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.

 

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Mar 222018
 

Act of Revenge

by Dale Brown

on Tour March 19-31, 2018

 

Synopsis:

Act of Revenge by Dale Brown

When terrorists attack Boston, Louis Massina races against time to save the city with a high-tech counteroffensive . . .

On Easter Sunday morning, the city of Boston is struck by a widespread and coordinated series of terrorist attacks: an explosion in the T, a suicide bomber at Back Bay Police Station, and heavily armed gunmen taking hostages at the Patriot Hotel.

For robotics innovator Louis Massina, aka the Puppet Master, this is far more personal than a savage act of political terrorism. Boston is his city—and one of his employees, Chelsea Goodman, is among the hostages facing certain death. As Chelsea fights from the inside, Massina leads his team of tech geniuses at Smart Metal to deploy every bot, drone, and cyber weapon at their disposal to defeat the fanatics and save his city and friend.

That’s step one. Step two: Find the twisted mastermind behind the attacks and make him pay.

 

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: January 30th 2018
Number of Pages: 528
ISBN: 0062411322 (ISBN13: 9780062411327)
Series: Puppet Master #2

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Read an excerpt:

Flash forward

Boston, Easter Sunday High noon

Louis Massina paced back and forth in the small high-security area, worried, anxious, and angry. But most of all, impotent. Boston was under attack.

The lives of dozens, maybe hundreds, of his friends were directly threatened. One of his closest employees, a young woman with tremendous promise, was among the hostages. Maybe even dead.

And all he could do, for all his money, for all his inventions—his robots, his drones, his computers, his software—was walk back and forth, trying desperately to suppress what could not be suppressed.

Anger. Rage. The enemy of reason, yet the core of his being, at least at this moment. There were other alternatives. Prayer, for one. Prayer is impotence. Prayer is surrender.

The nuns who taught him would slap his face for thinking that. They held the exact opposite: Prayer was strength, tenfold. But while in many ways Massina was a man of faith, he had never been much given to prayer. In his mind, actions spoke more effectively than words.

Prayers were all well and good, but they worked—if they worked at all—on a realm other than human. And the action needed now was completely human. Not even the Devil himself could have concocted the evil his city faced.

Light flashed in the center of the far-right monitor.

“They’re going in,” said the operator watching the hotel where Massina’s employee had been taken hostage. The light had come from a small explosion at the side of the building. “They’re going in.”

Almost in spite of himself, Massina started to pray.

Two hours earlier

Boston, Massachusetts Easter Sunday morning

There were few better hotels in Boston than the Patriot Hotel if you wanted to soak up the city’s history: city hall was practically next door, Faneuil five minutes away. You could catch a trolley for the Old Town tour a block or two down the street. Bunker Hill was a hike, but then the British had found that out as well. The rooms were expensive—twice what they would go for at similarly appointed hotels nearby—but money had never been a major concern for Victoria Goodman, Chelsea Goodman’s favorite aunt. Victoria had gotten a job as a secretary for Microsoft very soon after it started, and when she cashed out her stock in the early 1990s, invested in real estate in and around San Francisco, most notably Palo Alto and Menlo Park—the future homes of Facebook and Google. Victoria had that kind of luck.

Despite her luck, and her money, Victoria was especially easygoing, self-assured yet casual. She met Chelsea in the hotel lobby wearing a blue-floral draped dress that showed off toned upper arms and legs that remained trim and shapely despite the fact that she had recently passed sixty.

“Just on time,” declared Victoria, folding Chelsea to her chest. “I hope you’re hungry.”

“I wouldn’t mind breakfast,” answered Chelsea.

“How far did you run this morning?”

“It’s not the distance, it’s the attitude,” replied Victoria. “Only five miles. But it felt wonderful. It’s so marvelous running through the city.”

“You’ll have to try for the Marathon.”

“Those days are gone, dear,” said Victoria lightly. “I’d never qualify. But thank you for the thought. You didn’t bring your young friend?”

“We’ll meet her at the Aquarium,” Chelsea said. “She had to go to church with her dad.”

“Well, it is Easter.”

“Actually, they’re Russian Orthodox, so it’s Palm Sunday. He’s a single father, and lately he’s been trying to instill religion in her.”

Chelsea followed Victoria across the paneled lobby to the restaurant entrance, where a maître d’ greeted them with a nod. He had a fresh white rose in his lapel and the manner of someone who’d been looking forward to this encounter the entire morning. He showed the two women to a seat at the far end of the room, then asked if they would care for something to drink while they looked at the menus.

