This knockout punch of a thriller from a critically acclaimed author follows a young Cuban detective's quest for vengeance against her father's killer in a Colorado mountain town
A man is killed in a hit-and-run on a frozen mountain road in the town of Fairview, Colorado. He is an illegal immigrant in a rich Hollywood resort community not unlike Telluride. No one is prosecuted for his death and his case is quietly forgotten.
Six months later another illegal makes a treacherous run across the border. Barely escaping with her life and sanity intact, she finds work as a maid with one of the employment agencies in Fairview. Secretly, she begins to investigate the shadowy collision that left her father dead.
The maid isn't a maid. And she's not Mexican, either. She's Detective Mercado, a police officer from Havana, and she's looking for answers: Who killed her father? Was it one of the smooth- talking Hollywood types? Was it a minion of the terrifying county sheriff? And why was her father, a celebrated defector to the United States, hiding in Colorado as the town ratcatcher?
Adrian McKinty's live-wire prose in Fifty Grand crackles with intensity as we follow Mercado through the swells of emotion and violence that lead up to a final shocking confrontation.
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About the Author
Adrian McKinty is the critically acclaimed author of Dead I Well May Be, the award-winning The Dead Yard, The Bloomsday Dead, and Hidden River. McKinty was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and educated at Oxford University. After ten years in Colorado, he currently lives in Melbourne, Australia.
Adrian McKinty is the author of Fifty Grand, Dead I Well May Be, The Dead Yard, and The Bloomsday Dead. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.
Read an Excerpt
A Novel of Suspense
By Adrian McKinty
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2009 Adrian McKinty
All rights reserved.
The frozen lake and the black vacuum sky and the dead man pleading for the return of his remaining days.
"There must be some kind of mistake."
"You've got the wrong guy."
"You're gonna pay for this."
Viejo compañero, I've paid in advance.
And before he can come up with any more material I unroll a line of duct tape, cut it, and place it over his mouth.
I step away from the car, check back up the trail.
Moonlight on the green Park Service hut. Snow on the dogwoods. No new tire tracks.
Apart from me and my confederates, no one's been here in days, probably weeks. I close the BMW's trunk and take off my ski mask. He kicks at the side panels with his soles but the muffled protests cease after a couple of minutes.
I plunge my left hand into the coat pocket and bring out an orange.
I stare at it obsessively for a moment, but the color and the smell are making my head spin. I return it to the coat.
"An orange," I say to myself with a smile.
I breathe the crisp December air, shiver.
I open the driver's-side door.
The seat. The key. The heat.
I rummage in the bag and find Paco's Mexican cigarettes.
I partially close the door and look at the BMW's rocket ship display. Which of these is the clock? Ah, there it is next to the GPS: 6:02 a.m. At least a one-hour wait. We won't go onto the ice until sunup — no point in taking unnecessary risks in the dark.
I light the cigarette, inhale the loose, sweet tobacco, and let it coat my lungs.
The smoke warms my insides to such an extent that when I exhale I feel empty, scared.
I take an almost panicky second breath of air and smoke.
Keep it there.
Another sad exhalation. Two more iterations but the cumulative effect is the opposite of what I'm expecting, making me jittery, on edge.
I turn on the interior light and examine the pack. A comical English explorer in shorts and pith helmet. Faros. Had them before — when I was a teenager Mexican cigarettes were the only affordable luxury you could get. Uncle Arturo managed to find Marlboros, but my father said that Faros and Rivas were just as good. I must be so nervous that I'm way beyond their power to relax me.
At the bottom of the Faros packet, there is, however, something that looks like a fat joint. I take it out and sniff it. Grade-A narc from Canada — Paco must have stolen it somehow. Maybe the night of the party.
It would be very tempting to light it up, but I should probably save that for after. One of those and I'd be on my ass for hours.
I put it away. Check the clock: 6:06 and still as dark as ever.
