#Featured “The Winner Maker” by Jeff Bond

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“A true page-turner…packed with kidnapping, murder, manhunts and conspiracy.” — BlueInk Reviews (starred review)

Bob Fiske — the 74-year-old dinosaur who’s taught Honors English and coached varsity football for five decades — is missing.

To his Winners, class favorites Fiske designated over the years for their potential to “Live Big,” it’s heartbreaking. Fiske did more than inspire with soaring oratory; he supported their ambitions into adulthood. Four of his brightest former stars reunite to find him, putting high-octane careers on hold, slipping police barricades, racing into the wilds of Northern Michigan for clues about the fate of their legendary mentor.

Others don’t see a legend. They see an elitist whose time has passed.

As the search unfolds, churning up feints and betrayal and explosive secrets from the Winners’ own pasts, each must decide how far they’ll go for Fiske. Will the truth affirm him? Or has this cult of hyper-achievement spawned a thing so vile none of their lives will survive intact?

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#BookReview “Dear Durwood (Third Chance Enterprises Book 2)” by Jeff Bond

on Tour August 1 – September 30, 2020

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5/5 Stars!

I shamelessly admit I am crushin’ on Durwood Oak Jones.

He may have a standing ad in Soldier of Fortune magazine, but he’s not your run-of-the-mill mercenary.

Actually, Durwood isn’t a mercenary at all. He’s not muscle for hire. His unique set of skills simply aren’t available to the highest bidder. Since his military days, Durwood has fought to right injustices because the underdog rarely had the advantage. Which is how he ended up in Chickasaw, Texas.

Big-money Wall Street is suddenly interested in the small town’s single largest employer, Hogan Industries, a manufacturing company. Losing Hogan would be a death knell for Chickasaw. Mayor Carol Bridges is not a damsel in distress looking for a dude in a white hat to save her. She takes her job seriously and is exploring other options to bring jobs to Chickasaw, but her inquiries have been stonewalled and ignored on every front. She simply wants Durwood to get answers for her so she’ll know how to proceed and save her town.

While it’s not diffusing bombs or shooting a drone out the sky six seconds before it hit the fuselage of a jumbo jet carrying six heads of state, Durwood has a gut feeling about Chickasaw’s problem, and he’s impressed with Carol’s forthright nature—and the Iraqi combat medal hanging on her wall—so he agrees to make some inquiries on her behalf.

However, on meeting each of the under-thirty Ivy League graduates who run Hogan Industries, Durwood is not happy with the answers he receives. Jay Hogan and Chester Lyles are arrogant and condescending… and they both will regret underestimating Durwood Oak Jones.

This was such a good read with a great protagonist! I loved the wit and dry humor!

Durwood doesn’t have the swagger of Bond or the ever-simmering rage of Reacher or the mental issues of Rambo. He’s Just. A. Guy. A guy in jeans, boots and a cowboy hat with principles and ethics who believes taking on four guys is a fair fight. He’s buried a wife and a son and tries to stay connected to his youngest son… who works on Wall Street. He takes his blue-tick hound, Sue-Ann, everywhere, and the old dog with a bad hip should also never be underestimated.

Dear Durwood is book 2 in the Third Chance Enterprises series. I have not read book 1—but I downloaded it—and I preordered book 3 so I can learn more about Durwood’s partners, Quaid and Molly.

However, if the author ever penned another adventure for Durwood, I’m here for it! Only, I hope there are no more lawyers… because Durwood hates lawyers!

Enjoy!

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Reviewer’s Note: All books in the Third Chance Enterprises series are currently 99c or available through Kindle Unlimited!

 

Book two in the epic Third Chance Enterprises series, Dear Durwood is a standalone mystery pitting uncompromising principle against big city greed.

Durwood Oak Jones is a man of few indulgences. One he does allow is a standing ad in Soldier of Fortune magazine soliciting “injustices in need of attention.”

This month’s bundle of letters includes one from Carol Bridges, mayor of the dusty, blue-collar town of Chickasaw, Texas. For nearly a century, Chickasaw has relied on the jobs and goodwill of Hogan Consolidated, a family-run manufacturer of industrial parts. Now East Coast lawyers and investment bankers have taken aim at the company. The citizens of Chickasaw fear it may be acquired or bankrupted, leading to massive layoffs — effectively destroying the town.

Durwood and his trusty bluetick coonhound, Sue-Ann, fly to Texas to see what can be done. They find a young CEO born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Factory workers with hammers. A good woman, Carol Bridges, who knows her town is being cheated but can’t get to the bottom of how. And lawyers.

Dirty, good-for-nothing lawyers.

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Book Details:

Genre: Action-Adventure / Western Romance

Published by: Jeff Bond Books

Publication Date: June 15, 2020

Number of Pages: 215

ISBN: 1732255296 (ISBN13: 9781732255296)

Series: Third Chance Enterprises

Purchase Links: Amazon | Third Chance Stories | Goodreads

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Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

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Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Jeff Bond. There will be 2 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on August 1, 2020 and runs through October 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

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#BookTour “Dear Durwood (Third Chance Enterprises Book 2)” by Jeff Bond

Dear Durwood by Jeff Bond Banneron Tour August 1 – September 30, 2020

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Dear Durwood by Jeff Bond

Book two in the epic Third Chance Enterprises series, Dear Durwood is a standalone mystery pitting uncompromising principle against big city greed.

Durwood Oak Jones is a man of few indulgences. One he does allow is a standing ad in Soldier of Fortune magazine soliciting “injustices in need of attention.”

This month’s bundle of letters includes one from Carol Bridges, mayor of the dusty, blue-collar town of Chickasaw, Texas. For nearly a century, Chickasaw has relied on the jobs and goodwill of Hogan Consolidated, a family-run manufacturer of industrial parts. Now East Coast lawyers and investment bankers have taken aim at the company. The citizens of Chickasaw fear it may be acquired or bankrupted, leading to massive layoffs — effectively destroying the town.

Durwood and his trusty bluetick coonhound, Sue-Ann, fly to Texas to see what can be done. They find a young CEO born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Factory workers with hammers. A good woman, Carol Bridges, who knows her town is being cheated but can’t get to the bottom of how. And lawyers.

Dirty, good-for-nothing lawyers.

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Book Details:

Genre: Action-Adventure / Western Romance

Published by: Jeff Bond Books

Publication Date: June 15, 2020

Number of Pages: 215

ISBN: 1732255296 (ISBN13: 9781732255296)

Series: Third Chance Enterprises

Purchase Links: Amazon | Third Chance Stories | Goodreads

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Read an excerpt:

