Deep in the wilderness of the Peruvian Andes lies a monument hidden for centuries. Who were the builders? Why was it abandoned? What secrets does it reveal?
In 1953, an amateur rock climber makes a startling discovery. Overwhelmed by the choices he must make, the mountaineer completes his ascent deciding he will document his findings and present them to his superiors as soon as possible. It will take another fifty years before anyone reads what he wrote.
In 2004 news of the strange revelation reaches Drake Alexander. He will become involved whether he likes it or not. People very dear to him are plunged into a nightmare of avarice, impairment and death. Using all his skills as an ex-soldier, with accomplices he can trust, can he save his tormented friends from the raiders that thirst for the secret that lies within the mountains?
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The Andes, Peru Early summer.
Father Suetonius Graft is no ordinary priest. Presently he has his left fist jammed vertically in a horizontal crack that splits the granite face he is ascending. The open seam stretches upward for seventeen meters or more, tapering to a sliver that is still seventy meters away from the top of the mountain. His toes nip a five centimeter ledge, left over from a stone slab that split from the heaving rock millennia ago. His calves, like the rest of his lean body, are chiselled muscle. They strain from holding his weight on his toes. He reaches up with his right hand to search for another hand hold; there is nothing he can see. Needing to rest, he needs to find a better position than he is in now. He’s been climbing since early morning, stopping only when he absolutely has to.
His fingers search for a grip as he brushes his hand across the flat surface. A familiar feeling of unease touches him, as it has since he was a boy. He closes his eyes for several seconds and asks God where his hand should go, thanks Him for His guidance and if there is no hand-hold to be had, thanks Him for his life. Prayer has never failed him, not in the thirty-seven years since he scrambled up a rock pile when he was five. He had gotten stuck then. A boyish prayer to his guardian angel had given him confidence to find a way back down. He feels the same presence that rescued him then. He waves his hand over the hard face once more. This time his fingers sweep away ancient debris from an indent in the rock with enough room for four fingers up to the second knuckle. He latches on to the hold just as his lower legs begin to quiver from exertion. Taking most of his weight on his hands and arms, he relaxes his legs. Semi relief is instantaneous and he hangs there motionless for five minutes, his sweaty forehead pressed against the warm rock, thanking the Lord for His benevolence, for delivering him one more time.
As he clings to the sheer plate that rises over two hundred meters from the forest floor, the afternoon sun ricochets off his ebony skin, defining the musculature of his lengthy frame. His upper body is clad in perspiration that makes thin rills down his back, his chest and under his arms. The blue handkerchief with white polka dots, folded and tied around his tight curls, stops the flow from his smooth brow. He wears tattered climbing shorts that cover his thighs to the knees, all six pockets bulging. At his waist along his back, attached to a thin leather belt, is a pouch that holds climbing chalk. Powdered handprints left on the route up attest to the bag’s contents being well used. A white t-shirt is tied around his midsection. His legs end in thin wool socks tucked into custom, rubber-toed climbing shoes he designed. No other gear is attached to him: no pitons, no hammer, no clips. Around his neck hangs a polished, golden, curb link chain. Between his chest and the stone is a gold cross that his father gave him when he was ordained. He never, ever takes it off.
As his arms begin to weary, he looks up, trying to see a more appropriate spot where he can rest. Shadows creep up the mountain behind him as the sun begins its descent. Suetonius can see an opening about ten meters above to his right. A section of the plates that form these mighty mounds have created a crevice. He hadn’t been able to see it from below or with the sun shining directly on it. From where he hangs now, it looks to be wide enough for him to sit in. He sighs with relief. Concentrating on his next move, he sights an approach to the cavity. Once he is clear on his route, he pulls up with his hands, his arms straining until he can reach his foot into the same crack he has a taped fist in. He wedges his toes in sideways, pushing up to test its grip. As his body slowly rises he wiggles the lodged hand out and forces it as high as he can reach. It will be the last fist hold he uses because the crack starts to widen from there. But he knows it is all he will need.
With deft manoeuvers and risky placement, he is on the ledge forty-five minutes later. He can stand upright in the cleft, it being wider, with more head room than he originally thought. He leans back against the rock, which is refreshingly cool. The lip of the outer slab covers him from the sun. Studying the grain of the granite in front of him, he glances overhead at the slab at his back, marvelling that the two faces have identical marks and slices. Obvious they were one piece sometime in the past. He is in awe at the massive force that would have pushed these imposing mountains from the earth’s crust, cleaving solid rock as easily as if it were wood. He crosses himself in respect for God’s ways.
Sitting down on the rough ledge, his feet hang over the edge. Breathing deeply of the unsullied air, the scent of cold stone pleases him; the silence is complete. He looks out over the Peruvian scenery that poses before him. The narrow valley that leads back to the Malaga Pass is a mere indent in the landscape. Mountains, many gigantic, many shorter and greener fill the horizon. The smaller mountain he is perched on, a short distance east of Ollantaytambo, west of Machu Picchu, is over three hundred and fifty meters from the valley floor, over three thousand meters above sea level. The face he discovered is obscure, its access hindered by dense forest and abundant ancient scree. He felt led to this particular dome and he relishes the difficult work he’s accomplished over the past month to finally get where he is at this moment.
As his body rests, his thoughts sweep back to the rocks of his youth – the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, the Appalachians that puncture the southeast states. He climbed for the sheer joy of contact with the stone. It was at those moments he felt closest to God, when he felt his calling into the priesthood, when it opened his heart to possibilities, to humbleness, to majesty, to sharing and giving. When he clings perilously to a sheer stone wall, there is never any fear of falling, only a pure sensation of rising above the bounds imposed by gravity, above the bounds of personal limitations. To this very day, his best sermons are those that come from his moments with the open sky and the silent crags, and the peace that comes from times alone. His days off are often spent climbing or scouting for climbs. A grin crosses his slender face as he thinks how far he has come from a dormant village in Tennessee to the mountains of Peru.
His parents come to mind, both dead for the last three years, his father went first, at seventy-six, from cancer; his mother two years later at seventy-four. How he loved them. He was so proud of them, his father the first black fireman on the town of Raven Hollow’s pay roll. He recalls the marvellous sight of his Pap in his new uniform, buttons and brass as polished as his pure black skin. His Spanish-speaking mother was Cuban. She was originally a domestic, had shown a natural dexterity for numbers. She worked for the same employer all her life, first as his wife’s personal maid starting when she was only fifteen. But when she was twenty, she moved into the offices to learn bookkeeping, retiring many years later as office manager. They taught him and his five siblings to persevere, never give up on their goals. He missed them.
With that last thought, he rises from his seat thinking to scale the final stretch to the top, not too worried about time. He still has five or six hours of sunlight. He wants to check the rock overhead, looking for the best route up, and he backs into the crevice so he can see past a slight overhang just above him. He doesn’t look behind him because the inner slab looked to be part of the outer slab that forms the walls around him. But when he steps back, he feels a weak breeze stirring behind him. He looks past the back wall to see an opening that rises ten meters off the split but it’s only twenty-five centimeters wide. He isn’t a caver, a spelunker, so openings in the rock face hold little interest for him. Attempting to ignore it, a shiver prickles his skin, telling him to take a look. Removing a small flashlight from his pocket, he clicks the button to reveal a sharp, straight beam.
Poking the ray of light into the darkness, it is swallowed six meters in. The walls seem to open, moving apart from each other. The ceiling is nowhere in sight, too high and too dark for the penetrating glare. Rocks litter the floor, small and large; cobwebs in the hundreds decorate the interior, and the acidic smell of bat guano is present. The spooky emptiness is oddly inviting, like an entity that calls to him. An aroma of cold dust and aged memories wafts through the black passage. Father Graft tries to ignore his inner voice’s prodding, about to give up on the cave when his sweeping light falls upon something familiar, the skeleton of a human hand.
The bones are projecting from the base of a large boulder as if reaching for freedom. The curled finger bones are intact, tarsal and meta-tarsal pointed to the roof. Suetonius stares at the sight for many moments, never having considered that he’d not been the first to climb this face. His curiosity takes him deeper. Behind the boulder, the skeleton continues, two sets of tibia and fibula with feet attached complete the scene. The man or woman had been crushed by a falling rock. Who it was would never be known. What he may have been doing here would soon become evident.
