Some secrets don’t stay buried.
Three elaborately staged victims. No clues. A public verging on panic.
FBI profiler Victor Loshak heads to Kansas City to hunt another serial killer. But something about this case is all wrong.
The three corpses lie posed. Face up. A glove laid to cover each right eye.
The victims seem to be selected at random. Suburban. Upper middle class. Squeaky clean. It doesn’t make sense.
A piece is missing from this puzzle.
If Loshak can find the missing link that connects the victims, he believes he can solve the case. The obstacles are many, however.
And the cryptic note someone left under his windshield wiper? It warns him that danger lurks all around.
They bury it, and they bury it, but it won't stay dead.
As Loshak digs deeper, uneasiness seems to creep over everything in the city. Paranoia. A sense of dread.
Everyone he encounters seems to be keeping things from him. Concealing something.
He gets a visceral sense of the lengths people will go to hide their sins. Bury them.
When the suburban veneer finally strips away, all the dark secrets come clear one by one.
But nothing can prepare Loshak for the shocking revelation this case unearths.
Because what lies beneath the surface? It changes everything.
This pulse-pounding thriller will have you holding your breath until the final page. Fans of James Patterson, John Sandford, and Lisa Regan should check out the Victor Loshak series.
Release date: May 1, 2019
Publisher: Smarmy Press
Print pages: 390
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What Lies Beneath
Waiting. Waiting for the witness to leave.
The shadow ducks in the bushes, nestles to the point of invisibility among the manicured landscaping, hidden away from the greenish pole lights lining the cul-de-sac. He sidles close to the McMansion, his body practically hugging the brick siding, limbs splayed against the façade like a starfish.
Still. Motionless. Waiting.
Insects chirp in the distance. Crickets. Cicadas. Swarms of buzzing mosquitoes snuffling around for blood to suck. Their voices overlap and warble out endless sounds, rising and falling and filling up the emptiness.
It almost makes him laugh for some reason, all that racket. Life is everywhere, he thinks. Thrashing and mindless as ever.
He listens for anything beyond the bug sounds. The thump of footsteps. A closing door. Any sign of movement inside the house.
Sweat bleeds down the sides of his forehead, stinging where it touches the corner of his left eye. His fingers twitch, wanting only to swipe the wet away.
But no. No.
Let it burn.
After what feels like a long time, the shadow lifts its head, peeks through a pane of glass. Pinpoint eyes watch the scene within. Eyes squinted to wrinkled slits. Eyes full of smoldering anger.
A pair of middle-aged men sit in what looks like the formal dining room, decorated like some upper-class suburban cliché. Marble floors. Vaulted ceilings. Tall, thin vases with dried up weeds sticking out of them sitting in the corners.
Tumblers of scotch sweat on the table before them, a bottle with a black label resting between them. The closer man, the homeowner, reaches for the bottle, grips the stopper with his pudgy fist to remove it, tips the glass to top up his drink, puts it back.
Looking beyond the table, he can see the empty spot in the drink cart where the bottle should be — a gap there like a missing tooth.
The homeowner sits with his back mostly to the window, face hidden away. Concealed.
That’s OK. The shadow knows what he looks like from the picture. He studies the guest instead.
Suede patches swath his elbows. Messy hair juts out from both sides of his head, the tangles sculpted into something so asymmetrical it almost looks like weird shapes forming as two cloud formations collide. Little round Harry Potter glasses perched on his pointy nose.
The professor type is not on the list, whoever he is. He’ll live.
The other? Not so much.
The shadow drifts down the side of the house to the next window, retracting deeper into the shrubbery, into prickly, waxy leaves dappled with the green glow from the pole lights. The air grows dank as he enters the thickest brush. Heavy. Almost feels like it’s wetting the skin everywhere it touches.
Again, the dark figure lifts his head to look through the window. This angle gives him a better look at the homeowner’s jowly profile.
Soft and porcine. Chubbier than the professor. Weak chin with its double underneath. Dark hair that’s thinning on top and curling a little at the sides and back. He dresses like one of those slick-looking businessmen who perpetually have wet hair, but that image doesn’t ring true somehow. Not all the way. There’s something missing, some kind of savvy or intelligence the homeowner doesn’t have. Nothing behind the eyes of this one, the shadow thinks. Like there’s not a person in there, not anything souled at all.
