Excerpt from A Spark of Heavenly Fire by Pat Bertram

ASHFborderStraight from today’s headlines! In the novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire by Pat Bertram, hundreds of thousands of people are dying from an unstoppable disease called the red death. In an effort to stop the disease from spreading beyond the state of Colorado where the disease originated, the entire state is quarantined. In this dangerous world, Kate Cummings struggles to find the courage to live and to love. Investigative reporter Greg Pullman, is determined to discover who unleashed the deadly organism and why they did it, until the cost — Kate’s life — becomes more than he can pay.

Excerpt:

After an uneventful day at work, Kate hurried home through the silent streets. More than half the houses she passed had fluorescent orange dots splashed on their front doors indicating that someone had died within. Beside some of those doors were small shrines or memorials—artificial flowers, crosses, dolls, teddy bears. Other houses were unlit, mute testimony that entire families had died.

A white unmarked delivery van stopped in front of a house that already had one fluorescent dot on the door. When two men jumped out of the truck and ran up the porch steps, she knew that soon another orange mark would appear next to the first.

She could hear the men lamenting the loss of the Broncos while they waited for someone to answer their knock. It seemed strange that they spoke of such a prosaic matter. Shouldn’t they be crying, “Bring out your dead. Bring out your dead,” as their counterparts during the Black Death had done?

As she neared the house, she could see the door open. An old woman with bowed head and trembling shoulders stood aside to let the two men enter.

Kate had passed the house by the time the men emerged with their burden, but she could hear the thud of the body when they threw it into the van.

She thought of Greg and how he had cradled Mrs. Robin in his arms as he carried her down the alley and how he had gently laid her under a tree in the next block.

And how he had said he liked her, Kate, very much.

***

Until November 23, 2014, A Spark of Heavenly Fire will be available at 50% off from Smashwords, where you can download the novel in the ebook format of your choice. To get your discount, go here: A Spark of Heavenly Fire and use coupon code ST33W when purchasing the book. (After you read the book, posting a review on Smashwords would be nice, but not obligatory.)

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Advertisements

Excerpt From RUBICON RANCH: SECRETS

RRBookThreemidsizeThe body of a local realtor is found beneath the wheels of an inflatable figure of a Santa on a motorcycle. The realtor took great delight in ferreting out secrets, and everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Could she have discovered a secret someone would kill to protect? There will be suspects galore, including a psychic, a con man, a woman trying to set up an online call-girl service, and the philandering sheriff himself. Not only is the victim someone he had an affair with, but he will also have to contend with an ex-wife who has moved back in with him and a jilted lover, both with their own reasons for wanting the realtor dead.

A new chapter will be posted every Monday on the Rubicon Ranch blog. If you don’t want to miss further chapters, please go to the blog and click on “sign me up” on the right sidebar to get notifications of new chapters.

We hope you will enjoy seeing the story develop as we write it. Let the mystery begin! Whodunit? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end!

Excerpt from Chapter 2 by by J J Dare

Moody turned to see where everyone was staring and saw a police photographer taking pictures of a figure under a giant Santa decoration. How fitting for this place, Moody thought. A typical Rubicon Ranch gift—death.

In the light of the camera flash, she recognized Nancy Garcetti. The real estate agent looked as cold as she had in life. Moody stared at the clever handiwork of a realtor assassin. Out in the open and trampled by the crowds, what evidence was left to uncover the killer? Since the police department had been inept at running the Morris fans out of Rubicon Ranch, how in the world would they solve this crime?

Moody smiled as she thought of Sheriff Bryan interviewing the plastic Santa. Of course, with his wife in town, the sheriff was being kept on a tight leash. One of the deputies would probably end up taking the Christmas decorations downtown for a talk. The bulbs and wreaths would have to come in, too, as material witnesses.

Moody sighed. Sinclairs didn’t have feelings like normal people. Moody knew this and her smile faded. No matter what she did, no matter what she had to do, no matter what candy coating she put on, she would never fit in with the rest of the world.

She’d visited Jake regularly and, though she detested her brother, he was all that was left. Only he knew what it was like to be a Sinclair. There was no one else she could talk to. Well, the groupies, but they were worshippers, not compatriots.

“Morris did it,” she heard someone whisper behind her.

“Yeah, he did. Looks like something he’d do,” another voice answered.

“Dead don’t stop Morris,” the first voice said with a laugh.

