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By Lorie O'Clare
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2011 Lorie O'Clare
All rights reserved.
Jake King held his clipboard under his arm and pushed the door open with his shoulder. The blast of air conditioning hitting his body probably felt better than a much-needed fix would to a junkie. Jake almost sagged from the cool air as he traipsed into the office and kicked the door closed with his foot.
"I'm grabbing a beer." He dropped his clipboard on one of two couches in the office and slipped out, heading into the living room before Natasha could respond. More than likely she gave him a scathing look, but he didn't check. He wasn't in the mood to hear how bad her day was. They were all overworked right now. At least she was overworked in air conditioning.
Six years ago his father, Greg King, had retired from the LAPD and opened KFA, King Fugitive Apprehension. Greg's enthusiasm toward his new line of work was contagious and Jake, along with his older brother, Marc, signed on to the business almost immediately. There were no regrets, even on a day as hot as today and with the lowlifes of L.A. seeming to be crawling around worse than cockroaches.
Jake headed to the refrigerator, glancing at the stack of mail on the kitchen table, and pulled out a longneck Budweiser. After popping the cap, he leaned against the counter and let the cold brew slide down his throat. God, it tasted good. He should sort through the mail. His parents were running as hard as he was and no one had time to keep up around the house.
"Nothing better than a cold beer on a hot day," he announced, toasting Natasha when she appeared in the doorway.
"You're not drinking and working and you aren't off the clock." She slipped around him, grabbed a water from the refrigerator, unscrewed the cap, and drank. She slipped her perfectly straight, silky black hair over her shoulder, leaned her head back, and downed a good half of the bottle. "Rita Fulsom is faxing over the details on two females," she said with her head still leaned back and her eyes closed.
Natasha was one hell of a looker, and if she hadn't been raised more as his sister instead of his cousin he saw only once or twice a year he might be able to look at her for the incredibly seductive creature she was. Instead, acknowledging her good looks was about as far as it would ever go. He also saw her as intelligent, sometimes humorous, and lately a pain in his butt. "If I'm going to die in that heat out there at least let me chase some ladies."
"You're such a slut," she muttered, turning her back to him and staring at the 13-inch set Haley King, Jake's mom, kept on the counter so she could watch TV while cooking. "Both women are in their fifties and jumped bail yesterday."
"What are they wanted for?" He didn't really care. Anymore it seemed all the Kings' cases were the same. Idiots skipped out on court dates. Bondsmen called to have them chase down the idiots. Jake or his dad caught them. End of story. Ever since Jake's older brother had left the business to play house with his new girlfriend out in Colorado, Jake had felt the weight of the workload increase. Not that he would ever admit missing his brother. Marc was happy and that mattered, most of the time.
"Shoplifting," Natasha told him, and tapped the Bluetooth in her ear. "KFA," she announced, once again using her cheerful tone that apparently Jake didn't rate receiving.
He slumped into a chair at the table, stared at the newscast on TV, and placed his beer on the table. He was tempted to down it quickly. Natasha was right, though. If he had to go back out today, drinking a beer wasn't a good idea. The damn thing looked really good, though.
He pulled out his cell and glanced at the text messages he hadn't had a chance to respond to and blocked out Natasha as she slid into the chair alongside him and explained to a caller the policy of KFA. They were bounty hunters, not private investigators, although Jake and both his parents had their PI licenses for the state of California. It wasn't the first time Jake had heard Natasha explain to someone that KFA didn't track down cheating spouses. He could easily recite what she would say to the person on the phone but instead began reading the texts he had yet to answer.
His love life was suffering. Jake started answering one text but paused. What was the point? He could use a booty call right now more than anything, and that was exactly what was being offered. God, when was the last time he'd gotten laid?
Jake growled, tossing his phone next to his beer, then stood and stretched. Heading out for a night on the town and a good piece of ass would do him a hell of a lot of good but not when his father and mother were left holding down the fort. They would have his head if he went MIA just to get his dick wet. It was tempting to endure their wrath, though. He glanced back at his phone as Natasha ended the call.
"Hey, what's that about?" She didn't comment on the call but instead pointed at the TV.
Natasha grabbed the remote and turned up the volume as a hot news reporter in a snug sleeveless blouse and mini-skirt spoke seriously to the camera. Her light brown hair was cropped short around her cute, innocent-looking face. Jake preferred longer hair on his women, at least enough hair for him to grab and pull to encourage them to arch their back when he slid deep inside them. He quit dwelling on how the reporter looked and started listening to what she was saying when the words "Slave Juice" appeared across the screen.
