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Running from the Dead
Excerpt

 

“I’m looking for a girl. She’d be under twenty, around five-feet tall, and wearing a lot of make-up.”

 

Diane flashed a look over Jones’ shoulder; probably at Sheena who was still out of earshot. She turned up the volume. “You’re looking for a girl?”

 

Jones held up his hands. “I’m not looking for a girl, Diane. I think this girl might be in trouble.”

 

Diane looked Jones over. “You a cop or something?”

 

“I’m a something.”

 

From her tone, Jones could tell that the possibility of a yes had excited her; his answer left her feeling confused. “What does that mean?”

 

“I’m a private investigator.”

 

Diane laughed. “Shut up. That’s not a real thing.”

 

“It is,” Jones said. “So tell me, Diane, do you remember a girl under twenty with a lot of eye make-up in here in the last four days?”

 

Diane thought about it for a second and then she laughed. “Hey, how’d you know my name was Diane? You really must be a private investigator.” She put her hand on his arm again. “A good one.”

 

“The girl,” Jones said.

 

Diane leaned closer and laughed. “Oh, right. Duh. I’m such a scatterbrain. It’s the wine,” she leaned in a little closer. “I get into so much trouble when I have too much.” With her hand still on Jones, she said, “Let me think.” Her thumb moved back and forth over the fabric of his jacket. When she spoke, her voice was quiet—an invitation to come closer and share a secret. “I think I might remember someone like that. Why don’t you buy me a drink and we can talk about it?”

 

“You think you saw her?”

 

Diane smiled. “Maybe.”

 

“She would have been left handed.”

 

Diane looked. Jones caught her.

 

“Sorry.”

 

Jones shook his head. “Nothing to be sorry about. I’m not left handed. Listen, why don’t you let me buy you that drink.”

 

Diane smiled wide. “If you insist.”

 

“I do.”

 

The promise of a drink loosened the grip on Jones’ arm. He watched Diane walk back to her table with a lot of hip thrown into her gait.

 

“I gotta ask. How the hell do you know she’s left handed?”

 

Jones looked over his shoulder and saw that Sheena had made her way back. “The smudges,” he said. “Her knuckles made them when her hand moved to the right.”

 

“Bullshit.”

 

Jones turned and rested his elbows on the counter. “The place she picked to write was another dead giveaway. No righty would have picked that spot. It would have been too hard to write there. That’s why most of the other tags are in the middle of the door.”

 

“What are you, some kind of handwriting expert.”

 

Jones smiled and lifted his arm. “Used to be left handed.”

 

Sheena looked at the empty jacket sleeve unimpressed. Jones put it down and instantly liked her more than he had a second before. She rested her back against the prep-counter opposite Jones and crossed her arms. “Are you really a private investigator? Like in the movies?”

 

Jones shook his head. “If this were the movies, I’d have already the case solved.”

 

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Work for a Million

Work for a Million

The Original Novel
by Eve Zaremba
cover design or artwork by Sami Kivelä
edition:Paperback
tagged : noir, lesbian
More Info
River of Lies
Excerpt

February 1

Tasha looked at the toes of her new boots and worried. Her workday was done. She had pushed open the school’s service door, checked outside, and shut it again with a shiver. Indoors was all brightness and warmth, but outside ’twas definitely a dark and stormy night.

Shouldn’t have changed from her grubby work shoes into these beauties till she got to Shaun’s apartment. The school’s parking lot would be riddled with puddles, and the boots were special; over-the-knee burnished-gold faux suede. The fabric wouldn’t take mud well.

She had chosen to wear the new boots for Shaun, along with her favourite slinky dress. She wanted to show up at his doorstep looking like a princess, not an off-duty janitor. Because it was February, the month of romance, and he was going out of his way to make her feel special. Only the first of the month and he’d already dropped off a sparkly, heart-smothered Hallmark card. No, appearing at his doorstep in sloppy work clothes was not an option.

She blew out a breath. Tonight would be their fourth date, and she expected there would be sex involved. Like last time, what he had called dynamite, and what she called painful. Shaun was a tad too big for her, when it came to sex.