Father Graft moves his light in a pendulating arc across the floor. The cavern widens out; narrow cracks punctuate the floor that he realizes is too smooth and level to be natural. He carefully watches where he walks. Stones of every size litter the passage, a reminder that the mountain’s insides are unstable, probably not safe. Shortly the ingress takes a sharp turn, opening into a wider grotto. He continues a short distance until the point of his torch touches upon something familiar on the floor to his right: a crude hammer. Its stone head is attached to a wooden handle, with curling strips of dried leather binding the two together. Holding the light directly on the implement, he stares at it for several moments; its obvious antiquity stuns him. What he is about to discover will floor him.
He lifts the light to the right, discovering a stone shelf that runs along the wall to disappear into the pitch. It comes almost to his waist. The width varies with the roughness of the stone it has been carved out of. It is cluttered with many more hammers of different sizes, with metal chisels clothed in verdigris. Odd implements he doesn’t recognize and loose rock fill the space. The spider’s traps are abundant. Scanning the collection, he tries to estimate the historical significance of what he has uncovered. He senses they are very old. But how old? Are they Incan, Quechan, Chanca? Why here? What were they building? The discovery uncovers so many questions. He checks his watch, sees he has been in here for only twenty minutes. He decides he will look around another half hour before leaving.
He directs the flashlight beam across the floor, checking for cracks, when off to the far left it reveals a stone berm. The delicate and precise crafting can only have been made by the most skilled of artisans. It is obviously Incan stone work. He has been in Peru for almost three years; Incan history fascinates him. He visited the ruins, listened to the lore, and devoted his reading time to their history. Their skills with chisels and wet sand astonish him. Reflecting on that, he judges this is the same work that he saw at Machu Piccu, likely over six hundred years old. He lifts the sliver of light upward.
There is a stone pedestal on the berm that holds what appears to be a tremendous slab almost like a wall rising into the bleakness above, it has to be three to four meters high, he estimates. He flashes his light briefly inside the cavern ahead of himself to see berm, pedestal and slab continue beyond the reach of his light. He brings the beam back to the wall in front of him. When he moves it up, he steps back, eyes wide in shock at what he sees. Even through the dust of ages, through the fine patina that masks the surface, he can detect, carved ornately into the facade of the flat wall, a huge warrior with battle axe raised above his head. Fine detail riddles the helmet fitted on his head. The figure stands with a fractured shield, armour dressing his lower limbs. One leg is raised, with a sandaled foot resting on a fallen foe. The body of the fighter’s enemy lies at his feet, the severed head close by. Father Graft wheezes into the gloom, “It’s a wall of war.”
Focusing the light down the wall, he can see other battles, other defeated opponents depicted in gruesome realness. The enormity of this definitive carving, an epic battle etched in something solid by hand, is too much. His heart races, his breathing becomes shallow. He has to sit down, he tells himself. And then he almost faints. His legs buckle; he drops to his knees, trying to control his breathing. His dropped flashlight rolls up to the berm and goes out.
He panics briefly but control learnt from his climbing calms him. He slowly moves into a sitting position, never taking his eyes off the spot where the light came to rest. The berm is less than two meters away, but the darkness is almost complete like on a moonless night. Very little light comes from the opening. He trembles lightly. He speaks to God in a small voice: “I’m humbled that you chose me to discover this relic, to find this evidence of Peru’s tumultuous past. I can only be your servant. I have no idea who to tell, where to go, but I will follow your lead, dear Father. Please show me what to do. Amen.”
His soft inflection barley echoes in the chamber.
He returns to his knees and creeps towards the wall until he touches the lowest stones. Shifting his hand to the right along the base, he finds nothing. In the opposite direction he hits the bottom of the light and it blinks two or three times. He grabs the flashlight with relief. As he shakes it gently, the light flashes again. Checking the battery cover, he finds it loose and gives it a twist. It springs back to life.
Rising, he walks towards the opposite end of the wall. There are three other warriors in similar battle array, similar poses, with defeated men who have all succumbed to hideous wounds. The victors bear different weapons: a bow, a sling, a spear. He notices each soldier is posed in a victorious stance, his attention focused towards the center of the grand wall. He recognizes them as Inca soldiers.
Seven meters in from where he started, an even larger figure rises taller than all the others. Suetonius shuffles closer, shining his light upwards. The carving is of a robed man. Taking root from the neck of his tunic are two heads bearing crowns. From each, the same face stares out at the girded greeting at his sides. The tip of his spear looms over his head, extending above the top lip of the wall. Father Graft stares deeply at the faces, which are stoic and unemotional, not at all war-like. The body of the man is wonderfully formed. It is hard to fathom that it was carved by hand. His bewilderment is intensified with every sweep of his eyes.
Another stretch of the wall, displaying carvings of equal skill and dexterity, is of mighty men still at battle. Each Incan warrior fights a different enemy. Some of their opponents wear odd dress, some wear none at all. All convey killing weapons and fierce glares. Father Graft notes that the carvers, likely Incan, paid respect to their enemies by not featuring them as weak. He retreats to inspect the fallen men on the left panel again, noting that on this wall also the enemies are different. It’s a marvellous display. Could it be a monument to the central figure, he asks himself? Why is it hidden in this mountain?
His questions are many, creating a traffic jam in his skull. He closes his eyes again, shaking his head. He feels dizzy for a moment and reaches out to catch himself as his arm automatically lifts towards the monolith. Where his hand comes to rest on the cold plate, he can feel the roughness of the carving. He reaches up with his other hand to hold his cross tightly in his grip as he tries to think what to do. He remembers he only has so many hours of sunlight to reach the mountaintop and he has yet to walk back to his car. His mind clears thinking of the climb before him. He knows concentration is vital. He pushes himself from the wall, checking his watch. He’s been in here for over an hour. He should go.
Turning to head, he glimpses the flash of his light reflected by the spot where his hand brushed away the patina. He gapes at what he sees and slowly focuses on the blotch.
“It can’t be!” He exclaims. “It’s unimaginable.”
To confirm his analysis of what he thought was stone, he turns the ray of the flashlight at the cross on his chest. The reflection is the same.
“Oh, dear Lord. It’s gold!”
Dead Man's Hand
What happens when the deck is stacked against you…
From NFL rising-star prospect to wanted fugitive, Calvin Watters is a sadistic African-American Las Vegas debt-collector framed by a murderer who, like the Vegas Police, finds him to be the perfect fall-guy.
…and the cards don't fall your way?
When the brutal slaying of a prominent casino owner is followed by the murder of a well-known bookie, Detective Dale Dayton is thrown into the middle of a highly political case and leads the largest homicide investigation in Vegas in the last twelve years.
What if you're dealt a Dead Man's Hand?
Against his superiors and better judgment, Dayton is willing to give Calvin one last chance. To redeem himself, Calvin must prove his innocence by finding the real killer, while avoiding the LVMPD, as well as protect the woman he loves from a professional assassin hired to silence them.
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This time, it’s not a job.
After proving his innocence as a murder suspect, taking down an assassin, and being an instrumental part in solving a high profile murder, Calvin Watters believes he can finally move on—until Ace Sanders’ prison escape catapults him into action.
This time, it’s personal!
Something has always bothered Detective Dale Dayton about the arrest of Ace Sanders. Call it police intuition, but his inner ‘cop alarm’ keeps twitching. When Dale reopens the case, he’s introduced to new evidence that leads him into a political nightmare.
Who will play the Wild Card to survive?
While Calvin tracks Sanders across continents and into unknown, unfriendly surroundings, Dale remains in Vegas to uncover the truth behind police corruption, prison escapes and hired assassins. But Calvin and Dale must be vigilant, because there’s a deadly, new player in town.
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Calvin Watters laid his head back on the pillow, stretched out his long, muscular, dark-skinned body, then rested his hands behind his head. He released a sigh of pure pleasure, a sound he hadn’t made in a very long time. Calvin felt more relaxed than he had in years. Grabbing the remote, he flipped to ESPN just in time to see an exclusive interview with his former USC teammate, Toby Jenkins.
Rachel climbed into bed beside him wearing a sexy, black Victoria Secret lace and satin slip he’d never seen before, and nuzzled her head on his bare chest. The new, dark lingerie contrasted perfectly with her smooth, pale skin.
She snuggled him tightly, giving him light, butterfly kisses on his arms and rock-hard abdomen. Calvin could feel her warm breath on his skin and it stirred him deep within.
Calvin smiled. “You’re in a good mood tonight.”
She continued to kiss his body, moving upwards towards his neck before planting a deep, passionate, wet kiss on his lips. She gently bit his bottom lip and tugged on it playfully. She pulled away and smiled.
