Book Showcase: THIRTY-ONE BONES by Morgan Cry

Book Cover for THIRTY-ONE BONES by Morgan Cry; swimming pool/water background with assortment of Euros in the water; tagline "It can be dangerous out in the sun"

Thirty-One Bones, Daniella Coulston #1, by Morgan Cry
ISBN: 9781951627669 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781951627911 (ebook)
ASIN: B08LF1VZCY (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Arcade CrimeWise
Release Date: May 18, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Mystery | Thriller

When Effie Coulston drops dead on the floor of her bar in a small Spanish town mid-business meeting, her daughter Daniella feels it’s her duty to return for the funeral. But Daniella has been estranged from her mother for over twenty years, and Effie’s life in Spain harbours many secrets . Daniella is soon confronted by a hostile group of ex-pat misfits who frequent the bar and who, along with Effie, are involved in a multi-million-pound property scam. But the money has vanished, and the ex-pats are threatening to implicate Daniella to save themselves.

Meanwhile, a Spanish detective is investigating Effie’s death. He’s convinced Daniella knows more than she is telling. And now a terrifying enforcer has heard about the missing cash. With no idea where the money is and threats coming from all sides, Daniella is up against a seemingly impossible deadline to find the cash. She’s a stranger in a strange town – and she’s seriously out of her depth.

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 Read the Prequel to Thirty-One Bones:

 

Elephant in the Room

(Prequel to Thirty-One Bones)

‘Let me get this straight, Mr. Calderwood,’ I say, the noise of the insurance claim floor fading as I stare at the computer screen in front of me. ‘You are claiming that all your furniture in your flat has been destroyed by an elephant?’

‘That’s correct,’ say the voice at the other end of the telephone.

‘And,’ I add. ‘You live on the eleventh floor of a multi-storey flat in Glasgow?’

‘Correct.’

‘An elephant, Mr. Calderwood?’

‘I have pictures.’

‘Of the elephant?’

‘Yes.’

‘You have pictures of an elephant in your home?’

‘Yes.’

‘What size of elephant, Mr. Calderwood?’

‘A big swine.’

‘And you have pictures of it wrecking your stuff?’

‘Actually, the photo is of the elephant after it trashed the place. It’s sitting on my telly.’

‘Sitting on your TV, Mr. Calderwood? You have a picture of a real elephant sitting on your TV?’

‘A real elephant.’

I struggle with the next question but it has to be asked.

‘Are we talking a baby elephant or a fully grown one?’

‘Fully grown.’

‘And how did this elephant get into your home, Mr. Calderwood?’

‘Good question. I’d guess through the front door.’

I lean back in my chair and press mute on my head mike. My name is Daniella Coulstoun. I’m a thirty-six year old insurance claims assistant that has spent the best part of a decade hard-wired to a computer screen fielding claim calls for Just You Insurance. I quickly scan the room to see if anyone is watching me. To see if someone is taking the piss. But not one of my near-on fifty claims assistant co-workers are looking in my direction. I glance at my manager, currently hunched over Tom Rattle’s desk, lost in conversation. No interest in me to be seen from there either.

I flip on the mike on again.

‘Eh, Mr. Calderwood,’ I say. ‘Could you just give me one minute?’

‘Sure.’

I kill the mike once more, subjecting Mr. Calderwood to the specially composed hold music that all our clients seem to hate. I punch up the help menu on the screen. I know there’s a section on animal damage. Dogs and cats are a regular feature in my life. It always amazes me how much damage a deranged pooch or hyper moggie can do if left alone. But I’m sure that if I type in the word elephant into the help-bar that nothing useful will appear. More likely this is one giant wind-up and typing in the word elephant on the screen will be met with a massive round of applause, a gale of laughter and a message on my computer to the effect that I’ve been had. That’s the way that the Just You team members fly. Practical jokes to break the monotony and drudgery of relentless claim handling are all too frequent.

I decide not to give the prankster the satisfaction quite yet and elect to try and catch out the hoaxer.

‘Mr. Calderwood,’ I say, after flipping the mike back on. ‘I’m back. Sorry about that. Could you take me through your story again?’

‘Why? Do you think I’m making it all up?’

Yes.

‘It’s not that, Mr. Calderwood. It’s just that I need all the details.’

Of course, it is entirely possible that Mr. Calderwood could be telling the truth. Or his version of it. He had, by his own admission, been drunk as a skunk when he had come home last night and found the elephant.

‘I told you,’ he says. ‘I’d been out at the pub and when I got home, I noticed that the hall was a mess. When I entered the living room it was also trashed and there was an elephant sitting on my telly.’

‘And you say you have photographic evidence of this elephant?’

‘I can send you it.’

I give him my work email address and a few seconds later his email appears. I click on the attachment and the photo opens. It’s dark but it’s clearly of a living room. A living room that looks fairly wrecked to me. Chairs broken, china smashed, a dining table cracked down the middle. And, right in the middle of the photo, back to me, sits what looks a lot like an elephant. I study the picture and can’t help but eyeball the floor to see if I’m being watched. Certain that I’m not, I zoom in on the photo but the low light it was shot in has given the whole picture a grainy wash when enlarged. Judging by the size of the dining table the elephant is a good eight feet high. With its back to me, I can see its trunk swung out to the left and two flappy ears sit high on its head. The only disconcerting thing, if having an elephant in your front room isn’t disconcerting enough, is that the elephant looks very, and it could be the poor quality of the picture, hairy.