“Mimosas,” said Victoria. “And coffee.”

“Mimosas?” asked Chelsea.

“Why not? You don’t have to work today, and champagne always puts me in the mood for sightseeing.”

Chelsea was just about to ask how exactly that worked when a loud crack shook the room. The metallic snap was followed by two more, each louder than the other. The noise was unfamiliar to most of the people in the restaurant, but Chelsea had lately had a singular experience that not only made the sound familiar, but warned her subconscious that there was great danger nearby.

She leaped up from her seat, and before her aunt could respond, had grabbed her and pushed her to the floor.

“Someone is shooting!” Chelsea told Victoria as the crack of a fresh round of bullets echoed against the deep wood panels of the room. “We have to get out of here!”

***

Excerpt from Act of Revenge by Dale Brown. Copyright © 2018 by Dale Brown. Reproduced with permission from William Morrow. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Dale Brown

 

Dale Brown is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous books, from Flight of the Old Dog (1987) in 1987, to, most recently, Iron Wolf (2015). A former U.S. Air Force captain, he can often be found flying his own plane over the skies of Nevada. Jim DeFelice is the co-author of the #1 New York Times bestseller American Sniper. DeFelice is the author of Omar Bradley: General at War, the first in-depth critical biography of America’s last five-star general. He also writes a number of acclaimed military thrillers, including the Rogue Warrior series from Richard Marcinko, founder of SEAL Team 6, and the novels in the Dreamland series with Dale Brown.

 

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Check out this awesome Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Dale Brown and William Morrow. There will be 3 winners of one (1) physical copy of PUPPET MASTER by Dale Brown. The giveaway begins on March 19, 2018 and runs through April 1, 2018. This giveaway is open to US Addresses only. Void where prohibited.

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Mar 202018
 

The Silent Games

by Alex Gray

on Tour March 12 – April 14, 2018

 

Synopsis:

The Silent Games by Alex Gray

Alex Gray’s stunning new Lorimer novel, set against the backdrop of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, brings the vibrant city to life in a race to stop the greatest threat the city has ever known.

2014: The Commonwealth Games are coming to Glasgow and security is extra tight, particularly after a mysterious bomb explodes in nearby rural Stirlingshire. As the opening ceremony for the Games draws ever closer, the police desperately seek the culprits. But Detective Superintendent Lorimer has other concerns on his mind. One is a beautiful red-haired woman from his past whose husband dies suddenly on his watch. Then there is the body of a young woman found dumped in countryside just south of the city who is proving impossible to identify.

Elsewhere in Glasgow people prepare for the events in their own way, whether for financial gain or to welcome home visitors from overseas. And, hiding behind false identities, are those who pose a terrible threat not just to the Games but to the very fabric of society.

 

MY REVIEW

5 stars

I told you on January 8th, when I posted my review of THE SWEDISH GIRL, that I am addicted to this series!!

THE SILENT GAMES is the 11th novel but easily reads as a stand alone.

I have one question for Alex Gray…..how does she do it? How does she write each book with so much suspense, so much plot, so much story? And if you were to ask me which book is my favorite so far, I’ll tell you at the end of my review!

DCI Bill Lorimer has a lot on his plate. He gets called for unexplained large explosion where The Commonwealth Games are to be held in a year, in the same area, an unidentified young girl is found murdered and he attends his 20 year High School reunion, organized by his first love, Vivien. Later that night, Vivien calls saying she needs him because she has just found her husband dead.

As the cases proceed, they get worse. The explosion may be a trial run for a terrorist attack, the murder of the young girl has a wide reach of sex trafficking and Vivienne’s husband has been murdered. Could this all be related? But how?

Ms. Gray has such a descriptive writing style that with this book, and all the others I have read, I am able to create such vivid imagery. Imagery that has stayed with me from her previous books. The characters are realistic. The suspense never faltered. I found myself getting frustrated because life kept interrupting my reading time as I did not want to put this book down! Non stop action! A dynamic read!

Now to answer the question, which book is my favorite so far….the one I just finished reading but then I thought the same thing when I finished reading THE SWEDISH GIRL, and again when I read FIVE WAYS TO KILL A MAN, etc. etc.. Alex Gray has delivered again with another thrilling read! Please Ms. Gray, keep them coming!!!