Dear Mr. Oak Jones: I am Carol Bridges, mayor of Chickasaw, Texas. We are located in the western part of the state, Big Bend Country if you know it. I thank you in advance for considering my injustice. Chickasaw is the home of Hogan Consolidated, a family-run manufacturer of industrial parts. Hogan employs 70 percent of able-bodied adults in Chickasaw, and its philanthropy has sustained the town for ninety years. It’s due to the Hogan family we have an arts center and turf field for youth football. Recently, East Coast lawyers and investment bankers have taken aim at the company. Multi-million dollar claims have been filed, accusing Hogan of putting out defective parts. It’s rumored the company will be acquired or liquidated outright. Massive layoffs are feared. My constituents work hard, Mr. Jones. They have mortgages and children to feed. I have tried to find answers about the Hogan family’s intentions, to see whether I or the town can do anything to influence the course of events. Jay Hogan, the current CEO, does not return my phone calls—and is seen dining at sushi restaurants in El Paso (85 miles away) more often than in Chickasaw. I have gotten the runaround from our state and federal representatives. I believe it’s their fundraising season. As mayor, I have a duty to explore every possible solution to the challenges we face. I do not read Soldier of Fortune regularly, but my deputy police chief showed me your ad soliciting “injustices in need of attention.” I feel certain injustice is being done to Chickasaw, though I can’t as yet name its perpetrator and exact nature. Alonso (our deputy chief) knows you by reputation, and assures me these details won’t trouble you. Thank you sincerely for your time, Carol Bridges Mayor of Chickasaw, TX Chapter One Durwood got to the Chickasaw letter halfway through the sorghum field. He was flipping through the stack from the mailbox, passing between sweet-smelling stalks. Leaves brushed his bluejeans. Dust coated his boots. He scanned for clumps of johnsongrass as he read, picking what he saw. The first five letters he’d tucked into his back pocket. The Chickasaw letter he considered longer. Steel-colored eyes scanned left to right. He forgot about the johnsongrass. An ugliness started in his gut. Lawyers. He put the letter in his front pocket, then read the rest. The magazine forwarded him a bundle every month. In September, he’d only gotten three. At Christmas time, it seemed like he got thirty or forty. Folks felt gypped around the holidays. Today, he read about two brothers who didn’t steal a car. About a principal who got fired for being too aggressive fighting drugs in his school. About a bum call in the Oregon state Little League championship twenty years ago. About a furnace warranty that wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. Durwood chuckled at the Oregon letter. This one had been writing in for years. Maybe he figured Durwood didn’t read them, figured some screener only put a couple through each go-round and one of these days they’d sneak his through. But Durwood did read them. Every last one. He put the letter about the principal in his front pocket with the Chickasaw letter. Off his right side, Sue-Ann whimpered. Durwood turned to find the bluetick coonhound pointing the south fenceline. “I see,” Durwood said, of the white-tail doe nosing around the spruces. “Left my gun back at the house, though.” Sue-Ann kept her point. Her bad hip quivered from the effort. Old as she was, she still got fired up about game. Durwood released her with a gesture. “What do you say to some bluegill tonight instead? See what Crole’s up to.” Durwood called Crole from the house. Crole, his fishing buddy who lived on the adjacent sixty acres, said he was good for a dozen casts. They agreed to meet at the river dividing their properties. Durwood had a shorter walk and used the extra time to clean his M9 semiautomatic. Leaving, he noticed the red maple that shaded the house was leafing out slow. He examined the trunk and found a pattern of fine holes encircling the bark. That yellow-bellied sapsucker. Durwood wondered if the holes were related to the tree’s poor vigor. Out by the river, Crole limped up with his jug of moonshine, vile stuff he made from Jolly Ranchers. They fished. Sue-Ann laid in the mud, snoring, her stiff coat bristling against Durwood’s boot. The afternoon stretched out, a dozen casts becoming two dozen. Then three. In the distance, the hazy West Virginia sky rolled through the Smokies. Mosquitoes weren’t too bad, just a nip here and there at the collar. Durwood thought about Chickasaw, Texas. He thought about East Coast lawyers. About the hardworking men and women who’d elected Carol Bridges to be mayor and stick up for them. He thought about that CEO picking up raw fish with chopsticks in El Paso. He thought, too, about the principal who’d been fired for doing right. Crole said, “Got some letters today?” Durwood said he had. Crole grinned, showing his top teeth—just two, both nearly black. “Still running that ad in Soldier of Fortune?” Durwood lowered the brim of his hat against the sun. “Don’t cost much.” “They give a military discount?” Durwood raised a shoulder. He’d been discharged from the Marines a decade ago. He didn’t accept handouts for his service. Crole nodded to the bulge in his pocket—the letters. “Anything interesting?” “Sure,” Durwood said. “Plenty.” They fished into twilight. Durwood caught just five bluegill. Crole, twenty years his senior and luckier with fish, reeled in a dozen, plus a decent-size channel cat despite using the wrong bait. The men strung their catches on a chain. The chain rippled in the cool, clear water. The Chickasaw job appealed to Durwood. The opportunity to fight crooked lawyers, do something about these Wall Street outfits that made their buck slicing up American companies, putting craftsmen out of work until every last doodad was made in some knockoff plant in China. Still, Durwood had trouble imagining the case. What would he do, flip through documents? Sit across a folding table from men in suits and ask questions? Then he thought about the principal. About those gangs the letter had mentioned, how you could look out the windows of the dang school and see drug dealers on street corners. Intimidators. Armed thugs. Durwood had an easy time imagining that case. The sky had just gotten its first purple tinge when Durwood lost his bait a third time running. “These fish.” He held his empty hook out of the water, shaking his head. Crole said, “There’s catfish down there older than you.” “Smarter, too,” Durwood said. Still, the five bluegill would be enough for him and Sue-Ann. Durwood unclipped the fishes’ cheeks from the chain and dropped them in a bucket. Back at the house, Durwood spotted the yellow-bellied sapsucker climbing the red maple. Not only was he pecking the tree, the ornery creature kept pulling twigs from the gray squirrels’ nest, the one they’d built with care and sheltered in the last four winters. “Git down!” Durwood called. The sapsucker zipped away to other antics. Inside, Durwood scaled and beheaded the bluegill. Then he fried them in grease and cornmeal. Sue-Ann ate only half a fish. Durwood moved the crispy tail under her nose. “Another bite?” The dog sneezed, rattly in her chest. Durwood rinsed his dishes and switched on a desktop computer. He looked up Chickasaw. There was plenty of information online. Population, land area. Nearly every mention of the town made reference to Hogan Consolidated. It looked like Hogan Consolidated was Chickasaw, Texas, and vice versa. On the official municipal website, he found a picture of Carol Bridges. She wore a hardhat, smiling among construction workers. Handsome woman. Warm, lively eyes. Next, Durwood looked up the fired principal. The man lived and worked in upstate New York. For a few weeks, his case had been all over the local news there. A city councilman believed he’d been railroaded. Nineteen years he’d served the school district without prior incident. The only blemish Durwood found was a college DUI. Durwood hadn’t started with computers until his thirties. His calloused fingers regularly struck the keys wrong, but he managed. This one he’d gotten from the Walmart in Barboursville, forty-nine bucks on Black Friday. It had its uses. A tool like any other. “Well?” he said aloud, even though Sue was out on the porch. “Looks like a tossup.” Durwood changed computer windows to look again at Carol Bridges. Then changed back to the principal. At the bottom of the news story about the principal, he noticed a bubble with “47 comments” inside. He knew people who spouted off online were unreliable and often foolish. He clicked anyway. “Good riddance, got what he deserved!” “TOTAL RACIST WINDBAG, glad they fired him.” Durwood read all forty-seven comments. Some defended the man, but most were negative. It was impossible to know how much was legitimate. Durwood left judging to Him, and Him alone. But Durwood did know that the petitioner, the one who’d written the letter to Soldier of Fortune, was the principal himself. Not some third party. Not an objective observer. What had seemed like a case of obvious bureaucratic overreach suddenly looked less obvious. Now Sue-Ann loped in from the porch. Appalachian air followed her inside, nice as perfume. Sue settled at Durwood’s feet, wheezing, rheumy eyes aimed up at her master. He said, “What do you say, girl. Up for seeing the Lone Star State?” The dog sat up straight, responding to the action in his voice. The effort made her mew. That hip. Durwood laid his thumb down the ridge of the dog’s skull. He felt pained himself, thinking of documents, folding tables, and men in suits. Chapter Two It was a healthy drive, nearly two thousand miles, to see this Carol Bridges. Doubts remained in Durwood’s mind. Petitioners he met through the Soldier of Fortune ad fell through sometimes. It would turn out their letter was misleading or flat false. Other times the injustice had taken care of itself by the time Durwood arrived. Once he’d driven clear to Nebraska to help a man whose pride and joy, a 1917 Ford Bucket T he’d restored from salvage by hand, had been denied roadworthiness by some city councilman with a grudge. When Durwood knocked on his door and asked about the hot rod, the man said, “The Ford? Guy made me an offer, I sold her a few weeks back.” Durwood decided it was worth the trip to hear Carol Bridges out. If he didn’t like what she said, he’d tip his hat, get back in the Vanagon, and drive home. Crole observed, “You could call.” Durwood was humping supplies into the van. “Folks can say anything on the phone.” The older man looked to the horizon, where the sun would rise soon. His pajamas dragged the dirt, and he held his jug by two fingers. “They can say anything to your face, too.” Durwood whistled to Sue-Ann. “It’s different,” he said as the dog climbed in. “Lay off that shine, hm?” Crole looked down at his jug as though surprised by its presence. He answered, “Don’t kill anyone you don’t have to.” With a wave, Durwood took out. The van wheezed over mountain switchbacks and chugged steadily along interstates. By afternoon, Sue was wincing on the bare metal floor. Durwood bought her a mat next time he stopped for gas. They reached Chickasaw the following morning. Crossing the city limit, they saw fields of wheat and corn, and grain elevators, and dry dusty homesteads. Factories burped smoke farther on. Billboards shilled for some dentist, somebody else who wanted to be sheriff. Downtown Chickasaw was a grid, eight blocks square. Durwood saw the turf field mentioned in the letter and smiled. A boarded-up building with a sign reading, Lyles Community Outreach Center. A fancy hotel that looked out of place. Next door to City Hall, Durwood’s destination, was a coffee shop called Peaceful Beans. The logo showed the name written along the stems of the peace sign. The light bulbs inside had those squiggly vintage filaments. Durwood knew that these towns, rural or not, had all types. You got your vegan yoga instructors living next to redneck truckers—sometimes married to each other. City Hall itself was a stone structure, two stories high. A sign indicated the municipal jail was located in the basement. Durwood parked. His bones creaked as he stepped from the van and stretched. The woman working reception cooed at Sue, who’d rolled over on her back. The big ham. Durwood stated their business, declared his M9, and passed through a metal detector before being shown to the mayor’s office. Carol Bridges stood from her desk with a humble smile. “Mr. Oak Jones, thank you for traveling all this way for our town.” “You’re welcome,” he said. “Call me Durwood, please.” She said she would and handed him a business card with her personal number circled. Durwood placed the card in his bluejeans pocket. The mayor gestured to an armchair whose upholstery had worn thin. Durwood, removing his hat, sat. “My dog goes where I go, generally,” he explained. “She can sit outside if need be.” “Don’t be silly.” The mayor reached into a drawer of her desk for a biscuit. “If I’d known, I’d have brought in my German Shepherd.” She didn’t just toss the biscuit at Sue, as some will. Carol Bridges commanded the dog to sit first. Sue sat. The mayor squatted and offered the treat, palm up, her knees pinching below a dark skirt. Sue wolfed it down. Durwood said, “We saw the factories on the way in. How many employees?” “Forty-four hundred on the floors themselves,” she said. “Plus another eight thousand in support roles.” “And it’s all going away? Vamoose?” Carol Bridges crossed one leg over the other. “That’s how the winds are blowing.” She expanded upon what the letter had said. For the better part of a century, Hogan Consolidated had produced parts for various household products. Brackets. Pot handles. Stepladder hinges. Nothing sexy, Carol Bridges said, but quality components that filled a need higher up the supply chain. Five or six years back, Wall Street began taking an interest in the company. They believed Hogan was underleveraged and growing too slowly. Durwood stopped her. “What does underleveraged mean?” “As I understand”—the mayor fluffed her dark red hair dubiously—“it means you aren’t taking enough risks. Your balance sheet is too conservative.” “Too conservative?” “Right. You’re not expanding into new markets. You’re not inventing new products.” Durwood rolled her words around his head. “Suppose you’re good at what you do, and that’s it.” Carol Bridges looked out her window toward a pair of smokestacks. “Not good enough for Wall Street.” Thoughts of finance or economics usually gave Durwood a headache, but he made himself consider the particulars of the case now. “But Hogan’s a family-owned company,” he said. “Can’t they tell Wall Street to go to hell? Pardon my French.” “They were family-owned up until 1972, when they sold out.” Durwood sat up in his chair, recalling her letter. She seemed to read his thoughts. “They’re a family-run company. The CEO’s always been a Hogan, but the equity is publicly traded.” “Hm.” Durwood’s head wasn’t aching, but it didn’t feel quite right either. “I read your letter different.” “I apologize, I didn’t mean to be unclear.” The mayor took a step out from behind her desk. “I hope you don’t feel I brought you here on false pretenses.” They looked at each other. The woman’s face tipped sympathetically and flushed, her eyes wide with concern. On the wall behind her hung the Iraq Campaign Medal and the striped ribbon indicating combat action. “It’s fine,” Durwood said. “And they’re facing lawsuits, you said?” “Correct,” the mayor said. “A class-action suit has been filed by customers claiming injury as a result of faulty Hogan parts.” “What happened?” “A woman in New Jersey’s toaster exploded. They’ve got two people in California saying a bad Hogan hinge caused them to fall. One broke her wrist.” “Her wrist.” Carol Bridges nodded. “Falling off a stepladder?” She nodded again. “What’re the Hogans doing?” Durwood asked. “They have a strategy to stomp out this nonsense?” “No idea. I hear, just scuttlebutt from the cafe, that the company’s going bankrupt.” The mayor flung out an arm. “Somebody else says they’re selling out to a private equity firm—one of these outfits that buys distressed companies for peanuts and parts ’em out, auctions off the assets and fires all the workers.” Durwood leaned over the thighs of his bluejeans. “You mentioned the CEO in your letter. Eats sushi.” The woman smiled. “Jay Hogan, yes. He’s only twenty-eight, and I don’t think he likes living in Chickasaw much. He went to college at Dartmouth.” “Whereabouts is that?” “Dartmouth?” Durwood nodded. He’d once met an arms supplier in Dortmund, Germany, the time he and Quaid Rafferty had stopped a band of disgruntled sausage vendors from bombing ten soccer stadiums simultaneously. He’d never heard of Dartmouth. Carol Bridges said, “New Hampshire.” “If he doesn’t like the place,” Durwood said, “why didn’t he stay east? Work a city job?” She crossed her legs again. “I doubt he could get one. Around here, he was a screw-up. They got him for drunk driving regularly. I was with the prosecutor’s office back then. The police winched him out of the same gully four different times in his dad’s Hummer.” “Why’d they pick him for CEO?” “He’s an only child. When the father had his stroke, Jay was next in line. Only pitcher left in the bullpen.” Durwood drew in a long breath. “Now the fate of the whole town rests on his shoulders. Fella couldn’t keep a five-thousand-pound vehicle on the road.” Carol Bridges nodded. Durwood felt comfortable talking to this woman. As comfortable as he’d felt with a woman since Maybelle, his wife and soulmate, had passed in Tikrit. Carol Bridges didn’t embellish. She didn’t say one thing but mean another—leaving aside the misunderstanding over “family-run,” which might well have been Durwood’s fault. Still, comfort didn’t make a case. “I sympathize, Miss Bridges,” Durwood said. “I do. But I’m a simple man. The sort of business I’m trained for is combat. Apprehending suspects. Pursuing retribution that can’t be pursued within the confines of the law. This situation calls for expertise I don’t have.” He’d delivered bad news, but Carol Bridges didn’t seem upset. She was smiling again. “I have to disagree,” she said. “You need somebody knows their way around corporate law. Knows how to—” “You’re not a simple man. There’s a lot up there”—her warm eyes rose to his head—“that doesn’t translate into words.” Durwood held her gaze a moment. Then he looked down to Sue-Ann. The dog was sleeping. He said, “America is changing. For better or worse. A town like Chickasaw doesn’t get the better end of it, I understand. There’s injustice in that. But it’s not the sort I can stop.” “Of course. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting you can deliver us back to the 1970s.” Carol Bridges laced her fingers over her dark red hair. A funny thing was happening with her mouth. Was she chewing gum? No, that wasn’t it. Using her tongue to work a piece of food out from between her teeth? Durwood didn’t think so either. She was smirking. “All I’m asking,” she said, “on behalf of my town, is this: talk to Jay Hogan. Get a straight answer out of him. I can’t, I’ve tried. The rest of the Hogans live in Vail or Tuscany. We need somebody who can cut through the bull and find out the truth.” Durwood repeated, “The truth.” “Yes. If the jobs are going away, if I need to retrain my citizenry to…” She searched around her desktop for some example—pencils, folders, a stapler. “Heck, answer customer-service calls? I will. But we want to know.” Sue-Ann snored and resettled against Durwood’s boot. He said, “Talk to Jay Hogan.” The mayor clasped her hands hopefully over her chest. “That’s all I’m asking. Find out where we stand.” Durwood thought about the crop fields he’d seen riding into town. The dusty homesteads. The billboards—the dentist, man who wanted to be sheriff. He thought of the factories still putting out smoke. For now. The stakes were lower than what he fought for alongside Quaid and Molly McGill with Third Chance Enterprises. The planet itself was not imperiled. He wasn’t likely to face exotic technologies or need to jump from moving aircraft. So it went with these injustice cases—with injustice in general. Ordinary folks suffering ordinary hardship. “We did drive a couple thousand miles,” he said. “I suppose it makes sense to stay and have a word with Mr. Hogan.” Carol Bridges rushed forward and pressed his calloused hands in her smooth ones. She gave him the address of Hogan Consolidated from memory. Chapter Three Hogan’s main factory and corporate headquarters were in the same building. Durwood parked in a Visitors spot, and he and Sue walked up to the fifth floor where the executive offices were—over the factory. Stairs were murder on the dog’s hip, but she persevered. Durwood stopped every few steps for her. Through the stairwell’s glass wall, he watched the assembly line. Men and women in hardhats leaned into machine handles. A foreman frowned at a clipboard. Belts and treads and rotors turned. Even behind glass, Durwood could smell grease. Nothing amiss here. On the fifth floor, Durwood consulted a directory to find Jay Hogan’s office. His secretary wore nicer clothes than Carol Bridges. Looking at her neat painted fingernails, Durwood doubted she kept dog biscuits in her desk. “You—you honestly thought bringing a dog to see the chief executive of Hogan Consolidated was acceptable?” the woman said, looking at Sue’s spots like they were open sores. “OSHA would have a field day if they showed up now.” Sue-Ann laid her chin on her paws. Durwood said, “She can stay here while I see Mr. Hogan.” The woman’s nameplate read Priscilla Baird. Durwood suspected she’d be taller than him if she stood. Her lips were tight, trembling like she was about to eject Durwood and Sue—or flee herself. “I don’t know that you will see Mr. Hogan today,” she said. “You’re not on his schedule. Jones, did you say?” She checked her screen. “Won’t find me in your computer,” Durwood said. “Is he here?” Priscilla Baird glanced at her boss’s door, which was closed. “He is…on site. But I’m not at liberty to say when he’d be available to speak with arbitrary members of the public.” “I’m not arbitrary. I’m here on authority of the mayor.” “The mayor?” “Of Chickasaw, yes ma’am. Carol Bridges.” Priscilla Baird rolled her eyes at this. Durwood thought he heard, “Getting desperate” under the woman’s breath. Durwood waited. After thirty minutes, he tired of Priscilla Baird’s dirty looks and took Sue-Ann out to the van. She didn’t like dogs, fine. He wouldn’t be difficult just for the sake of it. He returned to wait more. The lobby had an exposed beam running down its center—pimpled, showy. Folks built like that nowadays. Slate walls displayed oil paintings of the company’s executives. Sitting out on tables were US Weekly and Field and Stream. Durwood read neither. He spent the time thinking what questions to ask Jay Hogan. All told, he waited an hour and a half. Others entered and were admitted to see Hogan. Men wearing pinstripes. A made-up woman in her late forties with a couple minions hustling after her. Some kid in a ballcap and shorts carrying two plastic bags. The kid left Hogan’s office without his bags. Durwood caught him at the door. “Pardon, youngster. What did you drop off?” The kid ducked so Durwood could read his hat. Crepes-a-Go-Go. An involuntary growl escaped Durwood’s mouth. He crossed to Jay Hogan’s door. “Excuse me,” Priscilla Baird said. “Mr. Hogan’s schedule today is terribly tight, you’ll need to be patient if—” “It just opened up,” Durwood said. He jerked the knob and blew inside. Jay Hogan was stuffing a crepe into his face with a plastic fork. Ham and some cheese that stank. The corner of his mouth had a red smear, either ketchup or raspberry jam. Probably jam. “The hell is this?” Hogan said. “You—what…Priscilla…” He placed a hand over his scrawny chest and finished swallowing. “Who is this person?” Priscilla Baird rushed to the door. “I never admitted him, he went himself. He forced his way in!” Durwood stood in the center of the office. He said to Hogan, “Let’s talk, the two of us.” The young CEO considered the proposal. He was holding his crepe one-handed and didn’t seem to know where to set it down. He looked at his secretary. He looked at Durwood. His hair was slicked back with Pennzoil, skin alabaster white—a shade you’d have to stay inside to keep in southwest Texas. Durwood extended his hand. “I can hold your pancake.” Jay Hogan stiffened at the remark. “Who are you?” “Name’s Durwood Oak Jones.” Hogan tried saying it himself. “Duuurwood, is it?” “Correct.” Durwood assumed Jay Hogan, like the mayor, wasn’t a Soldier of Fortune subscriber. “I’m a concerned party.” “What does that mean?” Hogan said. “Concerned about what?” “About this town. About the financial standing of your company.” As Priscilla Baird excused herself, Durwood explained his contact to date with Carol Bridges and the capacity in which he’d come: to investigate and combat injustice. There was no reason he and Jay Hogan shouldn’t be on the same side. If the lawyers were fleecing Hogan Consolidated or Wall Street sharks were sabotaging it, Durwood’s help should be appreciated. But Jay Hogan wasn’t rolling out the welcome wagon. “Injustice?” he sneered. “The company’s in a crap situation, a real hole. Not my fault. I didn’t build those hinges. I didn’t, you know, invent P/E ratios or whatever other metrics we aren’t hitting.” Durwood glared across the desk. Every not and didn’t stuck in his craw. He said, “What do you do, then?” “I chart the course,” Hogan said. “I set the top-line strategy.” “Top-line?” “Yes. Top-line.” Durwood resettled his hat on his head. “Thought the bottom line was the important one.” Jay Hogan made a sound between flatulence and a pig’s snort. “Look—we’ve held the line on wages, kept the unions out. Done everything in our power to stay competitive.” Durwood asked what his strategy was on those lawsuits. “Chester handles legal matters,” Hogan said. “Who’s that?” “Chester is the COO.” Durwood raised a finger, counting out letters. “Now what’s the difference between CEO and COO?” Jay Hogan made impatient motions with his hands. “The COO is the operating officer. He’s more involved in day-to-day business.” “Who deals with Wall Street? The money men?” “Chester.” “Who handles communication? Getting word out to the citizens of Chickasaw about what’s going on?” Hogan picked up his crepe again. “Chester.” He said the name—which was prissy to begin with—in a nasal, superior tone. Durwood’s fist balled at his side. “Fella must be sharp, you trust him with all that.” “Chester’s extremely smart,” Hogan said. “I’ve known him forever—our families go back generations. We attended all the same boarding schools.” “Boyhood chums?” Hogan frowned at the question. “Something like that.” “He’s about your age, then?” Hogan nodded. “Couple twenty-eight-year-olds running a company that dictates the fate of a whole town.” Durwood folded his arms. “Sound fair to you?” The CEO’s pale cheeks colored. “They’re lucky to have us. Two Ivy League graduates blessed with business instincts. Chester Lyles was president of our fraternity, graduated magna cum laude. We could be founding startups in Seattle or San Francisco where you don’t have to drive a hundred miles for decent food.” That name rung a bell somewhere for Durwood. Lyles. Recalling what Carol Bridges had said about the gully, he said, “You graduate magna cum laude?” “I don’t need to defend my qualifications to you or anyone.” Durwood nodded. “Must’ve just missed.” Jay Hogan stood up a snit. He looked at his crepe again in its tissue-paper sleeve and couldn’t resist. He took a quick bite and thrust a finger at the door, mouth full. “I’m done answering your questions,” he said. “As CEO, I’m accountable to a shareholder-elected board of directors, which includes presidents of other corporations, a former Treasury Secretary of the United States, and several other prominent executives. They’re satisfied with my performance.” “How many of them live in Chickasaw?” Hogan barked a laugh. “They understand the financial headwinds I’m up against.” “How about those bad hinges? From what I hear, Hogan used to make quality parts.” “Another Chester question. I don’t deal with quality control.” That’s for sure. Durwood saw he would get nowhere with Jay Hogan. This Chester was who he needed to find. Asking this one how the town of Chickasaw was going to shake out was like inspecting your John Deere’s hood ornament to judge if you needed a new tractor. Hogan was still pointing at the door. Finally, Durwood obliged him. On the way out, he said, “You got families counting on this company. Families with children, mortgages, sick grandmas. They’re counting on you. Hogans before you did their part. Now be a man, do yours. Rise to your duty.” Hogan didn’t answer. He had more crepe in his mouth. Walking down to the parking lot, Durwood passed the factory again. It was dark—the shift had ended while he’d been waiting for Hogan. His boots clacked around the stairwell in solitude. He considered what ailed Hogan Consolidated and whether he could fix it. He wasn’t optimistic. Oh, he could poke around and get the scoop on Chester Lyles. He could do his best working around the lies and evasions he’d surely encounter. Maybe he would find Chester’s or Jay Hogan’s hand in the cookie jar. The likeliest culprit, though, was plain old incompetence. Jay Hogan belonged in an insurance office someplace—preferably far from the scissors. Instead, he sat in a corner office of a multi-million dollar company. Did that rise to the level of injustice? Maybe. Maybe, with so many lives and livelihoods at stake. Durwood didn’t like cases he had to talk himself into. He was just imagining how he’d break the news to Carol Bridges if nothing much came of Chester when four men burst from the shadows and tackled him. *** Excerpt from Dear Durwood by Jeff Bond. Copyright 2020 by Jeff Bond. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Bond. All rights reserved.  