He’s smiling now. Dimples taking shape in the jowls and emphasizing his tucked-back chin. Skin pulling taut in a way that makes the soft flesh ripple. When the homeowner smiles, he looks just like he does in the picture the shadow has studied.
Hatred thrums in the shadow’s neck. Blood beating hot and fast, its pulse quaking against the walls of muscle there. For a second, he wants nothing more than to smash out the window, climb inside, and drag that wet, balding, pig-faced man out into the darkness. Wants it so bad that it makes him dizzy.
The dark figure slumps against the bricks again. Closes his eyes. Tries to staunch the aggression mounting in his skull and find the cold, logical intention he came here with. It’s hard when you get this close.
There can be no witnesses. None but the insects.
He opens his eyes. Stares at the grid of mortar, gray veins running between the bricks.
Focus on the task at hand. Focus on the target.
His mind obliges. Runs through the info he has as though reading a dossier.
The jowly homeowner is one Neil Griffin. A business owner. A political wannabe. A member of boards and councils and charitable organizations too numerous to list. A member of the Moose Lodge, even, as ridiculous as that seems in this day and age.
A company man, a community man, a public servant.
But that all ended today. Neil’s name got called. His number was up.
So the fuck be it.
The shadow can picture the end. Looks forward to it.
He closes his eyes again.
Sees the wound. The open place from which this pig-faced man’s life spills out on the floor of his tacky house. Watches the red crawl over the marble, his life a spreading puddle as it vacates his being.
The whooshing creak of a door opening startles the shadow out of his thoughts. He stands up straighter, a rush of electricity running through his limbs, sharpening his senses.
He listens for it.
And there it is, a car door closing.
The professor’s shiny blue Land Rover eases down the long driveway and disappears around the bend. Soon it’ll pull onto the street, be let out of the little gated community by some half-assed rent-a-cop in a little glass tower.
Too bad for Neil Griffin that the gates couldn’t keep the shadow out, huh?
The dark figure stands, moves toward the back door. His heart thumps in his ears, but that’s OK. It’s just adrenaline this time. The cool, logical mindset is back.
Neil’s name got called, and now the shadow is here to collect.
He draws the 9mm from the holster inside his jacket.
The wait is over.
Guess who’s coming to your house tonight.
Special Agent Victor Loshak slipped off his sunglasses and blinked a few times, then rubbed his eyes lightly. Very, very lightly in the case of the right one. The damn thing was swollen and tender. He looked and felt like he’d lost a fight with a doorknob. Hence the sunglasses on an otherwise moderately lit flight.
With a groan, Loshak slipped the shades back on, closed his eyes, and rested his head against the seat. He could’ve kicked back without bothering anyone — the window seat was empty and there was nothing but aisle to his left — but he didn’t want to fall asleep just to be nudged awake in a minute or two. Still, he was glad for the moment alone. Relieved, honestly.
It was almost funny. Not that long ago, he’d been alone all the time. Lonely even. Guess that was just proof you should be careful what you wished for.
He glanced at the empty seat next to him, knowing it wouldn’t be that way for much longer, and then he tipped his head back to gaze up at the plane’s ceiling. Fought the urge to grind a knuckle or maybe the heel of his hand into that itch emanating from his right eyelid. He blinked a few times as though that might help. It didn’t.
Now they were headed for Kansas City to investigate a rash of murders that seemed to spill over both sides of the state line. Though homicide cases that crossed state lines were always given federal jurisdiction, Loshak would be playing his usual role of profiler and consultant for the local task force.
The victims in this case seemed unrelated at best, a mishmash of random targets. A wealthy businessman-slash-philanthropist was the latest. Neil Griffin, killed in his home in one of those gated communities with the pretentious nature names that sounded like rest homes. Flowing Oaks, Shady Pines, stuff like that.
Two bullets shattered Griffin’s skull, entering the back of the head at point-blank range. Quick. Efficient. Execution style.
The victim’s body had then been posed after death. Staged. Laid out face up just next to the smear of blood where he’d originally fallen. A single glove lay over the face, positioned to cover the right eye. The left eye remained open, staring up at nothing.
