Friday, 6 May 2016

Excerpt and Giveaway: THE LAST, BEST LIE BY KENNEDY QUINN (A Madison McKenna Mystery)

I am delighted today to be featuring a new author with the first of a new mystery series centering on a female physicist-turned sleuth.
Check out Chapter One -- then enter the Giveaway to win a copy of The Last, Best Lie (USA/Canada entries only please).

Not many could save a man's life with lip gloss, car keys and condoms while under gunfire. 
But Madison McKenna can. 
This is but one device that the physicist-turned-detective creates in The Last, Best Lie, first in this Chicago-based series, as she sets out to catch her boss's attacker. 
In antagonistic and steamy partnership with her boss's ex-partner, with the aid of a charming bull-rider and Jake's hard-bitten mistress, and with her own subconscious infusing her dreams with surreal clues, they delve deeply into her boss's shady past. 
Allies fall and innocents are killed, but Madison perseveres, ultimately stopping the killer through her own unique blend of wit, sensuality and science, hallmarks of this distinctive and exciting new series.




EXCERPT


THE LAST, BEST LIE
Madison McKenna Mysteries
KENNEDY QUINN
CHAPTER ONE

Perspiration pooled in my cleavage. The low-riding Chicago sun baked the upholstery around me, as sweat glued my jeans to my thighs. I sat on the passenger side of a brown Buick LeSabre that reeked like the dumpster it was on this scorching summer day. And if being sautéed in my own sweat weren’t bad enough, my butt itched as if a fire-ants brigade had invaded my panties.
My boss, Jake Thibodaux, ex–New Orleans cop and owner of an intermittently solvent Chicago detective agency, sat beside me, stuffed behind an oversized, leather-wrapped steering wheel. An American Handgunner magazine lay propped on the immense globe of his stomach. He flipped to the centerfold: a gleaming forty-five-caliber semi-automatic with a staple through the crescent curve of its trigger. Holding it up, he turned it ninety degrees and whistled short and low. It would appear that one man’s means of mayhem is another man’s soft-core porn.
Putting the magazine down, Jake grabbed the remainder of his second Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese from the dash and finished it with a staccato bite-and-swallow rhythm—clearly he considered chewing optional—and then tossed the wrapper into the back seat. He let out a long, round burp that filled the car with the stench of pickles, mustard, and under-masticated beef. Cajun drawl and bass voice conveying unhurried imperiousness, he winked at me and said, “Nothing like a good, old-fashioned burger to take the edge off, eh pichouette?”
I screwed up my face in a scowl. “Have I mentioned lately what a pleasure it is to be in your company?”
“Why, no,” he said, with a disingenuous grin. “Can’t say that you have.”
“Feel free to consider the reasons.”
He snorted. “Can’t you just say ‘fuck you’ like the rest of us?”
I arched an eyebrow. “Numerous studies have shown that the gratuitous use of obscenities only serves to diminish their effectiveness.”
“Wimp.”
“Hey, Jake.”
“Yeah?”
“Bite me.”
“That’s a start. There’s my girl,” he said with an approving nod. Stretching his bulk in the seat, he reached for his magazine before settling once more into reading mode.
I rolled my eyes and turned to look out my window. Six months of working for Jake should have prepared me better for this: steaming in a tin box on stakeout. In fact, we’d spent the last five hours squatting in the August sun across from a South Side alley squeezed between an aged brownstone and a red brick office building, all in hopes of ambushing a cheating husband and his paramour: Big Fun.
I started to lay my arm on the frame of the open window but jerked it back as my flesh hit the scorching metal. Grimacing, I blew on my forearm to cool it. It was all the more refreshing as there was no breeze, just still air, ripe with the smell of melting asphalt, fermenting trash, and someone’s liver-and-onions supper. A scruffy mutt trotted by, navigating nose-down to a stop sign. Rotating his backside, he sent a stream of pee high on the post. He was probably hoping to fool the big dogs into believing an even bigger dog had been there. I empathized.
Loping across the street, Bowser launched himself up some swaybacked steps, then plopped down, his long tongue dripping saliva in puddles as his sides heaved. Large brown eyes came to rest on mine. Man, they said, it’s hot out here.
