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After Elias
Excerpt

I used to call the shadow my old friend. It seemed less frightening that way. I would say it with a wry smile, but nobody else would find it funny.

It has been such a long time since the shadow last came around. “I think I’ve been defriended,” I once said to Elias. He just looked at me, unamused.

I suppose I’ve been too busy with the wedding arrangements to think much about the shadow. It doesn’t like to be forgotten though. It always lingers nearby. As I arrived at the hotel yesterday, I should have predicted that the shadow would make an appearance. After all, it is an old friend.

The Terrace Bar is different today. I feel it as soon as I step inside. Something foreign in the air greets me like a scent I can’t quite place. It’s darker here than in the rest of the hotel. It struck me as odd when I first saw it yesterday, this gloomy cavern hidden within a palace of light.

My eyes adjust and all I see are flowers. They’re an unnatural shade of yellow, worn by a woman softened with age, her skin like an overripe plum. She’s seated alone at a table and stares straight ahead, motionless. The sadness on her face is even more unnerving against the yellow flowers of the dress hanging limply on her.

A few other guests sit at tables scattered throughout the room. Like the woman in the floral dress, their stares are fixed on something in front of them.

The bartender stands behind the long countertop to my left, framed by a wall of glass bottles. He greeted me with such warmth yesterday. Every smile he gave felt earned, inviting my confidence whenever he leaned forward or held eye contact longer than what I’d usually find comfortable. Now his arms are crossed over his chest, his eyes narrowed. A dishtowel lies forgotten over one shoulder. He’s staring in the same direction as everyone else in the dim room, his head tilted upward as though listening to god.

Following their gaze, I see it’s something ordinary: a television set mounted on the wall behind the bar’s counter. I can’t quite tell what they’re watching, but it looks like the ocean. The waves are more grey than blue, churning across the screen with lashes of foam.

Why is everyone so interested in this?

Several jagged objects come into view. They rock along with the rhythm of the waves, the red paint bold against the coldness of the sea. Their shapes lack symmetry.

Are they little boats?

A woman appears on the screen. She’s dressed inoffensively in neutral tones and crisp lines. Her delicate hands are placed on the surface of a lacquered desk. I hear her voice but don’t hear the words.

My body begins to shiver like a taut wire as my phone vibrates in my pocket. I don’t reach for it, like I normally would. It goes off again. And again. I just let it continue its inaudible cry, a silent alarm bell. But I don’t need to read the messages or answer the calls. I know what has happened, why everyone at home suddenly feels the need to get hold of me. I know what everyone in the room is seeing on the television, what those floating objects are. I know, because I’ve always known this would happen one day. Today is that day.

The shadow comes to me.

I recognize it immediately, even though it has been so long.

It cloaks itself around my body. I feel its touch, a sickening static. A familiar numbness washes over me.

It seeps into my skin. The pricking begins softly before it gets sharper, quicker. A thousand stabbing needles.

It whispers in my ears. A deadening hum surrounds me.

Hello, old friend.

Invisible hands wrap around my throat.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t move.

If I had been paying closer attention earlier, I might have seen it in the periphery of my vision, felt its touch against the tips of my fingers. It was so close.

I don’t know how long I stand there before my legs can move again. They march me out of the dim room, and I stumble through the hall. The light sears my retinas. The sound of my shoes on the cold floor becomes louder with every step as the hum subsides. I find my suite, the door emblazoned with numbers polished so well I can see my reflection in them. My hand shakes as it fumbles in my pocket for the key.

I throw myself into the room and slam the door shut behind me. I pull the curtains closed and switch on the television above the dresser.

This must be a mistake.

The unholy messenger in the neutral tones stares back at me, though she seems less benign. There is an emptiness in her eyes as her lips move. I can understand her words now.

Flight XI260 was on its way to Vancouver from Berlin when it crashed into the Arctic Ocean one hour ago. There were 314 passengers on board, including fifteen crew members, one relief pilot, one captain, and one co-pilot.

A face appears, and I know it so well. The square chin and uneven lips that make him look more arrogant than he is. The arrowhead slope of his nose, something he’s always been self-conscious of.

Most striking of all, the darkness of his irises. Almost black, they reflect the light as tiny white orbs — two satellites in the night sky.

He’s the man I’m supposed to marry in seven days, this co-pilot.

His name is Elias.