Beyond the staging and prop — the brown cloth glove seemingly didn’t belong to the victim — no evidence had been left at the scene. No prints. No signs of forced entry. Nothing.
The other victims included a city councilman, the owner of a car dealership, and the defensive coordinator of a Division II college football team. So far, no personal or business connections had turned up among any of the deceased.
The other crime scenes had been similar to that of Griffin’s. All victims killed in their homes, three of the four in a matching execution style. The football coach served as the odd man out in that capacity — taking a bullet in the forehead rather than the back of the skull, as if perhaps he’d wheeled on his attacker a beat too late.
The manner of execution and lack of evidence made the killings seem like professional hits — perhaps suggesting organized crime or mafia involvement — but from what Loshak could tell, these victims were squeaky clean rich folk. No records beyond speeding tickets. College educations and silver spoons all around. No discernible ties to the criminal underworld.
And that damn glove matched at every scene, too, of course. The matching piece of brown cloth handwear laid over half of each corpse’s face, always blocking out one eye. The media had loved that grim little detail, plastering it in the headlines and leading with it on the bulk of the evening news broadcasts.
Loshak rolled his head on his neck, trying to loosen it up. In cases like this, there was always a missing piece, some scrap of information that made sense of all these disparate parts that didn’t seem to fit together. Figuring out what the hell that might be? That was the hard part.
Profiling was a game of incomplete information, like poker. The entire game revolved around not knowing what cards the other players at your table had and knowing that they didn’t know what cards you had. You bet blind.
In chess, everyone could see the board and each and every piece on it. It was all strategy. Each decision, each move proceeded based on a computation of known information. The best players’ brains worked like computers, processing logical predictions about where the game would go based on the board laid out in front of them.
But poker players had to make intuitive leaps at every stage of the game. They had to trust their guts, pick their spots to bluff or fold based on instinct, based on feel. The best of the best could often read exactly what cards the other players had. An uncanny accuracy based on almost no evidence.
Feet shuffling in the aisle behind Loshak drew him out of the depths of game theory. He’d almost drifted off there.
He opened his eyes just in time to see the back of a lavender polo shirt and jeans trying to climb over to the window seat without jostling him.
Loshak sat up and tucked his feet back under his seat, trying to make his long legs magically shorter. It was a losing battle.
The reporter, Jevon Spinks, tripped and shoved his way through the tangle, then dropped into the seat beside him, perching his long arms on the armrests. His left knee bumped against Loshak’s right, so he shifted in his seat until his thighs slanted from the corner of his seat toward the bulkhead of the plane. A pair of diagonal lines.
“Man,” Spinks said, shaking his head as if getting to his seat had exhausted him. “Two guys our size just aren’t meant to sit next to each other on flights.”
“Hey, I thought of a name for the book,” Spinks said.
Loshak glanced his way. Slight quirks at the corners of the reporter’s mouth gave away the smile he was trying to hide.
“Alright, let’s hear it.”
Spinks spread his hands out in front of him as if framing a glowing marquee.
“Shaknado: The Victor Loshak Story.”
And there it was. The smile bloomed as Spinks struggled not to laugh, spreading to touch every corner of the reporter’s face.
Loshak pursed his lips and pretended to consider it.
“You don’t think a Sharknado reference will be dated by the time the thing actually comes out?”
“Well, yeah.” Spinks’ smile faded, and his hands dropped back into his lap. “I mean, obviously. It kinda ruins the joke if you take it seriously.”
“It’s my life story. I figure I should be the one to take it seriously, maybe. But don’t worry. You’ll find a title for the thing. My life is a joke, right? A cruel one. This kind of thing writes itself.”
Spinks smiled again. Clapped Loshak on the shoulder.
“See? That’s what I like about you, partner,” he said, giving him a shake. “Your positive attitude.”
Loshak leaned back in his seat. Stared at the ceiling again. Tried not to think about the pain in his eye, which was impossible.
Next to him, Spinks pulled out a little green notebook and jotted something in it like a pulp novel private eye. Except when he did it, Spinks chuckled to himself.
He’d been doing that ever since he signed the deal to write a book about Loshak. Pulling out the notebook. Jotting something. Chuckling to himself.