"According to bar owners Margaret and Steve Young, who own and manage the popular club Aristotle's, slave juice is quickly becoming the drug of choice amid the nightlife of L.A."
Natasha waved her finger at the screen. "Isn't Aristotle's where you hang out?"
He used to hang out there, when he had a life. "It's one of the clubs," he muttered, listening to the reporter.
"Slave juice is proving to be one of the more dangerous drugs to hit the streets. The LAPD states that it isn't obvious when a person is high on this drug since it has no apparent visible side effects," the reporter continued, shifting to look at the club behind her as the camera scanned the scene. The reporter stood just beyond the yellow tape of a crime scene. "But we're seeing now how lethal this supposedly recreational drug can be. Two young men, who allegedly were high on slave juice, drove a stolen car into the side of the popular nightclub less than an hour ago. From what we know at this point, other than the toxic levels of the drug in their system, there is no known reason why the men gave up their lives when they drove into this brick wall."
The reporter at the station broke in and the camera switched to show one of the main newscasters of that channel. Jake would have rather continued staring at the hot young thing in the miniskirt.
"Jane, isn't it true whoever takes this drug will do whatever anyone tells them to do?" the reporter with his way-too-deep voice boomed in a somber tone.
"That's why they call it slave juice, John." The cute young thing appeared again on camera, this time offering a small smile that made her appear even more innocent. It was an odd mix, considering the seriousness of what she talked about. Jane now stood next to two other young women, both shifting nervously as they shot furtive glances at the camera, then the microphone Jane stuck in their faces. "Joan Cash and Linda Sparroway both witnessed the accident." Jane shifted her weight, facing the two women but still able to shoot side-glances at the camera. "Tell us what you saw," she suggested, sticking her microphone in front of the woman closer to her.
"At first I thought the driver couldn't turn his steering wheel," the woman said, chewing her lower lip and focusing on the reporter. She lowered her mouth closer to the microphone as she continued. "I saw him run the stop sign," she said, pointing toward the camera.
The screen shot changed and suddenly Jake was looking at the familiar T intersection next to Aristotle's.
"Cars smashed into each other trying to avoid him. That's when I figured he must be drunk. But he just kept going. He didn't even brake when he hit the wall."
"Yeah, we noticed that right away," the second lady cut in, stepping around her friend to get closer to the microphone. "His brake lights never came on. We told the police that."
"Why would someone choose to do slave juice if it could end their evening, and life, like this?" Jane, the reporter, asked, waving her hand at the building. The camera scanned behind them, showing the smashed car surrounded by emergency vehicles.
"They didn't choose to do anything," the woman next to Jane said, and tugged on her halter top, offering the camera a fairly nice view of her fake boobs. "You take slave juice and you're doing it to impress someone else. You don't feel a thing. It's not a drug that gets you high. The only person it gets off is the person who gave it to you."
"Interesting. Have you two taken slave juice?"
Both women laughed, although their nervousness was apparent by the way they shifted and glanced at each other.
"No. But I know people who have. Girls do it to make their guys happy, but obviously men do it to make their women happy, too." The second woman, who was definitely prettier than the first, leaned into the microphone as she continued explaining. "It's a power trip, you know? And it's a complete submission. Take slave juice and that is exactly what you are, a slave to whoever gave you the stuff. It's not the kind of drug you would take by yourself because all you would do is sit there."
The two women found this rather funny and giggled at the joke.
"So you're telling me slave juice renders you useless until someone tells you to do something?"
"Exactly. Whoever is on it quits thinking for themselves. They'll do whatever someone else tells them to do, no matter how ridiculous or insane the act might be."
Jane looked knowingly at the camera. "Which tells us that these two men were murdered," she stated. "This is Jane Hall with Channel Four news. Back to you, John."
"Crap," Jake grunted, pulling his attention from the TV when it went to a commercial. "Slave juice. Is that what they're calling it now?"
"Do you think it's the same drug Evelyn Van Cooper used to try and help control the captives for the game?" Natasha asked.
Jake didn't like thinking of their time in Arizona, imprisoned underground by a maniac and his wife, Claude and Evelyn Van Cooper. "It sure as hell sounds like it. I can't imagine that bitch is too happy with her perfect drug being turned into a street drug."
"It might not be her doing." Natasha stood, downed more of her water, and walked over to the counter to grab a peach. "The woman was on a power trip, convinced she had created a drug that would make a perfect army."
"She could still be using it for that means. We never found her."
"The only good thing out of that nightmare was Marc finding London." Natasha cursed under her breath when the door to the office opened and a buzzer announced someone had entered the office.
