My latest novel is coming out next week with a scheduled date of Tuesday the 17th! Really excited about this book since it's very different than anything I've ever written. It's more of straight-up thriller set a hundred years in the future where there is no such thing as a serial killer. I really hope you all will check it out when it's released but for now here's a sample of the first couple chapters. Enjoy!
2014 by Joe Hart
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission from the author.
This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
To Mr. Brown, wherever you are. Thanks for the guidance and inspiration and for believing in me when I was just a kid with ideas. Sorry I didn’t stop to see you that last time. I didn’t know it was the last time.
A scream woke him, cut off before it could reach its crescendo.
Ryan came to laying on a hardwood floor, tasting blood in his mouth, his blood. He tried to sit up and found he could. He was in a house, a hallway. Its walls were familiar but not home. He blinked and let the memories outside the door of his mind flood inward. A whoop came from nearby and Darrin walked through a doorway to the left carrying his big knife, the one that gleamed even in the dark. Darrin’s dark eyes caught and pinned him to the floor.
“Whatcha doin’ down there little brother?”
“Passed out, I think.”
“You think? I’m pretty sure you did, so’s that cooze you were supposed to be watching when she knocked you over. You cracked your head on the floor.”
Ryan put a hand to the back of his skull, ran his fingers over a growing knob there, a golf ball half buried under his scalp.
“What’d you do to her?” Ryan asked.
Darrin knelt close to him, a reek of cigarettes, sweat, and something else coming off his skin. “What do you think I did, little brother?”
Adam clunked toward them through the hall, his big boots like hammers on the wood floor. A crooked grin hung off the side of his mouth, his right canine peeking out. He held the steel contraption in one hand. Darrin pivoted without standing.
“Done,” Adam said, the smile getting wider.
“You didn’t leave anything?”
“You’re sure? Because one fucking drop of saliva and you’re going to prison, my friend.”
Adam seemed to consider it, the wheels turning, slow but sure. “Nope.”
“Good.” Darrin turned his attention back to Ryan. “Get up, your mouth’s bleeding.”
Ryan nodded, wiping at his teeth with his jacket sleeve. He pushed himself onto his feet and rubbed the back of his head again, the lump there feeling larger through the gloves he wore.
“We good?” Darrin asked, panning from Adam to Ryan and back again.
“Yeah,” Ryan answered.
“Then let’s go.”
Outside the frogs harped from a slue somewhere in the dark. A swarm of gnats gathered around them as soon as their feet hit the ground and Ryan only had a moment to look up and see the half moon soaring overhead before he heard Darrin emptying out his little container on the front porch. There was a whoosh of the gas igniting and then orange light bloomed across the house, throwing their shadows into long shapes on the lawn. Ryan glanced at Darrin, his eyes alight with the dancing flames and with some internal burning.
He’s on fire inside
, Ryan thought as Adam walked past him toward the van parked near the edge of the vegetable garden. Darrin followed him and made his eyebrows jump once as he passed Ryan, his eyes dark again.
“We go, little brother, we go.”
They piled into the Ford. Darrin behind the wheel and Ryan in the middle. Adam rolled down his window, the sideways grin back on his face as Darrin rounded the van on the gravel drive, and pulled away from the burning farmhouse.
“When did they start pissing in the coffee around here?”
MacArthur Gray lowered his own cup, tasting the bitter tang and gave his deputy a look.
“Joseph, how many times are you going to say that?”
“I suppose until they quit doing it over at the diner.”
“I would say that’s an awful rude assumption you’re making.”
“What? That they urinate in the coffee?”
“Yep, I find the flavor to be closer to cigarette butts and toilet bowl cleaner. Piss has a different taste entirely.”
Deputy Ruthers gave the sheriff a glance and burst out laughing, slopping a little coffee onto his pants and the car seat.
“Now damn it, Joseph, look what you’ve done.”
“Sorry, Sheriff, apologies.”
Gray focused on the dirt road and the sun seeming to rise directly from its end. A field to the left rose and fell with head-high cornstalks for acres beyond measure, their green color standing out against everything else dead or dying. Dust plumed behind the cruiser in a cloud, the sky already a mocking blue. No rain in weeks.
“They sure it was a house fire? Could be Jacobs is just burning a brush pile or something?” Ruthers said.
