Jake Wood has it made. He is a tough homicide detective with a partner who’s like a brother, and he’s about to marry the girl of his dreams.
Then Jake learns a close friend is missing and travels to South America in search of him. After a freak accident in the Amazon Rainforest, Jake wakes up in the hospital—eighteen months later. Long presumed dead, he discovers his fiancée is married and pregnant, his house was sold, his job is gone, and his partner transferred to another city to become lead detective on a serial killer case.
Jake buys a cabin in the woods and tries to leave the world behind, until his home is broken into and he discovers he was targeted—but why? When Jake’s former partner requests his aid in catching the Blood Eagle Killer, he offers to help find whoever is behind Jake’s recent trouble.
This leads to Fortech Industries, a pharmaceutical company secretly researching a way to create an immortal gene. Now they intend to destroy their only error—Jake Wood—who has become something more than human.
About the Author
He has traveled extensively throughout the world to scout settings for his thrillers, spending several years between Greece, Italy, Denmark, and Hungary.
Jonas is regularly invited to speak at national writing conferences, teaches writing classes, and offers editorial services.
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Jeffrey Harris knew murder in its many delicate forms. To Jeffrey, it wasn't murder. That was a man-made word to describe something the populace hadn't come to terms with. People murdered themselves every day as they drank and smoked their way to the grave. Jeffrey was no dullard. He knew how the world turned and murder wasn't vile or wrong. Murder was a blessing.
Apart from that, he knew the art of aiding in the soul's passage. The pleasure it afforded him was a trifle of the pleasure it afforded the travelers as they left this plane and made their journey home. All Jeffrey wanted was a family in return and a family was what he got.
Each and every time.
He had parked his Honda Civic by a large tree, which offered him an unobstructed view of the Marcello farmhouse in the distance. Their plain, nondescript home looked like any other rural Ontario family domicile. A wide expanse of an old cornfield spread out from the left side of his car, covered in an early-winter dusting of snow. The closest home in the area was almost a kilometer behind him. Another farmhouse was two kilometers north.
This particular family dwelling housed the lovely Marcello clan, consisting of mother, father, and twelve-year-old son, who had just returned from school on a large, lumbering yellow school bus.
As the sun settled early over the distant trees in the cool temps of mid- November, Jeffrey ran through his checklist to make sure he had everything for tonight's family get-together. He blew into his cupped hands, then rubbed them. He had turned off the car to stake out the Marcello home. The interior temperature had dropped to match the outside. A cloudy frost formed on the windows, blocking most of his view, but he didn't mind. It blocked views from the outside as well.
The family get-together — or Gathering, as he'd called it since he'd begun doing these over a decade ago — was imminent. It was a simple mission. One his parents had taught him well. Family was something you take, not something you make. Being born was the only thing we were all given equally, and even then, some died in birth. Once we were born, the families we were dropped into by some karmic fate didn't need to be our only kin. Fate could be a fickle bitch, because sometimes families could be horrid. He'd learned years ago that once a boy became a man, he could choose his family — a man could take his family.
So, Jeffrey Harris took his family.
At will and often.
At least once every two years or so.
And the Marcello family was his for the taking. He'd admired them from afar. He'd driven up on Sundays to attend their church and offered generous donations to the collection plate. He'd even talked to them on several occasions.
Jeffrey's story was usually the same. Lost his wife to cancer. Never had children. In the last weeks before the family get-together — the Gathering — Jeffrey would prepare by shaving and waxing his body smooth. At church last week, he'd told Stephen Marcello he was undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer. It would probably be his last visit to church for a month or so as his strength was waning.
Once Stephen had talked with his wife, Melissa Marcello, they'd invited Jeffrey for dinner on Friday night.
Friday night had arrived, and Jason was home from school. Jeffrey's new family waited for him. He could only imagine what Melissa was cooking. He would probably smell it the second he entered their home. A fine meal she would never get to eat.