‘Did you get the photo?’ asks Mr. Calderwood.

‘Yes,’ I reply.

‘Well will my policy pay out? The damn thing has done no end of damage.’

I have no idea if elephant damage is contained within any of our policies, let alone Mr. Calderwood’s cut price version.

‘Mr. Calderwood,’ I say, trying to think of a logical flow to my questioning. ‘If you came in last night and found an elephant in your home, did you not report it to the police?’

‘Not last night,’ he says. ‘I went to the bog. I needed to throw up and I fell asleep on the pan. It happens.’

‘And when you woke up where was the elephant?’

‘Gone.’

‘And did you look for it?’

‘Yes. I had a gander at the landing and a peek down the stairs but saw nothing.’

‘And your neighbours?’

‘What about them?’

‘Did any of them see the elephant?’

‘I haven’t asked. Why? Do you think one of them might have been keeping it as a pet?’

I ignore the question. ‘Mr. Calderwood how big is the lift in your block?’

‘Why?’

‘Could the elephant have fitted in it?’

‘Nah. The beast was way too big.’

Can elephants climb stairs?

It’s the next question waiting to be asked. Or specifically can they climb eleven flights of stairs.

‘Mr. Calderwood was your front door damaged?’

‘Nah.’

‘So someone let the elephant in?’

I can’t believe I’m saying this. I thought I’d heard it all. But not this.

It has to be a wind-up.

‘Well it didn’t get in by itself,’ he points out.

‘And you are sure it’s gone?’

‘How the hell would I miss it, if it was still here?’

He has a good point.

‘Mr. Calderwood,’ I say, again looking around. ‘It does seem a little odd that an elephant wrecked your home.’

‘You think? And here’s me figuring it was just another Friday night in Partick.’

‘And have you phoned the police this morning?’

‘I have.’

‘And what did they say?’

‘That they would send someone round.’

‘And have they?’

‘Not yet.’

It’s at times like this that I wish myself away from here. My mother lives in Spain and owns a bar in El Descaro, a small coastal town on the Costa Blanca. I’ve been all but estranged from her since she walked out on me when I was sixteen but, of late, I’ve been thinking of trying to patch things up. Not that mum seems to want to talk but then again what would be better – a row with mum in the sun or an elephant in a multi-storey flat in Glasgow?

‘So, will you pay out?’ Mr. Calderwood asks.

‘It’s not that easy,’ I say. ‘I would need a police report.’

‘Why? If it was my dog would you need a police report?’

‘Eh, no.’

‘So what’s the difference?’

About two tonnes.

I have two choices here. Proceed through the automated menu that will pop up as soon as I start processing the claim or I can call for help. If this is a wind-up then whoever is behind it is stringing it out. The norm around here is more along the lines of taping a week-old kipper under someone’s desk or a quick call from a pay-as-you-go mobile asking if we can provide insurance against premature ejaculation. Elephants are a whole new level.

‘Mr. Calderwood, can I phone you back?’

‘Why?’

‘I need to check your policy and don’t want to keep you hanging on the line,’ I lie. ‘I’ll not be long. I have your number here on my screen.’

I read it out to him, he agrees to me calling back and I hang up.

I run through his details on screen. He’s a bona fide client of ours. Six years and this is his first claim. His phone number checks out, as did the password he gave me when we were first connected. As wind-ups go this is getting on the sophisticated side.

I take a chance and Google ‘elephant’ and ‘Partick’. Nothing. I try ‘Glasgow’ and ‘missing elephant’ – there is still nothing.

How the hell did a fully-grown elephant appear in a flat in the west end of Glasgow, wreck the place and then vanish?

I call Mr. Calderwood back.

‘Can I get back to you,’ he says as soon as he answers. ‘The police are at the door.’

‘Would I be able to talk to them?’ I ask.

‘What for?’

‘I need to check if there have been any reports of a missing elephant.’

I really just said that.

‘Well, okay,’ he replies.

I hear the rustle of the phone being passed on.

‘Hello, can I help you?’ says a new voice.

‘Hi. My name’s Daniella Coulstoun. I’m a claims assistant with Just You Insurance and I’m dealing with Mr. Calderwood’s claim. Am I right in saying he reported an elephant was in his home?’

‘You say you’re the insurance company?’ the voice says.

‘Yes.’

‘And Mr. Calderwood is phoning to claim on his insurance?’

‘He is.’

‘Will you pay out?’

‘I can’t say. I need to establish the facts first. He says the elephant was in his front room.’

‘The place is a mess but there’s no sign of any elephant.’

‘He said it vanished.’

‘Not easy for an elephant to do.’

‘I hate to ask but what do you think of his story?’

‘Normally?’

‘Normally.’

‘Bollocks would be the technical term.’

‘So you think he’s making it up?’

He pauses.

‘No,’ he finally says.

‘You think it’s for real?’

‘We had a couple of reports of an elephant in the neighbourhood late last night.’

‘Where?’

‘On a street near here.’

‘Really?’

‘Really.’

‘Is there a circus in town?’

‘Not that I know of and anyway I’m not sure circuses keep elephants anymore.’

‘Did the reports mention if it was hairy?’

‘What was hairy?’

‘The elephant.’

‘Hairy?’

‘Forget that,’ I say. ‘It’s nothing. So there could have been an elephant in Mr. Calderwood’s house.’

Again, he pauses.

