Here’s a sneak peek at the entire first chapter of Kiss the Witch Goodbye.
“And when did you discover that the alarm wires had been cut?”
She didn’t yell, she didn’t crowd, she didn’t use any of the tactics they taught on interrogation, but Detective Michelle Park’s low key methods worked for her. Primly dressed in a dove gray pantsuit, she sat with perfect posture, black hair pulled back into a severe bun. Park looked more like an investment banker or an assistant principal than a detective.
While it wasn’t Nick’s personal style, he could appreciate her strategy, especially when it garnered results. The subject was lulled into a false sense of security by her tepid questions. Feeling no immediate threat, he tripped himself up with his own story and that’s when she went in for the kill.
Detective Kip Brady stood by Nick’s side, watching the proceedings on the monitor with admiration. “She’s pretty good at this. I feel like confessing and I ain’t even in the room.”
The other half of Nick’s support team was nattily dressed in a dapper navy suit, his shoes buffed to a high shine. With close cropped dark hair and blue eyes, he easily fit the bill of everyone’s buddy, a trait that had served him well in his years on the force. Short in stature, Brady had none of the ‘short man’s complex’ that plagued so many of his height. Witty and affable, Nick could always count on him for a clever quip.
By contrast, Sergeant Nick Gibson’s pin striped suit might’ve been off the rack, but it was no less pleasing to the eye on his ruggedly handsome, six foot one and a half frame. His mood was light as he watched his protégé grill the scumbag they had in the interrogation room at the Central Precinct.
“I feel like a proud papa,” he said, his grin stretching when the perp’s eyes bugged wider, starting to sweat.
There were subtle changes that Nick noticed about Park over the past year since they’d been working together. She no longer looked to him for approval before making deductive gambles, and he liked to think he’d had a hand in her ability to take a leap of faith. Or maybe that was Annaliese’s doing? It was a toss up.
Though she’d warmed to him personally, Park still called him sir more often than he preferred, unlike Brady who tended to call him boss. Gibson had come to appreciate her dry wit and sharp observation skills, and they were complemented by a growing confidence that he liked to foster by letting her take the lead sometimes, like for this interrogation.
Brady suddenly jumped, the buzz from his pocket startling him into an all thumbs scramble to retrieve his phone. “Yeah…” He listened, his smile growing wider as he gave Nick a knowing nod. “Thanks, man. Bring her up, we’ll take it from there.” Hanging up the call, he turned to Gibson with a thumbs up. “They picked up Delilah at the airport, just like you said.”
A little vindication wasn’t a bad way to start the day. “Did she have the cash on her?”
“Could you go for a donut right now?” Brady raised a single brow. Nick took his meaning, but suddenly all he could think about were crullers.
“I really could,” he murmured, that cup of oatmeal paste he’d picked up at the coffee shop having long ago disappeared from his stomach. But first things first. “It’s time to reel him in. Would you like to do the honors?”
“It’d be my genuine pleasure,” Brady beamed.
There were few instances when it was acceptable to interrupt an interrogation. Most of the time you didn’t want to mess with the flow, but for news like this, they’d developed a code. Brady opened the door to the interrogation room without knocking, giving Park an unapologetic smile.
“How would you feel about a couple of cups of coffee?” he said casually, eyes on Park.
Too into the moment, Park brushed the invitation aside. “Not now, Brady.”
“No, I think you really want this cup of coffee,” he insisted.
Understanding dawned, swiftly followed by a sly grin. “Better make it one then, he won’t have time to drink it.”
Nick chuckled to himself over her bravado as she realized they had him dead to rights. For all her serious manner, he still found her adorably easy to surprise. Of Asian descent, Nick found her attractive in an understated way, but completely lacking in any flirtatious or playful manner, despite his best efforts to engage her. At least she didn’t scowl at him anymore when he called her Shellybelly, though her steely gaze did give him the shivers from time to time.
His phone chirped and Nick recognized the precinct number on the line.
“Hey, there’s a pretty lady here to see ya,” the desk officer reported, the smile in his voice leading Nick to think said pretty lady was right within earshot.
“Thanks, I’ll be right down.” Confident that Brady and Park had things well in hand, he flashed them a thumbs up and headed for the elevators. Looking forward to seeing Annaliese, Gibson wondered what he’d done to merit a mid-morning visit. He was pretty sure she had to work at her store today; Argent Flame had enjoyed a brisk business since the publicity brought on by the unpleasantness the year before. Her being the boss had to have some perks though. Hopefully it wasn’t to cancel their dinner plans, he had a whole abbondanza of delights planned.
