A new short story by Jon McGoran featuring Philadelphia Detective Doyle Carrick, star of Drift, Deadout, and Dust Up!
When a beekeeper removing hives from an inner city warehouse is greeted with gunfire, Detective Doyle Carrick is called in to help aging mentor Jack Conroy catch the shooters. Although a previous case involving genetically modified bees has made Doyle the closest thing to a bee expert the Philly PD has, it’s a subject he wants nothing to do with. But Doyle owes Jack plenty of favors. Soon, the pair are clashing with foreign agents, corporate security agents, and lowlife thugs while tracking the mysterious bees across the city. As they work to figure out why these bees are worth killing over before the shooters can strike again, Doyle finds himself racing against a clock he could never have imagined.
"Readers who enjoy Michael Crichton...will find much to enjoy here." --Booklist on Drift
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|File size:||817 KB|
About the Author
JON McGORAN, author of Drift and Deadout, has written about food and sustainability for twenty years, as communication director at Weavers Way Co-op in Philadelphia, and now as editor at Grid magazine. During that time he has also been an advocate for urban agriculture, cooperative development and labeling of genetically engineered foods. He is a founding member of the Philadelphia Liars Club, a group of published authors dedicated to promotion, networking, and service work. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and son.
Read an Excerpt
Down to Zero
By Jon McGoran
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2016 Jon McGoran
All rights reserved.
The rotted porch sagged under the weight of the five agents crouching at the ready. A peeling label next to the doorbell said MRS. MARISELA CRUZ in faded ballpoint pen. But Mrs. Cruz had been dead for five years. The place now belonged to her son Marco, the former best friend and right-hand man of a drug dealer named Ontario Brown.
The relationship between Brown and Cruz had changed when Cruz started doing the math and realized just how much money Brown was making from the operation and how little of it he was sharing with his oldest friend. A local Dominican gang had made the same calculation and started moving in. Cruz approached them hoping to cut a better deal. We didn't know the terms of Cruz's proposal, but the Dominicans had countered: Cruz could keep working the same corners for the same money, only for them instead of Brown, and as a bonus, the Dominicans wouldn't chop Cruz into tiny bits with machetes. In return, though, he would have to kill Ontario Brown.
Brown had turned up dead the day before. Marco Cruz was the prime suspect.
It was still technically a narcotics investigation, so my partner, Danny, and I were the leads, but now homicide was involved, as well. That's why there were five of us on the porch. Hudson and Dubrow from homicide, Danny and me, and a uniform named Stan Wallis, who some people called "Boom Boom" because of his artistry with the compact door ram.
Danny cop-knocked the door — bam, bam, bam — and identified us as police. Then he nodded to Stan.
The ram hit with a sharp crack, and the door swung gently open.
I went in first. It's a tense moment when that door swings inward and you're wondering what's on the other side of it. This time it was Marco Cruz, sprawled facedown across a brown corduroy recliner in the living room. The top of his head was in the dining room. There might have been some in the kitchen, too. It was a small house.
The place looked like it hadn't been cleaned or redecorated since his mother died. The furniture, the carpets, the pictures on the walls — apart from the carnage and filth, it probably looked just the way it had when Mrs. Cruz had been living there. When Marco had been her baby.
After making sure the rest of the place was clear, we gathered on the front steps to figure out what this meant for the case. Hudson and Dubrow looked over at Danny and me, questioningly, wondering if we were going to hand the case over to them since there were two homicides now and the victims were the two guys we'd been building a case against.
Danny shrugged. I knew he wanted to hand it over without a fight, and I knew he was right. I wasn't crazy about handing off cases, especially to homicide. But Hudson and Dubrow weren't as bad as most of their pals, and both our suspects had been murdered. Even if we were going to build something on the Dominicans, it would be a while before we had anything usable. We'd put in a lot of hours on this case, but it was as dead as Marco Cruz. Or Ontario Brown.
I just wasn't quite ready to admit it yet.
Danny shook his head at me and opened his mouth, but the voice that said, "Doyle," wasn't his.
We all looked off to the side and saw Jack Conroy ambling up the sidewalk with his signature ponderous, shuffling, bad-hip gait.
