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First pages

One

“I apologize for the gun.”

 

Isabel Taylor stood under the cool spray of the shower, her head back, letting the water flow through her long hair, across her stomach, and down her legs. She closed her eyes and tried to still her thoughts. In her mind, she went to her refuge, her place of peace. She was standing on a deserted beach, a gentle rain falling from a calm tropical sky—a sky you might see at dawn, or in the eye of a hurricane.

She opened her eyes and looked at the ceiling. She sighed deeply, turned around, and shut off the water.

As she stood there dripping, she heard it. It was a scuffing sound like someone was moving around on the tile floor of her bathroom.

“Rennie?”

There was no answer.

Isabel pulled a towel off the hook and wrapped it around her, listening as she did so. She heard nothing. She stepped from the shower and grabbed another towel for her hair, but before she could do anything with it, she heard it again.

“Rennie, is that you?” She stepped around the corner into the main part of the bathroom. With a sharp intake of breath, she froze, grasping the second towel close to her chest. It wasn’t Rennie.

Standing in her bathroom, leaning casually against the marble sink-top, was a man in a rumpled tan business suit, a silver hip flask in one hand, and a large gun with a silencer in the other.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Taylor.”

Isabel let out a slow breath. “Who are you?”

“I am Mr. Salcedo.” He made a slight bow followed by a quick sip from his flask. He hefted the weapon in his hand. “I apologize for the gun.”

“If you want money, you can have it. I have money in the bedroom. In the closet.”

Salcedo smiled. “There will be plenty of time for that.” He set his drink on the sink and shifted his gun to the other hand. He took a step toward Isabel.

“My husband is on his way home.” Isabel refused to retreat at his approach.

The man laughed. “We both know that isn’t true, don’t we? He’s not even in town. He’s in Atlanta, I believe. He cannot help you from there.”

Even in her bare feet, Isabel was almost as tall as the stranger. As he approached, she met his gaze, staring into his small, pig-like eyes, and she refused to back away.

“Such pride,” he said. “Such an aristocrat.” He raised the gun and touched it to her cheek. She flinched. “Such bravery.” He ran the tip of the silencer down her throat and across her chest to the top of the towel. “I remember seeing you when you were just a little girl. Standing there with your father, like you owned the world. You were always a pretty little thing.”

“Then you know who my father is?”

He nodded. “Of course. That’s what’s going to make this so much fun.”

“If you hurt me, he’ll kill you. You know that.”

“Maybe. He’s not here, though, is he?” Salcedo backed up a step. “Drop the towel.”

Isabel gripped it tighter. “Go to hell!”

He raised the gun and pointed it at her head. “Drop it.”

She released the towel she was holding, the one meant for her dripping hair.

“The other one,” he said.

Isabel loosened the towel and let it fall in a puddle at her feet. She stared at the intruder with cold eyes.

He took time to carefully appraise her. “You’re skinnier than I prefer,” he said. “I can practically count your ribs. Doesn’t your husband feed you?” He met her icy stare and looked back at her chest. “Nice chichis, though.” He gestured with the gun. “Turn around.”

Isabel turned slowly until her back was to him. She heard a low whistle. “You may be skinny, but that is a fine ass,” he said. “Turn back.”

She turned to face him again. He gestured toward the bedroom with the gun. “Let’s go in there.” Isabel bent to pick up a towel, but he stopped her. “You won’t need that,” he said. “I like that you’re already wet.”

Isabel nodded toward the bulge in Salcedo’s pants. “Is that another gun, or are you just happy in your work?”

He looked at his crotch, then back at Isabel with a smile on his face. “That is what I call the ‘Salcedo Salute.’” You should consider it a compliment. Do you want to come here and say thank you?”

“Will it make you go away?”

Salcedo shrugged. “Who knows? It might be all I came here for.”

Isabel forced a smile. “My mother taught me that a woman should always acknowledge a compliment. It’s only polite.” She took a step toward him.