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Author Bio:

Jeff Bond Jeff Bond is an American author of popular fiction. His books have been featured in The New York Review of Books, and his 2020 release, The Pinebox Vendetta, received the gold medal (top prize) in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards. A Kansas native and Yale graduate, he now lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters.

Catch Up With Jeff Bond On: JeffBondBooks.com BookBub Goodreads Instagram Twitter Facebook!

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#GuestPost “Anarchy of the Mice” by Jeff Bond

Anarchy Of The Mice by Jeff Bond Banneron Tour July 1 – August 31, 2020

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Making an Audiobook

by Jeff Bond

Audiobooks are fantastic. They’re the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry, and they’re an absolute lifesaver for someone like me, who—between parenting and cooking and an aggressive writing schedule—doesn’t have time to read with his eyes. What I do have is a nice juicy forty-five minutes early each morning when I’m walking the dog, and audiobooks allow me to spend that time in Diane Gabaldon’s eighteenth-century Scotland, John Updike’s suburbia, or Tana French’s Dublin.

When I released my first book two years ago, I knew I wanted to produce an audiobook version. I had no clue how to go about it, but naturally everyone’s favorite ten-ton gorilla was there to help: Amazon. Amazon has an entire audiobook ecosystem—creation, distribution, marketing, etc.—called ACX, Audiobook Creation Exchange. The system works quite well despite some quirks, like a messaging system the narrators all say stinks and a rigid workflow sequence that blows up if you accidentally push a project to its next phase before it’s ready. Using ACX, you can create an audiobook without having a Rolodex of professional narrators or cold calling Scott Brick. (If you don’t know the name, you must not be an audiobook person.)

You begin the process by uploading a sample of your book and instructions for potential narrators. Male or female, smooth or forceful, accented or not—those types of things. Then ACX opens up an audition, and narrated audio clips of your sample start rolling in. I received dozens my first day and even more the second. Each one is thrilling, the chance at finding that perfect voice for your story. Most will have some disqualifying mark against them. A weird cadence, or wrong mood, or a voice that just doesn’t fit your concept of the protagonist. Some you’ll nod along to and think, “Yeah, that could be my book.” But these don’t last long because soon enough you’ll run into that reader who just nails it—in whose voice every line sounds like notes from a symphony. And you’ve got your narrator.

Okay, not really; that was the streamlined, romanticized version. Auditions are exhausting. Beyond the sheer number of clips you need to consider and polite emails you’ll need to write, there’s the mental toll of saying no to all these supremely talented people. Authors are fairly conditioned to the shoe being on the other foot. We’re the ones giving out samples, scrapping for a chance to show our stuff, hoping to be picked over all the other creators in the marketplace. I listened to voice authors who’d been public radio anchors, classically trained singers, who had IMDB bios five pages long. I struck up email conversations with a few, and heard that most ACX jobs are industrial voiceovers from overseas—dry commercial work. The narrators generally don’t even get a note acknowledging their audition clips, which surely take hours to produce. So many of them would’ve given me an excellent audiobook, but I could only say yes to two.

Two?

Among the decisions I had to make was whether to have a single narrator voice all chapters or have separate male and female voices. Because The Winner Maker, my first book, had two roughly equal protagonists, one male and one female, I decided to use separate. Beyond that, there was the decision to do the narration “duet style,” where the two actors can trade off within the same chapter, or stick to one voice per chapter. I chose the latter, which simplified things.

From there, my narrators took the manuscript and did their thing—reading ten hours of my debut novel. I then had to listen to every last second of it and jot edits along the way. This was fine-grained, tedious work, made more complicated by the fact that I did it using those aforementioned forty-five dog-walking minutes each morning. Imagine tapping out a note on your phone about stressing the second syllable of “Rivard” rather than the first while 120 pounds of shaggy Newfoundland dog lurches after a squirrel, and you’ll know my struggle. Hopefully my neighbors got a laugh or two out of it.