Check out my reviews for other books in this series! THE RIVERMAN, PITCH BLACK, GLASGOW KISS, FIVE WAYS TO KILL A MAN and THE SWEDISH GIRL

 

Critical Praise:

An excellent procedural in which Gray … does for Glasgow what Ian Rankin did for Edinburgh in the annals of crime fiction.” — Kirkus Reviews on The Silent Games

“Gray has no equal when it comes to unmasking killers and she has excelled herself here . . . Gray is the new master of Scottish crime writing.” — Scottish Daily Express

“Brings Glasgow to life in the same way Ian Rankin evokes Edinburgh.” — Daily Mail (UK)

 

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Witness Impulse
Publication Date: March 13th 2018
Number of Pages: 368
ISBN: 9780062659262
Series: A DCI Lorimer Novel, #11 (Stand Alone)

Get Your Copy of The Silent Games from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, & HarperCollins.
Don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads!!

 

Read an excerpt:

From Chapter 2

It was worse than he could ever have imagined.

Even from the roadside, where a line of police cars was parked, Lorimer could see the devastation. Plumes of smoke and flames still rose from the heaps of broken trees, and as he emerged from the Lexus, his skin was immediately touched by flakes of ash drifting in the air. The smell of burning wood was overpowering, and he could hear the occasional crackle and hiss of fire beneath the whooshing sound from the firemen’s hoses as arcs of water were trained into the heart of the inferno. His eyes took in the gap in the hedge where the fire engines had broken through to reach the narrow walkers’ path, and the tyre marks on the verge. It would be replanted, no doubt, but the burning trees would leave a scar that would take far longer to heal.

‘Detective Superintendent Lorimer? Martin Pinder.’ The uniformed chief inspector was suddenly at his side, hand outstretched. Lorimer took it, feeling the firm once up and down as the officer motioned them to turn away from the direction of the cinders. ‘Sorry to call you out, but as I said, we needed someone to front this. And your name came up.’

‘But isn’t this a local matter?’ Lorimer asked. ‘We’re in the district of Stirling, surely?’

Pinder shook his head. ‘It’s bigger than you might imagine,’ he began. Walking Lorimer a few paces away
from the line of cars, he dropped his voice. ‘And there is intelligence to suggest that it may have a much wider remit.’

‘Oh?’ Lorimer was suddenly curious. The telephone call had mentioned an explosion, the immediate need for a senior officer from Police Scotland and a request to keep the lid on things, but nothing more.

‘You said intelligence.’ He frowned. ‘You mean Special Branch?’

Pinder nodded. ‘I’ve been charged with giving you this information, sir. And doubtless your counter terrorism unit will already be involved.’ He licked his lips, hesitating, and Lorimer could see the anxiety in the man’s grey eyes.

‘We are given to believe that this is just a trial run.’ Pinder motioned to the fire behind them.

‘A trial run,’ Lorimer said slowly. ‘A trial run for what?’

Pinder gave a sigh and raised his eyebrows.

‘The Glasgow Commonwealth Games.’

Lorimer looked at the man in disbelief, but Pinder’s face was all seriousness.

‘That’s almost a year away. Why do they think. . .?’

‘Haven’t been told that. Someone further up the chain of command will know.’ Pinder shrugged. Perhaps you’ll be told once you liaise with Counter Terrorism.’

Lorimer turned to take in the scene of the explosion once more, seeing for the first time the enormous area of burning countryside and trying to transfer it in his mind’s eye to the newly built village and arenas in Glasgow’s East End. He blinked suddenly at the very notion of carnage on such a vast scale.

‘We can’t let it happen,’ Pinder said quietly, watching the tall man’s face.

Lorimer gazed across the fields to the line of rounded hills that were the Campsies. Glasgow lay beyond, snug in the Clyde valley; on this Sunday morning its citizens remained oblivious to the danger posed by whatever fanatic had ruined this bit of tranquil landscape. He had asked why the local cops hadn’t taken this one on, and now he understood: the threat to next year’s Commonwealth Games was something too big for that. And since the various police forces in Scotland had merged into one national force, Detective Superintendent William Lorimer might be called to any part of the country.

‘The press will want statements,’ Pinder said, breaking into Lorimer’s thoughts. ‘It’s still an ongoing investigation. Don’t we just love that phrase!’ He gave a short, hard laugh. ‘And there is no loss of life, so we can try for a positive slant on that, at least.’

‘They’ll speculate,’ Lorimer told him. ‘You know that’s what they do.’

