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70% Flash Price Cut! A daring lady meets a dashing lord with the soul of a pirate in this classic Regency romance novel: The Lion’s Lady By bestselling author Julie Garwood

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The Lion’s Lady

By bestselling author Julie Garwood

Christina Bennett had taken London society by storm. The ravishing beauty guarded the secret of her mysterious past until the night Lyon, Marquis of Lyonwood, stole a searching, sensuous kiss. An arrogant nobleman with a pirate’s passions, he tasted the wild fire smoldering beneath Christina’s cool charm and swore to possess her…

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Free Thriller of The Week Excerpt Featuring Dead East by Steve Winshel

On Friday we announced that Steve Winshel’s Dead East is our Thriller of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the thriller, mystery, and suspense categories: over 200 free titles, over 600 quality 99-centers, and thousands more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!

Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Thriller excerpt:

Dead East

by Steve Winshel

4.3 stars – 3 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:

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Terrorism doesn’t just happen in faraway places. Someone is killing innocent Americans and no one knows it is part of an intricate plot involving unseen forces. Jarvis is a private detective who knows what war looks like the way a firefighter knows the heat of a blaze; he has lived it, survived it, and come home to a world he thought would be safer. When his best friend, a skilled army sniper who has found a way to employ his talents during times of peace, is found poisoned and near death, Jarvis sets his sights on the assassin. He discovers far more than a single act of unexplained violence. What unravels is a dirty, dangerous, and shocking threat that takes him around the world and back home again as he tries to stop an act of calculated and unforgivable terror.

And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:

Chapter One

November 24, 2001

Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

 

Brilliantly white walls surrounded a dozen children playing in the courtyard. Quiet men hand-scrubbed them each evening. Now they reflected the late afternoon sun, echoing the slap of a hard rubber ball each time it banged against a wall and into the hands of a little girl playing in one corner. A puff of dirt swirled and then resettled with each bounce. Two teen boys kicked a worn soccer ball at the other end of the courtyard, navigating between the legs of the swarm of children. Voices called to one another to come play a jumping game, or to wrangle over who would get to eat the first cookie when they went home. The sounds ricocheted off the walls and were like notes from a choir. Beyond the wide north wall was the school building, not much larger than the courtyard. On the other side, the south wall separated the children from the packed dirt road that split Sharzi into two tiny villages. The road ran straight for a hundred yards before resuming its winding path for another quarter mile and then emerging into desert that appeared like a mirage and went to infinity. Looking up into the glare of the sun, one saw the tops of three-story buildings and escarpments made of hand-molded clay and ancient cement.

 

Over the cacophony of the youngsters playing and mothers chattering as they entered the courtyard to pick up their charges and walk them home for the afternoon meal, no one heard the rumble of approaching vehicles.

The lead Humvee came around the bend at the beginning of the stretch of road. The grinding of an engine fighting too much sand and not enough oil caught the attention of a woman in full Burkha about to step into the school entrance. Only her eyes were visible, but they conveyed fear and contempt with clarity. An armored car following a few feet behind the Humvee cleared the curve and both vehicles began to cover the fifty yards of straightaway to the school.

From an open window above and next to the school a large, rough stone arced over the balcony. It lazily tumbled, seeming to waft like a leaf, picking up speed as it descended to the empty road. The space beneath it filled with the front of the Humvee just as the stone seemed ready to fall harmlessly to the dirt. The loud crack startled the driver as the glass in front of him shattered into a thousand spidery strands. Breaks squealed and metal strained against inertia to bring the driver and soldier next to him slamming forward, the vehicle sharply turning to the right and ramming into a low wall in front of a home on the main street. The armored car cut left to avoid hitting the side of the Humvee, now blocking most of the street. All movement stopped and for several heartbeats, the only sound was of cursing and motors running. The woman entering the school froze; the children and other parents inside the courtyard and those scattered throughout the small structure were still unaware of the tableau just yards from them.

Jarvis stepped out from the passenger’s side of the armored car, M-16 angled down but balanced in his arm to quickly raise and point in any direction. He moved to the Humvee, using it as a shield while looking inside. He took in the rock, the windshield, and the empty street.

“Rock from up there.” He spoke to the two men in the Humvee, but loudly enough for the sergeant in the driver’s seat of the armored vehicle behind him and the two soldiers in the back seat to hear. He pointed to the open balcony to his left with the muzzle of his rifle.

