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Starr Sign

Starr Sign

The Candace Starr Series
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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The Captive

The Captive

A Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Season of Smoke
Excerpt

DRAFT
I like to say I’m not a killer because that helps me sleep at night. I’ve killed people, sure, but I’m no killer. Does that even make sense? I only kill in self defense, or so I tell myself. I wanted to put that part of my life far behind me. I wanted to sit out on my porch in the country and whittle sticks while the sun went down and crickets kicked up a racket in the grass. Sometimes, though, life has other plans.
I was living about half an hour outside of Orangeville, Ontario, in a sway-backed trailer that had once belonged to my good friend The Chief. The Chief had vanished ten years ago. I liked to think he was drinking daiquiris on the beach under an assumed name and maybe a brand-new mustache but deep down I knew that wasn’t the case. The Chief was dead and gone for more than a decade now. I inherited his trailer, his barn and his land, complete with trip wires and buried mason jars filled with rolled-up cash. I had been working all fall to clear the trip wires. It was slow going, poking around in the woods, jabbing at piles of leaves with a walking stick, bending down to snip rusty barbed wire with a pair of industrial strength clippers. I didn’t want anyone getting hurt.
The recruits were waiting for me in the barn. I walked past a few trees that hadn’t yet shaken off their leaves and tossed one of The Chief’s traps onto the garbage heap. My boots crunched on the gravel driveway as I headed for the barn.
The sign above the barn door said ‘PALACE SECURITY’ in huge red letters. The sign gave me the warm fuzzies every time I saw it. Was it possible to change your life? Hell, yes. I, Jack Palace, was living proof.
Marcus, my first recruit, was standing just inside the barn. He and I had been working a job back in the city but the pay wasn’t great. We stood around in front of a jewelry store and now and then when a shipment came in we stood at the back while guys climbed out of town cars with jewelry cases handcuffed to their wrists. No one had tried to rob us since we had started working there. Avi, the owner, was thrilled with our track record and kept making noise about a performance bonus but so far that bonus was just a distant dream.
We needed more clients and we needed more recruits. I put an ad in the paper, watched the jewelry store and played cards with Marcus back at home in the trailer. Half my day’s pay went to fueling up the truck to get to and from the city. It would be nice to get some local clients and not have to make that drive every day. I had put some feelers out but all my connections were still back in the city.
Marcus shot me a smile as I walked into the barn. “It’s a good looking group, Jack.” I nodded. There were two men and a woman lined up in the barn near the heavy bag dangling from the ceiling. This was where The Chief trained me, so many years ago. Right there by that bag is where I finally got the drop on him, or so I thought. He twisted easily out of my grasp and then broke my arm. A white lightning bolt of pain shot through my body and that was the end of training for that day.
I smiled at the recruits. I was planning to train them hard but I wasn’t going to break any arms. I could almost hear The Chief snorting. “You baby ‘em, Jack, and you’re going to end up with a bunch of babies. You think anyone is going to hire a bunch of babies?”
“Hello,” I said to the recruits. “Thanks for coming. I’m not going to lie to you, this job can be very demanding. We are going to train and we are going to train hard. Maybe some of you might not make it to the end and that’s okay. Maybe some of you have worked security jobs before. We’re going to do things a little differently around here. You’re going to work hard but make no mistake: after I’m done training you, you will have the skills to survive. What’s the number one most important part of training?”
The woman raised her hand high. I gave her a nod. “Safety,” she said.
I nodded again. “That’s right. We’re going to work hard but we’re going to look out for each other. No one’s getting hurt on my watch. You got that?”
All the recruits mumbled. “All right,” I smiled. “Let’s get started.”

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Without Blood

Without Blood

A Victor Lessard Thriller
edition:Paperback
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Excerpt

April 1st, 2005

Chapter One

Montreal

As far as I can remember, there was no sunshine on the morning of April 1st, only the grey drizzle of a late-breaking day. A sheet of dirty ice clung to the pavement in front of my apartment on Saint-Antoine Street.

Caught up among the torrents of snow that the plows had been shoving aside since December, discarded papers lay in a mosaic on the sidewalk.

April.

It’s the time of year when, as though recalling a forgotten promise after a long winter, the residents of Montreal start looking forward to blue skies, to buds on the trees and a warm wind on their faces. It’s also the time of year when Canadiens fans begin to dream about the Stanley Cup.

Though the district of Saint-Henri was manifestly underprivileged, its fortunes had been looking up lately. Contributing to this trend were the renaissance of the old Atwater Market, the revitalization of the Lachine Canal — where empty factories were being converted into high-end condos — and the creation of a bicycle path linked to the market by a pedestrian bridge.

Unlike the trendy Plateau Mont-Royal, Saint-Henri would never be a tourist destination. It wouldn’t become a mini Soho or Greenwich Village. But still, a growing number of young people were moving into the area.

That’s precisely how it was with me. I occupied a five-and-a-half with crumbling plaster walls, though I only used the three rooms that were fit for habitation.

My clock radio went off for the first time at 6:45 a.m. I automatically hit the snooze button, giving myself ten minutes’ grace. It was the same routine every morning until my official wake-up at 7:15 a.m. But for reasons I’d be hard put to explain, that’s not how things worked out this particular morning.

I woke with a start at 8:45 a.m., emerging from an awful nightmare in which a car was about to run me down. I lay in a daze for a few seconds, staring at the clock’s liquid crystal display. No doubt about it. The time really was 8:45 a.m. I was going to be seriously late.

