Flawless

Flawless

by Tom Kakonis

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Overview

FLAWLESS. That's how women describe Michael Woodrow. He's an irresistibly handsome corporate hatchet man, trimming costs by axing employees. He also likes to kill women.

FLAWLESS. That's how he balances his professional and homicidal lives until he falls in love with his next-door neighbor... and his father is released from prison after serving 18 years for murdering Michael's mother.

FLAWLESS. That's a standard that becomes increasingly difficult for Michael to sustain when a sleazy, but sharp Florida PI closes in.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781941298176
Publisher: Brash Books LLC
Publication date: 02/03/2015
Pages: 428
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.95(d)

About the Author

Tom Kakonis has been hailed by critics nationwide as the heir-apparent to Elmore Leonard... and for good reason. His stunning thrillers blend dark humor with gritty storytelling for compelling, and innovative crime noir capers packed with unique, sharply drawn characters and shocking twists. All of those talents are on full display in Treasure Coast, his bold new thriller from Brash Books.

But that success is built on a foundation of incredible crime writing. In his highly-praised debut Michigan Roll, Kakonis introduced Tim Waverly - a loveable gambler who constantly finds himself playing a game of survival against the odds. The Waverly series continued with Double Down and Shadow Counter, and Kakonis also penned the hilarious and harrowing Christmas car heist Criss Cross.

Kakonis took a darker turn with Blind Spot and Flawless, two mind-blowing thrillers he initially wrote under the pseudonym "Adam Barrow." Blind Spot is a tour-de-force that tracks a father's relentless, driving obsession to save his family at any cost, while Flawless, picked as a People Magazine Chiller of the Week, centers on a chilling serial killer as his perfectly-ordered life begins to crumbled when he falls in love, his imprisoned father is released, and a relentless, and sleazy, PI starts to follow the trail of bodies to his door.

And now Tom Kakonis is back with the thriller his fans have been waiting to read for years. It was worth the wait. Treasure Coast Is "Get Shorty" meets "No Country for Old Men" on a sunny Florida coast that's teeming with conmen and killers - and marks the return of Tom Kakonis at his best.

Read an Excerpt

Flawless


By Tom Kakonis

Brash Books, LLC

Copyright © 2014 Tom Kakonis
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-941298-17-6


CHAPTER 1

When you thought about it clearly, rationally, hearing voices was certainly no foolproof test of sanity. Everyone's got a voice going inside his head every waking moment of every day of his life. Voice says, Get up now, it's time. Voice enjoins you to shower, shave, brush and floss, dress in your dark vested suit, arctic white shirt, understated silk tie, spit-polished shoes. Same as always, invariably the same. Consume a light, sensible breakfast; assemble a public face much like the face you're showing now: attentive, thoughtful, ready with the reflex smile. Voice says to gather up briefcase and leather-bound notebook and go to work, concentrate, focus, analyze, problem solve, perform, achieve. Voice escorts you through the catalog of ordinaries that weave the tapestry of that generally amiable dreamwalk we're pleased to call living. Everyone has it, that familiar voice. Everyone.

But it was an altogether different voice, this one only dimly recognizable, buzzing away in a distant chamber of Michael Woodrow's head this morning. Nagging, prodding, insistent. Swelling sometimes, sometimes scarcely audible, like a trumpet muting and unmuting. Clashing with Max's nonstop drone and Jiffy Jack's occasional interjected grunts and Briggs's periodic throat clearing. A confusion of sounds and voices, inside and out, battering at his ears.

"... So the system's in place," Max was saying, oiling out the words with that chameleonlike talent of his to adapt both vernacular and the mystifying argot of their trade to whatever the audience, "and all your key personnel checked out on it. Know it better'n the back of their own hand, Mike here tells me. Am I right, Mike?"

His turn to produce some words. Embroidering them with a touch of the control-management cant that came tripping effortlessly off his tongue, he averred, in roundabout fashion, Max was surely right.

"Good, good, good," Max cut in on him, signalling enough already, project's a wrap, let's spare the overkill. "Okay," he continued, ticking off the summary steps on the fingers of an elevated hand, "plan's in order, procedures manuals updated, all the reporting forms standardized, exceptions accounted for ..."

