In the ruins of the collapsed United States, private inspector, Cybil Lewis and her inspector-in-training, Jane, fill a need. When Jane insists they look into her cousin's disappearance, Cybil agrees and is catapulted into a world of lies and deceit. As they investigate, they move far into the reaches of the divided states and deep into the upper crest of political turmoil. Caught up in the maelstrom of betrayal and corruption, Cybil and Jane unearth long buried secrets and survive attempts on their lives.
As they move closer to the truth, they discover that the people, who are entrusted with the safety of the territories, will do anything to keep their secrets, including murder. Especially murder.
Cybil and Jane will do what they must to get to the truth. They will never be SILENCED
Nicole Givens Kurtz's Silenced serves up future noir. Meet Cybil Lewis, a 22nd century private investigator. Come along as she unravels a murder mystery involving a mayor of one of the collapsed United States' Quadrants. – Tenea D. Johnson
"Nicole Givens Kurtz is a gifted sci-fi writer with a wonderful imagination…And with the extra benefit of a strong African-American woman as the main character, this adventure captures the essence of the future."– Affaire de Coeur, 4 1/2 Star Review
"Nicole Givens Kurtz has written an enjoyable sci-fi mystery that displays her active imagination and her ability to build a storyline around believable characters in an advanced time setting. I found Kurtz's heroine to be interesting; however, buy-in took a minute due to the character's brashness. Once there, I was able to understand her motives and mode of operation. SILENCED is being dubbed as the first in the Cybil Lewis series. Now that my appetite has been whet, I am looking forward to the next installment."– The RAWSISTAZ(tm) Reviewers
"I'm generally not one for dystopia these days, but I'll read anything Nicole Kurtz pens. Set after a second Civil War, this is cyberpunk noir with a difference. It's a well written mystery that had me guessing until the final pages, not something that happens too often there days. It's well paced, has multi-faceted characters with diverse casting. She's created a good lead in Cybil, and I can't wait to read the next one."– Four stars Amazon Review
Ex Chapter 1
Late for work again, I set down my wauto, a four-door wind automobile, in the lot outside my office building and hurried inside. Gusts of poverty-infused wind forced my jacket to flap about in earnest. If someone watched close enough, they might've gotten a glimpse of my gun. The weapon couldn't be seen otherwise, and normally I didn't sport it out in the open so much. With the temperature down in the thirties, I should've been buttoned up, but then I couldn't reach my piece without unbuttoning. Though I could undo them in about a minute, it only took two seconds to squeeze off a shot to kill me. Lately, people have tried to do just that. It didn't leave room for me to be fashion conscious or stylish.
I never really bought into the whole beauty before death idea of life.
Greetings, I'm Cybil Lewis, private inspector and all around snoop.
Already Tuesday's noonday sun sprayed the handful of vehicles sprinkled throughout the parking lot with sunlight that wore down the paint job and gloss, baking them like little biscuits in an oven. Way off in the distance I could make out a patch of clouds, puckering up and waiting to deliver a downpour of snow later tonight, perhaps first light tomorrow.
Sweating despite having gotten out of a warm, climate controlled vehicle, I knew the unbuttoned coat was a no-no. Icy blasts tore through my sweater, right to my skin. Chills scaled up my back and blanketed my arms. I shuddered. Yet I couldn't walk around the better parts of D.C. without concealing the gun. Well, I had a choice. I could leave it home or take it with me.
You already know which option I selected.
As I crossed the threshold into the building, I headed straight for the elevator. My office was located on the East Side of D. C. From my private office window, I could see the bits of the now ruined former capitol of the United States. According to the news files, a committee had been assembled to see if they wanted to convert it to condos or rental meeting rooms.
Downtown D.C. was a ghost town on the verge of resurrection. Hallmarks of our territory's past sprinkled the ten mile area like hollowed husks of once fruitful glory. The governor of the district and the senate council operated out of the district's building on Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House had been obliterated and the capitol, although still standing, had been assaulted and abandoned.
My slice of heaven wasn't in the best neighborhood and definitely not on the up and up, but I couldn't beat the rent.