‘Hell knows. If it was, how did it get in? The reports from last night said it was a big swine but the lift here is tiny. And I’m damned if I know if elephants can climb stairs.’

And break into homes before leaving unnoticed.

‘I need to go,’ says the policeman. ‘I’ll ask Mr. Calderwood to call you back when I’m finished.’

I’d like to take time to think on this but I’m driven by the computer and as soon as I hang up I’m allocated another call and say, ‘Hello, Just You Insurance can I help…’

***

‘Daniella,’ says the voice in my ear. ‘I have a Mr. Calderwood on the line. He says he won’t talk to me about his claim. He wants you. Very insistent. It’s not policy to do that. You know you’ll get into trouble.’

‘Thanks, Colin,’ I say. ‘I’ll take the heat if this goes south.’

The rule in here is simple. Whoever answers the call, deals with the call. If a claimant hangs up and re-dials they don’t get the option to talk to the original contact. That way the company maxes our time. Once you give a punter a dedicated handler you can lengthen the process no end trying to get back in touch with each other.

‘Hi Mr. Calderwood,’ I say.

‘I think about twenty grand will cover it.’

‘Cover what?’

‘The damage the elephant did.’

‘Twenty thousand pounds?’

‘Aye. I added it up. Now that the police have said there was an elephant on the loose, you lot can pay me quickly and maybe claim off the owner.’

This is way, way past any practical joke my work colleagues could invent. And it’s starting to smell like an out-there fraud case. I’m beginning to wonder if Mr. Calderwood brought an elephant home with him last night. After all you can buy most things in a Glasgow pub if you know the right people.

But why an elephant? I’ve had my fair share of insurance frauds in my time and sometimes they’re a little eccentric, but an elephant. Who would use an elephant? And where in the hell would you get one. I need to escalate this now. Call in my manager. I should have done it before now.

‘Shit,’ says Mr. Calderwood. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘Sorry?’ I say.

‘I’m not talking to you,’ he replies. ‘The police are back and they have my daft idiot of a son with them.’

His voice fades and I hear, ‘What have you done now you wee bugger.’ Then the line goes dead.

I hit the system pause button to let me contact my manager. This will be interesting.

***

‘Miss Coulstoun?’ the voice says on my head phones.

‘Yes.’

‘This is PC Adam, we talked earlier.’

‘About the elephant?’

‘Yes.’

‘PC Adam, do you know that my manager thinks I’m on drugs.’

That was the polite summation of my talk with him.

‘So does my sergeant,’ PC Adam replies.

‘What happened?’ I ask. ‘Did you get to the bottom of it all?’

‘Have you heard of the film Caveman?’

‘Who hasn’t.’

It’s the years biggest hit. A real surprise at the box office. It tells the story of one day in a caveman’s life. No dialogue. A roller coaster of a film. I saw it a week ago and thought it was great fun.

‘Well we found the elephant,’ the PC says.

‘You did?’

‘Except it’s not an elephant.’

‘What is it?’

‘A woolly mammoth.’

‘A what?’ I say.

‘A woolly mammoth.’

Hairy.

‘Hang on, are you telling me you found a woolly mammoth in Glasgow?’

‘It’s what Mr. Calderwood saw in his living room.’

I look around the call floor again, just in case.

‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘But am I to believe that a woolly mammoth trashed Mr. Calderwood’s flat?’

‘No it didn’t. I’m telling you that Mr. Calderwood saw a woolly mammoth in his flat.’

Is it me I wonder, or do I need a break from all of this?

‘I’m lost, PC Adam.’

‘It turns out that Mr. Calderwood’s son decided to have a small party in his dad’s house last night. It all got a bit out of hand. Some local neds got in and played smash and trash before running off. It seems they have some history with Mr. Calderwood. Payback would appear to be the motive for the trashing.’

‘And the woolly mammoth?’

‘A prop.’

‘Sorry?’

‘The local cinema has been using it to promote the Caveman film. It was situated on top of the cinema’s entrance canopy with a caveman next to it. It’s a half fibre glass, half blow up thing. Mobile if you let the air out. The neds nicked it and dragged it to Mr. Calderwood’s place for a laugh. The son hid when his dad came in from the pub and got rid of it when Mr. Calderwood fell asleep on the toilet. We found it floating in the River Clyde this morning. It caused a major incident. People thought an elephant had fallen into the river and needed help. Did you not see the news? It’s all over it.’

‘No. I’ve not had my break yet. So you’re saying Mr. Calderwood saw this woolly mammoth in his living room, fell asleep in the toilet, the son dumped it in the river and what? The son let his dad believe that an elephant, or a woolly mammoth, had trashed his house?’

‘That’s about the size of it.’

I really need out of here.

‘Thanks for calling PC Adam.’

‘That’ll be one for the Christmas show’n’tell,’ he says.

‘I’m so gubbed,’ I say to him. ‘I’ll never, ever hear the end of this. I’ll have bloody elephants and woolly mammoths coming out of my ears.’

I hang up and I’m fed another call thinking there really is an elephant in the room and it’s not the daft prop from the Caveman film. It’s the fact that I’ve hated this job for years and should have quit long, long ago.

***

‘Daniella,’ says the voice on my mobile. ‘This is George Laidlaw. In Spain. We’ve met a few times. I knew your mum.’

I’m back at home and already have two copies of Dumbo on DVD in my handbag courtesy of the humour merchants at my work.

‘George,’ I say. ‘Is something wrong?’

