ON YOUR MARK. GET READY...
Muriel doesn't have the option to cool her life down to manageable chaos. She's juggling a high pressure job, her extended family, and a deepening romance with Calvin, an advocate for troubled youth. And with heroin deaths epidemic throughout Philly, she's got her hands full stopping a related killing spree that's taking out gang members and innocent victims alike...
But soon Calvin's unofficial search for the drug's source raises the stakes on the case dangerously higher-and brings it tragically close to home. Now, with both her reputation and her family in the crosshairs, Muriel will have to aim for justice more merciless than duty-and risk suffering the most chilling of consequences.
Raves for Hot Flash
"Explodes like a shot to the heart." -Lisa Black, New York Times bestselling author
"There are plenty of thrills here for suspense junkies." -Library Journal
"A lively and clever novel that will dare you to put it down. Top of the 'must read' list."
-John Lutz, New York Times bestselling author
"Muriel Mabley has hot flashes, a hot new love, and a heap of deadly cold secrets that will destroy everyone she loves. A gripping, fast-paced debut novel."
-Valerie Wilson Wesley, author of the Tamara Hayle Mysteries
About the Author
Carrie H. Johnson has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Boston Herald, and Worcester Telegram and Gazette. She received her MA in Journalism from Northeastern University and is currently a professor teaching communication and business courses at Worcester State University, Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, and The Center for Women and Enterprise in Boston, MA. Visit her website at carriehjohnson.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Carrie H. Johnson
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Carrie H. Johnson
All rights reserved.
Lord only knows the things we'll do or how far we'll go for the people we love.
Flailing around in the pool at the Salvation Army Kroc Center this Friday morning was my "thing" I was doing for my girl Dulcey. She has breast cancer. I committed to doing a triathlon, as in a quarter-mile swim, twelve-mile bike ride, and three-mile run. Mind you, I am scared to death of the water, have not been on a bike since childhood ... that would be forty-plus years ... and have not run with any speed since the police academy more than twenty years ago.
The SheRox Triathlon Series raises funds for breast cancer research. I admit the whole triathlon thing is a smoke screen for coping with the fear of losing Dulcey. Somehow my crossing the finish line will turn the nightmare into a fairy tale, with a happily-ever-after ending.
So here I am, three months into my training. It's not like I never work out. At five foot three and 140 pounds, it is necessary to keep all my parts in check. I work out on a semi-regular basis, three or four times a week for a month or two, then I'm distracted by any good reason. Not this time. At least not for another month until after the July event.
I learned to swim five weeks ago and have since mastered a slow, steady stroke. Grab the water, push it away in an S motion with flat hands. Turn my head, suck in air, put my face in the water, blow out air. Each time I turned my head to gulp air, I saw this guy whipping the lifeguard, Pam, with his pointer finger. White guy, six feet, 250 pounds maybe. He was wearing a green, black, and silver sweat suit and a black Eagles cap pulled low on his brow. At first I thought maybe he was a disgruntled parent of an eel, pollywog, or fish — names that indicated a child's level of swim achievement.
Children's squeals bounced off the pool's dome, signaling the end of adult swim time. The sounds were muffled each time I put my face back in the water. I dug deep to squeak out the last lap, which totaled sixteen, a half mile. I got to the deep end and flipped to retrace my path for the final length.
When I reached the shallow end and walked up the stairs, the guy had Pam's arm pinned behind her back. He pressed against her body, talking into her ear, red-faced like a heavy drinker or druggie. His other hand was stuffed in his pocket, which bulged with what I suspected was a gun.
A quick check had the children on the opposite side of the pool with their instructors, making enough noise to part the waters.
Pam wriggled under his hold. Her wide eyes darted in every direction until they set on me. She watched me walk past them and sit on the bench. I dried my feet, my arms, and my head, the whole time pleading with the good Lord to move this guy along or grow me large enough to pound him.
He yanked Pam's arm backward. Pam yelped like a hurt puppy. Damn. I approached from his blind side, aware of my inadequate clothing and dwarfed size in comparison to him.
"Is everything all right here?" I asked, my voice steady, my nerves shivering.
