STOLEN MOB MONEY! RUTHLESS HIT MEN!
A PAST THAT WON'T STAY DEAD AND BURIED!
For bounty hunter Grace deHaviland the job seemed simple. Track down Barry Keegan, an accountant in a white collar criminal case who jumped bail. How hard could that be?
But the case turns deadly when a co-defendant ends up murdered and Grace's best friend, sheriff's deputy Suzie Jensen, is nearly killed. Can Grace track down the elusive Barry Keegan—a man more dangerous than anyone could've guessed—while she tries to protect his wife and son from a violent past they thought dead and buried?
Award-winning novelist David DeLee is one of those writers I knew way back when, in the days before he published anything. I thought he'd veer into science fiction. Instead, he's made a heck of a career as a mystery and thriller writer.
He's best known for his award-winning Grace deHaviland series, and we're lucky enough to have the first book in that series to share with you. Grace is a bounty hunter, who takes on some pretty tough clients. I think you'll enjoy every moment you spend in her company. I know I have. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
"DeLee's...highly qualified to write this first novel in the Grace deHaviland Bounty Hunter series. His plot twists and turns will put you on the edge and have you speed reading to keep up. Just when you think you get it...think again! DeLee's own special brand of storytelling will have you wanting more of this excellent series and more of Grace deHaviland as well."– Suspense Magazine
GOD MUST HATE ME.
Here it was, just the second week of October and a cold snap had moved into the area, plunging the temperatures to near freezing already. Unseasonably cold, the TV weather people said. A stalled Canadian cold front, they explained. Yeah, right. I knew what was really going on. It was God. I could hear him up in heaven, telling the angels with a laugh: Grace deHaviland's doing surveillance. Let's make it cold as a cadaver's crotch down there.
I cupped my hands and blew into them. Damn.
Parked in the Grandview Heights section of Columbus, I'd been sitting for hours in my beat-up cargo van in the shadows of an overhanging elm tree down the road from the only working lamp post, my full attention on a dilapidated old colonial across the street. The house was one on a block of rundown homes earmarked for demolition, something the city never seemed to get around to. In the meantime, they became havens for drug dealers, users, crack whores and the homeless.
This one had a large front porch. The paint on the wide steps was worn to the wood and the once-white railing had so many spindles missing it looked like a boxer's punch-drunk grin. A rusted glider was set off to one end and an old, moldy couch sat under the large front window. The cushions on it were so worn out, they sank. Broken crack vials, fast food wrappers and a busted up tricycle littered the yard. An old box spring and rusted iron headboard leaned against the peeling siding. Junked.
I covered the light of my cell phone and checked the time: 6:30 a.m.
The darkness before the dawn.
A lone figure rounded the corner, coming from Avondale Avenue, and walking in my direction. His hands shoved in his pockets, he had his hoodie pulled up over his shaved head to ward off the chilly, pre-dawn breeze. I checked him against the mug shot I had of Tyrell Parks. It was my guy.
I opened the well-oiled van door without a sound. The dome light remained off because I'd removed the bulb months ago. The van's decrepit appearance—I'd picked it up at auction about a year ago—its dings, dents and splotches of matte-black primer paint were deliberate, all carefully applied so no one looked twice at it. Yet mechanically, its care and maintenance was top shelf, as good as money could buy. The perfect decoy vehicle.
Jogging across the street, I avoided the splash of piss-yellow streetlight, and carefully navigating my interception point. I jammed my hands into my jacket pockets, returning the mug shot of Tyrell Parks to one pocket and wrapping my hand tightly around the stun gun I carried in the other. My Colt .45 auto-loader sat snug and heavy in its holster, pressing into the small of my back. I didn't have to check for my backup piece, either. The weight of the small .32 revolver strapped to my right ankle was hard to forget.
I crossed in front of Parks, about an arm's length away, blocking his path. "Tyrell Parks."
He snapped his head up. Dark, suspicious eyes stared at me. I grabbed for his arm but he bolted around me fast, dodging like a linebacker avoiding a tackle so that I ended up snatching air. He ran for the ramshackle old colonial.
Up the worn steps two at a time and across the porch, he plunged through the front door, slamming it shut behind himself. Running close, two steps behind, I reached the decaying wood-and-glass door and paused, pressing my back against the clapboard frame. My heart pounded from the adrenaline surge, not the effort. I took a deep breath of cold, crisp air, drew my .45, spun and kicked in the old, weathered door.
The latch splintered inward. The door banged against the far wall with a sharp thwack and a rattle of glass. I rushed inside. Low. In the entryway, an absence of light greeted me save for the pale glow from the outside streetlamp and what little moonlight managed to leak in through the door and broken windows. Dust particles danced in the pale, ghostly hue.
