Showing posts with label mystery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mystery. Show all posts

Thursday, March 15, 2018

"Killer Tied" by Lesley A. Diehl

Killer Tied
(Eve Appel Mystery Book 6)
by Lesley A. Diehl

Killer Tied (Eve Appel Mystery Book 6) by Lesley A. Diehl

Killer Tied is the sixth book in the Eve Appel Mystery series. Also available: A Secondhand Murder, Dead in the Water, A Sporting Murder, Mud Bog Murder, and Old Bones Never Die (read my blog post).

Killer Tied is currently on tour with Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours. The tour stops here today for a guest post by the author, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

Eve Appel Egret is adjusting to married life with Sammy and their three adopted sons in Sabal Bay, Florida. While still running her consignment stores, she is going pro with her sleuthing by becoming an apprentice to a private detective.
Until her marriage, Eve’s only “family” was her grandmother Grandy, who raised her after her parents died in a boating accident. Now, in addition to her husband and sons, she has a father-in-law who clearly dislikes her. Sammy’s father, a full-blooded Miccosukee Indian long presumed dead, has emerged from the swamps where he’s been living like a hermit, and he isn’t happy about Eve’s marriage to his half-Miccosukee, half-white son.
As for Eve’s family, are her parents really dead? A woman named Eleanor claims to be Eve’s half-sister, born after her mother faked a boating accident to escape her abusive husband, Eve’s father. Then Eleanor’s father turns up dead in the swamps, stabbed by a Bowie knife belonging to Sammy’s father, Lionel. Strange as Lionel Egret is, Eve knows he had no motive to kill this stranger. In order to clear him, Eve must investigate Eleanor’s claims, and she might not like what digging around in her family’s past uncovers.