My narrators, Natalie Duke and Brandon Paul Eells, are extraordinarily professional and did a great job. I found only minor fixes, one or two per chapter. Some were personal preference, how to pronounce a particular name or street. Other times I started to correct a pronunciation only to Google it and find I’d been saying the word wrong in my head all along—my narrator had actually gotten it right.

For all this, it was truly wonderful hearing my story come to life as an audiobook. I recorded one for Blackquest 40 and The Pinebox Vendetta as well, and my two releases in June—Anarchy of the Mice and Dear Durwood—will also be audiobooks. Audible has a long quality-check process; I expect them to pop up in late July or early August. If you’re looking for an introduction to my stories, I’d highly recommend trying an audiobook. They were hard work, but the end result was a lot of fun.

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Synopsis:

Anarchy of the Mice by Jeff Bond From Jeff Bond, author of Blackquest 40 and The Pinebox Vendetta, comes Anarchy of the Mice, book one in an epic new series starring Quaid Rafferty, Durwood Oak Jones, and Molly McGill: the trio of freelance operatives known collectively as Third Chance Enterprises. How far could society fall without data? Account balances, property lines, government ID records — if it all vanished, if everyone’s scorecard reset to zero, how might the world look? The Blind Mice are going to show us. Molly McGill is fighting it. Her teenage son has come downstairs in a T-shirt from these “hacktivists” dominating the news. Her daughter’s bus is canceled — too many stoplights out — and school is in the opposite direction of the temp job she’s supposed to be starting this morning. She is twice-divorced; her P.I. business, McGill Investigators, is on the rocks; what kind of life is this for a woman a mere twelve credit-hours shy of her PhD? Then the doorbell rings. It’s Quaid Rafferty, the charming — but disgraced — former governor of Massachusetts, and his plainspoken partner, Durwood Oak Jones. The guys have an assignment for Molly. It sounds risky, but the pay sure beats switchboard work. They need her to infiltrate the Blind Mice. Danger, romance, intrigue, action for miles — whatever you read, Anarchy of the Mice is coming for you.

Book Details:

Genre: Action-Adventure

Published by: Jeff Bond books

Publication Date: June 15, 2020

Number of Pages: 445

ISBN: 173225527X (978-1732255272)