“Wow, what brought that on?” he asked.
“I’m just really happy. And it’s all because of you.”
“I can see that. What did I do?”
“Everything we’ve planned, dreamed about, is coming true.”
Calvin nodded. “It’s not a fairy tale, but even I couldn’t have predicted things would be this good. Did you think a former leg-breaker and ex-hooker would make the perfect couple, the perfect team?”
“Never doubted it for a second.”
Calvin gently touched her chin, tilting Rachel’s head up so that he could look into her electric-blue eyes. The admiration in her gaze was all he needed to know how she felt about him. He loved the way it made him feel.
“You are my knight in shining armor,” she joked, nestling in tight.
Calvin liked the way that felt, too. It hadn’t taken them long to become completely comfortable with each other since that first night. They’d been through so much together in such a short time.
An improbable match made in heaven. They’d both ended up on the streets of Vegas, running away from a troubled past and looking for brighter lights.
Rachel, alone on the streets with no friends or prospects, had turned to prostitution, leaving home and an abusive stepfather.
Calvin believed that had she remained there, without his help, she’d have ended up another statistic. No happy endings, no Cinderella stories on the streets of Vegas. “Pretty Woman” was complete fiction.
Calvin’s downward spiral had started with his career-ending injury at USC. The torn ACL had taken several surgeries just to allow him to walk. He’d lost his full scholarship and fell into a pool of self-denial and self-loathing. He never thought he’d ever get out of that rut.
Their chance meeting turned both their lives around. They’d encouraged each other, and made sure they’d succeed.
Rachel rested her head on Calvin’s chest and released a soft, muffled sigh of complete and intense pleasure. “What’s on?”
“Just an interview with my former college teammate. They’re doing a documentary on Jenkins, how he became a great NFL running back.” Calvin tried not to sound bitter, but how could he not? Even though he’d gotten over it, turned his life around and moved on, there was still a sour taste in his mouth from how it had gone down.
“Wasn’t he your backup at USC?” She watched Jenkins sprinting down the football field on TV.
“Yep. I was the starter, and he sat on the bench watching me break records.He couldn’t carry my jockstrap back then. Now he makes eight million a season for the Chargers. If I hadn’t been so selfish, and had done what was best for the team, that would be me.”
“Please, let’s not get into this again.” Rachel turned her head and looked at Calvin. She smiled and winked, running the back of her fingers down the middle of his chest and underneath the blankets.
“You’re much sexier.”
“I’m over it.”
He wrapped his arms around her and rolled over, pressing his lips firmly against hers. Their bodies melted into each other.
He gently kissed her neck and slid the black satin strap off Rachel’s shoulder, kissing a spray of collar bone freckles, moving his tongue lightly down to her breast, and gently sucking on an erect nipple. He pulled himself back as much as he could, trying to take things slowly, but he had the urge to rip the slip completely off and take Rachel immediately.
A sharp warning buzz from the TV startled him. “We interrupt this regularly scheduled program for a special, emergency news bulletin.”
Calvin ignored the report and returned his attention to his hotter-than-hell girlfriend, ready and waiting. Rachel’s trust and loyalty was all he needed. But in the back of his mind, he had the temporary satisfaction of knowing that Toby Jenkins’ interview was being interrupted. Okay, maybe he wasn’t completely over it.
“This just in—Derek Baxter, a former United States Marine, escaped military confinement and is now on the run.”
The name jolted his bones. Calvin turned and Rachel sat up. He grabbed the remote and raised the volume.
A newscaster appeared on the screen. “Baxter was wanted in connection to the shooting death of a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officer last year. After a week-long man hunt, he was brought into custody by the United States Military, because of an outstanding, special, high-priority warrant against him.”
Rachel let out a low screech. She grabbed Calvin’s arm. “What’s going on?”
Calvin raised his hand to quiet her, so he could hear the report.
“Baxter had been a highly-decorated officer who received two purple-hearts during two military tours. At one time, Derek Baxter was considered the military’s top sniper, elite class, before a being dishonorably discharged in 2005.”
A picture of Baxter flashed on screen. The pale face and dead eyes brought up a storm of emotion. Calvin’s heartbeat quickened.
Rachel put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, my God. That’s the guy who tried to kill us.”
Calvin’s jaw muscles tensed. He swallowed hard. A lump formed in his stomach as pain flared in his chest. Baxter’s picture brought back vivid memories. No matter how much mental weeding Calvin tried to do, that bastard had left a lasting impression.
“Baxter was last seen at an airport in Fallbrook. Local authorities say the ex-marine could be headed anywhere, is armed and considered extremely dangerous. Anyone with information should contact…”
Calvin shut off the TV.
“Fallbrook is in California. Is Baxter coming back for us?” Rachael asked.
Calvin shook his head. “I don’t think so. He wouldn’t do anything that stupid.” But he knew he didn’t sound convincing, because he wasn’t sure. He knew Derek Baxter, had a deep connection with the man, and the professional assassin was capable of anything.
He probably still held a grudge over what Calvin had done to him.
Rachel shook. “We shut down our lives because of that guy. We spent four days locked up, hiding from both the police and that psycho.”
“I can’t do it again.” Tears moistened her eyes.
Calvin reached for her narrow shoulders and pulled her in close.
She buried her head into his chest. He could smell the Jasmine shampoo she used in her sandy-blond hair as her warm tears traced over his skin.
“You don’t have to, Rachel. Baxter isn’t coming back. He’d be crazy to. The whole country is searching for him. He’ll probably disappear and never be heard from again.” But Calvin knew first-hand just how crazy Derek Baxter really was—and he was that crazy.
Rachel pulled away. “Are you sure?”
He looked into her tear-soaked eyes, trying to remain composed.
He felt queasy, his palms sweaty and his breathing labored.
“I’m gonna call Dale.”
He tried not to look or sound worried, but that’s all he felt.
With the death of her father…
Officer Charlene Taylor has received her dream promotion—working Homicide with the LAPD. Her first case is the high-profile murder of Ken Anderson, a playboy UCLA professor with a haunted past. A mafia kingpin, billionaire tycoon, cheated wife and jaded lover are only a few on a long list of suspects, all with motive and opportunity.
…all hope of reconciliation is lost.
Not only does she feel the pressure from media and her boss to solve her first case, but Charlene must also deal with her father’s murderer, the “Celebrity Slayer,” a serial killer who enjoys baiting her with his knowledge of her life and routines.
Can a rookie detective work two high-profile cases and still keep her sanity?
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He pulled the old Honda into the dark, abandoned alley, killed the lights, and cut the engine. Even with the windows up, the stench of urine, vomit, and waste assaulted him. The steady, dismal downpour did nothing to conceal it.
The slow, light drizzle had not diminished the latest LA heat wave, but with its subtropical-Mediterranean climate, rain was a welcomed event.
Parked next to a rusty, dented blue dumpster, Martin Taylor adjusted his Dodger hat, his alert eyes scanning the deserted area.
There was nothing to see except three cinder-block, graffiti-designed walls, as the disinvested buildings had been gutted and vacated. The only sound was the relentless hum of Asian music from the back door of a Chinese takeout restaurant.
He didn’t like it. He was almost trapped within the u-shaped alley, with nowhere to turn his vehicle. He’d thought about backing in because, as it was, any chance of a quick, clean getaway would be impossible. But he needed this lead. Not just for the city, but for his ego.
He checked his watch. He was ten minutes early, so Martin took the time to think about the phone call that had lured him to the area known as Skid Row, in downtown Los Angeles.
He remembered the downtown as it was in the ’70s, when the sites and attractions drew both residents and tourists, but the economic downturn had changed all of that. From where he sat, he could hear the city’s Metro rapid transit system running throughout the night.
Now there was a new threat in town: The Celebrity Slayer, so dubbed by the media.
The serial killer was devastating the city, taking lives and leaving angry, malicious scenes—scenes that also left behind no criminal evidence to sort.
He was killing ‘B’ list celebrities, but his actions, his talents, were anything but ‘B’ list. The LAPD’s resources were running dry trying to find the guy. T, but the media was having a field day. The paparazzi, ETalk, Entertainment Tonight, Radar Online, were playing to the madman’s ego, feeding his narcissistic personality.
He had become a celebrity overnight.