Chapter 1
I looked around the old detective’s office. The top of the desk no longer overflowed with paperwork, the floor was as clean as a heavy-duty cleaner could get it, and the paperwork was neatly filed away in the cabinets. I knew Crusty McNabb would hate what I had done to the space, but he had told me to make myself at home while he was gone. He was visiting his daughter, whom he hadn’t seen in over a year, and wouldn’t return for a few days. I was his apprentice now, somewhat eager to learn the private-eye business, and I had the blessing of all my family—my grandmother Grandy, her husband Max, my husband Sammy, and our three adopted sons—Sammy’s orphaned nephews—Jason, Jerome, and Jeremy. Even my best friend and business partner, Madeleine, and the police detective Frida Martinez had blessed my PI career path. The only one with misgivings was me. I still wasn’t real keen on the use of firearms, although I had been going to the gun range to practice with the pistol Crusty loaned me. My instructor there said I’d soon be a crack shot, no problem, but, he added, opening my eyes when I fired the durn thing might help my aim.
Well, I lied about me being the only one with doubts about my new career path. So did my friend Nappi Napolitani, who was a mob boss, or that’s what we all thought—I mean, how do you ask a mob boss for his crime credentials to determine if he’s genuine? Anyway, it seemed clear to me that he had something he wanted to say to me about my PI license but hadn’t gotten around to saying it yet. And then there was my ex-husband, who worried I’d take this opportunity to pistolwhip him or arrest him for transgressions against me while we were married. There were many, but getting revenge for those wasn’t a priority right now.
I heard a knock on the door and turned to see a man peering through the store window. He rattled the knob. “Sorry, the office is closed until the end of this week. Mr. McNabb will be back on Friday.”
“Are you Ms. Appel?” This was silly, having a conversation through the closed door. I walked over and opened it.
“I’m Eve Appel, but I—”
“Then you’re the one I’m looking for. They told me next door I’d find you here.” He smiled and held out his hand. “Henry Montrose.”
He was a slender man with thinning, brownish-gray hair. He wore a beige knit shirt, khaki pants, and sneakers. I noted the beiges did not work together. That was just me, quick to make a fashion judgment. I shook his hand, curious about his reasons for seeking me out.
“If it’s detective work you need, I’m just Mr. McNabb’s apprentice. I don’t do cases on my own, so you might want to come back when he’s here. Like I said. End of this week.”
“I need someone to find my daughter.”
“Have you reported her missing to the police?”
“Well, no. You see, I’m not certain where she’s missing from. Or whether she just moved away. We lived in the Northeast, but we left. But not all together.”
He wasn’t making a lot of sense, and as he talked, he began to show signs of distress. His voice was shaky, and he twisted his hands so tightly together I thought he’d remove the skin.
“Maybe you should sit down for a minute.” I offered the usual but seemingly useless glass of water. He collapsed into the chair in front of Crusty’s desk.
“What police department do I notify? The one up North or the one here? See, I know my daughter was headed here.”
“So you’ve heard from her?”
“No, but this is where she’d come. I told her that her mother might be dead, but my daughter insists she’s still alive.” He shook his head. “That woman, my wife, has nine lives, it seems.”
I was more and more confused by his tale. “Uh, I have a friend on the police force here. Maybe she could help. I can call her, if you’d like.”
Frida might be able to make better sense of his story than I could. And she’d know the legalities of missing persons. Someone walked past the front windows and caught the attention of my visitor.
“No, never mind. I have to go now.” Without another word, he jumped up from the chair and ran out the door, stopping on the sidewalk, looking in both directions and then running toward the street. I lost sight of him when he turned left into the alleyway at the end of the strip mall.
Weird. Just plain weird, but Crusty said that PI work could be unusual, although he warned me that most of it was just plain boring. I shrugged and decided to tackle cleaning the tiny bathroom. It looked as if Crusty hadn’t taken a brush to the toilet bowl since he’d moved in. As I scrubbed—with rubber gloves on, of course—I thought over my decision to move from Connecticut to rural Florida. I’d chosen to open a consignment-shop business with Madeleine Boudreaux Wilson, my best friend forever and forever. The shop was here, right next door to Crusty’s detective agency.
Some might question why I’d located a consignment business specializing in high-end fashions and classy home goods in rural Florida, where you’re more apt to run into a live alligator than a designer alligator bag. We set up our shop to remedy that, not by doing away with the alligators, but by buying apparel and furnishings from the matrons of West Palm Beach, who rarely wore their clothes more than once or twice. Since none of these wealthy ladies would consign their items close to home for fear of someone recognizing the merchandise, we stepped in to take anything they no longer wanted off their hands. They liked having “mad” money to use any way they pleased without conferring with hubby or leaving a credit card trail for him to grump about.
To our surprise, our consignors often slipped off the coast and visited our shop just for the fun of it. They didn’t buy much. They preferred to sell, but they liked to pick up tips about where they could find entertainment not offered in upscale West Palm. Nothing kinky, you understand. Just good old country two-step in our local bars with some mighty handsome cowboys or airboat rides with a member of the Miccosukee Indian tribe piloting the boat (that would be my husband, more handsome than any cowboy). I’d also turned the gals on to a local dude ranch. They sometimes dragged their husbands along for a trail ride.
So why was I in training to become a PI? Was selling used items too tame for me? Well, yes and no, and that’s a long story, but here’s the truth. I am a snoopy gal. I get it from my grandmother, who is the queen of curiosity. Over the years I’ve “intruded” in a number of murders in rural Florida—at least that’s the word you’d hear used to describe my investigations by my family, friends, and Detective Frida, who is also a friend of mine when she’s not moaning about my interfering with her cases. From my perspective, I’ve been more than a little helpful tracking down clues and bringing the bad guys (and gals) to justice. A former lover and private detective Alex Montgomery thought I had a nose for murder and the brain to match wits with any killer. Although he resented my meddling in his business, he respected my sleuthing instincts so much, he suggested I get a PI license by learning the trade from Crusty.
My life was so full of family and business that the very last thing I needed was to learn the professional sleuthing trade, yet the restless side of my nature was intrigued. With Grandy helping Madeleine at the store and Shelley McCleary, our new dressmaker, assuming a growing role in the shop as tailor and junior partner, I figured I had time to try my hand at the detecting business.
I yearned to sink my teeth into a big murder as my first case. Why waste my skills on small potatoes? When I excitedly talked with Crusty about murder investigations, he laughed. “What you get in the private-detecting business is routine: surveillance of cheating spouses, insurance fraud, and some work for the police department when they need to hire out part of their investigation. Most of the work entails a lot of sitting on your butt in a car. I sure hope you don’t have a tiny bladder.”
I reminded him that I’d been key in solving several murders in the county. He did a dismissive flap with his hand. “Well, maybe you’ve taken out all the bad dudes in this county, and the rest of us will be left in peace.”
I squeezed some bleach gel into the sink and began to scrub at the grimy brown stains. I ran water and rinsed out the bowl. When I turned to extract a new bar of soap out of the cabinet behind me, I bumped into the person standing there. I jumped.
Damn. I’d forgotten to lock the front door. A fine detective I’d make. The person standing inside the entrance of the small bathroom was a tall, slender woman with long frizzy brown hair. She looked somehow familiar, although I’d never met her before.
She smiled sweetly. “Hello. I’m your sister.”
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
“Getting to the bottom sure takes a boatload of work but this book definitely couldn't be put down I read it one day. Eve has a way of dragging you in and not letting go until the perps are arrested and justice has been correctly served!” ~ Paula Ratcliffe

