Read an Excerpt
One Week Ago
This was Roger Morton’s big chance—his only chance—to get out of the country and re-create the life he used to have. All because of a box of cheap jewelry.
The marina was closed this late at night, but Roger still kept to the shadows as he walked toward the docks. He’d picked this place because it was mostly open and flat; he could see who approached. Tonight, the marina was empty of people, covered boats monuments to warmer days. The security lights over the docks provided the only illumination; it was too foggy to see D.C. on the other side of the Potomac.
He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket, wishing he had a warmer coat. It was friggin’ cold. He couldn’t wait to grab his money and get out of this miserable town. He already had a place lined up in South America. Even after six years in prison, Roger had contacts. Once he had the money in hand, he’d be sitting pretty.
Six long years behind bars. His attorney had said he was lucky to get away with only that after attempted murder of a federal agent and felony rape. Six years in the federal pen was lucky? He’d spilled his guts, given the cops everything they wanted, admitted to everything—well, he had left out the crucial detail that he’d killed one of their own people. That fact he’d most certainly kept to himself, thanks very much. Anyway, the Feds didn’t have anything implicating him—no gun, no witnesses, nothing. It had been easy enough to lay blame for that escapade on someone else.
Six years of his life gone. For cooperating.
Everything had changed while he was in the pen, and he was damned if he was going to sit around working as a car mechanic making chump change. Not when he knew how to make real money. The kind of serious dough that would set him up in his previous lifestyle, the kind that bought freedom. In prison, his life had been on hold. Now he had the chance to start over.
Adam had spouted off that Roger was the dumb one. Well, Adam was dead—how smart did that make him?
Roger cautiously approached the meeting spot on the far side of the dry docks. The air coming off the Potomac was so damn cold he wished they could have found a bar to make the exchange. Except Roger couldn’t be seen in his old stomping grounds. He had to keep a low profile. Make the exchange on neutral ground. Of course, he’d left his half of the bargain back at his motel. No fucking way was he going to have his new partner double-cross him. First, he’d get the money, then he’d tell him where to find the jewelry. He wasn’t an idiot; cops were bastards and Roger wouldn’t put it past any of them to set him up. But he’d vetted this guy, demanding to see some of the action he planned on sharing with Roger’s new venture. No way he was a cop.
Roger had enjoyed the digital files of young women getting screwed every which way. Some were experienced actresses; others were junkies desperate for a quick buck to pay for their next fix. Some of the recordings—the best, in his opinion—were those where the chicks didn’t even know they were being filmed. Amateur whores—Roger saw the marketing potential for that campaign, practically salivating over the dollars he’d rake in. Straight porn wasn’t illegal, but the money was in edgier areas—hidden cameras, underage teens, fantasy rape that wasn’t necessarily consensual.
When there was this kind of money involved, he knew not to bring the merchandise without cash up front. All of it. They’d tried to pull a fast one on him yesterday; they’d learned real quick they weren’t dealing with a novice. Adam had been a prick, but he’d taught Roger the tricks of the trade. Only now, with Adam six feet under, Roger wouldn’t have to take orders or get a small percentage of the take. He’d run the website, handle the back end, and his new partner would provide the sex tapes. Fifty-fifty split. Roger was confident the cash would stream in fast, and he’d learned from Adam how to manage the credit cards of their customers and funnel money to offshore accounts. Best of all, without Adam around, Roger wouldn’t have to worry anymore about the snuff films that had brought the Feds down on them in the first place. If Adam hadn’t gotten his ya-yas off strangling the women he screwed, they’d never have been busted. Rape was a crime, but murder was a whole other story.
All Roger needed was some up-front cash to set up the offshore operation. It didn’t matter that he was on parole; he’d skip out and never again step on American soil. That took more money than he could make working fifty-hour weeks at his cousin’s car dealership changing oil. Originally, he’d demanded twenty thousand for startup costs, but when they expressed interest in Adam’s old jewelry box, Roger doubled the buy-in.
Roger’s contacts had given him the thumbs-up on the players involved, but he still hadn’t liked any of the meeting places they suggested—too great a chance of being caught on a damn security camera. He’d told them the marina. Secluded, but close to everything and best of all, no surveillance cameras, few hiding places, and no witnesses. He was taking a risk, but the potential rewards were well worth it. Besides, using his old contacts, Roger had tracked these guys down. It wasn’t as though they’d been looking for him. He’d kept a low profile since getting out six months ago.
He’d rather be dead than go back.
He spotted his new partner approaching the rendezvous point. The man was wearing jeans, a dark windbreaker, and a Yankees baseball cap—just like he’d said. Roger glanced around, saw no one else, and waited for the man to reach him.
“Hey,” Roger said casually, sizing up the other man.
“The box?” The man’s voice was raspy, as if he’d been a two-pack-a-day smoker for decades, though he didn’t smell of cigarettes now.
“You got my advance?” Roger was waiting for entrapment clues—such as him explicitly saying that he was using the money to set up an illegal porn website—but the guy didn’t go into details. An agreement could mean anything in court. Sure, he was in the marina after dark—a misdemeanor, and he could technically be thrown back in prison for even the smallest slip-up—but they still couldn’t get him on anything big.
“I want the jewelry box and everything inside.”
“I want to see the money first.” Did this guy think he was an idiot?
Tensing as the man reached into his pocket, Roger’s hand moved to the gun in his waistband, but he didn’t need to use it. His new partner handed him an envelope.
Roger frowned. “A little thin for forty g’s. This isn’t what we agreed to.”
“You were supposed to bring the box.”
“You were supposed to give me half the cash yesterday. What kind of partnership is this if you can’t live up to your end of the deal?”
“Open it. You’ll understand.”
Cautious, but curious, Roger opened the unsealed envelope and removed a folded piece of paper. It was blank, with a faded photo tucked between the folds. A beautiful teenage girl with long black hair and large, sultry brown eyes stared at him in the faint light.
His instincts had him reacting almost before he recognized the dead girl, but not fast enough. Roger dropped the photo and paper and went for his gun, but the man moved faster, karate-kicking his wrist. In the faint glow from the dim lights over the dry dock, for the first time Roger saw the man’s face dead-on.
Another ghost from his past.
“I wish I could be the one to put the bullet in your head,” the man said before slamming Roger face first into the hard-packed dirt. A burst of pain told him his nose might be broken. He swallowed a thick wad of blood.
Coughing, Roger tried to rise, but the traitor kicked him between the legs three times with steel-toed boots. Excruciating pain froze him. It was worse than when he’d been raped in prison. And then, he’d had his revenge. This time he wouldn’t get the chance. Panic and self-preservation rose with the pain as he tried to stand, only to be knocked back down.
“Mr. Morton.” The quiet, cultured voice didn’t belong to his attacker. Roger hadn’t heard another man approach, and the idea that two—or more—men stood over him made him tremble even as he tried to get up one last time.
A boot in his balls had him seeing nothing. He almost didn’t hear the slide of the nine-millimeter.
“I wish this hurt you more, but in this case expediency is more important than my personal satisfaction at seeing you suffer. Rot in Hell, bastard.”
Roger Morton was dead before he registered the sound of the gunshot.
From the Paperback edition.