Yes, ahem … this book is coming out for the first time in print on November 11, 2022
, come hell or high water.
So … want to have a look at what’s in store for Erica Jensen? Is that a “Yes, please!” I hear? Well, then, let’s do it! 🙂
I’d pay a million dollars for a good night’s sleep, if I thought such a thing could be bought. But it wasn’t my nightmares that woke me at the ridiculously early hour of 0500 hours on a Saturday, it was my phone. I let it go, and the ringing stopped. A few seconds later, it started up again.
I rolled toward the side table where the phone jangled and aimed my hand in its general direction. As luck would have it, my hand landed right on it, so I grabbed it and by forcing my eyes open, I saw the caller ID. Marian Harcourt. WTF?
So I answered with “Yeah?” which came out more like “Ugh.”
“Erica, we’re in trouble,” she whined. “Please come to the house. Right now.”
I suppressed a groan and several colorful phrases. “This can’t wait until the sun comes up?”
“We’re in danger. And I can’t call the police.” Her voice, edged with panic, spiked upward when she said “police.”
Okay. The Harcourts, a married couple, had hired me to run a background check on a possible hire—a live-in personal assistant. Now she was calling me about an imminent threat, but why me and not the police?
I sighed loudly into the phone. “Why not?” I tried not to snarl the words.
“Nick told us you were a Marine. Help us. Please.”
Am a Marine. I suppressed the correction that came to mind. Just because I’m not actively deployed doesn’t mean I’ve lost my membership card.
I tried to focus, which could be hard for me even in the best of times. I wasn’t sure why she felt the need to call in the Marines and not the police, but the desperation in her voice sounded very real. I had the sense that questioning Marian’s state of mind could lead to a discussion I was ill-equipped to handle without more careful thought. Or more precisely, coffee.
I cleared my throat. “I gotta get dressed and stop for coffee.” My voice held only a touch of snark, when I added, “Don’t worry. I’ll make it to-go.” Then I hung up.
Madness? Sure. But that’s life for a Marine veteran who digs up information as an unlicensed private eye.
I arrived at the house at about 0600 hours, a simple brick rambler with a trim lawn in front. Hanging back in the car, I wondered what might be going down.
Clients usually had needs I could understand and meet with a minimum amount of face time. My one IRL meeting with the Harcourts had been at a local coffee shop, and after that, our contact was either by phone or email. I’d never seen the Harcourts’s house. Its humble appearance surprised me.
Ron and Marian Harcourt were a power couple, sort of. They were Instagram stars or “influencers,” which is kind of odd because I’d never heard of them before this. Apparently, it had all started with a blog. They had both quit their jobs to travel the world, sometimes bringing their two children along and other times leaving them with their nanny.
Things took off rather quickly because they attracted sponsors from the hotels, restaurants, and resort facilities where they stayed. The couple had just signed a book contract about their experiences going from rags to riches by using the internet. And they had probably amassed a small fortune by not spending much of their money on their house.
I wondered about this so-called emergency. The neighborhood was as quiet as a morgue. I was still wondering why Marian would call me but not the police.
I was actually in the process of wrapping up my background check on their candidate for a personal assistant. Before I started the job, Nick told me that the Harcourts had a publicist and a business manager. I wondered why they needed yet another assistant, but who was I to judge? And money is money.
So I took the gig. Even though I was adding final touches to the written report, I had the distinct sense that I had missed something.
I tucked my handgun—a Sig Sauer P320—into my waistband, careful to hide the gun’s bulge under my jacket, and left my Fiesta parked on the street. I doubted that many people were out this early on a Saturday morning, but with my luck, the neighborhood could be rife with morning joggers or other early risers. Scanning the grounds, I eased toward the front door. Anticipation made me a little itchy.
It was just past mid-March. Too soon for the warmer part of spring. I gave the door three raps and clutched my jacket against the chill air as I waited. Time passed. Then I rang the doorbell. Still no answer.
I pressed my ear to the door and thought I heard an indistinct murmuring inside. The only other sound was that of distant traffic from the main road.
This time I knocked and rang the bell, feeling a little foolish. Still no response, so after a couple of minutes, I dug out my cell phone and called Marian. Straight to voicemail. I could feel a knot forming deep in my belly. This wasn’t right.
Reluctantly, I tried the door knob. Unlocked. Fuck. My fingers sprang off the knob, as if it were molten metal. An unlocked door likely meant trouble, unless the Harcourts had intentionally left it unlocked, which I doubted.
I returned to my car and retrieved my leather driving gloves, plus one of the spare napkins I’d collected over the course of many take-out meals.
Back at the door, gloves on, I wiped the only evidence of my ever having been there off the knob and its door. And, as a resident of a place called Paranoia, I gripped the door knob with the napkin, turned it, and entered. Inside, it felt as airless as King Tut’s tomb.
The heat was understandable given the weather, but the air felt stuffy, as if the house had been sealed. Of course, it was nowhere near as stifling as the heat in the desert locations in Afghanistan where I’d served as a Marine. Even so, the temperature and its suffocating effect did not evoke pleasant memories.
The place was too quiet, apart from what sounded like a television burbling from within. Where the hell are the Harcourts? My hand, on autopilot, moved to my Sig.
Hand over the pistol grip, I moved further inside, all senses on high alert. I was halfway past the living room, aimed toward the kitchen when I stopped. Should I continue? Was I in some sort of danger here? I had my gun, but frankly, I try to avoid using it for legal reasons: I’m on probation for a misdemeanor offense. And I don’t usually do the kind of business that requires me to meet clients armed for protection.
After a few more seconds of wrestling with my thoughts, I made my way further into the house, ignoring the feeling of being suffocated by the overheated air pressing in around me.
My eyes swept the living room, the kitchen, and the dining room. Then there was the hallway leading to the bedrooms and bathrooms. As I inched toward them with tortoise-like speed, a few random thoughts popped up. Maybe it was a prank call that brought me here. Maybe the Harcourts were on vacation. And maybe I had imagined that earlier phone call. Yeah, right. Three bedrooms, two baths. I checked them all. Nothing but the drone of the TV. Where was that coming from?
The only place left was the basement. After stumbling across a closet or two, I found the basement door. Upon opening it, the TV’s volume blared. I paused before going down the steps, but not nearly long enough to prepare myself for what awaited me.
If you’d like to read a bit more and ahead of everyone else out there, except my most-staunch Patreon supporters, who got to “see the sausage being made,” so to speak, check out my serialized stories on Substack! 🙂
And, in other news, my first Erica Jensen mystery ended up making the Second Round of this contest!
I was freakin’ amazed, so I posted it on Facebook. Got this response.
And short of using my half-crappy fingers to write out a full explanation of why this is so freaking awesome, I chose not to. So now you know why I
despise find Facebook a useless time suck a not-so-social medium.
If you’re still reading this, I want to thank you from the bottom of my
increasingly cynical slightly exhausted heart. 😉
That emoji tells you
to get over yourself I’m just kidding! Jeez!
PS: On the plus side, many of them to seem to know my birthday! 🙂
PPS: This has to be the most awesome idea I’ve seen today! 🙂