Pinder touched the detective superintendent’s arm, nodding towards the figures milling around on the fringes of the fire. ‘Apart from you and me, there is not a single person here who has been told about the background to this event. So unless the press leap to that conclusion by dint of their own imagination, any leak can only come from us.’

When Lorimer turned to face him, the uniformed officer was struck by the taller man’s penetrating blue gaze. Fora long moment they stared at one another, until Pinder looked away, feeling a sense of discomfort mixed with the certainty that he would follow this man wherever he might lead.

Wouldn’t like to be across the table from him in an interview room, he was to tell his wife later that day. But there on that lonely stretch of country road, Martin Pinder had an inkling why it was that the powers on high had called on Detective Superintendent William Lorimer to oversee this particular incident.

***

Excerpt from The Silent Games by Alex Gray. Copyright © 2018 by Alex Gray. Reprinted by permission of Witness Impulse, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Alex Gray

Alex Gray was born and educated in Glasgow. After studying English and Philosophy at the University of Strathclyde, she worked as a visiting officer for the Department of Health, a time she looks upon as postgraduate education since it proved a rich source of character studies. She then trained as a secondary school teacher of English. Alex began writing professionally in 1993 and had immediate success with short stories, articles, and commissions for BBC radio programs. She has been awarded the Scottish Association of Writers’ Constable and Pitlochry trophies for her crime writing. A regular on the Scottish bestseller lists, she is the author of thirteen DCI Lorimer novels. She is the co-founder of the international Scottish crime writing festival, Bloody Scotland, which had its inaugural year in 2012.

 

Catch Up With Alex Gray On alex-gray.com, Goodreads, & Twitter!

 

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 Alex Gray. There will be 3 winners for an eBook of THE SWEDISH GIRL. The giveaway begins on March 12, 2018 and runs through March 14, 2018.
Open to U.S. addresses only. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

Mar 162018
 

White Witch by Larry D Thompson Tour Banner

White Witch

by Larry D Thompson

on Tour March 5 – May 5, 2018

Synopsis:

White Witch by Larry D Thompson

When a ruthless American aluminum company plans to strip mine the Jamaican rainforest, they send former Navy SEAL Will Taylor to Montego Bay to deal with local resistance. But he’s unaware that the British had signed a treaty deeding it to the Jamaican Maroons, descendants of escaped slaves, over 300 years ago. The Maroons fought and died for their land then, and are willing to do so now. Upon Will’s arrival, a series of inexplicable murders begin, some carried out with deadly snake daggers that were owned and used by Annie Palmer, a voodoo priestess better known as the White Witch. She was killed 200 years prior, but is said to still haunt the island.

Forced into the middle of it, Will is finally convinced to join the Maroons, headed by Vertise Broderick, a Maroon who resigned from the New York Times to return to Jamaica to save the rainforest. To stop the mining, they hire a Jamaican attorney to prove that the Maroon/British treaty is still valid, and they take it upon themselves to solve the White Witch murders, because the legend of the White Witch can’t possibly be true…

 

MY REVIEW


5 stars

I have read 2 previous novels by this author, known for his legal thrillers, DEAD PEASANTS and THE INSANITY PLEA, and have been anxiously waiting for his latest book, WHITE WITCH, which has a bit of a different spin that I absolutely loved.

Will Taylor, VP of security for an international mining company, finds himself dealing with more than your average security. Set in the rainforests of Jamaica, the settlers and owners of the land will fight to keep the mining company out. Will soon finds out that there is much more going on. Is it pure legend or is there truth to the Voodoo stories associated with the land.

What could go wrong on this tropical island? Co-workers and officials are being murdered? Why and by who? Could ghosts of the past have something to do with the killings? And who’s side does Will align himself with when the owners of the land sue his employer?

This was an exceptional read!!!! Not only was the story intriguing, so was the history of Jamaica. The way the author weaves his legal expertise with the history of the island makes for a compelling read! This novel was well worth the wait! Fantastic!

Highly, highly recommend!!!

 

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Story Merchant Press
Publication Date: March 5, 2018
Number of Pages: 307
ISBN: 978-0-991621-5-6

Don’t forget to get your copy of White Witch from Amazon, Barnes & Noble & add it to your Goodreads List!!

 

LOVE this Trailer!!