He aimed the gun at the middle of her chest. “I still have this,” he said. “I’d hate to have to use it before I have properly paid my respects.”

“It would be a shame for both of us.” She took another step closer, then slowly went down on her knees and looked up at him. “You want it, you have to come get it. I’m not going to crawl.”

He took a step toward her, and when he was close enough, she laid a hand on his crotch. “My,” she said. “I haven’t had a compliment like this in a long time.” She grasped his zipper with her neatly manicured fingers, slowly pulled it down, and reached a hand into his pants.

He twitched as she touched him. “Easy,” he said. “If I jump, this gun could go off.”

She looked up, past the sag of his belly, into his face. “Well, we wouldn’t want anything to go off prematurely.”

He laughed and laid a hand on top of her wet hair.

“But I need more room to work.” She removed her hand from his open fly and started to undo his belt. Once that was open, she unbuckled his pants and let them slip around his knees. She gently grabbed the waistband of his underwear and slowly tugged it, until his “compliment” was free, wagging in front of her face.

He licked his lips. “And how do you say thank you?”

“Like this.” Isabel slowly raised her hand, gently cupping her assailant’s testicles in her palm, as though she was weighing them.

He jumped back and pointed the gun at her head again. “Leave my cojones alone. If you touch them again, I’ll shoot you.”

“So jumpy,” she said. “You must have a hard time getting laid.”

He smiled and lowered the gun. “I might surprise you.” He stepped back toward Isabel. “Now, put your hands behind your back and show me a good time.”

She placed her hands behind her and looked up at him, forcing a smile. She opened her lips, and willing herself not to gag, she took Salcedo’s penis into her mouth. Then, with all the ferocity that she could muster, she bit down, grinding her incisors into her attacker. There was a small puff of wind as the silenced automatic discharged into the floor and a much louder shout of pain as he doubled over and tried to pull away.

As Isabel unclenched, she grabbed his pants, yanking them down around his ankles and shoved him as hard as she could. He fell back, unable to catch his balance with his entangled feet. His head hit the edge of the sink with a painful thud.

Isabel jumped to her feet and stood over his inert form, spitting his blood out of her mouth. She bent to take the gun from his hand, but she was too slow. He stirred and pulled it beyond her grasp. He tried to point it at her, but he was still too dazed to aim. Sensing that he was recovering fast, Isabel turned and fled the room, slamming the bathroom door behind her.

***

Isabel ran to her husband’s closet. She shoved his clothes aside and looked for the gray, steel box that held his guns. She swept everything off the top shelf, and the accumulated debris of ten years of marriage rained down around her, but the metal box was not there.

She was running her hand desperately across the now-empty shelf, thinking she must have missed it, when she heard the bathroom door open behind her. Without hesitating, she ran from the closet and out of the bedroom, headed for the first floor.

She ran to the kitchen and grabbed a cleaver from the knife block, then kept moving, through the back door into the yard.

The deck was shaded, but it was still hot under her bare feet, and Isabel could feel the heat of the day on her skin as she looked for a means of escape. The gates were closed, and the yard was fully fenced. Her car was in the driveway, but it was locked, and the keys were on the table in the hall. She needed to find a place to hide. She scanned the yard, and her eyes fell on her husband’s studio. Maybe that’s where the guns were.

The studio door was unlocked. Isabel went inside and closed it silently behind her. She leaned against it, trying to still her panicked breathing. She looked at the gigantic cleaver she was holding and almost laughed. She set it on the workbench and looked around to assess her situation.

Her husband was a sculptor. He made large, heavy, hard-to-define works out of brass and bronze. She didn’t pretend to understand his art, but she didn’t object to it, either. She scanned the workroom for something she could use to defend herself. There were powerful metalworking tools everywhere, but she didn’t know how they worked and didn’t have time to figure them out. One corner of the room was devoted to welding and brazing equipment, but she didn’t see how that would be helpful against an armed and angry man. Another corner held Rennie’s furnace, where he melted the various metals he used in his work. It was cold and dark.