Less than an hour ago, a call had come in on Martin’s cell phone, someone claiming to have pertinent information concerning the
Celebrity Slayer file. He was given this address. But he still couldn’t figure out how a stranger had gotten his unlisted number. That alone chilled him to the bone, but in this day and age, the internet was a highway of information and anyone could get anything. It wasn’t always a positive advancement.
Movement to his left. His eyes moved quickly, darting like a cat pouncing on a mouse.
He threw on the headlights but the beams didn’t cover the side wall. When he saw a form appear out of the shadows and approach the vehicle, Martin rolled down his window and touched his shoulder holster. Then the body moved into the light, and Martin released the grip on his pistol handle.
“What are you doing here?” Martin asked, a look of both concern and surprise registering on his face. He looked around the alley. “Is Charlie here? Did you follow me?”
When his questions went unanswered, Martin felt a strange sensation rise in his chest. Something was wrong, out of place.
That’s when he knew. His neck tingled and the hairs sprung on his arms.
He went for his gun a second too late. The killer had a silenced weapon drawn, and had stuck it through the open window frame.
“It can’t be you.” Martin realized the words came out as more of a statement than a question.
“Where’s the file?” the man asked in a curt voice.
“What file?” Stall him.
But when he looked into the eyes of the deranged killer, Martin Taylor saw that deep in the back of those eyes a hatred darker than night burned, and a homicidal maniac struggled for release.
How could I have missed it?
The last thing he thought before feeling the burning sensation of hot lead was that his daughter was in grave danger.
Toronto’s newest homicide detective, Reggie Swann, seemed to have it all: her dream career, a handsome husband and plans to start a family, until she was framed for murder…
A cop has very few friends in prison. After surviving ten brutal years behind bars, Reggie’s conviction is finally overturned thanks to her tenacious mother, a new forensic test and a very clever lawyer. She quickly discovers that getting her old life back won’t be as easy as she hoped. To many, she was still as the media had dubbed her: ‘Black Swann – murderer and cop-gone-bad’. The Toronto Police Department still considers her to be a suspect, Reggie’s husband has remarried and the real killer is still on the loose.
Before Reggie can return to Toronto and solve the crime that ruined her life, she reluctantly agrees to investigate a murder in her home town of Penticton, only to discover the two cases which are separated by ten years and five provinces might somehow be connected. Will anyone believe the wild theories of the disgraced detective?
The real murderer does. He framed her once, this time Reggie Swann must die!
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Unlike Julia Roberts in Sleeping With The Enemy, I did everything but sleep with mine. I worked, ate and even watched the occasional movie with 250 people that wished me mortal harm simply because of what I had been—a homicide detective. Locked alone in my cell from ten pm until seven am was the only place and time I felt safe enough to let down my defenses and relax.
In the chow line, a quick look away by one and a sideways glance between two other inmates alerted me to impending danger. An attack was imminent, but wouldn’t likely take place in the cafeteria. There were too many eyes here. Three guards patrolled the perimeter during meal times, plus there were cameras. A diversion might fool the guards but not the video feed as several former provocateurs had learned the hard way.
Fighting resulted in an automatic thirty days in the hole, no exceptions. The hole was what we called solitary confinement. I’d done my share of time there and I could tell you it was no joke. No windows, no yard time, no contact with anyone, except for a few seconds per day when meals arrive. Some of the guards wouldn’t speak. Twelve hours of fluorescent light, twelve hours of pitch black. Time creeps by in prison, but in the hole, during the overwhelming darkness of night, I swore sometimes it stopped altogether.
I tucked under my arm one of the three magazines I kept on my person whenever I left my cell and carried my plastic platter of eggs, sausage patty, bran muffin and definitely not freshly squeezed orange juice to the table in the back where all the unpopular women congregated. I nodded to Wilma Mainfield, the closest thing to a friend I had inside these walls. We weren’t pals and didn’t hang around together, but her brother was a cop, so she didn’t hate me for my past. Taking my usual spot in the last row of the room, I sat with my shoulders brushing against the wall. With Wilma to my right, an empty chair to my left and my back protected I got down to the business of eating. I devoured the food, hungry after the hour and a half calisthenics routine I’d completed this morning before my cell door opened.
Most of the meals in this place weren’t bad, especially breakfast and spaghetti night, which was every second Thursday. I’d worked in the kitchen for two years and knew that the head cook, Roberta Pomodoro, made the spaghetti sauce from scratch—best I’ve ever had. Roberta, a lifer, owned several Italian restaurants in Ottawa with her husband. I heard a rumor that they had gotten involved in the drug trade and a cop had been killed during a raid, resulting in a life without parole sentence. She sang Italian songs while she cooked. Everyone liked her. She’d tolerated my presence in her kitchen until I tripped, spilling a large tray of chicken wings. The next day I’d been transferred to laundry.
“Watch your back,” Wilma whispered as I stood to leave. Wilma didn’t say much to anyone. Over six feet tall and built like a man, the farm wife had literally shaken the life out of her husband when she’d discovered he’d been cheating with her teenaged sister. Referred to as a gentle giant for most of her twenty-five years, ten minutes of blind rage had erased that persona forever. I think we shared a kinship in the belief that we didn’t belong in this place. Wilma kept to herself, and most of the prison population, including me, tried their best to give her no reason to get angry.
I winked at her as I picked up my empty tray and magazine. I wanted to get down to laundry services before there was a lot of activity in the halls. As I deposited the tray I noticed three empty chairs at Laynie Garcia’s table, hers included. The rest of her crew chatted and laughed and avoided eye contact with me. Naturally, it would be Laynie, I realized.
Now I knew who, and since they were already absent, approximately when. So be it. Cameras watched over the main public areas, including the social and work areas. The bathrooms, showers and lesser-used hallways had none. To get to the laundry facility I needed to traverse several of these hallways, passing the ‘C’ Block showers and two bathrooms en route.
There were few secrets in this place. Everyone knew that I was leaving for a hearing tomorrow morning. If you had a score to settle with me, today might be the last opportunity. Laynie felt that she did. Relatively new to the facility, she’d been hell bent to build her reputation. After picking several fights and winning them all, she’d gotten much of the respect she desired. I guess she’d decided killing a former cop would give her kingpin status, because six months ago, without provocation, she’d attacked me in the showers. Fortunately, I’d felt her coming and managed to grab my towel before she reached me. I wrapped my arm and used it as a shield against the sharpened piece of rigid plastic she’d forged into a knife. Once I got hold of her and turned it into a wrestling match, my superior strength turned the tide in my favor. I broke two of her fingers prying the make-shift knife away and gave her a nasty cut across her cheekbone. A knee to the solar plexus left her choking and gasping for breath on the wet floor as I walked away without a scratch. I’d spoiled her perfect record; she couldn’t let that stand.
When I was a cop, I’d thought I could take care of myself. My first year in prison I’d been severely beaten twice and shanked once. I eventually learned that if I wanted to live I had to fight back. I became hyper-vigilant and worked at getting stronger and tougher. The will to survive is buried deeply in each of us—you felt it when your back was against the wall. In here, my back was always against the wall. For the next few years I held my own, giving as much pain as I received. Then, on the day I’d received news that my father had died, my guard had dropped. I hadn’t seen the shank coming at all. As I lay there on the floor bleeding to death, not one inmate lifted a finger to help me. Before I passed out I saw the smirks, heard some laughter and the claps of more than a few high fives.
Somehow, I’d lived. I had one less functioning kidney, a missing molar and three broken ribs from kicks I don’t remember receiving. Months later when I reentered gen-pop I had a new attitude. If you came at me, you’d better kill me because I would hurt you if you didn’t. I had an ugly scar on my side as an eternal memory to remind me that I had no friends in this place. I don’t look for fights—I don’t have to—but I no longer run from them either, and after eight years I’m still here.
With a hearing tomorrow, I couldn’t afford to get caught fighting, and Laynie knew that also. I had to admit it was a good plan—kill me or get me thrown in the hole causing me to miss my hearing. I intended to avoid both eventualities, if possible. I needed to get to the laundry and its overhead cameras.
This would be my third hearing. The first one had been terrible. I’d been so optimistic—certain that my wrongful conviction would be overturned. I’d been crushed when it wasn’t. I’d been less hopeful during the second one, and yet utterly depressed for a month afterward. This time, I’d even refused to discuss the hearing strategies with my lawyer or mother. This was simply a thirty-six hour mini vacation from this place. I would savor the sights, sounds and the non-concrete and iron textures of the outside world. The hearing was for Mom’s benefit, not mine. I was ready, harboring no false hope.