“All he’d need is an arm and hand. Is that one of the pieces still missing?”

Seriously, these people were complete and utter morons. Sinclairs were special, but not that special.

However, wouldn’t it be something if this murder could be pinned on Morris? Although he’d been identified, Morris had been an anomaly during his lifetime. What if he really could come back? His books suggested it was possible.

***

Click here to read more:
Rubicon Ranch: Secrets ~ Chapter 2: Mary “Moody” Sinclair — by JJ Dare
Rubicon Ranch: Secrets ~ Chapter 1: Melanie Gray — by Pat Bertram

Excerpt From “Scraps of Paper — Revised Author’s Edition” by Kathryn Meyer Griffith

imagesAbigail Sutton’s beloved husband walks out one night, doesn’t return, and two years later is found dead, a victim of a long ago crime. It’s made her sympathetic to the missing and their families.

Starting her new life, Abigail moves to small town and buys a fixer-upper house left empty when old Edna Summers died. Once it was also home to Edna’s younger sister, Emily, and her two children, Jenny and Christopher, who, people believe, drove away one night, thirty years ago, and just never came back.

But in renovating the house Abigail finds scraps of paper hidden behind baseboards and tucked beneath the porch that hint the three could have been victims of foul play.

Then she finds their graves hidden in the woods behind the house and with the help of eccentric townspeople and ex-homicide detective, Frank Lester, she discovers the three were murdered. Then she and Frank try to uncover who killed them and why…but in the process awaken the ire of the murderer.

EXCERPT:

While cleaning the baseboard in the living room, she noticed it was loose and had the hammer in her hand ready to nail it down again when she spied a scrap of paper sticking out from behind the piece of wood.
Such a simple act, yanking at that slip of paper, but it would change everything. Pulling it carefully from its hiding place, she saw it was a tightly folded and yellowed scrap of white paper laced in spider webs and dust. The sort of white drawing paper she used to sketch on as a child. She unfolded it slowly. There was printing on it, bright red crayon scribbling as a child might do. At first Abigail wasn’t sure what it was. Then she looked closer and read:

ME AND CHRIS ARE SO SCARED. HE WAS MEAN TO MOMMY AGAIN, MADE HER CRY. HURT HER. WE HATE HIM!!! in a childish scrawl. There was a J at the bottom.

She stared at the scrap of paper and reread it. It was obviously old. No telling how long it’d been behind the baseboard. She refolded it and tucked it into a compartment of her purse. The two children’s names who’d once lived there, if she recalled correctly, had been Christopher and…Jenny. Amazing, the note could have been from them. How strange, after all these years, for her to find it. But who was HE?

Abigail couldn’t stop dwelling on the note as she resumed her work. She made it a point to search for other scraps of paper sticking out from hidden places. A treasure hunt. By the early evening, when she had to quit painting for the day because her body refused to move, she’d uncovered yet another scrawled note in red crayon, all caps, similar to the first one from under the baseboards.

It said: WE WENT TO BED AGAIN WITHOUT SUPPER. SHE WAS MAD. I AM SO HUNGRY. C

Was it from Christopher? She put the note in her purse with the other one. She was trying not to feel sorrow for the mistreated children. After all it had been so long ago. But she couldn’t stop thinking about them and what these notes meant. Had they been abused and in danger? From whom? And why should it bother her so?

***

Since childhood Kathryn Meyer Griffith has been an artist and worked as a graphic designer in the corporate world and for newspapers for twenty-three years before quitting to write full time. She began writing novels at 21, over forty years ago now, and have had sixteen (nine romantic horror, two romantic SF horror, one romantic suspense, one romantic time travel and two murder mysteries) previous novels and eight short stories published from Zebra Books, Leisure Books, Avalon Books, The Wild Rose Press, Damnation Books and Eternal Press.

Kathryn has been married to Russell for thirty-four years; has a son, James, and two grandchildren, Joshua and Caitlyn, and lives in a small quaint town in Illinois called Columbia, which is right across the JB Bridge from St. Louis, Mo.

All Kathryn Meyer Griffith’s Books available at Amazon.com here: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Kathryn+Meyer+Griffith

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B1W4A2K

False World by JJ Dare

The second book in the Joe Daniels’ trilogy continues where False Positive ends as Joe continues his mission to destroy those who have destroyed his life. As the world changes, Joe’s search for justice takes on a global urgency and he races to find answers before deadly answers find him. 