Guest Post by the Author
Eve Apple, protagonist in Killer Tied by Lesley A. Diehl
Eve’s not the gal she used to be: Character development in a cozy mystery series
This is the beginning stop for a two-week book blog tour for Killer Tied, the sixth book in the Eve Appel Mysteries released this month by Camel Press. There are three more books scheduled. It’s a paradox how I feel about the series. It’s as if I began it only yesterday, yet Eve and I have come a long way together, weathering the romance storms of a philandering husband, a PI boyfriend and now Sammy, the Miccosukee man who immediately “got” Eve and instantly loved her. And there have been murders, many murders. Eve helped solve them all … with help from her friends and family, of course.
Eve has expanded her circle of friends since she moved from Connecticut to rural Florida. There is her best friend and business partner Madeleine, now herself married and the mother of two young children. It was Madeleine shopping for cups to replace those she broke that lead to one of the most interesting characters in the series - handsome, suave and sophisticated, Nappi Napolitano, the supposed mob boss who has helped Eve out of many scrapes. Eve is looking for a way to repay him. Perhaps she’ll get that opportunity in one of the three books to come. Nappi doesn’t expect a return on his generosity, but I always think it’s a good plan to return the favor and especially if he’s a “Family” man.
Except for Nappi whose character remains constant - he’s so terrific that I wouldn’t want to change him much - most of the characters, not only Eve, have developed and grown, changes that are necessary to keep the series fresh and vibrant for the reader. Of course, murder is just the sort of challenge that shakes up everyone, not only the protagonist. It can bring out the best in the characters as well as reveal their flaws. Readers like to know the protagonist and others stumble and fall … and get up again. Some of Eve’s character flaws remain throughout the series such as her impatience, which often leads her off on her own when she ought to know better. In Killer Tied, the possibility of her parents being alive when she thought they had died years ago leads her to jump to the conclusion that her grandmother (Grandy) has lied to her. She ought to know there is no one she can trust more than Grandy, but Eve is still the impulsive and impatient woman we met in the first book, A Secondhand Murder. In Book 6, it appears to Eve that love has abandoned her not once but twice, first with the loss of her parents at a young age and then with her assuming Grandy has lied to her about the event for all these years. The reader knows Grandy is steadfast and true in her love for Eve, but will Eve eventually understand that this love doesn’t include lies and deception? Or have I deceived the reader about Eve’s parents? That is the central question that both Eve and the story grapple with throughout this book.
Eve and Sammy’s adoption of three Miccosukee boys and the return of Sammy’s father to the family has deepened Eve’s understanding of the importance of family. Not only does family bring love to her, but she grows to see how loving others is the real definition of love. It makes her a more complex and humble person. Eve has always had sass, but now she’s sassy with a lot of compassion and love added to the mix.
Sammy’s father remains a trial for her as he’s stubborn, impatient, and quick to jump to judgments, almost the female equivalent of Eve, but he has an edge not yet softened by the caring of others. I work on making that happen in Killer Tied. I think the reader will understand him better because he understands himself better, and he will reveal himself as someone who sees deeply into others. He is Sammy’s father after all, so the reader should expect more from him than the self-centered and conflicted person he often presents to others.
Grandfather Egret, Sammy’s father, like Grandy, provides the grounding for family life, but he, too, has evolved throughout the series. He will remain a man in touch with the traditions of his culture, but Eve has brought joy to his life.  While he’s not always an active participant in Eve’s adventures, he has joined her in several of her romps. It is clear she has added a dimension of excitement to his life. Eve has come to trust his advice and counsel and seeks out his advice as she does her Grandy’s. For a woman raised without parents, Eve now has a full complement of family surrounding her: Grandy, Grandfather, Madeleine and her husband and children, Sammy and Eve and Sammy’s children. Can Eve fully appreciate this bounty?
Eve is not the same woman she was in the first book. She’s still as sassy, in-your-face and impulsive as ever, but she’s more loving, a little humbler and more aware of how others have made her life more complete. She’s even more tolerant of her ex-husband, Jerry, who followed her from Connecticut to Florida. He’s still as lacking in common sense as ever, still annoys Eve intentionally and unintentionally, but in Book 6 Jerry’s giving side helps Eve tackle the bad guys.
Eve began her adventure in rural Florida running away from a marriage that did not work. She’s found that life among the cowboys, cattle, alligators, ranchers, locals and winter visitors has brought her more excitement and sense of belonging than she ever thought possible. Killer Tied returns Eve to her roots in the Northeast, but she finds the nostalgia of the past is not as satisfying as her new life in Florida. While still seen as an outsider by many Floridians, Eve knows that this place with all its swamps and alligators, fields of grazing cattle and palm trees has become as familiar to her as her own whip thin body. It is her home.

