert B. Parker, Patricia Cornwell and James Lee Burke, Lisa Jackson and Robert Crais, and John Grisham and Gary Phillips. There’re plenty more, but I’ll stop there.

What are you reading now?
I’m always reading multiple books at once, and I read ebooks as well as physical ones. Right now, I’m reading The Kite Runner, Blood Always Tells, Stone Cold Dead, Wrongful Death, The Body in the Birches, Dark Chocolate Demise, and The Big Fear.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?
Absolutely. My next book, another novella, tentatively titled The Bridal Chase will come out in April according to my publisher Black Opal Books. In it, I explored nonlinear storytelling, which was a lot of fun for me. It all started because of a writing prompt in either Writer’s Digest or The Writer. The prompt was something like pick two things that don’t normally go together and see where the idea takes you. Immediately, I had this image of a bride in a white wedding dress driving a pickup truck. I liked the image, and it begged a whole series of questions that allowed me to write the book.

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?

I know some writers have specific actors or actresses in mind, but as much as I like movies, I don’t think along those lines. I figure if Hollywood wants to option one of my books, they can cast whomever they want as long as the check clears. I would, however, think it’d be great to show up on set, and I’d probably geek out at whomever they decided to cast. I am a huge movie fan, after all.

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
There is no way I can pick just one, unless I’m only gonna write for the rest of my life. It’s also not a fun answer, and it tells you absolutely nothing else about me. I like reading, watching movies, and traveling. I’ve even been known to dabble in extreme sports like bungee jumping and skydiving.

Favorite meal?
I am a huge fan of Italian food. Spaghetti is easy to make, and does not require much time in the kitchen, so I like it even more. I also believe leftovers are a wonderful invention, and any meal I don’t have to make gets bumped a bit higher on the list.

 

To find out more about his latest projects, or to reach out to him on the Internet, visit: robertdowns.net, Goodreads Page, & Facebook Page!

 

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

The taste of liquor still lingered on his lips. Six months without a drink, and he had the chip to prove it. His eyes were downcast, the table was green felt, and his wooden seat jammed the lower part of his back. The overhead light was dim, and he had his hat pulled down over his eyes. Johnny Chapman had lost three hands in a row, and he didn’t want to lose a fourth.

The Indian sat across from him with his hands folded across his chest, wearing dark sunglasses in a dark room, his hair shaved close to his head, and a tooth missing near his front. He cracked his knuckles between hands and even once during. The sound bounced off the walls in the closet of a room.

“Well, what’s it gonna be?” Thomas Kincaid asked. “I ain’t got all night.” His lips formed a sneer before he took a long pull on a dark drink. His eyes flicked in every direction except straight ahead.

“Don’t rush me.”

“If you move any slower, we’ll both be looking up at the daisies,” Thomas replied. He looked at his two cards for what must have been the third time.

Johnny sucked his lip between his teeth, flashed his eyes once toward the ceiling, and flipped a chip onto the deck. The roar in his ears nearly pulled him away from the hand, but the click of the ceiling fan managed to hold his attention. The darkness helped with his focus as well.

The girl sat across from him, dark hair drifting to-ward her shoulders and even a bit beyond. Teeth as white as a bowl of rice. A drop of moisture near her upper lip entered the equation. Her T-shirt bunched out at the front, and her eyes were as cold as Alaska. She played her cards close to her chest, and her bets were even. For the most part. She managed to toss in a few extra chips when she had a hand. But she was a straight shooter and hadn’t bluffed once. Johnny knew it was coming, though. He just didn’t know when. Even if he managed to run like hell, she’d probably still clip him at the ankles. Her chip stack sat more than a third higher than his own.

She had a good smile. That one. Not too much of the pearly whites, but just enough for a man to take notice. The words on her chest accentuated her assets. Tight, clean, and turquoise—the T-shirt, not her breasts.

Johnny’s eyes flicked to his watch, and his phone buzzed in his pocket. The alarm. His leg vibrated for a second more and then it stopped.

It was almost time. The medication. It took the edge off, and stopped his mind from racing off to infinity and beyond. The man with the dark rims and the white lab coat prescribed it in a room bigger than the one he was in now. If he didn’t take his meds in the next ten minutes, the headaches would start soon after.

The ceiling fan whirred again. The backroom was stale and damp, the casino out on the edge of the reservation with nothing but tumbleweed and small trees for over a mile. Diagonally opposite from the little shithole that he called home for the past several years. The run-down piece of trash with the broken Spanish shingles, cracked stucco, and clouded windows.

Seconds turned over, one after another, and still there was no movement from the Indian to his right. Lapu Sinquah flipped his sunglasses up, and dragged them back down, but not before his eyes looked around the table. The Indian made a face and flipped two chips onto the green felt.

The girl was next. She scratched her forehead. Her expression remained neutral. When Caroline Easton flipped her head, her hair remained out of her eyes. Her look resembled cold, hard steel. She followed the Indian with a two-chip flip.

Thomas tossed his cards away, and it was back to Johnny. He felt it: an all-consuming need to win this hand…and the next one…and the one after. Desire consumed him, after all. Or maybe it didn’t.

The hand that got away. The hand that consumed him, pushed him over the edge, and had him calling out in the middle of the night. One voice. One concentrated effort before the moment passed him by. He couldn’t imagine losing, ending up with nothing. Bankrupt.

This minute reasoning had him playing cards night after night, hand after hand, reading player after player. Moment after moment. Until the moments were sick and twisted and filled with jagged edges and punctured with pain. Or left him dead and buried on the side of the road in a ditch with half of his face missing.

The winning streak wouldn’t last. It’d be gone again. Like a sound carried away by the breeze in the middle of a forgotten forest. This time, he wouldn’t fold too soon. This time, he’d play it differently.

The one that got away. The pot in the middle that would have covered three month’s rent. But he tossed his cards aside, even though he’d been staring at the winning hand for damn near three minutes.

His eyes flicked to each of the three players before he once more peeled his cards back from the table and slid the two spades to the side.

The Indian glared at him through the darkness and his dark sunglasses. “Well?” Lapu asked. “What the fuck, man?”

Johnny tossed his shoulders up in the air. “I’m out.”

“Just like that?” Caroline’s long dark hair whipped around her head.

“Sure, why not?”

The Indian rubbed his shaved head. “You’re one crazy motherfucker.”

Johnny shrugged. “I never claimed to be sane.”

The ceiling fan whirred faster, clicking every five seconds. The air was heavy and suffocating, and he yanked on his collar with his index finger. Two drinks were drunk, and a glass clinked against a tooth. One chair slid back and another moved forward.

“There’s over two grand in the pot,” Lapu said.

Johnny gave a slight tilt of his head. “And I know when to walk away.”

The Indian jerked to his feet and extended a finger away from his chest. “It was your raise that started this shitstorm.”

“True,” Johnny said. “And now I’m going to end it.”

Caroline combed her hair with her fingers. “You haven’t ended anything.”

“I’d rather have that as my downfall than lose it all to you nitwits.”

Caroline smirked. Her white teeth glinted against the light overhead. “Who made you queen of the land?”

“I’d like to think it sort of came up on me,” Johnny said. “It sort of took me by surprise. Existence is futile.”

The Indian smirked. His stained teeth were nearly the color of his skin. “Futility won’t help you now.”

The hand was between the girl and the Indian. Her assets versus his. One smirk versus another. The sun-glasses were down, and both the movements and expressions were calculated. Chips were tossed, and the last card was flipped. Caroline took the pot, and her cold expression never wavered.

A ten-minute break ensued. Johnny used the bath-room, washed his hands, shoved two pills into his mouth, cupped his hands underneath the spout, sucked water from his palms, dunked his hands underneath the liquid once more, and splashed the water on his face. He grimaced at his own reflection, the dark, sunken eyes. He sucked in air and dried his hands. His shoes clicked on the broken tile on his way out the door.

His chips hadn’t moved, and neither had the table. The stack of chips was smaller than when he started this game. As the losses mounted, his amount of breathing room decreased. His longest losing streak was thirteen hands in a row.

The blinds were doubled, and his mind numbed. Compassion was a long forgotten equation, and sympathy wasn’t far behind.

The conversation picked up again, and the Indian perfected a new glare. “I never heard so much chatting over a game of cards.”

“It’s not just a game,” Thomas said. “Now, is it?” One dark drink was replaced with another, and the man’s eyes glazed over.

The girl tapped her wrist with two fingers and flipped her hair. “I think we’re already past the point of sanity.”

“If there was ever a point, it was lost—”

“I had a few points of my own that were somehow hammered home.” Johnny flipped three chips into the pot in one smooth motion. He had a hand, and he was determined to play it, even if he had to stare down the girl and the Indian at the same time.

“The game of life succeeds where you might have failed,” Lapu said.

Thomas knocked back the remainder of yet another drink. “I don’t accept failure.”

Johnny’s eyes flicked to his wrist. “You don’t accept success either.”

“Why do you keep looking at your watch?” Thomas asked. “Are you late for a date?”

The girl called and tossed three chips into the pot with only a slight hesitation. She had a hand, or she wanted to make it appear as such. Her lips moved less and less, and her eyes moved more and more. Her features were clearly defined.

Johnny kept his expression even.

“You’re not late for anything that I’ve seen,” Caro-line said.

Both the Indian and Thomas folded.

“I’d like to take you out back and shoot you.”

“Would that somehow solve the majority of your problems?” the Indian asked.

Johnny nodded. “It might solve a few.”

“Or,” she said, “then again, it might not.”

The last card was flipped, and bets were tossed into the center of the pot. Johnny raised, and Caroline countered with a raise of her own. He called, flipped his cards over, and his straight lost to her flush. Half of his stack disappeared in one hand. He ground his teeth and chewed his bottom lip.

“I don’t like you,” Johnny said.

Her expression was colder than Anchorage. “You never liked me.”

“There might have been mutual respect, but that ship sailed out into the great beyond and smacked an iceberg.”

“Passion—”

“Does not equal acceptance,” Johnny said.

“It will keep you up most nights,” the Indian said.

Determined not to lose again, Johnny kept his eyes on the prize and his dwindling stack of chips. The girl to his right had never flashed a smile, and now her stack of chips was nearly three times the size of his own. His eyes flicked to his wrist once more, and he grimaced.

For several moments, the ceiling fan took up all the sound in the room.

His breath hiccupped in his chest, and he swayed in his chair. The wood jammed against his lower back, and the angry green felt kept an even expression. His mouth moved, but no sound escaped from between his lips.

He fell out of his chair and cracked his head on the carpet. For the next few minutes, he drifted in and out of consciousness.

< <

“Did his heart just stop?” Lapu asked.

Thomas leaned across the table. “What the hell are we talking about now?”

Lapu stood up. “I think that fucker passed out.”

“Which fucker?” Caroline’s chest pressed hard enough against her shirt to slow down her blood flow. Her eyes narrowed, but her hand was steady.

“The one that was losing.”

“That’s all you fuckers.” She tapped her tongue against her upper lip. “You’re all losing.”

Lapu shoved his chair back. “I don’t like losing.”

“But you do it so well.”

Thomas’s body shifted in his chair. “Not on purpose.”

The ceiling fan stopped, and the walls trapped all remnants of sound. One beat of silence was followed by another.

Lapu moved first. He slapped two fingers to Johnny’s wrist and checked for a pulse. The heartbeat was low and weak and arrhythmic.

“What do we do now?” Caroline asked. “Have you got a plan?”

Thomas stood up and sat back down again.

“Cayenne pepper and apple cider vinegar,” Lapu said. “Both have the potential to reduce the effects of arrhythmia.”

She pointed. “Or maybe he has pills in his pocket.”