Overhead, there was an I-beam running from one end of the room to the other, to just above the double doors she had come in through. It could be extended through the doors, and it allowed Rennie to move heavy loads into or out of his studio to his truck. She looked at it now. It was retracted and there was a heavy-looking bulbous sculpture of some sort hanging from it. She stared at it, thinking.

***

Salcedo did his best to run down the stairs after the fleeing Isabel Taylor, but he was moving slowly. With one hand holding the gun, he had only one hand free for his injuries. He decided to address his wounded head, which was dripping blood. He let his throbbing and bleeding groin take care of itself.

At the foot of the stairs, he looked left and right, trying to decide which way his prey might have run. He walked toward the front door, thinking she might have tried to make her getaway in her car, but one glance out the window showed it was still parked in the driveway.

He moved the other way and did a quick circuit of the floor. He walked through the living room, through the dining area, past a home office, and into the kitchen. No obvious hiding places presented themselves, but he knew it wasn’t the obvious ones he had to worry about.

He paused in his search for a medicinal sip from his flask. He then retraced his steps, looking for nooks and crannies big enough to conceal a full-grown woman. Satisfied that he hadn’t missed anything, he walked into the kitchen. He grabbed a dishtowel and a handful of ice from the freezer and stuffed them into his pants. It wasn’t elegant, but it helped.

He went outside to the deck and tried to think clearly. Where would he go if he were naked and being chased by a man with a gun? He scanned the neat yard for potential hiding places. There weren’t many. There were some tidy bushes at the base of the house, but they didn’t look like they would feel pleasant against bare skin. The trees around the privacy wall didn’t seem to afford much cover, either.

He turned and looked at the only other structure that could offer some concealment. It was a large outbuilding with a set of double doors, like a barn. Salcedo approached cautiously and limped around the perimeter. There were windows on three sides, but peering inside revealed nothing but large shadowy pieces of equipment and plenty of opportunities to hide. He went to the door and looked at it.

“Mrs. Taylor? Are you in there?” There was no answer, and he didn’t really expect one.

Salcedo took another quick nip from his flask, then he approached the door cautiously, his gun pointed straight ahead. He put a hand on the door handle. It was unlocked. He took two slow breaths, then yanked the door open. The first and last thing he saw was a shiny, bulbous hunk of metal suspended from the ceiling, hurtling toward him.

 

Two

Your lifestyle isn’t my problem.”

 

Alex Wright sat at the bar of the Buccaneer Waterfront Lounge trying to ignore the soccer games playing on all eighteen of the big screen TVs hanging around the room. He took a sip of the beer he had been nursing for the last hour, and called over to the bartender, who was hunched over a computer.

“Hey, Maria. What’re you working on?”

She looked up with a distracted expression on her face, but then she focused on Alex. “New app,” she said. “Got the idea this afternoon.”

“Oh?”

“I think it’s gonna be big. I call it ‘Whovia.’”

“Whovia?”

She nodded excitedly. “Yeah. It lets you find other Dr. Who fans in the area, so you can hook up.”

“Dr. Who fans want to hook up?”

“Yeah! So they can talk about the show! You want in? I’m going to be looking for investors.”

“Sounds awesome,” Alex said, “but I’m a little tapped out right now. Speaking of shows, do you think you can you put something else on?” He vaguely waved at the TVs hung around the bar. “That’s a lot of soccer.”

She shook her head. “No can do. The boss says it gives the place a certain international ambiance.”

Alex scanned the nearly deserted room for signs of ambiance. It looked like a marina bar found anywhere. The decor consisted of heavy wooden tables with old nautical charts polyurethaned into the surface, sticky chairs, worn wooden planking on the floors, and a dark background of faux-wood paneling. The bar smelled of old beer and disinfectant, mixed with the odor of the murky marina water lapping at the pilings below the floorboards.

The only concession to a buccaneer theme was a large plastic pirate by the front door, a broken saber clenched between his teeth and a patch over one eye. Someone had written “Rrrrrrrrr” with a Sharpie on the mannequin’s face, under his good eye.