She thought about the card he’d given her. Her friends said it was charming, and she supposed it was. She wondered if he would carry out his threat of delivering a pre–Valentine’s Day card every day till the fourteenth, a sort of twelve-days-of-Christmas shtick.

Honestly.

They were both in their midthirties, hardly kids anymore. She hoped that in the long run she would get used to his charm and that their relationship would build into something solid. Her parents were looking at her with that loud, unspoken question, Why are you still single? Same question from her friends. Same question from herself, really, because she wanted a husband and lots of kids, and none of that would drop out of the blue if she didn’t do her bit.

She pushed the service door open farther and took another peek at the sky. The rain had stopped, and she decided that instead of changing back to her runners, she would simply avoid the puddles, walk with care. She left the warmth and safety of the school and took her first tentative steps across the asphalt. So far so good — the basketball courtyard was fairly smooth and puddle-free. But ahead stretched the chain-link fence that separated finished ground from unfinished, and that’s where it was going to get gross.

Under lamplight a new worry sprang on her, more serious than the fear of muddy boots — the sense that she was being followed.

Tasha wasn’t easily frightened. Always aware, always prepared, that was the key to survival. She glanced over her shoulder, then did an about-face and stopped. Over by the school’s main entrance, had something just moved, sliding behind one of the support posts? She sniffed, wrinkled her nose, caught the faintest whiff of burning marijuana.

Just some kids. They hung out under the shelter there, sneaking smokes, craving danger, as kids will do. Even at this time of night and in this horrible weather.

She went on her way, thinking she actually wouldn’t mind a bit of danger herself. Not a huge amount, just enough to give her something to tell Shaun, ’cause sex and food, that’s all he seemed to care about, and not necessarily in that order. Spin up a tale, start a conversation, mix it up a bit. She was already framing the narrative as she reached the gate to the gravel parking lot. She saw it was polka-dotted with puddles, worse than she expected. It wasn’t a big school, not a huge parking area, space enough for maybe fifty cars. Of course there weren’t fifty cars here at this time of night. Just two.

Two?

Hers and who else’s?

A long black sedan. Unoccupied. It was parked near the rear entrance that led to the school’s lower level. She had been the only one on the premises, she was quite sure. No office lights burned, no late meetings underway. But a staff member might have left their car, got a ride with somebody. Teachers drank a lot, she’d been told. Maybe someone had decided they’d pick up their wheels in the morning. She gave one more look around before setting foot on the gravel. At the far end of the lot and all along one side was a smudge of forest. A little scary.

Careful what you wish for.

She had her keys in hand, in readiness to beep open the doors, and thought about her best friend’s self-defence tip. Hold your keys like this, pointy ends out, not a bad set of brass knuckles in a pinch. Second line of defence of course was the Toyota’s alarm button, which she sometimes set off by mistake, making herself and everyone around her jump.

This creepy guy was following me, her exciting story would go. I had to outrun him. Barely made it to my car. Luckily I set my key alarm going and he ran off.

Silly to spook herself like this. She was now moving forward, stop and go, tippy-toeing around bodies of mud-grey water. Heavy winter rains had flooded the lot and the puddles spread out, broad and gleaming. Behind her the chain-link gave a metallic shiver. She could hear traffic. She could see the lights of houses in the distance. A far cry from solitude, but in a way she might as well be on Mars.

The school entranceway looked so distant now. Nobody creeping or crawling about. She laughed aloud at her own tall tale of danger, faced her car once more and stopped. She peered through the darkness, not believing her eyes. Only a stone’s throw away now she saw the front right tire was flat. Flat as a pancake.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” she cried.

“Hey, what’s up?” somebody called out.

She whirled. A twitch of her fingers set off the fob alarm and the car’s horn went mad, onn-onn-onn. She yanked the keys from her pocket and pressed the red button. Silence, except the soft whish of the wind playing around her ears.

“Sorry,” she said. The pounding of her heart slowed, and she smiled at the man. He hadn’t been inside the black car, so must have come up from behind her. If he’d been a stranger she’d be busy forming her brass knuckles. But she recognized him. He was a nice guy. They had exchanged friendly hellos in the halls.