Every time the notebook made an appearance, Loshak wanted to ask the reporter what he’d just written, the impulse flailing about and screeching in his skull, but so far he hadn’t followed through on the urge. It was like that therapy-couch paranoia people got when they said something off-hand and their psychologist said, “Interesting…” and hurried to scribble it down.
At this point, Loshak had to grit his teeth to keep his mouth from asking. It had become some kind of purity test to see how long he could avoid the temptation, a matter of pride or something.
When he really thought about it, Loshak couldn’t imagine a book about him being interesting. Then again, Spinks was a good writer. If anybody could salvage the thing, it would be him. And the Bureau was over the moon about the prospects of a high profile biography, thinking it would yield a lot of positive PR. The kind of thing that would make the public believers again and rocket the cadet enrollment rates off the charts. Maybe even help some of the insider factions make their case for federal funding — the full-on bureaucratic wet dream.
Something akin to The Silence of the Lambs, which was still on the Academy’s curriculum. In the years after the movie had come out, the number of women applying to the FBI had shot through the roof. They showed it at least twice a year to cadets as an example of what good publicity could do.
It’d been a while since that kind of good publicity had come the Bureau’s way, and they were ready to do anything necessary to help get it flowing again. Even going so far as to grant Spinks a consultant ID. The reporter now had the same clearance level as a rookie. And even though that was barely any clearance at all, Spinks was ecstatic. He’d even started calling Loshak “partner” every now and then in this joking tone that was clearly meant to sound like sarcasm but didn’t quite make it.
The Bureau was happy. Spinks was happy.
Loshak wasn’t sure what he was.
Whenever he heard Spinks jokingly-but-not-jokingly say “partner,” Loshak thought of Darger. How the FBI dream had gone sideways for her. Last he’d heard, she’d been consulting on the Kathryn Porter case, still on leave. At least she wasn’t giving up on profiling. Not yet, anyway. He found himself thinking all sorts of fatherly things at that point. Stuff like, If she could just stick with it… and She’s got so much talent and raw grit…
His stupid eye prickled.
Loshak slid his sunglasses off. He had to force himself not to rub it. Instead, he dabbed his finger just at the edge of the puffy eyelid. It didn’t help at all, but it felt like he was doing something, at least.
“Yikes,” Spinks said, leaning back toward the window as if to get a better angle on the eye. “Nice shiner. Finally decide to take up cage fighting?”
“Nah, it’s nothing. I got something in it the other day, a piece of dirt or something, and I did exactly what all the medical texts say you’re supposed to do — I rubbed at it frantically and messed with my eyelid until it got worse.”
When Spinks laughed, making that hissing, airy sound, Loshak had a hard time not smiling.
“For real?” the reporter asked.
“Yeah, but it’s getting better. I think whatever was in it is gone, at least. Now it just stings when I blink. And when I don’t blink.”
Spinks laughed again and grabbed for his Dick Tracy notebook.
“And sometimes when I look at things, it’s like I can’t see them quite right. They’re not blurry or doubled or anything like that. Just off somehow. Distorted. I guess it makes it hard to tell what I’m really seeing.”
Loshak slipped his shades back on.
“Real pain in the ass.”
“Is the Bureau really that tight with money?” Spinks asked. “Or are you just one of those embarrassed types who doesn’t like to go for the new, flashy cars?”
The reporter had been making jokes about the age of the sedan since they walked away from the rental kiosk with the keys.
“There’s nothing wrong with this car.” Loshak tapped the steering wheel with his thumb.
The GPS indicated that they needed to get off at the next exit. Loshak flipped on his blinker.
In spite of being one of only three cars on that particular stretch of I-435, the shiny suburban just behind him in the right lane sped up rather than let him over. Loshak hit the brakes so they would pass and get out of the way, but the SUV took the ramp ahead of him and Spinks. Assholes.
“No, there’s nothing wrong with this car,” Spinks said in the voice he used when setting up a joke. “I loved it when Scully and Mulder were driving around in it. I’m pretty sure it was brand new back then.”
“This thing is three years old.”
“I’ll believe that when I see the title.”
Deciding to give ignoring Spinks a shot, Loshak followed the curve of the horseshoe, then turned onto a smaller four-lane. A small brown sign indicated that the Corporate Woods was their next left.
“Pretty oxymoronic,” he mumbled.
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