"Mind your damn business, lady," the guy said, twisting Pam's arm harder.
"You're hurting me, Bunchy," Pam whimpered.
"Shut up. Do what I'm telling you or I really will hurt you."
Pam pulled away from the guy and screamed. I pushed her to the side and stepped in front of her.
"Easy, mister. I'm Philadelphia Police. Take your hand out of your pocket, slow."
He pulled his hand out, holding a Beretta. I rushed in with one shoulder down and grabbed his arm. He got off a shot. Loud screaming. I knocked the gun from his hand, spun around, grabbed his wrist, spun around again and twisted his wrist, bringing him to the floor. I jammed my foot into his neck. He squirmed, trying to get loose.
"I'll break it if you don't keep still," I said.
"You stupid bitch. I'ma kick your ass. I'ma kill you." Spit sprayed from his mouth with each word.
I twisted his wrist a little harder and stepped into his neck a little deeper. "Not today," I said.
Pam came up the stairs from the pool with the gun in hand. She walked over to us and pointed it at Bunchy.
"Put the gun down, Pam. He's not going to hurt you or anyone else. Believe me, you do not want to kill him. He's not worth it, Pam."
"He'll just come back. I tried to get the police to do something. A restraining order doesn't do any good. He'll just come back."
"Not this time. This time he'll go to jail. Put it down, Pam. Think about your little girl."
She kept pointing it.
"Don't shoot me, Pam. I'm sorry. I love you," Bunchy pleaded, relaxing his pull on my hold. I dug my foot deeper into his neck.
She lowered the gun as police stormed into the dome. An officer took the gun from Pam and pulled her arms behind her back for cuffing.
"She's good," I said. He released her.
Three officers gathered to relieve me of my charge. "You sure you need our help with this guy?" one of the officers joked.
I stepped off Bunchy's neck. Bunchy growled as he rose up and lunged forward headfirst, pushing me backwards. I went down.
Fran Riley, my partner, put his hand out to stop me from trying to sit up. "You should stay put a few." I brushed his hand away. He sighed a helpless verse and pulled me forward to a sitting position.
I tried to speak, but the words stuck in my throat. I looked around at the uniforms helping the parents and children to calm down. Other uniforms were snapping pictures and asking questions. A little girl lay out on the deck, an EMT bent over her. I stretched my neck to locate Pam. A police officer restrained her, blocking her path to her daughter. I rubbed my eyelids but failed to clear my blurred vision.
"Muriel? You all right? You with me? Muriel?" Fran asked, as he waved his hand in front of my face. I brushed his hand away and nodded. I tried to stand with his help. Halfway up, another EMT interfered and I was back on my butt.
"That might not be a good idea yet." The EMT motioned Fran to move, then knelt and flashed a light in my face.
I could see he was talking to me. The sounds were muffled, as though I was still under water. My ears popped. I covered them with my hands, a buffer against the sudden loudness of the hollow voices. "... a bump on your head. You'll be fine. You're lucky he didn't break your neck." The EMT turned to Fran and said, "Keep an eye on her for a few hours. Precautionary."
Detective Mosher, who I knew from the fifth district, stood in front of me. "What happened here, Mabley?"
I took a deep breath. "Is the little girl ..."
"She's alive. Now, what happened?"
I settled down. "The guy ... he was having words with the lifeguard, with Pam." I closed my eyes and put my head down to ward off a rush of dizziness.
"You good, Mabley?"
I looked up and continued. "I was in the water doing my last lap. He was cursing her out. I noticed a bulge in his jacket pocket that appeared to be a gun. I got out the water, dried off ..." Dizziness blurred my vision again. I bowed my head and closed my eyes against the desire to puke.
"Big guy," Mosher said.
I took a deep breath. "Yeah, but he went for his gun." I nodded toward the little girl. "What happened? Where's the guy?"
"After you went down, he pulled an officer's weapon and tried to shoot the lifeguard but hit the little girl instead. Grazed her head. She'll survive. She's their daughter. Took six officers to bring him down." He shook his head. "You had him on your own. I need to invest in some of that kung fu stuff." Mosher moved his arms in a chopping motion.