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Lion's Head Revisited

Lion's Head Revisited

A Dan Sharp Mystery
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

One
Blood Money

PI Dan Sharp sat with his back to the window. Behind him, the Don River murmured quietly after the previous night’s storm. His office on the top floor of a warehouse import-export business had long been a sanctuary for him. Currently, however, it was feeling a bit crowded.
The three people facing him looked to be in their late twenties. The blond had multiple piercings and tattoos on her arms. The young man, slender and bearded, was agitated. The third, a quietly attractive woman, watched him with gentle eyes. They were waiting for his answer.
“You have no choice,” Dan said. “You have to report it.”
“But we want to keep it private. At least for now,” the man insisted.
His face was ravaged with red eruptions, like a perpetual adolescent. While his concern was evident, it wasn’t anything Dan could agree to.
“It can’t be private, Eli. This is a police matter. Kidnapping is a criminal offence.”
“It might be a hoax,” the pixie-haired blond, Janice, argued. “We don’t know for sure if a crime has been committed.”
“Do you want to take that chance?” Dan asked. No one answered. “Why do you think it might be a hoax?”
Janice frowned. “Because when they called, they never mentioned Jeremy. They just said they were raising money for missing children. When I asked how much, they said a million dollars.”
“They were probably playing it safe in case someone was listening in,” Dan said. “Your son has now been missing for three days. The police found no trace of him on the trails up on the mountain or anywhere near the shore where you were camping. You’ve already had one phone call and soon you’ll get another. The only choice you have to make is whether you’re going to pay the ransom or not.”
Eli shook his head. “But what if it’s someone who heard Jeremy was missing on the news and is trying to extort money from us? We need to buy ourselves time.”
“Time is a luxury you may not have, but whether the kidnapping is real or fake, you need to let the police know.” Dan hoped he sounded sympathetic.
“But so far they haven’t found anything useful,” Eli persisted. “We don’t have faith they can help us, to be honest.” “Look — even if you think the police aren’t doing their job, the best I can do is run a parallel investigation. I can’t interfere with what they’re doing. If you know something, you have to tell them.”
“But we don’t know anything!” Eli exclaimed.
Janice put a hand on his arm. “No, Dan’s right. We do know something — we know that we were asked for money.”
Eli threw his hands up in the air. “And where do we get this blood money from? Is there some government fund for kidnap victims that we can apply for? Or maybe I should just ask my boss for a raise of, oh, I don’t know — a million dollars?”
He wrapped his arms around his chest and slumped into his chair. Dan had had enough of his petulance.
“Eli, I appreciate that this is difficult for you, but what you do now could make all the difference in getting Jeremy back safely.” He turned to Janice. “Did they say anything else?”
“Yes. They said not to mention the call to anyone.”
“That’s to be expected. How’s your back, by the way? I understand you had quite a fall coming down the escarpment.”
“She nearly got gored by a bull, but a crazy man came out waving a tea towel and chased it away,” Eli interjected.
“That was after I fell.” Janice gave Dan a rueful smile. “The doctor said I’ll live. Though I’m not sure I want to right at this moment.”
“Janice!” The rejoinder came from the other woman.
“Please! Let’s have none of that.”
Her speech was clipped, almost a bark.
“Oh, go to hell, Ashley!” Janice snapped, then she turned suddenly contrite. “I’m sorry. I have no right to act like this.”
Ashley nodded. “It’s all right. You’ve been through a lot.”
The name suited her, Dan thought. Lithe and willowy, with hair the colour of ash wood.
She turned her eyes to him. “We don’t know what to do. We need you to advise us.”
“Thank you. The first thing you need to do is report the call to the police. That’s what I advise.”
“Then what?” Eli asked, still sulking.
“Then we start looking. For now, tell me everything that’s happened.” Dan picked up a pencil. “Start with anything irregular or noteworthy you recall in the days before Jeremy disappeared.”
Janice nodded. “There was something odd. I saw an older woman outside the house twice right before the camping trip. She seemed to be waiting for something. I went out to see what she wanted, but then Jeremy came out with Ashley and she walked away.”
“Did she say anything at all?”
“She called me Kathy.”
Dan glanced up from his notepad. “Kathy?”
“Katharine is my first name, but no one ever calls me that. I go by my middle name, so I don’t know how she’d know that.”
“Can you describe her?” Dan asked.
“She was plain. Mousy looking. The sort of woman you barely notice even if she’s right beside you.”
Dan looked at the pert blond with triple ear piercings. There was no chance of not noticing her.
“Was she short? Tall? Slender? Overweight?”
“Average height. Dumpy, but not huge. A little bulky. She had brown hair going grey.”
“Was there anything memorable about her face?”
“Her eyes were sad. That was my first thought.”
“Good. Anything else?”
Janice shook her head. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Okay. That’s a start,” Dan said. He turned to the others. “Did either of you see her?”
Eli shook his head. “No.”
“I did. Briefly,” Ashley replied. “She looked exactly as Janice described.”
“Any idea who she was?”
“None. But what sort of monster kidnaps a child?”
Janice caught her breath and turned aside. Her shoulders shook.
“Give us a moment,” Ashley said, putting an arm around her.
“I’m fine,” Janice said, regaining her composure. “You were asking what sort of person would kidnap a child,” Dan continued. “That’s the most important question we need to answer right now. Why would someone target you?”
“Definitely not for the money.” Janice rubbed away a tear. “I mean, do we look rich? I work in an art gallery on commission. Eli’s a designer. Ashley isn’t working at the moment. We barely scrape by.”
“Apart from the money. Is there anyone who would be likely to do such a thing? Someone who might bear a grudge against any one of you?”
“What about Sarah?” Ashley prompted.
“Jeremy’s a surrogate child,” Janice said. “Sarah was his birth mother.”
“And you suspect the birth mother? Why?”
Eli snorted. “She was bad news from the beginning.”
“We couldn’t know that,” Janice said, her voice icy.
“It was obvious,” Eli said. “I warned you right at the start.”

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Funny Boy

Funny Boy

Penguin Modern Classics Edition
edition:Paperback
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