"Looking good there, Jack," I said, because that's what I'd been saying since I was a rookie, even though he hadn't looked good once in the fifteen years I'd known him. He'd been looking particularly like hell since his wife died two years earlier.
Usually, he'd come back with, "Looking good there, Doyle."
This time he responded with, "Fuck you, Carrick."
He said it good-naturedly, but when I looked closer, I saw what he meant. "Jesus, Jack, what happened?" The doughnut of an Afro that ringed his head had gotten noticeably grayer and narrower. Around it, his face and scalp were blotchy and swollen with angry welts that showed red through his deep brown skin.
He turned to Danny and said, "Hey, Dennison."
Danny winced at him. "What's going on there, Jack?"
"Fucking bees," he said.
Danny looked at me sideways and said, "Bees?"
I felt a wave of trepidation that some would have called fear, but I quickly got it under control. I'd been irrationally afraid of bees ever since I was a little kid. More recently, I'd been involved in a case involving bees. Many, many bees. I'd learned a lot about them, found new respect for them. But I'd also seen some crazy stuff. Confronting my irrational fears had helped me get over them, but I'd come away with a different set of fears that were pretty goddamned rational as far as I was concerned.
"What happened?" I asked.
He was absentmindedly picking at a stinger still stuck in his cheek. "Got a call this morning about shots fired in Logan."
He nodded. "Local beekeeper. Couple of neighborhood kids got stung, playing out behind an abandoned warehouse across from their houses. The moms got together and called the Bee Guy. Schlump, Stump, something like that."
"Philadelphia Bee Company?"
"Yeah, that's it."
"Don Shump. I know Don. He's a good guy."
He paused and gave me a look to let me know he didn't care about my acquaintance with Don Shump beyond the fact that it was interfering with his story. "Anyway, Shump specializes in bee removals," he went on. "I don't know why they don't just spray the shit out of the little bastards —" I opened my mouth to share some of what I'd learned about bees, but he winced and raised a hand to silence me. "But I understand that's not what you're supposed to do, whatever. So this guy Shump goes out there, figures out the bees are coming from inside this old warehouse, goes inside to have a look, all of a sudden bang, bang, bang. Three shots, two hits."
"Jesus, is he okay?"
"He's fine. Grazed the abdomen, passed through the arm. So me and Perkins go over to check it out. Gunmen are gone, but we did encounter some resistance, so to speak." He smiled, causing the welts on his cheeks to raise up. I counted eight stings on his face, two more on his neck, and at least three on his shiny scalp. "The place was full of bees, hundreds of them. And they were pissed."
"Looks like they lit you up pretty good," Danny said. "How'd Perkins make out?"
Perkins was Conroy's partner. Good guy, but maybe not quite rough enough around the edges for Conroy's liking.
"Fucking guy." Conroy laughed. "Got stung once just as we went in. I'm in there fighting these fucking things, trying to figure out if the gunmen are in there. He's in a heap by the entrance, his face blowing up like a melon."
"Yikes," I said. "He's allergic?"
"Apparently. He had one of those EpiPens, but I had to take him to the hospital, anyway." He shook his head. "One fucking sting."
"Those allergies can be pretty serious."
He waved the thought away, even as he said, "Yeah, I know. Whatever."
It was a decent story, although not quite up to Jack Conroy's usual standards. I was about to ask him why he was telling me all this when he said, "Anyway, Suarez said I'd find you here. I got to head back there and finish my look around. Figured I could use a little backup. The boys said you know a thing or two about bees from that thing in Massachusetts. Anyway, I figure you owe me a few favors; I'm kind of running out of time to collect."
Everybody owed Jack Conroy favors, and I owed more than most. This was the first time I'd ever heard of him collecting.
When I was new, Conroy and I were assigned together temporarily. He didn't show any of the exasperation he would have been totally justified in showing — that I would have shown. Instead, he took the time to teach me things, important things, from how to write reports so they don't look like a nine-year-old wrote them and how to finesse information from a reluctant witness to how to stay clean without looking suspicious to those who might not be quite so clean.
