A Broken Man Novel: Next in Series Sneak Peek

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Chapter 1

6 November 2042, Boston Settlement, Former U.S. Territory

Madison opened her eyes to nothing. Wherever she was, it was too dark to see. Her head was pounding, her mouth dry. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed since she and Sully were taken to… where? She kept still and concentrated on the sounds around her. Hers was the only breathing. No ambient noises other than the rain. She listened as it sloshed against the roof. It wasn’t a crisp noise, not the sound of water beating down on a solid surface. It was sluggish—the sound of water treading ash and sludge trying to find its way ever downward. Madison squeezed her eyes shut and swallowed hard.

      The Spent, she thought. We’re in the fucking Spent.

      Madison was nine, maybe ten years old the last time she’d been in the Spent, following in silence close behind her father. My father…

      Madison pushed her feelings down—that hurt and anger—flexing her back, legs, and arms so hard her whole body shook with violent tremors. She curled up, pushing those feelings deep enough not to matter.

      They’d killed him. In front of her. Put a bullet right in his head.

      Madison’s body shook harder, a high-pitched keening emanating from her. The fuckers. They could have left him. The keening grew lower, more vocalized. The fuckers. Memories brushed her thoughts—walking the streets of their colony at night under the bright, twinkling repurposed Christmas lights strung up between buildings, Madison clutching her dad’s hand for security—and the deep keening grew into something loud and painful, assaulting her own ears. The noise culminated in one long, hate-filled word:

      “Motherfuckers!”

      Madison rose to her knees, folding forward at the waist as her forearms beat against the floor in percussive, bone-jarring unison. She cried out in pain which only served to feed the anger, and she slammed her arms down on the ground again—elbow to fist—every part of her skin stinging as it hit the surface. She raked herself back in until she was slumped, kneeling, exhausted.

      “Hey, kid, maybe keep quiet, huh?”

      Madison whipped her head around. The dark was disorienting. But she knew the voice.

      “Sully?”

      “Glad to see you’re finally awake. Well, hear it, anyway.”

      Madison moved around the room on her hands and knees, following Sully’s voice. When her fingertips hit resistance in front of her, she held her hands out, feeling the cool concrete block under her palm. It was rough, pocked, cracked in places.

      “How long have we been here?” she asked.

      “Little over a day,” Sully said. He made a choked sound. “I wish I could tell you everything is going to be okay, kid, but… I don’t even know where we are.”

      “The Spent,” Madison said.

      “You say it like you know it.”

      “I do. I mean… I’ve been here before.” Madison let her eyes grow unfocused as she gazed into the middle distance of the dark. “A while back. Before my dad got sick. This is a shit place to be.”

      Sully laughed.

      “I imagine anywhere probably seems like shit when you’ve been kidnapped, drugged, and beat,” he said. He’d barely finished the sentence when his voice changed, frantic. “Kid, are you okay? Are you hurt? Did they—”

      “Relax, Sully, I’m fine,” she said, rubbing at the scratches on her arms. At least that damage had come from her. She looked around; the dark was still too much. But she could hear Sully well enough.

      “Oh, thank God,” Sully said. His voice droned on, but Madison wasn’t listening.

      She ran her fingers along the ground where it butted against the concrete block wall. The dirt was loose. She dug a little hole with her fingertip, scratching at the dirt, loosening it more. There was something… She scratched more frantically. Something close. She’d made about an inch of headway when she felt it. A divot in the dirt under the concrete block.

      She widened the hole she’d made, enough to fit both hands under the block. She scraped at the dirt, pulling it to her, then pushing it to the right.

      “Hey, kid, are you even listening?”

      She jumped. Sully must have been silent for some time without her even noticing.

      “Would ya just shut it for a minute,” she said. A little more. Just a little… “Ha!”

      Light filled the tiny fissure she’d made. She pushed at the dirt on the other side of the concrete block, fingers digging. Her upper body was pressed against the floor, up to the elbow of her arm under the block, her fingers worrying at the dirt, almost desperate now.

      “The fuck is tha—,” Sully’s voice was a little too high, a little too loud.

      “It’s me, Sully, it’s my hand! See?” Madison whispered. Sully went silent, but Madison could hear his weight shift before his clammy fingers enclosed hers.

      “What are you doin’, anyway?” Sully muttered.

      Madison pulled her hand away from Sully and sat up. There was just enough light to show her how dark the rest of the room really was. She clenched her jaw and turned back to the light. It was small. It was weak.

      But it was there.

      “I don’t know. Something. Anything that might help us get out.”

      Madison leaned forward, prepared to start digging again, but stopped short when she heard something heavy drag against the ground. She jerked around, scanning the dark behind her, but no… That wasn’t right. The sound had come from…

      “Get your fuckin’ hands off me.”

      Sully. It came from Sully’s room.

      Now what, Maddie? She squeezed her eyes shut, listening as they dragged him off, a cacophony of new and colorful words that couldn’t possibly mean anything good coming interspersed from Sully between echoing blows.

      Now what, Maddie?

