EXCERPT: Blood Ties

With the release of my second novel, Blood Ties, a little over two months away, an excerpt:

The thing about leading a double life, serving as both a homicide detective and a costumed vigilante: sleep was hard to come by. Jill’s day job kept her plenty busy — Baltimore was one of the East Coast’s most homicide-heavy cities — and her hours were erratic. Throw in the time she spent creeping around as Bounty, and it was no wonder she had bags under her right eye and a caffeine addiction. Then again, she didn’t know anyone on the force who wasn’t chugging coffee almost daily; Jill figured that most of them would take coffee via IV if they could.

But donning the leather gave Jill a rush of adrenaline that nothing from Starbucks could match. She had to keep herself in check sometimes, because the rush of the moment would sometimes overwhelm her. The last thing Jill needed to do was be sloppy.

Best-case scenario, a serial killer had returned to the city. Worst-case scenario, her father was finding ways to torment the city he once protected, even from behind bars. Jill hated to think that. There had been a time when she refused to think that. But her father’s recent behavior, and the fact that he was so close to death, forced her to consider the one possibility she could never fathom.

Every time she did, though, Jill felt sick to her stomach. But what other choice did she have? Every investigation, official or otherwise, uncovered nothing new. Every appeal fell on deaf ears.

The day she got her badge, Jill was sure she would find one shred of evidence, one inconsistency in the official report, that would exonerate her father and unravel the true conspiracy of it all.

But that never happened.

Every lead came to the same conclusion.

Her father no longer wanted to fight his fate; he was content to bide his time and accept what came his way. Was that because he was tired of fighting, as his lawyer suggested, or because he understood the truth far better than she?

Assuming Paul’s innocence was easy. He was a citywide hero. But if he was actually guilty, if he really did those despicable things, then things got murkier. Questions would abound: what drove him to this? Why would someone who dedicated his life to solving crime and finding justice turn into a monster not unlike those he hunted? What on earth could precipitate such a fall from grace?

Assuming incompetence or maleficence beat the alternative.

As much as Jill hoped she would never have to answer those questions, she would be remiss if she didn’t ask them — at least to herself. It sounded like the sort of thing Brian would tease her over, nudge her in the side and whisper “I told you so” in her ear.

Vernon Delaney’s body had long since been removed from the crime scene, now occupying a cold metal slab in Juanita Gutierrez’s cavernous morgue. Yet the stench of burnt flesh still hung over the corner of Lovegrove and Chase, at least partially explaining why this particular intersection was almost deserted. A uniformed officer stood guard in front of the yellow crime scene tape flapping in the breeze.

Crouching against the brick wall outside of the officer’s view, Jill cursed under her breath. Of course there’d still be an officer standing guard. The body was gone, but it was still an active crime scene.

With a tap of her temple, Jill activated the infrared sight in her cybernetic left eye and immediately took in her surroundings in the hopes of discovering something out of the ordinary. She couldn’t get a full view of the crime scene from her perch against the wall, largely because of the officer, and nothing in her field of vision seemed off-putting.

She really needed that officer to move.

But as Jill got a closer look at the officer, she noticed that she didn’t recognize him. She didn’t know the name of every uniformed officer at the Seventh Precinct — it was impossible to, given the sheer number of them — but she did recognize faces, and his was a face she had never seen before.

She studied the uniform as best she could, examining the fabric and the badge clipped to his belt. It was a different shape than her own, and the gold wasn’t as faded. That wasn’t just odd; it was so suspicious that there was practically a giant neon arrow pointed at the man.

She supposed there was a simple explanation: that was because the badge was new, which also meant the officer was new — thus explaining why Jill didn’t recognize him. But there had been no badge re-design that Jill knew of, and the gold almost appeared to be painted on.

Realization gave way to confusion; why would someone impersonate a cop to watch over the crime scene? This crime scene in particular?

Rising to her feet, Jill flipped off her infrared sight before closing the distance between herself and the faux-cop, slipping his arms behind his back and pinning them there as her other hand clasped over the man’s mouth. His grunt muffled into her leather-covered palm and his entire body went rigid. Jill, with dark hair draped in front of her face, huffed a quiet snarl and tightened her grip on the man’s wrists.

“You’re not a cop,” she hissed. “Who are you?”

Shifting his weight to the left, all the man did was grunt as he hoisted Jill over his shoulder and tossed her onto her back. Jill rolled to her right as soon as she hit the ground, avoiding the man’s grasp by less than an inch as he lunged for her.

Jill got her first good look at the man’s face, noting the long, thin nose and the black soul patch hanging from his chin. Flecks of gray dotted the hair, and even more hair spilled out from his policeman’s hat, wavy and unruly. Dark eyes were wide with purpose, and he grit his teeth.

He was strong. His name tag read Jimenez, and even as she dodged his right fist, Jill made a note to check the BPD database when she got back to the precinct. Spinning to her left, Jill pulled the katana from the sheath on her back and slammed the hilt of the weapon against the back of the man’s head. He stumbled forward as the hat fell to the ground and his hair spilled out over his shoulders.

Falling face-first onto the pavement, the man tried to gather himself back to his feet. She pinned him to the ground with her blade before he could, though, finding the sliver of daylight between the sleeve of his uniform and his wrist.

“Let’s try this again.” Jill knelt in front of the man, grabbing a handful of his gangly hair. “Who are you?”

“My name is not important.” His Armenian accent was thin, almost imperceptible. “All that matters is the mission.”

“The mission,” she repeated in a gravely voice. “What does Vernon Delaney have to do with your mission?”

“Not the one who has died… the one who still lives.”

“Okay, let’s hope you make more sense in the box.” Jill grabbed the sword and placed it back in its sheath, pressing her knee to the man’s back. “Ramon, got a fresh one for you. Man hanging out at the Delaney crime scene, impersonating a police officer.”

A knowing smile crept onto Jill’s face. “Have fun.”

Blood Ties will release in January 2016 in Kindle and paperback formats.

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