Beginning in a secluded town in the middle of nowhere, it is not long before Joe is traveling across the country and, ultimately, across a collapsing world on his quest for vengeance. 

The world is not what you see. 

And neither is Joe.

False World is available from: Second Wind Publishing, LLC

Excerpt from False World by J J Dare: 

Joe felt more and more like Alice in Wonderland as the day passed.

When he walked into the Citizens’ Identity Office, his first thought was he had walked into Utopia. When the caseworker assigned to him asked him to roll up his sleeves, Joe just looked at him.

“Identifying marks, sir,” the office jockey said. “If you’ve been in the service, you’re granted carte blanche privileges within the scope of the new laws.”

Rolling up his sleeves, the worker looked at Joe’s military tattoos and smiled as he nodded.

“I could tell by you’re bearing, sir, that you were either army or marine,” he said as he filled out the paperwork for Joe’s new identity card. “I’ll have you out of here in just a few minutes, sir.

“If you’d like to register your firearms now, I could expedite that for you, too.” The worker looked sharply at Joe as he continued. “You do pack, don’t you, sir?”

Joe laughed as he told the desk jockey, “Hell, yeah.”

As the worker relaxed, Joe again wondered what rabbit hole he had dropped into. People required to carry firearms, military given prestige above non-military, and Texas the capital of the country.

Well, whatever psycho civilization he had wandered into, he liked it.

“Sir, this is your new identity card. If you lose it, you’ll be issued a new one and the old one will deactivate. All of your information is stored on a chip inside the card and in our database. As military, you already have five thousand credits, which equals roughly a dollar per credit.”

Holding up the Joe’s new identity card, the worker continued. “As a citizen of the new United States of the Americas, you swear to uphold the laws of the military and of the government. You swear to be vigilant and to protect yourself and other citizens against those outside of our nation. You swear to be vigilant and to protect your fellow citizens should the need arise.”

The worker looked at Joe and waited. Joe looked back at him.

“You’re supposed to agree, sir,” the worker said.

“Oh,” Joe replied. “I agree to everything.”

“Thank you, sir. Now, if you’d just sign your full name, Mr. Daniels, you can be on your way.”

Joe signed the papers, pocketed his new identity card, took back his guns, and left.

In the open air, he was waiting for someone to come after him. Of all the things he had imagined might be going on in the world while he was in seclusion, this was not one of them.

The world was not was it seemed. Now, the world he thought he had known was radically different. Climbing into his truck, he realized that, more than anything, the tattoos he wore carried more weight in this new country than anything in his pockets.

A month ago when he had gone with Liz into the survivalists’ camp, the United States had been a country pandering to too many special interests, too many foreign countries, and too many lost causes.

The country he had stepped back into was a far cry from the namby-pamby one he had known. It was now the United we’ll-kick-your-ass States of the Americas.

***

J J Dare lives in a small, sleepy town with family and pets. Having visited many parts of the country, Dare has woven these places into stories and these stories have been incorporated into novels. 

Writing since the age of seven, the love of the written word has kept Dare grounded in the curiousity-laden world of writers. Constantly thinking what if?, has given Dare the seed for many stories.

 The first stories published by Dare were written for Rutger Hauer’s website many years ago. Since that time, other short stories have been published academically and in mainstream fiction. 

Excerpt From “Divide by Zero” by Sheila Deeth

It takes a subdivision to raise a child, and a wealth of threads to weave a tapestry, until one breaks.

Troy, the garage mechanic’s son, loves Lydia, the rich man’s daughter. Amethyst has a remarkable cat and Andrea a curious accent. Old Abigail knows more than anyone else but doesn’t speak. And in Paradise Park a middle aged man keeps watch while autistic Amelia keeps getting lost.

Pastor Bill, at the church of Paradise, tries to mend people. Peter mends cars. But when that fraying thread gives way it might take a child to raise the subdivision…or to mend it.

EXCERPT:

Storm clouds gathered outside, a suitable end to the day Mary thought. At work, Pattie had pestered her with talk of the old people’s home; she’d moved her father over the weekend; now she wanted to sort out Mary’s life. “It’s the perfect place,” Pattie said. “Gorgeous views on the drive down. You’d love it.” But Mary had too many memories of old folks ranged against walls like balls of yarn, TVs with silent pictures in the corner and radios squawking overhead. She’d promised her mother many years ago, she’d never put her in a home, and Mary wasn’t the sort to break a promise.