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Chapter 2

7 November 2042, Boston Settlement, Former U.S. Territory

The edges of the crushed note in my hand bit at the flesh of my fingers. Empty threats. I’d make sure of it. Whoever had kidnapped Sully’s daughter might have him and Madison now, but we’d get them back. We’d get them all back.

      How do you plan to do that?

      “Felix?” My head snapped up, eyes finding Kaitlyn’s. Worry etched the lines around her eyes. I felt betrayed. No. Not my feelings. His.

      Brinly placed a hand on Kaitlyn’s arm and guided her back a step. Away from me, from us. I took a deep breath. I needed to get control of whatever was happening here. I put a hand up, hoping Brinly and Kaitlyn understood to just stay put. I didn’t think I could speak without laughing. This was too much too soon. I retreated to Bill’s room, the man’s body still as cold and lifeless as when I’d left it. Had they killed him in front of Madison? Had Sully been able to protect her from at least that?

       The way you hadn’t, you mean?

       “How are you here?” I asked.

      Felix and I had always had a very specific relationship. This was my body, and I had to give Felix permission to use it. For most of our lives though, our adoptive father, Rian, helped Felix suppress me with medication. While Felix is in control, I’m still conscious and aware, but whenever I’m in control Felix is dormant. Until now, apparently.

      “What’s changed, Felix?”

      You used me.

      “Are we on that again? You fucked us over, so.”

      It was Felix’s fault the former head of GDI—Government Directive International, the last real militarized global governing agency—got away without giving up who was involved with Kazic.

      You made me take a bullet for you.

       “That’s not what happened. This is useless.”

      Kazic… it had to be related. Kazic was the reason we existed. An experiment starting back in the 1960s to enhance brain function, Kazic eventually morphed into an assassination project with biological warfare as the method of murder and a chimera as the mode of delivery.

      Currently, the bioweapon lived in Felix’s DNA while the vaccine was in mine. Our genome was different enough that while I was running the show, we weren’t contagious. If Felix was up top, though, he could kill anyone with a touch. I don’t pretend to understand more than that. If Felix could talk to me now though, when he shouldn’t be able to…

      I reached out and grabbed Bill’s hand. Nothing.

      Looks like you’re safe for another day.

      “Shut up,” I said.

      Sure, nothing happened. This time. But Felix was talking to me while I wasn’t allowing it. That was wrong. Very wrong. I found that spot where Felix was and wrestled him down. I pushed until he was quiet and nothing was left but emptiness.

4-Star Review for Rise and Run

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Reviewed by Lit Amri for Readers’ Favorite

Rise and Run (A Broken Man Novel, Book One) by RJ Plant is set in 2042, where protagonist Felix Quinn is working for illegal trades mogul Rian Connell, who’s also his adoptive father. When Connell receives a tip that his niece, Kaitlyn Henderson, could be in danger, he sends Felix to track her down. In disguise, Felix infiltrates Government Directive International (GDI). Unfortunately for him, GDI used Kaitlyn as bait. A GDI agent brings Conor Quinn, the byproduct of Felix’s chimerism, to the surface by injecting him with a virus. Now it’s up to Conor to decide his fate and Felix’s.

The story started with an intriguing chapter one, bringing the chimerism concept to light right away. Perhaps genetic chimera is not a subject well known to some readers, but it’s definitely not science fiction and not something new. RJ Plant used this concept exceptionally well to develop the story. The world-building is interesting as readers are given a glimpse into a world after the War of 2026, the outcome of the war on terror. It’s not nearly as dire as most post-war worlds that I’ve read, but it’s still undesirable and the fact that it’s a realistic outcome made it more alarming.

The characters are credible and have enough depth. In essence, Conor is not a bad man, but not perfect either. His circumstances contribute to his flaws. I don’t want to give away any critical plot developments, so suffice to say that it’s a tale of resistance, where a living product of genetic engineering strives to survive and live freely as any living being desires. The prose is an easy read and to the point. This makes the story flow well. Overall, Rise and Run is an impressive thriller. I look forward to the continuation of the story.

Rise and Run Giveaway

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Hello, sweetpeas!

Starting tomorrow (2/23/2018) you can enter for a chance to win a free, signed copy of Rise and Run. The giveaway will run through March 2, so there’s a limited amount of time—and a limited amount of product.

Just click this here link to head over to Goodreads to enter the Giveaway. While you’re there, go ahead and give me a follow!

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Cover Reveal: The Finale

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Good day! Hallo! Welcome! You’ve put up with all my nonsense and now you’re ready for the big reveal, right? Well, have I got a surprise for you! No, wait, it’s not a surprise if you know what it is. Well, then, have I got a cover reveal for you! First, of course, I have to include the obligatory links where you can buy and/or or review the book. I know, I know. It’s nothing personal. Just business. So here goes:

Paperback

eBook

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I hope you’ve enjoyed my teasing you for a few days. And I hope you enjoy the book even more so.

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Cover Reveal: Part III

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For whatever reason, I keep wanting to start this post with, “What up, bitches?” But I will not.

So, you’re here! And I’m here! And Dave is … Well, I don’t know where Dave is, but since you made it here today for the extras, I won’t let you down! Today I have for you a chapter that, although I thoroughly enjoy, was omitted from Rise and Run for pacing reasons. It was originally the second chapter in the book, so you might have questions to which I’ll simply say, “Hey, just go buy the book tomorrow, and all your questions will be answered.”