About the Author
Lesley A. Diehl
Lesley is a country gal through and through, from her childhood on a dairy farm in Illinois to college in a cornfield in Iowa, Lesley creates sassy, snoopy protagonists who embrace chasing killers in country settings. Lesley writes several series: the Big Lake Mystery series and the Eve Appel Mystery series both set in rural Florida; the Laura Murphy Mysteries located on a lake in upstate New York; and short stories, some featuring a few of Lesley’s unique relatives from back on the farm (Aunt Nozzie and the Grandmothers). She is inspired by an odd set of literary muses: a ghost named Fred and a coyote as yet unnamed. Killer Tied is the sixth mystery in the Eve Appel Mysteries.

Enter our exclusive giveaway for a chance to win an ebook copy of Killer Tied by Lesley A. Diehl.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"The Silent Games" by Alex Gray

The Silent Games
(DCI Lorimer Book 11)
by Alex Gray

The Silent Games (DCI Lorimer Book 11) by Alex Gray

The Silent Games, the eleventh book in the DCI Lorimer series by Alex Gray, is currently on tour with Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. The tour stops here today for an excerpt and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

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
In Alex Gray's page-turning new Glasgow-set crime novel, Detective Lorimer must protect his city from a terrifying threat in the countdown to the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The Commonwealth Games is coming to Glasgow and security is extra tight, particularly after a mysterious bomb explodes in nearby countryside. 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 near to the bomb site who is proving impossible to identify. Elsewhere in the city, 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.

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.

Praise for the Book and Author
“An excellent procedural in which Gray … does for Glasgow what Ian Rankin did for Edinburgh in the annals of crime fiction.” ~ Kirkus Reviews
“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)

About the Author
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 the DCI Lorimer novels. She is the co-founder of the international Scottish crime writing festival, Bloody Scotland, which had its inaugural year in 2012.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win one of three print copies of The Swedish Girl by Alex Gray (US only).


Monday, March 5, 2018

"The Fix" by Robert Downs

The Fix
by Robert Downs

The Fix by Robert Downs

The Fix is currently on tour with Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. The tour stops here today for an excerpt and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

For more books by this author, please check out my blog post on LaCour's Destiny and my blog post on Penchant for Vengeance.