“God dammit!” The Humvee driver pushed open his door and stomped into the center of the road.

“Stay near your vehicle until we secure the area!” Jarvis barked.

“Shit, Jarvis, it’s just some god damned kid.” The Humvee driver wore his helmet askew and had a plastic water bottle in one hand. He started around the front to pull out the rock that was embedded in the windshield.

“I said get back…” Jarvis’ next words were cut off by a single shot from behind and to his right, the side of the street opposite the school. The bullet tore out the driver’s throat. A geyser of blood shot upward before the dead man could crumple to the ground. His knees hit the dirt the same time a burst of automatic fire began to strafe the Humvee from the same direction as the rifle shot. Jarvis was already rolling on the ground, backwards to the relative safety of the armored vehicle.

“Down, down, down!” He returned fire in the direction of the burst that was tearing up the side of the Humvee, cutting through the metal doors. Jarvis could hear the dying groans of the soldier on the passenger side. He looked across the street, where the rock had come from, the trigger for the ambush. New gunfire would come from there any second. The enemy did not disappoint. Just as Jarvis rolled under the armored car, half a dozen shots struck the side of the vehicle above him. Unlike the Humvee, they did not penetrate.

Shouts from inside the armored vehicle. Instructions to one another, and the sergeant’s voice over it all.

“Jarvis! Get in, get in!”

Under the armored car, the still-running motor almost drowned out all sound. Jarvis dragged himself in a half-circle against the rough dirt road to look at the spot where the first shots had come, killing the Humvee driver. No one was visible. He spun back to see the other side of the street, banging his helmet against the oil pan on the undercarriage. Sweat poured onto his face. A burst of automatic gunfire from the direction of the school raked the driver’s door just above Jarvis’ head. He ducked and waited for it to stop.

The Humvee blocked any forward progress for the armored car. They’d have to move it or back away. Neither option was promising. Jarvis heard the door on the other side of the armored vehicle open. Automatic fire spat out, this time coming from one of his guys. Jarvis could see the boots of the soldier. Muddy, torn, brown canvas. Legs of camouflage pants covered in dirt. Their passenger, Brin, had spent three weeks alone, hidden in the desert, half-buried in berms, moving slowly from rock to crevice. Stopping for hours, sometimes for an entire day. Chameleon, patient and inexorable. He’d scouted, alone, gathering information. Sometimes taking a single shot, set up days in advance. Jarvis’ team had picked him up this morning to bring him back to civilization for a couple days.

A staccato of gunfire came from the open window opposite the school, raining down on the armored car. They were caught in a crossfire. Brin had stopped shooting and Jarvis could hear the two soldiers still in the armored vehicle yelling instructions.

“RPG!” Brin shouted and Jarvis whipped around to see where the blast would come from. But Brin wasn’t warning of incoming fire. He was arming Jarvis. A three-foot long metal tube slid under the armored car and hit Jarvis in the side. He rolled over and grabbed the heavy gun that shot a grenade up to a hundred yards with deadly accuracy. In one movement he flipped up the safety and pulled the scope to his eye. The space under the car was just enough for him to squeeze the grenade launcher onto his shoulder if he pressed down on the dirt road with his chest and strained his neck. The angle was hard and he had to expose himself to the open air to point it up enough to get the balcony in his sights. It was far enough to the left of the school that there was little danger of collateral damage. He pulled the trigger just as another round of automatic fire hit the roof of the armored car.

The kick from the launcher slammed his head into the floor runner on the driver’s side. The sound of the retort hadn’t reached his ears before the grenade hit the open balcony and the explosion created a volcano of white rock and plaster. Shouts of wounded men speaking Farsi rose over the ruckus. Less than two minutes had passed since the US Army vehicles had come around the bend. The scene inside the school was furiously calm, as parents raced to cover their children and keep them from going outside to see the action. A few bits of rock from the shattered balcony fell onto the courtyard, but no one was injured.

Jarvis waited, holding his breath. Nothing. The next burst of gunfire would come from the opposite side of the street again, where Brin was. He began to turn around, opened his mouth to tell Brin to get in the armored car and they would turn around, get the hell out. Before he could get the words out, he heard Brin shout again.