The prickling butt sensation intensified. I tried to wriggle my backside discreetly on the rough stitching of the seat.
Jake spoke without lifting his head from his reading. “Christ on a crutch, petite, scratch it if it itches.”
Fine, then, to hell with discretion. Arching my back, balancing on my toes, I scratched heartily from knees to backside. Grandmother Ivy would not approve, but God, oh God, it felt so good. Lowering myself, my jaw wrenching in a huge yawn, I grabbed my warm Big Gulp Diet Pepsi from the console between us. Slurping it loudly through the straw netted me a low-throated growl of warning from Jake. I slid my eyes in his direction, not bothering to hide my grin, and slurped harder.
He flipped a page. “First, it goes out the window, and then you do.”
Yeah, that didn’t get nearly enough of a rise out of him. “I’m bored,” I said.
“Get un-bored.”
“Entertain me.”
He swiveled his head slowly on his large, thick neck and simply stared at me. Now, let me make this clear. Jake is the big, bad wolf. He’s six-foot-four, two-hundred-and-a-lot pounds, and, okay, a bit past prime. Most people, nonetheless, would suffer serious bladder control issues facing that stare. Or at least be smart enough to stop flicking the wolf on his ear.
I, on the other hand, shrugged. “Fine, I’ll entertain myself.” Putting the drink between my legs, I pulled the straw out and bent it, twisting it until it split into two pieces. I tossed the longer piece into the back seat and inserted the smaller one through the x in the plastic lid. Then I brought the nearly full drink up and blew hard across the top of the straw. A small geyser of soda erupted out of it, and I rushed to suck the excess off the top. Shaking off the small amount that had landed on my hand, I looked over at him, smiling proudly. “Neat, huh?”
“What the hell was that supposed to be?”
“Differential air pressure. Blowing across the top of the straw creates a situation where the air pressure at the top of the straw is less than that at the bottom. It’s like a vacuum, drawing the liquid up and out of the top of the straw. It works best with a short straw.”
“Uh-huh, and what are you going to do now that the straw is too short to reach the rest of the drink, Miss Wiseass?”
Ah. Hadn’t thought of that. Time to change the subject. I frowned, shoved the drink into its cupholder, and gave him my best long-suffering sigh. “Oh, come on. How much longer do we have to do this? We’ve been at it every afternoon for three days. I’m dying of boredom here. And I stink almost as bad as you do, which, given your substantially greater surface area, should be impossible unless parts of me have died.”
He grinned. “Oh, but you look so pretty.”
It was my turn to snort. Okay, with a little work on my part, pretty applies. And being twenty-three and healthy buys me a pass, most days, on serious effort. But today, I knew exactly how bad I looked. My blue eyes were bloodshot, my face was bloated from a steady diet of greasy, salt-laden fast food, and my black hair clung in thin, sweaty tendrils to my neck. “You’re an evil man.”
“So they say.”
“Furthermore, I’m convinced that this cheap titanium-dioxide sunscreen you bought is decomposing into its basic elements, which are individually toxic and which, in contact with the porous membranes of my eyes, may well render me blind. And then you’d be sorry.”
“How about you swallow it and be rendered mute?”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “You know absolutely nothing about chemistry, do you?”
Jake laid the magazine on the dash. “What I don’t know is why I put up with a whiny egghead who can’t even follow simple instructions.” He pointed to his beloved traveler’s mug in the cupholder between us. It was brown and stamped with a large intricate crest around which was scripted, Cabrini High School, New Orleans. “Hot coffee. You were supposed to get me hot coffee. Not this iced frappachichi crap you filled my cup with. What’s the matter? Your fussy little engineer’s brain couldn’t handle that?”
I leaned forward, unfolding my arms and counting on my fingers as I spoke. “First, I am not fussy. I’m meticulous, and you’re a grump. Second, my brain is not little. I am a physicist, minoring in chemistry. I am not—repeat, not—an engineer. I’ve nearly been kicked out of my family tree for abandoning my studies, as it is, and without adding that slur to my name, thank you very much. Because I am this close,” I held my thumb and forefinger a millimeter apart, “to having my Ph.D., I deserve a more dignified characterization than egghead. I would be willing to allow you to refer to me as Genius, Savante, or, in a pinch, Mistress Brainiac.”