‘I’m sorry to tell you this, Daniella – but your mother died this morning.’

‘Died? How?’

‘A heart attack they think. In the pub. And I need you to come out here and attend to things.’

My world spins.

‘And when I mean come out. I mean come out right now. There are things we really need to talk about.’

Elephant in the Room by Morgan Cry.

Copyright © by Morgan Cry.

All Rights Reserved. Used With Permission.

 

Meet The Author

Author - Gordon Brown AKA Morgan Cry bloodyscotland2019_authorportraits_paulreich003-1Morgan Cry is the alias of Gordon Brown, who has written eight Tartan Noir crime novels and thrillers, including the Craig McIntyre series. He is a founding director of the Bloody Scotland festival that celebrates crime fiction every fall. Thirty-one Bones is his first novel as Morgan Cry. He is married with two children and lives in Glasgow.

Connect with the Author:

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This spotlight and excerpt brought to you courtesy of Arcade CrimeWise

Book Showcase: WE COULD BE HEROES by Mike Chen

74-01-WE-COULD-BE-HEROES-Blog-Tour-Banner-640x247We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen
ISBN: 9780778331391 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781488077111 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488210587 (audiobook)
ASIN: B08FXV2F77 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B087JJ5G5K (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Release Date: January 26, 2021

  

WE COULD BE HEROES - MChenAn emotional adventure about two misfits who have extraordinary powers, but have forgotten who they were before. The vigilante and the villain must team up to stop a mad scientist who threatens the city, while trying to figure out who they really are.

Jamie woke up two years ago in an empty apartment with no memory and only a few clues to who he might be, and also with the power to read other people’s memories. In the meantime, he’s become the Mind Robber, holding up banks for quick cash. Similarly, Zoe is searching for her past, and using her new extraordinary abilities of speed and strength…to deliver fast food. And occasionally beat up bad guys, if she feels like it.

When the two meet in a memory-loss support group, they realize they are each other’s best chance at discovering what happened to them. The quest will take them deep into a medical conspiracy that is threatening to spill out and wreak havoc on their city, and maybe the country. As the two get past their respective barriers, they’ll realize that their friendship is the thing that gives them the greatest power.

 

 
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Read an excerpt:

Chapter 3

Jamie stopped, catching himself. He’d gone too far this time. Close eyes, deep breaths, count to five, and then open eyes to see the damage.

Damn it. He’d really done it. He looked at the grout brush, then the lines between the countertop’s tiles, then back at the brush. Yes, he’d gotten the coffee stain out, but he’d also scrubbed too hard, wearing away some of the grout.

Twenty minutes ago, he’d arrived home, throwing his cash-filled backpack on the futon cushion. It landed with a thump, startling Normal out of her cat tuffet next to the window. And though he stopped to give Normal a calming pet, his instincts took over, starting with a meticulous cleaning of the litter box, then a complete vacuum of the small apartment. Then organizing his stack of library books into a preferred reading order, putting away the neatly folded clothes in the laundry basket, cleaning the pour-over coffee carafe and kettle before brewing a fresh cup. As it settled, he noticed some drips of coffee had absorbed into the grout lines adjacent to his row of ceramic mugs, thus kicking off his quest for a completely clean and reset kitchen. All of the fear and concern and guilt from the day funneled into his end-to-end cleaning spree even though it wasn’t Sunday, the day he typically reserved for getting his home in order.

But this. Flecks of dried grout stuck to the brush bristles, and Jamie squinted, examining them as if he tried to break into the memory of the synthetic fibers. He blinked when Normal mewed at him, snapping him back into the present. He had to slow down. He had to regroup. He’d gone too far this time, and though the counter looked clean, a closer examination showed a tiny degradation in the grout.

Damn it. Jamie blew out a sigh and surveyed the room.

So neat. So organized. In fact, it was nearly identical to when he’d woken up here, standing in the middle of a barely furnished apartment two years ago. On that morning, he had blinked as he came to, his eyes adjusting from blurry to focused, taking in the sun shining through the cheap tan drapes onto the futon in the middle of the living space. Once he’d realized where he was, it had dawned on him that he didn’t know who he was. He’d walked methodically through the semifurnished apartment, looking for triggers. Coffee table, bread, water, sink, bed, toothbrush. He knew what those were, their purpose, but none offered clues about himself. Even the mirror produced zero recognition; he didn’t know what history lay behind those eyes, what the story was behind the scar on his palm.

So neat. So organized. In fact, it was nearly identical to when he’d woken up here, standing in the middle of a barely furnished apartment two years ago. On that morning, he had blinked as he came to, his eyes adjusting from blurry to focused, taking in the sun shining through the cheap tan drapes onto the futon in the middle of the living space. Once he’d realized where he was, it had dawned on him that he didn’t know who he was. He’d walked methodically through the semifurnished apartment, looking for triggers. Coffee table, bread, water, sink, bed, toothbrush. He knew what those were, their purpose, but none offered clues about himself. Even the mirror produced zero recognition; he didn’t know what history lay behind those eyes, what the story was behind the scar on his palm.

And now? What he wouldn’t give for that blissful ignorance, free from knowing that the injured woman from today was all his fault.

How could he have been so stupid, so reckless?

