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New Flesh on Old Bones Novel
New Flesh on Old Bones
These are excerpts from a few chapters from my techno thriller due out next summer
All rights reserved. Copyrighted material. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual person, living or dead, business establishments, event, or locales is entirely coincidental.
~I can see you, but you can't see me
What am ?.~
Date: May 15, 2000
"Come on, Gans, you know the drill." The lack of inflection in the prison guard's voice came off dry and uncaring.
Lucia Gans stood behind the bars with a smile on his face.
With a thick Texas accent, the second guard snidely remarked, "We'll see how long that smile of yours lasts once the I.V. starts pumping poison into your veins. I hear it hurts like hell, and can take hours before the heart stops."
"Shut up, Bill," said the other guard, "and stick to protocol."
"Come on, Jenkins, there's nobody here but us."
"Just do your job," Jenkins spouted back. He turned to Gans. "On your knees." The inmate obeyed. "Hands behind your head and lock your fingers." After Lucia did what he was told, Jenkins inserted the key into the lock and turned it. The barred gate whisked along a track and made a metallic clank at the end of its run that echoed throughout the long hall. Both guards entered.
Holding a set of ankle and wrist shackles connected by a run of chain, Jenkins walked around to the back of Gans. First he cuffed the prisoner's ankles and then ran the length of chain under an ankle. "Keep one hand behind your head and stand." Jenkins grabbed the free wrist as Gans got to his feet. Jenkins cuffed the wrist he was holding and then the other. When the task was complete, he looked at his watch. "It's time."
A crude grin spread across Bill's lips. "Yeah, the Devil's waitin' on you in hell."
The two guards flanked the inmate. The trio left the cell and entered the hall where the air was cool and sterile. Glass tubes caged behind wire mesh rained down flat, white light. The shuffle of their feet intermingled as they moved forward.
Bill didn't let too much time pass before he added, "Some ole' scaly-prick demon is going to have his way with you for what you did." He continued to goad the prisoner. "For all eternity."
The echo of their footsteps picked up where his remark left off. Unable to get a rise out of the prisoner, Bill's faced flushed red and he gritted his teeth. "There's a room full of people sitting behind a two-way mirror waiting to watch you die."
Gans maintained his smile.
"If you don't shut up," said Jenkins, "you're going to be looking for another line of work."
Their journey ended at a metal door. Bill pushed a button and the buzzer sounded.
A cherub-like face appeared in the small, glass window, glanced at the trio before the lock clicked and the door opened.
They marched Lucia in and stood by as the intravenous team strapped him onto the gurney before hooking him up to monitors and inserting the I.V.
"Any last words?" Jenkins asked.
Gans lifted his head up and replied, "Yeah, tell Colton I'm coming straight back from Hell to get him."
Chapter 1 The Legend of Ghost Road
Colton Bishop woke up in a bedroom with a half-smoked cigar, a near-empty whiskey bottle, and a naked female. This wouldn't have been so bad, except for the fact that none of them belonged to him. A rustling on the other side of the room snagged his attention, and he turned his head.
An older man was sitting in a rocker. His head was back like he was waiting for a shave and had one of his feet cocked over one knee. He held a bone-handled knife in his right hand.
Colton lifted his head off the pillow and let out a groan.
The old man raised his head. “You’re awfully dumb to be lying in bed next to another man’s wife, especially in his own house,” he coldly criticized as he studied the crumpled sheets twisted by a turbulent night of sex. He lifted his knife and pointed the tip at the younger man. "You're lucky I'm not her husband." The man lowered the knife and rhythmically tapped the blade against his shin.
Colton sat up and his long, black hair spilled over his shoulders and onto his chest. He swung his legs out of bed and deposited his feet on the floor. “How’d you find me, Spangler?”
The man tucked the knife into the sheath hanging from his belt. With a sly grin he replied, “I’m a tracker. Remember?”
Colton bent down and picked up a pair of rumpled jeans from the floor. “Yeah, of wild game.”
“It doesn’t matter what it is,” said Spangler. “Once I know something’s habits I can find it."
Colton pulled the waist of his jeans open and simultaneously shoved his feet through the pant's legs and out through the cuffs. He stood and zipped his jeans. “So, why did you come looking for me?”
Spangler unfolded all six foot four of his frame out of the chair, dug a plain, white envelope from his coat pocket, and held it out. "Charley asked me to give this to you."
Colton shoved his hands into his hip pockets and took a step back. "I don't want anything from him."