Lapu nodded. “That is also an option. Check his pockets while I prop up his head.”

“I need another drink,” Thomas said. “I’d rather not be sober if a man is going to die.”

Caroline rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so melodramatic.”

Lapu had watched his father die with a look on his face not that far from the one Johnny wore now: the lost eyes and the still body, with his spirit on the verge of leaving this world for the next. Lapu poked through his pockets in a methodical fashion and found a prescription bottle with a half-peeled label. He popped the top, poked his finger through the slot, and removed two pills. He peeled Johnny’s lips apart, shoved the pills inside his mouth, and forced him to swallow. Minutes later, his life force had altered considerably, and color had returned to Johnny’s cheeks.

Lapu nodded his head. “There’s a purpose to every-thing.”

Thomas leaned over and slapped Johnny on the cheek. “I believe in the possibilities of a situation. Those moments that lead from one into the next, filled with passion and compassion and equality, and some other shit.”

Caroline smirked. “Which is what exactly?”

“Not losing another hand.”

Johnny inched his way to a sitting position and slapped his forehead. “Fuck me—”

“Not likely,” Caroline said. “It neither looks enjoy-able nor promising, but that’s a nice try, though.”

“Your perspective has gotten skewed,” Thomas re-plied.

“That’s certainly possible,” she said, “but I wouldn’t be so sure.”

< <

More hands were played, and more hands were lost. Johnny’s stack of chips diminished faster until he was left with two red ones and half a drink. His even expression had vanished long ago, and his feet had started tap-ping during the last three hands. The Indian had six chips to Johnny’s two, and the rest were distributed between Thomas and Caroline, with the girl staring above a tower nearly level with her chin. Her expression hadn’t changed, and neither had her methodical approach to playing cards.

The barrel of a gun dug into Johnny’s lower back-side after he expunged the last two chips he had to his name. He didn’t have time to move or breathe, and he hadn’t even noticed Thomas shift his weight and remove the pistol from somewhere on his person. But the digging did further enhance Johnny’s focus and destroy his moral support. “Cuff him.”

“What the fuck?” Johnny replied.

“It’s time you realized the full extent of your losing.”

Johnny couldn’t see Caroline’s expression, but her voice was filled with menace and hate and exhibited more force than a battering ram.

“Stand up, you piece of trash.”

The gun shifted, and Johnny rose. The room spun, and he considered passing out all over again, but he pulled himself back and inched his way toward the metal door that was a lifetime away.

The barrel against his back never moved or wavered.

< <

She hated cards. Had hated the act and aggression of gambling most of her life. The thrill of winning and the heartbreak of defeat neither moved nor motivated her. Tossing chips into a pot, calculating the odds in her head, reading players around the table, and playing the hands of the other players instead of playing her own made her head throb from the weight of the proposition. But she did it, over and over again. If she thought about it long enough and hard enough, Caroline might have called herself a professional gambler, but that was a term she hated even more than the act of taking money from unsuspecting souls who had a penchant for losing. But if her two choices were paying the rent, or living on the street, she would choose rent every time and worry about the consequences later.

She couldn’t change her fate, or her odds. All she could do was play the hand she was dealt, match it up against what the other guys and gals had around the table, and study the ticks and idiosyncrasies that made each player unique. Over-confidence and euphoria were concepts she knew well, and she could smell it coming like a New Mexican thunderstorm. Even though she understood what she needed to do, she hated her hands even more than she hated long division. With each passing second, her trepidation grew, and the calm she exuded on the surface was a thunderstorm underneath the shallow exterior. It had gotten to the point that it was totally out of control, and probably would be for the rest of her life. It wasn’t satisfying, or even mesmerizing, and yet here she was week after week, going through the motions. The same types of players sat around the table with the same types of expressions painted on their uneven faces. The voice in her mind echoed in time, and she did her best to keep the whispers at bay. But the plan backfired, just as all good plans did that were built on a foundation of lies.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Caroline asked.

“Trying to win,” Johnny said. “What does it look like I’m doing?”

“Losing,” she said. “And not even admirably. You really are one stupid bastard.”

She had been called to test him, to see if he would break and crumble beneath the weight of a bad hand or two or ten, and he had folded faster than a crumpled handbag smashed against a mugger’s face. She had chipped away steadily at his chips, until two red ones were all he had left, and a tower of multicolored circles stood in front of her.

< <

Johnny had a hand that was planted in his lap by the gods, or maybe it was Julius Caesar himself. He couldn’t remember the number of times he’d lost in a row. Six or maybe it was seven. The torment and punishment continued unabated, and he licked his lips more with each passing second. The hands played out one after another against him, and the gates of Hell had opened before him. The girl to his right was methodical, and the jabs kept on coming, one right after another.

Her hands were probably her best feature. The way her fingers slid across the table, shoving chips and poking at her cards, and prodding the weaknesses of those around her, only made him long for her even more.

But this was it. His moment. And he wasn’t about to let it pass him by. Two minutes later, though, the moment passed, his chips were gone, a gun was shoved against his backside, and he was escorted out of the building.

***

Excerpt from The Fix by Robert Downs. Copyright © 2017 by Robert Downs. Reproduced with permission from Robert Downs. All rights reserved.

 

Tour Participants:

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Mar 232018
 

Jinxed

by Thommy Hutson

on Tour March 12 – May 11, 2018

 

Synopsis:

Jinxed by Thommy Hutson

“Thommy Hutson is the ultimate authority in nostalgia-driven storytelling.”
~ Clive Barker, Bestselling Author of Books of Blood and The Thief of Always

High School Can Be a Real Killer

Break a mirror
Walk under a ladder
Step on a crack

Innocent childhood superstitions …

But someone at the secluded Trask Academy of Performing Arts is taking things one deadly step further when the campus is rocked with the deaths of some of its star students.

Layna Curtis, a talented, popular senior, soon realizes that the seemingly random, accidental deaths of her friends aren’t random—or accidents—at all. Someone has taken the childhood games too far, using the idea of superstitions to dispose of their classmates. As Layna tries to convince people of her theory, she uncovers the terrifying notion that each escalating, gruesome murder leads closer to its final victim: her.

Will Layna’s opening night also be her final bow?

 

Book Details:

Genre: YA HORROR/THRILLER
Published by: Vesuvian Books
Publication Date: March 13th 2018
Number of Pages: 244
ISBN: 978-1944109127
Series: This is the first in a new trilogy, each is a stand alone but with a teaser for the upcoming book you won’t want to miss!!
Get Your Copy from: Amazon & Barnes & Noble! Plus add it on Goodreads!

 

 

Author Bio:

Thommy Hutson

Born and raised in Upstate New York, Thommy graduated from UCLA and launched his career co-writing the story for the Warner Bros. animated hit SCOOBY-DOO IN WHERE’S MY MUMMY? He followed that with co-writing the concept and additional material for CHILL OUT, SCOOBY-DOO!

His career then took a thrilling turn when he wrote and produced several definitive genre film retrospectives for television and home entertainment: SCREAM: THE INSIDE STORY, NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY, MORE BRAINS! A RETURN TO THE LIVING DEAD and HIS NAME WAS JASON: 30 YEARS OF FRIDAY THE 13th.

He was also a staff writer on Hulu’s daily web series “The Morning After,” a smart, witty, pop culture program aimed at getting viewers up-to-date on the latest entertainment news and celebrity interviews.

Thommy also produced the critically acclaimed feature THE TROUBLE WITH THE TRUTH, an insightful relationship drama starring Lea Thompson and John Shea. He also produced DREAMWORLD, a quirky, romantic dramedy.

He co-wrote and produced ANIMAL for Chiller Films and Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films. The project debuted in iTunes’ top ten horror films (reaching #1) and became the network’s highest-rated original movie.

Continuing his passion for uncovering the stories behind the story, he went on to produce CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13th, which is the most comprehensive look at the popular film franchise.

As an author Thommy crafted a limited-edition coffee table book detailing the making and legacy of Wes Craven’s 1984 classic A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. A trade version distributed by Simon & Schuster reached number one in Amazon.com’s Movie History & Criticism category. He also has a deal with Vesuvian Media to write a YA thriller trilogy with the first book due out spring 2017.

He produced and made his feature directorial debut with THE ID, an independent psychological drama/thriller. Filmmaker Magazine stated it was “a deeply unsettling thriller that’s as moving as it is frightening…with skillful, provocative direction that has echoes of early Polanski.”

Most recently, Thommy wrote the screenplay for CineTel Films’ supernatural horror film TRUTH OR DARE. He is also directing, writing and producing a documentary with Clive Barker’s Seraphim Films in addition to developing other film and television properties with the company.

As an author, he is currently writing another book that definitively details the history, making and legacy of another fan-favorite genre film from the 1980s.

A member of the Producers Guild of America, Thommy continues to develop unique, compelling and provocative projects across multiple genres for film, television, publishing, and home entertainment through his company Hutson Ranch Media.

 

Q&A with Thommy Hutson

Welcome!
Writing and Reading:

Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?

Absolutely. In fact, Jinxed was borne out of my love of 80s/90s horror movies, teen dramas and my having attended a performing arts school. I couldn’t get so many of the things that I did, saw or heard from those times out of my mind when writing the book. The past and the present of my own experiences informed who the characters were, as well as what they did and said. In terms of current events, I think it’s always wise to keep my finger on the pulse of what is happening around me. It’s not that it will always overtly come into play, but it can play a part in the way the story takes certain twists and turns, how people react to things and, sometimes, be a part of the general feeling of a story if even in a subliminal way.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?

A lot of times in my writing I do know the ending and work backward from there. Especially in horror and thrillers, where the “unmasking” or “big reveal” is a major moment, it’s good to know who or what is perpetrating the horror and how it gets resolved. Then, I know what I need to do to lead up to that moment.

Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?

While each of the characters are definitely doing or saying some things that I have either heard from young people I know or overheard from those around me, it’s not like any one character is based specifically on someone in my life. It’s like a construct of different things from different people, wrapped up in the fictitious being I have created. It’s very Frankenstein’s monster. A lot of the dialogue, for instance, is real and innate to these characters, even if it might not seem to be something we hear every day in the real world. What the kids in the book are doing and saying is real for them, in the context of the world in which they exist. It’s real for their space. Especially in the heightened world of a performing arts school where things tend to lean toward the dramatic. Throw in a masked killer and a secluded island and it’s a recipe for something that is going to be larger than life. And, I think, fun.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I keep a pretty standard “9 to 5” writing workflow as I also write screenplays, so I have to be diligent about scheduling and getting things done and delivered on time. I envy writers that can wake up super early and work, or work super late; I’ve tried it and I realized it wasn’t letting me put out my best. In terms of idiosyncrasies, I’m really into talking out/acting out a lot of the dialogue and such. I like to hear how it sounds and see if and how something can be physically done. It’s probably quite entertaining to watch. And when I’m writing I must have chocolate covered raisins. I love them!

Tell us why we should read this book.

It’ a fun, thrilling and creepy whodunit that harkens back to the horror movies of the 80s and 90s. It’s scary, snarky and will keep you guessing who will make it and who won’t.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

So many! Stephen King, Wes Craven, Shirley Jackson, Agatha Christie, S.E. Hinton, Mark Twain, Jack London, John Green, Harper Lee, David Levithan, Ray Bradbury…the list could go on and on. I love coming-of-age books, horror and mystery.

What are you reading now?

I’m actually re-reading “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” I’m also reading “The Coalwood Way” by Homer Hickam and “A Killer Life” by Christine Vachon.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?