Sure the vagrants made their presence known by soliciting funds, exposing worn, ragged, desperate faces, but they were harmless.
To be honest, the violence that occurred on this area's twelve-block radius was a result of yours truly.
As I rushed into the building, I caught the elevator before the doors closed. Shoving my bulk through the diminishing gap, I discovered I wasn't alone. I shared the funky carpeted and wood paneled compartment with an insurance salesman. With the trenchcoat, withered gray cardigan and hat, he looked the part of salesman. He didn't speak to me and I didn't speak to him. He kept his eyes averted and his hands folded in front of him. A little man, with a head the size of a cantaloupe and stringy hair, he seemed to be a part of the ancient, grim interior of the building. He didn't smile or even wink at me.
Definitely a strange one.
He got off at the fourth floor.
Two floors later, I fled the tiny space and moldy air for the somewhat cleaner breeze of the air-conditioned hallway. As I approached my office down the sixth floor corridor, I noticed an armed bodyguard posted outside. He wore opaque, sunglasses and a big navy blue jacket that could have been used as an elephant tent. I caught a brief glimpse of my reflection in his glasses as I passed him and entered my office.
His post outside my place of employment didn't work well if he wanted to be incognito.
But with bleached blonde hair, a turquoise blue sweater and shiny black shoes, perhaps incognito wasn't what he was going for.
Let's not overlook the big-barreled Bronzing laser gun he held over his chest like a crucifix.
Now everyone who passed my office would know that someone who thought they were important was inside.
As you walk in from the hallway, the lobby's layout consisted of Marsha's desk in the center. Her desk was flanked by the door to my private office on the right and Jane's, my inspector in training, desk on the left
Immediately I didn't like what I saw.
Seated in the two visitors' chairs were two more goon-heads like the one outside, each wore navy-blue jackets and turquoise sweaters. They smelled like honeysuckles mixed with gun cleaning oil. One of the bodyguards, a male had a serious hair loss condition and the other, a rail thin female of no older than eighteen reached for her weapons when I entered.
Jumpy and possibly trigger-happy?
Tuesday was already looking up.
Marsha's empty chair had been moved over to join the two visitors' seats and there sat Mayor Christensen, of the Memphis Quadrant, in all her polished, political glory.
Jane, my inspector-in-training, looked up from her desk and stood, a look of complete angst on her face. Oh, Jane, what have you been up to?
I'd never met the mayor before, but I had seen enough of her grinning picture in the hordes of Internet jpegs and e-news files to know her upon sight. Pretty and well dressed in a manner consistent with those of power and privilege, the mayor of the Memphis quadrant was a media favorite. Every little detail, down to the most meaningless of things, was reported with fervor all over the online tabloids. The Internet mags thrived with coverage of her triumphs, failures, and risky political moves.
"Good afternoon, Mayor Christensen. What brings you to D.C.?" I ignored Jane. She could explain it later—although I was curious to see what spin she would put on this.
Jane sat down at her desk, her hands twisting together in front of her as she kept her eyes on the mayor and me. Already a thin line of sweat decorated her upper lip and even from across the room, I could see her eyes flittered around, unable to focus on one thing.
Yep, she had done something she knew I'd be pissed about.
I don't like being ambushed and despite what Jane would tell me later, the situation definitely felt like an ambush. If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, and looks like a duck, then it surely is a duck.
Ditto the ambush.
Mayor Annabelle Christensen, Belle to Jane and other family members, was as Southern as grits and bluegrass music. She had occupied the mayoral seat of the Memphis quadrant for at least ten years. The Memphis quad extended up as far north to what was once Louisville, Kentucky and as far south as the modern day Jackson, Mississippi. The quad's eastern border stopped at the far mountainous border of what was once Tennessee and dipped down to the former Mississippi. The Mississippi River served as the western border to not only the Memphis quad, but also the entire Southeast Territories to which Memphis was the largest quadrant.
She rose from her seat like a queen, with grace and an air of royalty. Her media smile stuck to her face like glue. The room smelled like sweet southern honeysuckles and was thick with humidity. The mayor had been waiting a long time since her scent seemed infused into the office's atmosphere.