"He paid me good money to deliver this message, so it's no skin off my nose, but why don't you see what your old man has to say."
"Whatever it is, it won't change anything."
“Look, nobody blames you for what happened. Me least of all.”
He looked up and locked eyes with Spangler. "Get out of here." He scooped up his shirt from the floor, slipped it over his shoulders leaving the front unbuttoned and defiantly stared at Spangler.
"All right." Spangler pointed at the bottle "I'll let you get back to your slow suicide." Spangler tossed the envelope to the floor. He turned, and left.
Chapter 2 Bye Bye Blackbird
When Colton entered the diner, the bell mounted on the door announced his arrival. He was swept back in time. The place looked exactly like it did when he was a kid. It was long and narrow with a lunch counter that ran from the entrance all the way down to the kitchen. The rest of the room was filled with patrons sitting at tables draped with checkered cloths. A few curious faces took their eyes off their newspapers to give the newcomer a glance. Along with the usual cafe natter, the smell of fresh-brewed coffee, grilled onions, and a hint of bacon filled the air. The kinetic energy wagging the bell's tongue spent itself and it silenced.
A gruff male voice at one of the tables called out. "What the hell's wrong with you?" Laughter erupted from the group.
Colton took a step further inside and closed the door. He turned to make a beeline for the empty table in the corner, but the icy stare of the man sitting on one of the barstools at the counter stopped him dead in his tracks. He recognized the face even though the jowls were heavier, the lines around the eyes were deeper, and hair thinner. He remembered Toomey from frequenting the same teenage parties flowing with beer and pot, and that memory was imbedded with an incident that had caused bad blood between the two of them.
"You look like you seen a ghost or somethin'," said Toomey.
"Yeah, maybe I have."
A look registered in the goon's eyes. At that moment, Colton knew Toomey recognized him, and he braced himself for confrontation.
A girl with platinum-blonde hair pushed through the swinging kitchen door holding a pot of coffee in one hand and a menu in the other. She hurried toward Colton. "Leave him alone, everybody." She escorted him through a cloud of cigarette smoke despite the NO SMOKING sign on the wall. Things down south hadn't changed much, the hometown folks pretty much chose not to disturb the status quo of southern traditions.
He thought she looked like a reincarnated Jean Harlow or maybe a modernized version of the film actress. She led him to the empty table. After he sat down, she raked a few rogue strands of blonde hair away from her blue eyes and asked, "Coffee?" Except she pronounced it Caw-fee. Her southern drawl shattered the illusion.
He nodded. "Yeah, that would be nice."
With long, slender fingers tipped with lacquered nails, she turned the ceramic cup over and poured. "I saw you ride in. I like your Sportster."
He broke out into a grin. "Thanks."
She plopped the menu down and stuck out her hand. "Georgia."
He took her hand in his. "Colton."
She approved with a smile.
The curve and fullness of her lips attracted him, but it was the virtue reflected in her eyes that captivated him.
She slowly let her hand slip out of his. "So, what'll you have, Darlin'?"
He knew that most places like this always had a breakfast special served twenty-four hours a day, and that's what he requested.
Without writing it down, she asked, "How would you like your eggs?"
"Sausage or bacon?"
"Grits or hash browns?"
It had been a long time since he had eaten grits. "I'll take the grits."
"Toast or biscuit?"
"Anything else?" she asked.
He felt the stare on the back of his neck and looked back over his shoulder and saw Toomey, eyes locked, glaring. He twisted back around. "Yeah, make it to go."
She grabbed the menu off the table and was gone.
Colton finished his coffee feeling the cold stare on the back of his neck. By the time he finished his last sip, Georgia returned with a white, Styrofoam box and plopped it down in front of him.
He took a ten from his wallet and dropped on the table. When Colton opened the box to inspect the contents he discovered a napkin strategically place on top of the eggs with her name and a phone number.
"In case you want to take me for a ride." She gave him a smile and winked. Executing a well-practiced spin sent the hem of her skirt flaring out and giving him a glimpse of a good six inches more of her shapely gams. She strutted away.
Chapter 3 The Boogie Man Drives a Rat Rod
Colton struggled to stay within the speed limit. The hairs on the nape of his neck stood up. Maybe Toomey followed him. He addressed his suspicion with a glance in the rearview. Nothing. His tension eased. The access to Ghost Road was on his left. He took it.
The few houses bordering the familiar route were no more than shanties with junk-infested yards nesting under umbrellas of cottonwood trees. Colton cruised along the sun-freckled road stirring dust along the way.