I’m starting the second book of the “Jinxed” trilogy. It’s fun because I get to follow the characters and action from one point to the next in their lives. How what happened in book one affects them and changes them, not to mention how things will ultimately all tie together. And to see who will live and who will die! I’m also writing another non-fiction book on the making of a really fun 80s movie. I can’t reveal the title of the film just yet, but like my previous non-fiction book, “Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy: The Making of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street,” it will be an in-depth exploration of the film and its legacy.

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?

That’s a tough one. There are so many fantastic people out there who I would love to see bring these roles to life. But, in the interest in not jinxing it (see what I did there?), I’ll keep them to myself!

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?

It’s probably too expected to say reading or going to the movies, but it would be true. I’m also a Disneyland fanatic. I could go every day!

Favorite meal?

Pizza and wings!

Thank you for stopping by CMash Reads and spending time with us.

 

Read an excerpt from Jinxed by Thommy Hutson:

Prologue

The small private island was a mystery.

This, even when so many knew, or thought they knew, what was going on twenty-two miles off the coast of Seattle, on the strip of land named after the very rich and very dead Cadogan Trask. Protected like so much of the Pacific Northwest by Douglas firs, red alders, and bigleaf maples, Trask Island, a blister in the water, seemed mythical. Very little was known about the reclusive man who bought the uninhabited plot in the 19th century, later developing it to suit his tastes. His personal life and his purpose, just like his eponymous island, were ensconced in a thick, white mist. One day there, the next not.

Over the years, worry about Trask the place and Trask the man ebbed and flowed. No one dared argue that business on the island brought money and a small amount of prestige to the area, but there was something about it.

The same people who sang its praises also gawked and wondered and preached about whether its gifts matched its detractions. All of those armchair whatchamacallits peeked out the windows of their glass houses into their neighbors’ glass houses and threw not stones, but boulders.

Always, always, they asked the same question: Why must a high school be so private?

The institution was nestled behind a wall of nature so beautiful that an equal number wondered how anything about it could be bad. A school for the gifted and talented. A place where children with an affinity for dance, voice, drama, art, and communications would be nurtured. A place where stars were born to shine.

But bad is a relative word.

And stars fall from the sky.

Still, the answer to the question on so many minds of what was really going on with those who were lucky enough, and rich enough, to find themselves hidden within its sacred I hope I get in please God let me get in walls?

Well, the answer was simple.

Secrets.

And not so simple.

Lies.

***

Spring, 1998

Trask Academy of Performing Arts was, indeed, very private.

The campus lay upon acre after acre of rolling green hills. Tall, age-old trees swarmed the landscape. Sturdy, dark red-bricked buildings were scattered about. Cobblestone sidewalks—concrete wouldn’t do, and asphalt was far too unsightly—snaked their way through and around the campus. Surrounding all of this flora, not to mention brick-and-mortar money, was a thick-ledged stone fence complete with wrought iron. The ornamental finials topping each spire had three-edged spear points. The borders weren’t sharp enough to cut, but the tips were fine enough to puncture. And at only one point along the entire perimeter was there a gate.

One way in. One way out.

Down one of those lamp-lit walkways, in its own enclave, was Williams Hall, a beautiful sandstone and cerulean tiled theater fashioned in a Romanesque style. A bell tower, now long out of use, still kept watch over the surroundings. The only modern accoutrement, though some would say eyesore, was the building’s large, white marquee, added during the 1980s when, presumably, a faculty member, or perhaps a wealthy donor, convinced the school’s administration flashing lights were all the rage. Its large black letters read:

52nd Annual Trask Academy of Performing Arts Showcase

Inside, rehearsal ran late.

The long fluorescent-lit hallway was filled with leg-warmered young dancers packing their bags. Actors filed away their scripts. Singers stopped their warbling. All seniors. Almost all rich. Wrapping up a rehearsal in the school’s premier venue for the school’s premier event.

Begun in 1946, the Trask Academy of Performing Arts Annual Showcase saw the best and brightest of the graduating class perform for a lucky invited audience. The theater’s fifteen hundred seats filled with relatives, talent scouts, agents, bookers, managers. Hollywood and Broadway knew that those fortunate enough to study at Trask were groomed to be unsurpassed in their field, and what better way to find the stars of tomorrow than to watch the hopefuls of today. Rich daddies and mommies prayed the exorbitant tuition fees had paid off. Rumors swirled the cost to attend the school was as high as one hundred thousand dollars a year, which would make it one of the most expensive private schools in the world. For those prices, check writers expected nothing but the best.

And Hell hath no fury if they didn’t get it.

Amanda Kincaid was working to be the best. She sat on the stage alone, dressed casually in dark jeans and a top that showed just this side of too much. She was a pretty girl and, at nineteen, a year older than most of the other seniors. Her age made her more serious, and more guarded. Her dark hair, normally wavy, was pulled back tight. She wasn’t a dancer, not really, but she felt the hairstyle made her look the part of a performer. Whatever part that was.

When she heard the last door of the night slam, she knew she was finally alone. She could now work without the worry of being judged by everyone around her. She was a good actress, she knew that. But that wasn’t enough, and she also knew that.

Standing up, she grabbed her script. She promised herself that tonight was the night she would not peek at her lines. She knew them. She had to. It wasn’t going to be like Showcase 1995—

Karen Reasmith stopped in the middle of her piece, mouth agape, spotlight burning down on her as if she were caught trying to escape prison.

She had forgotten her lines.

The adults in the audience, who could cut deeper than any razor, sat in irritated silence, while the other students lovingly absorbed the crash and burn before their eyes. A train wreck of epic schadenfreude. Karen looked around, helpless, hoping she could be saved from herself. But all that came were tears as she tore off the stage.

Amanda thought of the joke around campus for those new kids who didn’t understand how serious Trask pupils took their performing arts studies. They’d ask, “Did you ever hear of Karen Reasmith?” When incoming students answered in the negative, the upperclassman would respond, “Exactly.” Testosterone high-fives and estrogen giggles followed as they walked away from newbies who rolled their eyes.

But Amanda understood what the newcomers didn’t. Couldn’t, at least not so quickly. Karen had blown it. She would never even get a chorus audition in a touring show. Casting agents loved to talk. And what they loved to do more than talk was gossip. By the time Karen had packed her bags and left the compound, her talent was already colder than the iceberg that had sunk the Titanic.

Except that the Titanic had survivors.

Amanda shook off the memory of Karen Reasmith and focused. Her tongue darted around her red-lipped mouth, preparing to utter chilling words as she channeled Euripides’ Medea.

“In vain, my children, have I brought you up, Borne all the cares and pangs of motherhood, And the sharp pains of childbirth undergone. In you, alas, was treasured—”

Suddenly every light went out, leaving Amanda alone in blackness.

Even the ghost light’s exposed incandescent bulb had gone out, which made her anxious. Amanda knew the ghost light was a big deal, if only a superstition. She was aware of the firmly held belief that every theater had a ghost. And not Phantom of the Opera ghosts who taught beautiful, young women to become chanteuses. No, these were simply the spirits, perhaps of performers long dead, who remained in the place they once loved. Perhaps the ghost light allowed them to perform their own works when no one was around. Or maybe they just liked to watch performances.

Nonsense, Amanda thought. The light is there so we don’t fall into the orchestra pit. Or something.

Still, she didn’t like it being out. Just in case. Of whatever frightening case might be out there.

And then the noise came. Softly at first, but building in volume. It seemed to emanate from the back right of the auditorium. It sounded like the moan of a dead person who most decidedly did not want to be dead. Like a zombie upon its victim, ready to sink yellow and black teeth into the soft flesh of a neck, tearing out tendons, arteries, a larynx.

Amanda’s breathing grew faster, shallower. She felt as if she were standing in the cold, black reaches of space. Tiny hairs on the back of her neck tingled. Her mouth opened, ready to scream.

Amanda knew she should have been alone. And she knew she was not. But she stopped herself short of screaming. Instead, she cocked her head as the ghastly voice grew louder, transforming into something else, like something off one of those cheap Halloween sound effects tapes. Her split-second shudder of fear gave way to the crack of an embarrassed smile, then annoyance.

“Seriously? Not funny!” Amanda yelled out, her voice coming back at her with the faintest echo. Her words stopped the not-so-sound-effect sound effect. “I’m trying to work here,” she added matter-of-factly. She smirked. She waited. I’m ready when you are, idiots. When nothing happened, she took a step to her left.

“Dare you try to cross without the guidance of the ghost light?” a voice boomed. Amanda let out a small yelp. “Who can know what evils from the past lurk within these hallowed walls?”

Wait a minute, she realized. I know that voice. Despite the darkness, she moved in circles, calling out.

“If anything evil does linger, it’s probably from your pathetic performance, Marcus.”

She carefully shifted closer to the stage’s left wing. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw she was inches away from one of the thick, black curtains that prevented audiences from seeing backstage. The material was moving, ever so slightly. Who is that? What dashed away behind the barrier? She had to know, needed to. She slowly reached for the fabric and started to tug on it—

A reverberating audio feedback filled the auditorium. Amanda reeled, falling on her tailbone. Then, silence.

The bulb inside the cage of the ghost light came to life.

Someone had been right there. Not anymore.

“Oh, come on. Did I bruise your fragile ego?” she asked cynically. She got no response and decided she was over this game. She really did need to practice.

“Fine, whatever. Can you please turn the stage lights—”

They came back on before she could finish.

Jerks, she thought.

She looked back down at her script. Mumbling the words to get back to her place, she heard a rustling deep backstage. Hushed voices talking fast. Getting more strident. Urgent.

Inconsiderate jerks. Looking up, she projected to the back of the auditorium.

“In you, alas, was treasured many a hope of loving sustentation in my age, of tender laying out when I was dead—”

“Do something!” a voice said harshly backstage.

A female voice that Amanda couldn’t make out responded, “Just go, just go!” It sounded like she might have been crying.

Amanda stopped worrying about her performance. She stopped wondering who was scuttling around. She was concerned that something was wrong. These people had laughed at first, but now they sounded worried. And very frightened.

So was Amanda. She stepped toward the left wing once again, this time with purpose. Something slammed backstage. Amanda screamed, threw her hands to her mouth, and let script pages flutter to the ground in a jumbled mess she would normally have cared about, but not now. Something was happening. Her expression turned to sour terror when she saw it.

Smoke.

Thick dark billows wafting up from backstage.

“Oh my God.” She instinctively reached forward for the curtain, calling out. “Are you guys all—”

As she drew the curtain back, Amanda watched ravenous flames grow with a fresh gust of delicious, necessary oxygen. She was thrown as the heat slapped her body.

Crawling backward, she stumbled to her feet, turned to run, and screamed again, this time louder. She barely missed falling into the orchestra pit ten feet below.

“Help me!” she cried, looking around frantically, noticing the pages of her script dancing in a small vortex of flame, smoke, and heat. Flames licked the ceiling and rained dripping bits of burning material down. An ember from a set piece dropped to her arm, searing her flesh. She whimpered, hot tears flowing down her face. Another ember, another burn.

Desperate, Amanda tried to use her hands to wave away the smoke, but it was too thick. Coughing, she pushed toward a set of exit doors off the left wing of the stage. She imagined the fresh evening air outside, but her arms almost snapped when she slammed into the door that would not open.

For a moment Amanda wasn’t sure what was going on, but another ember landed on her hair and began smoldering, bringing her back. She swatted at it, screaming. She got up and tried the door again. It wouldn’t budge. She pounded on it.

“Help me! Somebo—”

Amanda violently coughed. She looked around, water in her eyes from fear and fire. The conflagration had engulfed the auditorium and Amanda, rushing to the stage again, realized she was at the center of it all.

A twisted, groaning came from above and, realizing just in time what it was, she scurried as a lighting rig swung right past her.