“Mistress Smart-Ass, maybe.”
“Third, it’s a hundred and ten freaking degrees, Jake. Cows give evaporated milk in heat like this. It’s hot, h-o-t, hot! I got you iced coffee because only a lunatic, such as yourself apparently, would want hot coffee on a day like this.”
“Listen, petite. I don’t give a damn how hot it is outside; I don’t give a damn how cold it is outside. I drink coffee, and I drink it hot. And I drink regular coffee: dark-roasted, no-frills, no-fuss, no-shit Columbian. Not that fruity, nutty, organic, pussy crap you drink.”
“Typical grumpy, old, white guy: intolerant. Just because something is different—”
His hazel eyes narrowed, as if my comment struck some dark resonance within him. He swung his massive bulk to face me. “That’s the problem with you kids—”
“Oh, give me a break. I’m not a twelve-year-old.”
He raised his voice as he pointed a finger at me. “The problem with you kids is that you’re all about tolerance this and tolerance that when it comes to what you believe in, but tolerating your elders’ opinions is a different story, isn’t it? Your generation thinks it invented truth and justice. Everything you do is right and fair and so fucking smart, but God forbid any regular, hard-working Joe, who’s spent his life serving his community and tries to live his life by the Good Book, stands his ground on his values, because then he’s a closed-minded, prejudiced old fogey. Give you a break? You give me a break!”
I blinked. Sure, I knew Jake’s standard modus—a.k.a. crotchety—was more affectation than nastiness, but this was different. Whatever spot I’d hit was a real sore one, now. Frowning, I said, “Take it easy, Jake. I was just fooling around.”
He stared at me for a beat, his eyes still narrow, his expression bleak. Then, as if swatting away a troublesome fly, he waved his hand and shook his head. “Ah, don’t mind me. Sometimes you say things . . . you remind me of . . . you remind me of somebody, that’s all.”
“Is that a bad thing?” I asked carefully.
His gave me a half smile and sighed. “No. It’s just . . . hard sometimes. Kids. Always have to be right, don’t you?” Then quietly, as if to himself, he added, “No matter who gets hurt.”
I cocked my head at him, still puzzled. Well, that was surreal. But before I could say anything, he snatched his mug and thrust it toward me. “But when I say I want hot coffee, I damn well mean hot coffee. Now take your geeky little ass down to the 7-11 and get me some real, hot coffee.”
My jaw dropped. “Are you kidding? You want me to walk five blocks in this heat? There’s a reason we haven’t seen even gangbangers for hours. They all went home to enjoy their heatstrokes in the comfort of their living rooms. I bet I could collapse on the sidewalk and no one would even come out to steal my iPhone to sell on eBay. I should do this all for a cup of coffee?”
“You’re right. We done ate all my Chee Wees,” he said, glancing back at the three empty bags of the New Orleans–style cheese curls that constitute a good quarter of his daily food intake. “Get me some barbeque chips. With ridges. The ones in a bag, not the sissy ones in the can.”
I reached right over him and snatched the keys from the steering column. “You want hot coffee? Fine.”
He bent to look at me as I angled out of the car onto the blistering pavement. “What do you need my keys for?”
I rounded the car and unlocked the trunk. I had two napkins from getting the coffees. Using them to cover my palms against searing, I jerked it open and rummaged through the toolbox. In short order, I had a “D” battery, a small spool of lead-free hobby wire, wire cutters, and every MIT grad’s weapon of choice: duct tape.
As I got back into the car, I tossed Jake the keys and laid my booty on the dash. Grabbing the wire, I measured out roughly six inches and snipped it off with the wire cutters in my left hand. Jake rolled his eyes. I’m a leftie, which, for some reason, amuses Jake, but at least he’s given up ragging me about it.
“What the hell are you doing?” Jake said.
Laying the wire on my lap, I reached for the duct tape. “Getting you hot coffee.”
“Is this another one of your crazy-ass gadgets?”
I smiled. “You know you love them. It’s one of the reasons you find me so fascinating.”
“Cocky little thing, aren’t you?” Yet he peered at the paraphernalia with curiosity.
“Oh, quit complaining and prepare to be amazed. And give me your pocket knife.”