And on it went, building toward a peroration. While the relentless voice in his head kept up a steady taunting chatter. Something dark, twisted, impenetrable. Something about last night.

It was called the Windup, what they were doing. Stroking the client, assuring him the advice and services he contracted for were indeed value-added, even as advertised. The Alexander X. (for Xavier, he'd heard, though the company joke had it standing for X, you're cancelled, eliminated, gone) Stoltz and Associates final flourish.

Folded into a cushy swivel chair behind an imposing mahogany desk, J. Willis Zulewski tugged at an underchin pensively and watched them with the blank, piglet-eyed gaze of the natural-born cheat who expects nothing less than swindle in return. Once known simply as Jack Zulewski, it was that dangling initial that gave him away now. J. Willis Zulewski, founder and sole owner of thirty-eight Jiffy Jacks scattered across metropolitan San Antonio: Oil, Filter and Lube — While-U-Wait — $14.95 — Ten Minutes or Less — Guaranteed! — Or You Don't Pay a Cent! "Got in on the ground floor this bin-us," he liked to remind them, "before your goddam Wards and Kmarts, rest a them Johnny-come-latelys figured it out."

Jack Zulewski, high school dropout, millionaire many times over. Grease monkey with a vision. Fiftyish, sooty hair, dumpling cheeks, skin the color of boiled lobster, a mountain of baggy meat bulging his Omar-tailored suit. Cardinal tonnage of this and any other room he occupied. Watching everyone shrewdly, like a Buddha nursing a grudge. Attending to Max's monologue with the fatty's phlegmatic dispassion, waiting for it to run down. And when eventually it did, his upper lip curled back in a twist of a smile, and he said, "So you boys gonna make me even richer yet, huh? That it?"

"We forecast a seven percent increase in productivity over the next three quarters," Max declared stoutly, the barest edge of defensiveness in his delivery, "with a corresponding dip in operating expenses. What're we lookin' at here? Four percent in on-site labor costs, two percent in materials, and up to six percent in office clerical."

The figures, rehearsed at tedious length and in painstaking detail yesterday afternoon and reviewed again early this morning, along with all the rest of the rhapsodic Max Stroiker assertions, were in fact accurate. Assuming, of course, the Jif and his lieutenants understood the system and followed it scrupulously and without deviation. Risky assumption.

Max, ever alert to risk, stabbed a finger at a ponderous manual, handsomely bound, on Zulewski's desk. Its title read: Jiffy Jacks — Operations System — August 1992.

"Right there's your bible," he said. "You follow it chapter and verse, and you'll realize a volume increase of —" He hesitated just a beat. "What's that number again, Mike?"

Yanked back suddenly from the persistent interior thrumming, Woodrow supplied the number. "Factor in the cost reductions, and it comes to the equivalent of approximately eleven thousand units annually."

That figure was accurate too. He ought to know; he wrote the manual. As acting installation manager, this was — always had been — his project. Max, coming off a rumored bitter divorce, was coasting lately, getting by on bluster and smoke, a share of which he was dispensing now. "So to answer your question, Jack, I gotta say yes. This should translate into more profit for you."

"But it's absolutely essential that the system be adhered to strictly," Woodrow heard himself cautioning. "Particularly the scheduling and weekly status reports. Otherwise we can't guarantee those results." It seemed to help some, this generating of audible words, to muffle if only for an instant the flood of them still going a mile a minute in the echo chamber of his skull. And anyway, they needed to be said.

A ghost of a frown crossed Max's face, but he recovered quickly, slid around the unsolicited caveat, and allowed to Jack, "No reason to think your people won't implement the system properly, now that they've got it mastered."

Jack tossed an imperial, finger-bejeweled hand at the man seated significantly to his immediate right. "Whadda you say, Dwight? Them numbers stand up?"

A dry, obstructed rasp, something like a grating scrape of sandpaper, rose from the stringy throat of Dwight Briggs, chief operations officer, central office manager, CPA and don't you forget it (his routine phone salutation: "Dwight Briggs, CPA, here."). In stunning contrast to his employer, he was a cadaverous splinter of a man, narrow of shoulder, hollow of chest, with a pale, pinched face, beaked nose, prim little mouth, wormy, bloodless lips, retrograde chin. His eyes, a couple of watery black beads shielded by glasses as thick as goggles, were focused on Jack. Throat properly purged, he conceded grudgingly, "That's about how it's worked since they've been here." After a pause pregnant with meaning, and with a baleful sidelong glance at the two consultants, he added, "So far, anyway."