“RPG!” Jarvis was confused for a moment, looking at the weapon still in his hand, the extra grenade attached to the underside. Then he understood. The tone was different in Brin’s voice. RPG, but this time it was incoming.

Jarvis scrambled out from under the armored car, back towards the side of the street with the balcony he’d just fired on. The risk of being shot was lower than being blown up. He pulled himself up and turned to open the door of the armored car to get the other two soldiers out. His sergeant waved him off, opening the door himself and pulling at the soldier behind him.

“Go, go, go!” the driver screamed.

Jarvis ran across the street and dove for a low wall beneath what remained of the balcony he’d destroyed. On the other side of the armored car, Brin ran in the opposite direction, toward the muzzle of the grenade launcher, his gun firing. Jarvis held his helmet down with one hand and peered over the wall. He saw the two soldiers getting out of the armored vehicle, Brin running hunched over, gun blazing, and above them all in the sky, coming over the low buildings on the outskirts of the village, a US helicopter equipped with small, deadly missiles.

Almost in slow motion, Jarvis saw the grenade spit out of the launcher across the street and head toward the armored car. The explosion was almost instantaneous. Jarvis locked eyes with his sergeant, or thought he did, as the vehicle burst into flames and the two soldiers coming out the driver’s side were shredded. Burning pieces of car and flesh rained down on the street. Jarvis felt a spray, not sure if it was fuel or blood. He pulled his head down and immediately there was a second explosion, next to him on the same side of the street. The wall of the courtyard erupted, the concussive force throwing Jarvis three feet back. Large chunks of rock and plaster fell into the space that moments ago had been filled with children playing and shouting.

Jarvis was uninjured. He leapt up and saw the helicopter closing in, large caliber machine guns strafing the building across the street where Brin had been running. Brin lay splayed on the street, in one piece, moaning. The helicopter passed over the street and hovered 150 feet above the school, guns at the ready. Jarvis waved to the helicopter and looked back to Brin.

Two men in Afghan garb, wearing scarves covering their faces, were on either side of him. Another held an automatic rifle at the ready. The two soldiers in the helicopter were not looking that way. The men in the street dragged Brin toward the building where the grenade had been launched. Jarvis jumped up but the Afghan man with the gun sprayed bullets in his direction and Jarvis could not return fire, dropping to the ground instead. The helicopter turned toward the street and the soldier strapped against the open door returned fire at the Afghan who’d pinned down Jarvis. The man in the street was cut in half, but Brin was already gone.

Jarvis pulled at the radio on his belt.

“One man alive, they’ve got him in the building below you. Hold fire!”

The helicopter would land only to pick up the wounded, careful not to risk losing more men or equipment to the Taliban or Al-Qaeda or whoever hated the Americans at the moment. The voice of the pilot came over the radio and Jarvis could see the man’s mouth moving a hundred feet up in the air at the same time.

“Another ground patrol is on the way. 17 minutes out.”

Jarvis looked across the street, then above where the balcony had been. No movement. Moans and cries of anguish came from the rubble to his left, from what was left of the wall of the school’s courtyard and the people buried beneath or cut down by flying fragments of rock. Eerie silence filled the space between the shouts for help. In the distance, a siren slowly emerged. The village was small, but after generations of war they were prepared for death and violence. An ambulance would be there in moments. The warren of homes and shops across the street where Brin had disappeared stretched back further than he could see. Brin might be in the building from where the grenade had been fired. Or he could be two hundred yards deep in the maze of narrow walkways and angled doors that were less navigable by a stranger than a Greek labyrinth. Four men were dead already. Jarvis had fought in the first Gulf War. He’d seen what happened to captured US soldiers. He would not let a fifth die today. Jarvis took a deep breath and ran, zig-zag, across the street toward the open doorway. No one shot at him.

