Photo by Kyle Broad on Unsplash
Hi there! 🙂 I chose that photo at random, pretty much. I need to come up with ideas for the cover of my next Erica Jensen novel, which I hope to release in November.
I have to tell you, it’s really hard sometimes to come up with a decent stock photo. 🙂 One that really conveys the tone and the main character of a novel.
It’s going to be really hard to beat this one! 🙂
Be that as it may, here’s an excerpt from the next book in the series, Fatal Connections.
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 0448 hours on a Saturday. It was my phone. I let it go. The ringing stopped. Three seconds later, it resumed.
I flopped toward the side table on which the phone jangled and flung my hand in its general direction. As luck would have it, my hand landed on the ringing object. Damn it. Grasping the phone and blinking, I checked the ID. Marian Harcourt. WTF? I took the call.
“Yeah?” I said. The word came out more like, “Ugh.”
“Erica, we’re in trouble,” Marian Harcourt whined into my ear. “Please come to the house. Now.”
I suppressed a groan and several colorful phrases. “This couldn’t wait until the sun rose?”
“We’re in danger. And I can’t call the police.” Her voice, edged with panic, spiked upward on the word “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 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 at the best of times. While I wasn’t sure why she felt the need to call in the Marines, but not the police, the desperation in her voice sounded very real. But I got the sense that probing Marian’s state of mind further could lead to a discussion I was ill-equipped to handle without more careful thought. Or, better yet, coffee.
I cleared my throat. “I gotta get dressed. 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 you.
At 0602 hours, I arrived at the house, a simple brick rambler fronted with a trim lawn. Hanging back in the car, I pondered what might be going down.
Clients usually had needs I could understand and meet with a minimum of face time. My one IRL meeting with the Harcourts had been at a local coffee shop and by either phone or email afterward. I’d never seen the Harcourts’ house. Its humble appearance surprised me.
Ron and Marian Harcourt were a power couple, of a sort. They were Instagram stars. They’re called “influencers”, which is kind of funny since I’d never heard of them before this. Apparently, it had all started with a blog. They’d quit their jobs and traveled the world, sometimes bringing their two children, others leaving them in an au pair’s care.
Things took off from there, as they attracted sponsors from the hotels, restaurants, and resort facilities where they’d stayed. The couple had just signed a book contract about their experiences going from rags to riches using the Internet. I’d bet they amassed a fortune by not spending money on their house.
I wondered about this alleged emergency. The neighborhood was silent as a Quaker service. Or a morgue.
I also continued to wonder why Marian Harcourt would call me but not the police.
I was actually wrapping up my background check on their candidate for personal assistant. Before I started the job, Nick told me that the Harcourts had a publicist and business manager. I’d 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 just adding final touches to the written report, I got the distinct sense I might have missed something.
I tucked my handgun—a Sig P320—into my waistband, careful to hide the gun’s bulge under my jacket, and left my Fiesta. I doubted many people were out this early on a Saturday, 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 slightly itchy.
It was mid-March. Too soon for the warmth of spring to creep in. I gave the door three raps and clutched my jacket against the chill air as I waited.
Time passed. I rang the doorbell. More time passed.
I pressed my ear to the door. Thought I made out an indistinct murmur inside. The only other sound was the whisper of distant traffic from the main road.
This time I knocked and rang the bell, feeling foolish. After a time, I dug out my cell phone and called Ms. Harcourt. Straight to voicemail.
A tight ball formed 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 left it so, which I sincerely 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 was sealed. Of course, it was nowhere near as stifling as the desert locations where I’d served as a Marine in Afghanistan. Even so, the temperature and its suffocating effect didn’t evoke pleasant memories or sweet dreams.
The place was too quiet, apart from what sounded like a television burbling from within. Where the hell are the Harcourts? My hand moved to my Sig on autopilot.
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? Did danger await? I had my gun, but frankly, I try to avoid fighting for legal reasons: I’m on probation for a misdemeanor offense. And I don’t usually do the kind of business that requires that I meet clients armed for protection.
After a few moments wrestling my thoughts, I crept further into the house, despite the claustrophobic feeling the overheated air gave me.
My eyes swept the living room, the kitchen, the dining room. That left the hallway leading to the bedrooms and bathrooms. As I padded toward them with tortoise-like speed, stray thoughts occurred. Maybe it was a prank call that brought me here? Maybe the Harcourts were on vacation. And maybe I’d imagined that earlier phone call. Yeah, right.
Three bedrooms, two baths. I hit them all. Nothing, but the drone of the TV. Where was that coming from?
The only logical place left was the basement. After stumbling across a closet or two, I discovered the basement door. Upon opening it, the TV’s volume blared. I paused before descending the steps, but not nearly long enough to be ready for what awaited me.
Feel free to leave a comment or share this post. Also, if you have any suggestions for decent stock photos
(other than Unsplash, Pixabay, or other obvious sources–yes, yes, I know about them), just let me know! 🙂