A breeze cuts through the door and I pull it fully closed. In brittle Euro-trash an annoyed disembodied voice tells me to fasten my seatbelt. I try to ignore it but it grows increasingly demented. "Fasten seatbelt, fasten seatbelt, fasten seatbelt."
I fool the computer by clicking and quickly unclicking the belt.
"Seatbelt secured," the computer sighs with relief.
Clock says 6:08.
I put the cigarettes in the backpack and kill the headlights.
Quick scan through the radio stations. Country. Religious. Country. News. Country. Religious. I nix the radio and max the heat.
Nothing to do now but wait.
A gust rustling the tree branches along the ridge.
A starlit vapor trail.
Kicking from inside the trunk.
The radio again, a Nebraska station playing polka. A ten-thousand- watt Jesus station out of Laramie.
The kicking stops.
I relight the Faros, finish it, wipe my fingerprints from the butt, and throw it out the window.
I leave the window open and turn everything off.
And sit there.
As the day meditates.
Time passes and finally a hint of morning in the black distance and above me a blue, distilled silence as night switches off its stars.
From the passenger's seat I unwrap the ROAD CLOSED — SUBSIDENCE DANGER sign I stole yesterday in Fairview.
Won't be enough to fool a ranger from the Park Service but it should keep away any early-morning hunters or ice fishermen.
I grab the Smith & Wesson 9mm, get out of the car, and walk back up the trail until I find the aluminum swing gate. In the distance I can see the lights of vehicles on the highway. Big rigs, Greyhound buses, nothing that's coming down here. I duct tape the sign to the top bar of the gate. Hmmm. In the light of day it doesn't look so fantastic but it'll have to do.
I drag the gate through the snow, close it, and lock it with the padlock I've specifically brought for this purpose. You're going to need to be pretty determined to come down this road now.
I take a few steps to the side and admire my handiwork.
Maybe a good idea to get rid of all the footprints.
I grab a tree branch and brush over the area on my side of the gate.
Not likely that man or beast is going to come by at this time of the morning, but my business is going to take a while and this should help deter the curious.
I wipe away all the tire tracks and footprints until I reach the bend in the road, then I toss the branch and return to the BMW.
I get back inside and warm my hands over the vents. 6:36. Better get a move on. I grab the green backpack and put the sledgehammer, the gun, the handcuffs key, the gloves, and the ski mask inside.
I get out of the car and close the door.
Dawn is a smear on the eastern horizon and light is beginning to illuminate the low clouds in alternating bands of orange and gold.
I shoulder the backpack and walk out onto the lake, bend down and examine the ice.
About twenty, thirty millimeters thick. Good enough, I imagine.
I trudge back to the car, open the backpack, and put on the gloves and ski mask.
A click of the button and the trunk pops open.
His eyes are wild, his naked body Pollocked with mud, oil, and paint flecks. His legs covered in yellow bruises. He's been trying to kick open the emergency release lever with his knees.
He's having trouble breathing. I see that the duct tape is partially covering his nostrils. The sort of clumsy mistake that could have suffocated him.
I rip the tape off his mouth.
"Bastard," he says, and spits at me.
Save your strength, if I were you, compañero.
I lift his legs out and then grab him by the arm and heft him from the trunk onto the embankment. I shove him facedown into the snow, take the knife, and cut through the duct tape at his ankles. I step away from him and remove the Smith & Wesson M&P from my jacket pocket.
He gets to his feet, but he can't do anything with his hands still cuffed behind his back.
I waggle the gun at him to make sure that he sees it.
"Now what?" he says.
I point at the lake.
"I'm freezing. I want my clothes. I'm freezing to death."
I bring the 9mm up to his navel and press it against his bruised stomach.
The gun and the ski mask are iconic images of terror. It would take someone of sterner stuff than him to resist this kind of pressure.
"All right," he says.
I turn him and push him gently in the direction of the lake.
He mutters something, shakes his head, and walks through the frozen snow to the lakeshore.
His body is pale, almost blue white. And he's a big man. Six foot four, two hundred and fifty pounds, none of it fat. He was a college football player back in the day and he's kept himself in shape. Five miles on the treadmill each morning and rugby training every Wednesday with the Gentlemen of Aspen.