She didn’t have much time. More and more fly ropes snapped in the heat. Scene flats crashed to the floor. The glass lamp of the ghost light exploded. Disoriented, Amanda stumbled across the stage as smoke stung her eyes and heat filled her lungs.

Colored lights above burst and shattered, sending glass shards raining upon her. She covered her head, not seeing the snapped cable heading toward her.

It belted her in the leg, drawing a deep, thick gash and sending her sailing over the front of the stage.

Into the orchestra pit.

Her head hit the wooden floor with a crack. Her leg twisted at an odd angle. She was not going anywhere.

It’s so much cooler down here, she thought sadly. The fire drew closer as debris rained down around her. She looked high above and saw fire crawl up the curtains, licking at the Trask Academy of Performing Arts crest. Its enamel sheen bubbled in the heat.

The fire upon her, Amanda felt her skin burn. She used her left hand to rub the fire from her right arm, but everything sloughed off the bone in large, bloody, sinewy chunks. The pain was excruciating. She had been sure, when talking with friends about terrible ways to die, that after a few seconds fire would have extinguished any sense of pain, or that her body would dull it enough to make it more manageable.

She thought how wrong she had been.

She felt every lick of flame as if a galaxy of the hottest stars were slowly stabbing through her. Her head lolled to one side. Her screams withered. She wanted to cry out, but instinct had its hold on her, and the heat she felt every time her lungs sucked in was too great.

The air itself had become a scorching hell.

She saw little blobs of dancing light as she held, held, held her breath. The world was just about black when another jolt of pain brought her back, as if a gleaming, hot needle had been shoved into her iris. While the blinding orange and yellow of one thousand degree flames ravaged her body, she saw nothing.

Her lack of vision was not due to the agonizing pain. Or the shock that racked her body. The heat was so great that her eyes exploded, like eggs bursting in a microwave.

The young girl with so much life ahead of her was as good as dead. A burning husk of a person. The unconscious fear of suffocating grew to be too much, and she sucked in a giant rush of heat that melted the delicate, paper-thin tissue of her lungs. It was a pain so much worse than breathing in water from the lake where she and her friends would go swimming. Long before she had come to this school.

As the little oxygen left in her bloodstream wended its way through her dying shell, strange fleeting thoughts crossed her mind. It wasn’t, as everyone said, a movie-like assemblage of her life playing at breakneck speed. It was, simply, random moments. The first time she sawThe Wizard of Oz and wanted to be Dorothy. Riding her pink bicycle in the grassy front yard of her house, yelling for anyone to watch her ring the tiny bell on the handlebars. Hitting her babysitter’s older brother in the face with a snowball, upset and confused that she could make a big boy cry. Screaming on a roller-coaster with her former best friend, Shelly, sure she was going to pee her pants from laughing.

Then it was over. Her human light faded, faded, faded with one last thought.

The baby.

CHAPTER 1

Present day

Silver moonlight cast a pall over the remains of the burnt, condemned theater that kept watch over the school campus. Even with a new, more open brick façade already complete as part of the school’s very expensive renovation, the scaffolding snaking around and up its walls read like the twisted bones of a skeleton deep inside a closet. But that fabled darkness, coupled with its offer of shadowed cover from faculty, made the theater a prime location for itchy students to scratch their desires, test their mettle, and relish in stories that brought back the dead.

“Some say you can still hear her screams in the still of the night.”

The voice of the storyteller belonged to Max Reynolds. He was standing in front of the building, staring up at it as he spoke. A senior with well-toned arms that stretched his tight, white T-shirt, he looked pleased with himself as he waited for a response. His structured, boyish face wasn’t always smiling, but when it did, it charmed everyone. This was one of those times.

“Lame, lame, lame,” said Layna Curtis. A sarcastic smile grew from her full, naturally red lips. “Let’s be real, not only has that story been told before about a jillion times, it’s been told way, way better.” She sighed and pushed long dark hair away from her pale, pretty face and over her shoulders, feigning boredom. Inside—though she would never admit it—she wasn’t sure she liked being there. That building, she thought, is staring at us. At me.

“Oh, really?” Max asked, goading her, snapping her from distracted thoughts.

“Totally,” Layna replied. Clever and confident, she would play the game. She nonchalantly picked at the pills of her cream-colored sweater. Max stared at her, his eyebrows raised. Without looking up, Layna said, “Guys, am I right?”

Layna looked first to Nancy Groves, a fantastic dancer who was stretching her legs as if a loop of Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” played in her head. Holding her legs at seemingly impossible angles was par for the course for Nancy. She had a lithe body that shimmered when she performed. Layna knew it. Everybody knew it. And Nancy loved that. But Layna knew her friend’s Achilles’ heel was her short, bobbed hair, so naturally straight that even the strongest Ogilvy home perm would be hard-pressed to win the battle. Not that she hadn’t tried, often with a lot of help from Layna and shared fits of laughter. Layna appreciated Nancy knew what she had and how to use it.

When Nancy didn’t respond, Layna’s eyes went to Alice Reitman. Alice smacked her chewing gum. She was cute, but nowhere near Nancy-thin. Layna had always thought that Alice wasn’t fat. At least not fat, fat. And Layna knew that Alice despised in a gag me with a spoon way when people referred to her as “the bubbly one.” That usually meant fat.

Layna felt bad knowing most people openly said Alice was talkative and upbeat, but also worried Alice was thinking, Thanks, now hand over the ho-ho’s and you won’t get hurt. But what did it matter to Layna? Alice wasn’t an actor, singer, or dancer. She studied communications and was going to be “the next, not-quite-as-thin, but incredibly relatable television journalist.” Layna had told Alice that was a fine choice, but she preferred Savannah Guthrie, even though she looked much taller than her guests, and it often appeared she might just lurch over and devour them. They all have their flaws, Layna reminded herself.

At the end of the line was Trask’s “it” girl, Sydney Miller. Pretty, with blonde hair in perfectly placed waves, Sydney was popular and athletic. Layna admired her. At Trask, and in real life, Layna had to assume, guys wanted Sydney and girls wanted to be her. When she walked down the halls, the underclassmen all turned their heads to catch a glimpse of the Sydney Miller. If the singers were belting out a tune, they stopped as she strode by. Layna knew her friend Sydney was going to be famous. She had the talent to be a star, sure. But she also had a sheer force of will. Nothing was going to stop her from achieving her dreams. Nothing. And nobody. Layna admired that especially, even as she pushed down slight feelings of jealousy.

But like the others, Sydney just sat quiet.

Layna looked again at all of her girlfriends, incredulous. “Oh my God, backsies please. This is when my friends say they’re with me?”

But none did. They stood stoic, staring forward, or around, or down. Looking worried. It didn’t sit well with Layna.

“Layn, I mean, it is kind of a creepy story,” Alice offered.

Layna’s shoulders slumped. No backsies, apparently.

“Seriously, a girl died. Right in there,” added Nancy.

Sydney leaned her body in closer. Layna could practically feel the girl’s breath when she spoke. “It’s just not something we should, you know, make light of.”

Layna couldn’t believe it. Her unease was giving way to annoyance. “Because some chick supposedly died in this awful, mysterious, tragic way a million years ago—”

“It’s more like, only twenty years, but go on,” Max said.

Layna glared at him long enough to make a point, and then continued. “I’m just saying, we see this eyesore all the time, but tonight we’re supposed to all of a sudden be frightened because Max used his big boy voice to tell a campfire story we all knew? Sorry, it just isn’t work—”

Layna abruptly stopped. She had heard something. They had all heard something.

It was not the wind, Layna knew. Not the creaking of scaffolding. It was a low, hurting moan. A harsh, frightening whisper.

“Whooo—?” hissed the voice, from inside the building.

Layna’s brown eyes went wide. Max sidled next to her. “Okay, fine, it’s working now,” Layna said. Nancy, Alice, and Sydney huddled close, too.

Sydney, worried, looked directly at Layna. “Dude, what did you do?”

“Me?” Layna whispered, too loudly.

“Shhh!” Nancy harped.

The punitive voice came back. Angrier, more strident. “Who wantsss—?”

They waited, breaths held, to hear what came next, but the only sound was the flapping of a plastic tarp over a pile of bricks. Then someone jumped out from the shadowed entrance of the theater. Layna let out a high-pitched scream. Then the others screamed, too. Layna grabbed Max tightly, trying to shield herself from whatever was coming toward them.

The screams of the others went on and on. And on. Layna gathered that something wasn’t right when she peeked from Max’s chest and saw her friends staring at her, their formerly petrified faces now swathed in knowing smiles.

“Whooooo wantsssss … a drink?” the stranger in the entryway asked.

Layna opened her eyes fully and unscrunched her face. She knew that voice. She’d been had.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Nancy joked, poking Layna.

Layna pursed her lips and nodded her head. “All right, fine, go ahead. Let’s hear it,” she said.

After a moment of silence, they burst out laughing. Layna put her hands over her face, embarrassed that she had fallen for such a cheap trick. Max pulled her close and kissed the top of her head.

“We totally had you,” he said, then grabbed her chin so he could look her in the eyes. “And I’ll always have you,” he added, leaning in for a kiss. Layna greedily accepted.

“Get a room already!” Nancy playfully snapped. “And, Crosby, get your ass out here.”

Crosby Williams’ broad, white smile, and a glint from his hazel eyes, emerged from the darkness. Layna stared at the writer and part-time less-than-stellar illusionist, also a member of the senior class. She should have known—he could never pass up the element of surprise. He may have been lacking in the prestidigitation department, but he made up for it with a bohemian style and perfectly unkempt hair.

“I’d love to, but the spirits are insistent,” Crosby offered. “You must come inside and face your fears, if you are to partake of the beers.” He pushed his arm forward so it was struck by moonlight, waving a bottle that glistened with condensation. Then just as fast, he pulled it back and his smile, his eyes, and the beer disappeared all within the ruins of the old theater.

“You heard the man,” Max said. “Duty calls.”

Nancy, Alice, and Sydney moved first, with Nancy leading the pack. The girls laughed as they, too, vanished into the shadows, one by one. Max lurched forward, but Layna caught his hand and stopped him.

“Babe, come on,” he said.

Layna looked up at the building, gazing at its two, large Venetian windows that watched over everything. Watching me, I bet.

“What’s wrong? Let’s go,” Max said. “Or are you scared? Ooooh!” He waved his fingers in front of her face in a silly manner.

It broke Layna free from her worry. The small lie, one he’d never figure out, came forth. “Of course not,” she said. “Let’s go.”

After one last look deep into the shadows before her, she gave Max a kiss on the lips. Ready or not, she let him lead her into the darkness of the auditorium.

The building was a far cry from the grandeur of its glory days. Gone were most of the plush, red velvet-covered seats that once filled the theater, leaving only an empty, sad expanse of dirty concrete. Those seats that remained, mostly near the stage and scattered up makeshift aisles, were blackened and charred, having melted under the heat of the fire. Layna felt a chill, even though the seating wreckage could barely be seen under the cover of dusty translucent plastic. Construction materials, tools, wood boards, and sandbags were strewn about, giving credence to the rumor the schools’ deep-pocketed donors weren’t jonesing to bring this part of the campus back to life.

It was an open secret on campus that the coffers of Trask Academy of Performing Arts might be drier than anyone in the administration wanted to admit. There was money, of course, because Dean McKenna knew that keeping up appearances was paramount, but there was an equally strong, although silent, opinion that the building was nothing more than a part of the school’s dark past and, just maybe, it should stay there. Layna certainly felt that way right now. Neither she, nor her friends and fellow students, had any idea that in at least one of the more heated board meetings—old-boys club affairs always held privately with little fanfare—more than one donor had agreed: why rebuild a nightmare when you can construct a brand-new dream?