She snugged her coat around her tighter, hugged her handbag. The wind was awful, trying to knock her sideways. Her neck felt cold and vulnerable. She beeped open her car to grab a scarf off the passenger seat. Slammed the door shut and said,“Whatcha doing here this time of night?”

“Had to pick up something. Papers. You know.”

He must have arrived as she left, dashed in, grabbed the docket he held under his arm.

He wasn’t as tall as Shaun. Older than Shaun, more serious. Not bad looking. She’d seen him in the halls. What did he teach? Something interesting, like science or social studies, she’d bet. Was he single?

She focused on the flat tire. He followed the direction of her stare and pulled a clownish face of horror. Just being funny. Kind of corny, but it made her laugh.

Laughing felt good. She always laughed at Shaun’s jokes, but sometimes it took effort.

She wondered if this teacher’s life was as humdrum as hers, that a flat tire late at night was the most excitement he’d had in a while. Maybe this chance encounter would lead to a conversation, then to friendship, then to something valuable.

Unlikely, but things like that did happen, didn’t they?

“So,” he said, done being funny.“Sabotage, or bad luck?”

“I’m guessing sabotage. I know who did it, too. And I bet I know why.”

He raised his brows at that.“No kidding? Tell me all about it. But first let’s get going on this flat of yours. Got a spare?”

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The Starr Sting Scale

The Starr Sting Scale

The Candace Starr Series
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
Excerpt

Chapter 1

“I’m not sure that I can help you.”

“On the contrary. I’m quite certain that you can.”

The well-kept blonde in her fifties bats her considerable lashes, quite a feat given the amount of Botox injected in her face. She sits opposite me, perched in a high bar stool at the back of the Algonquin, a dive we affectionately refer to as The Goon. Affection is perhaps too strong a word when talking about a dark, dank, seventies-wood-panelled hole that smells like stale beer and jism — the former odour compliments of the fulltime barmaid, Lovely Linda, and the latter a result of the brisk part-time business she transacts in the men’s toilet on request. I’m Candace Starr, a woman who gets paid for a different kind of service. I still fit in here. But the blonde is definitely out of place.

“A friend of mine sent me,” she says, flicking a strand of straightened hair off her polished forehead. “She told me you assist in these matters. That you helped her with a rather difficult husband.”

Difficult husbands are a specialty of mine. Rarely in my line of work do you run into a husband who isn’t difficult in some way. They cheat, they lie, and occasionally they smack their women around. It’s like the metal in a wedding ring creates a strange magnetic force within a guy’s body that sets off his asshole switch. Maybe wives should insist on a wooden band.

“I’m retired,” I tell her.

“You look a bit young for that.” “I’m older than you’d think.” I’ve managed to keep my looks over the years despite my lifestyle. It’s the Italian blood from my mother’s side. That olive skin covers up a lot of hard living. The woman abandoned me on a median strip when I was three, but at least she left me with a good complexion and a figure that holds up. Everyone thinks I’m in my early twenties, but I’ve been on the wrong side of thirty for a few years now. I’ve got legs that go all the way up to my armpits — at an age when most women are starting to gather ass up from around their ankles.

“I can make it worth your while,” she says, batting her eyes again. The Coach bag she’s clutching costs more than a month’s rent. I bet she can make it worth my while and then some. I’m impressed that she had the balls to come here. To track me down. Most society mavens like her would find a go-between to do this sort of dirty work. A gardener with connections, a boy toy with designs. This woman has made the effort herself to make sure the job gets done. I respect that.

“Stand up.”

“I beg your pardon?” She blinks repeatedly. The smooth paralysis of her face doesn’t allow for any other facial movement that denotes surprise. Or any other emotion.

“I said stand up.”

She tentatively gets to her feet. I drop down from my own bar stool and come up behind her. She’s tall in her Steve Madden boots, but I’m taller. At six foot three, there aren’t many people I don’t look down on. I pull back my curly mess of long, honey-brown hair and tie it up with a rubber band from my wrist. The blonde’s hair is cut short in the back, revealing a shapely neck. I could snap it if I wanted to. I’ve done it before. Instead I reach around and dart my right hand inside her cool silk blouse. She gasps, but I’m in and out in a flash. After all, this isn’t a cheap excuse to cop a feel. This is business.