Series: Third Chance Enterprises, #1

Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

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Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE The first I ever heard of the Blind Mice was from my fourteen-year-old son, Zach. I was scrambling to get him and his sister ready for school, stepping over dolls and skater magazines, thinking ahead to the temp job I was starting in about an hour, when Zach came slumping downstairs in a suspiciously plain T-shirt. “Turn around,” I said. “Let’s see the back.” He scowled but did comply. The clothing check was mandatory after that vomiting-skull sweatshirt he’d slipped out the door in last month. Okay. No drugs, profanity, or bodily fluids being expelled. But there was something. An abstract computer-ish symbol. A mouse? Possibly the nose, eyes, and whiskers of a mouse? Printed underneath was, Nibble, nibble. Until the whole sick scam rots through. I checked the clock: 7:38. Seven minutes before we absolutely had to be out the door, and I still hadn’t cleaned up the grape juice spill, dealt with my Frizz City hair, or checked the furnace. For twenty minutes, I’d been hearing ker-klacks, which my heart said was construction outside but my head worried could be the failing heater. How bad did I want to let Zach’s shirt slide? Bad. “Is that supposed to be a mouse?” I said. “Like an angry mouse?” “The Blind Mice,” my son replied. “Maybe you’ve heard, they’re overthrowing the corporatocracy?” His eyes bulged teen sarcasm underneath those bangs he refuses to get cut. “Wait,” I said, “that group that’s attacking big companies’ websites and factories?” “Government too.” He drew his face back ominously. “Anyone who’s part of the scam.” “And you’re wearing their shirt?” He shrugged. I would’ve dearly loved to engage Zach in a serious discussion of socioeconomic justice—I did my master’s thesis on the psychology of labor devaluation in communities—except we needed to go. In five minutes. “What if Principal Broadhead sees that?” I said. “Go change.” “No.” “Zach McGill, that shirt promotes domestic terrorism. You’ll get kicked out of school.” “Like half my friends wear it, Mom.” He thrust his hands into his pockets. Ugh. I had stepped in parenting quicksand. I’d issued a rash order and Zach had refused, and now I could either make him change, starting a blow-out fight and virtually guaranteeing I’d be late my first day on the job at First Mutual, or back down and erode my authority. “Wear a jacket,” I said—a poor attempt to limit the erosion, but the best I could do. “And don’t let your great-grandmother see that shirt.” Speaking of, I could hear Granny’s slippers padding around upstairs. She was into her morning routine, and would shortly—at the denture-rinsing phase—be shouting down that her sink was draining slow again; why hadn’t the damn plumber come yet? Because I hadn’t paid one. McGill Investigators, the PI business of which I was the founder and sole employee (yes, I realized the plural name was misleading), had just gone belly-up. Hence the temp job. Karen, my six-year-old, was seated cheerily beside her doll in front of orange juice and an Eggo Waffle. “Mommy!” she announced. “I get to ride to school with you today!” The doll’s lips looked sticky—OJ?—and the cat was eyeing Karen’s waffle across the table. “Honey, weren’t you going to ride the bus today?” I asked, shooing the cat, wiping the doll with a dishrag. Karen shook her head. “Bus isn’t running. I get to ride in the Prius, in Mommy’s Prius!” I felt simultaneous joy that Karen loved our new car—well, new to us: 120K miles as a rental, but it was a hybrid—and despair because I really couldn’t take her. School was in the complete opposite direction of New Jersey Transit. Even if I took the turnpike, which I loathed, I would miss my train. Fighting to address Karen calmly in a time crunch, I said, “Are you sure the bus isn’t running?” She nodded. I asked how she knew. “Bus driver said, ‘If the stoplights are blinking again in the morning, I ain’t taking you.’” She walked to the window and pointed. “See?” I joined her at the window, ignoring the driver’s grammatical example for the moment. Up and down my street, traffic lights flashed yellow. “Blind Mice, playa!” Zach puffed his chest. “Nibble, nibble. The lights had gone out every morning this week at rush hour. On Monday, the news had reported a bald eagle flew into a substation. On Tuesday, they’d said the outages were lingering for unknown reasons. I hadn’t seen the news yesterday. Did Zach know the Blind Mice were involved? Or was he just being obnoxious? “Great,” I muttered. “Bus won’t run because stoplights are out, but I’m free to risk our lives driving to school.” Karen gazed up at me, her eyes green like mine and trembling. A mirror of my stress. Pull it together, Molly. “Don’t worry,” I corrected myself. “I’ll take you. I will. Let me just figure a few things out.” Trying not to visualize myself walking into First Mutual forty-five minutes late, I took a breath. I patted through my purse for keys, sifting through rumpled Kleenex and receipts and granola-bar halves. Granny had made her way downstairs and was reading aloud from a bill-collection notice. Zach was texting, undoubtedly to friends about his lame mom. I felt air on my toes and looked down: a hole in my hose. Fantastic. I’d picked out my cutest work sandals, but somehow I doubted the look would hold up with toes poking out like mini-wieners. I wished I could shut my eyes, whisper some spell, and wake up in a different universe. Then the doorbell rang. CHAPTER TWO Quaid Rafferty waited on the McGills’ front porch with a winning smile. It had been ten months since he’d seen Molly, and he was eager to reconnect. Inside, there sounded a crash (pulled-over coatrack?), a smack (skateboard hitting wall?), and muffled cross-voices. Quaid fixed the lay of his sport coat lapels and kept waiting. His partner, Durwood Oak Jones, stood two paces back with his dog. Durwood wasn’t saying anything, but Quaid could feel the West Virginian’s disapproval—it pulsed from his blue jeans and cowboy hat. Quaid twisted from the door. “School morning, right? I’m sure she’ll be out shortly.” Durwood remained silent. He was on record saying they’d be better off with a more accomplished operative like Kitty Ravensdale or Sigrada the Serpent, but Quaid believed in Molly. He’d argued that McGill, a relative amateur, was just what they needed: a fresh-faced idealist. Now he focused on the door—and was pleased to hear the dead bolt turn within. He was less pleased when he saw the face that appeared in the door glass. The grandmother. “Why, color me damned!” began the septuagenarian, yanking open the screen door. “The louse returns. Whorehouses all kick you out?” Quaid strained to keep smiling. “How are you this fine morning, Eunice?” Her face stormed over. “What’re you here for?” “We’re hoping for a word with Molly if she’s around.” He opened his shoulders to give her a full view of his party, which included Durwood and Sue-Ann, his aged bluetick coonhound. They made for an admittedly odd sight. Quaid and Durwood shared the same vital stats, six one and 180-something pounds, but God himself couldn’t have created two more different molds. Quaid in a sport coat with suntanned wrists and mussed-just-so blond hair. Durwood removing his hat and casting steel-colored eyes humbly about, jeans pulled down over his boots’ piping. And Sue with her mottled coat, rasping like any breath could be her last. Eunice stabbed a finger toward Durwood. “He can come in—him I respect. But you need to turn right around. My granddaughter wants nothing to do with cads like you.” Behind her, a voice called, “Granny, I can handle this. Eunice ignored this. “You’re a no-good man. I know it, my granddaughter knows it.” Veins showed through the chicken-y skin of her neck. “Go on, hop a flight back to Vegas and all your whores!” Before Quaid could counter these aspersions, Molly appeared. His heart chirped in his chest. Molly was a little discombobulated, bending to put on a sandal, a kid’s jacket tucked under one elbow—but those dimples, that curvy body…even in the worst domestic throes, she could’ve charmed slime off a senator. He said, “Can’t you beat a seventy-four-year-old woman to the door?” Molly slipped on the second sandal. “Can we please just not? It’s been a crazy morning.” “I know the type.” Quaid smacked his hands together. “So hey, we have a job for you.” “You’re a little late—McGill Investigators went out of business. I have a real job starting in less than an hour.” “What kind?” “Reception,” she said. “Three months with First Mutual.” “Temp work?” Quaid asked. “I was supposed to start with the board of psychological examiners, but the position fell through.” “How come?” “Funding ran out. The governor disbanded the board.” “So First Mutual…?” Molly’s eyes, big and leprechaun green, fell. “It’s temp work, yeah.” “You’re criminally overqualified for that, McGill,” Quaid said. “Hear us out. Please.” She snapped her arms over her chest but didn’t stop Quaid as he breezed into the living room followed by Durwood and Sue-Ann, who wore no leash but kept a perfect twenty-inch heel by her master. Two kids poked their heads around the kitchen doorframe. Quaid waggled his fingers playfully at the girl. Molly said, “Zach, Karen—please wait upstairs. I’m speaking with these men.” The boy argued he should be able to stay; upstairs sucked; wasn’t she the one who said they had to leave, like, immedia— “This is not a negotiation,” Molly said in a new tone. They went upstairs. She sighed. “Now they’ll be late for school. I’m officially the worst mother ever.” Quaid glanced around the living room. The floor was clutter free, but toys jammed the shelves of the coffee table. Stray fibers stuck up from the carpet, which had faded beige from its original yellow or ivory. “No, you’re an excellent mother,” Quaid said. “You do what you believe is best for your children, which is why you’re going to accept our proposition.” The most effective means of winning a person over, Quaid had learned as governor of Massachusetts and in prior political capacities, was to identify their objective and articulate how your proposal brought it closer. Part two was always trickier. He continued, “American Dynamics is the client, and they have deep pockets. If you help us pull this off, all your money troubles go poof.” A glint pierced Molly’s skepticism. “Okay. I’m listening.” “You’ve heard of the Blind Mice, these anarchist hackers?” “I—well, yes, a little. Zach has their T-shirt.” Quaid, having met the boy on a few occasions, wasn’t shocked by the information. “Here’s the deal. We need someone to infiltrate them.” Molly blinked twice. Durwood spoke up, “You’d be great, Moll. You’re young. Personable. People trust you.” Molly’s eyes were grapefruits. “What did you call them, ‘anarchist hackers’? How would I infiltrate them? I just started paying bills online.” “No tech knowledge required,” Quaid said. “We have a plan.” He gave her the nickel summary. The Blind Mice had singled out twelve corporate targets, “the Despicable Dozen,” and American Dynamics topped the list. In recent months, AmDye had seen its websites crashed, its factories slowed by computer glitches, internal documents leaked, the CEO’s home egged repeatedly. Government agencies from the FBI to NYPD were pursuing the Mice, but the company was troubled by the lack of progress and so had hired Third Chance Enterprises to take them down. “Now if I accept,” Molly said, narrowing her eyes, “does that mean I’m officially part of Third Chance Enterprises?” Quaid exhaled at length. Durwood shook his head with an irked air—he hated the name, and considered Quaid’s branding efforts foolish. “Oh, Durwood and I have been at this freelance operative thing awhile.” Quaid smoothed his sport coat lapels. “Most cases we can handle between the two of us.” “But not this one.” “Right. Durwood’s a whiz with prosthetics, but even he can’t bring this”—Quaid indicated his own ruggedly handsome but undeniably middle-aged face—“back to twenty-five.” Molly’s eyes turned inward. Quaid’s instincts told him she was thinking of her children. She said, “Sounds dangerous.” “Nah.” He spread his arms, wide and forthright. “You’re working with the best here: the top small-force, private-arms outfit in the Western world. Very minimal danger.” Like the politician he’d once been, Quaid delivered this line of questionable veracity with full sincerity. Then he turned to his partner. “Right, Wood? She won’t have a thing to worry about. We’d limit her involvement to safe situations.” Durwood thinned his lips. “Do the best we could.” This response, typical of the soldier he’d once been, was unhelpful. Molly said, “Who takes care of my kids if something happens, if the Blind Mice sniff me out? Would I have to commit actual crimes?” “Unlikely.” Unlikely? I’ll tell you what’s unlikely, getting hired someplace, anyplace, with a felony conviction on your application…” As she thundered away, Quaid wondered if Durwood might not have been right in preferring a pro. The few times they’d used Molly McGill before had been secondary: posing as a gate agent during the foiled Delta hijacking, later as an archivist for the American embassy in Rome. They’d only pulled her into Rome because of her language skills—she spoke six fluently. “…also, I have to say,” she continued, and from the edge in her voice, Quaid knew just where they were headed, “I find it curious that I don’t hear from you for ten months, and then you need my help, and all of a sudden, I matter. All of a sudden, you’re on my doorstep.” “I apologize,” Quaid said. “The Dubai job ran long, then that Guadeloupean resort got hit by a second hurricane. We got busy. I should’ve called.” Molly’s face cooled a shade, and Quaid saw that he hadn’t lost her. Yet. Before either could say more, a heavy ker-klack sounded outside. “What’s the racket?” Quaid asked. He peeked out the window at his and Durwood’s Vanagon, which looked no more beat-up than usual. “It’s been going on all morning,” Molly said. “I figured it was construction.” Quaid said, “Construction in this economy?” He looked to Durwood. “I’ll check ’er out.” The ex-soldier turned for the door. Sue-Ann, heaving herself laboriously off the carpet, scuffled after. Alone now with Molly, Quaid walked several paces in. He doubled his sport coat over his forearm and passed a hand through his hair, using a foyer mirror to confirm the curlicues that graced his temples on his best days. This was where it had to happen. Quaid’s behavior toward Molly had been less than gallant, and that was an issue. Still, there were sound arguments at his disposal. He could play the money angle. He could talk about making the world safer for Molly’s children. He could point out that she was meant for greater things, appealing to her sense of adventure, framing the job as an escape from the hamster wheel and entrée to a bright world of heroes and villains. He believed in the job. Now he just needed her to believe too. CHAPTER THREE Durwood walked north. Sue-Ann gimped along after, favoring her bum hip. Paws echoed bootheels like sparrows answering blackbirds. They found their noise at the sixth house on the left. A crew of three men was working outside a small home. Two-story like Molly’s. The owner had tacked an addition onto one side, prefab sunroom. The men were working where the sunroom met the main structure. Dislodging nails, jackhammering between fiberglass and brick. Tossing panels onto a stack. “Pardon,” Durwood called. “Who you boys working for?” One man pointed to his earmuffs. The others paid Durwood no mind whatsoever. Heavyset men. Big stomachs and muscles. Durwood walked closer. “Those corner boards’re getting beat up. Y’all got a permit I could see?” The three continued to ignore him. The addition was poorly done to begin with, the cornice already sagging. Shoddy craftsmanship. That didn’t mean the owners deserved to have it stolen for scrap. The jackhammer was plugged into an outside GFI. Durwood caught its cord with his bootheel. “The hell?” said the operator as his juice cut. Durwood said, “You’re thieves. You’re stealing fiberglass.” The men denied nothing. One said, “Call the cops. See if they come.” Sue-Ann bared her gums. Durwood said, “I don’t believe we need to involve law enforcement,” and turned back south for the Vanagon. Crime like this—callous, brash—was a sign of the times.  People were sore about this “new economy,” how well the rich were making out. Groups like the Blind Mice thought it gave them a right to practice lawlessness.   Lawlessness, Durwood knew, was like a plague. Left unchecked, it spread. Even now, besides this sunroom dismantling, Durwood saw a half dozen offenses in plain sight. Low-stakes gambling on a porch. Coaxials looped across half the neighborhood roofs: cable splicing. A Rottweiler roaming off leash. Each stuck in Durwood’s craw. He walked a half block to the Vanagon. He hunted around inside, boots clattering the bare metal floor. Pushed aside Stinger missiles in titanium casings. Squinted past crates of frag grenades in the bulkhead he’d jiggered himself from ponderosa pine. Here she was—a pressurized tin of black ops epoxy. Set quick enough to repel a flash air strike, strong enough to hold a bridge. Durwood had purchased it for the Dubai job. According to his supplier, Yakov, the stuff smelled like cinnamon when it dried. Something to do with chemistry. Durwood removed the tin from its box and brushed off the pink Styrofoam packing Yakov favored. Then allowed Sue a moment to ease herself down to the curb before they started back north. Passing Molly’s house, Durwood glimpsed her through the living room window. She was listening to Quaid, fingers pressed to her forehead. Quaid was lying. Which was nothing new, Quaid stretching the truth to a woman. But these lies involved Molly’s safety. Fact was, they knew very little of the Blind Mice. Their capabilities, their willingness to harm innocents. The leader, Josiah, was a reckless troublemaker. He spewed his nonsense on Twitter, announcing targets ahead of time, talking about his own penis. The heavyset men were back at it. One on the roof. The other two around back of the sunroom, digging up the slab. Durwood set down the epoxy. The men glanced over but kept jackhammering. They would not be the first, nor last, to underestimate this son of an Appalachian coal miner. The air compressor was set up on the lawn. Durwood found the main pressure valve and cranked its throat full open. The man on the roof had his ratchet come roaring out of his hands. He slid down the grade, nose rubbing vinyl shingles, and landed in petunias. Back on his feet, the man swore. “Mind your language,” Durwood said. “There’s families in the neighborhood.” The other two hustled over, shovels at their shoulders. The widest of the three circled to Durwood’s backside. Sue-Ann coiled her old bones to strike. Ugliness roiled Durwood’s gut. Big Man punched first. Durwood caught his fist, torqued his arm behind his back. The next man swung his shovel. Durwood charged underneath and speared his chest. The man wheezed sharply, his lung likely punctured. The third man got hold of Durwood’s bootheel, smashed his elbow into the hollow of Durwood’s knee. Durwood scissored the opposite leg across the man’s throat. He gritted his teeth and clenched. He felt the man’s Adam’s apple wriggling between his legs. A black core in Durwood yearned to squeeze. He resisted. The hostiles came again, and Durwood whipped them again. Automatically, in a series of beats as natural to him as chirping to a katydid. The men’s faces changed from angry to scared to incredulous. Finally, they stayed down. “Now y’all are helping fix that sunroom.” Durwood nodded to the epoxy tin. “Mix six to one, then paste ’er on quick.” Luckily, he’d caught the thieves early, and the repair was uncomplicated. Clamp, glue, drill. The epoxy should increase the R-value on the sunroom ten, fifteen, units. Good for a few bucks off the gas bill in winter, anyhow. Durwood did much of the work himself. He enjoyed the panels’ weight, the strength of a well-formed joint. His muscles felt free and easy as if he were home ridding the sorghum fields of johnsongrass. Done, he let the thieves go. He turned back south toward Molly’s house. Sue-Ann scrabbled alongside. “Well, ole girl?” he said. “Let’s see how Quaid made out.” CHAPTER FOUR I stood on my front porch watching the Vanagon rumble down Sycamore. My toes tingled, my heart was tossing itself against the walls of my chest, and I was pretty sure my nose had gone berserk. How else could I be smelling cinnamon? Quaid Rafferty’s last words played over and over in my head: We need you. For twenty minutes, after Durwood had taken his dog to investigate ker-klacks, Quaid had given me the hard sell. The money would be big-time. I had the perfect skills for the assignment: guts, grace under fire, that youthful je ne sais quoi. Wasn’t I always saying I ought to be putting my psychology skills to better use? Well, here it was: understanding these young people’s outrage would be a major component of the job. Some people will anticipate your words and mumble along. Quaid did something similar but with feelings, cringing at my credit issues, brightening with whole-face joy at Karen’s reading progress—which I was afraid would suffer if I got busy and didn’t keep up her nightly practice. He was pitching me, yes. But he genuinely cared what was happening in my life. I didn’t know how to think about Quaid, how to even fix him in my brain. He and Durwood were so far outside any normal frame of reference. Were they even real? Did I imagine them? Their biographies were epic. Quaid the twice-elected (once-impeached) governor of Massachusetts who now battled villains across the globe and lived at Caesars Palace. Durwood a legend of the Marine Corps, discharged after defying his commanding officer and wiping out an entire Qaeda cell to avenge the death of his wife. I’d met them during my own unreal adventure—the end of my second marriage, which had unraveled in tragedy in the backwoods of West Virginia. They’d recruited me for three missions since. Each was like a huge, brilliant dream—the kind that’s so vital and packed with life that you hang on after you wake up, clutching backward into sleep to stay inside. Granny said, “That man’s trouble. If you have any sense in that stubborn head of yours, you’ll steer clear.” I stepped back into the living room, the Vanagon long gone, and allowed my eyes to close. Granny didn’t know the half of it. She had huffed off to watch her judge shows on TV before the guys had even mentioned the Blind Mice. No, she meant a more conventional trouble. “I’ve learned,” I said. “If I take this job, it won’t be for romance. I’d be doing it for me. For the family.” As if cued by the word “family,” a peal of laughter sounded upstairs. Children! My eyes zoomed to the clock. It was 8:20. Zach would be lucky to make first hour, let alone homeroom. In a single swipe, I scooped up the Prius keys and both jackets. My purse whorled off my shoulder like some supermom prop. “Leaving now!” I called up the stairwell. “Here we go, kids—laces tied, backpacks zipped.” Zach trudged down, leaning his weight into the rail. Karen followed with sunny-careful steps. I sped through the last items on my list—tossed a towel over the grape juice, sloshed water onto the roast, considered my appearance in the microwave door, and just frowned, beyond caring. Halfway across the porch, Granny’s fingers closed around my wrist. “Promise me,” she said, “that you will not associate with Quaid Rafferty. Promise me you won’t have one single thing to do with that lowlife.” I looked past her to the kitchen, where the cat was kinking herself to retch Eggo Waffle onto the linoleum. “I’m sorry, Granny.” I patted her hand, freeing myself. “It’s something I have to do.” *** Excerpt from Anarchy of the Mice by Jeff Bond. Copyright 2020 by Jeff Bond. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Bond. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio:

Jeff Bond Jeff Bond is an American author of popular fiction. His books have been featured in The New York Review of Books, and his 2020 release, The Pinebox Vendetta, received the gold medal (top prize) in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards. A Kansas native and Yale graduate, he now lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters.

Catch Up With Jeff Bond On: JeffBondBooks.com BookBub Goodreads Instagram Twitter Facebook!

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Jeff Bond. There will be 2 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on July 1, 2020 and runs through September 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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#Featured “Dear Durwood (Third Chance Enterprises Book 2)” by Jeff Bond

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MEET DURWOOD OAK JONES, THE MAN READERS ARE CALLING “A LITERARY JACK REACHER.”

Book two in the epic Third Chance Enterprises series, Dear Durwood is a standalone mystery pitting uncompromising principle against big city greed.

Durwood Oak Jones is a man of few indulgences. One he does allow is a standing ad in Soldier of Fortune magazine soliciting “injustices in need of attention.”

This month’s bundle of letters includes one from Carol Bridges, mayor of the dusty, blue-collar town of Chickasaw, Texas. For nearly a century, Chickasaw has relied on the jobs and goodwill of Hogan Consolidated, a family-run manufacturer of industrial parts. Now East Coast lawyers and investment bankers have taken aim at the company. The citizens of Chickasaw fear it may be acquired or bankrupted, leading to massive layoffs — effectively destroying the town.