“Clear day promises,” her mother used to say. “Don’t you go breaking them when storm clouds gather.” So yes, Mary thought. It was singularly appropriate for clouds to be gathering tonight.

She stood cooking dinner in the kitchen, the small room cozy with the smell of meat in the oven and potatoes on the stove, windows steamed, fan whirring pointlessly. Three plates lay stacked on the table behind her with a tray waiting to hold her mother’s meal.

“Mary!” barked a sharp ragged voice.

Mary sighed. “Coming, Mother.” She left the oven mitts in a heap by the pan.

Warm bed, clean clothes, hot meals, and a servant ready to wait on every whim was all Mary’s mother wanted. Five more minutes to brown the pie and dinner would be ready, but Mother had picked up her bell and was ringing, singing raggedly in time with the chimes, “Mary!”

Oh, how Mary hated that bell; its tinkle, delicate as a small child’s toy; its authority louder than church bells on Easter morning. “Yes Mother, I’m coming.” The bell still rang.

Mary crossed the hallway with steady, angry tread to keep from hurrying. A key rattled and scratched in the lock as she passed. The front door swung wide and her newly grown-up son stood facing her in the worn out sneakers, holey sweatshirt and hip-sliding jeans of a newly qualified garage mechanic. “Troy! Perfect timing for dinner. Just let me go to Grandma.”

Troy made a grab for her arm. “We got to talk Mom.”

“Later.”

“No. Now.”

***

Sheila Deeth grew up in the UK and has a Bachelors and Masters in mathematics from Cambridge University, England. Now living in the States near Portland Oregon, she enjoys reading, writing, drawing, telling stories and meeting her neighbors’ dogs on the green.

Where to find the author: http://about.me/SheilaDeeth
Where to find her books: http://www.sheiladeethbooks.com
Connect on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/sheila.deeth, http://www.facebook.com/SheilaDeethAuthor

Divide by Zero, by Sheila Deeth, available in paperback from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.

Kindle link (includes cover–a beautiful cover by Peter Joseph Swanson) http://www.amazon.com/Divide-by-Zero-ebook/dp/B0090NFH56/

Excerpt From “As We Forgive” by June Foster

Tim Garrett saw Jess Colton back to health in Give Us This Day but can’t control his own life. Tim wants nothing more than to serve God as a pastoral counselor, but first must prove to the staff and elders at Bellewood Fellowship he can handle the job he was hired to do — work with the senior high youth.

Roxanne Ratner’s father abandoned her when she was ten, and now she doesn’t trust men. They’ll only hurt her like her parent did. She fills the empty place in her heart with shopping for designer clothes. Though the perky young hairstylist falls in love with the Tim, she must keep her distance from the handsome pastor.

Despite Tim’s efforts to prove himself on the job, everything works against him bringing him closer to dismissal. Tim has one last chance at Camp Solid Rock. When Tim learns a frightening secret from his youthful adversary, can Tim make a difference? Can Roxanne risk giving her heart to Tim?

EXCERPT:

Tim gritted his teeth and pushed through the double doors at the front of the church for a quick breath of cool, rain-filled evening air. The fresh Pacific breeze on his face did nothing to calm his anger. He stomped down the stairs staring at the ground. Each foot clunked on the sidewalk toward the church parking lot. Then he tumbled forward, his body bumping against another. He flailed and reached out to stop both of them from plummeting backward.

“Oh,” the feminine voice murmured against his ears even as her purse clamored to the ground spilling its contents onto the concrete. Another bag bounced against her side but remained secure on her shoulder.

He steadied them both and pulled away.

The teenage girl infuriated him almost as much as Johnny Thompson had. “Sorry, but why can’t you kids show up on time?” Young people lacked responsibility these days, one thing his father had drummed into his head.

The startled teen stared up at him.

“I’m Pastor Tim. You’re a bit late for the girls’ fundraiser meeting.”

The young girl peered at him with her crystal blue eyes as she bent down to collect her belongings. “I’m sorry, I had to–”

“Teens. Always have an excuse,” he mumbled.

Johnny tested his patience — his outbursts in class, his pranks. He’d never trust the kid again after tonight.