“You can sit down now,” I say, returning to my own seat. “Just had to make sure you weren’t wearing a wire.” I take a pull off the draft she bought me, my first drink of the day. “Now, tell me about the job. I’m not saying that I’ll do it. I’m just letting you tell me about it.”

She looks like she’d like to raise one of her finely shaped eyebrows at me but manages only to achieve a slight twitch in the corner of her right temple. I wonder if she gets those brows waxed or threaded, making a mental note to ask her later, before I lift her wallet. I’m not much into the girlie stuff, but even a woman like me needs to landscape. When the blonde goes to sit on the bar stool again, her high-heeled boots peel away from the sticky linoleum floor, making a sound like someone pulling a band-aid off fast.

“The job, as you call it, is simple,” she says. “I want you to get rid of this young man.” She pulls out from her purse one of those strips of four photos you get from a booth. Shit, does anyone use those anymore in the era of selfies? A tousle-haired youth grins out from each rectangular square. He sits next to a pretty, plump teenage girl with doe eyes and big tits.

“He’s kinda young for you,” I say. I’ve probably insulted her, but it’s the truth. I know these middle-aged tantric-yoga girls can keep themselves up fairly well, but come on, she could be that kid’s mother. He didn’t even look old enough to be a difficult husband.

“Age is deceiving,” she says. And I suppose it is after your third butt tuck. “But this person is not an associate of mine. Rather, he is an associate of my daughter.”

I inspect the strip of photos again to get a better look at the teenage girl. The big hazel eyes, the slope of the neck. Definitely related.

“You want me to off your daughter’s boyfriend?” I ask, incredulous. Taking out a target who doesn’t even shave on a daily basis is pretty heartless, even for me.

“Boyfriend is not the right word for him,” she says, sipping on the Diet Coke that Lovely Linda delivered on her way to the men’s restroom with a friend. “He is a parasite. A barnacle affixed to the hull of society with no purpose or design. He smokes. He sells drugs. He sits in his basement and plays video games all day, and he fucks my daughter.” She adjusts her ass a bit in the chair, as if remembering her own days of being fucked in a boyfriend’s basement. “He’s got to go.”

“Maybe it’s a phase,” I say. “These things blow over.”

“It’s been two years,” she says. “Nothing is blowing over except my daughter’s chances of being accepted into a decent university.”

“But c’mon, a kid?”

“That kid gave her a disease,” she almost shouts, looking around the bar before she collects herself again. “He can’t keep it in his pants. He can’t keep down a job. He can’t even manage to graduate high school. He is so lazy that he has to set an alarm to get up and binge drink, and his conversational skills consist of grunting in response to any inquiry while he grabs at his genitals.” She takes a deep breath and continues. “He has no future and no prospects, and he clings to my daughter like a lemur on a high branch. I want him out of the picture.”

I look hard at this flushed, badass woman, and then I look at the boy in the picture. He smiles back at me with his goofy photo-booth face. I can see a vape kit tucked into the front pocket of his jean jacket, a zit about to erupt on his chin. He has his whole life ahead of him. A string of doe-eyed girls in his future. Years of parties to crash, millions of brain cells to damage, along with half the people around him, as he lives out his days in a rented room over a run-down convenience store, falling into a sour-smelling bed drunk each night, only getting up to go to the bar, or to meet with disgruntled women of a certain age who need difficult men disposed of. Like my old man — or like me for that matter. I look back at the woman, who begs me with the same wide hazel eyes as her daughter.

“Ten thousand,” I say, “delivered like I tell you.” So much for retirement. “And you have to do exactly what I say.” I finish off the beer in one go and motion Lovely Linda across the bar for another. She’s back from the men’s restroom.

“I’ll arrange for it today.” The mother opposite me blinks one last time from her glacial face, and the deal is sealed.