In the distance, a flash of silver light winked. It flickered several more times before he realized it was moving toward him. Sunlight bounced off the pronounced, chrome grille of a black car. With its engine screaming, it barreled at him churning up the powdery surface. As it neared, he edged closer to the ditch. The rat rod sped by, and Colton caught a glimpse of the man's face behind the wheel. He wore a maniacal grin and had a crazy look in his eyes. In his rearview, Colton watched the car's retreat as it was swallowed in a swirling cloud of brown dust.
He put the incident behind him and focused on the stretch of road ahead. Over the years, the exact location of the entrance to his childhood home had faded from his memory. After spotting a hollow, he slowed down hoping this was it. He pulled in and noticed the fresh tire tracks stretching along the dirt driveway. The shaded, overgrown path led to where the cottonwoods parted. He came to a stop at the edge of the yard. A partially dismantled lawnmower rusted under the sun and weeds threatened to take over. He dismounted and followed a foot-worn trail to the twelve by fifty foot trailer. As he drew near, a sudden gust caught the front door and banged it against the house. He jumped. His defense mechanisms went on high alert.
Chapter 5 Honey Island
Colton dismounted and walked up to the door. When he pushed it open, a loud buzzer sounded followed by the rapid fire of a machine gun. A thirteen inch, black and white, portable TV perched on the front desk playing a classic Frank Spencer movie, Midnight to Nowhere. Colton watched a high-speed car chase scene accompanied by over dramatic music, with guns blazing back and forth, blaring from two vintage tower speakers wired to the back of the set.
An elderly man emerged from the back room pulling a wife beater over his wiry frame of sagging muscles and skin. Coarse, white hair sprouted from the neck of the tank top like a bouquet of seeding dandelions. "Needin' a room?"
"Yes," Colton replied just as police cars joined the on-screen action.
The man cupped a hand to his ear. "What's that?"
Colton hooked a thumb at the television and yelled, "Can you turn that thing down?"
The old man twisted a knob and the wailing sirens faded into silence. The man shifted his varnished corneas to Colton and his grin displayed an almost full set of yellow teeth. "They don't make 'em like that anymore."
Colton thought the old man was referring to the ancient sound system rigged to the portable. "You're right. I had a set of speakers like that when I was a kid."
The old man scratched at white bristles sprouting from his chin, his grin grew broader. "No." He pointed to the screen. "Movies." The little man folded his skinny arms onto the countertop, engrossed in the silent scene playing out on the screen. "Nothing like a good action-packed flick." Bursts of gray light washed over his face. He sighed. "I miss the old days of Hollywood when the leading men were real men. You couldn't pay me to watch a movie with these liberal pansies they've got nowadays." He slipped into silence.
Colton's patience was wearing thin. He didn't want to carry this conversation any further. All he wanted to do was crash. "How about that room?"
The man swiveled his head and stared at Colton with a blank look.
"I'm here to rent a room," Colton reminded him.
Cognizance sparked behind the man's vanished lenses, and he broke out into a grin. "I've got cabins out by the water. Nice view," he added.
Another voice chimed in through the narrow doorway the clerk had come from. Judging by the jargon it was a police scanner.
Fatigue had seeped into Colton's bones making them ache. He nodded his head. "That's fine," Colton pulled a stack of hundreds from his wallet. "How much?"
The old man's eyes drifted to the money. "Cash? That'll be fifty for one night."
Under the new circumstances, he wasn't sure how long his stay would be extended. He slapped a hundred down on the counter. "I'll pay up front for two nights. We can go from there."
With a smile on his face, the man placed his thin fingers on top of the register book and shoved it toward Colton. "Put your John Hancock on the line." After Colton signed it, the old man spun the book around. "Colton Bishop." His studied Colton's face. "Ever been here before?"
"No. I've never stayed here."
"Your face looks kinda familiar." He squinted until his filmy, blue eyes were almost veiled completely by a pair of droopy eyelids.
Colton didn't want to get into a long, drawn out conversation or revert to the old cliché', I've got one of those faces, so he just stood silently waiting for the fellow to give up.
"I use to be pretty good at recognizing faces." The old man hiked his bony shoulders up and said, "Who am I kidding, my eyesight or my memory ain't as good as they use to be." His shoulders sagged back into place. He spun around, and grabbed one of the keys hanging from the pegboard. Then twisted back around and plopped it down on the counter. "Room twelve." The corners of his mouth turned up into a playful grin. "Know who else had room twelve?"
