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"The fourth installment in Lamberson's Jake Helman Files (after 2011's Cosmic Forces) is an action-packed blend of hard-boiled urban fantasy and pulpy horror." —Publishers Weekly (August 27, 2012)
"The fourth installment in Lamberson's Jake Helman Files is, for lack of a better word, simply epic. (It is strongly suggested you catch up on the series for maximum effect, but newcomers shouldn't be too lost)." —www.TheHorrorFictionReview.blogspot.com
"What about mystery lovers? Steer them directly to Gregory Lamberson and his Jake Helman Files series about a New York City police officer turned PI specializing in supernatural crimes. These are gory and horrific novels, but they are also imaginative and original, with a strong investigative story line." —Library Journal
"Another deft mixture of private-eye and horror themes, and, as with Desperate Souls, Lamberson grounds the story in reality by focusing on Jake's own personal journey into darkness as he struggles to save his best friend." —Booklist (October 2012)
"[Tortured Spirits] is written in a headlong style that will carry you to the end with surprising speed." —www.DonDammassa.com
The heat continued to radiate from the sidewalks into the evening, clinging to Busker Boy's short-sleeved shirt and flesh like napalm. What he put himself through to make a little pocket money ...
Despite his moniker, Busker Boy was neither a busker nor a boy. At thirty-six, his boyish good looks had grown flaccid, his face weighed down by the bags and crow's-feet around his eyes. His longish blond hair showed no signs of gray yet, and he still resembled a surfer from California. Born Charles Alcotto, he considered himself a man of many talents: con artist, pickpocket, burglar, occasional stickup man. He'd earned his name and reputation rolling the various street musicians who crowded the sidewalks of New Orleans, and once he'd become known among the populace, he moved into other areas of low-end crime.
Busker Boy breathed in the humid air. God, this heat was killing him. He just wanted to make his move and go home to his ratty one-room apartment not far from the French Market for a cool shower.
As the sounds of live jazz wafted out of the green brick hotel behind him, he spotted his mark. Every night for two weeks the man returned to the French Lily around this same time. Every night his driver dropped him off on the one-way street facing the hotel's rear, where a handful of gray-haired black men played brass instruments. And every night he took the shortcut through this narrow alley to reach the hotel's front entrance.
The man, who appeared slightly younger than Busker Boy, favored jeans and a polo shirt and wore his strawberry blond hair parted at one side. Four scars divided the left side of his face; Busker Boy felt certain some hellion had left her mark on the sucker. But the parallel scars did not cause the man to stand out in a crowd. The blackbird did. At all times the man carried the large raven in a cage so tall its base scraped the sidewalk.
When the man had reached the middle of the alley, Busker Boy turned, revealing himself. The approaching man narrowed one eye at him and stiffened. Busker Boy, who had real muscles from years of weight lifting and amateur boxing, saw no flab on him. The bird appeared even larger up close, two feet long from beak to tail feathers.
Ricky and Sheldon stepped into the opposite end of the alley behind the bird man. The Pascel brothers were Creole, their faces bronze, with wide noses, thick lips, and eyes almost the color of their skin. They stood over six feet tall, with gangly arms, and Ricky's shoulders stooped as though he carried a bucket of water in each hand. Busker Boy used the Pascel brothers for backup because they were easy to order around and had no problem doing wet work.
Jake Helman stopped in the alley outside the French Lily Hotel, where he had been staying for the last three weeks. The hair on the back of his neck prickled: perp fever, a holdover from his NYPD days.
The muscular Caucasian man ahead of him stood a little over five and a half feet tall, even with platform shoes. A golf hat with a little green feather in its band topped his all- white outfit. The man's thick chest pushed his arms back, and a predatory smile sliced his face. Jake hadn't seen him before.
Jake knew even before he glanced over his shoulder that the two men he had passed on his way into the alley, who had stood with their hands deep in their pockets, now followed him. A pair of light-skinned black men with matching eyes and hair: brothers, probably twins. One exhibited the nervous tics and twitches of a crackhead; both projected danger.
Jake turned back to the man in white, who moved forward. He cursed himself for letting his guard down just because he was close to his home away from home. A mélange of laughter, loud talking, horns, and the aroma of New Orleans cooking overloaded his senses. Without glancing at Edgar, he tightened his hold on the cage's handle.
The man in white tapped the brim of his hat. "Happy evening, stranger. That's some interesting cargo ya got there." His voice dripped like honey mixed with gravel.
"It's just a pet," Jake said in an even tone.
"A pet, you say? What kind of pet is that?"