As with each of his bank robberies, he’d taken his time, planned a strategy, even wrote out his script beforehand and memorized it. He still lacked in execution, but that was why he had checked out some acting books from the library. The whole goal, the entire focus was to get in and out as quickly, as cleanly as possible. That meant brain-stunning the people in the building in a very specific order under a very specific time frame, all while cackling like a cartoon character and reciting over-the-top lines in a not-quite-there American accent.

If he controlled the entire situation, then no one got hurt and he did his job.

Except when one of them had a medical condition.

Jamie cursed at himself, cursed his fake-it-till-you-make-it attitude, cursed the whole damn situation. Not once, not a single time had he ever considered the possibility of a medical issue.

He finally broke, forcing himself to move. A click on the remote control brought his small TV to life, flashing a news report about electrical surges throughout the city before turning to the bank heist. His fingers fumbled to hit the power button again, taking several tries before the screen thankfully went to black, leaving only the sounds of a hungry cat meowing to remind him that he hadn’t given her dinner or her nightly treat of coconut water yet. Jamie set the grout brush in the sink, and obliged the demanding cat.

Seconds later, the room filled with a content rumbling of purrs.

But even Normal’s happy noises failed to remove the trauma of the day. The sound of the woman’s head hitting the tile. The sight of the blood pooling. The desperate cries of her coworker.

Don’t think about it don’t think about it don’t think about it.

Onward. Next task: the money. He grabbed the backpack and headed to the bedroom. The backpack’s large top zipper got caught as he tugged on it, and the stress of the day gnawed at his patience, skipping past his normal mode of meticulously fixing it and jumping right to forcing it free. On the underside of the zipper, the corner of a hundred-dollar bill clung in between the metal clasps.

Jamie sighed, a sound soon mimicked by Normal yawning at his feet. “You have no idea,” he told the cat before reaching in and starting his post-robbery sorting process for cash.

A buzzing sound rattled the room, causing a handful of loose coins on the end table to dance; it broke his focus, jolting his shoulders and neck in surprise. From the hallway, he heard Normal’s claws catch in the thin carpeting before dashing off to find a hiding spot from the abrupt noise.

He picked up the phone, heart pounding that it might be someone on his trail. But a glance at his screen caused a sigh of relief. Reminder: Support Group. San Delgado East Side YMCA. Six o’clock.

Right. The weekly support group—more specifically, San Delgado Memory Loss & Dementia Support Group.

Not that Jamie cared about the giant gap in his personal life, the big cloud of nothing stemming from the moment he awoke in this apartment all the way back to, well, his birth. Something pulled him away from those thoughts whenever he even approached the matter, like staring into a bright beam of light until the intensity forced his eyes away. Every time. That avoidance happened so frequently it felt instinctive at this point, skirting whatever that was and whoever truly stood behind the impenetrable fog.

It didn’t matter. No, the support group was for learning more about memory loss in general, to guard himself from any further memories vanishing.

The irony of the Mind Robber dealing with all that didn’t escape him.

He resumed unloading the cash, first putting the stacks by denomination from left to right, then counting and rubber-banding any loose ones complete with a Post-it note with the total on each makeshift bundle. In the closet sat a safe—something that had been absolutely terrible to get into his apartment. He pulled off the blanket hiding it and turned the dial. Left with click click clicks. Then right. Then left again.

It opened up, revealing a larger version of the stacks assembled on his bed. Jamie took new bundles, two at a time, and neatly set them in the appropriate spots, making each tower of cash grow until the backpack and the bed were clear of evidence. A notebook leaned on the cash; Jamie pulled it out and opened it to the ledger he’d crafted, filling out the columns with the latest tally of earnings, anticipated expenses, safety-net cash and overall savings.

At the top of that column was a little drawing he’d made of a palm tree and a beach. Based on today’s earnings, he was nearly 80 percent to his goal. Depending on the size of each haul, a few more robberies—especially if he remembered to ask for the stacks of hundreds specifically—would provide enough financial comfort to retire on a tropical beach at a much lower cost of living. He’d read that the coffee in the Caribbean was excellent.

A comfortable permanence, as long as the Throwing Star didn’t track him down. That further complicated things, and Jamie wondered if he’d jinxed it all by invoking her during his bank performance. He gritted his teeth.

So close to a fresh start. For him and Normal, and he wouldn’t let the Throwing Star jeopardize that.

Normal gave an urgent meow, which translated in cat speak to “Where is my bed?” Jamie folded the blanket exactly and draped it over the safe, then put a small cat tuffet back on top of it. A gray-and-orange blur zipped by, and in one leap, landed on the tuffet, turning his trail of crime and/or source of income into the world’s most valuable cat bed.

Jamie exhaled, and his mattress bounced as he flopped on his back, eyes glued to the ceiling but brain refusing to shut off. One blink and he saw the woman fall again. Every time he closed his eyes, the image reappeared, except each instance seemed to intensify in its color and sound, the sheer vibrancy of his mind seemingly taunting him.

He could lift the memory out. He’d done it before as an experiment, including writing a note with steps and details as proof that he’d removed his immediate recall of the moment. It left him with what he presumed to be the same nausea that his victims experienced, and other than a few follow-up trials, he hadn’t done it for any practical purpose.

A small price to pay to be relieved of the guilt.

Jamie raised his hand, this time pointed at himself, and he closed his eyes, digging deep to flip through his own memories. Bright and fresh, full volume and movement, no haziness or missing pockets of moments. One wipe and it’d be gone.

But what would that make him? A possible murderer without a conscience? He treated his villain persona and robberies as a job, an income. Not to hurt people, not with malevolence or sociopathic apathy.