Jake would have to agree with her. Marc had fallen hard and fast for the dark beauty from Colorado, and Jake didn't blame him a bit. London was beyond sexy and head over heels for Marc. They made an awesome couple and last Jake heard were working on opening a private investigation office in Aspen, where they now both lived. Jake was told it got pretty warm in August in Aspen, Colorado, but he would bet good money his brother wasn't sweating his ass off right now like Jake was.
Natasha was already in the office, talking to an older man who had come in to bring information on one of the men wanted by his bonding company. Jake paused in the doorway, not wanting to be cornered into a conversation when he could be missing his only chance for a shower. There were papers resting in the fax machine and he would get stuck working up a profile before he headed back out. It was already after three, but at the rate the bonding companies were faxing over cases to them or walking cases through the door, putting this one off until tomorrow would just make that day as bad as this one.
The phone rang as Pete, who worked for Rita Fulsom, one of the bonding agents KFA worked with, made himself comfortable on the couch in between the long windows that offered a view of the beachside road they lived on. Natasha pulled open the top drawer to the filing cabinet by her desk and glanced over her shoulder, giving Jake an imploring look when the phone rang a second time.
"Get that, please?" she asked, before turning to search through the files.
He was stuck. Jake moved around her desk, sitting in Natasha's expensive office chair his dad had bought her the year before and reaching for the phone.
"KFA," he said, lowering his voice and picking up the pen Natasha had tossed down on her desk earlier.
"I need to speak with Greg King, please." The man's urgent tone wasn't surprising. Everyone called KFA sounding as if they had an emergency, and oftentimes they did.
Jake hadn't bothered asking Natasha where his father was, although last he'd spoken to Greg both he and Haley were on the south side of L.A. tracking an underaged mother who'd kidnapped her children after escaping from the juvenile detention center. KFA was brought into the search when her court date came and went and, since she'd been in lockdown, she was considered a serious flight risk. It wasn't as easy to sneak into Mexico as it once had been, but most of the time when anyone wanted to escape an inevitable sentencing they tried skipping out of the country. The Kings' reputation for finding their man, or woman, was impeccable, although too often they weren't given a case until it was almost cold, because LAPD detectives were too cocky to admit they didn't have the skills Jake's family possessed.
"He's not available." Jake opened and closed the pen he'd picked up off the desk, glancing up when Natasha whispered to Jake that Greg wouldn't be back for at least a few hours.
"It's imperative that I speak with him. He needs to work a case for me. Give me his cell." The man didn't make it a suggestion.
Jake wasn't daunted. He continued pushing the button at the end of the pen to open and close it and turned his attention to the door leading into his house when he thought he heard his cell phone ring. Probably one of his ladies was growing impatient for some of that classic King loving. If he didn't make time for at least a few of them, they would look elsewhere. Jake had an image to uphold.
"You can leave a name and number and I'll give it to him when he comes in," Jake said.
"Is this Greg King?"
"No. Do you want to leave your number?"
"Who is this?"
Jake tried not to sigh too loudly. "This is Jake King."
"How are you related?"
The man didn't know much about KFA if he was asking that question. "I'm his son. What can I do for you?"
"Are you familiar with the game?"
Jake quit clicking the pen. He stared at Natasha's desk but didn't focus on the paperwork scattered across it. The game, which was a very loose title for one of the deadliest war games taking place on this planet, had been responsible for dragging them down to Mexico, where Jake's father had taken a bullet and wound up flat on his back in a hospital for a couple weeks. Eight months later a case took them to Phoenix, where they'd been held captive underground and first learned about the drug that apparently now was being labeled slave juice. Marc had met London while the Kings worked that case.
"Who is this?" Jake asked, feeling his chest tighten, and straightened while a knot formed in his gut. He would kill to bring down the players of the game once and for all. Twice his family had been pulled into the sick, warped world of the too rich and too demonic who believed they could make the planet their game board and whoever lived on it their players. It was a sick form of terror, manipulation, and greed. Worse yet, slave juice was being used to control the players' pieces, or abducted citizens, to make them commit the horrendous crimes needed to advance in the game.
"That's what I thought." The man on the other end of the line paused for only a moment. "I'm already aware of your past involvement with the game and know KFA has tried ending it twice now. That is why I need to hire Greg King. No one else will do."
"Who is this?" Jake demanded.
"I know about your involvement with Marty Byrd in Mexico and I know Greg King is responsible for his death."
Excerpted from Stay Hungry by Lorie O'Clare. Copyright © 2011 Lorie O'Clare. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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