The girl stuffed a brush, a makeup case, a lipstick, and a pen into her bag before he had a chance to help. She stood and hiked the strap over her shoulder.

One remaining item she’d missed lay next to an azalea bush near the parking lot pavement. Conviction hit him with more force than the light September rain falling on them. He bent to pick it up and handed the small black Bible to her.

Without looking at him, she stuffed it in her pocket.

He didn’t have to take his problems out on another kid. She had nothing to do with Johnny lying to him when he said he needed the key to Tim’s office to borrow his concordance. He should’ve known it was a scheme.

Since Johnny had taken a long time coming back to the classroom, he figured he’d better check on him, but the door was locked. He had to find the spare key in the main office. Johnny and his girlfriend were leaning against the wall kissing. The nerve of the kid. He’d speak to the boy and his wayward girlfriend about making out on church property later.

His frustration ebbing, Tim’s breathing returned to normal.

The late arrival was probably upset with him, for which he didn’t blame her. The teen’s long blond hair, held back in a clip, flowed down her back. She must be new to the senior high group. He hadn’t seen her at the meetings before. “So what high school do you attend?”

“I don’t –”

“Well, you’re welcome anyway.” She’s home schooled — or maybe a dropout. “I’m sorry I bumped into you. Probably didn’t make you feel very welcome. Let me show you where the girls are waiting. With the help of a volunteer, Ms. Ratner, they’re organizing a fundraiser for our annual camp held during spring break.”

He started up the sidewalk but paused to allow her to catch up. The rain covered the sidewalk. With one final breath, the volcano inside him subsided.

The girl paced next to him and lifted her eyes, this time amusement flitting across her lips.

Was she going to be one of those rebellious teens who didn’t respect authority?

“So you’re the youth pastor here. I haven’t attended Bellewood Fellowship for long.” She blinked a drop of rain out of her eye.

“Well, newcomers are always welcome. I recommend you arrive on time. We’re rushed during our meetings.” They climbed the steps he’d just tramped down.

“Good advice, Pastor Tim, but now might be a good time to introduce myself.” She gave him a sneer, then a smile. “I’ve been out of my teens for over six years, but I’m flattered you think I look that young. I’m a hairstylist at Larry’s Hair Design near downtown Bellewood.” She stuck out her hand. “Roxanne Ratner.”

***

Book Title: As We Forgive
June Foster
2012
Desert Breeze Publishing Inc
Ebook
Available here:http://www.amazon.com/Bellewood-Book-Two-Forgive-ebook/dp/B0094HQDI8/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1347657414&sr=1-4&keywords=june+foster

June Foster’s website: http://www.junefoster.blogspot.com

Excerpt From “Crystal White” by David DeLee

DEA agent Nick Lafferty leads the investigation to track down a new and deadly form of synthetic crack cocaine called Crystal White that has hit the streets of Southern California. But when everything he holds dear is suddenly ripped away from him—and the cartel kingpin responsible escapes—Nick Lafferty is left a broken man, a man with nothing left to life for.

On forced leave from his agency and not knowing if he’ll ever go back, Nick Lafferty returns to his hometown in the suburbs of New York to attend his father’s funeral. While there, he learns that the street poison he knew as Crystal White—whose production and distribution he stopped at an overwhelming personal cost—has begun to appear on the streets in cities and towns in lower Westchester County.

With nothing left to lose, Lafferty sets out to determine if the same person who destroyed his life is also responsible for this new wave of synthetic death. Aided by his ex-partner, Delmar Harley, an alcoholic cop on the edge, Lafferty is dogged by a beautiful assistant district attorney who believes Lafferty is a rogue agent, a danger to himself and the public at large.

Undeterred and driven by rage, Lafferty relentlessly embarks on a dark and vengeful journey of revenge, mounting a full-on assault against the Crystal White drug cartel. He will stop at nothing to make them pay—with their lives…or his.

Excerpt:

Warehouse District
Ontario, California

SPECIAL AGENT NICK LAFFERTY swore at the vibrating cell phone, trapped in the breast pocket of his suit jacket under his DEA-issued body armor. He ripped open the top Velcro strap and fished his hand under the vest trying to reach the damn thing before it buzzed again. A passing police sergeant, dressed in urban fatigues and body armor, and carrying an assault rifle slung over his shoulder, said, “Sharp shooters are in position, Agent Lafferty. Ready when you are.”