"Can't I just, like, paint your garage or something?" The truth was, I'd do anything for Jack Conroy, but not without a little fun first.
He smiled. "Good idea. We can talk about that, too."
"Yeah, all right." I turned to Danny. "Can I, Mom?"
Danny's eyes narrowed into a sour expression. "What about Cruz and Brown?"
"Let homicide have it."
"What about the paperwork?"
Conroy cocked an eyebrow at him.
Danny laughed and shook his head. I'm pretty sure he owed Conroy a few favors, as well. "All right. Whatever. I hope you both get stung."
Conroy snorted. "I already got stung."
"Then I hope Carrick gets stung twice."
* * *
As Conroy and I got into his car, he paused before he started the engine, looking in the rearview as he finally worked the stinger out of his cheek and flicked it out the window.
"You believe this shit?" he said. "All these years, I never had to deal with nothing like this. Here I am, old enough to retire, and I step right into it."
"Retire? Sorry, Jack, I've got you pegged as a lifer." Especially since he'd outlived his wife, I was having a hard time picturing him going willingly.
"You might be right about that."
"How long you got left?"
"On the job? My time is in," he said quietly. "I can leave whenever I want."
"So does that mean the old 'fuck-it list' has kicked in?"
He looked at me and laughed. "You remember that?"
"Are you kidding? I remember everything you told me back then. That's the only reason I'm still alive."
Conroy had said many times he didn't have a "bucket list" of things he wanted to do before he died, he had a "fuck-it list" of things he didn't want to deal with, and if they came up, he could just say, "Fuck it. I'm out of here."
In the old days, he would add, "Of course, I have to get my time in first." Now he had.
"Let me tell you," he said, "this case would have been on that list, if I'd thought being attacked by a swarm of angry bees was something I had to worry about."
I looked at him. "You sure you don't want to just step off this case? I'm sure they'd let you."
He shook his head. "Not a chance. These assholes out there taking potshots at beekeepers? Can't be letting that happen. Anyway, I cleared it with Lieutenant Suarez."
"He owed you a favor, too?"
"Something like that."
"What's my role?"
"You know what to do. Back me up, lend me your expertise. If you see a bee about to sting me, swat the shit out of it." He nudged me with his elbow. "It'll be fun. Just like old times."
I laughed. "Sure thing. What's first?"
"Talk to the neighbors, interview Shump ... Oh, here. I got you a present." He pulled something out of his jacket and handed it to me.
I looked at it and then at him. "An EpiPen?"
"In case you have a reaction."
"Yeah, I know, but why do I need one?"
"Because before anything else, we gotta go back in there."
I have a great appreciation for the importance of honeybees in the world, but I'd had enough interactions with them to last a lifetime. Conroy laughed at my expression. "If you want, we can stop at Home Depot for some bug spray on the way. While we're there, we can pick out some paint for my garage."
* * *
The place where Don Shump got shot and Conroy and Mitch Perkins got stung was a dark red brick warehouse in Logan. There was a big asphalt lot in front that had mostly turned to gravel. A bent and rusty chain-link fence surrounded the whole thing, but the gate was gone. Across the street was a row of two-story wooden houses with identical sagging porches and wildly mismatched vinyl siding. A few of them looked vacant.
A handful of kids were playing on the street, a trio of moms keeping an eye on them from up on one of the porches. Conroy waved, and the women waved back. "They're the ones that called," he said.
I waved, too. I'd want to talk to them, but I wanted to see what was inside first.
As we stepped onto the curb, Conroy gestured toward a rusty metal door set in the red brick, not quite closed and sitting crooked in its frame. He stopped ten feet away from it and looked around, a little uneasy. "This is where the kids said they got stung."
I looked around, too. I didn't see any bees. "How about you?" I asked.
"Inside," he said, flicking his wrist at the door again. I saw a look in his eyes that I'd never seen before, and it took me a moment to realize it was fear.
I hoped I was concealing mine a little better. We walked up to the door, and I said, "You want to wait out here?"
Conroy screwed up his face and said, "Fuck you." But he handed me the flashlight and let me go first.
I pulled the door open with a screech of protesting metal.