My fuzzy thoughts repelled the humor. "Where is he?"
Mosher put his arms down and got serious again. "He had some kind of seizure. Hopped up on drugs, didn't make it. I would bet some junk — heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, a mix. You know. Mother said the guy is her ex-husband. He's an army vet. Suffered from PTSD, spazzing over custody of the daughter. She's seven. She could have been killed." Mosher walked away, barking orders.
Fran helped me up. "Nice suit." He half-ass smiled, trying to rile me. I had on one of those triathlon suits that cover everything, including thighs. I had no room for his humor either. I cut my eyes and sucked my teeth as loud as I could.
Fran wrapped a towel around my shoulders. "C'mon, I'll help you outta here," he mumbled.
I let him lead me out holding my arm, like I was an invalid unable to do or say anything but what I was told.
"Can you handle dressing yourself? I can come in and help."
I pulled away from him and gave him a sideways F-U glance and leaned on the door to the locker room. "Don't get your brain in a knot about it."
The locker room was quiet. Clothes, towels, flip-flops strewn in the aisles between the lockers. I sat on the bench and closed my eyes. The uneven quiet seeped in and calmed the tension that squeezed my temples.
I was startled when Fran yelled in, "Hey, Muriel, you about done?"
"Yeah. Out in five."
When I finished dressing, I met Fran back in the pool area. Parents were gathering their children and moving toward the locker room, police were leaving. Fran insisted on driving me home and picking up my car later. I conceded.
"Why were you at the Kroc anyway?" he asked, on the way.
"I'd rather not say, you know."
"No, I don't know."
Fran had been my partner for three months; blond-haired, blue-eyed, Mark Wahlberg–faced Fran. Before him I had the same partner for seventeen years. Laughton McNair. Suffice it to say that Fran is at the opposite end of the spectrum of cool, color, and charisma from Laughton. Laughton and I were partners, friends, and for a time, lovers. I shake off the longing I feel every time he invades my thoughts, like now.
We are firearms examiners in the Philadelphia Police Department. We examine, study, test, and catalog firearms confiscated from criminals and crime scenes, and testify in court about the findings.
"My best friend, Dulcey, I think you know her; she has breast cancer. I'm doing a triathlon in her honor."
The few moments of uncomfortable silence made my insides boil. Really, it wasn't the silence that had sweat dripping off the tip of my nose. While the silence was indeed uncomfortable, the heat was a part of the aging process that came on now and again and made me want to jump out of my clothes; that or punch something or someone. I glanced over at Fran with balled fists.
"Yeah, I met her at your house. We'd just finished our first tour together, remember? Damn. I'm sorry to hear that." He hesitated. "You got a call from a Detective Burgan after you left last night. Said she had some information for you."
"She could have called my cell. Thanks. I'll call her when I get home."
"What's it about, Miss M?"
"It's a personal matter."
That is, unless Hamp got his butt thrown in jail, I thought. Hampton Dangervil — Dulcey's husband, aka Hamp or Danger. You think you know a person and then you are slapped upside the head for thinking. I got slapped when Hampton confessed his transgressions to me like I was his priest and could offer him divine mercy. He said he lost some money gambling. He said he was trying to make enough money to keep Dulcey living in style. Silly man. Dulcey loves his dirty drawers no matter rich or poor, right or wrong. I asked Burgan, who runs the Mobile Street Crimes Unit, to do some checking on two characters Hamp said he owed money to. He only knew their street names — Bandit and Muddy — laughable if it weren't for the gurgling in my gut pushing out sharp pangs, which always meant something messed up was ahead.
"I'm not going to push, but if you need me you know I'm right here."
I shifted in my seat and rolled the window down.
"I can turn on the air if it will help."
"Damn it, Fran. Stop trying so hard. We're partners and that doesn't mean you need to be patronizing about everything or try to be inside my head. I'm over everything that happened. I'm over it, despite what you heard before you decided being my partner was right for you."