Layna and her friends meandered through the maze of equipment toward the stage.

“All right, Crosby, come out, come out, wherever you are,” Alice said, loud enough to cause an echo, but there was no answer from Crosby.

Layna and Max made their way to the front of the group. As they walked, they stared up through scaffolding and more plastic tarps, the former creaking and the latter flapping in the stiff breeze whisking through the empty structure.

Moonlight shone down on Max, who climbed up onto the stage from a set of rotting steps. “Watch the third one, it’s a doozy,” he said as Layna grabbed his hand for help up. Then Max, always the gentlemen, reached for the other girls, grabbing Nancy’s arm a bit harder when she failed to heed his warning and her foot almost broke through the soft, pulpy wood of the stair.

Layna gasped, but Nancy just uttered an embarrassed “Whoopsie.”

From the stage, the friends paused to take in their surroundings, illuminated not only by the natural evening light, but also by the lone ghost light in the center of the stage.

“Spooky. Maybe this was, you know, the light,” Alice wondered aloud. The thought caused a hint of unease in Layna.

“Yes, most definitely,” Sydney said with a smile. “Now let’s steal the bulb and call GE so we can make a billion dollars on the light that lasts an eternity.” The response put Layna at ease, but Alice rolled her eyes, blew a large, pink bubble, and sucked it back into her mouth with a loud pop!

Layna found that the light did not offer her any warmth, or security, so she just stood quietly with her hands in her pockets. Max sidled next to her and wrapped his arm around her shoulder.

“Hey, look,” Layna said, moving a few feet past the light to where a picnic blanket was spread out on the stage.

Nancy went to it and stood with her back toward the darkness of the stage’s left wing. “Fancy,” she said. “Maybe next time we can have a picnic, I don’t know, at the scene of a car accid—”

A hand suddenly reached from the shadows and whisked its way over Nancy’s mouth. Unable to say anything, her eyes filled with fear and worry.

“Nan, how much longer do we wait?” Sydney asked. She turned and let out a scream when she saw Nancy.

Layna and Alice yelped as well. “Max!” Layna screamed, with the unspoken order of Do something! Max practically leapt across the stage. Then he stopped, and he and the others watched as the stranger’s hand wended its way from Nancy’s mouth, down over her shoulder, and to her jacket’s zipper.

It started to pull down.

Nancy’s wide eyes shrank to a disbelieving squint. She yanked hard on the offending arm and pulled a stumbling Crosby from the shadows onto the stage.

“Wow, way to be romantic, Cros,” Nancy said. “I’ve always dreamed of doing it here. Literally, right here.”

“Me too, babe. Me, too,” Crosby joked, raising his eyebrows in quick succession before planting a kiss on her lips.

The others made their way over.

“Crosby, such a lovable jerk,” Sydney offered, giving him a peck on the cheek.

“That’s funny, I thought he was just being a jerk,” Layna added with a little more annoyance than she had meant to.

Max crossed in front of her. “Me-ow.” Now it was Layna who rolled her eyes. It hadn’t been her idea to hang out in a burnt-out building, tell ghost stories, and do God only knows what. She would have been fine if they had never come here.

“Come on,” Crosby said. “I couldn’t let the ambiance go to waste. We’re all entitled to a good scare, right? So, welcome children. And now, watch.”

They all did as Crosby stood in front of them, arms outstretched. He tugged on each sleeve. Nothing there. Suddenly, with a few slick gestures and a turn, he produced beer bottle after beer bottle.

“Well kiss my ass and call me abracadabra,” Max laughed, happily grabbing two bottles and offering one to Layna. She shook her head. Max ambled off, saying something under his breath like, “More for me.”

Alice brushed past Layna, smacked her gum, and grabbed a beer. “The party has so officially started.”

Crosby saved the last drink for Nancy, sheepishly gesturing like it was a peace offering. “Forgive me, but in all honesty, I just had to set the mood.”

“Oh, it’s gonna take more than janky beer,” Nancy retorted with a smile.

Crosby shrugged his shoulders, opened his jacket, and showed her the flask he had been hiding. Nancy’s smile grew. Layna watched, enjoying their playful back-and-forth.

“You know me so well,” Nancy admitted. She put her arms inside Crosby’s jacket, moving her face close to his.

“And you me, my dear,” responded Crosby. Somehow, they seemed to smile even as they kissed deeply.

Layna cleared her throat and sat down on the blanket. “Tongue-wrestlers, your much-needed, very private room is now ready. Please check in, stat.”

Nancy pulled back from Crosby, laughing. “Duly noted.” She and the others joined Layna on the blanket.

Crosby remained standing by himself, still pretending to kiss Nancy. The others laughed, which he took as his cue to stop and take a seat. The teens kicked back, looking up at the star-studded sky through a gaping hole in the roof of the condemned theater.

“See, it’s not so scary in here,” Max said.

Layna thought, but would never dare say, that it was still just as creepy as she had imagined. Maybe more.

***

“Let’s discuss break. Please tell me you’re staying,” Sydney pleaded, breaking the silence. Secretly she had also hoped to head off talk about the building, the legend, or how frightening it was. And is.

“Oh, we’re staying the week,” Layna said, adding emphatically, “All of us, right?”

Nods all around. Sydney let out a Thank God sigh.

“Rumor has it only D’Arcangelo and McKenna are gonna be here,” Alice said. “And there’s gonna be a party tomorrow night to kick things off.”

“A freshman party, ugh.” Nancy groaned and took a swig from the flask.

“I’ll pass, thank you very much,” Sydney said.

Layna looked like she was holding in a secret she couldn’t keep in. “Max wants to go!” she revealed.

The group stared at him as if he were mad.

“What?” Max asked. “It could be fun.”

Layna threw a You’ve gotta be kidding me stare at him. “Oh, totes,” she said, “if the fifteen-year-olds can plot out how to sneak anything stronger than hard lemonade into the dorms.”

Sydney shook her head. “Barfing kids and tragic pop music outside my door, all night long. Sign. Me. Up!”

“Oh, let me call the wahmbulance,” Nancy laughed. “It’s your fault. You could have lived with us big kids in Campbell Hall.”

“Oh, no, no, no,” Sydney replied. “I am not giving up my primo view for snot-nosers.”

And it was true, she thought. Her view was fantastic, overlooking the conservatory filled with exotic plants, from rare orchids to ingeniously sculpted bonsai trees. Aside from the supposed eco-friendly gratification, the school’s motivation for the garden was a mystery to Sydney, her friends, and most other students, too. Most of the kids at school, Sydney among them if she stopped lying to herself, had the mindset that if you’ve seen one flower, you’ve seen them all.

The beauty of the building, Sydney had to admit, could not be overstated: a dome of striking brass-capped cames that held together shimmering glass plates of blue and gold, the colors of the school. Sydney often found herself staring at the top of the structure, mesmerized as it reflected the setting sun. Beyond the dome, the rolling green hills that the school had so meticulously taken care of led to the thick forest just beyond the gates of the campus.

It was that view that kept Sydney in the underclassmen’s dorm. She had lucked out with her room. The school used the stunning views and state-of-the-art facilities to lure new students, but after the main academic coursework was finished in year one, students started their majors and moved to one of two dorms on campus closer to the buildings where they would train. Still, Sydney accepted that the spectacular view, and the slightly longer daily walk to her classes, was worth putting up with the kids who were just finding their way. When she had asked to stay in her room, the housing committee decided she could. Sure, there were moments when she thought it might be more fun to be in a building with all of her friends, seniors who had paid their dues and were ready to graduate and make their mark with the talents that Trask had nurtured within them. But when the committee said yes if she agreed to stay at the school for her entire academic career, she had made her choice.

Sydney was shaken from her thoughts of pretty stained glass and obnoxious newbies when Crosby said, “They’ll be in dreamland before you know it. The last ferry leaves Saturday morning and they’ll wanna be bright-eyed for mommy and daddy at the docks.”

“Speaking of morning, like, what’s with the ratchet, military-style early rehearsal, Syd?” Alice asked. “It’s just us, and you’re the only one in the showcase.”

“Oh, don’t be silly,” Layna said, smiling. “The star here needs someone to shine the spotlight on her the minute day breaks, didn’t you know?” Sydney wondered, for just a second, whether something more wicked lurked behind the comment and smile.

“Oh, the shade!” Nancy said.

“Guys, I was joking. Seriously,” Layna offered. She took Sydney’s hand. “Hey, when have I not been the overachieving understudy to the world’s soon-to-be most famous talent?”

The words didn’t make Sydney feel much better. Sydney knew how badly Layna wanted to perform. “Layn, you’ll get your chance. Trust me, it’ll happen.”

“You’re right,” agreed Layna, “the minute you pull a Peg Entwistle and take a leap off the Hollywood sign.”

“Layna!” Nancy laughed, half-heartedly.

Sydney chuckled slightly, then looked away. She didn’t want to keep up the contest with Layna, didn’t want to see something in her friend’s eyes that might betray their friendship.

Max took a long swig from his beer and gestured at their surroundings with the bottle. “There’s always hope for a mysterious fire during one of Syd’s rehearsals.”

“Okay, seriously, starting to feel uncomfortable here,” Sydney admitted. She looked at Layna, waiting for the break. It finally came. They locked eyes, and Layna’s big grin forced one from Sydney.

“Babe, friends to the end,” Layna said, moving to wrap her arms around Sydney. “The very end,” she added, her tone both playful and menacing.

Everyone relaxed as Sydney lightheartedly pushed Layna away. “Girl, bye!”

The wind picked up, whistling through the theater. The scaffolding creaked and groaned. A light flurry of plaster dust sprinkled down, looking, Sydney thought, perhaps too much like ash from a fire.

“The universe likes the idea, Syd,” Crosby said. “Maybe your number is up.”

“And I like the idea of you shutting up,” Sydney replied sharply. She had reached her limit on the subject of past deaths as well as jokes about her own.

Layna grabbed Sydney’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

Alice yelped as floorboards creaked in the darkness of the stage wings. “That was so not the wind,” she muttered.

Max stood tall, taut, alert. “Who’s there?” he asked.

No response. Layna grabbed his arm. He motioned for her and everyone else to be quiet as he stepped toward the edge of the light thrown out from the ghost lamp.

“Ooh, tough guy,” Crosby mumbled, snickering. Nancy slapped his arm. Max glared at him and then disappeared into the shadows.

Sydney was worried. And that meant they all must be worried, she thought. Was that an animal? Was it a teacher? Or had something they mentioned too many times that night come back?

As soon as she heard the crash, Sydney stopped wondering and let out a scream.

“Max!” Layna screamed, darting to her feet out of instinct. The others rose up behind her. Nancy pushed Crosby forward. He cocked his head and opened his eyes wide. Sydney imagined him thinking exactly what she was thinking, Just what am I supposed to do?

“Do something, idiot,” Nancy ordered.

Crosby inched toward the darkness, stopping at another noise, a scuffling, this time closer.

“Not necessary,” Max’s voice came from the shadows. Sydney was relieved as she watched somebody being forced from the wing and onto the ground. The other girls screamed, as did Crosby. Sydney took note that his scream was more high-pitched and went on a hair longer than the girls’, which she knew he’d regret.

Max appeared again.

“What the hell are you doing here, you stalker douchebag?” Max asked whoever was skulking backstage.

Sydney focused on Layna. She knew what was going to happen next. Her eyes met Max’s judging gaze. She took a sharp breath in and forgot the drama and worry from before. Max was obviously not happy with the person lying on the floor in front of them all.