“They didn’t say, but any and all smoke has to be looked into right now, there’s a burning ban and Jacobs knows better than most what a spark could do around here.”
Gray saw Ruthers shoot him a look and then glance back at the road. “What do you really think, Sheriff?”
“I don’t know.”
“What’s your gut tell you?”
“That I didn’t eat enough this morning.”
Gray piloted the cruiser around a sharp bend, a flock of blackbirds bursting from the roadside in a flay of wings and beaded eyes. A finger of smoke rose above the trees to the right and Gray turned the car into the long dirt drive, past a pitted mailbox, the letters worn away to almost nothing. When the house came into view Ruthers inhaled and set his coffee in the center console.
“Well shit,” Gray said.
The front of the Jacobses’ house was a blackened mess. The covered porch was gone and soot ran in vertical streams up the siding. The windows, trimmed with white decorative shutters before, were blackened, their glass shattered or cracked. The shingles were curled up in a greeting and a bit of rubble that might’ve been a glider swing still smoked.
Ruthers started speaking into the radio, calling back to Mary Jo, telling her they would need the fire truck from Wheaton. Gray parked a dozen yards from the smoking structure and stepped out into the morning air that smelled of cooked paint and char.
“Get that hose going off the side of the house there will you, Joseph?”
Gray picked his way toward the front porch, seeing the screen door gone, the brass knob blackened like a nub of coal. With long strides, he made his way around the side of the farmhouse, seeing that the rest of the structure looked untouched by the flames. The buzzing of flies sizzled to his left and he looked at the doghouse near the edge of the woods, the dead dog lying at its entrance. Its throat was slit, a red gap ringed by clotted fur gone from gold to burgundy like a sunset.
Gray drew his weapon.
The Colt 1911 Long Slide came out of the holster in a seamless glide of pitch-black steel. Gray made sure the safety was off before moving around to the back of the house. The backdoor was unlocked and opened without a sound into a small mudroom. Work boots stood in pairs beside brightly colored sandals. A wooden sitting-bench lined one wall and a low freezer stood against the opposite.
Gray waited, listening to the quiet. Except for the hush of Ruthers squirting water against the smoldering front porch, there was nothing. No sounds of life, no dishes banging or footsteps coming to investigate his presence. After another minute Ruthers approached from outside and stepped in behind him.
“Get that fancy pistol out of your holster, Joseph, there’s something wrong here.”
Ruthers struggled with the nylon straps holding his Deacon .7 Striker and finally released it, touching the digital thumbprint reader on its handle twice in quick succession. The weapon issued a short click.
“What is it?”
Gray didn’t answer for a long time, still listening, hoping. “The smell.”
“I don’t smell anything,” Ruthers whispered, his eyes looking past the sheriff’s wide back.
They moved through the house, Ruthers pointing his gun into each doorway as they went, Gray holding his at the floor, his dark eyes watching. The kitchen stood empty, late August sunshine filling the space up with orange light so thick it looked solid. Pans sat on the counter, a layer of grease coating one, another half cleaned in the sink. The faucet dripped once, breaking the silence. Gray walked into the dining room, his boots clicking against the hardwood floor. A vase set with flowers lay on its side on the dinner table. Water pooled on the floor in Rorschach patterns, yellow petals became miniature boats on their surfaces.
The smell got stronger and Gray stopped, glancing to his right at a stairway that ran up into relative darkness. Ahead the front entry and living room were empty, the TV blank except for an elongated reflection of his movement. A white door to the right stood closed, its paint clean and fresh as if applied the day before. A collage of pressed flowers against a blue paper background hung from its middle. Gray moved to the door, his breathing steady, still listening, waiting. He gripped the doorknob, pointing the long barreled Colt straight up. Ruthers moved in to his other side, the Deacon at shoulder level, its barrel flashing a small red light every three seconds. Gray nodded once and waited until Ruthers returned the signal. Gray flung the door open, readjusting his position, bending his knees, his finger tightening on the trigger.
The smell was awful and only the sight was worse.
“My God in heaven,” Ruthers managed before he covered his mouth with one hand and stepped back. Gray stood in the doorway looking into the pink-walled bedroom and finally dropped his gaze to the splattered floor before closing his eyes to a sight he knew he’d never forget.