"Oh, like Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. You sure that bird isn't gris-gris?" The words came out as gree-gree. "I'm sure."
"You know what gris-gris is?"
Jake nodded. A gris-gris was a voodoo charm. Interesting deduction.
"What you doing in N'awlins, captain?"
Jake turned his back to the hotel's brick wall, with the man in white on his right and the bronze-skinned thugs an equal distance on his left. "None of your business. Tell your men to stay away."
"You lookin' for someone?"
Jake raised his left foot and drew his .38 from its ankle holster. He aimed the revolver at the bronze men, who stopped but did not raise their hands.
The man in white smiled. "Oh, looks like you got the drop on us. But I think you're bluffing."
Keeping his revolver leveled at the bronze men, Jake faced the man in white. "Try me."
"You stayin' at the French Lily. You shoot one of us, you have to shoot all three of us. You have to kill us dead, like bugs. I don't think you want to draw that kind of attention to yourself. It's unproductive."
He's right. Jake had just committed a serious mistake. He had always believed a man should never draw a gun unless he intended to use it. "What do you want?"
"I think we'll take your blackbird. I think you'll pay to get it back." "Why don't you just rob me now?"
"I bet you'll pay a lot more for your pet than you've got in your leather."
"What makes you think so?"
"You take that bird everywhere you go, fella. I seen you in restaurants and on the banquette. You take it wherever you spend your days. That blackbird is worth a lot to you, and that makes it valuable to me." He held out one hand and snapped his fingers.
Jake felt sweat on his brow. He couldn't gun down the men, and he couldn't take all three of them by hand while protecting Edgar. Even a warning shot could land him in jail for the night, and jail time meant being separated from Edgar. "Not gonna happen."
"You want to play tough? We can play tough." The man nodded to his companions, who advanced on Jake. "We won't kill you because then we won't get paid. But we'll beat you bad." Jake dropped to one knee and jammed his .38 into its holster. When he hopped up, Edgar's cage remained on the dirty ground.
The bronze men produced identical switchblades that snapped open in the heat.
Sizing up his opponents, Jake aimed a kick at the one who didn't seem to be a drug addict. His heel slammed into the man's sternum and drove him backwards into garbage that reeked of seafood. As soon as Jake's foot settled on the ground, he struck the crackhead's chest dead center with the palm of his hand, hoping to stutter the man's heart.
The addict's eyes bulged and he dropped his switchblade, which Jake retrieved from the ground. The crackhead remained standing, as immobile as a scarecrow.
Edgar cawed behind Jake, and when Jake turned around he expected to see the man in white reaching for the cage. Instead, the man dove into Jake, wrapping his powerful arms around his waist and tackling him to the ground. Jake dropped the switchblade.
The man squeezed Jake's arms, pinning them to his sides. "Get the bird!"
The man Jake had kicked to the ground got to his feet and staggered forward. Jake snared the man's ankles with his legs and brought him back to the ground. The man in white worked his head up, bringing his face within inches of Jake's, gritting his teeth, his eyes firing with sadistic glee. Jake rocked his head forward, smashing the man's nose and enjoying the angry bellow that followed. The man's face turned bright red, his trembling grimace twisting, and he retaliated by pounding his forehead into Jake's scarred cheek. Jake's arms turned to rubber, and his head rolled back. Blinking, he saw the first bronze man back on his feet and reaching for the cage.
Seeing no alternative, Jake cocked his leg and drew his .38 again. As the bronze man set his hands on the cage, Jake aimed his gun at the man's feet. He hesitated, unwilling to risk shooting Edgar by accident. Then the bronze man raised the cage off the ground. Jake angled the .38 at the cement and squeezed the trigger.
The gunshot echoed off the alley walls, and the round struck the ground, flattened on impact, and traveled along the cement until it struck the bronze man's left foot. The bronze man's leg flew out from under him, and he yelped before he came crashing down. The birdcage rolled rattling across the ground to the opposite wall, with Edgar cawing and flapping around inside.
The man in white looked over one shoulder at the bronze man, who clawed at his injured foot with both hands.
"I'm shot! I'm shot!" the bronze man shouted.
The man in white lunged for the cage, and Jake hammered the side of his head with the .38's grip. On his hands and knees, the man in white shook his head.
Jake scrambled to his feet, seized the crackhead by his shoulders, and hurled him into his twin, who sobbed like a baby.
A crowd had already formed at the rear of the alley, and now one started to form ahead: tourists holding digital cameras, homeless people drinking from brown paper bags, and locals wearing black and gold jerseys.