***

Layna knew she could not hide what Sydney, what Max, what everyone saw as she looked at the heap on the ground.

Dillon Reeves. A loner and, some have said, a rebel.

He was also a senior, though the rumor on campus was that the musical prodigy might have been older than everyone else after being held back in grade school. It wasn’t for lack of intelligence, apparently, on which everyone agreed. Depending on whom you asked, though, the true reason changed. Imaginations ran wild. And the stories got bigger.

I heard Dillon would just sit in the corner of his kindergarten classroom and hum after he got yelled at for eating cookies another kid brought, so they held him back.

I heard Dillon took a broken paintbrush and stabbed another student in eighth grade for making fun of his still-life art project, so they held him back.

I heard Dillon got blamed for pushing his high school shop teacher into a table saw blade and then ran through the halls screaming the teacher was jumping around like fleas on a hot brick, so they held him back.

There was also one about embezzlement, and some even whispered about a true murder. Layna hated that one and knew it was not, could not be, true. Still, on and on it went. The lightning speed of Trask’s gossip train left some wondering if, after putting the pieces together, Dillon wasn’t in fact responsible for the Lindbergh kidnapping. Stranger things have totally happened!

Layna believed none of it. Dillon was just special. Quiet, smart, very cute. Dillon’s looks and charm and bad boyishness did not go unnoticed. Almost every girl on campus noticed, and some boys, of course. But it was all of him—the things she knew, the things she learned, and yes, even the things she did not know but hoped to one day—that had attracted Layna during junior year when Dillon had transferred in. This was before Max, of course, a time her friends ridiculously referred to as Proto-Max.

“Are you all right?” Layna asked, looking Dillon over and brushing off his dark leather jacket.

“I’m fine,” he answered, standing up. He was tall. Taller than the others. Layna tried to hide the fact that she did not mind him looking into her dark eyes with his blues.

“I hope I didn’t hurt his man bun,” Max scoffed. Layna eyed him with a not now look. Max rolled his eyes. She knew he was sick of this. Sick of Dillon.

The others looked on with fascination at the love triangle. Layna was keenly aware that her friends knew she used to love Dillon, who was always slightly aloof in his love for her, who eventually fell out of love with him and into love with Max. Thankfully, Max loved her back more fully than Dillon ever did.

Max backed away, saying, “Fine, then the party’s over. At least for me.”

Layna stepped toward Max. “Max, stop.”

He did. But he didn’t turn around. She hated when he talked to her with his back. “If you want El Creepo to make it through senior year, you’re gonna have to make a choice.”

Layna just stared at him. The others stared at her. Alice whispered, “She must be answering him with her mind!”

Crosby laughed. Layna frowned, but she took some comfort when Nancy rolled her eyes and elbowed her boyfriend in the rib. No laughing. Check.

Everyone watched intently, not sure what was going to happen next.

No one expected it when Dillon grabbed Layna’s hand.

“Dude! Not. Cool,” Crosby offered.

Max turned around with enough time to see Dillon’s hand slink away from Layna’s. “What are you doing?” she snapped at Dillon. She ran to Max and put a hand on his shoulder. Slinking around to his front, she faced him.

“Him or me, Layna. I can’t play this game forever,” Max said.

“He’s just trying to get a rise out of you. And it’s working.” Layna knew it was a lie the moment it rolled off her tongue, so she wasn’t surprised when Max called her on it.

“No, Layn, you were helping him get a rise,” Max said.

Layna grimaced, wanting to scold Max for being so gauche in front of her—their—friends, especially Dillon. But she wasn’t fast enough.

Max sighed. “Him or me.” He kissed Layna on the forehead then stepped past her into the shadows, down the stairs, and toward the entrance doors. All she could do was watch him. She turned to the rest of the group. No one said a word.

“I didn’t ask him to do any of this,” Layna said. She looked at Dillon. “And you didn’t have to do that.”

“You didn’t have to let me,” Dillon answered quietly.

“It’s getting late,” Sydney offered, moving past Dillon without a glance. She grabbed Layna’s hand, and the two started toward the doors.

Crosby and Nancy followed. “Oops,” he said sarcastically, bumping into Dillon’s shoulder.

Alice rushed up behind Nancy. “Wait up!”

Alone on the stage, Dillon watched the group make its way toward the entrance. “See you tomorrow,” he yelled out. “And I’m sorry.”

Crosby, Nancy, and Alice exited as Sydney tried to coax Layna to leave. Layna didn’t budge. She wasn’t sure if Sydney understood, even as her friend walked away.

Layna knew Dillon could now see her only as a silhouette awash in moonlight. She watched him watch her. Her hair blew in a gust of wind that came through the open door. Fine dust particles rained down on Dillon. Were they anywhere else, Layna might have thought he looked angelic. Dillon shook his head, put it down, and then rubbed his eyes. Layna knew her time had come, that when he looked back to her, she would be gone.

She needed to be gone.

So she left. As the door closed behind her, she did not turn back. She wandered slowly toward Max, who waited for her. He always waited for her. That’s what he did. She grabbed his hand, and they followed the others back to the dorms.

But Layna knew Dillon was still on stage. She imagined him standing there, all alone, licking his wounds and staring with red, watery eyes at the ghost light.

***

Excerpt from Jinxed by Thommy Hutson. Copyright © 2018 by Thommy Hutson. Reproduced with permission from Vesuvian Books. All rights reserved.

 

Catch Up With Thommy Hutson On thommyhutson.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Tour Participants:

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Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Thommy Hutson. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on March 12, 2018 and runs through May 14, 2018. Void where prohibited.

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Mar 152018
 

The Fourth Gunman by John Lansing Tour Banner

The Fourth Gunman

by John Lansing

on Tour February 19 – March 24, 2018

Synopsis:

The Fourth Gunman by John Lansing

From the best selling author of The Devil’s Necktie, and Blond Cargo comes the latest title in the Jack Bertolino series.

Retired inspector Jack Bertolino straddles two perilous worlds. Known for his impeccable police work, Jack has also done a priceless favor for an infamous Mafia Don: he saved the gangster’s kidnapped daughter from being sold into the sex trade, and brought her safely home.

In Jack’s line of work, he can’t help but have friends—and enemies—on both sides of the law.

So when FBI agent Luke Hunter goes missing after a deep undercover assignment with that same mob boss, the FBI calls Jack in, looking for a favor. With his connections and skills, Jack’s the only man for the job: find Luke Hunter, dead or alive.

The Mobster operates an illegal gambling yacht in international waters off of Southern California, and when Luke went missing, so did half a million dollars of the mob’s money. As Jack dives into the case, he’ll learn the true mystery isn’t the agent’s disappearance, but something far more ominous…

The Fourth Gunman is a sizzling action-packed thriller that will keep you turning pages until the explosive finale.

 

**Read my review HERE and enter the giveaway!**

 

Book Details:

Genre: Crime/Thriller
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Number of Pages: 375 (estimated)
ISBN: 1501189530 (ISBN13: 9781501189531)
Series: Jack Bertolino, 4 | Each is a Stand Alone Novel
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, & Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

John Lansing

Best-selling author John Lansing started his career as an actor in New York City. He spent a year at the Royale Theatre performing the lead in the Broadway production of “Grease” before putting together a rock ‘n’ roll band and playing the iconic club CBGB.

Lansing closed up his Tribeca loft and headed for the West Coast where he landed a co-starring role in George Lucas’ “More American Graffiti,” and guest-starred on numerous television shows.

During his fifteen-year writing career, Lansing wrote and produced “Walker Texas Ranger,” co-wrote two CBS Movies of the Week, and co-executive produced the ABC series “Scoundrels.”

John’s first book was Good Cop Bad Money, a true crime tome he co-wrote with former NYPD Inspector Glen Morisano.

The Devil’s Necktie, his first Jack Bertolino novel, became a best seller on Barnes & Noble and hit #1 in Amazon’s Kindle store in the Crime Fiction genre.

Jack Bertolino returns in John’s fourth novel, “The Fourth Gunman.”

A native of Long Island, John now resides in Los Angeles.

 

GUEST POST

I want to thank Cheryl for hosting me on her blog site. She asked me to write something readers don’t know about Jack Bertolino.

There’s one part of Jack’s life that’s never been discussed. It’s a painful episode, one that I may explore in the future, but it might give you some idea of Jack’s backstory, and what motivated him to become a cop.

Jack grew up on Staten Island. A suburban blue-collar neighborhood, just a ferry ride from NYC, but a world away. A town where there were as many wise guys, as good guys, living side by side.

Fourteen-year-old Jack would toss his newspapers, rolled tight and fastened with rubber bands, over the handlebars of his chocolate-brown bicycle. Mafia soldiers, button men, and mob bosses owned many of the front stoops his papers landed on. These were his neighbors. He ate hotdogs with them on the 4th of July, and went to school with their kids.

If you weren’t in the mob, you were a fireman, a postman, a policeman, or in construction.

Jack’s father was a fireman. A man who never made the grade. Never moved up through the ranks. A hard drinker with an anger quotient off the charts.

Jack always stayed busy after school, because he never knew the state his father was going to be in at the dinner table. If he was on a drinking jag, which was chronic, he knew he was in for some pain.

Jack’s uncle lived a few doors down from the family home and kept a watchful eye on his brother’s behavior. If he heard raised voices coming from their house, he’d position himself on his front lawn with a rake, and when he spotted Jack on his bike, he’d wave him away if it was too dangerous for the kid to go home.

Jack would ride his bike until after dark, try and sneak into the house, and belt down his dinner before he fell victim to his father’s drunken scowl. If his father caught him at the kitchen table, he’d stand off to one side, and start picking, prodding, emotionally abusing Jack for how loud he was scraping his plate with his fork, or any damn thing he could think of. Look at me when I’m talking to you, he’d snarl and slap him on the back of the head.

There was no correct response. But when the old man finally goaded Jack into mumbling something, anything, a closed fist would backhand him off the chair, and a few choice punches to the shoulder and the gut would send Jack running up the stairs to his room crying angry tears.

When his teachers asked how he got the bruises on his face, or forearms, Jack would cover for his father, not really knowing why. He wasn’t fooling anyone, but nobody wanted to get involved with domestic abuse in those days.

Jack learned early on that he could take a punch with the best of them, and he would put himself in harms way to protect his mother, or his younger sister, from the physical violence. The problem being, he wasn’t always home when the punishment was meted out.

It was a cold fall night with winter right around the corner. The sidewalks were icy and Jack’s breath blew out his mouth and trailed his red cheeks as he pedaled his bike. He was freezing, tired of riding, and steeled himself for his return home. He could hear muffled arguing going on in the kitchen as he stowed his bike in the garage and headed up the back steps.

He eased the back door open. Jack heard a sound that he knew all too well. A hand slapping flesh. His stomach roiled as he heard his mother cry out.

Jack’s heart pounded as he ran into the kitchen and threw the first punch connecting with his father’s unshaven face.

His father startled for a second.

Jack’s mother yelled for Jack to run.

Jack’s father’s face split into a wolf grin, “You little prick, I’m gonna kill you now.” And he threw from the heels. The punch knocked Jack onto the Formica table, dishes shattered as he rolled down onto the floor.

His father barked a harsh laugh as he turned to slap his wife again. Jack leapt up and grabbed his arm before he could strike his mother. His father reeked of bourbon, and beer, his eyes wild, his smile dark. He swatted Jack like an insect, and stepped in close to teach his son a lesson.

Over his mother’s screams as she pounded her husband’s back, he tore into his son until Jack’s nose was broken, and his torn t-shirt, covered in blood.

Jack left a bloody footprint on the linoleum floor as he ran out the back door, across the frozen grass to the safety of his uncle’s house.

