An all-too-realistic thriller about for-profit prisons, big-money politics, shady non-profits, the war on drugs—and the people who would kill to keep the system intact
Emily runs a successful bistro in Humboldt County, California, where she lives with her boyfriend, Jeff, a volunteer firefighter. A lot of her best customers are in the cannabis business, but so what? It’s true, firefighting isn’t really Jeff’s main job—that would be flying Humboldt’s finest weed to out-of-state customers. And sure, he isn’t really Emily’s boyfriend, more like the guy she’s stuck with by circumstance. Actually, his name is Danny, not Jeff, and Emily’s real name is Michelle Mason, although no one can ever know that. She’s on the run from her past—which has just caught up with her. Gary, an ex-CIA agent who got her and Danny into this whole mess, has just shown up in Humboldt County. Michelle should have killed him when she had the chance, but now she’s stuck playing Gary’s game—and if she loses, she or someone close to her will pay the ultimate price.
|Publisher:||Soho Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.50(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Lisa Brackmann is the critically acclaimed author of the Ellie McEnroe novels (Rock Paper Tiger, Hour of the Rat, Dragon Day) and the thriller Getaway. Her work has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Travel+Leisure and CNET. She lives in San Diego with a couple of cats, far too many books and a bass ukulele.
Read an Excerpt
She still wondered if she’d made the right decision.
She’d spent a lot of time thinking about that, in the two years that had passed since. She’d had a choice.
“I’ve got some funds stashed,” he’d said. “I can set you up with enough to make a fresh start someplace.”
“What do you want?” she’d asked.
Silence for a long moment. “I’m tired of doing it all on my own.”
The other choice she’d made back then, in retrospect, she’d clearly chosen wrong.
At times she could still feel the golf club in her hands, the weight of it, the slightly sticky grip, until it became slippery with blood.
She really should have killed him.
The payroll was screwed up, again.
Really, what was the point of hiring a service if they couldn’t get it right?
Jesus stood there, still in his work T-shirt and black pants, ball cap in hand. He seemed apologetic, like he was doing something wrong for asking. A middle-aged man, short, wiry, with a shaved head and a fuzzy tattoo on his neck. One of her line cooks.
He probably was here illegally, but she didn’t really care. He had the right paperwork, and he worked hard.
She was covered.
She signed the check and handed it to him.
“Thank you, Missus Carmichael.”
“Don’t thank me. You worked for it. You should get paid.”
After he left, she finished entering expenses on her spreadsheet. It looked like it was going to be a decent month. On track for 90K plus in gross receipts. She’d gotten some great deals on wine from Sonoma and Lake County, and she was more than happy with the prices and quality of produce and meat she was getting from the local farmers—well, local and a few hundred miles away. You couldn’t be a total purist about these things.
She did some filing. Tidied up the tiny office. It didn’t take much to clutter it up. Watered her plants. The lavender wasn’t doing well. Probably not enough sun. The office had a window that faced east, and Arcata was foggy much of the time, in any case.
I could buy a sun lamp, she thought. One of those therapy lamps, for seasonal affective disorder.
Maybe she could use it too.
My life’s not bad, she told herself. It’s not bad at all. And it’s way better than it was.
Walking into the seating area of the bistro, she reminded herself of that.
She still felt a little thrill sometimes when she looked at it. The redwood burl tables. The dark walls. The photographs on them, lit by accent lights.
It was all her work, really. She’d been very careful about everything. The place settings. The silverware. The glasses. She’d gone for a simple, elegant look with an unfinished edge. Japanese design. Wabi sabi, the deliberate imperfection, the acceptance that all things were transient.
And good food. Good wine. Microbrews. Single-lot origin coffee. She kept the prices reasonable, the value high.
“There’s some money in this town,” he’d said.
College students. Some of them still wanted a nice place to go. Not fussy. Not pretentious. But something for a special occasion. A place to take a serious date, or your parents, when they came to visit. The Cal State faculty made up a good chunk of her regulars too.
Them, and the more professional cannabis entrepreneurs.
Whatever, she thought. They had some things in common, really. The best growers were all about the quality. Perfectly trimmed buds, sticky and sparkling with crystals. No pesticides. Different strains for different highs.
And different medical applications. Indica for insomnia. High CBD for pain management. Sativa for PTSD. You can cure cancer with cannabis oil, some of them said.
She thought they tended to exaggerate.
They liked her wine and cheese selection, her organic, grass-fed beef. Fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruit, artisanal baked breads, estate olive oils.
No GMOs, of course. Arcata outlawed those.
One of her pot regulars, Bobby, sat at a two-top with his girlfriend, Gina, underneath her photo of redwoods and mist. A cliché of sorts, she knew, but technically a nice shot.
She thought that Bobby was more of a broker than a grower. But she wasn’t sure, and she didn’t really want to know. Bobby kept his business quiet, especially compared to the medical growers, where everything was regulated and registered. They were trying to prove a point, she knew, the medical growers and dispensaries, that marijuana could be a legitimate business, one that paid sales tax, joined the local Chambers of Commerce. Served the community.
The federal authorities busted them anyway.