He reached the door where Brin had been taken and put his back against the adobe wall next to it. The accumulated heat from the day transferred from the wall to his shoulders. Jarvis quickly poked his head around to the open doorway and pulled back, less to get a look and more to create a target and see if anyone took a shot. Silence. He spun through the door, M-16 pointed forward and sweeping the room. It was empty, except for spent shells on the floor. There were few windows and the transition from bright sunlight to the shaded interior made everything seem shadowy and dangerous. It was. Jarvis saw the one opening to his left and ran quickly across the room. This time he didn’t bother to sneak a look. He passed through what may have been an abandoned shop and then out a back door into an alley. A movement to his right and he whipped around, finger on the trigger. A child stood in a doorway twenty feet down, large brown eyes not judging the soldier. Jarvis held the gun tightly. He’d seen children approach US Army vehicles, hands out begging for scraps of food, grenades hidden beneath their ragged clothes. The boy held his stare, then raised a hand. He pointed in the other direction. Solemn, silent. Jarvis turned and ran that way.

The sound of the ambulance was getting louder and the thump of the helicopter was persistent, but both became muted as he followed the winding path of the alley away from the street. He passed under a colonnade and instead of shouldering along a narrow walkway he was suddenly in an open space, dozens of people milling about. They were talking, some still engaged in commerce and ignoring the explosions they’d heard from the street a hundred yards away. Inured to bedlam, their lives continued. Others huddled and pointed at the sky where the helicopter was visible but distant and smoke drifted in several directions. Fewer people than Jarvis would have expected stopped to look at the armed soldier bursting into the bazaar.

Jarvis looked around, taking in every group, trying to read body language and intent. No sign of the men who had taken Brin just moments earlier. Jarvis suddenly felt alone, vulnerable. Not everyone in the country hated the Americans, but none embraced another invader. The smart thing to do would be to wait for the squad that was ten minutes away. Jarvis ran across the open space, deeper into the crowd. He looked at each corner of the bazaar, trying to read every face, interpret the dust swirling at every entryway or door. Nothing spoke to him. He looked up, searching the second floor of the building encircling the plaza. As he turned around, the panicked shouts of dozens of voices rang out just as a searing pain hit his right shoulder. The sound of the rifle shot followed. Jarvis spun from the force and almost dropped his gun. Instinct shifted it to his left hand and as he completed his turn he dropped into a crouch and raised the rifle. It was set to semi-automatic and the first two shots hit brick and window but the next four struck the gunman on the balcony. Jarvis looked down and caught the eye of one of the people whose heads he had just fired over, inches separating them from the bullets that found their mark. Blood poured from his right shoulder and he took a quick glance before running across the courtyard to the building where the shot had come from. There was an exit wound – the bullet had passed through.

Jarvis skirted the hunched men and women who tried to take cover from the impending firefight. No more bullets flew. He rushed through the open doorway, gun arcing back and forth. He expected half a dozen men, a grenade launcher, perhaps a tank. Nothing. Stairs to his left led to the man he’d shot. No one came racing down to shoot at him. One foot on the bottom step, Jarvis stopped. Except for the cries from the courtyard, there was silence. No footsteps running above him. No shouts of warning or cries of courage. But not complete silence. There was a buzzing noise. A hum. Jarvis looked around the room. It was a living room, someone’s home. Carpet, a couple chairs. One painting on a wall. A small closet covered by a long blanket. And a heavy door at the back of the room. The humming came from behind the blanket.

Jarvis crossed the room and pushed aside the blanket. On the floor sat a squat, shiny new machine, buzzing like a beehive. A generator. In the back of the tiny closet, a hole had been drilled and a power cord ran from the generator into the gap. The cord angled down, not up. There was a basement.

Jarvis backed out of the small space and looked at the heavy door to his left. He gently tried the latch. It gave easily, quietly. Wincing from the pain, he kept the rifle in his left hand and forced his right to slowly pull back the door. Steps led down into the dark, turning to one side just before the light gave way to shadow. Jarvis stepped in and carefully pulled the door almost shut behind him. In the silence, he could begin to make out voices. They were urgent, angry, but controlled. Jarvis took a few steps down, gun pointing forward. With each step the voices got louder. Just before the turn in the stone stairway, he could make out a few words. They were in Arabic and he strained to remember any of his six weeks of language training a dozen years earlier before his first deployment in the Gulf.