He nodded thanks. With the cell phone firmly in hand, he flipped it open. “Lafferty here.”

“Lafferty here, too.” His wife, Renee, mimicked what she called his command voice before bursting out laughing. “Except, for us, here is on the boat. We’re missing you. Any chance you’ll be able to join us later?”

It was Sunday morning. He’d promised to take Renee and Vicki, his seven-year-old daughter, out for a cruise on their thirty-two-foot Chris-Craft Catalina, You Can Run. The two “girls” were on the boat docked at the marina off Harbor Drive in San Diego Bay. By now, the sun would be full up, warm, baking the dry, gray wharf and the teak aft decking of the boat.

Gulls would be circling and cawing, begging for handouts from the early-morning fishermen lining the piers. A light breeze would be snapping the harbor flags, carrying on it an intoxicating aroma of salt water, wet rope, and diesel fuel. Lafferty could practically hear the lapping of waves, the thump of fiberglass hulls against rubber bumpers, the creak of straining ropes.

He glanced around at the warehouse he had commandeered for that morning’s ad-hoc operation. A far cry from the sunny marina where he wanted to be on his boat, with his family.

Instead, he was with his Mobile Enforcement Team, all of them dressed in heavy bullet-resistant vests under their official, blue, DEA windbreakers. With them was a Special Operations Bureau team from the Ontario, California PD alongside the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Tactical Services Unit, also decked out in urban camouflage, full tactical gear, and body armor.

“I don’t know, honey,” Lafferty said into the phone. “I need to see how this thing plays out.”

“This thing” was an undercover investigation started eighteen months before. One he’d begun and had worked on, supervising a young Latino undercover agent named Oscar Ortiz. Their objective was to bring down a drug cartel kingpin named Ruben Nazario, a Mexican national who dealt a new and deadly kind of street poison called Crystal White. Lafferty had high hopes of wrapping the whole thing up this very day. If they could, it would put Ruben Nazario and his entire crew of poison pushers out of business forever.

“Don’t wait for me,” Lafferty told Renee.

“Well, poo,” Renee playfully pouted. Lafferty smiled. After eight years of marriage to a DEA agent, she knew the drill. She was one in a million. Lafferty snapped the phone shut after an ‘I-love-you’ and dropped it into his front pants pocket.

Lafferty had learned from Ortiz early that morning that Nazario planned to inspect a distribution operation his gang was running out of a small warehouse in the two hundred block of Wanamaker Drive, just off the crossroads between the I-15 and the San Bernardino Freeway, one of seven warehouses clustered together and serviced by three paved roads, each a hop, skip and a jump to the freeways. The building in question had been well chosen and was particularly difficult for Lafferty’s men to reconnoiter and secure without giving themselves away.

Lafferty looked at the men and women gathered inside the warehouse. If they could catch Nazario with the product red-handed, it would be a home run. He said, “All right, you clowns, ready to go to work?”

To a person, they enthusiastically grunted, roared, and called out: “Let’s do it.”

Lafferty climbed into the first of three unmarked panel trucks and sat down with his people. He would lead the two DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: his, and one joining them from the L.A. field office. They would make the initial approach through the building’s office entrance. The sheriff’s Tactical Services Unit would cover the fire exits along the east side of the building, and the Special Ops guys from Ontario had agreed to cover the west side exits and the five overhead bay doors. Also, the building was covered by SWAT snipers, and additional uniform patrol units were in the vicinity, on standby to assist, if needed.

Lafferty’s teams drove the three short blocks to the target warehouse in silence. When the van stopped, Lafferty looked down the two rows of faces, then nodded. They nodded back. Ready. He threw open the van doors. The front entrance to the building was locked but the aluminum frame held little resistance against the battering ram his agents brought to bear. The doors flew back, smashing into walls. The glass panels shattered and rained down a gazillion shards.

Once the entrance was breached, Lafferty’s markswoman and her utility man rushed in, their M14 rifles at the ready. Lafferty, armed with a SIG Sauer, followed, while two more agents brought up the rear. They quickly spread out to the left and the right.

He signaled team two to proceed to the second floor while his own team cleared the first floor waiting area, each of the small offices, and the restrooms, where they encountered no resistance. In fact, they encountered no one at all.

Any misgivings Lafferty had, he dismissed. Everyone would be in the back, examining the product, he reasoned. Team two radioed Lafferty from upstairs. It was empty too.