Oh, and, this wouldn’t be a proper part III to the cover reveal without the whole … missing piece of the cover. So, you’ll find that below. For now, read and enjoy!


Chapter 2

November 4, 2012, Bar Harbor, Maine

Rian Connell had called in every favor owed to him to get Effie released after she was apprehended on the suspicion of murdering a government agent. And when Mýrún couldn’t be found, Anthony Kenna’s murder was pinned on Effie as well. Not a stretch, considering that both men had died the same way.

The DoD’s reluctance to admit that the stolen boy existed—not even a word was breathed as to his purpose—worked in Rian’s favor. Effie’s case never went to trial, so thoroughly did all parties work to bury the classified project. The only reason Effie wasn’t buried herself was Rian’s high profile and the extensive media coverage it entailed him. Effie was released after three months with full-throated apologies, and no small amount of whispered threats.

But no one went against Rian. No one dared. If there was a problem that his imports and exports business couldn’t pay for, it was dealt with by the less legal aspects of his empire—and the extent of classified information he shouldn’t have was extra leverage.

Rian stood outside the Women’s Center of the Maine Correctional Center, his sandy hair slicked back. His gray and white pinstripe suit jacket was open to show off a matching waistcoat and a deep red tie. He held his arms open just in time to catch Effie as she sailed into him, knocking his glasses askew as she settled into as fierce a hug as she could manage with her pregnant belly between them.

“We have to find him,” Effie said. She looked up at him, searching his eyes for a sign of acquiescence.

Rian’s eyes went heavenward as he searched for the proper response. “I’ve looked for him, Effie. The boy is nowhere to be found,” Rian said, his Irish accent softened by his years in the States. “And Mýrún … she’s vanished just as soundly.”

“She couldn’t stay,” Effie said for what must have been the hundredth time over the past three months.

Rian waved off the chauffeur and opened the limo door for Effie himself. She scooted across the bench seat and Rian took his place beside her before instructing the driver to take them home. He closed the partition.

“I’ve widened the surveillance range. My sources have all confirmed that the DoD hasn’t located the boy yet. At least that’s something.”

“You don’t think …” she whispered, unable to finish the thought.

“No,” he lied. “I don’t think he’s dead.”

“Take me there,” Effie said. “Take me to the pickup location. I need to see.”

“And I need you to be home,” he said “Besides, taking the limo would draw unwanted attention.”

“Then why’d you take it?” she asked. Rian kissed her forehead in answer, then pulled her into him.

“If your mind is set on this we’ll go, but not now.”

She nodded. He was right, of course. He generally was. But knowing that didn’t stop the impatient tapping of her foot or the way she nervously picked at her fingernails. She had to find the boy; she had to.

*****

December 11, 2012, Lewiston, Maine

It was nearing midnight when Rian arrived at the project building where James Moran’s witness reported seeing the boy. Moran, Bar Harbor’s police chief and Rian’s closest friend, drove up with a few of his men following behind. Unofficially. As Moran got out of his car and Rian walked over to meet him, three undercover Chargers pulled up around them.

Moran handed Rian an earpiece and neck loop mic. “Just in case you want to turn me off,” he said as he handed Rian a wireless remote control. The earpiece was small and comfortable, a nanotech prototype that Rian had paid a fortune to get into Moran’s possession. He pulled the mic over his head, then tucked it under his shirt before attaching the remote to his belt.

Rian looked around at the growing unofficial police presence that had spilled from the Chargers. They looked ready.

“Two on you, two on me,” Moran said. “One at the front entrance and one at the back.”

Rian nodded and returned his attention to the building. Its windows were boarded up and the front door hung loosely from its broken hinges. This was Russian territory. Encroaching on it could cause Rian problems down the road, but he’d promised Effie that he’d get the boy.

Rian always kept his promises.

“I’ll take the ground floor,” Moran said. Rian nodded, freeing his pistol from its holster, and followed Moran to the building’s entrance, all but two officers in tow.

Rian and Moran stopped, one on either side of the listing front door. The smell of urine escaped through the opening. Rian peered down the empty hallway, a cancerous throat with torn and molding carpet and wounded walls. He nodded to the two men lined up behind him, trusting them to cover him as he made his way to the stairwell.

He stayed low against the wall, palms cupping his pistol grip, the barrel facing the floor for now. His right index finger rested against the trigger guard. He took shallow breaths through his nose, not particularly wanting to smell the building, but wanting to taste it even less. One foot crossed over in front of the other and his back lightly scraped the wall. The stairwell was just around the corner to the right. Behind him, Moran shifted, ready to go in. Rian turned the corner, pistol up.

Emptiness.

Rian took the stairs slowly, half out of choice and half necessity. The wooden stairs were in disrepair, not creaking as much as weeping when Rian or one of the officers put weight on certain slats. As he reached the landing, he took a moment to adjust his eyesight. It was darker up here, the smell louder.

“Move,” Rian whispered.

