WARNING - Some spoiler alerts
Stand and Protect is the first book of a trilogy.
Nico's Guilt is the second, and Spy Play is the third.
Murder In the Dark, and A Matter of Time are NOT part of the series.
Excerpt from "Nico's Guilt"
Nico Tribiani sighed as he put the last picture down. It already seemed that the wedding was a long time ago. His best friend and ex-partner on the Dallas Police Department had gotten married and settled down about six months before. The whole family had been through so much trauma at the hands of a serial killer, that when it was over with, Luke had finally succumbed to his father's wishes and taken over the Manning family business.
The Manning family was one of the wealthiest in the country and no one had really thought Luke would stay a cop for as long as he did. Of course it had been different when he was single, but now he had a wife, and her family to take care of. She had a son and a physically challenged father. Luke had adopted her son, Bryan and now along with the wedding pictures, was news that another baby was on the way.
Nico picked up the glass of whiskey and saluted the picture of a grinning Luke. "Congratulations. I'm happy as hell for you." Happy. Now there was a thought. When was the last time he had really been happy? His girlfriend, Sherri, had been murdered by the same killer that had terrorized Luke's wife, Shannon, all those months ago. The guilt of feeling like it was all his fault for not paying enough attention to her ate at his gut on a daily basis.
He looked at the bottle of whiskey and noticed it was already nearly empty. Well, that was okay, he patted his shirt pocket, he was almost out of cigarettes too. He'd just go and get some more.
The phone rang and he ignored it, as he had been doing a lot lately. It was probably Shannon or Luke again. They had been trying to get him to come visit them in Louisiana. He knew they were worried about him. Hell, sometimes he was too. But he just wasn't ready. Although he felt like he needed this time alone, he knew he would have to rejoin the living sooner or later.
When the answering machine came on, it took him a few seconds to realize it wasn't Shannon's voice.
"Nico, listen." The voice was speaking quietly. "I'm in trouble," she paused. Recognizing his little sisters voice, Nico lurched to grab at the receiver.
Sighing with relief, Antoinette laughed a little shakily. "Hi! I'm so glad you're there. I need you to come to New Orleans, tonight. I hate to ask but, I - Oh, God! Nico!" She screamed as the line went dead. Nico just stood there, holding the receiver. His heart in his throat.
She was sitting at a table in the back of the restaurant, dining with her friends.
In the smoky bar area, a man was watching her. Even through the smoke and dim lights he knew she was the most gorgeous woman in the world. Although some of her friends were quite pretty, he couldn't take his eyes off of her.
Something someone said made her bite her lower lip and try to look innocent, which made everyone else around the table laugh. Toni could never look innocent. She was Hot. She was voluptuous, with breasts and curves that most women just didn't have now days. Her midnight black hair was long and flowed down her back like a sleek, shiny waterfall. Tonight she wore it straight, but the man knew it was usually full and sexy.
Oh God, she was Sexy. Hot. Powerful - Dangerous. She could well be the death of him. She might even be the one to kill him. But, hell, everyone had to die sometime.
Sitting at the bar the old man glanced into the mirror behind the shelves of liquor bottles and saw that the light behind him created a kind of halo around his gray hair and beard. Looking around the bar, he spotted a small booth tucked in a corner. Not much light around it. Casually he threw down enough bills to pay his tab and told the young bartender, Mitch, that he was moving to the more comfortable booth. Mitch gave the old guy the customary look of pity and understanding.
He watched as the old timer made his way to the corner. He was slow and had a bit of a limp. He was still a tall man, despite the hump high on his back. He must have worked hard all of his life, maybe that was why he never quite made eye contact. Poor old man, probably knew he had the best years of his life behind him. Shit, he probably knew he didn't have much more time to live on this earth. Mitch shook his head and went back to work.
Sitting in the booth was more comfortable, the man thought, and the darker corner was more to his liking anyway. Looking around the place, he began to see it's appeal. At first he had wondered why Toni and her group would want to come here to this rather nondescript place.
The floors were made of small black and white tiles, the bar was a smooth old mahogany. The booths and tables were a mix of black and white. He would guess this place had been here since the fifties. Even the music, Rod Stewart belting out Cigarettes and Alcohol, came from an old looking juke box. Or maybe this place was last renovated in the fifties. The palm tree looking plants in most of the corners did help add a hint of old elegance. Turning his attention back to Toni he realized he could actually see all of them better from here.
In his musings, he almost missed the two thugs that walked in the door. The fact that they had jackets on wasn't a good sign, because it wasn't cold outside. But even he was surprised how fast they pulled out the gun and shot the bartender.
Damn it. The kid never had a chance. The question was, where they here after Toni or someone in her party? Or were they there looking for him? A Spy could never be too sure.
All of the kids were excited, although this wasn't their first time. Well, except for Shelby. She had just turned seven years old and that meant that she was finally old enough to play with the bigger kids. She was the youngest of five children, and the Scardino family had three kids of their own, plus the new baby. Shelby didn't think a two month was old enough to be considered a kid yet. She loved to get to come over to play at the Scardino's house. It was not just that it was a two story, it was a gi-normus two story. With a basement. Most houses in Texas didn't have basements. She knew that because every time there was a tornado warning, her Mom always said she couldn't figure out why all houses in Texas didn't have basements because most of them were in tornado's alley. But that didn't make sense to Shelby because she knew that alley's were the skinny streets behind everybody's house where they put the garbage cans.
Patty, Shelby's big sister and the babysitter for the night, stood up in front of everybody to go over the rules of the game."Okay, I know most of us have all played this game before, but I just want to make sure we all stick to the rules this time. Plus," Patty smiled at her little sister, "this is the first time Shelby gets to play it with us."