“Easy pickings, operating out in the open like that,” Bobby had said once with a shrug. “No thanks.” He wasn’t crazy about the latest attempt to legalize cannabis for recreational use in California, either. “Prop 391’s just a tax grab by the state,” he’d said. But then, a lot of the growers were split on it. “What’s that going to do to price? Who gets the licenses? How can we compete against Big Ag?” being some of the more common complaints. “Artisanal weed,” was the usual rejoinder. “Like a fine Napa cabernet versus Two Buck Chuck.” But not everyone would be able to make that transition.
What would happen to the economy here, without black market marijuana holding it up? The lumber industry collapsed decades ago. Arcata had the university, at least, but in other parts of Humboldt? There wasn’t much else.
Bobby waved. In his fifties, round faced, balding, with the remaining hair shaved short, a wool Kangol cap he nearly always wore, retro Armani tortoiseshell glasses, tweed jacket over a designer T-shirt. Gina, a decade younger, at least, curly hair shot with gray, wearing layers of peasant blouse and yoga T-shirt.
She smiled back and approached the table.
“Emily! How’s life been treating you?” he asked her.
“Great. Keeping busy.”
“I can see that.” Nine p.m., and the restaurant nearly full. “What are we in the mood for, hon?” he asked Gina. “A nice Cab?”
“Fine with me.”
Know your customer. Appeal to his vanity.
“Try the Rafanelli, if you haven’t yet. It’s not that easy to get a hold of, and a great value for the price.”
Bobby ran a finger down the wine list. “It ain’t cheap.”
“It is for what it is.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
She took a half-step toward the bar, thinking she would bring the wine over herself, while Kendra, the waitress, took orders at the four-top by the front window.
“Hey, is Jeff around?” Bobby asked. “I left him a couple messages.”
She hesitated. “He’s fighting a fire.”
“Oh, that’s right.” Bobby propped his elbow on the bar and leaned back. A studied pose. “The one out near Trinity Forest.”
She didn’t want to talk to Bobby about this, about whatever it was he wanted, because she was pretty sure that she already knew.
“Right,” she said.
“Well, listen, when he gets back, can you ask him to give me a buzz? I have a little gig for him.”
Great, she thought. Just great.
“Did you know that the same bulbs that light our streets are probably used on your indoor garden? Now there’s a better solution—Butterfly Bulbs can increase your yield up to thirty percent by maximizing photosynthetic—”
She switched off the radio.
The tires of her Prius crunched the redwood chips covering the driveway. She decided to just leave the car in the drive. Getting out, opening the garage door and parking in the garage felt like too much trouble.
Outside, fog dripped off the pines.
We really should get a garage door opener, she thought, given how much it rained, but then, it wasn’t their house. Not one she’d choose to buy, really. A sixties ranch-style that hadn’t changed much since the sixties, with the exception of newer carpeting and paint.
It’s a house, she thought. And maybe it wasn’t as upscale as the one she used to have in Los Angeles, but it was a place to live, and it wasn’t bad. God knows, not too long ago, she’d wondered if she’d ever have a decent place, and this was more than decent, even if it was just a rental.
Not that her old house, when she thought about it, was ever actually hers.
Call it whose it was—her husband’s.
But not even Tom’s, really. The house had belonged to the bank, or to some obscure hedge fund in Iceland, to whoever it was who’d bought the mortgage.
This rental house was owned by a couple who owned a string of dispensaries in Humboldt and Trinity called “Green Solutions.” Three bedrooms, the master, an office and a guest room. A good-sized living room. A kitchen that could use some updating, with those “Colonial” knotty pine cupboards she couldn’t stand and a cheap electric stove, but after a ten-to-twelve-hour shift at the restaurant, the last thing she wanted to do was cook.
A hot tub out back, overlooking a stand of redwoods.
The hot tub sounded good. Between the day’s work and the session she’d had with her trainer at the gym that morning, she was both pleasantly sore and bone tired.
She used the controller on her keyring to deactivate the alarm. Unlocked the deadbolt and the doorknob key. Stepped inside the entry. Headed to the kitchen.
A glass of wine, she thought. Turn on the hot tub, soak a while, and go to bed.
The kitchen opened out onto the deck where the hot tub was. She flicked on the accent light above the butcher-block island—the one thing about the kitchen that she did like—unlocked the sliding glass door, and turned the dial on the stucco wall to start up the hot tub. The jets came on with a massive burp and a bubbling hum that settled into the wooden planks of the deck like a squad of aquatic mosquitoes.
What wine to have, she thought? Maybe the Sonoma Pinotage she was thinking about adding to the wine list at Evergreen.
She opened the bottle and set it on the butcher-block counter.
It would take about twenty minutes for the hot tub to heat up.
I’ll get out of these clothes, she thought. Take a quick shower, put on the thick terry robe, sweats and Ugg boots, and maybe start on the wine. Not too much though. Tempting as it was to just drink until she was ready to crawl into bed, it wasn’t a good idea, and she knew it.
Two glasses. That was enough.
She couldn’t afford to lose control.
As she stepped into the bedroom, an arm circled around her waist.