“Moving,” Moran answered, his voice coming crisply through the earpiece.

All the doors on either side of the hall had been removed, showing only dark sores along the blue-gray stretch of hallway. Rian and his party cleared the rooms one at a time. Inside the apartments, Rian saw signs of abandoned lives. Barbies and Hot Wheels, Legos, Play-Doh, gaming systems with game cases sprawling like an overturned Jenga tower. Mold spreading from desiccated food on dirty dishes in one kitchen. Overturned chairs, broken tables, empty spaces where television sets might have been, shattered lamps.

The whole second floor had been turned over.

The last apartment was fairly intact. Rian swept through, room to room. He swept his gun through the doorway to a bedroom. Lined up against the far wall were three bare mattresses with barely enough space to walk in between. Chains hung on the wall, about halfway between floor and ceiling, over all three mattresses. The next bedroom had the same setup.

“Ground floor is clear. Going to three,” Moran said.

Rian and his two officers reconvened in the hallway.

“All clear, sir,” the taller one said. The other shook his head. He’d found nothing.

“Two is clear,” Rian said into his mic as he walked back to the stairwell. “Going to four.”

The carpet on the fourth floor had been peeled back. Long, wide strips had been cut out in places. There were holes in the walls where the sheetrock had been broken, exposing the framework. It looked like someone had been pilfering copper wire.

The three men entered the first apartment, sweeping the rooms. “Sir,” the taller officer’s voice came simultaneously over the earpiece and through the wall. Rian walked over to the officer, now standing in a doorway. He stepped aside to let Rian look in.

Chains on the wall, naked mattresses, and five bodies.

“Human trafficking,” Rian muttered. “Looks like the Russians are tying up loose ends.”

The bodies were starting to turn, the smell sticking to the back of Rian’s throat. He patted the officer on the shoulder and turned to leave. As he stepped through the apartment’s front door, he picked up movement coming from the opposite end of the building and ducked back inside.

“Third floor is clear,” Moran said over the comm.

“We’ve got movement on four,” Rian said.

He chanced a peek from around the frame. He watched as three men and four women—some crying, their distress barely audible—were herded into the hallway. A fourth man followed behind them with a gun in hand.

The man looked out of place, plucked from a department store catalog in his cheap suit. The group was about twenty feet away, heading toward the opposite stairwell, when Rian heard a cry from the apartment they had vacated. It was a small sound. A loud thump followed on the heels of the cry.

Then silence.

Rian waited until the hall was deserted.

“Eight coming your way. One armed, the rest …” Rian searched for the right word. He hated using the word victim. He settled for, “Captives.”

Over the comm, Rian heard Moran directing his men to new locations.

“Keep clearing the floor,” Rian said over his shoulder. He crept down the hallway to the last apartment on the left, from where the cry had come.

A quick look inside revealed a man in dark clothes standing over a boy who couldn’t have been more than four or five. Rian couldn’t tell if this was the right boy; the age seemed off. He took a breath, then moved to fill the apartment’s doorframe.

He didn’t say anything, simply lined up his target and fired.

The bullet hit near the man’s kidney, the lack of spray out suggesting there would be no exit wound. The boy made no sound as the body fell forward, collapsing on top of him. Rian hurried into the room to pull the man aside. Unconscious, but not dead yet. He squatted down in front of the boy, who there was no mistaking now.

The boy’s left arm was set at an odd angle and his face and neck were bruised. A bleeding cut trailed from the corner of a bloodshot eye. Rian turned at the sound of the officers clearing the rooms next door. When he looked back to the boy, the cut was nearly closed.

Rian blinked a few times, then shook his head.

“It’s all right now, boyo,” he finally said, trying to sound neutral.

Rian heard a shout, gunshots, and more shouting, this time with additional voices thrown into the mix. A woman wailed.

“Building is secure,” Moran said.

“Perimeter is secure,” a second voice responded.

“The boy is secure,” Rian announced. To the boy, he said, “Just sit tight, huh? You’re safe now.”

Rian stood up as he heard the first set of boots on the stairs. He checked the man he’d shot. Still not quite dead. He met Moran at the door, still keeping an eye on the kid and the soon-to-be corpse.

“We caught ourselves a bad guy,” Moran said.

“One of Kuznetsov’s men,” Rian said.

Moran whistled. “Shit. Well, I’m sure he’ll have an accident in prison.”

“A better alternative would be for him to have an accident before he leaves this building. I’d prefer that Kuznetsov doesn’t find out about this. Or at least not anytime soon.”

Moran nodded. “And the boy?”

“A bit beat up, but alive. His arm looks broken.”

“Who’s that with him?” Moran asked, eying the man on the floor.

“Another of Kuznetsov’s men. Post-accident. Give it a few minutes and all you’ll have to do is hide the body.”

Moran shook his head. “Funny. I’ve got EMTs on the way for the civilians. I’ll send a team up to check out the boy.”

Moran headed back down to his men. Rian returned to the boy, who hadn’t moved. He hugged his knees with his right arm. Rian sat beside him, leaning against the wall.

“Let me see,” Rian said, indicating the boy’s left arm. The boy held out his arm, made no noise as Rian inspected it. Bright bruising mottled the skin. Not broken after all. Fractured, maybe.