That left the warehouse itself.

At the single door leading into the warehousing section, agents took up positions on the left side: one high, one low. Two others mirrored them on the right.

Lafferty stood to the side and nodded his go-ahead. The door swung open, and a flash bang grenade was tossed inside. The device exploded, then Lafferty charged through the diffused light and noise, shouting, “DEA! Put your hands in the air!”

Behind him, agents rushed through the open door, their feet thundering across the concrete floor, their gear clattering while they spread out, ready to shoot anything that moved. Having cleared the second floor, team two quickly followed them in to assist in clearing the warehouse space.

Lafferty’s shouted commands echoed in the vast emptiness.

There was no scraping of chairs or tables as people jumped to their feet, no snatching up of weapons or frightened yelling, no scrambling of gangbangers trying to run away or preparing to fight their way out. Like the front offices, the warehouse was completely empty.

Lafferty had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, suddenly afraid they’d been duped.

The teams spread out, cautiously checking the open space, searching the nooks and crannies created by flimsily constructed, unpainted plywood offices and rows of empty metal racks.

Lafferty keyed his radio to speak to the Ontario sergeant in charge of the motorized response team outside. They would be in play by now, screeching to angled stops, blocking each of the five bay doors, preventing anyone from fleeing by car or on foot. But there was nobody inside trying to escape.

Before he could speak, Lafferty released his hold on the radio when he heard an agent cry out. “Oh, fuck, no. Fuck!”

Lafferty charged around a plywood office built on wooden pallets at one end of the row of overhead bay doors. Rounding the corner, he stopped short, coming face to face with his young undercover agent Oscar Ortiz.

Ortiz’s wrists were strapped together with plastic ties, his arms hoisted up and over his head.

The agent hung from a chain and hook. His feet dangled inches off the oil-stained concrete floor and his head lolled forward, stringy, black hair curtaining his handsome, swarthy face. He had on an Army field jacket and a plaid work shirt. Both hung open. His black tee shirt underneath had been torn to shreds, revealing a narrow brown chest—carved open by long, jagged lacerations etched into his skin.

More cuts marred his smooth cheeks and crisscrossed his forehead. Some were superficial, but others were deep and had been fatal. Ortiz swayed over a shiny red puddle, blood from where the man had bled out. Droplets of blood still dripped off the toe of the young agent’s sneakers. The grisly image of his mutilated body reflected up from the macabre, wet pool.

His death had been sadistic, torturous, and painful.

Lafferty stared at Ortiz, unable to move.

An agent stuck his head out from one of the plywood offices. The rough-hewed door he held open was marked receiving in scrawled black magic-marker lettering. “Agent Lafferty. I’m sorry, but you need to see this now.”

I can’t leave. Look at what I’ve done.

When Lafferty failed to respond, the agent called out again. “Sir. You really need to see this now.”

Lafferty wiped his face with his hand, breaking eye contact with Ortiz’s corpse. On stiff, protesting legs he backed away from his young agent, wondering what could be more damned important than…

He stepped into the temporary office. Inside, there was a cheap metal folding table had been set up. Six feet long. On it sat a computer tower, speakers, a gaming joystick, and other ancillary computer and audio-visual devices arranged around five plasma screens: four small, nineteen-inch ones and a large, forty-two-inch model.

On one small screen, Lafferty recognized the dark, mustached visage of Ruben Nazario staring back at him. His sun-saturated flesh, the color of dried leather, showed up craggy and lined with deeply etched crevices, the result of a youth spent working outside under the harsh Mexican sun. A thick, black moustache shot through with grey framed his mouth looking like a caterpillar glued to his upper lip.

“Ah, Agent Nick Lafferty. A pleasure to finally meet you.” Nazario smiled, adding, “In a manner of speaking. But fear not, Agent Ortiz has told me much about you, so I feel as if you and I are old friends. A shame he didn’t live long enough—”

Lafferty’s blood ran cold. “Where the hell are you, Nazario?”

“Oh,” Nazario said. “I don’t believe it would be in my best interest to divulge such information. I’m quite sure you understand.”

“Why did you do it?” Lafferty asked. “He was just a kid.”

A kid I failed to protect.

Nazario shrugged. “It was nothing personal, Agent Lafferty.” He made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “But I couldn’t allow such a violation of my…trust to go unanswered. What sort of message would that send to others who might consider spying on me, huh?”