Other than Alex and a whispering couple at a distant table, the bar was empty.

“I guess she knows what she’s doing,” Alex said. “This place is sure packing ‘em in.”

Maria laughed through her nose with a snort. It sounded like she was trying to stifle a sneeze. “I’ll put something else on, but when Tina comes back, I’m telling her you made me do it.”

“The customer is always right,” Alex said.

“You’re barely a customer.” Maria fished the remote out from under the bar. “What do you want to see?”

“How about the classic movie channel? You can put on the closed captioning.”

With a few clicks, the eighty-five-inch, 4k, high-def TV hanging behind the bar was showing a black and white film that looked like it had been shot during a heavy fog, or perhaps through a layer of gauze over the lens.

“They don’t make ‘em like this anymore,” Alex said.

Maria craned her neck to get a look at the screen. “Thank God.”

“What is that!”

Alex turned to see Christina Travis; owner, manager, and head bouncer, entering through the front door. All five feet of her was pissed off.

She paused long enough to pat the plastic pirate on its head, then she shoved her glasses into position and reached back to tighten her ponytail with a quick yank.

“Uh-oh,” Maria said.

“Uh-oh?”

Maria whispered. “She only does that when she’s really mad.”

Alex tried to look concerned.

“You’re the reason I have no customers,” Tina yelled as she crossed the room. She stopped at the bar and gave Alex a cold look, then she turned to her bartender.

“Maria, what’s the one rule about the TVs?”

“Soccer only.” She switched back to the game.

Tina pounded her fist once on the bar, rattling all the glasses and bottles within a six-foot radius. “I’m trying to run a business here, Wright!” When she got angry, her already high voice went an octave higher, and Alex wondered if it might be affecting the neighborhood dogs.

“You’ve still got me,” Alex said.

“Great! Is that the same beer you were sipping when I left?”

Alex looked at the beer in his hands, still only half-empty. “Think how sad this place would look if I wasn’t here.”

Tina shoved her glasses back into place and squinted at the two patrons seated at the corner table. They were looking at her warily. She waved at them. “If you need anything, you let me know,” she shouted. Her high voice was almost lost in the empty room. She turned back to Alex. “Do me a favor, and don’t make my bartender change the channel for you, okay? Sports bring people into a bar, not old black and white movies.”

“Sorry,” Alex said. “No one here was watching it, so I thought . . .”

“If you want to see old movies, get cable.”

“And a TV. And a place to hang a TV.”

“Your lifestyle isn’t my problem.” Tina opened the hinged flap in the bar and passed from the customer side to the employee side, where she opened the register. “I’m not going to be able to afford my own cable if business doesn’t pick up.”

“It was busy earlier,” Alex said.

“Define busy.” She closed the register and did a quick review of the open inventory. “How about you? Anything new?”

Alex laughed. “I had a client this afternoon who thought his wife was stealing from him. Turned out he forgot to record some checks in his checkbook.”

“So, another satisfied customer then.”

“He seemed disappointed, but at least I made enough money to buy this beer.”

“Don’t worry. It’ll happen.”

Alex had recently decided he was not meant for the world of big-firm accounting and had struck out on his own after a not-totally-voluntary separation from his old firm.

He had taken his meager savings and opened his own forensic accounting practice. His clients so far were mostly an assortment of small-business owners who were incapable of balancing their own books. Nothing so far had required accounting of a forensic nature, so Alex took what business he could get.

“I think having my office in the back of a bar might be turning off some potential clients,” Alex said.

“But hey, at least the price is right. Speaking of which, did you balance my books? I have to close the week.”

Alex nodded. “You’re good to go.”

His best client was the Buccaneer Waterfront Lounge. Alex was acting as the bar’s bookkeeper, and instead of paying him, Tina let him use her back room as an office as long as there were no events scheduled. In the three months they’d had this arrangement, there hadn’t been a single event.