I cringed at my outburst. I guess you could label me still in recovery. It had not been quite a year since I shot Jesse Boone. Boone was a psychopath responsible for twenty-plus murders dating back twenty years. He almost took my life and my sister's. His death still sparked much discussion among police officers, with a positive vibe. For me it sparked emotional torment.
Fran kept face forward and did not respond. When we pulled up to the house, Fran opened his car door to get out.
I said, "I can make it on my own."
"Yes, boss," he said in a playful subservient tone.
"Sorry, didn't mean to sound so righteous." I moved to get out and he pressed my arm, stopping me. I turned to match his stare.
"I took this job because it is exactly where I wanted to be. I wanted to learn from the best, which I understood to be Laughton McNair, if he was still around, and you. If there's an issue with me, either embrace it or request another partner."
I wanted to exit the car and slam the door. I wanted to tell him to go to hell, not because I was angry but because a rookie had put me in my place. I felt like I was moving fast down a slope that meant I had no good nerves for police work anymore. Instead all I could muster was "I'm good" as I pushed the door open.
"I'll pick you up in an hour. We can pick up your car on the way to the lab. You have court at one o'clock."
"Yeah, yeah," I said before I closed the door. I turned back and bent down to peer at him through the window. "Thank you."
"No problem," he said, flashing me a cheeky grin.
I waited until he pulled away from the curb before I limped up the walkway to the door. It opened before I got to it. My nine-year-old twin nieces, Rose and Helen, jumped out. The twins are my sister Nareece's children.
Only nine months earlier, the twins lived in a million-dollar home in Milton, Massachusetts, with their mother and father. Now their father was dead, murdered, and their mother was in a semi-unresponsive state at Penn Center, a long-term care facility, the result of being raped and tortured by Jesse Boone, before I killed him.
"Hi, Auntie," they said in unison. The twins are best described as striking. Their father was Vietnamese. Their dark skin, almond-shaped gray eyes and jet-black, crinkly hair, turns heads.
Rose took over. "Travis left us here with Bethany cuz he said he had to go do an errand and he'd be right back, but he didn't come back."
Fifteen-year-old Bethany is our neighbor and the backup sitter. The twins begin attending camp next week. Until then, Travis, my twenty-year-old son, is the designated babysitter. Travis is a sophomore at Lincoln University, home for the summer.
"What do you mean he didn't come back? How long has he been gone?"
"He left at seven. He didn't even fix us breakfast. He should have taken us with him. He left you a note on the kitchen counter," Rose said.
"Calm down. Nothing happened, right?"
In unison they chimed, "Yeah. We're big enough to care for ourselves. We are on the case to find out where he went and why."
My nieces took on more of me than I sometimes could handle. They started the Twofer Detective Agency in my honor. As investigators, they question, research, and detect everything, and I do mean everything. I liked that they wanted to be "like me" in that way.
Rose said, "We know he got a phone call from Uncle Hamp. After he talked on the phone to Uncle Hamp, he left. From what we heard, we speculate that Uncle Hamp has troubles."
"You speculate, huh. Enough of the speculation."
"Yes, ma'am," they said in unison, standing at attention and saluting.
"Hi, Miss Mabley," Bethany said, emerging from the den. "It wasn't nothing for me to come over," she said, sashaying her way to the front door. Bethany's round baby face — big wide eyes and dab of a nose — made her appear younger than fifteen. She was another version of striking, having a German father and Haitian mother, both musicians. "I'm usually available anytime, so just call when you need me."
Bethany agreed to come back in an hour if Travis had not returned. After she left, the twins sang, "Bethany likes Travis, Bethany likes Travis, and Kenyetta's going to be pissed."
Kenyetta is Travis's girlfriend since freshman year in high school. She ran away from her foster home and was living on the street when Travis brought her home and asked for my help. We found her a better living situation. Their friendship blossomed, not surprising since Kenyetta is a beauty — dark skin, long, thick coiled hair, and curvaceous frame. They have been bound together since.
"Enough. Besides, how do you know Bethany likes Travis?"
"We've been watching them talk to each other and interrogatin' her and Travis, separately of course, about their associations."
Excerpted from Cold Flash by Carrie H. Johnson. Copyright © 2017 Carrie H. Johnson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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