Running a quick hand through his sandy brown hair as he studied his reflection on the inside of the elevator doors, Nick’s brown eyes crinkled into familiar laugh lines over what he saw. “Now there’s a handsome devil.” He saluted himself, dropping his hand surreptitiously when the doors slid open.
Annaliese stood facing the street, her back to him. She was dressed more conservatively than normal, the tailored pantsuit a change from her usual flowing skirts and breathable fabrics, especially with the weather gearing up for summer. Maybe she’d had a business meeting and decided to stop in and say hi on her way?
Nick popped up right behind her, his voice at her ear. “Hey there, darlin’, it’s good to see you,” he purred.
Her shoulders tensed, but the smooth voice was unruffled as she turned around. “It’s good to be seen, Detective Gibson.”
It wasn’t Annaliese at all. Nick was so surprised, he forgot to correct her that it was Sergeant now.
Special Agent Natalie Fox… Of all the women to be waiting for him in the police station, it would’ve taken him a thousand guesses to come up with her name. Of course up close he could see that her hair was darker than Annaliese’s. It was more of a deep sable than Anna’s mahogany tresses, but almost as long, pulled back into a thick braid that coiled over her shoulder. Her eyes were dark too, snapping with intelligence, just the way he liked his women.
Seeing his befuddlement, her generous mouth smoothed into an amused smile. He’d tasted those lips before and been left wanting more. She was paler than Anna, her skin smooth and creamy – alabaster, they used to call it – with a single beauty mark by her collarbone that drove him absolutely wild. How many times had he daydreamed about discovering any other secrets she might have hidden under those conservative suits? But those mysteries were locked away under a tailored blue blazer and a creamy silk shirt, open at the throat for a tantalizing peek.
Nick swallowed, recovering his wits slower than he’d have liked. “Special Agent Fox. To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“Is there somewhere comfortable we can talk privately?”
“Private I can do, comfortable not so much, unless you feel like taking a drive.”
A half shrug was given. “I’m entirely at your disposal.”
“Are you now…?” Nick tamped down the thoughts that had absolutely no business running through his head and extended his arm toward the elevators. It was a good thing Annaliese hadn’t come to see him, he didn’t relish the idea of being turned into a toad by the pretty witch. Not that he spent his time mooning over attractive women, but this one was special, it was right in her name – Special Agent Fox. Back in the day he’d called her Agent Foxy, at least out of earshot, and once after too many shared beers when he’d first gotten a glimpse of that beauty mark.
What was she doing up in Oregon of all places? Her expression gave no clues as they rode up the elevator together and he directed her into an empty interview room.
“It’s been a long time,” he ventured once they were both seated and she hit him with those dark eyes.
“Five years I make it.”
“That sounds about right.” She still hadn’t come out to say why she was there, but her face was a mask of professionalism that lent him to believe it was less to do with him specifically.
“Are you here in town on a case?”
“Yes, I am,” she admitted, leaning forward to clasp her hands on the table. “And the first thing I thought about once I got here was contacting you.”
“You did?” he blinked in surprise. Was he wrong about her motivation for seeking him out? They hadn’t spoken once in those past five years since they’d worked together on the Roeper case. He’d assumed the sophisticated and sexy FBI agent had put him out of her mind when she moved on to the next case. “How did you even know I’d moved to Portland from Los Angeles?”
“I’ve kept loose tabs on you over the years.”
“And here I thought you would’ve forgotten all about little old me,” he quipped, and she met that with a sultry curve of the lips.
“Some things stick with a girl.”
He was in so much trouble. “What can I, ah… do for you, Agent Fox?” Nick shifted in his chair.
“I think it’s safe for you to call me Natalie, I’m not here on an official capacity.”
“You’re not?” Interesting… but her next words popped his overinflated ego.
“Not entirely. It’s more of a professional courtesy. I’m on the tail of a perp and he’s from this area. No crimes have been committed on Oregon soil yet, so you won’t have an official investigation opened in your precinct, but it’s only a matter of time before he makes another move.”
Nick forgot to be disappointed as the mention of a possible case pricked at his curiosity. “What flavor?” he asked. For the FBI to be involved it had to be fairly weighty.
He let out a low whistle. “What do you need my help for? Don’t you have a local branch out by the airport?” Not that he’d ever been there, the Feds pretty much kept to themselves unless it was to make a grab for jurisdiction.
“We do,” she nodded. “But like I said, he hasn’t made a move up here yet, so that leaves me all by my lonesome for the moment.”
