As promised, here's the opening chapter to Targeted, the soon-to-be-released third novel in the exciting Ray Schiller series. Ray has had his share of amazing ups and downs in Dear Crossing (Book 1) and Shadow Tag (Book 2), but never before has a case had the impact on him this one does. Ironically, the case isn't even officially his.
Until the upcoming release of Targeted, if you haven't already enjoyed Dear Crossing and Shadow Tag, now's your chance.
As always, I'd love to get your comments.
Fear is pain arising from the anticipation of evil.~~Aristotle
Minneapolis, Minnesota – Late October
“Urgent you come home immediately. Please!” Hugh Conley read his wife’s frantic message a second time before slamming his laptop shut. Knowing he’d missed his flight to Jacksonville wasn’t sitting well. “This had better be good.”
The cab driver squinted at his passenger’s dim reflection in the rearview mirror. “You say something?”
“Yeah, to myself. Just drive.” Conley cringed at the odor coming from the cabbie—a smell like rancid meat and stale beer. He cranked his window down another inch and checked his watch: 10:50 PM. According to the time stamp, Amy’s message had been sent nearly thirty-five minutes earlier. The email aroused more curiosity than concern when she didn’t answer the call he’d made before leaving the airport.
With his cell phone MIA, he decided Amy was lucky he’d checked his laptop, luckier still he hadn’t ignored her damned email and boarded the plane. It was time the stupid bitch realized how fortunate she was to be married to him—to accept she’d never be able to manage on her own if she went through with the divorce. Whatever her problem was, he looked forward to gloating about it in person. It might even make missing his flight worthwhile.
The taxi rolled to a stop in front of their Edwardian-style house in the Elliot Park neighborhood of Minneapolis. Silence shrouded the street, and except for a light at the front door, the house stood dark and silent against the starless sky.
“It’s so damned urgent she didn’t even bother to wait up.”
The cabbie cast a glance toward the back seat. “What?”
“I wasn’t talking to you.” Conley tossed several bills over the seat in the driver’s general direction and gathered up his laptop and single suitcase. “Listen up, pal. Here’s the best tip you’ll get all night: spend some of that money on a bar of soap and a bottle of mouthwash.” With that he slipped out of the cab into the chilly night and slammed the cab door as the driver sped away, the taxi’s tires squealing in protest.
Hugh strode up the walk to the front door. The house’s lead glass windows, the wood trim and moldings, the pocket doors, the fireplaces, the claw foot tubs—all of it had captivated Amy from the start. She called the house a classic. He called it antiquated.
Brittle, wind-driven leaves swirled around his legs as he let himself in with his key.
“Amy!” His voice bounced off the walls as he lowered his 6’1” frame and set the suitcase and laptop down in the foyer. “Amy, where are you? Whatever your problem is, it had better be awfully damned important.” His mood was as dark as his hair and eyes. He ambled from one downstairs room to another giving each a cursory glance before moving on. Cursing under his breath, he flung his tan, cashmere topcoat over the back of the couch. “Where the hell are you?” he shouted.
Overhead, a floorboard creaked.
Taking his time, he went to the liquor cabinet and filled a glass with three fingers of scotch. Tipping his face toward the ceiling, he hollered, “You’d better have one hell of a good excuse for screwing up my plans tonight.” The liquor burned a trail down his throat, reigniting the dying embers fueled by earlier drinks. “I had to reschedule my flight. Now I’ll have to track Larry down at the convention in the morning.”
Tossing the remainder of the scotch after the rest, he sauntered to the staircase and looked toward the second floor. “Are you going to get your damned ass down here and tell me what this is about?”
“Bitch,” he muttered. Ripping the tie from his neck, he draped it over the oak banister. “Larry makes me a partner, throws a party for me, and the first thing I do is bail out on him. You’ve made me look like a jackass.”
Conley set his empty glass on a stair tread, started up the steps and flipped the light switch. He flicked the switch a second time, then a third, but the staircase remained dark.
“Frickin’ house,” he mumbled.
He climbed the stairs to the still-darker landing and felt for the hallway light switch. Like the other, it did no good. “You better not have called me back here to fix a blown fuse or I’m going to be beyond pissed.” The only sound was the faint echo of his voice coming off the hardwood floors. “What’s the matter, Amy? Are you afraid to come out and play in the dark?”
His taunts faded and the house lapsed back into sullen silence. Using the wall, he felt his way to the door of the master bedroom. As he entered the unlit room, the dim glow of a streetlight backlit a silhouette midway between him and a bedroom window. He saw the outline of shoulder-length hair and recognized the subtle fragrance of Amy’s favorite perfume.
“Okay, I’m here. Now what’s so damned important?”
Light glinted off metal as an outstretched arm rose in his direction.
Beginning to comprehend, he watched in horror. “Amy, what are you doing?”
The raised arm held steady, leveled at his chest.
“What the hell? Amy, c’mon. Stop horsing around.”
The sound of a gunshot reverberated through the room.
The bullet ripped through his flesh. He staggered back, stunned by the impact and searing pain, “Amy, don’t! Please, no!”
Two more shots followed, and Hugh Conley slumped to the floor.