I faced a center staircase. Beside it, down the left side, ran a hallway. Open archways dotted the left wall. What had once been a living room lay to my right, and opposite that, a den. Wind whistled through windows where panes were broken or missing. The walls were graffiti tagged. Broken boards, cinderblocks and other building debris littered the floor and chunks of sheetrock and gravel crunched under my feet as I moved inside.
A skinny Hispanic teen stood frozen in the den, watching me. Shirtless, he had his fly open. I'd caught him urinating in the corner. He stared at me with wide, fearful eyes as his breath puffed out quick plumes of cold air.
I shoved Tyrell's mug shot into his startled face. "Where is he?"
He shook his head, muttering something I didn't catch. I jammed the picture into the pocket of my leather coat and pressed the .45 to the kid's forehead. His wide eyes grew wider. I wrinkled my nose. Ewww. He'd started peeing again.
"Where?" I repeated. "In English."
His answer came out as one long, fast word. "UpstairsIdidn'tdonothingpleasedon'thurtme."
"Gracias." I took the stairs two at a time.
At the top of the stairs, an open bathroom faced me, reeking of feces and vomit and urine. I cleared a small room to the right with a quick glance and sweep of my gun.
Down the far end of the hall I heard a door slam.
Moving quickly, I made my way forward. Darkness filled the hallway. The air was thick with cloying dust and odors too offensive to try and identify. Open doorways stood both to my right and left. From inside came the sounds of irritated druggies rousted out of self-induced comas by the commotion. They shifted and groaned. A few shouted curses. Others remained dead to the world. Those who woke, like rats sensing danger, sat upright, listening, afraid to move and afraid not to, their addled brains racing at the speed of glaciers to make a decision. Freeze, hide, or run.
At the end of the hall, I hit the one closed door I came to with my shoulder. It gave a little then bounced back. Not locked—someone holding it.
"Tyrell Parks!" I shouted, shouldering the door again.
Pain radiated down my arm, but this time it flew open.
Inside, a soiled mattress lay on the floor. Around it were some grubby blankets, matches, candles and other drug paraphernalia. Dull light streamed in through a busted window. Tattered, once-white lace curtains billowed from the window frame. The sash was thrown open.
Climbing out to the porch roof, Parks banged a knee on the sill and cursed.
I darted fast across the room. Crack vials and who-knew-what-else crunched under my sturdy black sneakers. I grabbed Parks by the belt…and yanked.
His hands scrambled to hold onto the sill as his baggy, oversized pants slipped down his hips, exposing even more of his purple boxers. He banged an elbow on something, cursed again and fell back into the room. At six-one, two-hundred-twenty pounds—all of it prison yard muscle—he was built like a bull on steroids. All of that came stumbling back at me.
We hit the floor, hard.
I grunted, worried I'd cracked a rib. Shoving him off, I gasped for air and rolled in the opposite direction. Things jabbed at me through my jacket, rusted nails, broken glass. I worried about needles, and my jacket.
It's a Piero Tucci, damn it. If it's ruined…
I scrambled to my feet, spun to face him, trying to control my breathing. If I appeared winded, Parks would see me as weak. I couldn't allow that. Being a woman in this business caused me enough grief as it was.
"Tyrell Parks," I said. "You're coming with me."
"Youse the cops?" On his feet too, he faced me.
He cocked his head to the side like a confused puppy. "Say what?"
"Bounty hunter, asshole."
"Shit. A sista like you? No fuckin' way."
I brought up the .45, reluctant to shoot him. They don't do dead or alive anymore. Too bad—it would make things a lot easier. "No sista, bro, a hot-blooded Latina with an Irish temper. Someone you don't wanna mess with."
I planted my feet. Reading him, afraid he might lunge.
"Sheeeet!" He charged.
A knot formed in the pit of my stomach. For an instant I reconsidered shooting him, but I drew back my gun. I'd cold-cock the son of a bitch instead.
But he was too fast. Like lightening on crack cocaine. He swept away my arm, clamping his hand on my wrist and stopping my swing dead. He squeezed.
With a sharp snap of my wrist he sent my gun flying. It landed a dozen feet away in a debris pile of studs, drywall and pipes. With his free hand he seized my throat and tightened his grip, lifting me off the ground. "Bitch come at me. Sheeet."
I gurgled. It was all I could do.
"Tyrell'll be learnin' you a thing 'bout manners now, bitch." He slammed me into a wall. My head bounced off the plaster. The wall shook. I saw stars, and tears filled my eyes. I'd pounded the pooch on this one, hadn't I?
He grinned, revealing a grill full of gold-capped teeth. He pressed his body into me, pinning me to the wall with all his crushing weight. Sweat and aggression radiated from him, sour and hot. And some god-awful smelling breath. So bad, I'd've gagged if I weren't being choked to death.
I thrashed around, wanting to get my loose hand inside my coat pocket. I kicked out, trying to push off the wall. Hopeless efforts.