When Jack was finally old enough to make life decisions, he was offered a job with one of the local mafia bosses. The money was great, and for a tough kid like Jack, who had developed the reputation in the neighborhood for not only being able to take a punch, but to throw one as well, upward mobility could be in his future. And Jack could be on his way to becoming a made-man.

A fat wallet, fast cars, fast women, respect in the neighborhood, and the best tables, at the best clubs, on Staten Island and in Manhattan.

Jack thanked Mickey Razzano, a Capo for one of the Five New York Families, for the generous offer and politely turned him down.

Jack jumped into his beat up Chevy, drove to Police headquarters, and signed on the dotted line.

CM: WOW! Now knowing Jack’s background, it gives me a better insight as to the man he is today!

If you haven’t read this series, you are truly missing out. I recently had a “conversation” with John Lansing and told him that I think his books would make for an awesome, and addicting, television series.

 

Catch Up With John On www.johnlansing.net;, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

One

Luke Hunter sat hunched over a tight built-in desk in the cabin of a weathered thirty-six-foot catamaran docked in Marina del Rey. His fingers flew over the keyboard of a MacBook Pro. There had been one amber sconce illuminating the cabin before he broke in to the vessel, but now the laptop computer was throwing more light than he was comfortable with. At two a.m., all was quiet on the dock, but Luke was running late and still had another stop to make before he could call it a night.

Luke’s hair was short, brown, and unruly, his Italian eyes smoky, his beard dark and in need of a shave. His angular face was set with determination as he slipped a flash drive into the computer, tapped a few keys, and hit Copy, hoping to make short work of his theft.

The cabin was teak, and brass, and well worn. Rolled navigational charts littered the cramped workspace but didn’t intrude on the comfortable living quarters and the bunk that occupied the bow of the catamaran.

Luke spun in the chair, unraveled specific charts on the bed, snapped photos with his iPhone, and stowed the maps back where he’d found them. He had a theory as to why so many of the charts were focused on the waters in and around the Farallon Islands, off the coast of San Francisco, and hoped the computer files would corroborate his suspicions.

He took pictures of the scuba tanks, masks, flippers, speargun, and weight belts that were stowed aft. The galley was diminutive but efficient. A few potted succulents and fresh herbs on a shelf above the sink lent a feminine touch to the nautical surroundings. Nothing of interest there.

Luke heard the screech of the rusted security gate that led from the parking lot to the yachts and immediately shut down the computer, pocketed the flash drive, and closed the lid, tamping out the light.

He hoped it was just another liveaboard moored at the same dock, returning home after a night on the town. But he spun in place, laced his hands behind his head, and stretched out his legs, facing the teak steps that led from the stern into the cabin, ready to talk his way out of a dicey spot if necessary. It would be uncomfortable but doable. He set his face into a gotcha grin, ready to go on the offensive. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

The boat rocked slightly, the slippered footfalls nearly silent as a woman made her descent into the body of the vessel. Silk drawstring pants hugged her willowy frame as she stepped off the wooden stairway and seemed to suck all the air out of the cabin.

Roxy Donnelly had straight red hair that kissed her collarbone and parted in the middle, and a light feathering of freckles on her cheeks and chest. Her hazel eyes bore in to Luke’s, assessing the situation. She came to a conclusion and—without speaking—told him everything a man wanted to hear from a woman.

Roxy was backlit, her figure silhouetted in a diaphanous white blouse. Luke could see she was braless, and his heart quickened. Her nipples rippled the fabric, and sparks spread to Luke’s chest and down to his groin. As he became aroused, he found himself at a loss for words. No mafioso cracking wise, only deep breathing trying to hide his visceral reaction to the danger of her unexpected arrival. The cabin seemed to become tighter still, if that was possible, until Roxy broke the silence.

“I knew you were smarter than you looked.” If she was aware that Luke had raided her computer, she gave no indication or surprise at his presence. “You saw the schedule, Trent’s on call.”

She stepped closer and Luke found himself on his feet. “I made the schedule,” he said.

Roxy stepped so close their noses touched. He could feel her breath. The light scent of perfume was intoxicating. She reached down and touched his erection, stoking the fire. “I know what you drink, but I don’t know how you like it.”

“Any way you serve it,” Luke said, his voice deep, throaty, and bedroom. He knew he should hit the road but stood transfixed.

Roxy took his hand, squeezed it, and led him to the queen-size bunk in the rear of the cabin. “Get comfortable.”

She stepped into the galley, poured two glasses of Scotch, neat, kicked off her slipper shoes, and glided barefoot to the bed, handing Luke his drink. They clinked and each took a deep sip, never breaking eye contact.

Roxy set her glass down, slowly unbuttoned her blouse, and shrugged out of it, revealing sheer perfection. A dancer’s body. Compact upright breasts, a narrow sculpted waist, and a sapphire-pierced belly button. She tossed the blouse onto the chair Luke had been sitting in, leaned over him, and unbuckled his belt more roughly than he would have expected.

Luke might have received a reality check, but by the time his cell phone buzzed in his pants pocket, they were hanging over the chair.

“You’re not upset?” he said, a statement of fact.

“You should’ve called first, but it was inevitable. It was perfect the first time. We work too hard for no pleasure. Roll over, I’m good with my hands.”

No argument from Luke, who pulled off his gray crewneck and tossed it on the chair. He eased onto his stomach carefully because he was sporting a blazing hard-on.

Roxy was fully engaged. She lit a candle, then raked his back with her fingernails, the brief contact from her nipples as she leaned over him burning a trail from his neck down to his waist. As she straddled Luke, he felt her heat and let out a husky groan.

Roxy started on his lower back and slowly worked her way up his spine, compressing with thumbs and forefingers every third vertebrae until she reached his neck.

“You are good,” he murmured.

By the time Luke realized cold steel was pressed against the back of his head and not her thumbs, he was dead.

The explosion of the hammer striking the .22 round in her derringer created a blinding electric flash behind Luke’s eyes. The bullet rattled around his skull, tearing up brain matter, until his world turned pitch-black.

Roxy jumped off the bed, grabbed a plastic garbage bag out of the galley, pulled it over Luke’s head, and cinched it around his neck to catch any blood evidence. She picked up her cell and hit Speed Dial.

“Trent. We’ve got a situation,” and Roxy gave him the rapid-fire shorthand version while she rifled through Luke’s pants and billfold, her voice devoid of emotion. Her body vibrated uncontrollably as adrenaline coursed through her nervous system. She dropped Luke’s keys and willed her hands to stop shaking as she placed his cell phone and the flash drive next to her laptop. “I’ll clean things up on the home front, you keep your ears open and get a feel for the play at your end. Stay on shift—Shut the fuck up and let me talk!” And then in a tight whisper, “I killed a man, okay? I’ve had better nights. Okay, okay, but only text if you sense movement in our direction.” Roxy was unraveling. “You won’t hear from me again until, until, shit, Trent, until I call you.”

Roxy snapped out the light and walked over to the door and tried to still her breathing as she sucked in the thick sea air and listened for any movement on the dock. Water lapping against hulls and nylon lines clanking on aluminum masts were the only early-morning sounds. If not for the dead body lying on her bunk, it would almost be peaceful.

Roxy got down on her hands and knees and scrabbled around until she came up with the keys she’d dropped. She sat on the edge of the bed and made a mental list of what she had to accomplish. Sucked in a breath, nodded, and went into action.

Roxy pulled the duvet cover over Luke’s body and changed into jeans and black T-shirt and black running shoes. She grabbed a pair of thin cotton gloves and shrugged into Trent’s oversize black hoodie.

She rifled through the junk drawer and pulled out a roll of blue painter’s tape, took a credit card and the cash out of Luke’s wallet and added it to her own, and ran out of the catamaran, locking the door behind her.

*****

Roxy pulled the hood over her red hair and slipped on the gloves as she ran up the dock and out through the chain-link security gate.

There was a smattering of cars in the lot, and Roxy started hitting the button on the remote-entry key for Luke’s car but got no response. She knew Luke drove a black Camaro but was at a loss. She spun in place and felt like she was going to explode. She turned off the emotion, knowing that if she didn’t fly right, she was as good as dead.

She jogged over to the next lot that was half full and tried the key again. Nothing. Roxy fought to suck down the bile and panic that threatened to overwhelm her. She ran up and down three rows of cars. Still nothing. She pounded toward the apartment complex across the street.

Roxy heard the ding before she found the car.

Luke had parked in the open lot that serviced the channel on the other side of the road. Mercury-vapor security lamps provided ambient light. Roxy checked the license plate and went to work.

She pulled out the tape and ripped off a small strip, turning a 1 into a 7. She tore off two smaller strips and changed a second 1 to a 4. She repeated the task on the front plate and dove, flattening herself on the rocky macadam surface, as a car drove up the street.

A black-and-white rolled onto the lot, its tires crackling over the uneven surface. The cop car did a silent drive past her aisle, slowed, then moved up to the far end of the lot, turned left, and back out onto the street.

Time seemed to stand still, but the pounding of Roxy’s heart reminded her that the clock was ticking and daylight would be her enemy. She grabbed a handful of dirt from the ground and wiped it onto the license plate with one eye peeled for the cop car. She did the same with the rear plate, obscuring some of her handiwork. After the cop car made his final pass down the street and disappeared onto the main drag, Roxy jumped behind the wheel of the Camaro, adjusted the seat and mirror, put on a pair of dark glasses, and rumbled out of the parking lot.

*****

It took sixteen minutes to get from the marina to long-term parking at LAX. The black Camaro had black-tinted windows, and when Roxy pulled into the lot, hit the button, grabbed a ticket, and waited for the electronic arm to rise, she had her hood pulled tight, her dark sunglasses in place, and her head tilted down. If there had been a security camera at play, all it would’ve recorded was the top of a dark hoodie.

The lot was huge. Roxy motored to the far end and parked between two large SUVs that all but swallowed Luke’s low-slung muscle car. She checked the glove compartment to see if there was anything worth taking, or revealing as to Luke’s true purpose, snooping in the wrong place at the wrong time. She found the car’s registration and proof of insurance and pocketed the documents in the hope that it might slow the inquiry sure to follow. She hit the button that opened the trunk, readjusted the driver’s seat, locked the doors, and exited the vehicle.

A salmon glow pulsed above the horizon, a warm-up for the main event. The adrenaline had worn off, and Roxy was so tired she could have slept standing up. What she saw when she looked in the trunk got her heart pounding and her head spinning again. A large leather satchel on wheels, filled with cash. More cash than Roxy had ever seen in her twenty-seven years on God’s planet. It was Mafia money. The weekend’s take from the illegal gambling yacht where she bartended. She zippered the bag and slammed the trunk shut. She didn’t need any more heat than she’d already generated.

Roxy took a few steps away, spun back, opened the trunk, grabbed the satchel, and started wheeling it down the long row of cars toward the shuttle that arrived every fifteen minutes. She’d take the short ride to Tom Bradley International Terminal, where she planned on using Luke’s credit card at a McDonald’s to create a paper trail.

Inherent problems were created by taking the Mafia’s money, but leaving it would have been a major fuckup. A man on the run would never leave without the cash.

*****

Two black stretch limos roared into the parking lot at Long Beach Shoreline Marina, adjacent to the Bella Fortuna. Doors flew open, and eight men exited the vehicles, ran across the lot, and pounded up the yacht’s gangplank, disappearing into the body of the luxury craft.

A somber Tony-the-Man stood at the railing on the main deck and looked down as Vincent Cardona stepped out of the lead car and walked slowly up the gangplank. The two men locked eyes for what seemed to Tony like an eternity before Cardona boarded the ship.