I rolled the magazine tightly, until it felt like a baton. Never underestimate the power of the printed word, especially when written on glossy paper.
I knew Laynie’s MO. She and her pals would try to box me in. I walked past the ‘C’ Block showers, my sneakers squeaking loudly on the polished concrete floor. I slipped them off, tucked them into my waistband and crept back to the edge of the doorway, magazine at the ready. I heard whispered counting from inside. “Eight Mississippi, nine Mississippi, ten Mississippi.” Then a large homely face peeked around the frame. Hopefully for its cornea’s sake, the surprised eye blinked shut before my Entertainment Weekly collided with the force of a billy club against it. I’d swung with all my might. Stunned, Sarah Granger sank to her knees. I whipped around and administered a chokehold. I held tight until she went limp, then held for ten more seconds to be certain. I dragged her heavy ass back into the shower room. I removed her shoelaces and quickly bound her hands, then picked up the chair leg that had slipped from her slack hand. I recognized it as having been removed from the movie lounge. I expected to see two or three more just like it this morning.
I’d left the mess hall seven or eight minutes early and estimated that I was still five minutes ahead of schedule. I hoped to use that to my advantage. I raced down the hall to the next corner. I peeked and saw no one in the next corridor. I figured they would be waiting in the bathroom, ready to jump out when they heard me coming. I crept to the door-less entry and listened.
“Any minute now,” Laynie said from several feet away.
I took a chance and peeked in. I could only see their feet under the privacy partition. I skipped lightly to the other side of the doorway.
“Granger, what’s that in your hand?” I did my best to throw my voice down the hallway.
I heard scuffling feet and then a hand holding another chair leg appeared. I heard the distinctive snap of bone as my newly acquired weapon crashed down on a wrist. Laynie’s right-hand-woman yelped in pain just before my magazine struck her exposed throat. She fell back against Laynie, both ending up in a heap on the bathroom floor. I leapt in. Laynie recovered quickly, scrambling out of the way as I swung the rectangular bat at her. I kicked the choking woman in the ribs as I moved between Laynie and her fallen chair leg. Her back against the row of sinks, she was now only armed with a metal shank, or so I thought.
“I’m going to kill you, pig bitch,” she told me, her eyes blazing with hatred.
“Give it your best shot,” I retorted, through clenched teeth. Dirty Harry would have been proud.
She threw something at my head and bull rushed me. I ducked as a bar of soap flew past my forehead. She’d missed, but the distraction worked. We crashed to the floor. The chair leg clattered away and sharp steel came down at my face. I got my forearm up just in time. She had my magazine hand pinned. We struggled in that position for several long seconds. Lying on top of me like that, I couldn’t catch her with my legs. It was a stalemate, until Laynie turned the blade inward and began sawing at my arm. A sadistic smile broke out on her face as the blade cut through the sleeve of my sweatshirt. She raked the blade across my forearm. She laughed, but her actions had given me the opening I needed. I managed to sweep her knife hand off to the side and lifted my pelvis as high as I could.
“What?” Her eyes widened.
I wrenched my other arm free and swatted her face with my celebrity-filled baton. I twisted out from under her and slammed her hand against the floor until the shank came free. I was sorely tempted to pick it up and use it on her, but resisted and instead choked her into submission. I stepped over Irene, a dumb-as-a-hammer long-timer, as I left the bathroom and rushed down the hall. Just before entering the laundry area I put my shoes back on, ran my fingers through my short hair and tucked under the torn part of my sleeve until it wasn’t visible. I took a deep breath, unrolled my billy club and casually walked into the large room, reading a story about Brad and Angelina. I looked up at the large clock on the wall. It was a full two minutes before eight am.
There wasn’t always a guard stationed in the laundry area, but there was usually one present at the start of the shift. I was counting on it.
“Good morning, Joseph,” I said casually.
“Inmate Swann,” Guard Zabrowsky answered more formally.
I held the magazine toward him. “I’m finished with this one, would you like it?”
No thanks, not interested.” He shook his head. “Big hearing tomorrow I understand. Excited?”
“Not really.” I tried to downplay the event. “I’m not a big fan of courtrooms.”
“Gotta be better than here, though,” Joseph chuckled.
“I heard some groaning in the lavatory,” Betty, the laundry crew leader, informed the guard when she stepped through the doorway. “You might want to go check it out.”
He eyeballed Betty to see if she was on the level, then glanced at me. “I didn’t notice anything.” I shrugged, feigning a lack of knowledge on the subject.
Zabrowsky rushed out, speaking into his radio as he went. “Possible code three in the washroom between Cell Block C and Laundry Services.”
“Roger that,” his radio squelched.
Seconds later two more fellow laundry workers appeared at the doorway, though their eyes were glued to the guard who’d run past them down the hall.
“Somebody got hurt.” Betty joined them, then she turned and stared at me. “Did you see anything, Blackie?”
I shrugged and casually walked over to the water fountain. When she turned her attention back to the hallway, I slipped the rubber bands and magazines I’d wrapped around each of my forearms out from under my sleeves and dropped them into the nearby trash container. I wandered over to the nearest laundry basket and wheeled it to one of the large washers. I tossed dirty clothes into the machine until I came to a size medium sweatshirt like the one I was wearing. I tossed it beside the machine and continued filling the washer.
Betty and the others were still watching down the hall. I slipped beside the machine and quickly swapped sweatshirts. In three or four seconds, I stepped back into camera view, tossed the torn shirt into the machine and slammed the door closed.
Betty glanced over at me again. Betty was no idiot. I smiled as innocently as I could. She was no rat, either.
“Let’s get to work, ladies,” Betty told the others. “We’ll find out what happened at lunch.”
A short while later, while throwing clothes into another washer, a hand clamped onto my shoulder.
“Roll up your sleeves,” Zabrowsky commanded, as I turned to face him. Another guard held Laynie just beyond the laundry doorway.
“Blackie attacked us,” Laynie yelled. I could see the purple welt on her swollen face where Brad and Angelina had struck her.
“What’s this all about?” I asked Joseph.
“She and two others are claiming that you ambushed them and beat them without provocation.”
“I ambushed three of them?”
“That’s what they claim,” Zabrowsky said, though he looked dubious.
“You know about my hearing tomorrow,” I reminded him. “I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that.”
“I cut the bitch,” Garcia yelled again. “Check her arm.”
“I tend not to believe her account of the events, but she claims that she cut your wrist during the fight,” Zabrowsky said. “Show me your arms. If you’re not bleeding, the three of them will have thirty days in the hole to come up with a new story. If you are bleeding, your hearing will have to be postponed.”
“This is ridiculous,” I said, glancing toward Laynie.
“Just roll up your sleeves and we’ll be done,” Zabrowsky stated.
I rolled up my left sleeve and let him inspect my arm.
“The other one, now the other one,” Laynie shouted excitedly.
I held my right hand in the air and slowly pulled the sleeve down well past my elbow.
“Take her to the hole,” Zabrowsky yelled to the other guard.
“No, no, no,” Laynie Garcia screamed as she was dragged away. “I cut her, I swear. The pig bitch ambushed us…”
“Good luck with your hearing, Swann,” Joseph told me as he walked away.
Sixty cell doors rolled into place and locked shut on Cell Block A. I sighed in relief. I’d survived the day. Tomorrow morning at six am I’d be escorted to transport while the other inmates were still locked in their cells. I sagged back against my bunk and reread the letter I’d received. For almost ten years I’d been trying to figure out who had framed me for murder. As a former Toronto Police Department homicide detective I had enemies, like most cops, if we were any good at our jobs. Daniel Hamilton had been the last name on my list. He’d admittedly been a bit of a longshot. Now that he’d been cleared I had zero suspects left, unless you included the likes of Bag McNaughton.
In the third grade I’d gotten into a fight with Benny McNaughton while playing shinny hockey after school. He’d been pestering me all game. Mom later explained to me that he’d probably had a crush on me. I wish I’d known. After tripping me once and administering a cross-check that had stung, I’d gotten frustrated and had retaliated with a cross-check that had flattened him. He’d dropped his stick and charged me. A tomboy through and through, plus a green belt in Taekwondo, I’d been ready. We’d been the same size back then and Benny ended up with a fat lip and black eye. The next day at school he’d been teased mercilessly. ‘By a girl’ had become the taunt of the day. Unfortunately for Benny, we’d been learning about acronyms at that time. I never forgot that scuba stands for ‘self-contained underwater breathing apparatus’ and in Mrs. Quill’s Grade Three English class bag now stood for ‘by a girl’. Bag became Benny’s nickname for life. Even his older brother and two sisters called him Bag.