“Only if you promise to cut your tongue out with it.”
I gave him my most banal look and wriggled my fingers.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” he grumbled. With a grunt, he dug into his pocket, pushing his shoulder holster with its enormous Colt forty-five to the side as he did. “You’re a real pain in the ass. You know that, right?” He handed me his red Swiss Army knife.
I took it and leveraged it open, pulling out the miniature scissors and then using them to cut two small rectangles of duct tape. I closed the knife and dropped it on my lap. Laying an end of the wire on one side of the battery, I taped it down. “This won me five points in the Brain Buster Blow-Out of Milton Street.”
He adjusted his shoulder holster into a more comfortable position. “The what?”
“My best friend, Timmy Atwell, and I had summer competitions demonstrating physics principles with whatever was handy.”
“Sweet: nerds in love.”
I laid the other end of the wire against the other terminal and proceeded to tape it down, effectively shorting the battery. “We weren’t in love. We just, you know, hung around.”
“Uh-huh. Sure.”
“Well, up until the summer Mary Lou Simpson developed breasts.” I shrugged. “I didn’t see much of Timmy after that.”
“Figures.”
I looked up at Jake, grinning broadly. “But in the fall, I developed breasts, and mine were much better than hers.”
That netted me a genuine smile. “I’ll bet you made that little boy pay, didn’t you?”
“You bet I did. That was the year Timothy James Atwell learned that the pressure of his penis on his zipper was directly proportional to the amount of cleavage displayed.”
Jake barked a short laugh. “He’d have figured that out without your help.”
“Maybe so. But I gave that boy some of the best data points of his life.” I held up my device: a “D” battery with a length of wire taped to the terminal ends. “Ta-da,” I said, in my best Wall-E imitation. “Touch it.”
His heavy brows knit together. He gingerly touched the wire and then quickly let go. “It’s hot.”
“And it’ll get hotter.” I took his mug and set it on the dash. Dangling the wire inside the mug, I maneuvered the setup so as to wedge the battery tightly between cup and windshield, holding the contraption firmly in place. “What do you think?”
Jake tipped his head to the side, regarding the device as if it were an exotic insect he didn’t know whether to keep or crush. He shrugged. “It might not be the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. That’ll work, will it?”
I nodded. “The coffee will get hot. I guarantee it.” It would, in fact, get hot but not because of the small amount of energy coursing through the wire. Shorting out a single “D” battery wouldn’t do much more than make the thin metal hot to the touch. The intense sunlight streaming through the windshield and reflecting off the bare dash would warm his coffee on its own, not to boiling, but enough to shut him up about my going for more. After all, what good is a working knowledge of the laws of the universe if you don’t use it to indulge in a little harmless naughtiness now and then? Of course, I was so going to rag him about it later. I would wait to find the perfect time to let him know he’d been had, which requires a certain amount of finesse. And a physical distance much greater than arm’s length.
As I relaxed into my seat, I noticed black smudges on my fingertips. “What’s this?”
“Looks like soot,” Jake said.
“Probably from the toolbox.”
“Not from my toolbox, I guaran-fucking-tee you that. I keep my tools clean.”
“And it’s not on the wire, the cutters, or the tape. Look. It’s on your mug, on the bottom. Did you set it down on something at work? You’ve got a little smudge on your sleeve, too.”
Jake looked down at his sleeve. He spit on the mark and then rubbed it away with his fingers. “There. All gone. Happy now?”
“Eeeew,” I said.
“A little spit solves everything. Here, let me help you.” He spit on his hand and reached for my soiled fingers.
I jerked my hands back, hurriedly rubbing the smudges off on my jeans. “No, thank you! God, you are such a pig.”
His eyes twinkled. “I thought I was evil.”
“You are an evil pig.”
He nodded. “I aim to please.” He retrieved his magazine and said, “Now, how about my Slim Jims?” Then his cell phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID before answering. “Yeah, Max. What’s up, tahyo?”
I humphed in aggravation. Maxwell Hunter was Jake’s best friend and his partner during their days as Louisiana cops. Hunter now owned the most successful detective agency in Chicago. He was rich, savvy, and built like a pro football player. He was twenty years my senior but still way hot: big, bad wolf’s younger, buffer brother. On the other hand, he treated me like an annoying ten-year-old and that mitigated against my attraction. Most of the time.