There was a loud clicking noise and the murky shadow ahead of him was instantly illuminated as though a bright light had been lit. Jarvis pulled back instinctively but he was still out of sight. His eyes adjusted once again and Jarvis moved forward to the edge of the light and crouched on the stair just before the bend where he would be able to see into whatever was below – and they would see him. A few words now emerged out of the stream of increasingly agitated language. One voice rose above the others, defiant and confident. Jarvis made out a phrase he’d learned and heard many times: God is great. And he recognized a few others that were less encouraging: American pig, which sounded almost eloquent in Farsi. Invader, killer, children – these were words he’d heard thrown at him not just in the classroom but occasionally in the street. The tone of the speaker’s voice became more emotional, strident, like a rising crescendo reaching for a final note. Jarvis poked his head around the corner and pulled it back almost before his eyes could focus. It took him a moment to interpret the image that burned onto his eyes like a horrible photograph. On the opposite wall a large gray sheet hung like in a photographer’s studio. A bright light shone against the image in front of the tarp – a man in traditional Afghan garb holding a medium sized sabre. He was looking toward the light, which blinded him from seeing Jarvis’ brief peering around the corner. But he wasn’t looking into the light – he was looking at a camera on a tripod, a ridiculously small video camera. And the camera was taking in the scene, of the man holding the sabre in one hand and a tightly bound but conscious Brin in the other. Four other men, their backs to the staircase, operated the camera and lights, shouting encouragement to their comrade. Over the din, Jarvis heard one voice that he did not have to interpret.

“Fuck you, asshole.” Brin.

The Afghan man’s voice continued to rise and Jarvis could feel the fury, the exultant victory the man felt. The cheers of the others were those of a mob watching the guillotine in 18th century France. They were calling for death, for vengeance, for a good old-fashioned beheading. Jarvis flicked the setting to single shot on his rifle. He took a deep breath, slowing his racing heart and ignoring the light-headedness that tried to embrace his brain from blood loss. He stood and turned the corner, aiming more from memory than the sight of what was before him. As he pulled the trigger the first time, he took in the movement of the man’s arm as it began to pull across Brin’s throat. It would take several strokes, more of a sawing motion, to complete the act. But the first slide of the blade would sever Brin’s carotid artery and seal his fate before the horror of the beheading could be complete. Jarvis’ shot found its mark with almost comical accuracy. The man’s forehead seemed to cave in slightly. The momentum of the movement of the sword across Brin’s throat was inevitable and unstoppable, but the backward force from the shot lessened the pressure. Blood seeped but did not gush.

Hoping more than assuming his shot had been accurate, Jarvis flicked the gun into semi-automatic. The other men in the room were stunned for only an instant and turned toward the stairs. Each held a gun. Jarvis strafed the men hitting three almost instantly. Two died before they could point their weapons at Jarvis but the third was mortally wounded and bent on killing Jarvis as his final act. Jarvis pulled the trigger again and the man’s torso ripped open and his gun flew out of his hand. Jarvis turned to the one man he had not hit and saw the muzzle of a Russian rifle flash. The wall next to him splintered and the next sound was of the Afghan’s weapon being switched to automatic. Jarvis pulled his own trigger and nothing happened – he’d spent his final rounds. He dropped the M-16 and reached for his sidearm but it was too late. The Afghan raised his gun and uttered a final expletive. He pulled the trigger as Jarvis raised his gun, knowing it would not matter but unwilling to give up. The spray of bullets, though, missed Jarvis wide to the left as the man flew forward in an explosive rush as though hit by a truck. Brin, launching himself like a torpedo, bleeding, bound, and beaten, landed on top of the Afghan. He began to bang his head against the man who struggled and tried to turn to push Brin off. The American smashed his forehead against the man’s neck and ear, then against his nose and mouth as his former captor squirmed around to face him. The gun was still in the Afghani’s hand and he brought it up to shoot Brin whose arms were uselessly tied to his side. One shot rang out and the man laid still. Brin looked up into the barrel of Jarvis’ service revolver. Still on top of the dead Afghan, Brin smiled.

“Hey, thanks, man. Tried to stay calm, but guess I sorta lost my head.”

Jarvis’ heart raced and he began to feel faint. He smiled, or thought he did, and as he crumpled to the ground and almost onto Brin, he heard shouts – American voices – and feet running across the floor above. The voices got louder and as he passed out he looked down again and the grin of the bleeding soldier grew larger and broader until it filled his vision like the Cheshire cat.