Blank faced, Colton shook his head hoping that his lack of enthusiasm would curb the old man's rambling.
"There might only be a handful of people that know this. It was Janet Leigh's character, Marion Crane, in the movie, Psycho." He looked jubilant over his recitation of cinematic knowledge. He slapped one of his veined hands palm down on the counter and let out a howl. "Nothing like a good murder movie!" The metal key scraped against the wood when he shoved the key toward Colton. When Colton didn't immediately pick it up, a satisfied smile appeared on the old man's face. "Don't worry; I'll lock Norman and his mother in their rooms tonight." With a wink of an eye, he shoved the key closer to Colton.
Chapter 6 The Boys Are Back in Town
Zorn arrived at the port and found the shack at the gate abandoned and the work yard empty. He drove past dormant cranes on loading docks along the water on one side and a series of warehouses, called Tin City, on the other toward the end of the wharf. The ancient beams beneath his tires sagged and groaned. A vision of the car crashing through with him trapped inside and sinking to the bottom of the channel zipped through his mind. With his heart thumping hard, he fought off the urge to park and walked the rest of the way. Off to his left, a shattered reflection of cityscape lights, from across the channel, danced on the rough water. A tug, pushing a long string of barges gave a blast on its horn as it slipped by. In front of him, emergency lights from a parked cruiser flashed upon a crowd of people. That explained the abandoned guard shack and the missing dockworkers. Among the horde were reporters hungry for a story and it appeared that extra officers had been called in to contain the crowd. He parked behind the last cop car on the left. The dawn sky brightened and the few security lights along the edge of the pier winked off just as he stepped out of his car.
An officer emerged from the crowd and intercepted him. "Morning, Zorn."
"Morning, Joe. What have you got so far?"
"Not much. We've just started gathering evidence," the cop replied.
"How about the guard? Did he see anything?"
"No. It seems he was taking a little siesta. But Kasick's got a wit on ice, some homeless dude. Claims he saw Jesus raising the dead." Joe rolled his eyes.
Zorn shook his head. "What about the security cameras?"
"Arceneaux still needs to look at the footage." He pointed to the warehouse. "I haven't seen it yet, but the body's inside."
As they approached the looky-loos trolling the sight, an attractive redhead holding a camera and voice recorder met them. "Hey, Zorn, how about taking me in with you? Your picture will be front page." She flashed a smile and gave him a wink.
"Sorry, Lucy, you'll have to wait like everyone else." As he walked past her, the smile on her face disintegrated into a frown, and she flipped him off.
"It should be illegal for reporters to have police scanners," Zorn groused. He took the lead and used his mass to plow through the murmuring spectators; shifting his gaze to the curiosity seekers knowing that sometimes, the perpetrator mixed in with the group to witness people's reactions to the crime. Standard procedure was to get photos or video of the crowds. "Is Lindsey here?"
"Yes. She's done out here." The officer remained close on his heels. "She's already inside working the scene."
As Zorn moved toward the entrance, he noticed a large man, with a long, braided ponytail cascading down his back, pressing against the crime scene tape. The guy, who was as tall as Zorn, wore a pair of faded chinos, T-shirt, and black boots. Zorn placed a hand on the man's shoulder. "Excuse us."
The man slightly turned to peer at them through dark sunglasses. He broke out into a grin and grabbed hold of the yellow tape lifting it high enough for them to duck under.
Zorn observed a cryptic tattoo on the underside of the man's wrist that was still puffy and pink like it was a new ink job. "Thanks." After they ducked beneath the yellow barrier tape, the path was clear to enter the building. The officer patrolling the parameter motioned them through. Inside, the entrance opened up into a cavernous warehouse brilliantly illuminated by rows of high-wattage bulbs dotting the ceiling. The floor space was a wide path down the center flanked on both sides by boxes stacked on wooden pallets. Muffled voices from the other end of the building pulled him that way. A fly buzzed by his ear, and he expected to catch a whiff of something rank, but never did.
Nothing could have prepared him for the grisly sight as he walked around the last cluster of boxes on the right. A dead man, dressed in a T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, was tied to a vintage wooden chair. He bore a broad grin and wide-eyed stare.
"That's just creepy," Joe said. "He looks like he died happy."
"That's what happens to a frozen body over time. The skin on the eyelids and lips shrink," Zorn explained. The man's clothes were mottled with moisture. Condensation was collecting on the body and rivulets trickled down the corpse's arms and onto the floor.
