The Blonde

( 7 )

Overview

The night before a big meeting, Jack Eisley is sitting in an airport bar in Philadelphia, chatting up a pretty young blonde. Sure, Jack has a wife and daughter at home, but this is just a little harmless flirting. Harmless, that is, until the blonde leans forward and says, "I poisoned your drink."

She tells Jack that unless she can keep someone within ten feet of her at all times, she'll die. And if he wants the antidote, he'll have to take her...

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The Blonde

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Overview

The night before a big meeting, Jack Eisley is sitting in an airport bar in Philadelphia, chatting up a pretty young blonde. Sure, Jack has a wife and daughter at home, but this is just a little harmless flirting. Harmless, that is, until the blonde leans forward and says, "I poisoned your drink."

She tells Jack that unless she can keep someone within ten feet of her at all times, she'll die. And if he wants the antidote, he'll have to take her back to his hotel room and promise to stay by her side.

Jack thinks: psycho. But as the violent night wears on, and he encounters a relentless government assassin, a threatening voice on a cell phone, a deadly waitress, dirty cops, and shady cab drivers . . .

He begins to believe her.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
If Raymond Chandler ever wrote an episode of The Twilight Zone, it could very well have been the plot of Duane Swierczynski's The Blonde!

The Blonde is a caustic crime fiction parable with a premise that is as wild as it is weird: A married man flirting with a beautiful blonde in a Philadelphia airport bar gets the shock of his life when she casually informs him that she has poisoned his drink and he has mere hours to live before suffering a horrifically painful death. To survive, all he has to do is take her back to his hotel room. The man (Chicago reporter Jack Eisley) senses a major scam in the works and leaves the airport alone. But after agonizing through a few bouts of hellacious vomiting, Eisley realizes that he must track down the blonde and somehow persuade her to hand over the antidote. When he eventually does locate the would-be murderess, she tells him a story that would make Rod Serling proud; infected with a nano-mechanical tracking device that will kill her if she is alone for more than ten seconds -- and pursued by a sadistic boss known only as the Operator and a professional assassin with a penchant for decapitation working for the Department of Homeland Security -- the blonde fugitive has been desperately trying to stay alive, while spreading her contagion all across America.

Like Swierczynski's previous works (Secret Dead Men and The Wheelman), this is a frenzied, surreal, gore-splattered exploration into the dark side of humanity's psyche -- from our self-absorbed dreams to our twisted obsessions and addictions. The Blonde is wild, fast, and breathtakingly bodacious -- an absolute bombshell of a read. Paul Goat Allen
From the Publisher

"Lean as a starving model, mean as a snake, and fast as a jet. This guy has got to be the hottest new thing in crime fiction, and THE BLONDE is one of the best crime reads I've had in some time."
--Joe R. Lansdale, Edgar-winning author of SUNSET AND SAWDUST

"Duane Swierczynski's new novel, THE BLONDE, is as lean as a starving model, mean as a snake, and fast as a jet. It's also one hell of fine read. This guy has got to be the hottest new thing in crime fiction, and THE BLONDE is one of the best crime reads I've had in some time."
--Joe R. Lansdale, bestselling author of THE BOTTOMS

"THE BLONDE is a shot of pure noir adrenaline for the 21st. Century. It left me battered, bruised, bleeding, dazed, confused, and downright goofy. And all I did was read it! Think how the poor characters must feel. Duane Swierczynski makes the Marquis de Sade look like a rank amateur when it comes to the business of torturing his characters and the readers who grow to care about them. He writes the way Sam Peckinpah used to direct: with a mad passion to awaken the slumbering masses and energize them with his enthusiasm for the material at hand. THE BLONDE rocks!"--Terrill Lee Lankford
author of EARTHQUAKE WEATHER and BLONDE LIGHTNING

"Insanely inventive. This inspired high-concept thriller rockets from climax to climax with an intensity that will leave you breathless. It's like the movie 'Speed' -- only with brains."
--Charles Ardai, editor of the Hard Case Crime series

"I got whiplash from turning these pages so fast. The cleverest, wittiest and most relentless novel I've read in a long, long time. A dazzling piece of work." --Ed Gorman

"A wild ride. Swierczynski knows how to make a book move and the pages fly--and he has a terrific ear for dialogue. The Blonde is wonderful, risky and very funny."
--Sandra Scoppettone, award-winning author of THIS DAME FOR HIRE and TOO DARN HOT