In all seriousness, I didn’t really suspect that Bag had waited nearly eighteen years and then killed someone to get even with me. Besides the fact that he would never have done a thing like this, he had forgiven me. We’d even gone to a dance together in the ninth grade. Mom had been right—she usually was. Bag McNaughton and everyone else that I had ever arrested, angered or even slighted, going all the way back as far as I could remember, were listed in my suspect file.
You have lots of time for introspection when you spend most of your day in a seven by nine cell. Even the eleven-foot-high ceiling didn’t help to give it a spacious feel. I put the letter into the neat folder of papers beside me. The felons I’d put away while working homicide had been easy additions and simple for my one law enforcement friend to investigate. I had worked vice for three years before homicide and the list of pros, johns and pimps I’d arrested had been much longer and more difficult to track down, since many of the girls and pimps were transients.
Daniel Hamilton had been a john. He, like most johns, hadn’t spent any time in jail for his offense. However, when his name and the charges against him were published in the Globe and Mail, he’d apparently lost everything. Hamilton, the Vice President of Shale Refineries, his father-in-law’s company, was fired summarily. His wife of twenty-two years kicked him out of their house and began divorce proceedings, which she’d followed through with. His daughters, deeply embarrassed by the scandal, refused to speak with him for more than a year. His life had been ruined. Plenty of motive to want to ruin mine.
I shook my head in frustration and once again picked up the background report on Hamilton. The man had been in Dubai, working for another oil company for three months prior to and another month after the murder of Dr. Applegate. His younger daughter had moved there with him. By all accounts, he’d taken full responsibility for his indiscretions and had resurrected his life. There was no evidence that Hamilton had anything to do with the frame-up or indeed even blamed me for what had happened to him. A year ago, Daniel Hamilton had become President of ESA Oil—a company five times the size of Shale Refineries.
I took some satisfaction from the knowledge that someone had been able to rebuild their life. It was comforting to know that it could be done. I cautioned myself not to get my hopes too high for the evidentiary hearing my new lawyer had arranged. Regardless of the outcome, I would have at least one and a half days away from this place and I would get to spend several hours with my mother without bars or glass between us.
Someone had framed me and there had to have been a motive but I couldn’t find it.
There were only three people in all of Canada, besides myself, who believed that I was innocent without reservation. Robert Walters, a lawyer with CAJE—the Christian Advocates for Justice Enterprise—and also my mom’s boyfriend, had taken up our cause after re-examining all the evidence in the case against me. RCMP Staff Sergeant Jean Kirkwood, whom I’d worked with on several joint task forces, was the only law enforcement officer who had stuck by my side through the years. Jean did the legwork and provided me with reports like the one I was holding on Daniel Hamilton. Last, but certainly not least on the short list, was my mother, who had devoted her life to freeing me.
I guess there were four, if you counted the real murderer.
I put the report back into the folder and tucked it away under my bunk. Lights out would be any minute and I had a big day ahead of me in the morning. As I undressed, I tried not to think about how angry Laynie would be thirty days from now.
Jack Gard and Catlyn Lyte become friends in high school. Although he cares for Catlyn, Jack refuses to get into a relationship with Catlyn, due to her age. Then Catlyn is raped and her world is torn apart when Jack sides with his best friend. Devastated, Catlyn flees Newburgh, NY.
25 years later, someone is raping and killing young black females in Jack Gard, Chief of Detectives' hometown. Working against an escalating killer, Jack requests help from a special division of the FBI.
Enter Supervisory Special Agent Catlyn Lyte. She has always done her job well but is wary of working with someone she doesn't trust. Sparks fly between the two officials as Catlyn puts herself in the path of their quarry.
Can two ex-friends bury their differences to solve not only the mystery of the Newburgh Slasher, but also the one that ruined their budding romance 25 years ago?
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Meet David Wagers, a cool, collected and incredibly handsome Private Investigator in the New York City area. David is hired to investigate the unsolved murder case of Courtney Tabbin, a popular, young woman with a promising future. Along the way, David encounters some interesting and suspicious characters and a complex office drama. Was Courtney’s murder just a random act of violence, or something more personal?
While digging deeper for answers, David also manages to juggle an understaffed office and even forms an alluring, new friendship with Victoria under the unlikeliest of circumstances. With impeccable skills of observation, deduction and razor-sharp instincts, David moves steadily towards solving the case but not without a few twists and turns, and managing to turn a few heads along the way.
Work & Wagers (David Wagers Case #1), a cozy murder mystery, is the first book in the new and exciting David Wagers detective series.
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Before this current age of broadcasting acquisitions and mergers, local TV stations were owned by the broadcasters, not investment firms. They lived to tell the stories of their communities. In Murder at Broadcast Park, the CBS station located in the rich resort town of Santa Barbara becomes it’s own story. “We never want to be our own news,” was the mandate from Barry Burke, the station’s news director. Except in this case, people are dying. With three murders, more affairs, but no suspects, investigators peer behind the scenes of the local news. Pull the veil off to find twists, turns, and secrets behind the scenes of this resort TV station and its cast of TV professionals. Nothing is off limits.
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Miles Lundy, a decorated detective from New Jersey is a stand-up guy…. on paper. He lands his dream job right out of college and manages to work his way up within the Police department by the time he’s thirty-five despite the odds stacked against him. He eventually marries the love of his life, Shayne and proceeds to make a life for himself and his wife. Miles has knack for trying to always do the right thing. His only vice is his weakness for the ladies. With an addiction to the feminine physique and a reputation for loving, leaving and moving on to the next, drama ensues.
Shayne has managed to look the other way for years when faced with her husband’s indiscretions. But how many second chances does it take to get to fed up? Shayne un covers yet another of Miles' infidelities, but this one proves to be far more damaging than she could have imagined. Slowly, Shayne’s sanity starts to slip away and a Savage is born. Sick of playing the victim, She sets out to seek sweet revenge stopping at nothing to show Miles’ how expensive the cost of screwing over the wrong woman can be. A deadly course of events brings Miles face to face with his sins leaving him waist deep in a web of lies, betrayal and Murder. Will Miles have the strength to fight his demons and be the man that he set out to be, or will karma have something a little different in mind?
Lashae Latimore a fresh new author on the scene, refers to her style of writing as the cross between the vivid storytelling of Mary Monroe and the gritty urban feel of Terri Woods. Using her love for the African American fiction genre as the driving force, Lashae hopes to bring a new flavor to the African American Fiction genre.
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Andi’s step-mother is a real piece of work! But is Ruby a murderer?
Andi Anna Jones, so-so travel agent/amateur sleuth, puts aside her resentment of her father’s widow and books a 60th birthday cruise to Cancun for Ruby and three friends. Never does Andi imagine the cruise will lead to the murder of a has-been lounge singer—or that Ruby will be the main suspect.
Flirting with more than danger after arriving in Mexico, Andi connects with the charming local sheriff, Manuel Rodriquez. After an embarrassing night involving the sheriff, too many margaritas, and a Mariachi band, a chance to check out an eyewitness to the murder leads her to Las Vegas.
In Vegas, a mysterious meeting in the Bodies Exhibition, a body preserving in the prep-room, and an evasive owner of a dance studio, give Andi clues to help Ruby. But when Andi is mercilessly drugged and locked in a storage room, she realizes dear old step-mom isn’t the only one in jeopardy.
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“Tell me what’s going on. Slowly, and about fifty decibels lower. Why are you in jail?”
“Well, honey, I’m not sure. Oh, I know what they’re saying, but I didn’t do anything. I swear. Well, at least nothin’ I can remember. You see, it all started on the cruise ship dance floor, quite innocently, mind you.”
“What started?” I located my slippers and shuffled to the bathroom.
“As I was saying before you interrupted, it all started on the dance floor. You know, they play such romantic music on these cruises like, Shadow of Your Smile and Mandy. Oh, don’t you just love Manilow? Well, anyway, Lenny and I were having a lovely time, and he was obviously enamored, if you catch my drift.”
I knew this was a mistake. Still, I asked, “Lenny who?”
“Why, Lenny La Mour, of course!”
I drew a blank.
“Lenny La Mour,” Ruby huffed, “The famous Las Vegas performer? He’s the reason I picked this cruise. He had his own humongous nightclub and everything. Oh, Andi Anna, don’t tell me you’ve never heard of him. Why, women my age swoon at the sound of his voice. But, I suppose your generation only has eyes for that Bon Ami person.”