Lafferty ground together his back teeth. “You’ll pay for this, Nazario. I swear. If it’s the last thing I do. You’ll pay. Do you hear me?”

Nazario shook his head. “No. I don’t think so. Besides, we have unfinished business of our own to conclude.”

“What unfinished business?” Lafferty blinked when the big screen, along with the remaining smaller ones, suddenly snapped on. He stared at each of the multiple images, his eyes moving from one, to the next, to the next. A cold shiver coursed through him. He recognized immediately what the screens showed: the marina off Harbor Drive in San Diego Bay.

He took a step forward. “What is this?”

But he knew. The cameras were part of a security and surveillance system the management company had installed to protect the marina. Part of a comprehensive burglary, fire, and access control system monitored and operated via a secure Internet connection.

Apparently not secure enough. Nazario had somehow hacked in and hijacked the system.

The large main screen zoomed in on the aft deck of a single boat. His boat. The You Can Run.

“Tell me, Agent Lafferty, do you not recognize your own boat?”

A live feed. He could see Renee and Vicki sitting on the aft deck, a red-and-white-checked picnic cloth spread out between two. An open picnic basket beside Rene, paper plates and napkins, soda bottles, and cups arranged around them while they sat eating fried chicken and, since the large screen came without any audio, laughing silently.

“What is this, Nazario? You trying to scare me? Show me how close you can get to my family?” Lafferty didn’t tell the man he was succeeding. Lafferty, his throat so dry he could barely speak, was terrified.

The primary screen remained on Renee and Vicki. Close up. But the three small screens displayed other areas of the marina. Lafferty watched as three young Hispanic men emerged from shadowy hiding places wearing gang colors and baggy cargo pants, open plaid shirts, and untied sneakers. Each man carried a 9mm handgun. Silently, they moved along the wharf, passing docked boats, and advancing on the You Can Run. Advancing on Renee and Vicki.

Lafferty’s palms began to sweat. “You son of a bitch!”

He fought to keep the panic from his voice. “OK. You made your point. What do you want?”

From the remaining screen, Nazario said, “I want to know, Agent Lafferty…to what lengths will you go to save your family?” When Lafferty didn’t answer, Nazario narrowed his eyes to reptilian slits. “Answer me!”

Lafferty blinked. He shouted, “Anything, you bastard! I’ll do anything!”

Nazario sat back, a sadistic smile spreading across his face. “As I thought.” He shrugged. “Unfortunately, you have nothing that I want. Goodbye, Agent Lafferty.”

Nazario’s image on the screen snapped to black.

Lafferty rushed forward. “No!”

On the three small screens left operating, he watched, helpless, as the gunmen moved closer, advancing on his family. On the large screen, Renee and Vicki had begun a napkin war, blissfully wading napkins up into balls and tossing them at each other, unaware of the danger they were in.

“We’ve got units on the way,” someone said.

Gripped by panic, Lafferty groaned. “I’ve got to get them out of there!”

He fished his phone from his pant’s pocket. His fingers trembling, he opened it and hit Renee’s speed dial number. Lafferty silently prayed while Renee and Vicki sat cross-legged and went back to eating and talking, laughing between bites of fried chicken and potato salad. The phone to his ear, he heard it ring, connecting. Pick up. Pick up. He watched as Renee raised a finger, stopping Vicki in mid-sentence. She reached for the cell phone on the red-and-white picnic cloth next to her.

Lafferty saw her check the LCD readout, read her lip as she said: Hold on. It’s Daddy.

She flipped the phone open, completing the connection.

And the boat exploded.

***

David DeLee is a native New Yorker, though he and his family now make their home in the great state of New Hampshire. He holds a masters degree in Criminal Justice and is a former licensed private investigator. David is the author of the Grace deHaviland Bounty Hunter series, including the short story, Bling, Bling, which first appeared in the Mystery Writers of America anthology The Rich and the Dead, edited by Nelson DeMille and published by Grand Central Publishing in 2011.

David DeLee can be reached through Dark Road Publishing at
darkroadpub@live.com

And for more information check out our website at
http://www.darkroadpub.com

CRYSTAL WHITE is available in e-format here:
http://www.amazon.com/Crystal-White-ebook/dp/B008A6Z2RM/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339436090&sr=1-1
here:
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/crystal-white-david-delee/1111487304?ean=2940014764018
and here:
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/170335