No.

This memory had to stay.

Jamie lowered his hand.

There was a knock at the door, jolting him to his feet.

He closed his eyes and stretched out with his mind, sensing the ghostly silhouette of a single form at his door.

No one ever came to his door.

“San Delgado police. Is anyone home?”

The very idea of having law enforcement at his door caused Jamie’s hands to tremble and a thin layer of sweat to form on his forehead. He could brain-stun the officer and run. He could dive into the officer’s memories, see what happened, why he was here—maybe it was just a fundraiser for the Police Athletic League.

Another knock rattled the door.

If he brain-stunned the officer, that wouldn’t exactly be inconspicuous. You couldn’t just leave gawking, unresponsive police on your doorstep. And the officer’s location was probably tracked by SDPD, which meant that lifting memories and sending him on his way would only lead to more trouble.

No, the only way out of this was through it.

Jamie took a deep breath, put on a baseball cap with a logo of the local San Delgado Barons hockey team, then marched to the door. He opened it halfway to find the very serious, very professional face of a plainclothes officer. Despite the fact that he stood shorter than Jamie, his sturdy build made him far more intimidating.

“May I help you?” Jamie held the door ajar. “Sorry,” he said, native English accent in full display, “I have a cat that tries to get out if I open the door all the way.” As if on cue, mews came from behind him and Jamie scooped up the pudgy feline. Mental note: she deserved extra coconut water tonight. “Be nice, Normal.”

The detective tilted his head at the name, then chuckled, sunlight gleaming off the light brown skin of his shaven bald dome. “No problem. Sorry to bother you this evening. Detective Patrick Chesterton. I’m the lead on the Mind Robber case.”

No reaction rippled through Jamie. Which was probably a reaction in itself. He waited, seconds stretching into vast chunks of time, and though he somehow managed to keep a polite expression on his face, the pounding in his chest might have given him away.

“We get anonymous tips all the time about the Mind Robber. Some people even claim to be him. But this one was very specific. And since we know he left on a train heading eastbound about ninety minutes ago, I thought I’d check it out.” He glanced over his shoulder, eyes tracking past the courtyard and toward the parking lot. “Traffic is going to be hell getting back to the station.”

Jamie told himself to laugh, though in a completely different way from the forced maniacal display of the Mind Robber. Calm, quiet, a little nervous—the natural kind of nervous anyone got when questioned by law enforcement. Normal must have agreed, as she continued mewing in his arms.

“Well, aren’t you a nice cat?” the detective said, his voice softening. He reached up to pet Normal’s round head, but the cat replied with a hiss. Before Jamie could stop her, she swatted at Chesterton. The cat kicked out of his arms, and Jamie turned to see a streak of pudgy fur dashing for the bedroom.

“Oh, I’m so—” Jamie stopped himself at the realization that the detective nursed a fresh scratch across the knuckles.

If they weren’t going to get him for being the Mind Robber, what about assault via cat scratch?

“I’m so, so sorry. Normal usually loves strangers.” That was a lie, or it might have been a lie. Normal never met anyone, regular or stranger, so the sample size on that remained small. “But she gets weird occasionally.” That part was true. Jamie held up his hand, palm out. “See this scar across my palm? Normal got me good one time.”

Flat-out lie: Jamie had no idea where that scar came from, though whenever he focused on it for too long, a strange mix of nausea and embarrassment would flood over him.

“It’s okay,” Chesterton said. “I had a cat growing up. They can be temperamental. I should know better than to do that. Anyway, the tip said that someone who fit the build and look of the Mind Robber was in this area. This block, actually.” He looked Jamie up and down. If Jamie decided to risk it, he probably could have poked into the detective’s memories and seen specifically what he was thinking, even the source of the tip. “Have you seen anyone who fits that profile?”

In the courtyard, Jamie caught sight of the old couple across the way trying to get their mini schnauzer puppy to obey commands. They looked over at Chesterton, then Jamie, and Jamie offered a reassuring wave. Despite being a theoretical villain, he still wanted to be a good neighbor. “I, um, actually don’t watch the news much. I find it triggering.”

“Ah, got it. He’s Caucasian. Around six feet tall. Thin build. Strong chin. That’s about it, really, though. His hood and mask obscure everything else.”

“Well,” Jamie said. A response came to mind, and he debated whether or not he was being too clever. His arms extended and a wry smile came over his face a little too easily. Maybe learning to play a villain had turned the gesture into muscle memory. “That sounds like me.” The words came out smooth, just enough of a joking lilt that they threaded the needle between bullshit and levity. It came naturally, almost uncannily so.

For a moment, nothing happened. Neither man blinked, and even Normal stayed quiet. The only noise came from squeaking brakes as a car pulled into the adjacent parking lot.

Then the detective burst out laughing. “I like you,” he said, before reaching into his back pocket. Jamie’s hand moved into position, a subtle gesture that only he could detect should he need to brain-stun. His fingers raised ever so slightly in preparation when a buzz in his back pocket caused both men to stand at attention.

“Sorry, just my reminder,” Jamie said after pulling out his phone. The device’s blinking screen gave him an idea. “My weekly support group. I, uh, need to get going.”