“Uh, are you, by any chance, talking about Bon Jovi?”
“Well, you know who I mean.”
Eastway Academy, a shadowy organization steeped in espionage, values obedience above all else. Although a well-trained agent in his third year, 16-year-old Davy Prince struggles to find his morals when every mission seems to put innocent lives at risk. How will Davy react when sabotage turns an already risky job into an all-out struggle for survival?
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“Camelot is ready. The operation is a go,” a voice crackled through the transceiver in my ear. The mission was being initiated and a part of me was annoyed. Only halfway through my fried chicken, I was still pretty hungry. I hadn’t eaten since the night before, since the plane ride down that morning served no breakfast. Given that I was going to meet with a drug kingpin in a few minutes, the last thing I wanted was for my stomach to be growling.
I sat in the first-floor food court of the Franklin Building, El Paso’s premier commercial block and the headquarters of the global fast-food chain Beef n’ Wings. It was just after noon and the area stirred with visitors eager for their lunch. From my position I could see two other field agents, the only other two in the building. Far off to my right, just outside the crowds and colorful cacophony of restaurants, a hulking teenage boy seemed to have the same idea I had as he snacked on a beef hot dog from one of the stands. He wore a blue hard hat with matching blue overalls and heavy-looking harnesses which clung to his body. At his side he loosely held a squeegee as well as some napkins, presumably for his meal. After taking a big gulp, his lips began to move. It was much too noisy in the food court to pick up any word he was saying naturally, but on the transceiver I could hear him perfectly. “Percival is ready. Let’s get this over with.”
At the booming sound of Leon’s voice, I covered my ear nervously, realizing that there was an elderly couple the next table over. There was a good chance they heard nothing, and an even greater chance that they wouldn’t have cared anyway, but one could never be too careful, especially with jobs in public areas. Far off to my right, near the elevators, a small boy lay crouched in the corner, trying his best to stealthily fiddle with an air vent grate next to him. I was only two years his senior, but people most often mistook him for being far younger. He had long, greasy hair and pale skin, products of his indoorsy lifestyle. Out of the three of us in the building, his T-shirt and shorts were probably the most appropriate for the balmy weather outside. His high-pitched voice rang up in my ear, “Kay’s ready. The grate’s off.”
“Proceed with caution,” a young female voice ordered. It belonged to Mabel, one half of this mission’s ‘Camelot,’ or control center. She and another operative, Charlie, gave orders from a different, undisclosed part of town. On their computers, they watched live feeds of the Franklin Building and the surrounding area taken from security cameras and other hacked equipment.
With the go-ahead, Ozzy checked the area directly around him carefully. Then, he swiftly slipped into the air duct, replacing the grate once inside. I made sure not to look at him directly while he did this, as I didn’t want him to attract unwanted attention. It was at this point I realized that it was my turn to check in. Taking one last swig of soda, I said, “Galahad’s ready. Looking for a visual on the target.”
Our target today pertained to Garret Beauregard, the CEO of Beef n’ Wings himself, whose products I was currently sampling. Since the Academy’s clients are allowed to stay anonymous, we almost never know whom we’re working for or for what reason.
As I scanned the first floor for our very special guest, one final voice rang over the transceiver. This one was female like Mabel’s but much deeper, as well as much more mature, practically adult. “Lancelot is ready. I have a visual of the office,” she said. It was Johanna, who at eighteen was the oldest member of our team. As our sniper, if and when things got ugly, she was the first one to pull the trigger. Even on a crackling transceiver, one could still detect the soft yet ambiguous tone of voice. It was very hard to tell if in the next sentence she was going to compliment you or warn you of your imminent death. “Galahad, the Fisher King’s car was just sent down to the parking lot,” she continued. “He should be in there.”
“Just a sec,” I insisted, practically standing on my seat, trying to look through the ocean of people before me. Then, like the Red Sea obeying Moses, the crowd seemed to thin just long enough for me to spot a bigger-looking man with a white cowboy hat. He, along with a couple of men next to him, wore an expensive-looking suit, not unlike the one I donned that day. “I see him. I have a visual on the Fisher King,” I whispered into my transceiver. “He’s with . . . three other guys. They armed?”
“This is Texas, man,” Charlie replied. “What do you think?”
“Lovely,” I sighed, standing up and throwing away my half-eaten lunch. “He’s headed to the elevator. Permission to pursue?”
“Granted,” Mabel said. Her voice became higher, as it usually did when she knew danger was afoot. “Now hurry up; five men can’t fit in that elevator.”
“Roger,” I responded. Speeding across the food court, I wove my way through the people until I found myself by the shiny elevator doors, standing next to Beauregard and his well-dressed friends. As I waited for the doors to open, I tried my best to avoid eye contact. Beauregard, on an impulse of hospitality, said, “You’re pretty dressed up, sonny. On a hot date?”
I gave one last silent mental grimace before lighting up my face with a bright smile, turning to the wealthy gentleman. Enthusiastically, I spouted, “Haha! Very funny, sir. I’m starting an internship upstairs, so obviously I have to look my very best.”
“Internship? Where?” the CEO pressed.
I produced a crumpled slip of paper from my pocket and read, “Floor thirty-five, room three. It’s with Beef n’ Wings. You know them? The super-famous-surprisingly-nutritious fast-food chain? I love all their meals.”
“Huh,” the president gave a tentative smile. He extended his hand, “Well isn’t this your lucky day? Garret Beauregard, president of Beef n’ Wings, at your service.”
I sucked in, trying to contain all my feigned excitement, “The Garret Beauregard? Founder of Beef n’ Wings? Inventor of the $1.50 menu? Restaurant Monthly’s ninth most powerful man in fast food? David Jones, I’m, like, your biggest fan!” I shook his hand fervently.
Beauregard chuckled, maybe amused by my antics. “I didn’t even know I had fans! Pleasure to meet you, boy.”
“We’re going radio silent on Galahad,” Charlie buzzed in my ear. “Keep on his good side and look for an opening.”
I absentmindedly scratched my ear, switching off my transceiver. My only connection with the rest of my operatives was severed. Now, I was all alone.
The elevator to the right gave a faint ding and the doors quietly spread open. Beauregard, two men from his entourage, and I crammed into the elevator. Just as Mabel had predicted, one of the gentlemen volunteered to stay outside, promising to take the next lift up. Right before the doors shut, I managed to spot Leon, squeegee in hand, breaking from the crowd and departing the building.
As I felt the elevator lift us, there was a twinge of anxiety, realizing that I was now stuck in an enclosed space with three armed men. I was allowed to be nervous. A little nervousness was fine; I was pretending to be a student on his first day as an intern.
“This your first time in the city, blondie?” he asked me, reminding me that I was wearing a blond wig in addition to thick-rimmed glasses to hide my identity.
“You bet!” I said, keeping my enthusiasm high. I brushed my artificial bangs to the side. Out of all the wigs I’d worn over the course of hundreds of missions, this was my least favorite. It was long, got in my eyes, never fit my head right, and suspiciously smelled of cottage cheese. Regardless, wig selection at the Academy was limited, and every one had to be worn once in a while.
“So, you’re from the country, then? Don’t look like much of a country fella . . . which town?”
“Um, it’s a real small town, south of here,” I said, trying my best to stay vague.
“South of El Paso?” Beauregard gave me a very confused look.
“I mean north! Just a little north,” I corrected myself, rubbing my head. “Sorry, my mind’s not working straight today. Still trying to process the fact that I got to meet you.”
“Right, right,” Beauregard nodded understandingly. “Yeah, it’s pretty easy to tell that you’re not south of the border. Be able to smell you a mile away!”
The three men laughed heartily. I forced a light chuckle while the hunger in the pit of my stomach changed to disgust. With another ding we arrived on floor thirty-five and stepped off. For an extravagant fast-food brand, their headquarters looked pretty ordinary. The walls and carpets were white, and the faint but stinging odor of hand sanitizer wafted through the air. “Welcome to where the magic happens!” Beauregard extended his arm toward the lobby, looking like an artist revealing their magnum opus.
“Gee whiz!” I exclaimed.
The president, still flanked by his two men, who I presumed were his bodyguards, approached the front desk and rang the bell, getting the secretary’s attention. “Yes, Mr. Beauregard?”
“Got an intern with me,” the man declared. “His name’s David Jones. I was wondering where I could put him.”