 

Read an excerpt:

from Chapter 19…

When Will got to Rose Hall, he turned onto the road they had just come down the evening before. At the top of the hill he could see the mansion, now well lighted. He dodged tree limbs and utility wires and parked among several other vehicles. Police cars were positioned so that their headlights focused on the steps of the mansion where Will could see the yellow police crime scene tape. He
walked up a path from the parking lot between the police cars that faced the mansion to the yellow tape where an officer stood watch. The officer came to attention as Will approached.

“Sorry, mon. I can’t let you past here. We’re investigating a murder.”

Will kept his voice even but controlling. “I know, officer. That’s why I’m here. Name’s William Taylor. I’m head of security for Global American Metals.

Here’s my identification.” Will tried to hand him an ID. The officer just shook his head. “Officer, the dead man is one of Global’s employees. Can you get someone in authority to let me up there?”

Before the officer could reply, Miles Harper, the St. James Parish Chief of Detectives, approached. Harper was a lean, fit man with a shaved head and a nononsense manner. He was dressed in a brown suit, yellow shirt, and matching tie. He looked like he just stepped out of GQ Magazine, even at three in the morning.

“Mr. Taylor, I’m Miles Harper, Chief of Detectives in this parish. I was told by your company to expect you.”

Will extended his right hand. Harper ignored it. Instead, he nodded at the officer and motioned for Will to follow him. Harper went up a dozen steps and turned to Will as he stood beside Kaven’s body, sprawled on his back with a dagger in his chest. Will bent over for a closer look and found that the handle of the dagger was in the shape of a snake. At the top of the handle was the snake’s head. The snake’s eyes were two bright rubies.

“Shit,” Will muttered, “He was almost killed because of one snake on the road today and now someone finished the job with a, what would you call this, a snake dagger?”

“That’s as good a name as any, Mr. Taylor. My officers reported what went on up in Accompong and the incident with the boa.”

Will continued to study the body. “Looks like he’s been dead a couple of hours. I last saw him about ten last night. Who found him?”

“The hotel has a security guard that roams the mansion grounds and up to the club house in a golf cart. He spotted the body.”

“Where’s your coroner?”

“He’s a local Justice of the Peace, not a medical doctor. He won’t set foot on these steps until morning. My men here won’t go past the tape either. They believe the White Witch did it.”

Will shook his head in disbelief. “Come on, Chief, this is the twenty-first century.”

“Old beliefs die hard, Mr. Taylor. Come on. Let me show you something.”

Harper stepped around the body and climbed the steps with Will behind him. Entering the ballroom, Will said, “I was just in this room yesterday evening during the storm.”

Harper turned to study Will. “Would you care to explain?”

Will covered the details of the previous day and their time in the mansion while they waited out the storm. “You know a woman named Vertise?”

Harper nodded his head. “She’s a local. Works for the paper and tends bar for the hotel. Since you were in this room a few hours ago, come over here.”

Harper led Will to a glass display against one wall with pictures of two snake daggers above it along with the history of the daggers. The glass had been broken and the daggers were gone.

“You see this case when you were up here?”

Will studied it and thought back to the day before. “Can’t say I did, Chief.

It was pretty dark in here, lit only by candles since the storm knocked out power. I wandered around the room but never glanced toward this case. And I don’t believe anyone else mentioned it. Now that I think about it, Vertise told us the legend of Annie Palmer and her using a snake dagger to kill an overseer.

Surprising that she didn’t show us these daggers when she was telling the story.”

“Interesting,” mused Harper. “You have any idea why your man would come up here in the middle of the night?”

“Not a clue. Have you checked his cell phone? He always carried it.”

“Yeah. The last calls were with you yesterday afternoon and one with Ms. Pritchard later in the evening.”

Will nodded. “He called me from Accompong, warning me of trouble up there. I should have gone with him.”

Harper shook his head. “Whether you were there or not wouldn’t have made any difference. Just would have been one more person that was in my police car that rolled, assuming, of course, you didn’t take a bullet up on the mountain.”

“Understood.”

“How did you get in the mansion?”

“Vertise said she knew where a key was hidden and let us in.”

“Strange that she could get into the locked mansion. It was my understanding that only the manager of Rose Hall had a key. He locked it and left when the storm was hitting. The hotel spent a fortune on period pieces to recreate how it looked two hundred years ago. One of his jobs is to make sure they are not stolen.”

“Any signs of a break-in?” Will asked.

“This is not for publication, you understand, but when I got here the mansion was locked and the lights were off.”