“If I don’t get some paying clients soon, I’m going to have to start looking for a real job again. I’m two months late on the slip rental, and I’m running out of excuses.”

“Don’t worry,” Tina said. “I know the marina’s manager.”

Alex gave her an apologetic look. “I’ll have it for you soon, one way or another.”

“I await your payment,” Tina said. “In the meantime, don’t get discouraged. You have to be patient with a new business. I didn’t turn this place into a success overnight, either.”

Alex looked around the room. The couple in the corner had left, and it was just him, Tina, and Maria hunched over her computer. “I can see your patience has paid off.”

She answered him by throwing a wet bar towel in his face.

***

Alex was reading on his boat when he heard his name being called. He popped his head through the open hatch to find Tina standing on the dock, holding her nose.

“Hey,” Alex said. “What’s up?”

“Does it smell worse than usual out here, or is it just me?” she said. “It smells like something died.”

“That is the sweet essence of low-tide.” Alex took a deep breath. “It grows on you.”

“Yuck.”

“Why are you out here complaining about my fresh sea air?”

“There’s someone inside asking for you. Might be a potential client.”

Alex looked at his wrist, though he hadn’t worn a watch in months. “What time is it? Kind of late for a business call.”

“You want me to tell her to leave?”

“Her?”

“Yeah. And she is one weird-looking chick.”

“Weird how?”

“It defies simple explanation. You want to know, come inside.”

“Okay. I’ll be right there.”

Alex ducked back into the cabin and picked up the shirt he had been wearing earlier. He gave it a quick sniff and decided it passed the test. He threw it on and climbed the three steps to the cockpit. He stepped into his flip-flops and hopped over to the dock. Tina had already gone back inside.

Alex walked in through the back door of the Buccaneer and was surprised to see business had picked up. Maria was chatting with a blonde woman seated at the bar, showing her something on her cell phone. Tina was serving drinks. When she saw him walk in, she pointed, signaling that the blonde was the potential client.

Alex was sure he had never her met before. She had long, pale, almost white hair worn combed straight down her back. She was dressed in pink from her collar to her perfectly color-matched shoes. When she turned at his approach, Alex understood what Tina had meant about weird-looking. This was not someone who would be easily forgotten.

She extended a delicate hand toward Alex, and he took it gingerly.

“I’m Preciosa Muñeca,” she said. “People call me Precious. You must be Alex.”

“Hello.” Alex settled onto the bar stool next to her and he tried not to stare. It wasn’t easy. She had the face of a cartoon character, or possibly an alien life form. “What can I do to help you?”

Precious smiled and Alex was surprised to see it didn’t alter her perfectly oval face. Her bright red lips curled slightly, like they were supposed to, but otherwise, nothing happened. Her face had no smile or laugh lines, or any lines at all. It looked like it was made of plastic. “I need someone to find my friend. I fear something awful may have happened to her.”

“Well, you have the wrong guy,” Alex said. He was staring at her eyes, which were strangely exaggerated, with sparkling, unnaturally blue irises. It looked like someone had poured glitter into them. “I do forensic accounting. I don’t do missing persons. You should go to the police or hire a private detective.”

Her smile turned into a pout, and there were still no lines anywhere on her face. Alex tried to redirect his gaze and ended up staring at her breasts, which judging by the strain they put on her pink shirt, were enormous.

“The police haven’t done anything,” she said. “And I hired a private detective, but he wasn’t getting anywhere either. I friend of mine suggested you. He told me you were smart and tenacious, and wouldn’t stop digging until you found the truth.”

Alex pulled his eyes back to her face and tried to focus on the conversation.

“Really?” Alex couldn’t think of a single person who would give him a recommendation that glowing. “Who said all those nice things about me?”

“Enoch Brown.”

“Nocky?”

“Yes. That’s the one.”

Nocky Brown had been one of his former accounting firm’s biggest customers. Alex had been asked to find who was embezzling money from the organization, which he had done. But he had also uncovered Nocky’s biggest source of income—illegal arms sales. Thanks to Alex, Nocky was now serving fifteen years in a federal prison. Alex had assumed there was some bad blood there.