"Ms. Lewis, so good to finally meet you. I've heard so much about you and your work." Her voice dropped on me in heavy globs, like syrup, thick and sugary. "I wish it could be on better terms. I assure you that what I have to say will not waste your time."
Jane fidgeted in her seat as if she wasn't sure about her aunt's claim.
I didn't look over at her, but I could feel Jane's uncomfortableness. We'd been partners long enough that I didn't need to see them to know what they were thinking or feeling. I just knew.
"What do you want?" I asked, ready for the game to be over and failing to keep my irritation out of my voice. Mind games, pomp and circumstance didn't suit me well. My immediate dislike for the mayor didn't help the situation either, and beneath my attempts at professionalism, I think she heard it.
Her eyebrows rose and her mouth made a small little 'o'.
She recovered and her media smile was back on, full blast as if I hadn't said anything. Despite the grin, a smarminess seemed to radiate out from her heart-shaped face as if she was restraining her own dislike for me.
Sometimes, a person doesn't have to do anything to you for you to dislike them. It had to do with chemicals and personalities and other biological complex stuff.
I didn't know the exact chemicals, but I knew I didn't like Mayor Christensen.
Moreover, I didn't trust her.
Already pain nibbled at the edge of exploding along the base of my neck. Stress. I didn't feel like bullshitting around with the mayor and her entourage of goons. Had the clientele been a little seedier, I'd shot someone by now.
I have only so much honey in my system a day. Nice people, sometimes-even clients (when we get one) received small doses of my honey. My mother used to say I had an overabundance of vinegar. Of course, bees liked honey, and no one liked vinegar.
Right now, my honey supply of kindness was ebbing away faster than the eastern coastline.
The two bodyguards reached into their jackets threateningly, their eyes narrowed and attached to me. I fought the urge to smile and wave back at them.
Mayor Christensen's red painted lips opened to speak, but instead she waved the goons into submission. A reddish flush appeared on her cheeks.
"May I speak with you in private?"
I shrugged and headed to my private office with her in tow. I unlocked the doors with a lick of my thumb. After a DNA confirmation check, they slid open. I dropped my satchel on my big oak desk as I stepped into the room and remained standing behind it. It had a big, open surface for all of my belongings. I loved the desk more than some men I've known.
Mayor Christensen didn't sit in my only visitor's chair.
With that well-bred posture, she remained standing as she scanned the walls of my private office taking it in. I knew what she was seeing, and I didn't really care. Everything in the office came secondhand or was here when I leased the space eight years ago. The walls were adorned with newspaper and electronic clippings of various cases I had either been involved with or solved. The yellowing on some of the actual paper ones had chipped and split along the edges. New jpegs had been enlarged and added with updated electronic articles about recent cases. They scrolled upward in slow, casual, read-me-if-you're-bored cadence.
"Mayor, why are you here?" I asked tightly, my voice edgy and impatient. With amazing effort, I tried to hang on to some professionalism. It slipped out of my hands, like sands through an hourglass. "I do have work to do."
I had a good idea of what the mayor wanted. Still I wanted her to say it, to speak it out and to ask. There was something naughty in the smile I gave her. The edges curled up in a dark satisfaction of knowing that I'd refuse her request anyway. Beg me, baby! Wait—hold for the rejection.
She brought her eyes back to mine and pressed her lips together before talking as if trying to keep her mouth from saying things she might regret later. With three more attempts, her words finally managed to clear the gate.
"Miss Lewis, I am from tough southern people who aren't bothered by mosquitoes, wauto wrecks, or mouthy inspectors."
Her voice lost its sweetness and turned hard, like wet sugar left out in the cold. In place of the soft, worried mother, was now the voice of a seasoned politician who thought I would cower and obey her every whim.
Obviously, she did not know me very well.
"The Memphis regulators are idiots," she was saying, her hands folded neatly in front of her. "They have bungled my daughter's missing person's case and I want the bastard that took Mandy found," she finished, her voice demanding, her eyes seething with anger and raw emotion.