"I ain't talkin' yesterdays," Jack growled at him. "It's them future projections I'm askin' your opinion on."

The CPA squirmed uneasily in his chair. "Yes. Well, I suppose it's possible they could be achieved. That is, if we're willing to terminate all those people. These are loyal employees, family men and women, many of them with us for years."

Max, who had only skimmed the manual, lapsed into an uncharacteristic silence. So it was left to Woodrow to meet the piously intoned objection. "I'd call your attention to the Personnel Control chart," he put in quietly. "Page 93. If you'll look at it again, you'll see that a good share of your staff reduction will come about simply by retaining the hiring freeze we've initiated. That, and predictable normal attrition, of course."

Briggs fixed them with a hostile glare. His jaw, as much as there was of it, was set in a challenging thrust. "A good share," he repeated, pitch and tone just short of mimicry. "But certainly not all of it."

"You're quite right," Woodrow said mildly. "Not all of it. There'll have to be layoffs."

The worm lips parted in a point-proven smirk. "Rather ruthless, don't you think? In these recessionary times?"

Woodrow shrugged. Nothing to say to that.

Jack's eyes, full of a sly peasant cunning, swung back and forth between them. "Fuck 'em," he said. "Somebody ain't pullin' their weight, I say fuck 'em. I ain't in the welfare bin-us." He leaned back, clasped sausage-roll fingers under his arc of belly, as if to forestall its precipitous plunge through the very seams of his trousers, spilling a puddle of polychromatic guts on the richly carpeted floor.

The jeering voice in Woodrow's head, hushed while he spoke aloud but never fully still, pronounced the words that shaped a bizarre image, like a visual memory, and set it madly prancing behind his eyes. Ghastly image. Grotesque.

"So what else burnin' your ass, Dwight?" Jack was saying. "Now's time to spit it out."

Briggs winced. Made his laryngeal bleat. With his compassion for the little guy argument, which fit him about as well as a Goodwill suit of clothes, summarily dismissed, the CPA had to think a minute, regroup. Finally he said, "Well, I have to confess it's difficult for me to understand or justify the substantial outlay for advertising in this plan's budget."

"Let me address that," said Max, resuming center stage. "What we're proposing is a one-shot media blitz, tapering off by the end of the third quarter. We're talkin' newspapers, billboards, radio, TV — the whole nine yards. Y'see, the competition, those Kmarts, Wards, they're anonymous, faceless. We get Jack on the tube, showcase him, sorta like your Dave, of Wendy's — homespun, regular guy, down-home — and people will identify with the business. It's a sensational marketing ploy. Inspired, if you ask me."

Max's failure to credit the source of that inspiration didn't escape Woodrow. Didn't matter. What he desperately wanted to do was get out of there, get to the airport, get home. The shells of his ears seemed to ache from the battery of voices assailing them, either side.

"In my judgment," Briggs said frostily, "it's extravagant. Bordering on fiscal irresponsibility, at this point in time."

Max ignored him, directed his words at Zulewski. "What's your take on it, Jack?" he asked innocently. Not for nothing was he section chief. He had all the moves.

But then so did Jack, who knew exactly where the inspired idea had come from. Nobody's fool, Jack. He looked at Woodrow narrowly, demanded, "Mike. Whadda you say?"

"Ad agency thinks you're a natural, Jack. So do I. Always have."

About half a grin rose through the porky J. Willis face. He leaned forward now, squared his hands on the desk, and in a voice as thick as blackstrap molasses, voice of a man readying himself for the television cameras and a predestined celebrity, said, "Well, I'm thinkin' maybe we'll give er a go. Couple of months, anyway. See what it does for them numbers." An expectant twinkle came into the mean little eyes, but when he turned to Briggs it vanished suddenly, the way a social smile will evaporate. "You got anything else, Dwight?"