“Lucky me,” slipped out and Nick cleared his throat, trying to get back on track. “What can I do to help?”
“I thought you might be able to give me the local perspective. Or are you still a Cali boy at heart?”
“Born and bred, but the locals have made their mark on me.” And a very pretty local would make a permanent one on him if he didn’t stop flirting with Natalie soon. “Let’s hear it, what have you got?”
Special Agent Fox produced a thick file and laid it all out for him, pictures of the victims, transcripts of all the interviews, the forensics reports, everything. All three women were in their early twenties, blonde hair, no criminal records to speak of, no signs of a struggle. All three victims had checked into no-tell motels under their own names and paid in cash. The cause of death was a slash to the wrists, the weapon a common double-edged razor blade, found at any number of stores.
Gibson pursed his lips, waiting for her to get to the a-ha moment. When it didn’t come, he ventured, “So… it sounds like you have a rash of suicides.”
“That’s what the locals found at first, until the lab turned up traces of GHB. Then there’s the fact that the cuts are always found on the left wrist – even for the left handed victim,” she said, handing him one of the reports. “And there have been no prints found on the blades themselves. In fact, there’s a distinct lack of any forensic evidence in this case. The killer has to have been wearing gloves as no prints or fibers have been found at any of the scenes.”
“GHB… you mean the date rape drug?”
“Yes, exactly. Only there’s no sign of forced or consensual sexual activity in any of the victims.”
Curiouser and curiouser. Scanning the sheaf of paper, his eyes landed upon one detail. “What’s this about a shared tattoo?”
“Good eye, I was getting to that,” Natalie smiled in approval. “All of the victims were marked with the same tattoo. This one on the hip, this one on the abdomen, and this one on the thigh.”
Nick accepted the pictures, studying them with interest. “Huh,” he grunted, laying them out side by side. The tattoo was of a circle, bisected by two horizontal double headed arrows and another arrow pointing downward at a perpendicular angle. “That’s something you don’t see every day. Any idea if it means something?”
“Oh yeah.” Natalie slapped down another picture, this time with more vehemence so that it made Nick jump. “Which leads us to our main suspect, Jackson May.”
Sliding the picture closer, his brows drew together as something nudged his memory. The suspect was good looking, even a man like Nick could admit that without jealousy. Tall and lean with a rangy, athletic body and an overall air of bad boy that drove women wild.
He was the kind of guy Nick had tried to emulate in high school – laid back and cool, didn’t give two fucks about anything or anyone, but his gregarious personality had pretty much squashed his ability to play aloof. That and the touch of lingering childhood asthma had crushed his ability to pull off the rebel without a cause smoking pout. Jackson May had that in spades though, the picture caught him mid-exhale, the miasma of smoke giving him an almost otherworldly cast. There was something about him…
“Why does this guy look familiar to me?” he muttered.
Natalie’s lips turned down into a frown of disapproval. “You’ve probably seen his face on TV or in stores. Jax May is one half of the band Forsaken, the other is his twin sister, Ruby.” She sifted through the pictures until she came up with one of the pair of them on stage. Dressed in leather with his dirty blonde hair spiked and more eyeliner than his sister had on, Jax hit every note of the don’t-let-your-daughter-date-this-guy instincts he felt as the father of a teenaged daughter.
“Oh, right sure, I know them,” Nick realized, that nagging piece of memory snapping into place. “Veronica listens to them all the time. Kinda dark, heavy metal sound and lyrics that make it sound like the end of the world is coming.” The kind of music that sounded more like noise than anything else to him.
“That’s them,” she nodded. “How is your daughter? She must be what… fifteen now?”
“Try seventeen going on thirty-five.”
“Wow, it has been a long time.” They were both silent for a few moments as Nick sorted through the remaining pictures.
“What does this tattoo have to do with… oh.” He landed on the last one, a shot of the band’s album cover. It featured the exact same symbol carved into a side of beef, the title above written in a dripping blood font – Forsaken: Invoke Me. “Eewh. Not the first thing I’d think of getting for a tattoo.”
“Well, these three girls did. Which ties them all to the band and Jax May in particular.” She tapped his photo with an index finger whose nail had been bitten down to the quick. “The investigation turned up that all three of them had recently attended concerts or functions that the band had recently played at, and May admitted to having a sexual liaison with the last victim, Julie Wilson.”
It sounded thin to him, but she seemed convinced. “Does he alibi out?”
“No, he couldn’t account for his whereabouts beyond hanging out in his apartment alone.”