"Get out of here," Jake said to his attackers.
The man in white spat on the ground and stared at Jake. The bronze men hauled him to his feet and dragged him to the alley's opening, where the spectators parted, allowing them to pass.
Jake holstered his .38 and retrieved the birdcage. "You all right?"
Jake heard a hissing sound behind him.
"Hon!" Jasmine, the French Lily's evening maid, stood behind a screen door. The young black woman's long, curly black hair framed her high cheekbones, and she wore a classic French maid's uniform. Jake had greeted her several times and had bordered on flirting with her more than once. She beckoned him forward. "In here!"
Jake knew she wanted him to open the door himself, so none of the gawkers would see her. Glancing at the curious faces at each end of the alley, he strode forward, made a show of jerking the door open, and hurried inside.
Jasmine slammed the inside door shut and locked it. "Take these back stairs to your room."
Jake glanced at the narrow stairway. "I won't be hard to find with my partner here."
"Don't worry. No one will finger you. Now hurry!"
"Thanks." Jake climbed the squeaking steps two at a time.
On the third level, he rushed along the sagging floor to his door, which he unlocked, then carried Edgar inside the room. After locking the door, he set the birdcage down on the thick bed and exhaled. He peeled off his soaking wet polo and dropped it on the floor, then entered the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face.
Returning to the main room, he switched on the air conditioner, which rumbled to life. He needed a shower but didn't feel comfortable taking one now. Moving to the curtained front windows, he gazed over the iron terrace at the street below, where a small crowd remained outside the alley. Scanning the sidewalks, he saw no sign of the man in white or his henchmen, but they could be hiding anywhere.
Who would hold a raven hostage?
Just some low-rent grifters. But that was exactly why he never let Edgar out of his sight and why he slept with his revolver under his pillow.
His gaze settled on a woman in the crowd. Wearing cargo shorts and a tank top, a navy-blue baseball cap atop her curly hair, she appeared in Olympian shape compared to the large shapes around her. Dark sunglasses and gold earrings framed her face, and her skin was the color of copper. Something about her seemed familiar, and he worried he had been in New Orleans long enough to recognize the locals, which meant they could recognize him. Maybe it was time to switch hotels.
A siren screamed down the street. When the white NOPD mini-police car stopped, the crowd dispersed, including the woman. A single officer climbed out of the bubbled vehicle and addressed the departing spectators, who shook their heads as they ambled away.
Jake closed the curtain, picked up the phone, and called the front desk. "Walter, can you ask Jasmine to come up here, please? I have a chore for her."
"Of course, Mr. Helman." Walter spoke in a friendly voice.
A few minutes later, Jake heard tapping on his front door. With his shirt still off and his chest glistening, he answered it. Jasmine stood there, appraising him.
"Thanks for your help." He held out a fifty-dollar bill.
Jasmine accepted it. "You're welcome."
"I wonder if I can ask you for another favor."
"Depends on what you want."
"I need a shower, but I'm worried those guys from the alley might come up here. Would you mind watching my bird for a few minutes?"
Jasmine shifted her gaze to Edgar, who blinked at her from inside his cage. "They won't come into the hotel."
"Just the same, it would mean a lot to me."
Jasmine entered the room. "All right. Let me tell Walter."
"You must all think I'm crazy."
"Eccentric, maybe. Like the Duck Lady, a local street person who walked the streets with ducks following her." She picked up the phone. "Walter, I'm going to babysit the bird in 307. I'll come down when I'm done."
"I won't be long," Jake said. He went into the bathroom and stripped away the rest of his clothes, which he left on the toilet seat with easy access to his .38. He twisted the gold shower handles and stepped into the claw-foot tub without waiting for the water to heat up. The gentle spray hosed the day's grime off his body.
Three weeks in New Orleans. How much longer could he stay?
As long as it takes.
A shadow passed over the clear plastic shower curtain. Jake lowered the soap. Jasmine stood nude on the other side of the curtain. Feeling himself growing hard, Jake swallowed.
She parted the curtain and joined him in the shower's spray. "I told you those men won't come up here."
Admiring her dark brown skin and full breasts, he took her word for it.
Excerpted from Tortured Spirits by Gregory Lamberson Copyright © 2012 by Gregory Lamberson . Excerpted by permission of Medallion Press, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted February 13, 2013
Usually love this series but this was a big let down. Spoiler-for one thing, if Jake keeps loosing body parts we will be following his adventures in his wheelchair. Too much Maria and really did not like the political angel. Hope the next one is better because the first 3 were great.
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Posted April 20, 2013
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