Publishers Weekly
Swierczynski chronicles a long, frenzied and near-fatal night in Philadelphia in his fast-paced if far-fetched sophomore effort (after 2005's The Wheelman). The narrative cuts back and forth between journalist Jack Eisley, who's poisoned at a Philadelphia airport bar by the beautiful blonde of the title, Kelly White; and Mike Kowalski, a supersecret operative for a covert government agency, who must find a scientist who has gone into hiding--in order to kill him, and bring back his head--and take Kelly into custody as well. The common thread: a dangerous nanotechnology tracking device. Mike's handlers are interested, and Kelly is infected with the nanites that will automatically cause her to kill if she's left alone. Hence her decision to dose Jack and keep him shackled to her with the promise of an antidote. Rapid-fire pacing, hard-boiled dialogue and excellent local color make up for the unlikely twists and turns of this entertaining thriller. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Imagine an episode of 24 written by Robin Cook, and you've got a pretty good idea of Swierczynski's (The Wheelman) second novel. Two parts adrenaline rush, one part medical thriller, this twisted story starts with a bang and rarely slows down. In an airport bar, Jack Eisley meets a beautiful blonde who slips some poison into his drink, but that's hardly the worst of it. Hours later, she infects him with a deadly virus containing a tracking device. As a result, Eisley must remain within ten feet of another person at all times or else risk a fatal cerebral implosion. Every time that Eisley thinks he's hit rock bottom, things just continue getting worse. To the rescue comes Mike Kowalski, a member of an ultrasecret wing of the Department of Homeland Security, who has been sent to locate the blonde before she futher spreads the deadly virus. Full of offbeat characters, excruciatingly reckless twists, and sardonic humor, this fun ride shows great promise for a rising author. Recommended for most thriller and crime fiction collections. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 7/06.] Ken Bolton, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A hapless reporter runs afoul of a dangerous blonde with a story so bizarre that it just might be true. While waiting in the Philly airport, journalist Jack Eisley strikes up a conversation with a flirtatious blonde who abruptly informs him that she has poisoned his drink; he'll be dead in 12 hours. At first he laughs it off, but the stomach pains predicted by the woman who calls herself Kelly White give him second thoughts. More complex and implausible explanations follow. Kelly is a guinea pig who will also die if she fails to stay within ten feet of another human being. Meanwhile, a brutal operative named Mike Kowalski, who works CI-6-which may be a secret government agency or a crime syndicate-is searching for the body of a recently deceased professor. His assignment is to bring back the corpse's head for testing. The story then leaps from one quick chapter to another from a different perspective. While Jack is getting into various taxis, Kelly picks up another guy, named Ed, at the airport. But when she spots Jack returning, she dumps Ed for Jack. Kowalski watches all this, then follows Ed home and finds him inexplicably dead and covered with blood. When Kowalski's handler asks for Ed's head, more complications ensue until the blonde and the hit man finally intersect. Swierczynski's sophomore effort (The Wheelman, 2005) sometimes strains credibility but creates page-turning tension. Agent: David Hale Smith/DHS Literary Inc.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312374594
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 290
  • Sales rank: 739,865
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Duane Swierczynski is editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia City Paper. His previous novel, The Wheelman, was nominated for the Gumshoe Award and was optioned for film. He lives in Philadelphia.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

I poisoned your drink.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me.”

“Um, I don’t think I did.”

The blonde lifted her cosmopolitan. “Cheers.”

But Jack didn’t return the gesture. He kept a hand on his pint glass, which held the last two inches of the boilermaker he’d been nursing for the past fifteen minutes.

“Did you say you poisoned me?”

“Are you from Philadelphia?”

“What did you poison me with?”

“Can’t you be gracious and answer a girl’s question?”

Jack looked around the airport bar, which was done up like a Colonial-era public house, only with neon Coors Light signs. Instead of two more airline gates in the terminal, they’d put in a square bar, surrounded by small tables jammed up against one another. Sit at the bar and you were treated to the view of the backs of the neon signs—all black metal and tubing and dust—a dented metal ice bin, red plastic speed pourers stuck in the tops of Herradura, Absolut Citron, Dewar’s, and a plastic cocktail napkin dispenser with the logo jack & coke: america’s cocktail.

For commuters with a long layover, this was the only place to be. What, were you going to shop for plastic Liberty Bells and Rocky T-shirts all evening? The bar was packed.