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

Chapter 1
The taste of liquor still lingered on his lips. Six months without a drink, and he had the chip to prove it. His eyes were downcast, the table was green felt, and his wooden seat jammed the lower part of his back. The overhead light was dim, and he had his hat pulled down over his eyes. Johnny Chapman had lost three hands in a row, and he didn’t want to lose a fourth.
The Indian sat across from him with his hands folded across his chest, wearing dark sunglasses in a dark room, his hair shaved close to his head, and a tooth missing near his front. He cracked his knuckles between hands and even once during. The sound bounced off the walls in the closet of a room.
“Well, what’s it gonna be?” Thomas Kincaid asked. “I ain’t got all night.” His lips formed a sneer before he took a long pull on a dark drink. His eyes flicked in every direction except straight ahead.
“Don’t rush me.”
“If you move any slower, we’ll both be looking up at the daisies,” Thomas replied. He looked at his two cards for what must have been the third time.
Johnny sucked his lip between his teeth, flashed his eyes once toward the ceiling, and flipped a chip onto the deck. The roar in his ears nearly pulled him away from the hand, but the click of the ceiling fan managed to hold his attention. The darkness helped with his focus as well.
The girl sat across from him, dark hair drifting to-ward her shoulders and even a bit beyond. Teeth as white as a bowl of rice. A drop of moisture near her upper lip entered the equation. Her T-shirt bunched out at the front, and her eyes were as cold as Alaska. She played her cards close to her chest, and her bets were even. For the most part. She managed to toss in a few extra chips when she had a hand. But she was a straight shooter and hadn’t bluffed once. Johnny knew it was coming, though. He just didn’t know when. Even if he managed to run like hell, she’d probably still clip him at the ankles. Her chip stack sat more than a third higher than his own.
She had a good smile. That one. Not too much of the pearly whites, but just enough for a man to take notice. The words on her chest accentuated her assets. Tight, clean, and turquoise—the T-shirt, not her breasts.
Johnny’s eyes flicked to his watch, and his phone buzzed in his pocket. The alarm. His leg vibrated for a second more and then it stopped.
It was almost time. The medication. It took the edge off, and stopped his mind from racing off to infinity and beyond. The man with the dark rims and the white lab coat prescribed it in a room bigger than the one he was in now. If he didn’t take his meds in the next ten minutes, the headaches would start soon after.
The ceiling fan whirred again. The backroom was stale and damp, the casino out on the edge of the reservation with nothing but tumbleweed and small trees for over a mile. Diagonally opposite from the little shithole that he called home for the past several years. The run-down piece of trash with the broken Spanish shingles, cracked stucco, and clouded windows.
Seconds turned over, one after another, and still there was no movement from the Indian to his right. Lapu Sinquah flipped his sunglasses up, and dragged them back down, but not before his eyes looked around the table. The Indian made a face and flipped two chips onto the green felt.
The girl was next. She scratched her forehead. Her expression remained neutral. When Caroline Easton flipped her head, her hair remained out of her eyes. Her look resembled cold, hard steel. She followed the Indian with a two-chip flip.
Thomas tossed his cards away, and it was back to Johnny. He felt it: an all-consuming need to win this hand…and the next one…and the one after. Desire consumed him, after all. Or maybe it didn’t.
The hand that got away. The hand that consumed him, pushed him over the edge, and had him calling out in the middle of the night. One voice. One concentrated effort before the moment passed him by. He couldn’t imagine losing, ending up with nothing. Bankrupt.
This minute reasoning had him playing cards night after night, hand after hand, reading player after player. Moment after moment. Until the moments were sick and twisted and filled with jagged edges and punctured with pain. Or left him dead and buried on the side of the road in a ditch with half of his face missing.
The winning streak wouldn’t last. It’d be gone again. Like a sound carried away by the breeze in the middle of a forgotten forest. This time, he wouldn’t fold too soon. This time, he’d play it differently.
The one that got away. The pot in the middle that would have covered three month’s rent. But he tossed his cards aside, even though he’d been staring at the winning hand for damn near three minutes.
His eyes flicked to each of the three players before he once more peeled his cards back from the table and slid the two spades to the side.
The Indian glared at him through the darkness and his dark sunglasses. “Well?” Lapu asked. “What the fuck, man?”