 

Chapter Two

Present Day, Los Angeles

 

Jarvis sat loosely in the driver’s seat, the radio filling the car with low sounds of a KCRW late-night talk show. The topic was troop withdrawals from one of the countries where America was at war. He fiddled with the controls on the steering wheel and took it down to a murmur. Nothing was open at 2:15 a.m. so the flashlight beam playing back and forth in the alley ahead and to his left screamed for attention. The main street where he’d parked more than seven hours ago was deserted. The strip mall abutting the alley contained a Quizno’s, a check cashing place, a liquor store masquerading as a convenience market, and a small pharmacy. It was the last that held Jarvis’ attention.

The door of the BMW was virtually silent as it opened and Jarvis slid out. No oncoming traffic threatened and he stepped quickly and quietly to the curb. The eighteen-inch section of pine 2-by-four was almost invisible as he held it to his side. He reached the alley just as the beam from the flashlight widened, signaling its owner was nearing the mouth and about to reach the sidewalk. Jarvis paused for a moment and a dark shadow emerged from the alley and turned to its right, away from Jarvis and toward the banged up mini Toyota truck a hundred feet up the street. Jarvis resumed his walk, just a few steps behind the figure, unnoticed. Five steps and Jarvis was immediately behind. Hooded sweatshirt, baggy pants, and a large green Hefty bag slung over the figure’s shoulder. Without breaking stride, Jarvis swung the makeshift club up with a turn of his hips. The force caught the burglar precisely as aimed, almost dislocating his shoulder and forcing the bag to drop. A grunt flew from the man’s mouth and before his body could hit the brick wall, Jarvis hit him again – not as hard, just a stunning jolt, on the side of the head. The man bounced off the wall and was on the ground, too confused to know whether to grab his shoulder or his ear where a lump was already forming.

Jarvis made the decision for him, grabbing his collar and dragging the man backwards in the direction they’d both just come. Still no one in sight. The captive moaned and then started to complain as the discomfort of being slid along a cement sidewalk pierced his shock and surprise.

“Who the…what the hell are you doin’, man? Get the hell offa me!”

He struggled as if getting away from Jarvis were an option. Jarvis shifted his grip and gave him a tap on the other ear with the club and the complaining was replaced by a yelp of pain.

They reached the car and Jarvis opened the back door, half picking up the man and shoving him in.

“Don’t bleed on the seat.” He shut the door and used the remote entry key to lock the doors. Without looking back, he returned to the spot where the trash bag had fallen. Its contents had started to spill out. He spun the bag with one hand while holding it in the air with the other, then tossed it over his shoulder like a knapsack and headed back to the car. Unlocking with a press of the key, he opened the front passenger door and tossed the bag on the seat. The protestations from the guy in the back were starting to become more coherent and easily drowned out the radio. Jarvis closed the passenger door and opened the back door. The guy scrambled further back into the seat, but still mouthed off.

“I’m gonna kill you, man, you know who you’re messin’ with?” The threat was softened by the guy’s back pressing up against the opposite door as if that would spring it open.

Jarvis pulled a plastic handcuff from his back pocket and dragged the man closer to him by the ankle.

“Yeah, I know who I’m messing with.” He jerked the guy’s hands together and looped one end of the plastic through the locking mechanism on the other. Cheap, short-term, effective.

“Goddammit, this is kidnapping you prick! You better…” He stopped when Jarvis showed him the piece of 2-by-4.

In a pocket in the back seat, a roll of duct tape created a circular impression. Jarvis pulled it out and the man’s eyes grew wide. He pulled off an eight-inch strip and tore a few millimeters with his teeth and ripped the rest. Jarvis grabbed the guy by the hair and pulled him close, pressing the duct tape over his mouth and sliding his hand back and forth to make sure there was a tight seal. Any objections were muffled.

The guy’s eyes widened further, comically, as he looked down and noticed the plastic on the floor and dark towel on the seat. Jarvis followed his look and shook his head.

“Nope, you’re doing all the bleeding you’re going to do. That’s just to keep it clean.” He waited. “Unless you keep squirming.” The man settled down.

Jarvis shut the door and climbed in the driver’s seat. With the press of a button, the engine started. He looked both ways before pulling into the empty street and didn’t turn around as he spoke to the space in front of him.

“Let’s go have a chat with your father.”

 

Chapter Three

Jarvis pulled into the driveway on a tree-lined street in Brentwood. The house was dark, mimicking all the others. Motion-activated floodlights flicked on as he stopped at the front door halfway around the circular drive. Jarvis cut the engine and pressed a button on his phone. The ringing reverberated over the car’s speakers. Half a dozen times before a groggy male voice replaced the ringing.