Some of the kids clapped and Shelby smiled shyly. She glanced over at Mikey and he winked at her. She was so thrilled and excited, she thought the butterflies were just going to fly up and out of her stomach. He just seemed so much older than he was, but her Mom called her an old soul too. Maybe that's why they liked each other so much. Lately he had been walking her home from school and he even carried her books.
When she felt someone grab her and then put a hand over her mouth, she wished she had never gotten to play - MURDER IN DARK.
The old lady sat in the middle of the quiet desert. She was rocking back and forth, with her husbands dead body laying partially next to hers, his head and shoulders in her lap. Her arms were beginning to ache.
The sun beat down heavily on her shoulders. Or was it the weight of her dear sweet John? The Rocky mountains seemed to shimmer in the distance. The blazing sky had one small fluffy cloud drifting by, momenterialy casting a shadow on all the other dead bodies. After a while she began to hum a song she had learned as a child, wondering how long it would take her to die.
She almost wished they would come back and murder her too. It would be a lot faster, and better than being eaten alive by animals come nightfall.
From a distance, Max thought he could hear music. No, it wasn't really music, it was more like buzzing. His head hurt so much he was afraid to open his eyes. Hearing a strong flapping noise to his right, he forced one eye half open.
The Vulture seemed enormous. He cocked his head at Max, as if to ask, "Well are you dead, or aren't you?"
Max didn't move. Now with both eyes fully opened, he and the vulture continued to stare at each other. Max had never seen another living thing that had such empty eyes. Dead eyes. A few feathers rippled on one giant wing as the wind picked up.
Finally the creature took a step closer. Painfully, Max rolled over on his stomach and began to crawl. Trying to find something to help him stand up. The huge bird squacked and, with one last empty look at Max, flew over to another body to check it out.
Pearl watched the body and the vulture with interest. When the body groaned and started to move, she became very still and stopped humming. She watched him crawl on his belly to a large rock. He used the rock to slowly try to sit up against it. Just as he got into a sitting position, he passed out again.
"Well, I guess he's useless," Pearl said out loud. She started humming again as she continued to rock husband back and forth.
STAND AND PROTECT
Loud screams pierced the air as Sam and his young daughter, Shannon, were about to leave the school cafeteria. They heard a popping sound. Sam quickly pushed Shannon back into the lunch room. "Stay here honey, I have to go see what's going on. I'll be right back."
He put his face down to the same level as hers, looked her straight in the eyes and repeated -- "I mean it, stay here, no matter what." Then he ran down the hallway.
One of the teachers was yelling for everybody to get down under the tables. Shannon got underneath the nearest one. It got very quiet because no one knew what was going on. She could actually hear each tick of the clock above the door.
After a while some of the children began to whisper, "Are we having another fire drill?"
"Maybe it's a real fire."
"Maybe it's a bomb!"
"We're all gonna die!"
The girl closest to her began to cry. It was starting to feel like a long time had gone by. Shannon wanted to go check on her father. And where was her best friend, Jill? Getting more worried by the minute, she jumped up and ran out the door. It was too late for the nearest teacher to stop her.
As she moved swiftly down the deserted hallway towards Jill's homeroom, she saw some black shoes sticking out of a doorway. Sneaking up to the door, she was horrified to discover a policeman lying on his back, with a pool of deep red blood spreading across the floor. His eyes were open, staring blankly across the room.
Flyers that had fallen around him had the smiling face of a dog in a trench coat talking about crime prevention. Now she knew she had to find her Dad and Jill to warn them. Her heart was beating so hard she thought she might throw up. She took a deep breath to try to steady herself and crept along the hallway, staying close to the bright blue metal lockers. Everything felt surreal, she had never seen the school this deserted and quiet. It reminded her of a scary movie that she and Jill had watched late one night, when Jill's parents had thought they were asleep.
Suddenly she heard her Father talking in a low voice. "Come on man, she didn't have anything to do with putting you in jail. She was practically just a baby at the time. You don't want to hurt her." He was speaking with authority, like he did with his football players, but Shannon thought she could hear desperation in his voice. As she turned the corner, she could see her Dad standing in a doorway. She could hear someone crying.
"Shut-up and get out of my way!" The voice seemed to snarl, making Shannon jump. "Mr. D.A. has to pay for what he did to me. I'm not going to hurt her so long as he pays, and I know he has plenty of money coming from a family like that. I'm only telling you one more time, get out of my way."
As it dawned on Shannon that he was talking about Jill, she heard her father say, I can't do that. He took a step farther into the room just as a loud boom went off. She watched it seemed in slow motion, as her Fathers body flew backwards out of the doorway.
Even with the loud boom echoing in her ears, she could still hear Jill screaming in terror. The man was yelling at her and trying to pull her out the door.
Still feeling like she was in slow motion, Shannon turned and walked back the way she had come. She went to the school room with the body of the dead policeman and bent over him to get the gun out of his hand. She wiped the blood off the gun with the bottom of her new dress and went back down the hallway.
As she rounded the corner, she saw the man pulling Jill around the body of her father. The shooter looked up and saw her standing in the middle of the hall with the gun pointed at him. He laughed and sneered, "Well, look what we have here."
Then his face hardened, "Get out of the way little girl, or I'll just take you with us." With numb recognition she realized it was the man from yesterday, the one with the camera. Holding the heavy gun as straight as she could, she said in a low voice, "You just killed my Dad, and I'm not gonna let you hurt Jill too." She looked into Jill's horrified eyes for a split second. The little girl dropped to the ground just as Shannon pulled the trigger. With disbelief, the man grabbed his left arm.
"You little bitch, you shot me!" With a loud snarl he raised his gun to aim at her. Shannon fired the gun again and he fell to the floor, still cursing. As Jill watched from the doorway, Shannon walked up to the man and shot him twice more.