Durwood and his trusty bluetick coonhound, Sue-Ann, fly to Texas to see what can be done. They find a young CEO born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Factory workers with hammers. A good woman, Carol Bridges, who knows her town is being cheated but can’t get to the bottom of how. And lawyers.

Dirty, good-for-nothing lawyers.

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#GuestPost “The Pinebox Vendetta” by Jeff Bond

The Pinebox Vendetta by Jeff Bond Banneron Tour May 1 – June 30, 2020

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~ Guest Post ~

by Jeff Bond

I was going to write this guest post about something else, but instead it’ll be about Covid-19. The pandemic is in my head the same way it’s in all our heads: relentlessly. My family has been lucky so far with Covid—knock on wood. We’re stuck home all day instead of going to the office (my wife) or a library or cafe (me). We have neighbors on the front lines as grocery checkers or nurses or emergency room doctors, risking their own health every day to keep society running.

Against their struggles, and of course the fear and uncertainty of those actually battling the disease, ours are minor. It feels surreal reading the dire headlines each morning, reconciling the scramble to save lives and livelihoods elsewhere with our own suddenly slowed routines.

We live in Michigan, where the schools have been closed for the year. That means a lot of bonus time with my ten- and eight-year-old daughters. Plenty has been written and shared on social media about the strain this imposes on parents, but I can honestly say it’s been a blessing for me. My wife is around more. The kids’ normal schedules are breakneck between school and twenty-plus hours per week of gymnastics practice, and I’ve loved having time to be lazy with them—to read them books aloud, to play Boggle, to make up silly games in the backyard on the trampoline. (Slightly less fun: troubleshooting their Zoom calls.)

Still, there’s no denying it’s murder on my writing schedule. When I’m with the girls I don’t generally use my laptop—and if I’m not using my laptop, I’m not working on my current manuscript. I do have a lot of what you might call “quasi work time,” when my kids are theoretically occupying themselves but very likely at any moment to start (a) pinching each other mercilessly, (b) wanting a snack, or (c) needing a third player for trampoline volleyball.

During these start-and-stop bursts, I like to jot in a notebook—hazy ideas about the next book I’ll work on, or the book after, or some series on the horizon, maybe in a genre I’ve never written before. This a fun, free phase where I’m dreaming up new characters and settings, batting around themes, imagining plots in broad strokes. It’s the part of the writing process you might associate with lounging before seaside vistas or ruminating over steaming espresso at Parisian cafes. I’m not getting to do either, but I am enjoying the opportunity to brainstorm ideas without the pressure or expectation of a daily word count.

Another thing Covid-19 has affected is promotions. I’m releasing three books this spring/summer, and under normal circumstances I would be on social media sharing dates and links and every advance review I could find. The two books coming in June are the first entries in an action-adventure series I’m launching with a big online component—the series has its own website (www.thirdchancestories.com), and each of the three larger-than-life heroes has their own Facebook and Twitter account. I’d been posting their stray thoughts and short scenes from everyday life as a way to introduce readers and stay connected beyond the page. As Covid hit, I tried to keep updating their feeds, placing them in our new world and seeing how they responded.

I liked the posts well enough—you can check them out yourself at the link—but as the news in places like Italy and New York darkened, they became hard to write. The series has a pulpy, over-the-top vibe, and the characters necessarily have some funny or exaggerated moments. I worried about making light of the situation. I felt strange promoting books on the back of tragedy, even though my posts didn’t—don’t—have much of a promotional tint, just quick hits meant to entertain. I don’t know. I admire people like Mo Willems who’ve managed to be creative and entertain during all this, but I felt too bewildered to make a strong go of it.

Covid-19 has me thinking differently about what I should write. The Pinebox Vendetta, my current release, follows The Winner Maker and Blackquest 40 in a line of character-driven thrillers, stories that feature recognizable personalities in stressful predicaments. I’d been kicking around an outline about two elementary teachers who begin their careers on the same day and develop an enduring relationship across decades, forged on the playground as they watch their respective classes at recess. The genre, I think, would have to be contemporary romance, book club fiction with crossover appeal—something in that range.

This would be a departure for me, and of course male writers don’t exactly light up the romance bestseller lists. Still, as I’ve read up in the genre, I feel drawn to it. Romance readers welcome plotlines about family dynamics and deeper questions of motivation. In the realm of popular fiction, romance is the yang to thrillers’ yin, light and optimistic versus dark and braced for an axe murderer to show at any moment. As I sit writing this in lockdown, light and optimistic sounds just about right. I’m not abandoning thrillers, but I am eager to try on this more hopeful mode for a few months.

Will Covid change readers, too? I’m no industry insider, but if I were to guess, I’d say doctors and nurses might figure more prominently as genre protagonists in the coming years. Which seems like a good thing. I can imagine readers of post-apocalyptic fiction demanding more now that we’ve gotten our own glimpse of End of Days—the hoarding, the ghostly streets, the social isolation. Readers may not be satisfied with the stock zombies-scrabbling-for-the-doorknob setup.

Will some enterprising writer take in all we’ve been slogging through and create an authentic portrait of what the world might become? How bad it could get? How debilitating an extreme duration of social distancing could be for society? How terrifying?

Maybe. But it’s sure not going to be me.

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Synopsis:

 

From the author of The Winner Maker and Blackquest 40 comes The Pinebox Vendetta: a genre-bending thriller that combines a love story, cold-case murder mystery, and political blood feud — told over the course of a single breathless weekend.

The Gallaghers and Pruitts have dominated the American political landscape dating back to Revolutionary times. The Yale University class of 1996 had one of each, and as the twenty-year reunion approaches, the families are on a collision course. Owen Gallagher is coasting to the Democratic nomination for president. Rock Pruitt — the brash maverick whose career was derailed two decades ago by his association to a tragic death — is back, ready to reclaim the mantle of clan leader. And fatefully in between lies Samantha Lessing. Sam arrives at reunion weekend lugging a rotten marriage, dumb hope, and a portable audio recorder she’ll use for a public radio-style documentary on the Pruitt-Gallagher rivalry — widely known as the pinebox vendetta. What Sam uncovers will thrust her into the middle of the ancient feud, upending presidential politics and changing the trajectory of one clan forever. The Pinebox Vendetta is the first entry in the Pruitt-Gallagher saga: a series that promises cutthroat plots, power grabs, and unforgettable characters stretched to their very limits by the same ideological forces that roil America today.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller

Published by: Jeff Bond Books

Publication Date: February 19th 2020

Number of Pages: 264

ISBN: 1732255253 (ISBN13: 9781732255258)

Series: Pruitt-Gallagher Saga, #1

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

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Read an excerpt:

