It’s a pleasure to have here today Patrick Kelly, an awesome crime writer I met while attending the Austin Film Festival one year. They happened to hold a book festival at the same time. That’s how we met. Talk about serendipity!
In any case, I’ve read almost all of Patrick’s books and have enjoyed them greatly. As part of his guest post, Patrick is providing a sample of his work. Believe me when I say it’s a thrilling read! 🙂
You can enter his book giveaway contest and try to win a copy for yourself. Check out the details on how to enter below.
So, without further ado, here’s Patrick Kelly!
I’ve received conflicting advice about writing. First tip: Write what you know.
I wanted to write fiction stories of suspense and murder and crime, but in real life I was a chief financial officer. Um . . . what now?
No problem – I’d make my hero a CFO, just like me, and put him in dangerous situations.
Second tip: Drama is life with the dull bits cut out (Alfred Hitchcock). Uh oh . . . I was in trouble. If I wrote about my life and took out the dull bits the novel would be no more than a few sentences.
What to do?
In the end I created a hero (Joe Robbins) who was a bit like me (CFO, married—at least initially, two daughters, lived in Austin) but had a more interesting background (grew up poor in south Dallas, learned to box to make it through high school, learned about guns when a crazy neighbor threatened his family). On top of that I gave Joe a defining trait destined to generate action: When trouble arises, in any form, Joe never runs away; he always runs toward trouble, no matter what the cost.
Thus was born Joe Robbins and his Hill Country series. In the latest installment, Hill Country Siren, Joe’s defining trait lands him in lots of trouble. Giveaway: A signed print copy of Hill Country Siren will go to two lucky winners. Enter by sending an email to email@example.com (U.S. only)
Here are the prologue and first chapter:
November 2, 2003
I loved Sophie Tyler long before she hired me.
She was a hometown hero, a musician who grew up in Austin and made the big time. Sophie got her start in the midseventies working live venues with a band called the Texas Strangers. She worked the southwest circuit until she got her break as a solo artist in the early eighties.
In high school I couldn’t afford the ticket for a live performance, but I bought her albums and played them over and over, studying the covers and the liner notes, mesmerized by her voice. I would put her album on the record player in my upstairs bedroom and climb onto the roof to look at the stars.
When an incident affects me profoundly enough to invade my dreams, I write about it. The setting down of words on paper helps me think through the events, the role I played, the gains and losses, and the lessons learned, if any. I’ve been writing this story for weeks now, typing away in solitude, earbuds in, listening to Sophie’s music.
Though my journey began with a simple investigation it eventually meandered, step by avoidable step, onto a path both replete with wonders and laden with perils. To the wonders I contributed nothing, but as for the perils . . . I don’t know. Perhaps you should be the judge.
Late in the summer of 2003 I met Rico Carrillo and Adrian Williams at Austin Java on Barton Springs Road. The place was only a mile from the condo so I rode my bicycle, an old Schwinn I bought for thirty dollars at a pawnshop.
We sat at an outdoor table about twenty feet from the road. Saturday traffic was light. The sun had warmed the morning air in a hurry, and sweat made the polo shirt cling to my back. I reached around to pull it free.
Adrian was African-American and about six feet tall. He looked like a stereotypical security professional: conservative attire and grooming, great physical condition, watchful eyes, and a neutral expression. The two of them had served in the Marines together, and Rico had referred Adrian to me.
Adrian’s big hands rested on the table. He wore a navy-blue golf shirt decorated with small white sailboats.
“So . . . you believe someone has scammed Sophie Tyler,” I said, my voice rough, dry, and to my ears at least, a tad giddy. I sipped coffee, hoping the liquid would allow my next words to emerge normally. Ever since Rico mentioned the gig to me I’d had trouble relaxing, my blood pressure elevated.
“It has to do with a two-million-dollar investment she made in an independent film,” Adrian said. “Sophie and I use the same accountant. He told me that he had related some concerns about the investment to Sophie, and when I mentioned it to her she asked for my help.”
I had finished my latest project a few weeks earlier, taken a short break, and was now ready for the next thing. Generally I made money working interim CFO roles, but I was good at ferreting out fraud schemes. I’d done that kind of work before but never for a rock star.