Johnny tossed his shoulders up in the air. “I’m out.”
“Just like that?” Caroline’s long dark hair whipped around her head.
“Sure, why not?”
The Indian rubbed his shaved head. “You’re one crazy motherfucker.”
Johnny shrugged. “I never claimed to be sane.”
The ceiling fan whirred faster, clicking every five seconds. The air was heavy and suffocating, and he yanked on his collar with his index finger. Two drinks were drunk, and a glass clinked against a tooth. One chair slid back and another moved forward.
“There’s over two grand in the pot,” Lapu said.
Johnny gave a slight tilt of his head. “And I know when to walk away.”
The Indian jerked to his feet and extended a finger away from his chest. “It was your raise that started this shitstorm.”
“True,” Johnny said. “And now I’m going to end it.”
Caroline combed her hair with her fingers. “You haven’t ended anything.”
“I’d rather have that as my downfall than lose it all to you nitwits.”
Caroline smirked. Her white teeth glinted against the light overhead. “Who made you queen of the land?”
“I’d like to think it sort of came up on me,” Johnny said. “It sort of took me by surprise. Existence is futile.”
The Indian smirked. His stained teeth were nearly the color of his skin. “Futility won’t help you now.”
The hand was between the girl and the Indian. Her assets versus his. One smirk versus another. The sun-glasses were down, and both the movements and expressions were calculated. Chips were tossed, and the last card was flipped. Caroline took the pot, and her cold expression never wavered.
A ten-minute break ensued. Johnny used the bath-room, washed his hands, shoved two pills into his mouth, cupped his hands underneath the spout, sucked water from his palms, dunked his hands underneath the liquid once more, and splashed the water on his face. He grimaced at his own reflection, the dark, sunken eyes. He sucked in air and dried his hands. His shoes clicked on the broken tile on his way out the door.
His chips hadn’t moved, and neither had the table. The stack of chips was smaller than when he started this game. As the losses mounted, his amount of breathing room decreased. His longest losing streak was thirteen hands in a row.
The blinds were doubled, and his mind numbed. Compassion was a long forgotten equation, and sympathy wasn’t far behind.
The conversation picked up again, and the Indian perfected a new glare. “I never heard so much chatting over a game of cards.”
“It’s not just a game,” Thomas said. “Now, is it?” One dark drink was replaced with another, and the man’s eyes glazed over.
The girl tapped her wrist with two fingers and flipped her hair. “I think we’re already past the point of sanity.”
“If there was ever a point, it was lost—”
“I had a few points of my own that were somehow hammered home.” Johnny flipped three chips into the pot in one smooth motion. He had a hand, and he was determined to play it, even if he had to stare down the girl and the Indian at the same time.
“The game of life succeeds where you might have failed,” Lapu said.
Thomas knocked back the remainder of yet another drink. “I don’t accept failure.”
Johnny’s eyes flicked to his wrist. “You don’t accept success either.”
“Why do you keep looking at your watch?” Thomas asked. “Are you late for a date?”
The girl called and tossed three chips into the pot with only a slight hesitation. She had a hand, or she wanted to make it appear as such. Her lips moved less and less, and her eyes moved more and more. Her features were clearly defined.
Johnny kept his expression even.
“You’re not late for anything that I’ve seen,” Caro-line said.
Both the Indian and Thomas folded.
“I’d like to take you out back and shoot you.”
“Would that somehow solve the majority of your problems?” the Indian asked.
Johnny nodded. “It might solve a few.”
“Or,” she said, “then again, it might not.”
The last card was flipped, and bets were tossed into the center of the pot. Johnny raised, and Caroline countered with a raise of her own. He called, flipped his cards over, and his straight lost to her flush. Half of his stack disappeared in one hand. He ground his teeth and chewed his bottom lip.
“I don’t like you,” Johnny said.
Her expression was colder than Anchorage. “You never liked me.”
“There might have been mutual respect, but that ship sailed out into the great beyond and smacked an iceberg.”
“Does not equal acceptance,” Johnny said.
“It will keep you up most nights,” the Indian said.
Determined not to lose again, Johnny kept his eyes on the prize and his dwindling stack of chips. The girl to his right had never flashed a smile, and now her stack of chips was nearly three times the size of his own. His eyes flicked to his wrist once more, and he grimaced.
For several moments, the ceiling fan took up all the sound in the room.
His breath hiccupped in his chest, and he swayed in his chair. The wood jammed against his lower back, and the angry green felt kept an even expression. His mouth moved, but no sound escaped from between his lips.