1

Jamie Gallagher stood beside the pirate at the skiff’s rail, the African sea thick on his skin. Neither man could see the other in the moonless night, but Jamie smelled the khat the Somali never stopped chewing—sweetly sharp, a scent that made Jamie feel part cleansed and part crazed. “The money is ready,” said the pirate named Abdi. “My men have packed the briefcase.” “Wanaagsan.” Jamie ducked his head in gratitude. “You believe the general will accept a briefcase?” “This is the usual way, yes. It will be checked for explosives with X-ray and IMS swabs.” “Of course.” “Also, the general will insist on verifying the amount before the release occurs.” “His men are going to count ten million dollars?” Jamie asked. The Somali spat khat leaves into the sea. “He has machines. The machines check by weight.” Jamie exhaled, pushing his own breath into the hot, still air. The money would weigh out. The money wasn’t the trick. Abdi continued, “Once the amount is verified, the general will call his people in the jungle by satphone, and they will free your journalist.” “Immediately? I’ll need confirmation from HD before we leave the yacht.” “That is the arrangement.” Jamie mopped his brow. Acting wasn’t his strength, and he hoped his insistence on this procedural point was convincing. In fact, Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) knew nothing about tomorrow. There would be no representative at the hand-off spot, and the French journalist—whose reporting on minority suffrage truly had opened the world’s eyes—would not be freed. This was a regret. But Jamie Gallagher had lived with worse. He said, “I’ll be X-rayed, too?” “Yes.” “Strip-searched?” “At a minimum. You should expect a body cavity search.” “Fine.” In his years advocating for peace and public health around sub-Saharan Africa, Jamie had had his cheeks probed, his neck magnetically combed, and the arches of his feet flayed. “I suppose the general’s in no position to be trusting.” The pirate took a while to respond. Was he eyeing Jamie in the dark? Signaling to his men back on the mothership? Jamie’s statement had been obvious and shouldn’t have invoked offense. Since joining the pirates at Merca, a white beach paradise down the coast from Mogadishu, Jamie had detected hostility—even after paying their exorbitant convoy fee. Abdi himself had been civil enough, but his three young lieutenants, after pointedly using their left hands to shake Jamie’s, had glared at him with undisguised contempt. He understood this. A westerner waltzes onto their ship with unimaginable stores of cash—cash that, in a matter of hours, will bring them into contact with the most wanted war criminal on the planet. Naturally, they resented him. He was what, five years older than them? With his bandanna and dishwater-blond hair? Abdi said, “This is a great risk for us. We have earned the general’s esteem. We do not wish to squander it.” Jamie heard the clench in the man’s jaw. “I assure you, I will comply with every procedure he or you tell me to follow.” General Mahad and these Somali pirates fought on the same side of many issues. Both wanted the ruling Muslims out of Puntland. They didn’t care that the Muslims had remade the conflict-ravaged region into a prosperous enclave, introducing compulsory education and a foodstuff-based living wage. For the pirates, the problem was their strict, Islam-centric brand of law and order, which had made the coastal waters harder to pillage. General Mahad’s beef was simple: the Muslims had replaced him in power. He’d ruled Puntland for a decade, enriching himself and his cronies using any resource available—khat, guns, people. When word of his atrocities leaked, international pressure mounted for a free election. The general agreed after a period of stonewalling, believing he could manipulate the results. When Al Jama-ah won anyway, the general stole all he could in the weeks before yielding control. According to a local guide Jamie trusted, the general toured polling stations his last day with a machete, taking three fingers from each precinct leader. “If I lose next time,” he told them, “you lose the rest.” Though he retained a few loyalist strongholds like the one holding the French journalist, General Mahad himself lived on a yacht, moving constantly to evade capture. The Hague had convicted him last year in absentia. Now Jamie asked, “Who’ll be coming aboard with me?” “Me and Josef,” Abdi said. “We are known to the general.” “Will you be armed?” “No. He will search us, too.” Jamie shuffled in place, the skiff feeling suddenly unsteady beneath him. “I—er, I hope it’ll be okay that I bring a gift. Akpeteshie. I was told it is the general’s favorite liquor?” The pirate groaned pleasurably. “Akpeteshie, yes.” “I thought we might share a drink as a token of good faith.” “The bottle is factory-sealed?” “Yes.” “The general will like this. The general believes in courtesy.” Several retorts came to mind at the ludicrous idea this butcher had any claim on civility, but Jamie swallowed them. He removed a pair of night-vision goggles from his rucksack. Before looking himself, he offered them to Abdi. Abdi waved them off as though the technology were frivolous. Jamie scanned the horizon, right to left, left to right. The skiff’s sway seemed to increase. The eye cups stuck to his sweaty forehead. The smell of khat, which hadn’t bothered him before, grated now, like sugar grit needling into his nose and eardrums. He felt the pressure of this place keenly. Every actor—man, woman, or child—who entered this stretch of ocean would be girded to fight. They must be. Choice never came into it. A shape appeared on the horizon. Jamie thumbed his focus wheel until red blurs resolved to running lights. “The general,” Abdi said. Adrenaline jolted through Jamie. Here was a ghost vessel—a vessel many militaries of the world would board on sight, and one the United States wouldn’t think twice about blasting to smithereens with a drone strike. The yacht grew larger in the greenish display. Jamie screwed on a bulky magnifier lens and was able to make out guards on the gunwale, ambling, AK-47s on their shoulders. The yacht was perhaps twenty meters. Several figures were sprawled out on deck, sleeping in the open for the heat. Jamie raised the goggles, thinking to find the general on the bridge. The cockpit windows were smoked—opaque from outside and surely bulletproof. He panned back down. The craft made a leeward turn, and he glimpsed new figures at the base of the pilothouse. These were prone like the others but smaller—a dozen in a line, little pulled-apart commas. Most of them were still, but one squirmed restlessly. Children. Jamie’s stomach shrank to a cold fist. # He barely slept. Long after rowing back to the mothership and helping Abdi loosely tie up the skiff, and bedding down in the holds beside crates of ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades, Jamie lay awake thinking of those children. He’d known the general had kids, twenty or thirty that he acknowledged. And it shouldn’t have been surprising such a monster would keep family members near, in the cross-hairs of danger. Still, the concrete knowledge of these innocents shook Jamie. His moral clarity waned, like a tower of blocks losing its crosspiece. How will the general’s children move on? What if they fall into the arms of the pirates or the next warlord up? From here, it was no leap at all to obsess about the French journalist. When the exchange was revealed as phony, would the general’s men execute her on the spot? They would blame her, despite the fact that she had played no role whatsoever in the ruse. Renée Auteuil had been raised by a jobless father in Roubaix, the post-industrial husk of a city. She’d worked sixty-hour weeks as a line cook to support them. She’d defied dictators on three continents to achieve the eminence and audience that had prompted General Mahad to snatch her last spring. Now Jamie was putting her in jeopardy, and for what? So that he could feel better about himself? So he could feel absolved? Jamie had chosen Puntland precisely because it was neutral territory in the feud between his family, the Gallaghers, and their conservative arch-enemies, the Pruitts. The two clans had been fighting for nearly three centuries—and while there was hardly a facet of American political, corporate, or philanthropic life their battles hadn’t touched, neither family had much connection to Puntland. As president, Jonathan Pruitt hadn’t carried out any significant dealings with the territory during his term. (His only term, thankfully.) The Gallaghers facilitated relief missions all over Africa, but nothing specially in Puntland. Jamie’s action tomorrow wouldn’t be interpreted as having grown out of the feud, or impacted the feud, or given the Gallaghers some edge in the next midterm elections. This was separate. This was good, a thing nobody could spin or debate. That had been the plan, at least. Now doubts roared in Jamie’s mind. He dug at the roots of his hair, flopping about the damp, creaking boards. The Somalis snored in the adjacent room. Their arsenal reeked of grease and sulfur. Jamie crunched his eyes and pulled his rucksack, which he’d been toting around since freshman year at Yale, down over his head. The thoughts still came, and the guilt. His emotions spiraled and sickened and fought, and finally came to a head. He growled, disgusted by himself, then tore through his rucksack for the shoe that contained, wedged up in the toes, a newsprint photo of a mass grave discovered in northeast Puntland. By penlight, he stared at the image. He seared it into his brain. The open trench of dusted gray bodies. The overlapping femurs. The fleshless faces. The photo was merely one of dozens. Jamie knew the general was well-positioned to continue the slaughter once the collective international eye moved along. “That’s it,” he whispered aloud. “Not one more thought.” # The meeting was to take place twenty minutes after sunrise. Jamie woke, having finally fallen asleep around four a.m., to the Somalis chatting in their native tongue over pieces of flatbread. He dragged himself aboveboard, feeling at once languid and jittery. “Bread?” Abdi offered, tearing a piece from a slab. “Thanks, no.” Jamie reached into his rucksack instead for a piece of biltong, the wildebeest jerky he’d grown fond of. “Has the general been about?” “Yes, Josef saw him. The hat.” Abdi made a sifting gesture above his head to indicate the general’s beret. The day was already scorching, the sky’s blue brilliance broken only by the boiling disk of the sun. The general’s yacht rocked softly in the west, appearing quite large now, its bow sleek and spear-like. “They’re within gun range,” Jamie observed. “Oh yes. We are in their scopes.” As if to prove the point, Abdi raised a hand in the yacht’s direction and laughed. Nobody joined him. The pirate named Josef, taller and broader in the chest than Abdi, loaded the ten-million-dollar briefcase into the first of three skiffs. Jamie stepped in after, fitting his rucksack into the hull—careful of the Akpeteshie inside—and tying back his hair. Abdi took a minute instructing the two men staying back on the mothership. Was he arranging a distress signal? Telling them what to do if shots were fired? Coordinating a double-cross? There was no use worrying. Jamie had placed himself between dangerous people, but dangerous people performed the same calculations benign ones did. The pirates would keep up their end so long as the benefits remained clear: not only cash, but stronger ties with the general and the establishment of a new back-channel to the powerful Gallaghers. The skiff loaded, Adbi yanked the outboard motor’s cord. The engine sputtered alive and settled to a rumbling purr. Josef untied them, flashing a grim thumbs-up to the men staying behind. They charted a course for the general’s yacht. The sea felt choppier on the smaller craft, which didn’t bother Jamie—a lifelong boater and varsity swimmer in college—but did compel him to pull the rucksack protectively into his lap. If the Akpeteshie somehow ruptured against the hull, the mission would be lost. As they neared the general’s yacht, the faces of his guards became visible—wary, textured faces. The carry-straps of AK-47s sawed their necks. Abdi cut the motor and drifted in. A section of railing was unclipped, and a ramp extended from the yacht’s stern. After helping Josef tie up, Jamie slipped the rucksack onto his back and boarded. The Somalis trailed him with the briefcase. “Halkan, ku siin!” said one of the general’s men. Abdi shook his head forcefully at the request—to hand over the briefcase. The guards backpedaled, their formation hemming Jamie and the pirates into a corner of the aft deck. Abdi and Josef walked with their bodies shielding the case as if it contained plutonium. With these uneasy field positions established, the general’s men conferred briefly and parted to form an aisle to the pilothouse. General Mahad emerged. The general wore his full dress uniform: navy blue, epaulets, ribboned medals. He lumbered forward with a mild limp, said to have originated during the Simba rebellion of 1964. He raised his chin to Abdi, then spoke to Jamie. “Welcome to the one and true seat of Puntland, Mr. Gallagher.” Jamie felt the man’s deep, scarred voice in his bowels. “That’s none of my concern. I’m here for Renée.” The general smiled, his lips fat and sly. “How fortunate she is. You are the white knight, eh? Sir Jamie?” The characterization stung, but Jamie pushed on. “I’ve been in touch with Humanitarian Dialogue—their helicopter is ready. Give me a latitude and longitude for the exchange and let’s get this over.” “Your friends have the money?” Every eye on the yacht turned to Abdi, whose knuckles tightened on the briefcase handle. “Ten million,” Jamie said. “Count it if you like.” The general crooked a finger at one of his men, who disappeared to the pilothouse. The man returned with a machine resembling a fax with bill-sized trays. Abdi stepped forward with the briefcase. The man with the counting machine passed a handheld X-ray scanner around the case and swabbed a cloth along each edge. He started for the pilothouse with the cloth, likely to perform a residue test for explosives, but the general stopped him. Then gestured for Abdi to go ahead. When Abdi undid the clasp, the lip snapped open—ten million was a squeeze, even with an oversize case—and a few packets spilled out. The counting began. Now Jamie reached into his rucksack for the Akpeteshie. “I’ve heard tell around campfires,” he began, gathering himself, “that you enjoy a certain Ghanaian beverage.” The general grinned when he saw the bottle, squat, the neck’s glass bowed in the distinctive shape of a baobab tree. “This is true.” “Shall we drink together?” Jamie said. “It’s early, but I find a day started well nearly always ends well.” The general palmed his jaw. There was a risk he would set the gift aside, but Jamie was counting on this subtle challenge to his manhood—in front of his crew, in front of Abdi and Josef. People like the general didn’t back down from such dares. Jamie thought of his old classmate Rock Pruitt who’d downed a fifth of whiskey disproving a frat brother’s claim that prep-schoolers only drank martinis and smoked reefer. “I would quite enjoy that,” the general said. “After the bottle is checked.” Jamie raised a shoulder, feigning indifference as two men seized the Akpeteshie and held it sideways up to the sun, testing its feel in their hands, poking fingernails along the dripped-wax seal. They would find nothing. Jamie’s sister Charlotte Gallagher, founder of internet-of-things giant SmartWidget and the eighteenth-richest person in the world, owned 45 percent of the local distillery that produced Akpeteshie. She had allowed Jamie to follow this lone bottle through the factory. At the final step, just before corking, he’d poured out 150 milliliters of liquor and replaced it with an equal amount of king cobra venom. For fifteen months, Jamie had been inoculating himself with increasingly larger doses of the venom. He had started, after discussing the strategy at length with a Sudanese shaman, with a pinprick diluted in a pint of water. Last week, he had managed eight milliliters of venom—the amount a shot from the spiked Akpeteshie would deliver, depending on the pour—and suffered only dizziness, blurred vision, and severe cottonmouth. When his men were satisfied the bottle was unaltered, the general took a pair of tumblers from the yacht’s fiberglass sideboard. Tumblers, not shot glasses. Eight ounces at least. “To finding a middle, eh?” The general poured each tumbler to the brim. “Two parties can start from opposite ends and, with good sense, find a common understanding.” Jamie’s teeth pulverized each other in the back of his mouth. He’d always found the rhetoric of compromise disingenuous, whether it came from television pundits or the North Carolina Gallaghers exhorting the clan to give ground at the fringes of the abortion debate. To hear it from the mouth of a man like Mahad? Revolting. “To the middle,” he spat. He raised the tumbler to his lips. Calculations whipped around his brain. Eight ounces divided by one point five… Equaled six times the amount of venom his body had previously endured. The liquid was amber, almost orange. As the glass tilted, Jamie imagined he saw currents of venom slithering among the palm wine. His fingers trembled. Some sloshed over the side, but not nearly enough. In his periphery, Jamie became aware of Abdi and Josef arguing with the general’s men. Abdi slapped one empty well of the briefcase. The general’s men shouted. More rushed to the deck from below board. The general balked at Jamie’s tone. “You do not like my toast. That is your right. You are the guest, so make your own.” He smirked about. “We are democratic here, aren’t we?” Jamie ignored the low hoots. “To justice.” He regripped his tumbler. “To justice, and fair treatment for all living things.” The general guffawed, big and toothy. “For ten million, yes. Why in hell not?” Their eyes locked over the tumblers’ rims. Jamie perceived something in the man’s look, some hustler’s instinct, and knew if he faltered now—even for a moment—the trap would be blown. Jamie stared into the lethal brew, waited for bright madness to rise, and drank. The Akpeteshie burned his throat. His jaw felt weak and daggers pressed into his eardrums from inside. Still, he kept his head tipped back and drank it all. The general and several of his men goggled at the feat. When their eyes turned to him, the war criminal downed his, too. “…no, the release! ” Jamie heard behind him. “No money before release!” “We will keep it.” “No, us! We will hold the money.” A guard wearing ripped denim leveled his rifle at Abdi. Josef stepped forward to push aside the muzzle. Another guard drove the butt of his rifle into Josef’s back, crumpling the pirate. Jamie didn’t know how long he and the general had. During his inoculation, the symptoms would begin in about a minute, but he’d never ingested this large a dose. His heartrate zoomed and breath pumped through his chest like air from a bellows—still, this could be the effects of anticipation. “So, um…the release,” he said, feeling a vague duty toward Abdi. “If you…so I’ll call HD and be sure Renée, er…s’all okay with the money…” Words were deserting him. The scuffle on deck was intensifying. Josef had recovered to pounce on the man in denim. Abdi was buried in a furious tangle of fists and churning hips. Jamie didn’t understand the fight. Let them have the money—who cared? He began to feel disconnected from his body, Abdi and Josef blending into other people he’d known in life, Gallaghers and Pruitts, senators and reporters, grad students and business titans, all fighting without reason, finding joy and enemies, grinding their life into the larger sausage. The general unleashed a thunderous whistle and raised his hand for calm. The struggle paused. Every eye turned his way. He began to lower his hand but suddenly couldn’t. His arm convulsed and became some bucking stick-animal beyond his control. His fingers twitched unnaturally. He grasped his throat, staggering back. Froth bubbled in his nostrils. The man who’d retrieved the money scale from the pilothouse pointed at Jamie. “What is this?” Jamie tried answering, but his tongue would not obey, dead and heavy in his mouth. Pain gored his brain. Sweat screamed from his pores, a thousand beads altogether. This wasn’t the outcome Jamie had wanted, but neither was it wholly unexpected. He thought now of life’s best moments. In Burundi, feeling that boy’s skeletal hand squeeze as he sucked a tab of enriched peanut butter. On the vineyard, fourteen years old, swinging his cousins round and round in celebration after his mother—the senior senator from Connecticut and Democratic National Committee chairperson—had succeeded in her long-shot campaign to retake majority control of the Senate. Above all, though, he remembered kissing Sam. Seniors on their last night at Yale, about to go conquer the world, standing together in an entryway. Emotions spiked to the heavens. Their mouths came together in the gentlest, deepest touch he’d known before or since. Samantha Lessing. God, she was it. The life he missed. Half the general’s men were swarming the Somali pirates while the other half moved on Jamie. There was a gap between the two, but it was closing. Jamie willed his tongue back into service. “This was right,” he croaked. “Here, today. This was not a waste.” And he believed this—dashing across the deck through grasping hands, over the gunwale, into the black ocean.