“Why did she ask you for help?” said Rico. “Why not go to the police?”
“She wants to keep this low-profile,” said Adrian. “Her ex-boyfriend, Bryan Slater, brought her into the movie, and if it turns out bad, she only wants her money back. No publicity.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Sophie asked me to look for someone from out of town.”
“Sounds like you and Ms. Tyler are on a first-name basis,” said Rico. He lifted a large mug to his lips and narrowed his eyes slightly. As the head of Austin’s Homicide Division, Lieutenant Rico Carrillo had a suspicious nature.
“As far as I can tell,” said Adrian, “she’s on a first-name basis with everybody. Anyway, the accountant also told me Sophie’s not doing well financially. If this investment goes bad she might lose her house.”
“Where does she live?” said Rico.
“Not exactly a middle-class neighborhood.”
“She’s had that house for fifteen years, ever since the Ancient Spirits album.”
I must have played that album a hundred times, eventually had to replace it, twice.
“Who manages her money?” I asked.
“Johnson Sagebrush. He’s her manager. He handles everything from Sophie’s schedule to her diet, but I have no idea if he’s good with numbers.”
“You seem sort of overinvested in this thing,” said Rico. “It’s not your responsibility. You’re her security consultant, not her bookkeeper.”
“She’s my best client. I don’t want to lose her. Plus, there’s something about being around her that’s . . . I don’t know . . . it’s different, special.”
Adrian stammered the words and looked down. Had he become starstruck by his client? If so, he had picked the right star. With one look at a photo of Sophie my eyes became entranced, locked onto her face, and her hair, which she wore long, straight, and draped carelessly about her shoulders.
“Anyway,” Adrian continued, “I was coming to Austin to scout security for the festival next weekend, so I asked Rico if he knew anyone, and he mentioned you. I understand you have some security experience as well.”
“That was a long time ago,” I said.
“Joe’s a boxer, too,” said Rico, with a half smile. “He can handle himself in tough situations.”
“What does that have to do with a fraud investigation?” I said.
Rico was medium height and in good shape, his hair and mustache speckled with gray. His left eye had a curious flaw, a black sectoral heterochromia that grew in size with his blood pressure. He was calm, and the wedge-shaped flaw covered only an eighth of his otherwise almond iris.
He’d asked me to take this meeting as a favor, said he didn’t think I’d make much money on it, but he’d like to help out a friend. I owed Rico many favors. He had saved my life the year before.
“I thought we’d bring you on as part of my security team,” said Adrian. “You could help out with security at the festival and look into this investment at the same time. That would camouflage your investigation. I suggested the idea to Sophie. She loved it.”
My pulse jumped. “You already talked to her about me?” The words about me came out wrong, almost a squeak.
Adrian nodded. “Rico gave you a strong recommendation.”
Rico lifted his eyebrows, and his smile grew wider.
“Could you fly out Tuesday to meet Sophie?” said Adrian. “She’ll give you all the background.”
Meet Sophie Tyler?
That was the only real question I had for the meeting. Would I meet her in person? Some of my projects made watching paint dry seem like an action movie, but not this one.
I would have done the job for free.
Just then our waitress walked up. She had spiked hair, dark lipstick, and a pierced eyebrow. “Anything else, guys?”
We asked for touchups on the coffee as she cleared the dishes. She leaned her hip against the table. “You all going to ACL?”
Rico shook his head. “Live music’s not really my thing.”
“I had to beg my manager to get two days off,” she said. “Sunday’s the best lineup, but I couldn’t miss Saturday. Sophie Tyler’s playing.”
“That’s right,” I said.
“It’s gonna be awesome. You don’t want to miss it.” She turned and walked back into the restaurant.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll fly out Tuesday.”
On the way out, Rico stopped by the bike rack. The top of his head came to the top of my shoulder. He wore sunglasses, a short-sleeved buttoned shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots. The pecan trees around us created merciful shade.
“Thanks for meeting with Adrian.”
“You bet.” I reached down to open the cheap combination lock.
“It sounds like an interesting assignment.”