He fell out of his chair and cracked his head on the carpet. For the next few minutes, he drifted in and out of consciousness.
“Did his heart just stop?” Lapu asked.
Thomas leaned across the table. “What the hell are we talking about now?”
Lapu stood up. “I think that fucker passed out.”
“Which fucker?” Caroline’s chest pressed hard enough against her shirt to slow down her blood flow. Her eyes narrowed, but her hand was steady.
“The one that was losing.”
“That’s all you fuckers.” She tapped her tongue against her upper lip. “You’re all losing.”
Lapu shoved his chair back. “I don’t like losing.”
“But you do it so well.”
Thomas’s body shifted in his chair. “Not on purpose.”
The ceiling fan stopped, and the walls trapped all remnants of sound. One beat of silence was followed by another.
Lapu moved first. He slapped two fingers to Johnny’s wrist and checked for a pulse. The heartbeat was low and weak and arrhythmic.
“What do we do now?” Caroline asked. “Have you got a plan?”
Thomas stood up and sat back down again.
“Cayenne pepper and apple cider vinegar,” Lapu said. “Both have the potential to reduce the effects of arrhythmia.”
She pointed. “Or maybe he has pills in his pocket.”
Lapu nodded. “That is also an option. Check his pockets while I prop up his head.”
“I need another drink,” Thomas said. “I’d rather not be sober if a man is going to die.”
Caroline rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so melodramatic.”
Lapu had watched his father die with a look on his face not that far from the one Johnny wore now: the lost eyes and the still body, with his spirit on the verge of leaving this world for the next. Lapu poked through his pockets in a methodical fashion and found a prescription bottle with a half-peeled label. He popped the top, poked his finger through the slot, and removed two pills. He peeled Johnny’s lips apart, shoved the pills inside his mouth, and forced him to swallow. Minutes later, his life force had altered considerably, and color had returned to Johnny’s cheeks.
Lapu nodded his head. “There’s a purpose to every-thing.”
Thomas leaned over and slapped Johnny on the cheek. “I believe in the possibilities of a situation. Those moments that lead from one into the next, filled with passion and compassion and equality, and some other shit.”
Caroline smirked. “Which is what exactly?”
“Not losing another hand.”
Johnny inched his way to a sitting position and slapped his forehead. “Fuck me—”
“Not likely,” Caroline said. “It neither looks enjoy-able nor promising, but that’s a nice try, though.”
“Your perspective has gotten skewed,” Thomas re-plied.
“That’s certainly possible,” she said, “but I wouldn’t be so sure.”
More hands were played, and more hands were lost. Johnny’s stack of chips diminished faster until he was left with two red ones and half a drink. His even expression had vanished long ago, and his feet had started tap-ping during the last three hands. The Indian had six chips to Johnny’s two, and the rest were distributed between Thomas and Caroline, with the girl staring above a tower nearly level with her chin. Her expression hadn’t changed, and neither had her methodical approach to playing cards.
The barrel of a gun dug into Johnny’s lower back-side after he expunged the last two chips he had to his name. He didn’t have time to move or breathe, and he hadn’t even noticed Thomas shift his weight and remove the pistol from somewhere on his person. But the digging did further enhance Johnny’s focus and destroy his moral support. “Cuff him.”
“What the fuck?” Johnny replied.
“It’s time you realized the full extent of your losing.”
Johnny couldn’t see Caroline’s expression, but her voice was filled with menace and hate and exhibited more force than a battering ram.
“Stand up, you piece of trash.”
The gun shifted, and Johnny rose. The room spun, and he considered passing out all over again, but he pulled himself back and inched his way toward the metal door that was a lifetime away.
The barrel against his back never moved or wavered.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
“... a short but powerful book with the force of a right hook or a squeezed-off bullet.” ~ Foreword Clarion Reviews
“Original and enthralling. A journey of a gamblers problems and how he tries to 'fix' them.” ~ Lisa Garrett, NetGalley Reviewer
“I think that Downs's writing style shows promise and with a little more clarity on the timing and plot, I think I would have given the story 4.5 stars.” ~ San Francisco Book Review
“A hard-boiled crime drama that lacks well-defined characters or a comprehensible plot.” ~ Kirkus Indie
“...if you have been bored of late of crime books ... take a chance with this one because it is an all-consuming assault of brilliance that will keep you entertained from beginning to end!” ~ RedheadedBooklover

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

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