But amazingly, no one else seemed to have heard her. Not the guy in the shark-colored suit standing next to the girl. Not the bartender, with a black vest and white sleeves rolled up to the elbow.

“You’re kidding.”

“About you being from Philadelphia?”

“About you poisoning me.”

“That again? For the record, yes, I poisoned you. I squeezed a tasteless, odorless liquid into your beer while you were busy staring at a brunette with a shapely ass and low-hanging breasts. The one on her cell, running her fingers through her hair.”

Jack considered this. “Okay. So where’s the dropper?”

“Dropper?”

“The one you used to squeeze poison into my drink. You had to use something.”

“Oh, I’ll show you the dropper. But first you have to answer my question. Are you from Philadelphia?”

“What does it matter? You’ve just poisoned me, and I’m about to die in Philadelphia, so I guess, from this point on, I’ll always be in Philadelphia.”

“Not unless they ship your body home.”

“I meant my ghost. My ghost will always be in Philadelphia.”

“You believe in ghosts?”

Jack smiled despite himself. This was delightfully weird. He’d been delaying the inevitable—a cab ride through a strange city to a bland corporate hotel room to catch what little sleep he could before his dreaded morning appointment.

“Let’s see the dropper.”

The pretty blonde smiled in return. “Not until you answer my question.”

What was the harm? Granted, this was perhaps the strangest pickup line he’d ever heard—if that’s what this was. For all he knew, it was the opening bit of an elaborate con game that targeted weary business travelers in airport bars. But that was fine. Jack knew if this conversation led to him taking out his wallet or revealing his Social Security number, he’d stop it right there. No harm, no foul.

“No, I’m not from Philadelphia.”

“Goody. I hate Philadelphia.”

“You’re from here, I take it?”

“I’m not from here, and yes, you can take it.”

“That’s harsh.”

“What’s there to like?”

“The Liberty Bell?”

“Funny you should mention that. I was reading about it in the airline magazine. They have this back page where they tell the story of some famous national monument every month. Or however often the magazine is published. Anyway, the Liberty Bell cracked the very first time it was rung.”

“Back in 1776.”

“Wrong. You should have read this story, my friend. Philly’s been trading on a lie for, like, years. It wasn’t rung in 1776. And worse yet, the bell? It was forged in England. You know, uh, the country we revolted against? Like, hello!”

“You’ve just ruined Philadelphia for me.”

“Sweetheart, I haven’t even started.”

Jack smiled and finished the rest of the beer in his pint glass. There was no rush. He might as well order another—minus the whiskey. He’d already had two boilermakers, and it hadn’t helped any. The drama of the past few months hung heavy in his mind. Might as well take it slow for a while, check out the people in the airport. The ones with a purpose in life. With a clear idea of where they were going, what they were doing.

The only thing waiting for Jack Eisley was a night in a bland hotel room and an appointment at eight o’clock in the morning. He was in no hurry to get to either.

The blonde was looking at his hand. At first, Jack thought she was looking at his wedding ring. Which he was still wearing, for some dumb reason. But then he saw that she was focused on the glass in his hand.

“You finished your drink,” she said.

“You’re very observant. Still working on yours?”

The girl smiled coyly. “Why? You offering to buy me a drink? Even after I poisoned yours?”

“It’s the least I can do. What are you having? A martini?”

“Never you mind that. Though I think I should tell you what to expect. Symptomwise.”

“From the undetectable liquid poison.”

“Right.”

“Go ahead.”

“It works in stages. At first . . .” She glanced at a silver watch on her wrist. “Well, about an hour from now, you’ll start to feel a knot in your stomach. Not too long after, I hope you’ll be near a bathroom, because that’s when the power vomiting starts.”

“Sounds lovely.”

“Think about your worst hangover ever. You know, where you’re sitting on the cold tile of your bathroom floor, begging God to show mercy on your poor alcoholic soul? Telling him how you’ve seen the error of your ways, and you promise never, ever to touch the demon rum again? Well, that’s a tenth of what you’ll feel when this poison hits you. And in ten hours, you’ll be dead.”

Jack knew his mind was screwing with him—of course he knew—but damn if his stomach didn’t tie itself into a little knot right at that moment. Ah, the power of suggestion. The power of suggestion of death.

Okay, this girl was fucking psycho. Last thing he needed was another one of those.

“Um, can I ask why you did this to me?”

“Sure, you can ask.”