Will the real Mayor Christensen please stand up? There is something knowing, hell creepy, about someone who could flip the coin of her personality like that. It made me want to lock my satchel in the safe, and nail down the valuables.
She stood there in her immaculate gray suit that cost more than my monthly food budget allowed. The layers of make-up didn't hide the bluish circles under her eyes, or the new crop of wrinkles along her forehead the photos and media coverage seemed to have missed or airbrushed.
"In case you haven't noticed, this is a long way from Memphis," I said, my temper escaping into thin strips of exasperation. "And I don't respond well to threats and name calling."
The mayor's eyes held mine.
"I apologize," she said forcefully, as if she didn't really mean it. "You're the best in this business, or so I'm told." She crossed her arms over her chest. "You solved the case that sent Governor Price packing to Alamogordo Cradle a few years back."
"Yeah, I did. But the answer is still no," I said back, inserting my own steeliness into my voice. The Change met with certain death and several key political figures were apprehended, killed, or promoted depending on what side of the case they landed on. It garnished me some publicity and the client list swelled after that, a fat monsoon rain, drowning me in fresh currency, vile human actions, and a shower of gun play.
It had since dried up.
I came around to stand close to her, to face her so that she knew she wasn't intimidating me. I was taller by about three inches and weighed more than her for sure, which somehow didn't make me feel all that great.
The doors to my private office slid back in a hush. Jane came in, cautiously. She stood inside the entranceway. She opened her mouth to say something, but quickly closed it.
Mayor Christensen ran her hand through her light brown Afro, ruining its puffiness.
"Miss Lewis, I have come all this way through the territory. The regulators are no closer to solving this than they were four weeks ago! Time is ticking away, and my, my baby is out there somewhere. These are dangerous times, as you well know. Help me find her, please."
Suddenly, she was the sweet, southern girl from Memphis, twang and all—the distressed parent, not the bullying politician.
This one was quite the actress.
I shrugged. "As a rule, I don't investigate cases where the regulators have already been called in."
My friend Daniel Tom, a regulator and the only one competent on the D.C. staff would kill me for meddling in his case without his permission. I'm sure the Memphis regs felt the same way.
She stared at me, aghast. "As a rule? This is my daughter, Miss Lewis, surely…"
"Yeah, a rule. You should know about those. They're kind of like regulations…back in the day those were called laws. When you are self-employed you can make up rules for your business. That's one of mine."
I did not dance to the beat of anyone's drummer, but my own, especially not that of some big shot politician. She could bring all the muscle she wanted, but I wasn't budging unless I wanted to.
Call me stubborn. Call me cautious. Just don't call me dead. I didn't like the way this whole thing was unfolding.
"I will double your usual retainer," she said as she looked around the office. "It seems you can use it."
Jane winced, but still didn't speak.
"No," I said, struggling to keep my displeasure from going nuclear. "I just explained it to you. I don't do regulator ruined cases."
My voice was louder than I wanted. Could it be that she just didn't get it? I wasn't taking her on as a client. Was it because she was a mayor and no one in the Memphis quadrant ever refused her, so that no was a word she didn't understand?
Or could it be that she was so desperate to find her daughter, no was unthinkable?
I wasn't quite sure yet, but I did know one thing…I didn't like the ambush and it had put me in a bad mood.
Mayor Christensen stiffened as if slapped.
Jane finally spoke. "Cyb…"
I waved her off. My ire boiled beneath my somewhat awkward grin. I didn't take to people barging into my office with a trio of paid thugs to flex on me. If you truly wanted my help, there were better ways to ask than to come armed. Yeah, I had a reputation. And sure, she required protection, who didn't in this age? Still, the entire affair could've been handled differently. Way different.
"Excuse me, Mayor Christensen. Jane. I have work to do."
What work? I had no idea, but I wanted them both out of my office and fast before I lost total control. I hunkered down at my desk and turned on my computer. I played around with the mouse, gliding my fingers across the metallic square as if I had something important to read or type up.
I didn't look up as the doors opened and closed after them.