More grumbling, and he stops when his soles touch the ice. He hesitates. The snow was full of air and not too frigid but the ice is dry, flat, and sticky. It's cold enough to burn.
"What do you want me to do?"
I'm about to speak for the first time but the words die on my lips. Not yet. Not yet.
I wave him forward.
I nod and extend the gun.
"Ah shit," he says but begins walking.
It's full light now.
The sun advancing over the plains. The moon a fading scar.
The lake. The trees.
Voleries of geese.
Fish in trance.
"Aow!" he says.
Vapor lock. His soles are stuck and he shudders to a halt. Momentum is the key. I give him a shove. His back tenses at my touch and he doesn't move.
I tap him with the gun.
We begin again.
But the sensation of his powerful shoulder muscle through the glove has made me nervous.
I'm going to have to be very careful when I give him the hammer.
In his freshman year at college he had a charge of assault and battery dismissed (so Ricky thinks) through the influence of his father; and in his senior year he broke another man's jaw, but that never came to anything because it was on the football field.
He's strong. He could snap me in half. Would too, given half a chance.
"How much farther? What is this?" he asks and stops again.
I push him.
Although he moves, there's a little jaunt in his step that makes me think he's up to something.
Got to be careful in spades.
"What's with the silent treatment, buddy? Do you even understand English? Are you mute?"
He turns to look at me.
"Huh? Get me? What are they paying you? I'll give you ten times what they're paying you. What's your price? Name it. Just name it. I've got the money. A lot of money. Everyone has their price. Tell me what it is."
Can you run back time? Can you do that? Are you a mage, a necromancer?
"What have you done with my clothes? I want my clothes. I want my goddamn clothes!" he shouts, furious, stubborn.
Naked in, amigo, and perhaps if things don't go well, naked out.
Even so, when the gun waggles he keeps walking.
"What is this? I want my clothes!"
The echo back over the lake opens the floodgates.
"This is insane! This is crazy!" he yells. "You can't shoot me, you can't. You can't shoot me. You can't. I haven't done anything. You got the wrong man. This is a goddamn misunderstanding."
I'm not going to shoot you. That would be far too easy. That would not give us sufficient comfort in the long years ahead.
"Listen to me, listen to me. I know you're not mute and I know you can hear me. Say something. Speak. You think you're being so smart. You're not. I want you to speak. I'm ordering you to speak. Speak to me!"
You want part of it? How about this: enshrined within the Colonial Spanish penal code is the Latin maxim talem qualem, which means you take your victim as you find him. American cops call it the eggshell skull rule. Slap someone with a delicate cranium, break it, and they'll still charge you with murder. Talem qualem. Take your victim as you find him. In other words, be careful who you kill. Be careful who you kill, friend.
"Madness. This is madness. You've obviously made some kind of mistake. I'm not loaded. You want to go to Watson, he's worth a billion. I'll show you. I'll show you. He's got a van Gogh, a Matisse. Him, not me. Dammit, talk to me! Who do you think I am? What is this? Who do you think I am?"
I know exactly who you are.
It's who I am that's the mystery. What am I doing here? That one I still haven't figured out.
He stamps his heel into the ice, flexes his shoulder, turns again.
"This is crazy. You don't ... Have you any idea what you've got yourself into? Do you know who you're dealing with? Ok, I'm no goddamn Cruise but let me tell you something, I'll be missed. They'll come looking for me. Are you listening? Take that thing off your head. I don't know what they told you. I don't know what you think you're doing but you're making a big mistake, pal. Big mistake. Biggest mistake of your whole life. That's it, isn't it? You don't know who I am, this is just a job to you, isn't it? Isn't it? Well, let me hit you with the truth, bud, you're making a life-changing error."
His confidence is starting to return. It didn't take long. His default position is the black rider, the boss, the center of the Ptolemaic universe. I prefer that.