Heads would roll, and Tony instinctively rubbed his neck— his was at the top of the list.

*****

The yellow cab let Roxy off at the Admiralty Club in Marina del Rey. She paid the driver with cash and waited until he was gone before walking next door to the Killer Shrimp Diner, where she was a regular and knew the kitchen was open twenty-four/seven. She peeled off her sunglasses, pulled the hood back, and shook out her startling red hair.

Roxy forced herself to eat scrambled eggs, bacon, and buttered toast, generating an alibi with her own credit card receipt. She paid up and rolled the satchel, laden with cash, down the sidewalk and the half-mile trek to her catamaran as the sun breached the Santa Monica Mountains behind her.

Two

Twenty-four hours had passed since the death of Luke Hunter, and the weather had turned nasty. The sea was whitecapped, the crescent moon blanketed by a thick marine layer. A perfect night for what Roxy and Trent had to accomplish.

A perfect night to dump a body.

Trent was piloting the catamaran, heading south toward the San Pedro Channel and powered by the auxiliary engine. He knew the depth of the basin was good for at least 2,250 feet. He’d studied the charts, set the GPS, and they were just a few minutes from their destination.

Trent looked right at home, almost regal, standing behind the wheel of the craft that bucked, rolled, and cut through the waves, never veering off course. He was a Saudi national and a U.S. citizen, raised in the States from the age of eight, so he had no discernible accent. He was twenty-eight years old, with a boyish open face, a buffed physique, a swarthy complexion, buzz-cut brown hair, and gray eyes that could set Roxy’s heart thrumming. A finely inked tiger ran the length of one muscled forearm, the tattooed claws drawing red blood.

Roxy stepped out of the cabin and carefully made her way behind him, wrapped her arms around his six-pack, and leaned her cheek against his back, trying to still the beating of her heart.

Trent gave her hand a firm squeeze before grabbing the wheel with both hands. “You’re a brave woman, Roxy,” he shouted over his shoulder, fighting the howling wind. “A warrior.”

The moment he announced they were approaching their destination, the GPS system gave off a shrill cry. The night was black; there were no other boats in the area, no container ships navigating the channel. It was time to get to work. He shut off the engine, locked the wheel, and lowered himself into the cabin, followed by Roxy.

Luke, head still covered with the plastic garbage bag, was dressed in nothing but his briefs. He’d been rolled onto the cabin floor; his body lay on top of the duvet cover.

Trent grabbed two fifty-pound diving belts from their scuba gear and carried them up to the main deck. Roxy handed a twenty-five-pounder through the hatch. Trent ran back down, wrapped Luke’s body tightly in the blanket, and, with Roxy’s help, dragged his deadweight up the stairs and onto the aft deck behind the wheelhouse.

Trent pulled back the duvet and fastened one belt, cinched it tight around Luke’s waist, and then made short work of the second. He grabbed the twenty-five-pound belt, wrapped it twice around Luke’s neck, and secured it. Postmortem lividity had turned Luke’s back, buttocks, and legs a blackish-purple where the blood had settled.

Trent pulled the duvet taut, rolling Luke’s body over, and ripped a cut from top to bottom on the garbage bag so it would disengage after splashdown and be dragged out to sea. He worried it might fill with air as the corpse decomposed, and drag the body to the surface.

Roxy steeled herself as she looked down at Luke. His face was bone-white, his eyes devoid of color, just a thick opaque film. If there was one life lesson she had learned from her father, it was to meet trouble head-on. Never roll over, never look back, and never run. She swallowed her rising bile and choked, “Do it.”

Trent grabbed both ends of the blanket and muscled Luke’s body with 125 pounds of lead weights off the stern of the catamaran, tossing the duvet into the chop behind him.

Roxy and Trent stood shoulder to shoulder as they watched Luke float for a second and then slip below the water’s surface; they were confident he was permanently buried at sea and they could move forward with their plan.

Three

Day One

Retired Inspector Jack Bertolino was sitting in the nosebleed seats at Klein Field at Sunken Diamond, Stanford University’s baseball stadium, in Northern California. The sun was blinding, the sky ultra-blue, the wisp of cirrus clouds as white as cotton. The old-growth pepper trees surrounding the field swayed in the light breeze carrying the scent of eucalyptus and fresh-mowed grass, taking some of the heat off the early-September afternoon.

Jack had his eyes closed behind his Ray-Bans, taking in the sounds of the college baseball game, now in the eighth inning, being played in the stadium below. His hair was dark brown verging on black, with strands of silver feathering the temples, and worn long enough to threaten his collar. His angular face was weathered from years doing undercover narcotics work on the streets of NYC, and his tan only served to accentuate the scars from hard-fought battles. A bump on his otherwise straight Roman nose, a gift from a crack dealer, buffered some of Jack’s innate intensity. At six-two and big-boned, Jack had a tight fit in the stadium seating, but the sound of the hard ball slamming into leather, the crack of the bat, the umpire’s barked calls, and the emotion of the crowd made it a perfect day. Took him back to his youth playing the game on Staten Island, where he had raised his son, Chris.

There was a chance Chris was going to pitch for the first time since the attempt on his life that had shattered his throwing arm nine months earlier. Jack wouldn’t have missed seeing his son in action again for the world. It hadn’t been an easy recovery for the young man, physically or mentally, and Jack tried to keep his own emotions in check. He didn’t want his heavy feelings to pull Chris down.

Jack was jolted out of his reverie as a trim man wearing a light-weight gray suit and dark aviator sunglasses, with zero body fat and white brush-cut hair, banged against his knees as he moved down the aisle, finally dropping into the seat directly to Jack’s right.

An attractive, serious woman wearing an equally professional gray pantsuit, with a jacket cut large enough to accommodate her shoulder rig and 9mm, made her way up his aisle. There was something about a woman and a gun that was a turn-on for Jack. Or maybe it was her shoulder-length auburn hair that shone as bright as her mirrored sunglasses. She head-tossed her hair off her face as she took the seat to Jack’s left, feigning interest in the game.

Jack wasn’t surprised by the untimely visit; he had made the feds on his flight from LAX and been waiting for them to play their hand.

“To what do I deserve the honor?” he said, his eyes lasered on the game as the Ohio State Buckeyes headed for the bench and the Stanford Cardinals ran onto the field. Chris had been in the bullpen warming up for the past twenty minutes but remained sidelined; the game was tied three to three at the top of the ninth, and it seemed unlikely he’d be called to play.

“I couldn’t do it,” the female FBI agent said, her eyes never leaving the field. Jack didn’t respond, so she continued, “Come to the game if it were my kid. Too much pressure.” Her voice carried an easy strength, and she wasn’t going to be deterred by his silence. “Especially with all your boy has been through,” letting Jack know he had no secrets from the FBI.

Ohio pounded a ball toward the left-field fence. The batter shot by first and was held up on second by the third-base coach.

It never surprised Jack how much the government knew about civilians’ lives, but his son was sacrosanct. And he knew if he spoke right away, he might not be able to control his growing anger at the personal violation.

The male agent, picking up on Jack’s energy, took off his glasses and proffered his hand. “Special Agent Ted Flannery.” He looked to be pushing fifty but had the body and vigor of a thirty-year-old. “Sorry for the intrusion, Jack, but we’ve come to ask for your help.” Flannery’s hand hung in midair until it became clear Jack wasn’t going to respond. Undaunted, the agent went on, “You’ve had a good relationship with the FBI throughout your career, Jack, and beyond. It’s been duly noted and appreciated, and because of your recent history, you’re in a unique position to be of service.”

“What do you need?” Jack asked, giving away nothing.

“Vincent Cardona,” the female agent said, answering his question. “You visited his home in Beverly Hills on the seventh of May. You were on Cardona’s payroll, hired to find his daughter, Angelica Marie, who’d been kidnapped. An altercation occurred. You slammed Cardona up against the wall, Peter Maniacci drew down on you, and Cardona’s cousin Frankie, with two other gunmen on his heels, ran out of the kitchen, ready to shoot you dead if ordered.”

“You wired the house?” Jack asked.

“Cardona’s too smart for that. He does a sweep once a week. No . . .” She paused for effect. “The fourth gunman was an FBI agent.”

The level of intensity in her tone wasn’t lost on Jack. She had referred to her agent in the past tense, but there was something more. Something unspoken, Jack thought.

Ohio thundered a ball over the fence for a two-run homer. Jack’s body tensed as the coach walked onto the field, huddled with the pitcher and catcher, and signaled toward the sidelines.

Chris Bertolino, number 11, ran out onto the mound and tossed a few back and forth with the catcher as the field was cleared and the game resumed. At six-two, Chris was as tall as Jack, but lean and rangy with sandy brown hair, a gift from his mother’s side of the family.

Jack raised his hand to his lips, and the feds let him concentrate on the game. They knew Bertolino wasn’t a man who could be pressured, and understood the personal significance of this moment.

Chris sucked in a deep breath, nodded to the catcher, and unloaded. His first pitch flew high on the outside. Ball one.

His second pitch went wide. Ball two.

The third pitch was hit. A sizzling line drive caught by the shortstop. First out.

The catcher walked out to the mound, whispered a few words to Chris, and resumed his position behind home plate.

Chris nodded, his game face on. If nerves were at play, he showed nothing to his opponent. He wound up and fired a fast-ball. Strike one. He denied the first two signals from the catcher and threw a second blistering pitch. Strike two. The crowd in the stands started to get loud. Chris tossed a slider, wide. The batter reached, fanned for the ball, and came up empty. Strike three.

The stadium erupted as the second batter stepped into the dugout and tossed his helmet in disgust.

The crowd started chanting and Jack’s stomach tightened. The lanky Buckeye leadoff batter made a big show of whipping his bat to loosen up before flashing a dead eye toward Chris, hocking a loogie onto the red clay, and stepping up to the plate.

Chris smoked a fastball.

The batter swung and made contact. The ball took a short hop and was plucked up by the second baseman, who threw Ohio out at first.

The crowd leaped to its feet as Chris led the team off the field, having stopped the flow of blood.

Jack let out a long, even breath, trying to slow his beating heart.

Chris never made it to bat. The first three Stanford starters were struck out in succession.

Stanford lost the game five to three, but it was a personal triumph for Chris, and Jack wished he were alone to savor the moment.

“I’ve got to get down to my boy,” he said to the female agent, who seemed to be in charge.

“Our agent disappeared three weeks ago,” she said, clearly un-willing to relinquish the moment. “He was deep undercover, and we believe he was on to something major. He never checked in, never filed a final report.”

“You should call in the cops.”

“We won’t jeopardize the case we’ve built against Vincent Cardona.”

“I’ve been down that rabbit hole,” Jack said, ending their impromptu meeting. “Don’t want anything to do with the man.” He stepped past the woman.

“Jack,” she said. The undercurrent in her voice, a sadness, struck a chord and turned him in place. She reached out with her card and looked up to lock eyes with him. “Liz Hunter. Think about it, Jack, and call me. Any time.” And then, “We could use your help.”
Agent Hunter wore light makeup on her clear tanned skin. She couldn’t have been over thirty, but her wide forehead was etched with fine worry lines. The hazards of the job, Jack decided. Her cheekbones were high and strong, her figure athletic, her slender, elegant neck tilted slightly to make her point. Jack found himself wondering what her eyes looked like.

“Why should I get involved?”

“The missing agent is my brother.”

Jack nodded, took the card, turned, and made his way down the steep concrete steps toward the Cardinals locker room.

***

Excerpt from The Fourth Gunman by John Lansing. Copyright © 2017 by John Lansing. Reproduced with permission from John Lansing. All rights reserved.

 

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