“Can you tell me your name, boyo?” Rian asked.

For a long while, the boy didn’t answer. Finally, he whispered, “LS061514.”

“And how old are you?”

“Three, soon.”

“I’m Effie’s husband. Do you remember Effie?”

The boy nodded.

Rian couldn’t think of anything else to say. Kids weren’t his area of expertise—just one of the reasons why Effie’s pregnancy terrified him.

“How’d you manage to get all the way over here?” Rian finally asked.

The boy squirmed a bit. “I got hungry,” he said as though that explained everything.

Rian gazed ahead at nothing. He’d ask again, when the boy was out of this squalor. A week from now, a month from now, he’d ask again.

The paramedics arrived about ten minutes later. Rian moved aside to let them work. When the lead EMT asked which hospital to take the boy to, Rian slipped her a roll of bills and gave the address of a private clinic that one of his shell companies owned.

“We need to evacuate so the cleanup crew can get to work. You almost ready?” Moran asked as he walked back into the apartment.

“Just about. I need to arrange to have papers worked up for the boy,” Rian said.

“Why don’t I start on that while you get him settled? I know a guy who knows a guy.”

Rian smiled a little at that. “Conor Quinn seems like a good name, don’t you think?”

“Sure,” Moran said. “Listen, Rian, the ambulances are going to draw attention to this place. Not to mention our cars and the cleaners. Kuznetsov will know something happened.”

“I’ve got a guy at the Sun Journal. He’ll make sure the right story gets out,”

“Better work fast,” Moran said. “I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.”

Rian followed the paramedics out of the building and climbed into the ambulance. “No lights, no sirens,” he said to the driver as the rear doors shut.

*****

March 13, 2012, Kennebunk, Maine

The doctor and a flock of nurses bustled about while machines beeped anxiously. The screaming alarms were endless. Rian heard it all at a distance, his ears as resistant to decode the sound as his eyes were to the sight.

Conor gripped two of Rian’s fingers. The hands of both the man and the boy were clammy. A nurse cleared his throat, but when he saw Rian’s face, he thought better of speaking to him at all, much less trying to persuade him to leave.

She looks so small, Rian thought as he looked at Effie. So small. Somehow everything had gone wrong. The baby was stillborn and complications during the labor led to the subsequent surgical removal of the thing. The thing that would have been Michael.

His son.

Rian looked down at the boy holding his fingers in a painfully tight grip, but the boy only had eyes for Effie. One of the machines sang out a long flat line, kicking the noise and rushed movement into a higher gear.

Then everything stilled.

The doctor covered Effie with a sheet as the rest of the team shuffled out in varying states of emotion.

“I’m sorry,” was all the doctor said before leaving Rian and Conor alone with the body.

Conor let go of Rian’s fingers and walked over to the side of the bed where Effie’s arm hung out from under the sheet. He placed her hand on top of his head, like she might wake up and ruffle his hair. He held her wrist in both of his small hands and closed his eyes.

Rian looked around the room, trying to find something that wasn’t there. As he turned toward one of the observation windows, he caught sight of an older woman. Her thin white hair hung in a plait over one shoulder. She was handsome, even in old age, and her bright blue eyes shined with unshed tears.

Mýrún Ylva.

Rian looked back, saw Conor staring at Mýrún, still holding Effie’s hand on his head. Rian turned and ran out of the room, but she was already gone.

He walked back in and rested his hand on Conor’s shoulder. The boy laid his head on the hospital bed, oblivious to the bloodstain creeping outward. Rian squatted and gently took Conor by both shoulders, turning the boy to face him.

He wanted to say something, but had no words. Instead he hugged Conor fiercely, then picked the boy up and carried him out.


Well, that was fucking depressing! But I hope you enjoyed it all the same. As promised, here’s the final piece of the puzzle! Keep and eye out tomorrow for the Cover Reveal finale (that’s when you get to see the whole damn thing in order). Also keep and eye on this here page for the Amazon purchase links!

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Cover Reveal: Part II

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I promised you extras, and now I’m delivering!

First up, the the original short story that brought to life some of the characters you’ll find in Rise and Run. This is the very first imagining of Felix Quinn and his alter ego, Jack. Jack would later become Conor, and the story would take a sci-fi bent. This short story? It’s purely thriller.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Part II of the cover reveal if I didn’t, I dunno, give you a peek. At the bottom of the post you’ll find another snippet of the cover for Rise and Run. So, without further ado, I present …


Pressure: A Short Story

Amber street lights, pale in the pre-dawn cold, marked our progression, never a straight stretch of road in sight. Shaina saw it first, the mattress stretched across the center of the two lanes. She braked, steered around it. A box-spring had landed about fifteen feet from the mattress, clothes scattered alongside the road, boxes. I told Shaina to pull over. Only after did she protest.

“This isn’t your concern, Jack.” She grabbed my elbow as I opened the car door. The name sounded wrong, emphasized. I looked at her. “Just hurry up.” She released my elbow, almost with a push, attention going to the dirty windshield.