Jake’s eyes lit up at my expression. He mouthed, silently, “Should I send him your love?”
I gave him a simple, one-finger salute.
“No, I’m not laughing at you,” Jake said into the phone. “The babbette’s being a brat.” Pause. “Yeah, she’s still with me. For now.” Pause. “Ah, she’s not that bad.” After a moment, he laughed, then looked me up and down. “Uh-huh, she is. I have to give you that. But somebody’s got to watch out for her.”
I sat up straight. “Yes, I am what? What is he saying about me?”
Jake shook his head, still grinning. “Okay, Max. No sweat. I got the tickets. I’ll meet you at Spanky’s at four. Beer’s on you this time. Catch you later.”
I crossed my arms again as he hit the “end” button. “I can’t stand that guy,” I said.
“If you weren’t always such a smart-ass with him—”
“Smart-ass? Me? When am I ever a smart-ass?”
Jake’s eyes shot wide open as if I’d tried to deny that cosmic background radiation was two-point-seven-three Kelvin, or something equally irrefutable.
“Well, okay, maybe I am occasionally—”
“Occasionally?!”
“All right, all right. But he starts it! That patronizing way he calls me ‘Angel.’ And you know what he did? You want me to tell you what he did?”
“Not really. But that won’t stop you, will it?”
I threw my arms up. “He told me, point blank, that I’m not qualified for this job.”
Jake shrugged. “You aren’t.” He held up a hand to silence my protest. “Sorry, petite. You may know that science shit, but tech smart ain’t street-smart. You still got a lot to learn.”
“Hey, I may be starting out, but investigative work is in my veins. My great-great-however-many-times-over-Aunt Kate—”
Groaning, Jake rubbed his hand over his eyes. “Oh, Christ, not the Aunt Kate story—”
I held my head higher. “Kate Warne! This country’s first female detective—”
“Yeah, yeah. I know. I’ve heard this story a thousand—”
“Hired in 1856 by Allan Pinkerton, forty years before women were allowed to join the police force. Pinkerton, ‘The Eye’ himself, founder of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, motto: ‘We Never Sleep.’ The man who invented private investigation as a profession—”
Jake held a hand up. “I know all this. Do we have to—?”
“Then one day, my great-great-whatever-Aunt Kate walks in to a one-man office in Chicago, just like I did not six months ago, and asked for a job, just like I did—”
“You demanded a job.”
“And just like I did with you, she won Allan Pinkerton over with her eloquent arguments—”
“More likely she nagged him into submission just like you did to me.”
“—and went on to help him form the greatest detective agency the world has ever known!”
Jake rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “Please, God, shut her up.”
My heart sped up as I plowed on. “Then, practically single-handedly, she solved the infamous Adams Express robberies. Posing as a convict’s wife, she ingratiated herself into the confidence of the dastardly embezzler—”
He barked out a laugh. “Enough! Dastardly? Petite, no more Classic Movies Channel for you. And I know the story. Mrs. Naidenheim in the office downstairs knows the story; Mr. Keeper in the office upstairs knows the story; everyone in that drafty, Victorian, code-violation-we-call-an-office building knows the goddamned story. And you can spout that destiny crap all you want. But the truth is, you’re an overeducated babbette who needed a job, any job, because your mother cut you off for running away from school.”
I tried but just couldn’t keep the self-indulgent pouting out of my tone. “I didn’t run away. I’ll go back to finish my doctorate, eventually. I just want more out of life right now. I’m fed up with serving as slave labor to tenure-obsessed, bipolar, chronically cheesed-off professors! I need a break. And my mother is being ridiculous.”
“She’s the fucking chair of the fucking physics department of fucking Yale. I’m betting she doesn’t know how to be ridiculous.”
“That’s not exactly how her business card reads. But, yes, she’s . . . accomplished.” I felt my jaw tighten and deliberately yawned to loosen it. “In fact, she’s brilliant, and cultured, and beautiful. And I’m a poor knockoff. Okay? I’ve admitted it. I’m a shadow of her glorious self!”
