Yes, everyone, my new crime novella is really coming soon!
Finally, another book by me. It only took me a few rewrites to finish it. Plus
a few million hours of research about being a Marine, because … seriously … I had no clue about so much of it.
If you want to get an early, exclusive first look at the cover, you can do one of two things:
- join my mailing list
- become a patron for the Crime Cafe podcast on Patreon
In the meantime, enjoy this excerpt which I’m offering with a giveaway!
Enter the giveaway and you could win an advance reader copy of Damaged Goods! Click here for the giveaway!
Meanwhile, here’s the first chapter and another excerpt from the book:
Before I left Blaine’s palace, he dredged up a photo of Melissa. It was her high school senior photo, so she might have dyed her hair or who-knows-what during the past five years. In the photo, her mousy-brown locks were brushed back from a perfect oval face that featured full lips and her father’s green eyes.
Blaine also gave me copies of articles about B & K Developers, including one with a full-color photo of Blaine and Slava Kandinsky sitting side-by-side. Kandinsky had longer legs, knees sticking out at awkward angles compared to his shorter partner’s. He had a swarthy complexion and eyes that gleamed like wet tar.
I left the house, crossed a driveway leading to a three-car garage, slipped into my blue Fiesta, and fired it up. I lowered the windows to let the warm, early September breeze blow through my car. Then I drove to the local library, where I parked, took my file and laptop inside and put my thoughts to paper while they were still fresh.
When I start a case, I like to create a flowchart. In this case, I had to find two people, who may or may not have known each other. So I turned to a blank page in my notebook. Yes, I use paper and pencil for this stuff. I refuse to go all-digital.
I penciled the name “Melissa Anne Blaine” on the right side, making an oval around it. Under her name, I wrote “MICA”, the acronym for the art school, pronounced MIKE-AH. On the left, I wrote “Slava Kandinsky” and drew a rectangle around that, then added the few additional names I’d squeezed out of Blaine. I put my client’s name at the top of the page, underlined it, and drew arrows between that and each of the others, noting the relationships along the lines.
That done, I turned on the laptop and scoped out Melissa’s last-known address and social media presence. Nothing. Couldn’t say it surprised me not to see her on Facebook, since teens and young adults are apparently fleeing the site. However, Melissa’s friend Katie Saunders was there, identifying her as a graduate of Damascus High School. I next turned to Instagram—a logical place for a young artist. Even Pinterest. Yet there was no sign of Melissa on either one.
I needed to delve deeper using a paid database. I avoid using those outside my home, because I’m concerned about wi-fi security (or lack thereof). The downside is that these databases are often weeks or months out-of-date. I’d need to rely on my threadbare people skills to gather the most recent intel. I set my sights on Katie Saunders first.
I looked online for all the Saunders listed in the Damascus, Maryland, area. There were only five—Damascus isn’t exactly a huge metropolis. After jotting the numbers and addresses, I left the library, returned to my car, and dug my cell phone from my shoulder bag.
I rang the first number and someone of indeterminate gender rasped a greeting.
“Hi,” I said. “Is Katie there?”
“Either way, you’ve got the wrong number.” I heard a click, and that was that.
I kept going and hit pay dirt on number four. A woman who sounded like someone’s grandmother answered. When I asked for Katie, she said, “She’s away at college, dear.”
“Would you mind if I got her number, ma’am?” I chirped. “I’m putting together a contact list for the next high school reunion.” I figured the lie would protect Stuart Blaine.
“Well, I don’t know … I’d need to ask her mother.”
“Is she there?” I pressed. “Can I talk to her?”
“She’s out, but should be back soon.”
“How about if I check back in half an hour?”
“She might be back by then, although you may want to wait an hour, to be sure.”
“Awesome,” I gushed. We exchanged brief farewells and hung up.
I had no intention of calling in an hour. But I would stop by the house.
I started the car and headed toward a shopping center I’d spied on the way to see Blaine. I had just enough time to grab a sandwich from the deli before I ran by the Saunders’ house.
* * *
As I dined on a Reuben on pumpernickel, I scanned my notes and planned my general strategy. I’d need to visit the art school in Baltimore, of course. I’d swing by the coffee shop, while I was there. As for Mr. Kandinsky, I’d deal with him in good time.
As I ate and reviewed notes, I kept alert to my surroundings. I didn’t expect anyone to attack me here, but old habits die hard. Fortunately, this wasn’t the bar where some drunk had tried to feel me up. I hadn’t expected that, either. And he hadn’t anticipated my fist connecting with his nose. Good thing I hadn’t connected squarely. I could have smashed his nose into his brain.
That kind of behavior lands you in court. Which leads to court-ordered anger management therapy. Which extends into talk therapy, ad infinitum. So many words, so little progress.
I finished my meal, threw my trash away, and left the deli.
Katie Saunders’ house was tucked behind a stand of trees at the end of a long driveway. The architect must have been a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright’s late period work. The house had a post-post-modern design—all sharp angles and big windows. The property slanted downward in back, and a porch surrounded the house, cantilevered over the hill by large beams. The driveway ended in a circle, making it easy to turn around. How considerate.
I left the car next to a flowerbed of yellow and orange marigolds, went to the door and rang the bell. A set of chimes echoed inside. From the surrounding woods, a bird chirped at short intervals.
The door opened. A woman who looked too young to mother a college student stood before me. She wore khaki shorts, an oversized green polo shirt, and glasses with blue rectangular frames. Her blonde hair was tied back from her face, her cheekbones high and sculpted.
“Our housekeeper says you’re looking for Katie?” she said, before I could get a word out.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m Erica Jensen.” I extended my hand, but the woman didn’t shake it.
“And why do you need to talk to her?” Her expression remained bland, but her voice took on an edge.
“I’m with the reunion committee. We’re updating our contact list. Are you Katie’s mother?”
The woman’s eyes widened. “Good god, no! I’m her older sister. Mom asked me to take care of this.” She flapped a hand, as if drying her nails.
“Look,” I said, adopting an easygoing tone. “I just want to be able to reach Katie, when we start planning the big reunion.”
“Well.” The word hung between us. She scrutinized me for a long moment. “Which high school did you say this was for?”
“Damascus,” I said. Good thing I’d checked Facebook. “I didn’t catch your name.”
She crossed her arms, as if to hold the information to her bosom. “I didn’t pitch it. So, why do you really need to reach Katie?”
This was going downhill fast. I’d either come clean or punch this woman in the face, which wouldn’t be helpful.
“Why do you ask that?” I said.
The woman smirked. “You could find that information easily if you were really on the reunion committee.”
This game was tiresome. “Look,” I said. “My name is Erica Jensen and I’m looking for Melissa Blaine. She’s missing and may be in trouble.” Okay, that was pushing things. But my intentions were good. “I understand she and Katie were friends. I hoped Katie could help find her.”
I fished a card with my name, contact information, and the words “Research Service” underneath.
She glanced at the card. “Research service. Is that what they’re calling private eyes these days?”
“I don’t normally handle missing persons cases.” My patience was running thin. “Can you help me or not?”
“Sorry, but no.” She tucked the card in her pocket. At least she hadn’t thrown it in my face.
As she closed the door, I said, “Is there a reason you won’t help me find Melissa?”
In response, she simply smiled. Then, the door thudded shut.
Don’t forget the giveaway. This runs until March 3, 2020!