I followed the trail of debris. Glass from a picture frame crunched under foot. I didn’t look at the picture. I pulled the collar of my coat up. Five steps, a slash of fluid. Four steps, another wet spot pooling. Smelled like transmission fluid. The road made a sharp turn. I kept going straight, to the nest of trees that cradled the broken truck. Not a bad wreck, not by a long shot. There were no cords, tie downs, no straps of any kind in or around the long bed of the truck. Explained the mess for such a delicate landing.

The first two digits on the license plate suggested the truck’s driver came from Marionette. Or the owner did. I’d like to say that I walked to the passenger’s side door cautiously, but I’d be lying. The driver had long since gone, window down. The cab reeked of tobacco. I could go for a Winston about now, myself. A wallet lay deserted in the passenger seat. I grabbed it, flipped it open, looked at the name. Fantastic. I stuck the wallet in my coat pocket and headed back to Shaina and the warm car.

“We’re going to have to call Rian,” I said. Rian Connell ran Five Points. The man behind the politicians, behind the law. He’d raised me from age three, finding in me something adequate enough to be his enforcer. He made the rules, I made sure the rules were followed. The downfall to being raised for a job like that? Gave me a tendency to go overboard. The first time I went too far Rian decided it necessary to induce a solution. The result created a kind of second personality. He even gave us separate names.

“You mean, you’re going to have to call Rian.”

True. After all, Rian hadn’t cut Shaina off from the family. He’d cut me off. So why the elaborate theatrics? Not for his own benefit, surely. Rian must have heard rumors about my recreational activities outside of the Five Points district. Not that I’d done anything wrong, yet. Just been getting harder to play by the rules lately.

Shaina glanced at me, looked back at the windshield, dropped her voice. “You don’t owe him anything. You’re out, remember?” Her voice hitched.

“Yeah, well, he owes me an explanation.” I took the wallet from my coat pocket and handed it to her. “Besides, I didn’t choose to leave.”

She opened the wallet, let out a low whistle.

“Felix.” Hearing her say that name felt like a blow. More comfortable, familiar, the name rang truer than Jack ever had. Reminded me of what I’d lost when Rian had told me to take some time off. She tossed the wallet back to me, turned over the engine. As she shifted into first gear I watched her denim-clad legs, the twitch of thigh muscle as she lifted her left foot, easing off the clutch, right pressing the gas. Smooth transition.

“What do you think, kid?”

“I think it’s a joke,” I said.

“You haven’t been Felix for two years.”

“I’m aware of that.” Sounded bitter, even to my own ears. I hadn’t volunteered to leave the family, hadn’t volunteered to live as Jack.

“Think he wants you to come back in?”

“I don‘t know.”

“Could you even pick up where you left off?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Well, what are you going to do?”

“Go to Marionette. I’m going to see Rian. Figure out what this is about. What else can I do?” Slight pressure built between my eyes. Shaina pushed me for answers I didn‘t have. Trying to get me to think on broader terms, maybe. Why? Because she worked for Rian. Making me answer for my own sake, not hers.

“What else can you do?” She pitched her voice, mimicking Rian’s lilt. A son of Ireland, he ran the Five Points district like a piece of the homeland.

********

Sitting in a leather chair in the office Rian Connell owned in Marionette—the city that made up the western border of the Five Points district—I tried to figure out what to say, the right questions to ask to get the answers I needed. Not something I considered a good time. Open blinds covering the wall of windows from floor to ceiling showed the sun falling behind towering buildings. Made for a pretty picture. Still … My palms were a little damp, stomach didn’t sit right.

Rian, always the professional in a three piece suit, sat behind his desk, jacket draped over his chair, hands placed in front of him. His sandy hair never seemed to gray, green eyes never dimmed. The pressure of the job never seemed to bothered him, though the fine lines spreading from his eyes spoke of tension.

For all intents and purposes Rian ran a chain of pubs throughout the Five Points district. Best way to keep up with what went on in his cities. A jack-of-all-trades, Rian dabbled in everything from racketeering and gambling to illegal dock trades that allowed distribution of hard to come by medications for the less fortunate. A crook and a saint. More than anything else, Rian and the family kept the cities safe. He ran the district efficiently and came across, for the most part, as a decent guy. Didn’t make me want to strangle him any less.

I took out the wallet weighing my coat down and threw it on Rian’s desk, took another wallet from the back pocket of my jeans and it landed with a thud next to the first. I leaned back in my chair and watched as Rian pulled the wallets to him, opened each, looked at me. I spread my hands, palms out and facing him.

“You can’t push me around, expect me to play along. Not without telling me what’s going on. Pick an identity. Who am I?” I had to hear him say it.

The clock mounted on the wall above a poster that read LOYALTY counted out the seconds, oozing lazily along. Tick. Tick. Tick. I wanted to slam closed fists on the desk, demand answers. When it came to Rian, forceful persuasion wouldn’t get me anywhere. Not my style, anyway. Most of the time.

“Rian,” I said. I wanted a name. He‘d given me two. He had to choose one. “What are you doing?”

“It won’t work, boyo.” He always knew.