“I’m kind of surprised Nocky would recommend me for anything.”

“He said you were very thorough and you would do your job no matter who got hurt.”

“I guess that’s a recommendation,” Alex said. “How do you know him?”

“He and my papa have done some business. The important thing is I trust his recommendation. I would like to hire you.”

“Well, that’s very flattering, but this isn’t the kind of thing I do.”

She smiled at him again. Her teeth were as perfect and artificial as the rest of her. “What is your usual fee?”

Alex didn’t really have a usual fee, so he made one up off the top of his head. “Two hundred dollars an hour. With a ten-hour minimum. In advance.”

“I’ll double it.” Precious signaled to a man in a hooded sweatshirt who was sitting alone at a nearby table. He stood and picked up a gym bag. He walked over and stood next to Precious. “This is Angel.”

Alex nodded a greeting at Angel, but he never even glanced at Alex.

“I need four thousand dollars,” Precious said.

The man reached into the gym bag and pulled out four white envelopes and handed them to Precious. She laid them on the bar.

“Here’s four thousand dollars for your first ten hours. When can you start?”

Alex stared at the four white envelopes in front of him and thought about the back bills it could clear, and the extra months of unemployment it could buy him. He fought the temptation to grab the money and start counting. With difficulty, he looked away.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “I haven’t agreed to take this on. I don’t know anything about your case, or about you, for that matter. And I need you to understand this isn’t the kind of thing I ordinarily do. I’m a money guy. I follow the money.”

“That’s why you’ll be perfect for this! I think it’s all about her money, and the PI never understood that. My friend is very rich. I believe she was killed for her money. If you follow the money, you’ll find out what happened to her.”

“And who is your friend?”

“Isabel Taylor,” Precious said. “And she’s been missing for six months. I think her husband may have had her killed.”

Three

“It was just a tragic accident. The timing is coincidental.”

 

“Does your friend want something to drink?”

Alex looked up at the sound of Tina’s voice. She was talking to Precious.

“Pardon me?” Precious said.

Tina nodded her head toward Angel. “Mr. Sweatshirt here. Does he want something to drink?”

“I’ll have an Apple-Tini,” Angel said.

“No, you won’t.” Precious gave a little wave of her hand, and Angel retreated to his table.

“What about you?” Tina asked. “Can I freshen your water and lemon?”

“No, thank you. I’m fine.”

“Alex? You want anything?”

Alex looked at Tina but couldn’t read her expression past her oversized glasses. “I’m good. Thanks.”

Precious turned to Alex and put a hand on his knee. “Perhaps we could go someplace where we can talk more privately?”

“Sure. We can use the back room—”

“Not tonight,” Tina said.

“But—”

“Not tonight. We’re setting up for a party.”

Alex knew that wasn’t true and she was sending a signal of some sort, but like most men, he found women inscrutable and had no idea what she was actually trying to say.

“Perhaps we can use one of the booths?” Alex glanced at Tina to see if this was what she had in mind. From her body language, it clearly wasn’t.

Precious picked up her untouched glass of water and the four envelopes of cash and slid off her stool. She started to walk toward a corner booth, but Alex hung behind, watching as she took tiny, mincing steps in her pink high heels. Standing, her appearance from behind was almost as astounding as it was face-to-face. Alex had always heard about an hourglass shape, but until now he had never actually seen one. She was truly shaped like an hourglass. From her massive breasts, her torso slimmed to an almost impossibly small waist, before swelling out to her full hips. She looked like an anime character.

She settled herself in the booth, her back to the wall. Alex started to follow when he felt Tina grab his arm. “Whatever she wants, don’t do it. She’s trouble.”

Alex looked from Tina to Precious, then back. “She’s odd, but she has money, unlike most of my clients.”

“Be careful. There’s something seriously wrong with that girl.”

With Tina’s warning echoing in his head, he walked over and joined Precious. As he settled himself, he noticed Angel had shifted his position so that he could keep them in his line of sight.