Parks laughed at me.
I wheezed like a tire losing air.
I grew lightheaded. I was running out of oxygen and time. I tried to ignore the pain, the pressure against my chest, his smell, all of it, while I worked on getting my hand into my jacket pocket. I missed.
Fear seized me, as tightly as Parks' grip.
"We's gonna have some real fun now, bitch." His face came in close to mine. I had no doubt about what he intended. Thoroughly disgusted, I turned my head. His mouth mashed wetly across my lips. His tongue raked my cheek. I vowed it wouldn't happen. I'd kill him first. Somehow.
I got my hand inside my pocket.
"Fine. No foreplay." He reached between our compressed bodies, began fumbling with his belt buckle. "We's just go right to the main event then."
"I don't think so."
My words were raspy but I didn't care. I had the stun gun in my hand.
He got his belt unbuckled.
I jabbed the stun gun into his side. It crackled, and his body convulsed. He stumbled back, shuddering like a short-circuiting robot. I dropped to the floor—incredibly, he didn't. Though his eyes were wide and his teeth clattered like those joke dentures you see in novelty stores, he managed somehow to stay on his feet.
Angry and scared, and thinking about what almost happened to me, I charged him. A second jolt from the stun gun dropped him to his knees. Spittle drooled out of his mouth as he sputtered while his body continued to quiver. Incapacitated now, still he didn't go down.
I zapped him a third time, panting and aiming to light up his nuts. I missed, hitting his rock-hard thigh instead. Too bad, but the jolt was enough to get the job done.
His eyeballs rolled up into his head. He gurgled. Then he crashed to the floor. Down and out, but incredibly, still conscious.
Face down and twitching, he murmured something unintelligible.
I cuffed him behind his back, retrieved my .45, and coughing gave myself a minute to catch my breath before I hauled him up on his feet. After I did, I said, "You good to walk?"
He muttered something and nodded.
"Good." His skin was slick with sweat and his knotted muscles still trembled. "You mess with me," I went on, "and I'll Taser you all the way down to the van. Understand?" His head lolled as if it was too heavy for his neck. I shook his arm. "Understand?"
I led him into the hall, but stopped short.
A dozen shadowy figures lined the gloom of the hallway. Strung-out hopheads. Emaciated drug-zombies. They wore soiled clothes that hung off them like rags on a scarecrow. Stringy hair curtained their skull-like faces in greasy, limp ropes. Dark circles rimmed their lifeless eyes. They truly were the living dead.
"Ain't got no beef with none of y'all," I shouted. Talking street, sounding tough I hoped. "Just Tyrell here. Don't give a rat's ass 'bout the rest of you." To me the trash talk sounded foolish, but I kept it up as I pulled Parks along. "Y'all mess with me," I warned. "Then we throw down. You don't want that, so y'all just stay fly."
They did, and Parks and I made it downstairs and out to the street without incident. The dopers followed at a distance, gathering around the sagging porch. I yanked open the back doors of the van and pushed Parks toward it. "Get in."
I'd stripped bare the interior except for a black-iron security fence welded between the cargo space and the front seats. It was covered with a scratched-up, laminated sheet of Plexiglas. I'd been spit on enough times to have learned. Welded to the ribbed floor and along the van walls were several iron tie-down rings.
At the sight, Parks hesitated. The effect of the stun gun was wearing off. I waved it in his face and squeezed the trigger. White-blue electricity crackled between the metal prongs.
"I feel you," he said, climbing in. Knowing the drill, he knelt near the rear doors. "Where's you taking me?"
"Jail." I cuffed him to a short length of chain then to the iron ring welded into the floor.
"Ya know, bitch…" He rattled the chain for effect. "Da bruthers on them slave ships was treated better than this. Ain't no way for a sista to treat a bruther, you feel me?"
"Oh, shut up." I slammed the back doors shut.
I took Northwest Boulevard and headed downtown. Driving from the crack house, I tried to relax. But I was sore and cranky, and no amount of rolling my neck and shoulders did anything to relieve my aches or improve my mood. Excess adrenaline surged through my body, making me jittery. Fear made me shake. I tried not to think about what would have happened if I hadn't reached my stun gun in time—it had taken three zaps to put the huge bastard down. I shuddered, unable to chase the dark thoughts away.
Neither could I force away the image of those gaunt, washed-out faces I'd left behind. The drug zombies who stared at me from the front porch with their empty expressions: lost, helpless, wasted kids with nothing to live for beyond their next fix…and the sure promise of an early grave.
As I drove south on Neil, passing Nationwide Arena on my left, my cell phone rang.
The caller ID read LOUIE. The readout also read 6:53 a.m.
Large Louie Gravelle is a bail bondsman, one of several I freelance for. For Louie to be calling me at anywhere near this time of the morning could mean only one thing, and that was trouble. I flipped open the cell: "deHaviland."