Rico held out a package of gum and I took a piece. He popped one into his mouth and took a few big chews on it. “So . . . how’s Missy?”
I wrapped the cable around the seat pole and closed the lock to hold it in place. Every so often Rico asked about my love life. I think he worried about me since Rose and I had been apart for so long, or maybe Alma, his wife, forced him to ask me.
“You’re behind the times. I haven’t dated Missy in four months.”
“Let me guess. Commitment issues.”
“I’m dating a new woman. Alyssa Stavros.”
“Alyssa Stavros.” He said the name in a flat tone.
“Yep. Nice Greek girl. Her father owns a restaurant on South Congress.”
Rico bobbed his head slightly, like he found the whole conversation a little surreal. His raised his eyebrows. “Did you help her out of some trouble or anything?”
That wasn’t completely true. When I first met Alyssa at the Saxon Pub on South Lamar she had just broken up with a macho boyfriend named George. Alyssa and I had gone out only a few times when we ran across George outside Threadgill’s. He wanted to fight me. I stood away from him in a boxing stance, and every time he came too close I popped him with a light jab. At the same time Alyssa yelled at him, constantly. Soon enough he gave up, cried a little, hugged Alyssa, and went home with his friends.
“Not really?” said Rico. “What’s that mean?”
“It means she didn’t really need any help.”
“It’s too bad about Missy. Alma hoped that you and she would settle down.”
Bing. I called that right. I liked Alma, a lot, but she believed in a rigid formula: Every man should find a woman, settle down, and start a family. But I already had a family.
“Alma wants me to marry again?”
“It’s not too late. What are you? Thirty-eight?”
Rico was about to get on a roll. When I first met him, three-and-a-half years before, he had me down in his notebook as a murder suspect, but since then we had become friends. Every once in a while he would ask me a financial question related to one of his investigations. I had become an on-call subject matter expert, unpaid, of course.
“You and Rose split three years ago. That’s long enough. Let’s say you and . . . was it Alice?”
“Say you and Alyssa got married now; you could have two kids before you’re forty. Alma would love that.”
“I have two kids.”
Two wonderful kids: Chandler (twelve) and Callie (ten). They had reached the age when they formed their own opinions, a time when parents needed to double-down, to focus thought and energy into achieving the right balance between being there for the kids and allowing them to grow. Rose and I worked together to achieve that balance. We never fought over the kids; in fact, we didn’t fight at all anymore.
Rico shook his head. “You’d better watch out. You could wind up alone.”
“Maybe so, but for now I’ve got enough on my plate. I’m not looking for anything long-term.”
“Like I said, commitment issues.” But he nodded acceptance and turned to go. “Thanks again for meeting Adrian. Let me know how the fraud thing works out.”
Pedaling back to the condo I stopped in Zilker Park to observe preparations for the festival. A temporary chain-link fence surrounded the fifty-acre site. An electric drill sounded as workers erected a stage. The sun burned my neck, and a drop of sweat slid down my back.
I had planned to invite Alyssa to join me for the three-day festival, but with the new assignment, maybe I’d better not. I might end up working security for a rock star, a weird turn of events. Working security, like back in college. Was I regressing? What was next? Beer pong?
When applying for college I faced a fork in the road: major in English and pursue my passion or major in engineering and get a job. I went for the money.
After three years in software I went back to school to get an MBA in finance. Upon graduating I got another job. Eventually I served as Chief Financial Officer for six different companies.
I look upon those years as extensive research for writing financial thrillers. The corporate world provides great material for crafting stories. I’ve seen some weird stuff.
The Joe Robbins Financial Thriller series features a freelance CFO. Companies that need help hire Joe. In the process of helping, Joe sometimes figures out things that others don’t want him to know. This creates conflict. Sometimes people get murdered. Sometimes people try to murder Joe. I like to tell these stories.
I like to write edgy thrillers with lots of action, suspense, mystery, romance, a bit of sex, and endings where some things work out and other things don’t.
I like to set my stories in Austin, Texas, because it’s a really cool place with lots of different characters and an endless supply of fascinating settings.
If you like edgy thrillers or Austin try Hill Country Greed: A Joe Robbins Financial Thriller (BOOK ONE.)