He pulled on latex gloves and wrapped plastic around his shoes. The steering wheel made it hard to maneuver, but he managed. He peeked through the small hole of frost on the windshield. The sun had dropped far enough that he would be unobserved by anyone other than the Marcellos as he approached their farmhouse.
He slipped on his thick reading glasses, keyed the ignition, and the engine came to life. In the hour he'd watched the house, only one vehicle had passed his position other than the school bus. Another reason to choose this house, this family. They were out of the way. There wouldn't be any witnesses, and no one would hear a thing if the situation got out of control. Although it never did. Jeffrey Harris maintained control. After a decade, the authorities were baffled by what he left behind, cold cases piling up after each Gathering.
Jeffrey would remain organized. He would remain diligent and he would never stop. He would never stop because no one could stop him.
No one knew his real name. He didn't need to present ID to engage in church activities. The Marcello family, along with everyone else he'd met at the church, knew him as Jeffrey Harris, Jeff for short. He wore glasses, had a thick beard, and a full mane of hair. But now it was just the glasses. Everyone would remember the beard, the hair. Identifying him would be difficult if suspicion ever pointed toward the guy at the church.
His month-long surveillance of the Marcello family had revealed them as home bodies. In that time, only one friend had visited Mrs. Marcello and it had only been for an hour. None of the boy's friends ever came to the house. On Saturdays, the family went shopping in Orillia. On Sundays, they visited their local church and then returned to spend the week at home. Online research, including all social media, revealed the Marcello family lacked friends and were generally antisocial. The invite to dinner had surprised Jeffrey as it had been out of character. But Jeffrey had been quick to accept.
That was why Jeffrey needed them. They, as a family, were unfulfilled. Within the next hour or so, Jeffrey Harris would fulfill their purpose and the Marcello family would be whole again.
He closed the gym bag on the seat beside him and zipped it up. A small ax and handsaw were buried at the bottom of the bag.
With the heaters warming him and clearing the windows, he started up the road toward the Marcello family domain, already fantasizing the Gathering as a fitting end to the Marcellos' stagnant life. A gallant passage from one plane to another, delivered with love and caring. When he was done, Jeffrey would collect his family mementos and head home to start anew.
The Marcello family.
It had a nice ring to it.
He would be part of the Marcello family for a while. At least until Mrs. Marcello had his baby.
Oh, the things people get to do while dead.CHAPTER 2
Ontario Provincial Police Detective Jake Wood stood next to his partner, Detective Kirk Aiken, while studying the dead man felled by a washing machine.
"Weird fucking luck," Kirk whispered. "A Maytag." He turned to face Jake. "How would that look on his epitaph?" He snapped his fingers and bounced his head once, his usual beginning to a short rap. "Here's John Doe, a tag on his toe, wrapped in a bag, after eating a Maytag."
"No." Jake gave Kirk a friendly punch in the arm. "No, can't see it saying that." He cleared his throat and looked away from the man's dented skull. He had seen enough. He couldn't imagine how the wife felt being the one who had found him.
The wife had been away on a week-long trip to Calgary where she had buried her mother after a long illness. She hadn't been able to get a hold of her husband just before the flight back and had begun to worry but brushed it off as funeral jitters. When she'd walked in the door and seen her husband under the washing machine, she had screamed and run from the house, collapsing on a neighbor's front lawn two doors down.
Local O.P.P. showed up and homicide was called in to secure the scene and ascertain whether there were any signs of foul play.
Jake entered into the kitchen, leaned on the counter and stared out the window.
"Kirk," he called.
"Yeah?" Kirk shouted from the laundry room.
"C'mere." He waited until Kirk entered the kitchen. "Assessment?"
"Death by washing machine. The man's old, feeble. He had to use a walking stick. When the Maytag slipped off its moorings, he had the unfortunate luck of being in the way."
"Short of an autopsy, cause of death?"
Jake turned to face his partner. "Did the wife do it or have anything to do with it?"