The kids stopped playing and watched, drifting to the far side of the street, closer to their moms. The moms were watching, too.
I poked my head inside and paused, listening. I didn't hear anything like buzzing. The air smelled musty, with a slight tang of machine oil and a trace of the sweet, yeasty smell of the beehives I'd encountered before, so faint it could have been my imagination.
The interior was one huge, cavernous room, with a smaller one partitioned off in the far corner. The grimy windows set along the top of the wall, just under the roof, let in a dull wash of light punctuated by bold, bright shafts coming through the holes where rocks had punched through the glass.
The wall along the left was mostly taken up by a series of rusted metal garage doors. Pale light spilled through the gap underneath one of them, striping the floor with long, narrow shadows from a sprinkling of dead bees.
I looked back to make sure Conroy was with me. Together, we moved forward to the small enclosed office.
On the floor inside it were a couple of blankets, a pair of half-deflated air mattresses, and a pile of trash. I walked over and spread the trash out with the tip of my boot.
Conroy hung back by the door just for a second, scribbling in his notepad with the strangely elegant handwriting he once told me had been beaten into him by nuns. He started walking over, taking two or three steps before he'd finished writing.
I shined the flashlight over the trash: pizza boxes, cigarette butts, beer and soda cans, an empty Doritos bag. There was also a crumpled and grease-stained white paper. I handed the flashlight to Conroy and picked up the paper — it was a little bag — and uncrumpled it to reveal a cartoon logo of a smiling cow. The words "Happyfield Farm" were printed across the top, and stamped underneath it, not quite straight, were the words "FARM-FRESH BUTTER CAKE" and a price sticker that said "$8."
"What the hell's that?" Conroy asked, looking over my shoulder. "Happyfield Farm? I take my grandkids there. They have a corn maze and pumpkins and stuff."
"That's some good butter cake," I said. "My girlfriend Nola buys them at the farmers market near our house."
"Serious? Eight bucks for a tiny little cake?"
"Actually, she pays nine at the farmers market."
Conroy shook his head and laughed, jotting some notes in his notepad. I hoped it wasn't about my butter cake budget. "Well, these guys paid six for it," he said, pointing his pen at the sticker on the bottom of the bag that said "Happyfield Farm Reduced for Quick Sale 25% Off."
"Probably day-old," I said. I'd never known one to last that long. "Still, do these guys seem like the type to go to the farmers market and pay six bucks for 'farm-fresh' butter cake?"
Conroy thought for a second, then shook his head and scribbled on his notepad. "No, I wouldn't think so."
* * *
We crossed the street to talk to the three women on the porch. Conroy gave them a nice smile, and they smiled back at him, but all three winced as they did. The welts were going down, but he still looked like hell.
"You okay?" one of them called out as we approached. She was the tallest of the three. I'm pretty sure it was her porch they were standing on. The other two women tutted and shook their heads.
Conroy waved his hand, like it was nothing. "I'm fine, Mrs. Odoms. Just a couple of bee stings. Ain't no big deal."
"What about your partner?" said one of the others, a heavyset woman in a very obvious wig.
"Yeah, he didn't look too good," said the third one, taking a sip of coffee. They all looked to be in their thirties, but she was the smallest and looked like the youngest.
Conroy laughed. "No, he didn't, did he? He's fine, though. He's just allergic. He'll be back getting on my nerves tomorrow."
They looked at me, the replacement partner, wondering if I was getting on his nerves, as well. I nodded in the way of a greeting. They nodded back, undecided.
"Didn't get a chance to finish talking to you this morning," Conroy said.
The women laughed.
"Yeah, you guys left in a bit of a hurry," said Mrs. Odoms.
"Wondering if you could tell me if you saw anything," he said, pen poised over his notepad.
"Saw a lot of bees," said the young one, pointing at the building we'd just come out of.
Conroy asked them their names. The young one was Mrs. Greene, and the other one was Mrs. Stanfield.
Excerpted from Down to Zero by Jon McGoran. Copyright © 2016 Jon McGoran. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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.
Table of Contents
Excerpt from Dust Up,
Forge Books by Jon McGoran,
About the Author,