 

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Never Forget

Never Forget

A Victor Lessard Thriller
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
More Info
Excerpt

Sunday, December 18th

Hands on his thighs, head bent forward, Victor Lessard was trying to catch his breath and regain his composure. From the depths of the warehouse, he’d had to run twenty metres before reaching the door and bursting outside.
Still panting, he turned away from the yellowish puddle at his feet and straightened up.
Wiping his lips, the detective sergeant took out a pack of cigarettes. The first puff set fire to his throat; the second lit up his lungs; the third calmed him down.
As his face returned to its normal colour, Victor zipped up his leather jacket and, putting his hands in the pockets of his jeans, paced among the junk in the snowy courtyard: an old boat sitting on wooden pallets; the carcasses of eviscerated cars; misshapen, rusting metal parts.
With a little imagination, one might almost have expected to find this fractured, postapocalyptic scene in the backdrop of a picture by Edward Burtynsky.
Worried that someone might be looking for him, Victor glanced toward the warehouse. From where he was standing, he could read the sign over the entrance: METALCORP. In the distance, to his left, he saw the gaunt silhouette of the Décarie Expressway ramp leading to the Champlain Bridge.
For a moment, Victor watched the unending flow of vehicles, hypnotized. Then he walked toward the Lachine Canal. He stepped carefully to prevent snow getting into his black-leather Converse high-tops.
His gaze drifted briefly to the canal’s far bank. Though the district was still largely industrial, residential buildings were sprouting up here and there; but nothing like the disused factories farther east, now converted into high-end condos, that he had visited with Nadja.
Tossing his cigarette butt into the skeleton of a Plymouth Duster, Victor ran his fingers across the stubble on his cheeks. With a shake of his head, he turned and headed back toward the building, limping slightly. That limp was the only visible remnant of the attack that had nearly cost him his life. But neither the passage of time nor the psychotherapy could altogether erase the scars that the King of Flies had left on his soul.

“You’re too sensitive, Lessard. You puke every goddamn time.”
Victor’s square jaw clenched and his green eyes looked straight into his partner’s. “I just stepped out for a smoke.”
Jacinthe Taillon responded with a skeptical little smile as she plunged her thick fingers into a bag of Cheetos and crammed a handful into her mouth. “The trick is never to go in on an empty stomach. Do you eat breakfast every morning?”
“There’s orange stuff on your face, Jacinthe.”
She was in her forties. With her doughy features untouched by makeup, her short-cropped hair, and rolls of flesh visible under her clothes, she was affectionately nicknamed “Tiny” Taillon by her colleagues. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Direct, unsparing, practical, she was known for bluntness and a resolute refusal to beat around the bush. Ever. “Okay, big guy, let’s go. We haven’t got all day.”
With that, Jacinthe set her massive body in motion and headed toward the back of the warehouse, crumpling her bag of munchies. Victor rubbed his temples for a moment, took a deep breath, and followed her.

The interior was as chaotic as the courtyard, but it was organized chaos: dirt, debris, metal stacked in layers or contained in wooden crates. Two Forensic Identification technicians were spraying luminol on a stretch of floor, looking for blood spatter. Victor tried to remember the techs’ names, then gave up. Since his return to the Major Crimes Unit, there’d been so much information to absorb that his brain sometimes failed to keep up.
“What’s the latest on Mr. Horowitz?”
Taillon sighed with frustration. “He had a heart scare. He’s in the ICU at Saint-Luc Hospital.”
“Put yourself in his shoes,” Victor said. “He didn’t expect to find a corpse in his warehouse on a Sunday morning.”
“Maybe not, but now we’ll have to wait before getting his deposition. And the clock’s ticking.”
“Anyway, we’ve still got our Jane Doe to deal with. This’ll take as long as it needs to take.”
“Are you deliberately trying to get on my nerves?”