“But you won’t tell.”

“Maybe later.”

“If I’m even alive.”

“Good point.”

If this was a con game, she had strange ideas about running it. The bit about the poison would be enough to scare away most people. Which is not the reaction con artists want from their marks. They kind of have to be around for a scam to work.

So what was her game? Or was this a pickup?

“Okay, you’ve poisoned me.”

“You catch on quick.”

“Do you have an antidote?”

“Sweet Jesus on the cross, I thought you’d never ask. Yes, I do have an antidote.”

“Would you give me the antidote, if I asked nice?”

“Sure,” she said. “But I can only give it to you somewhere quiet.”

“Not here?”

“No.”

“Where, then?”

“Your hotel room.”

Yep, that sealed it. This was a con game—probably a bizarre variation of the old sweetheart scam. Take the woman to a hotel room, expect sex, get knocked on the head, wake up with your wallet gone, your kidney missing, your naked body in a tubful of stinky ice, whatever. Whichever way, you were fucked, all because you thought you were going to get a sloppy blow job in an airport hotel.

“That’s a kind offer,” he said, “but I think I’ll take my chances with death.”

Jack scooped up the loose bills on the bar—a ten, two singles. He reached down and grabbed his overnight bag, which had been resting between his feet.

“Good luck with that poison thing.”

“Thanks, Jack.”

After a second, it hit him.

“Wait. How did you know my name?”

The woman turned her back to him and started looking through her purse. She removed a plastic eyedropper and placed it on top of the bar. She then lifted her head and swiveled around to look at him.

“Weren’t you leaving?”

“I said, how did you know my name?”

Her fingers played with the eyedropper, spinning it on the surface of the bar. He leaned in closer.

“You tell me or I’ll bring airport security back here.”

“I’ll be gone by then. And even if they did catch me, it’s my word against yours about the poison. I won’t know what on earth they’re talking about.” She pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows. “Poison? An antidote?”

“We’ll see.” He turned to walk away.

“Oh, Jack?”

He stopped, turned around.

“Your name’s on a tag attached to your bag.”

He looked down at the carry-on in his hand.

“Paranoid much?”

He could feel it already—the knot forming in his stomach. It wasn’t sickness. It was anger.

After leaving the airport bar, Jack followed the signs to baggage claim. He didn’t have luggage to pick up—he made it a point to live out of one bag, no matter how many days he traveled. Lost luggage was too much a pain in the ass. But according to the airport’s Web site, the taxi stands were to the left of baggage claim, and sure enough, they were. Cabs to Center City Philadelphia were a flat rate—$26.25, so said the Web site. He climbed into the back of the first available taxi and tried not to think too much about the strange girl in the bar.

Strike that.

The strange, pretty girl in the bar.

It was just as well he’d left her behind. Considering his morning appointment with his wife’s divorce lawyer.

Poison me?

Sweetheart, I wish you had.

Copyright © 2006 by Duane Swierczynski. All rights reserved.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

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    At the Liberties Bar in Philadelphia International Airport, THE BLONDE sitting next to reporter Jack Eisley calmly informs him she poisoned him by putting something into his beer. She says her name is Kelly White he will soon have a knot in his stomach informing him her poison is working, and he will be dead in twelve hours if he fails to obey her demands. When his stomach begins to hurt, Jack realizes the truth. Kelly says she must stay within ten feet of a human or die as a hit man is following her. Jack initially flees the crazy woman but realizes she has the antidote he needs so he decides to stay near Kelly and beg. Kelly switched to someone else, but decides to go with Jack when he comes back for her.----------- Meanwhile lethal CI-6 operative Mike Kowalski seeks a missing professor whose head he is to bring back to his group for lab testing. Mike observes Kelly but decides to follow the reject to his home only to find him dead. He needs to take the victim¿s head with him to bring to the lab, but first he goes to confront Kelly.--------------- DOA meets 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag in Duane Swierczynski¿s faster than the speed of light thriller which explodes from the opening line: ¿I poisoned your drink¿ until the final triangular confrontation occurs. Jack is perfect as an innocent bystander whose harmless flirting leads to his becoming an innocent victim. Mike is his counterpart as an assassin who works for some mysterious group (government, mob, private lab or a combination of both). However the tale belongs to the blonde who coolly makes the novel fun to read as a combo victim femme fatale though plausibility needs to be left behind starting when Mike begins his head count.------------ Harriet Klausner

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