“What? Yes, hello? Who is this?”

“It’s Jarvis. I’m out front.” The sound of sheets rustling came over the line, then an incoherent woman’s voice mumbling something.

“Nothing, shhh, dear. Go back to sleep,” in a whisper.

Jarvis disconnected just as the young man in the back started to moan in emotional agony. Jarvis ignored him and waited. The front door opened as a hallway light clicked on behind the figure. Robe open, large belly protruding, the man was almost as wide as he was tall. Olive skin absorbed the light from the outside lamps. He gestured quickly, angrily, furtively toward the car. Jarvis got out and opened the back door, pulling his passenger out with a handful of shirt. The only sounds the previously obstreperous young man made was a snort that hovered between contempt and fear.

One hand on his charge, the other carrying the twisted bag filled with pharmaceuticals, Jarvis dragged both to the front door. The father opened it wide and ushered them in. The look on his face was of fury waiting to be unleashed. His mouth trembled and he was unable to speak. He pointed to the living room off to the right, enveloped in darkness. The size of the house from the outside promised rooms further back from which sounds would not escape. Jarvis pushed the son in that direction but did not follow. The son was breathing heavily now, dried blood on his face. Shame and indignation battled; the former won. The father looked ready to explode and in the momentary silence that balanced the three men, he gave in to his rage and slapped his son hard and solidly across the face. The retort was like a shot and the son was surprised and broken.

Jarvis watched without reaction. “Here. It’s mostly narcotics. Some meth makings.” He tossed the bag onto the floor between the father and son. “Don’t rough him up too much. He wasn’t born an asshole.”

It was the father’s turn to register indignation. Jarvis ignored it. “I used about $3500 of the retainer. I’ll send you a bill for the balance.”

Jarvis left through the front door, his walk to the car triggering the outside floodlights again. He heard the urgent, hushed tirade begin as the door closed off the sounds from the house. With his back to his client, his mind was on home and an hour of sleep before starting again.

 

Chapter Four

The open window sent a cooling breeze through the room. Ocean sounds buffeted the darkness. Jarvis flipped on the bedside lamp, a low-watt bulb giving just enough light to read by and leaving the rest of the bedroom shrouded in black. He propped a pillow against the headboard and picked up the leather journal. Lying on his back, he opened to the page about a quarter from the end, held by an old laundry ticket he’d used for years as a bookmark. He didn’t need to look at the clock to know it was within a couple minutes of 3:15 a.m., his internal circadian keeping eternal synch with the hour. The last entry was the previous night’s, identified only by time, not day or year. He scribbled 3:15 a.m. below it and began to chew on the end of the pen. Events of the day and evening ran through his mind, some parts at high speed like the fast-forward button on the DVD player, others almost comically slow. He scratched out a few lines, hesitating only occasionally.

 

The hand of the father

Falls heavily on the shoulder of the son.

It is a burden, a gift, a curse.

And it is there long after he is gone.

 

Jarvis closed the book without reading what he’d written. Tossing it onto the nightstand along with the pen, he killed the light and rolled onto his stomach. A flickering image of his father, decades old, flitted across the palette of his closed eyes before he fell into an immediate, deep sleep.

The clock showed 4:18 a.m. when Jarvis quickly, steadily emerged to consciousness. A few rays of pre-dawn light bent around the house and snuck into the bedroom. Refreshed, fully alert, he rolled out of bed and headed to the garage. Ten minutes later he was hitting the heavy bag and sweating freely, cobwebs gone, another full day ahead. After forty-five minutes of punching, his breathing heavy and rasping, he stopped just as the cell phone perched on one of the shelves lining the garage vibrated violently. Wiping his hands against the only dry spot on his sweatpants, he picked it up. He recognized the digits as those commonly used in movies where they never gave a real phone number– 555.555.5555. Only one person he knew punched that into their cell so it displayed when they made a call. Someone who cracked open a new cell phone burner every week and reached out to Jarvis sometimes just as often, and sometimes not for six months or longer. Brin.

Jarvis answered. “Hey.”

The voice that responded wasn’t Brin. And there were sirens in the background.

Continued….

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