“As I was saying,” Precious said, “I want you to find my friend Isabel Taylor.”

“Is this the same Isabel Taylor that was all over the news last spring? The missing heiress who wasn’t really missing?”

Precious nodded. “Except she is missing, and no one is looking for her.”

“I thought the police said—”

“The police don’t know anything. Isabel hasn’t been seen by anyone in six months.”

Alex wiped some stray crumbs off the table. “I didn’t follow the story all that closely at the time. Maybe you should fill me in.”

“Back in April, a friend of Isabel’s became suspicious that something was wrong after she failed to show for a dinner date and didn’t answer phone calls or keep any of her other appointments.” Precious picked up an envelope of cash and played with it as she spoke. “This friend then contacted Isabel’s husband, and she got the brush-off. She started to think something was seriously wrong. It wasn’t like Isabel to just drop out of sight like that. So, she reported her concerns to the police.”

“And what did the police do?”

“Nothing at first. They called the husband, and he told them she was out of town. That was enough for them, but it didn’t satisfy Isabel’s friend. She started calling some of the people Isabel worked with at the charities she was involved in, and they thought it was odd too, and none of them really had a good feeling about her husband. To a woman, they all thought he was a gold digger who’d married her for her money.”

Precious put aside the envelope she had been fondling and placed her hands flat on the table in front of her. “That’s when things started to happen. The police couldn’t ignore all these women. Some of them are quite prominent. So, two detectives paid a visit to her house and questioned the husband. His name’s Rennie. He seemed fine, but while he was being interviewed, one of the detectives did a casual walk-through of the house and found a bullet hole in the floor of the bathroom. Rennie said it happened when he was cleaning his gun. I mean, who cleans a gun in the bathroom? Anyway, that set off the alarm bells. They got a warrant and searched the property. They found blood in Rennie’s studio—he’s a sculptor and has a studio next to the house. It had been cleaned with bleach, so they couldn’t get any DNA out of it. He claimed it happened when he cut himself, but no one believed that story.”

“So what happened? Why did they drop it?”

Precious pursed her perfect little red lips. “They got a call from Isabel. She said she was visiting family in Spain and was alright. That was good enough for the police, so they dropped the investigation.”

“But you don’t believe it was Isabel who called.”

“Of course not. Why would she completely drop her life here in Florida and go to Spain, with no warning and no contact with her friends? It’s not like her, and I don’t believe it for a minute.”

“So, you hired your own detective.”

She rolled her enormous eyes in an exaggerated look of disgust. “That was a waste of time and money. After an expensive trip to Spain and months of I-don’t-know-what, he came up with nothing. That’s why I looked for a recommendation from someone I trust.”

“Nocky Brown? He’s someone you trust?”

“Absolutely.”

“Even though he’s in prison?”

Precious smiled. “I know my papa trusts him. And he has connections. Like you, for instance.”

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I grew up in Pittsburgh, where the winters are cold and unrelentingly gray. It depressed me. Then I went to South Bend for college and added ridiculous amounts of snow to my winter blues. So the first chance I got, I moved to the Sunshine State and have been in South Florida ever since. I made a career in finance and banking but found that those jobs provided little outlet for creativity. That’s when I turned to writing. In my fictional world, even the accountants get to have a little excitement

Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
I’ve always enjoyed the Florida-flavored novels of John D. MacDonald, Carl Hiaasen and others. That’s what I like to read, and it’s what I like to write. I don’t think that I could have as much fun with any other genre.
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
I loved to read as a child, and I could think of nothing better than getting to write the books that I loved. A practical nature, and a father who remembered the Great Depression, steered me to a career with more certainty, but I never gave up the dream, and now I’m living it.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
My brother-in-law introduced me to the concept of magna finesse. When something doesn’t fit, a tap with the heel of the hand can knock it into place. That’s finesse. When the tap has to be delivered with a sledge hammer, that’s magna finesse. I wanted to write about a character that embodied that.

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