The ME arrived. "What a mess." She pulled her auburn hair back into a ponytail and secured it with a scrunchie.
"He's been frozen," Joe said.
"I can see that." She pulled on a pair of purple latex gloves and turned to the cop. "And, evidence will be lost if we don't get him on ice soon." She moved in closer to the body.
"Any idea how long he's been dead, Jackie?" Zorn asked.
She shrugged. "Hard to tell without being in the lab."
Lindsey photographed the wall below the large industrial window. She turned to Zorn, "Come take a look at this."
Chapter 8 ME and the Meatsicles
Zorn pulled into the small parking lot of the forensic lab in his new, black Dodge Charger. The King's I wish I was in the Land of Cotton surround him as he found an empty slot next to Jackie's white BMW. He thought it complimented her personality. Classy, smart, and sexy as hell. He'd made mistake, a bad one, and he was forever regretting it. When the folk song finished, he switched off the engine and the cold air blasting out of the vents died, and the hot Texas sun immediately began the baking process.
He patted the Fedora on the passenger seat. He rarely wore the thing. Slapping a lid like this over his blonde locks made him look too much like a character in a film noir His mentor, Casey Stengel, gave it to him on the day he retired from the force. The only time Zorn could remember actually wearing the thing was five years ago at Casey's funeral. But keeping it next to him was almost like having his old guru at his side. "You stay here, Stengel."
In two broad strides, he was at the entrance. In the reflection of the glass door, he took a moment to smooth the wrinkles from his slacks. He was wearing yesterday's clothes since he'd been rousted out of a deep slumber for the call to the docks and he was forced to skip his leisurely grooming routine. He entered the building and was welcomed by cool air wafting down from the overhead vents. The building's layout defied logic and always galled him. What sensible architect would design an entrance door at the front of the building only to force a walk to the end of a hall to enter the forensic lab? When he arrived at the door, he peeked through the narrow panel of glass. The ME sat behind a desk inking on paperwork. He gave the handle a tug and discovered the door was locked. She remained unaware of his presence. Zorn made a fist and gently rapped his ring against the glass.
Jackie stopped working and looked up.
Zorn smiled and waved his hand.
She rose slowly and hesitantly made her way over to stare at him through the glass. Her hazel eyes were cold. The internal mechanism of the lock clicked. He pulled the door open and smiled. "Hi Jackie."
The ME responded to his smile with a scowl.
"Easy. I just came by to take a look at the bodies." That was a lie. His visit was multipurpose. He had a sore subject that he wanted to discuss with Jackie, and the timing never seemed right, but he was going to make it the right time today.
She maintained her frown. As he took a step forward, she turned and was already three steps ahead before he could get through the open door.
He followed her over to the cooler.
Chapter 13 The Best Little Murder Town in Texas
Midmorning, under the heat of the sun, Mayor Stiles stomped across Main Street with the hard soles of his shoes clacking out his anguish on the hot concrete like Morse Code. Red faced and sweating, he marched into the confines of precinct clutching a rolled up newspaper in a white knuckled grip. Without a word to the few officers milling around the inside of the precinct or, Renee, the dispatcher, he marched down the hall and burst into the chief of police's office. With an agonizing look on his face, Stiles flopped down in the vacant chair. "I'm doomed, Grady! DOOMED!" he howled.
"What are you talking about?"
Stiles tossed the paper onto the desk and the daily rag unfurled itself at the Captain's elbows. The bold headlines read: PARADISE, THE BEST LITTLE MURDER TOWN IN TEXAS "National headlines," the mayor groaned.
"You're going to have to relax," Grady replied, "before you blow a head gasket."
The mayor sat up with a crazed look in his eyes, stared, and blinked. "We've got dead bodies showing up right and left, and you want me to relax?". Breanne, down at the Breeze Inn told me that people are already calling in and canceling their reservations for the fishing tournament." He wadded a fist and slammed it down on the desk. " Dammit, Grady, Paradise depends on that tournament money. Without it, this place is going to become a ghost town."
"What do you want me to do, Leonard?"
"Put Colton Bishop in lock up?"
"Aren't you a hoot today," the mayor cackled. "You damn well know what for."
"These things didn't start happening until he rolled into town."
"You're grabbing at straws," Grady replied.
"We need to offer up something like Colton Bishop."
"You make it sound like you're wanting to offer him as a sacrifice on the altar to appease the gods."
The mayor cracked a smile as though he liked the sound of the idea.
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