“Why am I here, then, huh? What is it you’re wanting me to do? He’s dead.” I poked the smaller wallet harder than I meant to. “No more.” My hand was still close enough to the wallet that picking it up and chucking it against the wall behind Rian took no thought, no time, no effort. “Bye-bye, see ya, no more Felix. You made sure of that after the last assignment. And him?” I grabbed the thicker wallet between two fingers, waved it around, dropped it back onto the desk. I sat back in the chair and tapped a finger against my chin. Decided to start again. Start over. Small questions Rian would answer.

“Do you have a new assignment for me?”

“Yes”

“Permanent?” No answer. “You said I was done.” I resisted telling him that he’d alienated me from the family. Resisted showing any type of abandonment.

“I did.”

“Which makes this a choice.”

Another smile. I hadn’t noticed leaning forward.

“You need Felix again.” His pleasant smile continued. I didn’t need to ask whether he’d made the necessary arrangements. “Just … give me the assignment.”

Rian handed me a folder about two inches thick. At the door, I had my hand on the knob, when he spoke. “It was never my choice.”

My fingers seized around the handle. I left.

*******

I spread the contents of the file before me on the coffee table in my apartment. I expected an assignment. Instead, a detailed file on Felix is what spread across the table. I didn’t need the background information. I’d lived it. Felix isn’t some cover to adopt and throw away. Neither is Jack. So why give me the file?

Because details of Roy Henderson’s murder headlined Felix’s file, and Roy’s death had caused Rian to create Jack. Because I’d killed Roy. An accident. I’d gotten caught up. Couldn’t remember the details, yet here they lay spread in front of me. I’d almost forgotten, almost blocked it from my mind.

Rian’s way of reminding me. Reminding me what could happen without Jack’s presence to stay my hand. Jack, calm, ordinary. Don’t get me wrong, Jack’s a cool guy, the person I’ve been for the past two years and the closest I’ve come to an actual, single identity in the past twenty. It’s just … Rian saddled me with an ordinary life when he took Felix from me.

Felix got things done when people couldn’t. While Jack may have been the one who lived in society—had the job, the car, the home, the capability of having the family, the career—Felix had the contacts, the information, the developed skill set, the ability to persuade and enforce. Felix who had ability to take care of the problems that arose in the Five Points district, Felix who Rian would call when an issue needed handling. Felix who had all the fun.

At first the two identities were gloves to be slipped on and off, something I controlled, had awareness of. Eventually they became something more. Any given situation brought forward the necessary persona with no conscious effort. Always a flow of changes that had me never really knowing who’d surface until someone would say a name. Always me, never me.

Two years ago, when Rian freed me to leave his employ and said I, in fact, should really “take an extended vacation,” he’d said a name. Jack. So that’s who I’ve been. Jack, the law abiding citizen who drank Starbucks coffee and always paid his parking tickets. Now he throws Felix in my face. I can’t look to Rian for answers, he’s already shown me that. There were only two other people I could turn to, one being Shaina. And since she played a hand in the setup of re-enrolling me in family affairs, maybe she could be useful and spare a few answers.

********

I pulled up the collar on my coat, walked to the door, tapped once. She’d hear the soft thud. The door opened and Shaina leaned against it giving me a once over. She looked different at home than in the car. She fit here. Tall and lean, her skin the color of heavily creamed coffee. She moved back to let me inside. I followed her to the kitchen. Her hair seemed longer now that it fell loose, the track lighting emphasizing the red tint peeking through the dominant near-black shade. I sat at the island and she handed me a glass of water, looked at me. Her blue eyes gave her face an exotic look. Eyes that could always unnerve me, though today they seemed less searching, less demanding.

“Wondered when you’d make your way here,” she said.

“You’re getting lenient with your entrance fee.”

“You’re right. You didn’t bring me food or anything.” She smiled. “Of course, I can always lead you out and we can try this again. Only this time, if you don’t have a bag full of Chinese take-out I’ll happily deny you entrance.”

“Where’s the wolf?” The first time I had met Seth—who I’d been calling the wolf for the duration of the seven years I’d known him—he’d made a peculiar monosyllabic noise that sounded like a distorted growl. I’d realized it was his laugh. The kind of sound that had startled me at first, but grew to be something expected and almost comforting. Seth and Shaina were the closest thing I’d come to having a family, like a brother and a sister. Seth, the person I’d turn to if Shaina had no information for me, also worked for Rian.

“Grocery shopping.”

I nodded. Best not to ask about the details. She leaned over the counter to stick her face in mine, elbows propped on the counter, chin resting on long-fingered hands. She sniffed.

“Spit it out, kid. You saw Rian and …”

“Nothing.” I spun the glass of water round and round. “Just gave me this.” I handed her the file.

“An assignment?” She looked at it, looked at me. She pursed her lips. “So you’re no longer on hiatus.” Not a statement, not a question. The words came out like molasses. She set teeth against her bottom lip, opened the file, shook her head. “There’s no assignment.” She didn’t sound surprised.

“No.”

“Who are you then?”

“Why do you think I’m here?”

She set the file down in front of me, folded her arms across her chest.

“He’s playing with me.” I said.

A slight lift and drop of her shoulder. “He has a motive—”

“Doesn’t he always?”