“I didn’t mean—”
“But that doesn’t make her right all the time. And even if it did, I’m not her! And I don’t want to be like her, or the rest of my family. With the single exception of my father—God rest his soul—they’re all just a bunch of deskbound academics; think first, act never. Never getting out there and . . . well, like you’d say, grabbing life by the balls like Aunt Kate did. Like my dad did.” I slammed my left fist into the palm of my right hand.
“Well, I’m not like that! I’m not afraid to grab life’s balls no matter how big and hairy and . . . blue and . . . um, uh . . . okay, that’s probably as far as I should go with that analogy.”
Jake shifted in his seat, seeming both bemused and pained. “Yeah, probably.” He exhaled deeply. “Christ Almighty, kid. I’d rather spend ten minutes in the ring with Lennox Lewis than five getting the shit beat out of me by you and your words. I swear the way you go on wears a man out.”
I squared my shoulders. “From where I come, my manner of speaking is standard. Ergo, if one were to say—”
Jake shot me a sour look.
“I guess if I want to be taken seriously, I should stop saying things like ergo, huh?”
“Fucking A.”
“Okay. I can do that. So who’s Lennox Lewis?”
Shaking his head, he said, “Never mind.” Then his eyes narrowed, and he tipped his head, glancing at the rearview mirror. “Well, what do we have here?”
I twisted toward the back window. One of our targets approached: the cheating husband. To be honest, he looked harmless enough to me: kind of geeky really. He was rail thin and gangly, with pronounced cheekbones and protruding ears, large eyes, and one of the biggest Adam’s apples I’d ever seen. He reminded me a little of Alfie, my youngest brother’s best friend, who spent most of his visits trotting on my heels, asking if he could “help” with anything. I was always half tempted to throw a stick to see if he’d actually fetch it. Blast from the past, notwithstanding: finally, some action!
“Christ in a crunch!” I said.
Jake groaned. “Crutch. It’s Christ on a crutch. Don’t you even know how to swear?”
“Apparently, I’ve yet to master the rudiments of blasphemy. You can teach me later.” I grabbed the door handle. “After we get this guy.”
Jake reached over me and held the door shut. He nodded toward the front of the car. “Hang on. Let’s give her a chance to spice the roux.”
A woman approached from the other direction. I’d been expecting full-out Trailer Park Barbie, but she looked more like a young executive, or at least like someone trying to be one. She was pretty enough, in a wanting-to-look-fashionable way. Her plum dress fit snugly enough to call attention to her figure but not so tightly as to shout. Her makeup was subtle. But still the dress was a bit too short, and the hair a bit too red. I half turned to face Jake. “Why would they meet in an alley?”
Jake watched the woman intently. “Don’t know. Maybe he likes getting his pecker lubed where he might get caught. Some people are like that.”
“I’ll have to defer to your expertise on degenerate behavior.”
“Hush. Get your game face on.” He nodded at the rearview mirror, his eyes solemn and focused. All business.
I leaned forward, adjusting the rearview to reflect our targets. Jake laid a beefy arm across the back of the seat, positioned himself to see the couple through the passenger’s side mirror, and leaned in. Jeez, I wish he hadn’t had so many onions on his burger. I relaxed into the seat, maintaining my line of sight.
My breathing turned shallow and quick. This was it! Here I sat in a stinking, rust-bucket of a car with a weather-beaten ex-cop stalking two human beings. Okay, so we were trying to catch them with pants down and dress up. But, it was life! Let’s see Mom do this.
“What’s going on?” I whispered. “I don’t see where he went.”
“Shhhh.”
“But—”
Jake dug his fingers into my stomach, forcing a burp out of me.
“Pardon me,” I said.
We watched for several more moments, and, just when I could almost feel my molecules vibrating, Jake looked down at me. My face flushed with excitement, I said, “Now?”
He smiled, his tone softening. “Got the blood going, eh? Well, don't let it distract you. Listening to the blood rush in your ears will bite you in the ass every time.”
“The physiological impossibility of such a mixed metaphor aside, I’ve got it. But we need to get a picture, and I bet this guy’s performance won’t push the limits of an egg timer.”
Jake grabbed a wrinkled, tan suit jacket from the back seat and shrugged it on over his shoulder holster. “They went into the alley. Get the camera.”