"This has gone on too far. Way too far for a practical joke. Right now you're doing permanent damage to the soles of my feet. I'll see you in court for this."
He still doesn't get it. He still doesn't see why we're here.
"Listen to me, pal, you have no idea what you're mixed up in. You don't. Name a sum of money. Go on, just name it. A hundred thousand dollars? Two hundred thousand dollars? How about a cool half mil? Half a mil. Easy money. Easy money. Come on, buddy. You and me. We'll pull one over on 'em. We'll show them. Come on, whaddya say? I'm a grifter, you're a grifter. Come on, man, you can see the angles, we'll play 'em together."
Oh, compañero, is everything about you fake? A performance? Where did you learn to talk like that? The movies? TV? Isn't there anything real under that sheath of skin?
I slide the breech back on the M&P and it makes a satisfying clunk.
He continues shuffling, but only for a few paces.
"Come on, man," he says, and turns, and he's so fast I don't even see the drop kick coming.
He jumps with both feet and crashes into my stomach.
The wind is knocked out of me and the gun goes flying. Both of us go down onto the ice with a crash. He falls on me, his thighs crunching against my ribs.
Water and a big fissure forming under my back.
He pivots on top of me, and although his hands are still cuffed he's trying to bite my face.
His teeth snag on the ski mask at my chin, his breath reeking of booze and fear.
I make a fist and thump him so hard the first blow probably breaks his nose. The next gets him in his left eye, and the sideways kick to the crotch is the clincher. He doubles up in agony and I push the writhing mass of naked flesh away from me.
I get to my feet, retrieve the gun, suck O.
I look nervously at the crack under my feet. I stand there for a few beats but it doesn't widen.
"Jesus," he says.
Jesus is right. That was really something.
We both could easily have gone right through the surface. The hammer in my backpack would have taken me down to the lake bottom and if the shock hadn't sent me into cardiac arrest, the current would probably have taken me away from the crack and up under unbroken ice. And if I hadn't been able to break through I would have drowned. Shit, even if I'd gotten through somehow, I'd have been too exhausted to get out of the water. I'd have frozen to death in about half an hour. Mary, Mother of God, that would have been too perfect. It almost would have been worth it, just for that. What a wonderful, circular, karmic joke on me.
I underestimated you, friend. And if I was a better person I'd let you go.
More deep breaths, hard, until I feel that I'm balanced again, poised between fight and flight.
Behind me the startled ravens stop squawking and resume their perches.
He is gasping for air, blood bubbling in his mouth.
After all the excitement we'll both need another minute. He returns my gaze and, observing the gun, backs away crabwise, trying to make it to the shore. Painful to watch: hands resisting the desiccated ice, heels dragging.
Squeak, squeak, squeak. Clouds. Snowflakes. Squeak, squeak, squeak.
I walk to him.
"No," he says.
His ass sticks to the ice. He rips it free and the crab walk recommences. It's so pathetic I'm starting to feel bad. I point the gun at his stomach.
"No," he repeats in a whisper.
Nooo. His breath a ghost that vanishes like all ghosts. Desperation in those red, coke crash eyes. I go behind him and lug him to his feet. Ice-burned skin. Human skin.
Sickening, but not much farther now.
"Listen to me, buddy, I can make you rich. I can get you money. A lot of money. Millions. Do you understand? Millions of dollars. Goddammit! Why don't you understand, what's the matter with you? Millions of dollars? Do you speak English? Do you understand the goddamn English language?"
I do. It was my major.
"I hope you understand me, because you're making a mistake. A life-altering — I have men, they'll find me, and when they do I wouldn't like to be in your shoes."
Better my shoes than no shoes.
"You just don't know who you're dealing with. You have no idea."
What next? You're connected? You're high up in the mob? Your movements are tracked by drones piloted by the CIA?
Just a few more steps: one, two, three, four.
There, we're about thirty meters out now, which is far enough.
Excerpted from Fifty Grand by Adrian McKinty. Copyright © 2009 Adrian McKinty. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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