“Oh, of course. Good for you,” he said. “It takes a strong person to seek out help.” Jamie’s head bobbed at the compliment, and the detective finished reaching in his back pocket. He held up a business card. “Do me a favor and call if you see or hear anything that strikes you as suspicious. About him or the Throwing Star. We’re no fan of vigilantes, extraordinary or not. You can’t just run around in a suit beating up people. I don’t care if they’re good or bad. You know, if either of them just called us first and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got these abilities,’ you can bet we’d have found a job for them.” Chesterton glanced at the cat scratch on his hand before letting out a short laugh. “I heard she tripped in the Metro station and let the Mind Robber get away,” he said with a headshake. “I guess ‘extraordinary’ comes in many forms.”

All forms. That skepticism, if not admirable, at least provided some cover. “Right,” Jamie said, taking the card. “I’ll keep an eye out.”

“Even if you hear anything about weird crimes in Hartnell City. Their PD asked us about the Mind Robber. Guess they’re seeing some strange activity too.”

“Of course, Detective.”

Jamie’s exhale was nearly as loud as the slamming of the door. He’d never been that close to getting caught before.

Who could have possibly tipped the police? He’d wiped the memories of any OmegaCars driver that took him close by, and even then, he’d always walked the last few blocks, taking different routes each time. Could the Throwing Star have tracked him? Possibly, but she seemed more like the “punch in the teeth” than “call the cops” type.

Questions circled as Jamie heard the roar of the detective’s car coming to life. Through the blinds, Jamie watched a dark blue sedan pull halfway across the parking lot before pausing for a handful of seconds and then finally rolling away. Chesterton was gone for now, but if he suspected anything, the best course of action would be for Jamie to act as any normal civilian would. In this case, it meant going exactly where the detective expected him to be.

Normal meowed a farewell as Jamie grabbed a jacket—not his black hoodie—and locked the door behind him.

It was almost time for the support group. Even if he didn’t want to go.

Excerpted from We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen.
Copyright © 2021 by Mike Chen. Published by MIRA Books.

 

Meet The Author

Author - Mike Chen by Amanda ChenMike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter. (Author photo by Amanda Chen)

 Author Links: Facebook: Mike Chen | Instagram: Mike Chen Writer | Twitter: Mike Chen Writer | Website: www.mikechenbooks.com
 


This excerpt brought to you courtesy of MIRA Books

Guest Post: Peter M. Parr, author of ESCAPE TO REDEMPTION


Good morning my bookish peeps. Today, the Book Diva’s Reads is pleased to host a visit from Peter M. Parr, author of Escape to Redemption. Mr. Parr will be discussing his writing and editing process. 




Writing is a mixture of inspiration and perspiration. Occasionally I’ll sit at the computer – or more often with a pen and notepad in my armchair – and the words will simply flow. Or I may be lying in bed at night and, unbidden, a sentence or a phrase will come to me… and (somewhat grudgingly!) I switch on the light to jot it down. More often, the going is a lot harder. It may take me a month to grind out a chapter… I’m talking here about a first draft. At this early stage, I have to remind myself that it’s important to get something – anything – down on paper. What daunts me is a blank page. Once I have the spine of a scene, it’s relatively easy to expand on and enhance. 

Every chapter of Escape to Redemption went through at least six drafts – and in some cases, many more than that. After I’d written a first draft of a scene, perhaps little more than an outline, I’d print it out and set to work on it with my red pen. It’s an eighty-minute train journey from where I live, on the south coast of England, to London… a perfect opportunity to do some editing. Each time I travelled to London for work, or to meet friends, I’d develop or improve a scene: putting meat on the bones of dialogue, honing descriptions, reading and re-reading to see how it flowed. Then, at home, I’d type up my changes and print off a clean version of the document to work on again. After three or four drafts I’d reach the point where I began to cut more than I added… pruning superfluous dialogue or descriptions until the pace felt right.

The novels I most enjoy tend to have compelling and rounded protagonists. I prefer a flawed hero or heroine; someone neither too perfect nor all bad. Even the minor characters should have depth to them. I spend a lot of time getting to know my own characters; gaining a sense of what makes them tick, their likes and dislikes, hopes and fears. When I write a scene from a character’s perspective, in my mind I become them. I’m aware of their history, and their motivation – even beyond what’s recorded in the novel. I attempt to think as they’d think and speak with their voice. One of the key things I look out for when I’m editing is whether I’ve portrayed the characters in an authentic way. Do the characters drive what happens next, as opposed to saying or doing something simply to conform to the plot? I’m not afraid to change the direction a chapter takes if the way I’ve initially planned it doesn’t feel true to how the characters would behave. 

Before submitting a book to a publisher, I put it aside for several months. The time gap means that, when I return to do a final edit, I can look at the text with fresh eyes. The homestretch of the editing process is what I call polishing. I’ve read a number of books, especially self-published ones, which had the potential to be good, but which in my view were let down by a lack of keen editing. It’s amazing what a difference small changes make; how much tighter and more professional a book can be made to feel. For example, I search for words or phrases which I may have overused. I have a checklist of suspects which I cut or replace unless there’s no alternative – words such as ‘seem’ or ‘just’ or anything ending in ‘‒ly’. In dialogue, I tend to stick with ‘he said’ and ‘she said’, rather than use alternatives like ‘interrupted’, ‘suggested’ or ‘screamed’. ‘Said’ is almost invisible on the page, whereas the other words stand out more and may slow the dialogue down. If it isn’t apparent from the context that a character has interrupted or screamed, I take it as a sign that I need to get my red pen out and refine that section of dialogue again.