“So, you’re saying that someone got into the mansion, stole two daggers, let themselves back out, killed Kaven, and left no trace.” Will paused to absorb all that he had just said. “Wait a minute. If someone wanted to kill Kaven, why not just use a gun? Why go to all the trouble of getting that dagger to do it?”

“I’ve been wrestling with that very question,” Harper said. “It’s illegal for a private citizen to own a gun in Jamaica, but that doesn’t mean they are not available if you know the right people. My working hypothesis is that the killer or killers wanted the public to think voodoo was involved, or maybe even the White Witch. The only other possibility that comes to mind is that the Maroons are trying to send a message to Global. They tried to kill Tillman in Accompong and failed. Maybe the message is that they finish what they start. Either way, someone is trying to make trouble for your company. I have another problem that may not be apparent.”

Will looked quizzically at the detective.

“As you can see, there were two snake daggers in this case. One’s accounted for out on the steps. The other is gone. Nearly everyone around here thinks that they are voodoo daggers with magical powers. They were found in an overseer’s grave during the restoration of the mansion thirty years ago.”

“Does ‘everyone’ include you? Looks to me like the killer or killers are just trying to mess with the minds of my co-workers, maybe keep some locals from hiring on with us.”

Harper stuck his hands in his pockets. “Not up to me to decide if they’re magic or not. I’ve got a murder with one of those daggers. My job is to solve the murder and along the way, find that other dagger before someone uses it.”

Will’s eyes searched the room in a futile effort to see any clues to the crime.

Then he focused on the chief. “Look, I’m going to need a gun. My company is obviously under attack. I’m licensed to carry back home.”

“No way, Mr. Taylor,” Harper exploded. “Foreigners are not permitted to have guns in Jamaica. For that matter, as I just told you, neither are Jamaicans.

And I want you to stay the hell out of my investigation. We don’t need your help. Understand?”

“Yeah, I understand. You know that each of our mines on this island is permitted a certain number of guns for our guards. I’ll just get one of those.”

“The hell you will. Don’t you dare go behind my back. Those guns never leave mine property. I have an officer that inventories them. If one turns up missing, I’ll confiscate every damn weapon that Global has and put you under house arrest. Clear, Mr. Taylor?”

Will clinched his fists and tried to hold back the anger that was apparent in his face. Without another word, he turned and stormed out of the mansion, pausing only to gaze at Kaven and say a prayer for him and his family. At the bottom of the steps, he got in his car and glanced toward the mansion. The lights from his car somehow caught the ruby eyes of the snake, making them appear briefly to be alive. Will shook his head, put the car in reverse, and returned to the hotel.

***

Excerpt from White Witch by Larry D Thompson. Copyright © 2018 by Larry D Thompson. Reproduced with permission from Larry D Thompson. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Larry D Thompson

After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law, Larry spent the first half of his professional life as a trial lawyer. He tried well over 300 cases and won more than 95% of them. Although he had not taken a writing class since freshman English (back when they wrote on stone tablets), he figured that he had read enough novels and knew enough about trials, lawyers, judges, and courtrooms that he could do it. Besides, his late, older brother, Thomas Thompson, was one of the best true crime writers to ever set a pen to paper; so, just maybe, there was something in the Thompson gene pool that would be guide him into this new career. He started writing his first novel about a dozen years ago and published it a couple of years thereafter. He has now written five highly acclaimed legal thrillers. White Witch is number six with many more to come.

Larry is married to his wife, Vicki. He has three children scattered from Colorado to Austin to Boca Raton, and four grandchildren. He has been trying to retire from the law practice to devote full time to writing. Hopefully, that will occur by the end of 2018. He still lives in Houston, but spends his summers in Vail CO, high on a mountain where he is inspired by the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

 

Catch Up With Larry on larrydthompson.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Tour Participants:

Visit the other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews and giveaways!

 

Giveaway

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Larry D Thompson. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Giftcard. The giveaway begins on March 5, 2018 and runs through May 6, 2018. Void where prohibited.

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REVIEW DISCLAIMER

This blog was founded on the premise to write honest reviews, to the best of my ability, no matter who from, where from and/or how the book was obtained, and will continue to do so, even if it is through PICT or PBP.
DISCLAIMER

I received a copy of this book, at no charge to me, in exchange for my honest review.
No items that I receive are ever sold…they are kept by me, or given to family and/or friends.
ADDENDUM

I do not have any affiliation with Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. I am providing link(s) solely for visitors that may be interested in purchasing this Book/EBook.

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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