“Whether it’s clear or not. Have you talked to him since you got this?” She tapped a fingernail against the file. I shook my head. “I haven’t heard anything.”

My stomach dropped. Time to find the wolf. I thanked Shaina, asked if Seth would be working later. She confirmed.

“Let me know what you find?” she said. I nodded.

*******

            I walked the streets of downtown Marionette, an ensemble of towering modern structures and decades old houses-turned-businesses. The wind had kicked up and the temperature fell with the sun. The shop windows were plastered with Halloween decorations. A green witch in black robes with a purple stripe adorning her pointed hat rode a broom across the front of Finnegan’s Apothecary. Orange pumpkins with yellow eyes and mouths and a scarecrow in a flannel shirt kept guard over a vintage clothing store.

I neared Faolan’s Pub and a man in a latex mask caught somewhere between human and monster jogged past, howling something unintelligible. I slowed my pace, letting a particularly strong gust of wind pass. Stopped. Turned. The man in the mask stood facing me in front of the pub door. Faolan’s Pub means … Wolf’s Pub.

I called out to the man. He turned and ran. The slam of my feet against the sidewalk informed me of my pursuit before my mind had time to register a conscious decision. He turned right. I followed. He headed for the docks of the little river the populace of Marionette seemed so fond of. My pulse quickened, stomach tickled. The man started to slow. He looked over his shoulder at me, let out a growl. A laugh. Confirmation that my masked man and Seth were the same. I pumped my legs harder to pick up speed. Called out to him again using his name. Docks were getting close. Could see the water, feel the weight of downtown falling behind. Realized just how cold this October had gotten.

The cadence of Seth’s steps changed when he hit one of the piers, a hollow thunk with every footfall. He stopped at the end of the pier. I still ran, closing in. He knew something, didn’t he? Had to.

The pier was icy, slush crunching under foot. Seth, still in the mask, held his hand out. To slow me? By his stance, I doubted it. I tried to slow. Couldn’t. I got too close. He grabbed my coat, using my own momentum to throw me into the water. I landed hard, breath knocked away on the impact before I sank.

I had two choices, sink or swim. Seems obvious. I thought about the way Jack would react. He’d waste needed time wondering what happened, why Seth threw him in a freezing river. After all, the wolf’s a friend. Isn’t he? Jack would be angry and confused. Yet even as the thoughts surfaced I treaded water to get to air.

I knew if I opened my mouth the freezing water slamming against my lips as I swam would rush into lungs already burning for air. I could feel the water seeping past my lips, through the spaces between clenched teeth, freezing in my throat and threatening to choke me. Needles poked my legs, my sides. A few more feet, the surface couldn’t have been beyond a few more feet.

The too-cold water prevented me from opening my eyes. It didn’t matter. My body instinctively knew when I broke the surface. The dropping temperature of the air had my eyelashes freezing together. I knew not to take a deep breath even though my lungs were crying for it. Took ten shallow breaths. My pulse started to slow to a reasonable rate. Now I could worry about opening my eyes.

The trick to opening your eyes when your lids and lashes are a mess of ice is simple. Don’t care about the pain. Don’t care about aesthetics. The sloppy wet gurgle? That might have been a slew of unsavory words. I waited for my sight to return, the dark turning into a mass and blur of watercolor images trying to take form. Blinked. Twice more.

Rian stood silhouetted against downtown, Seth behind him, mask in hand. Had a feeling Rian would be around when I surfaced. I swam to the pier, arms shaking as I pulled myself up and landed face down to catch my breath. Rian crouched in front of me. Feeling half frozen, spitting ice, lungs still on fire, I spoke to his knees.

“A little dramatic, even for you.” Numb lips tried to eat the words as I spoke them. Rian shifted his feet to better balance his weight. He snorted. A hand appeared in front of my face, work worn, well manicured, strong. I raised my face enough to look at Rian.

“Felix …” The name took root in the silence. “This was never a choice that could be made for you. I chose Jack thinking he was a person that could contain you, make your life simple. I was wrong. You’re not that simple, boyo, you never have been. Sometimes you never truly know who you are—”

“Until the pressure is on?” I grabbed his hand. He helped me up, smiled, nodded.

“Something like that.”

Seth joined us. Hugged me. Good to have you back, he’d said.

“It’s good to finally be someone,” I said.

Without Jack, controlling myself would be harder. And yet, in his absence, I felt there would be one less hand holding me back.


Welcome back! I hope you enjoyed the short story that would eventually spawn Rise and Run. If you cheated and just skipped to the end of the post for another piece of the cover, shame on you. But also, I understand. Well, here it is. Another snippet of the cover. Tune in tomorrow for the final piece.

And, of course, you can see the full cover on Wednesday, the 14th.

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Cover Reveal

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Hallo, dears!

I’ve got some exciting news. Leading up to the release of Rise and Run on Feb 14, I’ll be putting out blogs with extras and/or little tidbits of information about the book. Each of these posts will have a piece of the cover. The final post will reveal the cover in full.

Are you excited? I know I am!


Cover Reveal: Part II

Cover Reveal: Part III

Cover Reveal: The Finale