The cleanliness and elegance of Horowitz’s office contrasted with the rest of the place: lacquered concrete floor, glass-topped desk, leather armchairs under industrial windows, computer, papers, meticulously aligned pens, metal file cabinets, adjacent washroom, Toulouse-Lautrec prints on the walls, small kitchen with sink, microwave, and espresso machine, and a laminated table surrounded by several chairs for mealtimes.
Only the yellow plastic crime-scene tape and the body disturbed the harmony of the space.
For an instant, Victor hoped that by closing his eyes he could erase the dead woman. But when he opened them again, she was still on her back, pallid and naked, at the foot of the table, where he’d first seen her before the nausea overcame him.
A shaft of sunlight coming through the window cast singular patterns on the skin of the corpse, whose posture recalled the twisted forms of Delacroix’s paintings.
Her sphincter muscles had relaxed at the moment of death. Her legs, bent to one side, were bathed in urine and feces. Victor raised his T-shirt over his nose to block out the stench that was pressing at his nostrils.
Jacob Berger turned to him, smiling. Berger had refined traits and a delicate chin. He wore little glasses and his hairstyle was too perfect. “Feeling better, Lessard?”
Both men were nearly six foot three, but the resemblance stopped there. While the detective sergeant’s hard features and athletic physique gave him a threatening appearance, the medical examiner was long and lean, the prototype of an intellectual.
“How can you stand it, Jacob?” Victor hung back, not getting too close to the body.
The dead woman’s rolled-back eyes made him shudder, but he couldn’t look away from the wrinkled arms, the limp, toneless flesh dotted with droplets of blood.
“You get used to it,” Berger said, kneeling beside the victim.
“I don’t think I ever will.”
Jacinthe rolled her eyes, then noticed the clothes piled in a corner. “Save the touchy-feely stuff for later, girls. Was she killed here?”
“Yes.”
“How long ago?”
“I’d say a good forty-eight hours. Probably sometime Thursday night.”
Victor made a mental note, then hesitated for an instant, trying to find the right words for what he was about to ask of the examiner. Berger had a touchy streak, and Lessard was eager to avoid seeming to micromanage him. “Since we don’t have a purse or ID, I’d like you to be on the lookout for anything that might help identify her — dental work, physical particulars, labels, distinctive garments, details of that sort.”
“No problem.”
Maybe, like him, Berger was getting softer as he aged.
“How old would you say she was?”
“In her sixties. I could be wrong.”
“She left behind an impressive body of work,” Jacinthe said, laughing loudly at her own joke before turning serious. She used a fingernail to pry an orange blob from between her teeth and asked, “Cause of death?”
“She bled out. Something went right through her throat — from back to front, I believe.”
“Is that the hole?” Jacinthe pointed to a circular wound just above the trachea.
Gently, Berger turned the dead woman’s head and inserted a finger into the opening. The sploosh sound made Victor queasy. He averted his eyes, close to retching. Taillon watched, fascinated, as the examiner’s expert hands moved over the corpse’s throat.
“This is the exit wound. The object used by the killer entered the back of the neck and exited here, severing the carotid artery along the way. The vertebral arteries run through the cervical bones on their way to the brain. Hemorrhaging was massive. She was dead in minutes.”
“The object used by the killer …” Victor paused, still struggling to hold down the contents of his stomach. “You mean that’s not a bullet wound?”
“I could go into details, but —”
“Forget the details,” Taillon snapped.
“Short answer: no, that is not a bullet wound.”
“Okay,” Taillon said, “so what was the murder weapon?”
“I’ll know more after the autopsy, but I’d say it was a sharp object propelled by some kind of mechanism.”
“Mechanism?” Victor asked, intrigued.
Berger looked at him over the rims of his glasses, which wavered in precarious balance on the bridge of his nose. “It took considerable velocity to cause a wound like this. More than human strength alone could generate.”
Their gazes met for an instant.
“There’s something else,” Berger said.
“Oh, yeah?” the big woman growled.
The examiner ran his finger along two cuts, one above the sternum and the other beneath the chin, near the throat. Each wound had two distinct entry points.
“I don’t know what made these punctures, but they’re deep.”
The image stayed with Victor wherever he looked: the dead woman’s head and frizzy grey hair lying in a red lake, a Mona Lisa half smile clinging to her lips as though she’d been at peace when she was struck down.
“There are abrasions on the wrists and neck.”
“Caused by what?” Jacinthe asked.
“On the wrists, could be handcuffs.”
“And the neck?”
“It looks like the murderer made her wear something extremely tight and heavy.”
“A dog collar?” Victor suggested.
“That,” Berger answered, “would be one very large dog collar.”

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