"Absolutely not. She was out west." He narrowed his eyes. "Wait a second. Are you suggesting she wasn't out west at her mother's funeral?"
"Absolutely not. That's easily verifiable."
Jake shrugged and shot his hands out at his sides. "Homicide or not? Suicide? Accident? C'mon, does this death need us to conduct a homicide investigation? Or does it just need a coroner and a clean-up crew?"
"Ohh, I see, said the squirrel in the dark."
"Nothing." His face tightened as he grew serious again. "Um, yeah, no homicide. Not in my opinion."
"How did you come to that conclusion, Detective Aiken?" Jake asked in his official devil's advocate tone.
"Because the washing machine dropped on him."
Jake looked out the window again. "Kirk, have you considered that the wife rigged the washing machine before leaving for Calgary? When her husband pulled the laundry room door open, the shelf let go, slid his way, jammed into him in the confined space, and came tumbling down on his diaphragm."
Kirk let out a small chuckle. Jake spun to look at him.
"What?" Kirk asked, looking comically offended. "There's a rhyme in there somewhere."
Jake crossed his arms. "How about this? Wifey hired a couple of thugs to come here and make it look like an accident. Positioned the man in front of the machine and forced it to crush his head."
"Nice theories, but naw. No sign of forced entry. Once we canvass the neighbors, we'll learn whether any theory like that held water. Life insurance policy? There are a number of things to look at, but at first glance, this was an accident, through and through." Kirk opened the fridge, moved something aside, grunted, then closed the fridge and met Jake's eyes. "Where are you going with this?"
"Nowhere, other than to say this wasn't a homicide. Therefore, we're not needed. Agreed?"
"Of course. I agree. Even before we saw the body I concluded we weren't needed because I'm such a good detective."
"Sure you are," Jake placated. "Once the coroner gets here, we'll sign off on this, console the wife, and head home." He checked his watch. "It's almost twenty- one-hundred hours. I wonder what Cindy's up to." Jake started for the front door. "Let's talk to the wife now."
Kirk followed close behind. "How is Cindy now that you're engaged? Anything changed?"
Jake shot him a sidelong look, then scowled. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Women change, Jake. Especially once you're married. All that nice shit ends."
"Oh really? And you know this, how?"
They made it to the front door and nodded at one of the uniforms on the way out.
"C'mon Jake, every guy knows how women are. They seduce, offer sex freely, are the best girlfriends, and act all lovey-dovey until they're married. Then they've got you. The honeymoon is over. Try getting sex even twice a week two years from now. Good luck."
"You done?" Jake asked, a smile playing across his lips. Kirk only understood women on a one-night stand basis. He'd have a girlfriend for a month or two and then when it wasn't fun anymore — which translated to having to work at the relationship — he dumped her. His most recent girlfriend had really done a number on him, so understandably he was still raw.
"Yeah, I'm done," Kirk mumbled.
As they walked down the street toward the neighbor's house and the grieving wife, Kirk moved away from Jake.
"Touchy subject, eh?" Kirk asked.
"Then why do you look all offended?"
"Not offended. You're just wrong. You know what Cindy and I have is different. Been with her since grade eight. We're going to make it all the way. Biggest speed bump we've ever encountered is whose family we're spending Christmas with each year."
"Oh my shit," Kirk said as he angled back to walk beside his partner. "Are you ever in for a world of hurt."
"Famous last words."
They hopped up the porch steps of the neighbor's house and knocked. After seven years as partners in Toronto, they now worked out of the O.P.P. Orillia detachment, where less homicides were committed. There had only been three murders last year and two the year before. It kept them busy with paperwork and court dates, but the pace was a lot more laid back than their days in Toronto. When Jake had put his transfer request in, Kirk had done the same and they'd been together since.
The neighbor let them in and directed them to the living room where the distraught wife lay sprawled on the couch. An untouched cup of tea cooled on the coffee table beside the woman's head. At least a dozen scrunched up tissues were balled up on the carpet.