I pulled Jake’s thin digital Konica out from under my seat. With a surprising fluidity, he exited the car, then strolled across the street. As I got out, I caught his Swiss Army knife—I’d forgotten I’d had it—just before it tumbled to the ground, stuffing it into my jeans. I trotted after him like an over-caffeinated Chihuahua tailing a mastiff.
We rounded the corner, and Jake stopped suddenly. I crashed into him and, leaning around, I looked into the empty alley.
“Where did they go?” My voice bounced off the brick walls.
Jake sliced a hand through the air, his expression wary. I swallowed hard.
The alley in which we stood may have dated back to the twenties and may have sheltered many a mobster among its trash cans, rat droppings, and cigarette butts, but the cans had long since been replaced by city bins. Flyers for local bands on their fifth name change and last hope littered the ground. The purpose of the alley clearly hadn’t changed: it disappeared people.
Jake’s right hand slipped inside his coat. I hung the camera over my shoulder and reached around to pull the nine-millimeter I’d bought just last week from the waistband of my jeans. The gun’s stock was hot in my hand and slick with back sweat.
Jake’s eyes went wide. In a harsh whisper, he said. “Where the hell did you get that? You can’t carry a gun, especially concealed! Are you trying to lose me my license?”
“But—”
“Put it away!” he said through gritted teeth. “Damn it, if that’s all the brains you’ve got, I made a mistake trusting you.”
I grimaced, my face flushing with chagrin. “All right! Don’t burst a blood vessel.” I stuffed the pistol back into my waistband.
Jake’s eyes hardened. “Can it. Something’s fucked up here.”
My shoulder muscles bunched up, and I tried to shake them out. One thing was clear: Jake was worried. And what chance do you have, Madison, my girl, against something that can spook a man like him? I chewed my lower lip. “Where do you think they went?”
Jake kept his right hand under his coat. With his left, he pointed to a wooden door a third of the way down the wall. A flyer tacked to its weather-scarred face rustled lightly.
“We checked that entrance days ago,” I said. “It’s blocked from the inside, remember?”
“Well, either it’s been cleared or Scotty beamed them up.” With a jerk of his head, Jake motioned me forward. Fighting a burbling urge to run, I scanned his stern face. He smiled faintly, as if to say it’s okay. But his ramrod stance and hard eyes said it wasn’t.
Steeling myself, I walked to the door. An off-white sheet of wide-ruled paper had been folded in half and fixed in place on it. A piece shaped like an isosceles triangle was missing from one corner. As I turned it, the sunlight caught the torn edge, and I detected a faint silvery gleam. “What do you think it is?”
Jake came up beside me. “Read it.”
I snatched it from the door. “It says: ‘Nice to see you, Big D. Save me a place in hell.’ What’s that supposed to mean?”
Jake whipped out his gun before I’d finished my question. A sharp crack blasted. Jake jerked and then grimaced. Stumbling forward, he slammed me into the wall. The breath burst from my lungs. I stared, dumbfounded, as his body slid to the pavement, landing with a gut-wrenching thud.
The paper floated from my hand and followed him to the ground. The sight of it kicked my brain into gear. I yanked my gun out of my waistband, throwing myself off balance, falling hard against the door. Searing pain tore through my right shoulder. Cold hit me like a river of ice, needles of pain stabbing me. I dropped to my knees and tasted blood.
The world disappeared.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Kennedy Quinn has a Ph.D. in Physics and Master’s in Nuclear Science and is a director of research by day. But this scientist-turned-administrator didn’t get there the easy way. She enlisted in the Air Force immediately after high school and served as an aircraft mechanic before achieving an officer’s commission and earning her multiple degrees. After a diverse military career, she retired to federal service where she continues to lead research on a wide array of science and technologies. By night, she grows roses in Northern Virginia with her family; they’re owned by two rescue cats.

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Thanks to Kennedy and Angelle Barbazon at JKS Communications I have one copy of Kennedy's new book to giveaway!

GIVEAWAY

To win a print copy of The Last, Best Lie enter by Rafflecopter below
Only entries from USA/Canada please
Ends on 13 May 2016 Midnight GMT
I will email the winner after the giveaway ends and will pass their address to the promoter who will be sending them their prize
Good Luck!




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