“Intern? Sir, new internships don’t begin until the summer.”
My heart skipped a beat. The moment of truth had arrived. “They said I was a special case when they drove me over here,” I said, injecting myself into the conversation. “Please, just check your computer.”
Marcy shifted her mouse around, making a quick series of clicks. “Okay . . . here it is. David Jones, intern, arriving today . . . ” She looked up at me and then back down to her screen. I whispered a silent prayer to Charlie, the master hacker. A few clicks later, the secretary looked up again. “Yeah, everything looks good. Funny, I don’t remember—”
“Well, everything checks out!” I interrupted. “Where should I go?”
Beauregard gestured to one of his guards. “Samson here will take good care of you, kid. Now, I’ve got a little meeting to go to, but I’ll see you around, okay?”
Not counting on it. “Okay!” I cheerfully chirped. “Oh my gosh, this is all so exciting!”
I followed Samson down a hallway, away from Beauregard and the lobby. He directed me through a door, into a room darker than the hallway. Chairs lined the walls and a vacant table with a picnic cloth sat in the center of the room. “Um, this is where we usually bring interns in the summer. There’d be, like, food on the tables and we’d get someone to give you an introduction. Usually it’s this hot brunette from marketing.”
“Uh-huh,” I absentmindedly nodded, no longer bothering to keep up my fake excitement. As the door closed behind us, I began to fiddle through suit pockets.
Samson, clearly unsure of what to do, continued to ramble. “Yeah, I actually used to be an intern here, once. I was raised right up in Anthony. Wait, where did you say you were from again? ’Cuz I remember—”
Samson’s sentence was cut off as I stabbed a syringe into the side of his throat—one swift and precise movement. As I injected him, the man managed to make a few gargled sounds before collapsing to the floor. I immediately checked for a pulse. Toxins were always difficult, because they needed to be the perfect amount. Too little would have no effect. Too much and you kill the poor guy. After confirming a heartbeat under my fingertips, I quietly dragged him under the table and switched my transceiver back on. “Galahad here. I’m in.”
“Excellent,” I heard Charlie say. “Kay? Do you copy? Time to shine.”
“Roger.” Just as Ozzy’s voice registered in my ear the already dark room went pitch black. I heard the gentle hum of the air conditioning die, leaving a vacuum of silence.
The power to the floor had been cut.
I stepped back into the hallway, listening to the murmurs of confusion in some of the office rooms as I made my way back to the lobby. Beauregard’s office was down the opposing hallway to the right, just out of the view of a befuddled secretary.
“Security cameras are now running on reserve power. We have a visual of you, Galahad. The conference was supposed to last until one thirty, but who knows how Beauregard will react to a blackout. Just get in and get out.”
“Roger, Camelot.” The room itself differed greatly from the rest of what I’d seen from the floor. Looking beyond the expensive chairs and enormous desk you’d expect from an egocentric executive, an array of mounted cattle heads dominated the wall to my right while a single enormous painting was to my left. I thought the latter was actually a pretty nice picture until I realized it depicted a native getting clubbed to death by a settler with the stock of his shotgun. The wall opposing me filtered noon sunlight into the otherwise dark office, making the “art” that occupied the walls cast eerie shadows. I stood for a moment, dumbfounded.
“Galahad, we see you in the office. What’s your status?”
“I’m fine,” I assured, trying to collect myself. “This guy . . . he’s really something, isn’t he?” Trying to ignore the Texan stereotypes around me, I approached Beauregard’s desk and rummaged through the papers left on top of it.
“Find anything?” Mabel asked.
“What do you think?” I said, now making my way to the cabinets. “Why would he just leave it on his desk?”
“I don’t know, maybe he has a bit before going to his conferences,” Charlie suggested. “I mean, have you seen the new Beef n’ Wings commercials? The person who conceived those was clearly high.”
Allowing myself a small chuckle, I furiously tore open every cabinet under and around the desk. All were unlocked and all contained meaningless folders and files; nothing I was concerned with. “The Grail’s not anywhere near the desk,” I said. “Are you sure it’s in here?”
“The intel’s good, I swear,” Mabel retorted, her voice getting excited. “I have the transaction data right in front of me. The pickup isn’t until tomorrow, and it definitely entered that room. Where else could it be?”
Feeling a knot grow in my stomach, I meticulously scanned the room, trying to look in a new perspective as I stood behind the desk. The painting was still horrible, the carpet was the same, and the ceiling was the same. The mounted busts, now to my right, were a different story. As my eyes studied the vacant expressions on the cattle’s faces, it became evident that something was wrong. “One of the heads is crooked.”
“One of the cattle heads is crooked,” I repeated, advancing toward the busts. The more I focused and the closer I got, the clearer it was that my hunch was correct. “The white bull in the center. It must be…” Firmly grasping the horns of the trophy, I began to pull. It was much heavier than I had imagined—causing me to pause to catch my breath at one point while it was halfway out of the wall—but I managed to have the head at my feet within a minute. In its place, I was greeted with a pleasant new surprise. A black, open hole; a gaping wound in the wall. “Can you guys see from your camera what I see?”
“I see it!” Mabel said excitedly, now for the right reasons. “What’s inside?”
My hand reached into the newly opened gap. It wasn’t a built-in compartment, rather a crude cavity created by someone smashing the wall open. As my hand wrapped around an object, I felt my heartbeat quicken. “I have something. Heavy. Leather. Maybe rectangular.”
“Sounds like the Grail to me . . .”
My arm was now almost out of the hole, awkwardly handling the package that had been lodged in the wall. With one final tug, a briefcase slid out of the wall and fell with a soft thud on the carpet. A tepid smile growing on my lips, I brought it over to the desk for a closer inspection in the light. Looking near the handle, my small grin immediately dissipated. “It’s got a lock on it. I repeat, the briefcase has a lock.”
“’Cuz hiding it in the freaking wall wasn’t secure enough for this guy,” Charlie remarked, irritated.
“Yep, there’s a latch here. It needs a three-number code,” I confirmed, examining the mechanism closely.
“Okay, let’s think this through,” Mabel said, now practically panting. “I can . . . I can access old security archives! Yeah! Yeah, maybe one of them has him with the briefcase, and we can zoom in on the numbers . . . ”
Mabel’s thoughts came to an abrupt end when I smashed the briefcase into the corner of the desk, shattering the lock.
“ . . . Or you can do that.”
Taking a deep breath, I opened the case. I was greeted by what we were calling in this mission the Holy Grail, all twenty kilos of it, packed together in six different plastic bags.
“Do we have confirmation?”
“Well, pretty sure this isn’t chicken seasoning,” I commented. “Percival, are you there? It’s time to go.”
Just as I spoke, the office door opened. I turned around, realizing it was Beauregard. The two of us stared at each other, shocked. The room was now dead silent, so quiet that Beauregard could probably hear Mabel buzz, “Green Plan AA-01 has been compromised. Initiate Green Plan AA-07.”
Beauregard was the first to recover from the initial shock. He peeked back into the hallway and, making sure everything was clear, shut the door. “I don’t believe you’re supposed to be in this wing, boy.”
I remained silent, seemingly speechless. Inside I had regained focus, but chose not to show it on the outside. Waiting for him to make his move, I observed his hands and facial expressions, trying to get a read on what he was going to do next.
“Galahad,” Johanna softly crackled on the transceiver. “Get down so I can take a shot. I believe it’s time for the Fisher King to exit our fable.”
“Roger,” I muttered under my breath.
“Well son,” Beauregard sighed, reaching into his coat and pulling out a white pistol. “Sorry ’bout this. Some things are best left secret, hm?”
“Couldn’t agree more,” I said, dropping to my knees.
Just as the president readjusted his aim down at me, the window behind us broke. A dash of crimson burst onto Beauregard’s chest and the man shifted awkwardly. There was a slight pause and a light groan before he collapsed to the floor. Hearing a commotion begin outside from the noise, I hastily grabbed a chair and blocked the door before grabbing the briefcase and waiting by the now-shattered office window. Leon—still dressed as a window washer—descended in a cradle.
“Going down?” he asked, his voice echoing through the transceiver.
“Right,” I nodded. Then I gave one last look around the ransacked room. From the angle I was standing at, only the soles of Beauregard’s expensive shoes were visible as he lay dead on the floor. “Think we’ve done enough here. Let’s go home.”
Clutching the Holy Grail and braving the urban winds outside the building, I descended down to the street, and with it, the promise of escape and safety.