Leaping from my bed, I hurried into the shower. I didn’t pause to enjoy the scalding caress of the water, a pleasure I usually prolonged until the tank was empty, which generally took less than three minutes.

I had turned thirty-three the previous week. My best friend, Ariane, had given me a green wool sweater, which I now threw on after grabbing my jeans off the floor.

To celebrate the occasion, we’d had dinner in Chinatown. We’d gotten decidedly tipsy and closed out the evening in a seedy karaoke bar on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, where, to my own surprise, I’d launched into a delirious rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s old hit “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

I walked past the mirror and pushed back a few unruly locks of red hair. My face was freckled. As for the rest of me, it was neither ugly nor beautiful. Ordinary, but not boring. Makeup was something I never wasted time on. I grabbed a beanie off the coat rack to keep my hair in place and threw on my old coat.

As I was opening the door, a caramel-coloured furball darted through my legs into the street.

Stupid cat!

I loved to hate that animal, which fled from me every time I set foot in the apartment. But I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of him.

I had come home one morning to find him on the doorstep. He had probably belonged to the previous tenant.

A survivor, like me.

By 9:12 a.m., I was running toward the bus stop on Atwater.

After slipping discreetly into my cubicle, I collapsed onto my not-even-slightly-ergonomic chair, which squeaked as I sat down.

I looked at my watch: 9:50 a.m.!

Maybe nobody noticed.

The first thing I did was check my emails. I opened a few messages and noted that there were no new developments in the file that I was supposed to be overseeing.

My tension level rose when I saw an email from the boss, sent a few minutes ago and marked “Important.” The company was small, and Flavio Dinar ran it like a dictator. He hated lateness, but I desperately needed this job. My cheeks flaming, I clicked the email.

Date: Friday, April 1, 2005, 9:20 am
From: flavio.dinar@dinar.com
To: simone.fortin@dinar.com
Attachments: Fundraiser(text).doc, Fundraiser(photos).gif

To all employees:

I was delighted to see everyone participate so enthusiastically in this year’s “Software Fights Poverty” fundraiser.

I’m proud to inform you that thanks to your commitment, your hard work, and the generosity of our donors, we surpassed our fundraising objective for 2005, collecting the record sum of $16,000.

I want to thank you all for the excellence of your contributions, which reflect the high standards of Dinar Communications.

I’ve attached some articles and photographs that appeared in various newspapers some weeks ago.

Cordially yours, Flavio Dinar

I let out a sigh of relief. The email had nothing to do with my lateness. Since I’d participated actively in the fundraising event, which had been held in a reception room at the Saint-Sulpice Hotel, I opened the file and looked over the media coverage. Each employee had created a fun piece of software for the event.

My nonsense-phrase generator wasn’t particularly brilliant, but it had attracted the highest bid of the night, three thousand dollars. That didn’t really come as a surprise. The bidder, a bald, middle-aged man, had been watching me all evening long like a drug user eyeing his stash.

Following the event, Flavio Dinar had hosted an after-party in two connecting hotel suites that he’d booked for the evening. When it came to preserving close ties with major clients, the man knew what he was doing. There were even whispers that over half the company’s revenue came from the federal government through the back channels of the scandal-ridden sponsorship program.

As a result, the entertainment laid on by the boss included champagne, cocaine, and high-end escorts. None of which was likely to raise an eyebrow among those familiar with the public-relations business. In that line of work, moral rectitude doesn’t count for much.

I had put in my usual perfunctory appearance at the party, but left before it degenerated into a bacchanal. I had decided to leave the event as Dinar, blind drunk, was preparing to offer up a public display of his personal charms, stumbling onto the dance floor in a hypnotic trance.

On my way out, I had run into the bald man. A good-looking young blond was on his arm. Gazing eagerly down my décolleté, he had invited me to join him and his companion for a drink somewhere else. Politely but firmly, I had declined.

Opening the file that contained the photos, I noticed that most of the images were of Dinar employees and inebriated donors. In one of them, I saw the bald man and the blond in a smiling embrace. The blond’s gaze seemed unfocused.

On the caption accompanying the photo, I read: Jacques Mongeau. The name seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Then I forgot about it.

I should have remembered him, but I didn’t. Even if I had, I don’t think it would have changed anything. More than seven years had passed since the last time I’d heard the man’s name. I’d spent those years trying to put a very painful chapter of my life behind me.

Despite all the precautions I’d taken, I saw my own face in the background of another photograph. Not only that, but my name was listed on the caption accompanying the picture. All of which was very upsetting. But at that moment, I had no inkling of the chaos the photo would unleash.

I was starting to feel distinctly anxious when Ariane stepped into my cubicle.

“You’re late!”

Her voice was loud and cheery.

“Keep it down,” I whispered. “No one noticed.”

She threw herself onto the visitor’s chair, which let out a groan.

“It’s not like you make a habit of it. You haven’t taken a day off in two years.”

“You know I can’t stand being late.” I reddened. I was still prone to blushing, even at my age. “A lot can go wrong in five minutes.”

I gathered up some loose papers and placed them in a neat stack on the corner of my cracked melamine desk. A lot really could go wrong in five minutes. I knew from experience.

Ariane jumped to her feet.

“Coffee?”

“Are you nuts? I just got here!”

 

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