Another piece to snap into place. “Did you pick him up?” If so, he must’ve lawyered up without squawking or she wouldn’t still be working the case.
“For questioning, but we didn’t have enough evidence to hold him,” Natalie admitted with a long sigh and Nick sat back, surveying the mass of paper she’d presented.
“I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty slim. Just because they’re fans and he played hide the salami with one of them doesn’t make him a killer. What else have you got?”
Natalie fixed him with a hard stare, her lips pressed together in a grim line before they softened, her dark eyes flashing with a plea for… understanding? Nick couldn’t be sure. “You ever look at a perp and you just know?” she said, her hands clenching and unclenching on the table. “This guy’s dirty, I feel it in my bones. Talk to him and you’ll feel it too. I’m not the only one. Detective Ruiz down in L.A. had my back one hundred percent. I just need to build a case that sticks.”
“Why are you up here then? We haven’t had any murders like this.”
“Because Jax and his sister Ruby are from this neck of the woods. Things got too hot down in L.A. and their manager pulled them up here for a few concert dates to let it settle down. I’m here to keep the pressure on.”
“Is that a fact?” said Nick, wondering if he knew anyone who could possibly give him an in to either of the pair, in a six degrees of Kevin Bacon sort of way. He couldn’t imagine either Park or Brady running with that set, though they both seemed closer in age to the pair than he was. “So you’re here to lay a case out against him?”
“And hopefully catch the bastard before he kills again,” she nodded.
That would certainly cement things one way or another. Either she was way off base when another dead body popped up in L.A. or she’d be completely vindicated when one turned up in Portland. But both methods led to another dead body and Nick was with her, he’d rather catch the killer before he struck again.
“Alright, you’ve sold me. What can I do to help?”
A brief smile of triumph flashed across her features. “I’ve got a list of places they’ll be performing at and the hotel they’re staying in. What I’m looking for is any extra background you can dig up on the guy with the locals. He and his sister grew up around here. I’ve seen articles about him in past issues of the Oregonian, the whole local kid made good thing, but nothing with a lot of meat on it. I tried talking to his mother but the bitch shut me out.”
“Maybe she’ll be more amenable to my brand of charm,” Nick said with a rakish tilt of the head, drawing a smile from Natalie.
“That’s what I was hoping to hear. I’m looking for any past acquaintances, anything that leads to a history of violent behavior.”
“Do we have a reason to suspect a violent past? Did anyone hint as much down in L.A.? Does he have a sheet?”
“No, he had a couple of drug possession charges in his sealed juvie file, but nothing since he became an adult.”
“That’s all you’ve got?” Gibson didn’t bother to hide the skepticism in his voice. There was no way he’d be able to finagle any time away from his workload with the case she’d laid out before him. “I’ll do my best, but without an open investigation I’m afraid you’ve only got me on my off hours.”
“I’ll take what I can get,” she smiled, holding his gaze long enough for the silence in the room to grow noticeable and Nick cleared his throat.
“Where are you staying?”
“I’m over at the Comfort Suites by the airport.”
“Oh, way out there?” He made a face. “You’ll never get a good night’s sleep by the airport.”
Natalie gave a half shrug. “Your tax dollars at work. I go where I’m sent.” Standing, she gathered the papers together, slipping them into the file folder. “Listen, I’ll have my people send over a copy of the file and I’ll be in touch soon. I understand you have your own caseload to work, but any extra time you can spare…”
“Don’t worry, Special Agent, I remember the drill. I scratch your back, you scratch mine.”
“I seem to recall you were especially good at that scratching,” she said, her eyes traveling over him in an almost palpable stroke. “I’ll be in touch, Nick. It’s good to see you again.”
“Take care, Nat,” he replied, escorting her down to the elevator. Brady appeared at his side almost the instant the doors slid shut.
“Anything we should know about?” he asked, cop instincts already shifting into overdrive.
“Just an old friend from L.A. with an interesting perp she’s tailing. I probably shouldn’t say more, we don’t have an official investigation going. But do me a favor. Get Gail down at the coroner’s office to flag me with any deaths involving a razor blade, even if it’s ruled a suicide.”
Brady stood staring at the closed elevator doors as Nick walked away. “You sure there’s nothing we should know about?”
Kiss the Witch Goodbye is coming July 17th for $3.99. Have you pre-ordered your copy yet?
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/9781501449536
Please feel free to share, and I hope to see you at the release party on July 17th! I’ll be doing over 20 giveaways to celebrate my 20th book!