Some writers can pen a great novel in six months. I’m not one of them. Trying to force out a book within a set amount of time would, to me, mean compromising on quality and depth. Everything in nature has its own rhythm and I believe the creative writing process does too. It’s important that we enjoy that process and engage in it wholeheartedly. If we can do that, I think we’re more likely to create a story that’s authentic – one that was uniquely ours to tell. 




Meet the author:



Peter M. Parr works part-time as a civil servant, which gives him time to indulge his passion for writing. He facilitates workshops to encourage people to reflect on what truly matters. He lives in Hastings, England, overlooking the sea. Escape to Redemption is his first novel.




Website: http://www.thingstoremember.org.uk/



Escape to Redemption by Peter M. Parr
ISBN: 9781785352270 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781785352287 (ebook)
ASIN: B01G2M4LYA (Kindle version)
Publication Date: June 24, 2016
Publisher: Roundfire Books


Josie only had the gun to frighten Curtis Rook, but his son disturbed her. One startled reflex and now he’s dead. Josie flees to Poland leaving her boyfriend Snaz to take the rap. A reformed criminal offers her refuge from the police and the chance to begin a new life, but she cannot hide from her guilt. As the stakes rise, Josie begins to realise that only her own forgiveness can set her free. 

Fast-paced and original, Peter M. Parr’s contemporary take on Crime and Punishment challenges traditional ideas about guilt and redemption, and the meaning of forgiveness. 

Read an excerpt:

Snaz caught up with Josie at the top of the staircase.

‘Sorry for my mum’s comment about reading the meters. She’s a bit of a racist, I’m afraid,’ Josie said.

‘Is that what it is?’

‘My mum and I share a mutual antipathy. When I go up to Oxford next month I’ll be out of her hair and she won’t need to worry. You look shocked, Snaz. I bet you’re really sweet to your mother.’

‘I never see her,’ he said.

‘Really?’

‘She… It’s a long story. My aunt brought me up.’

Josie looked like she might say something, but didn’t. After a pause she went into her bedroom. ‘Make yourself at home,’ she told him, closing the door and then perching on the chair by her dressing table. He marvelled at the clutter of perfumes and make-up bottles.

Snaz saw no chair to sit on, only her single bed. He meandered to the window and looked out onto the back garden. ‘You’ve got a tennis court!’

‘Do you play?’ she asked.

‘Never have.’

‘Pity. I’d have given you a game.’

Snaz kicked himself for missing out on a chance to see her in a skimpy tennis outfit. ‘I play football,’ he said, the first thing that came to him. When she showed no interest, he changed the subject. ‘Is that photo of your dad?’

Josie nodded.

‘You get on better with him than with your mum?’

‘He’s alright, when he’s actually here. He’s always off on business trips. The States, usually. I think he’s in Poland this time.’

‘What does he do?’

‘He runs his own business putting buyers in touch with sellers. Sometimes it’s property. Sometimes it’s art. I don’t think he cares too much if there’s money in it. One day he might stop and enjoy what he has.’

Snaz groped for something else to say. He noticed a higgledy-piggledy stack of CDs on the chest of drawers and was about to ask her what music she liked.

‘I wanted to thank you again for what you did,’ she said.

‘That’s okay. Anyone would have done the same.’

‘Not anyone would have seen that man spike my drink. I’m lucky you were watching me so closely. I saw you.’ She smiled.

Snaz felt himself blush. ‘You’ve got to be careful in clubs. Some blokes try anything.’

‘It’s my friend’s fault for dragging me there, then leaving with the first man she set eyes on.’

‘Did you get home okay?’ Snaz asked.

‘You saw me into a cab.’

‘I mean, you felt alright, did you? You weren’t shaken up?’

A lock of her hair fell across her face and she brushed it to one side. You couldn’t call her a redhead, but her hair was redder than blonde. There must be a word for hair that colour, Snaz thought.

‘Is it true what you told him, about being a boxer?’

Snaz smiled. ‘I’ve boxed as many times as I’ve played tennis. He didn’t know that though. But I can handle myself. I could’ve dealt with him.’

‘Why don’t you sit down? I want to ask you something. It’s kind of a favour.’

He sat on the edge of her bed.

Josie picked up a birthday card from her dressing table and held it out to him. She had tiny dainty hands. ‘What do you make of this?’

He pulled his eyes away from her to the picture of a kitten, all fluffy fur and ribbons. Sickeningly cute.

‘Read inside.’

Happy birthday. From Erin, a friend. Call me if you want to know the truth. And underneath, the sender had written a phone number. ‘Who’s Erin?’ he asked.

‘That’s the thing. I haven’t a clue. I rang her, and she wants to meet me. She says there’s something I ought to know, but she can’t tell me over the phone. Her accent is ghastly, like she finds it too much of an effort to pronounce her t’s.’

‘It sounds dodgy. What’ll you do?’

‘Dodgy,’ Josie repeated, and Snaz wondered if she considered his way of speaking ghastly as well. ‘That’s what I thought. Will you come with me, to go to meet her? I’m going on Saturday.’

‘Sure. I mean, if you want me to.’ It sounded odd; not exactly a date, but at least he’d see her again.



Enter to win a copy of Escape to Redemption by Peter M. Parr (winner’s choice of PDF, EPUB, or Print). This giveaway open to residents of the US, Canada, and UK. The giveaway ends on Friday, August 26th and winner will be announced on Saturday August 27th. Use the Rafflecopter form below to enter:


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