Her face glistened from tears, her eyes red and puffy.
Jake sat in the chair closest to her and offered his condolences. In a soft, gentle voice, he told her what she needed to know and that the death would be ruled an accident.
"He never does laundry," she managed to choke out in a nasally voice. "Why would he try the day before I come home?"
Jake didn't answer. Nor did he want to stay longer than needed. He patted her shoulder, got up, and headed for the door.
"Officer?" the sobbing woman called.
Jake turned back and Kirk almost bumped into him.
"Are you married?" she asked.
"About to be. I'm engaged."
The woman set her forearm over her swollen eyes and started to sob softly.
Jake walked out, Kirk close behind. Once outside, Jake retrieved the car keys from his pocket.
"What do you think that meant?" Jake asked. "Good luck?"
"Exactly what I've been telling you. That woman knows relationships."
"Oh, fuck off," Jake said good-naturedly as he shoved Kirk's shoulder.
In the car, Jake stared out the windshield at nothing.
"What's on your mind?" Kirk asked.
"Just had a thought."
"Why was the washing machine on the shelf above the dryer? People put dryers above the washing machine. Why was the heaviest one on top?"
"No idea." Kirk snapped his fingers and tilted his head. "People are strange. They won't change, then they die. Who am I to feel remorse? But of course, then there's Jake, here to take, all —"
"Okay, okay," Jake cut in. "Got it."
Kirk laughed as Jake started the unmarked cruiser down the street.
"Marriage is tough, bro."
Jake eyed him hard for a second before looking back at the road.
Kirk raised his hands in surrender. "Just saying, man. Just saying."
"You're always just saying."CHAPTER 3
Jeffrey Harris backed into the Marcello driveway and got out, gym bag in hand. Once the car door was closed, he paused to stare out at the field beyond. He pushed his glasses up to the bridge of his nose. Something large bounded across the field behind the fence attached to the side of the house. The Marcellos had two huge black horses. Jeffrey figured something must have spooked them. He had no idea horses would run like that in the dark unless they were startled. One of them whinnied as it came up to the fence and stopped to look at him.
"Don't worry about Gracie," a soft voice echoed from the house.
Jason Marcello, his head stuck out his bedroom window, watched Jeffrey as he watched the horse. He would have to remember that about little Jason. He was sneaky and popped up wherever he wanted. A good boy getting up to little boy antics. Jason would make a fine son.
"Gracie," Jeffrey said, rolling the name off his tongue. "And the other horse's name?"
"Mary. She's shyer. My parents went with religious names. You know, Amazing Grace and Mary Magdalene."
"Of course," Jeffrey replied, not surprised.
The front door opened and Mrs. Marcello stepped out. "I thought I heard you pull up, Mr. Harris. Please, come on in."
"Jeff is fine," he said as he started up the long driveway, his polished black shoes clunking on the cold cement with each step, even through the plastic booties.
"Then Jeff it is. Call me Melissa."
So fake sounding. Her tone, her smile. Underneath it all, this ceremonial dinner was because they thought he was dying and they ought to do the good Christian thing. It would be awkward if he were a normal guest without the cancer tag. But Jeffrey was no normal guest.
He wiped his feet on the welcome mat at the door and stepped inside, admiring the large foyer that opened up to a center staircase. Little Jason was already on the stairs, watching Jeffrey remove his shoes.
He stood to his full height, pushed his glasses up, and addressed Mrs. Marcello.
"I want to thank you for the invite," Jeffrey said.
"Oh nonsense." She glanced downward, then looked up too fast. Mrs. Marcello had seen the clear plastic booties clipped over his shoes but had diverted her eyes to be polite. No doubt feeling awkward, she moved around Jeffrey to slip through an alcove to the right.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Immortal Gene"
Copyright © 2018 Jonas Saul.
Excerpted by permission of Vesuvian Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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