The CPA, thoroughly beaten, shook his head negatively. Studied the floor. Apart from the small, relieved sigh Woodrow was certain he heard out of Max, there was an instant of silence.

It was Jack who broke it, saying, "Okay, I got one for you, Maxie. S'pose we run into some snags, this fancy system, couple months down the line. You gonna send somebody back here for a tune-up?"

"Absolutely. Follow-up check's part of the package."

"That's free for nothin', right? That follow-up?"

"Won't cost you a cent. It's part of the agreement. Written right into the original letter of engagement."

"Okay, that's good," Jack said. He paused, made the wet, lipsmacking sound of the man who's just swallowed a bonbon. But then he continued, interrogator-tough, "Now what I wanta know is who you're gonna send."

"Well, certainly somebody familiar with the project."

"I don't want no green peas," Jack rumbled ominously, displaying his mastery of the consulting lingo for an inexperienced man. Quick study, Jack. "What I want is this boy here," he went on, indicating Woodrow without ever once lifting his squinty eyes off Max. "He's the one done all the grunt work."

"I should, uh, think that could be arranged," Max said, the tiniest stutter in his voice.

"Think don't cut no shit. Word I wanta hear is guarantee."

Max put a flat palm in the air, half placation, half pledge. "All right, Jack. You've got it."

Now the intense J. Willis Zulewski features opened in a huge sunburst grin. Triumphant grin, just a trace of wickedness in it. He hauled himself up out of the chair, signalling meeting's close, and the other three came to their feet automatically. Well wishes were exchanged all around, hands extended, pumped vigorously, warmly. All but Briggs's, which felt to Woodrow as limp and chilly as a death hand and which sparked yet another dreadful image in a province, no longer quite so remote, behind his eyes.

"We gotta run," Max said in parting. "Got planes to catch." And with the purposeful stride that signified the relentless pace and burden of their profession, he led the way to the door. Woodrow followed, and a moment later they were gone.

When you're an Alexander Stoltz Associate, you don't do any high-fives or Toyota leaps on the successful completion of a project (never, never referred to as a job). You're much too professional for that, too coolly detached. What you do though, if time allows, is treat yourself to a celebratory loosener or two (or more, in Max's case). And that's what they were doing now, in a hole-in-the-wall airport bar as murky as a cavern, on their feet and hunched over a tiny disk of a stand-up-and-pop-em-back table, and lucky to get that. For the abbreviated space was crammed full with end-of-the-week business travellers (preponderantly male, though lately more and more gimlet-eyed, tightly smiling women), their power-dress outfits, either gender, wilting under the scorching Texas heat. Every one of them was looking as strained, anxious, impatient, exhausted as Woodrow knew he had to look. Certainly that's how he felt.

And certainly Max, three gulped straight-up J.D.'s and working on a fourth, looked no better. Probably worse. The way large, tall, blocky men will rumple easily. Nevertheless, he had shifted into mellow gear. His speech, while a little slurred, returned to its habitual and carefully cultivated mix of the sardonic, the savvy, the profane, and whatever slangy jargon was currently in fashion (though absent altogether of the dropped gs and all the other cornmeal rhythms). "You catch the expression on the wuss CPA," he was chuckling, "after Zulewski squashed him on that advertising budget?"

Somewhat gravely, Woodrow nodded. "I saw it. But I doubt he's going to back off, now that we're out of there. He's about as stubborn a dragon as I've ever come up against."

Dragon was their in-house code for an executive openly hostile to consultants — a coinage out of dragging, foot-dragging, resisting every step of the way. No project was without one, and it was no small share of the installation manager's job to outflank him. With Briggs, Woodrow wasn't so confident he'd succeeded in that crucial task.

"Maybe so," Max said. "But we nailed him this time."

"For however long it may last. Make no mistake — he's got Zulewski's ear. And the dragon never dies. It was you taught me that, Max. Remember?"

Max gave an indifferent shrug. "Yeah, well, that's Warsaw Jack's problem now. He wants the system to fly, he's Polack-in-chief."

"Could be mine, another six weeks."

"You'll handle it," Max said, clearly no longer much interested in the topic. "I got faith in you, boy."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Flawless by Tom Kakonis. Copyright © 2014 Tom Kakonis. Excerpted by permission of Brash Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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