TEN YEARS LATER

2

Sam slipped out of the WNYC studios at four thirty, waving off cheers of “Have fun!” and “Take me with you!”, hurrying through the lobby, jogging a short block to catch the uptown C. She needed to pick up a daughter and possibly husband in Brooklyn, then be back in Manhattan for the 5:41 p.m. train to New Haven. Reunion check-in closed at eight. If the train arrived on time, she’d make it easy. If not? If any of the dizzying array of pitfalls inherent in teenagers and public transit popped up? Sam guessed they were sleeping on the street. Half an hour later, she hiked three flights of stairs with key at the ready. The apartment was unlocked. “Joss?” she called. “You are packed, yes?” Her daughter’s door was closed, but guitar chords thwanged through. Sam stepped around French bread pizza and a stack of indie music magazines to pound twice. “Not telling you what to wear,” she yelled, “but I suggest a dress or dress-like garment for Saturday night.” The music inside dulled, indicating Sam had been heard. The warning bell had been sounded. She found an oversize duffel bag in the hall closet and tossed in her stuff: toiletries, three-odd outfits for the weekend, Zoom audio recorder. About outfits: Sam both cared and didn’t care. She was forty-three. Her classmates were forty-three, give or take. Nobody should go rocking a prom dress, but they weren’t dead yet either. She brought dark-red sleeveless, plus yellow floral in case of glorious weather. “Leaving twelve minutes!” she said through Joss’s door. “Zero wiggle situation.” Tight timelines didn’t bother Sam—the studio commonly dropped post-production on her for shows that were airing in mere hours. Packing now, she thought pleasurably of the friends she’d see at the reunion. Laurel in from San Francisco. Jen Pereido. Naomi, even though she was still recovering from the birth of her fourth(!) child. From her own daughter’s room came a squeal, streaked with joy. The noise pinched Sam’s heart. Her husband Abe was in there—they’d probably harmonized on some new melody. Which was awesome. Truly. Except that it was 4:48. She opened the door. “I hate to be Yoko, but the time’s come to break up. Leaving in five minutes.” Fourteen-year-old Joss looked up from fingering the neck of her guitar, still grinning. Abe sat cross-legged on the floor with the Yamaha across his knees, a kind of strung-out, hipster Dalai Lama. Both appeared stumped. Sam said, “Yale? My alma mater, where you’ve been dying to go for months?” Joss’s grin vanished. “Dad said you were leaving whenever! Isn’t it like an all-weekend thing? Today’s only Thursday.” “Yes, but in order to check in Thursday night, as I hope to,” Sam said, patiently as she could, “we need to arrive on campus by eight o’clock.” “That’s ridiculous, I’ve barely even looked at clothes.” “Then look quickly. I’m winging it myself.” Joss shot upright, dropping her guitar with a clang against the bed. “I’m not going to Yale on, like, zero notice. You can’t just spring this on me.” “I sprung no thing on no body. We discussed timing last night, and this afternoon I sent your father four texts—every hour, on the hour—reminding him.” “But those go to his phone,” Joss said. “Remember, I don’t have one? Because you won’t let me?” Sam stretched one arm laboriously toward the ceiling, focusing on good breaths. Apparently, they were skimming right over Abe’s not passing along the messages. His long-running campaign to absolve himself of any and all responsibility—waged by a steady pattern of never giving a crap for anyone but himself—had succeeded at last. “Look, we can argue about phones again or we can try to make this train. Otherwise, we basically miss half the reunion. We might as well skip.” This genuinely spooked Joss. Her face hollowed even more deeply than usual. (She’d grown three inches this year, causing Sam to marvel at this moody, suddenly supermodel whose laundry she washed every week.) They’d been talking about the reunion forever, what architecture couldn’t be missed, whether student activists would be around for Joss to connect with. Sam hated to use fear, that blunt-force instrument of the parenting arsenal, but she knew a reasoned argument would produce nothing but gridlock. Joss started packing. Abe, who’d disappeared to the bathroom, emerged now with drawstrings dangling from his sweats. He nodded to a pair of shiny heels in Sam’s duffel. “Somebody’s dressing to impress.” “I haven’t seen these people in twenty years,” she said. “I’m erring on the side of adequate.” Her husband snorted, seeming to take the comment personally. Twelve years older than Sam, he’d been an already-aging rocker when she had met him in her late twenties. Between drugs and alcohol, and having nowhere in particular to be for the last twenty years—no office or classroom mores to adhere to—Abe had aged poorly. His leatherette skin belonged to a person decades older, and beige hair had fled the top of his head for his ears and nostrils. “You’re more than welcome to join,” Sam said, stuffing in a toothbrush. “But we are leaving mucho rapido, so…” He ambled a step away, picked up Joss’s guitar and set it in its case. She heaved the duffel’s halves together to make the zipper zip. “You’re passing, correct? I just want to confirm with a verbal yes or no answer.” Sam knew with four hundred percent certainty that some future argument would hinge on this point—whether or not Abe had been invited. They would be sniping back and forth about Yale, how phony or not phony her friends were, what first-world problems they were finding themselves crippled by, and he would break out his trump card. You were embarrassed. You didn’t want me there, dragging you down. And here it came, earlier than expected. “You don’t have to faux-invite me,” Abe said. “You prefer to go alone. Oh, you’ll tolerate Joss. Joss is an acceptable accessory. Perfectly cool, I get it. I won’t ruin your triumphant return.” Sam again focused on respiration. In, out. In, out. “This is a real invitation,” she said. “Just like the one I offered in April, and in May. You are absolutely welcome at my reunion. Come. Please. Joss would love having you there. Maybe you could jam with Thom—he’s supposed to be playing Toad’s.” As convincingly as Sam delivered these words, her husband was right. The invitation wasn’t real. Abe thought Thom’s music was derivative and had zero interest in strumming out tired chords while Activist Boy preened at the mic for the ladies. If Abe went, he would grump and sulk and criticize, and ruin the whole thing. “Pass,” Abe said. “Thom can play ‘Better Man’ solo. That is where he opens, isn’t it? Pearl Jam? Or is it the first encore?” Sam chuckled with relief. Complicity with ragging on her own friends? Fine. Fine, she’d do it—so long as he stayed home. Their daughter’s voice came through the wall, “What’s the formality situation for Saturday night dinner?” “Less stuffy than a cotillion,” Sam called back, “but expect mosh-pitting to be frowned upon.” As she waited on her daughter, Sam kept tabs on a few text conversations by phone. People were arriving into New Haven and wondering where Demery’s had gone, or at the airport dreaming of hugs on the quad, or annoyed because they had to work tomorrow which royally sucked! Sam grinned at this last but didn’t tap back a response. Abe was watching her, surely guessing what the rapid-fire chimes were about. For Sam to actively join in would risk an argument or, worse, a change of heart. She didn’t think her husband was capable of attending the reunion for spite, enduring a rotten weekend just to play the killjoy. But why push him? Finally, Joss emerged. She had changed into a clingy ankle-length skirt and carried a backpack. “Thank you for hurrying,” Sam said. “Excited?” Joss rolled her eyes but couldn’t completely suppress a smile. Sam clutched her hand. After double-checking the cat dish had food, she slipped on her jacket and pulled her cell charger out of the wall, jamming it into the side of her bag. Abe tilted his head. “Why’re you taking the Zoom?” Shoot. Sam inwardly punched her brain for not packing last night. “Ah…I’m kicking around this audio doc. Just ideas. Might record some clips.” “Topic?” She hated how he asked, all aggressive and pedantic. “I doubt I’ll have time.” She considered lying outright. Joss was watching, though, and the idea of cowering in front of her daughter—who was learning how to relate to others and respond to adversity and be an assertive female—repulsed her. “It’s about pinebox. How it affected our class, et cetera. Of course the vendetta’s been done—this would try to get at it through the lens of our class at Yale. We had one Pruitt, one Gallagher, that death freshman year. Kind of the whole feud in miniature.” She shrugged, pretending to be flip, and started for the door. It was 4:32. Abe asked, “Is Rock Pruitt going to the reunion?” “Dunno,” Sam said. “We didn’t exactly run in the same circles.” “Really? That seems disingenuous given you were bosom buddies there with the immortal Jamie Gallagher.” Sam felt her chest constrict. Let it go, she told herself. Let it go like Elsa. Turn yourself to ice, and everything slides right off. Except she couldn’t. “Jamie despised Rock. You could walk the earth and never find two people with more diametrically-opposed worldviews than Rock and Jamie.” Abe huffed. “Those beautiful people and their worldviews. What rarefied air you’ll be breathing again.” Sam opened her mouth hotly to speak. At the last moment, she stopped and finished zipping her bag instead. She stood tall-shouldered, smiled, and invited Joss to lead the way out. “The audio doc does sound right out of This American Life,” said Abe, evidently unsatisfied with the fight’s resolution. “Who produces that? Must be one of those Yale ninety-sixers working there you could pitch.” She felt like asking how he could possibly believe in mythical Ivy League connections after this life of theirs: Sam’s twelve years bouncing around the periphery of pseudo-academic film, hustling after grants, performing peon tasks in job after job to bulk up a CV so it could sit on her Patreon page getting a half-dozen page views per month. She had finally risen to prominence at WNYC but almost in spite of Yale, which carried significant prima donna baggage in the field. Again, though, Sam restrained herself in front of Joss. “Hey, quick Zoom question,” she said. “You think forty-eight/twenty-four-bit, or forty-four/sixteen is better? It’ll be mostly outdoor clips.” Abe tipped his balding head left, then right. “Forty-eight. File sizes won’t be that different, and at sixteen, the Zoom gets super noisy.” Sam crinkled her nose. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess that’s right. Thanks.” Mother and daughter both pecked Abe goodbye and bounded off to catch a train. Joss seemed to study Sam down the stairs, and she wondered momentarily if her ruse had failed—if Joss understood that Mom had forgotten more about sampling rates than Dad had ever known—and had only made this final query to escape the apartment on a positive note. Other fictions existed between the couple. That Abe respected her managerial position at WNYC. That she believed his vow to start playing shows again—that those freelance audio-tech Fiverr gigs he’d parlayed fairly successfully into income were just temporary and not his professional endgame. That reuniting each night for dinner, they asked about the other’s day with anything like genuine interest. Sometimes Joss would make comments indicating she knew. “Gee, Dad, bitter much?” or, “I’d rather not be involved in this,” swirling her hand as though over a cesspool. Other times, she seemed oblivious, just a regular kid consumed by regular kid stuff. Either possibility broke Sam’s heart. *** Excerpt from The Pinebox Vendetta by Jeff Bond. Copyright 2020 by Jeff Bond. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Bond. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio:

Jeff Bond Jeff Bond is a Kansas native and graduate of Yale University. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Michigan, and belongs to the International Thriller Writers Association.

Catch Up With Jeff Bond On: JeffBondBooks.com BookBub Goodreads Instagram Twitter Facebook

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#GuestPost “Perfecting ‘The Twist'” by Jeff Bond, author of “BlackQuest 40”

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A note upfront: Blackquest 40 is chock-full of twists and turns so I’ve decided telling the story of one of the biggies here — without getting specific — shouldn’t affect anyone’s reading pleasure. If you’re terrified of spoilers and prefer not to hear even the merest nugget, by all means, bookmark and return after you finish the story. 

Thrillers need plot twists like a home needs its kitchen. Writers of thrillers have to flip their readers’ expectations—often, substantially, and convincingly. My latest book, Blackquest 40, has several twists that I humbly believe deliver on this requirement. But one of them almost whiffed.

First, let me back up and describe my experience crafting “the twist” in my debut novel, The Winner Maker. There’s a large reversal smack in the middle, where you generally want one. Early beta readers of the manuscript really took the twist on the chin. Some found it jarring and unbelievable. Others felt the character involved had behaved far outside her/his established pattern.

I heard enough of this reaction that I decided to rework the twist. I sprinkled foreshadowing throughout the first half, added a few contrary notes to the offending character, then sanitized all the downstream impacts of these changes—which sometimes ends up being the thorniest part.

The next round of beta readers had no problem with the twist, and I sent the book out into the wild. Winner launched in December and, as I write this, has a 4.3 star rating on Amazon. (Sorry, shameless plug.) None of the reviewers who did have issues with the book mentioned that element at all.

Fast forward to Blackquest 40, my follow-up. I had prepared my big twist (vagueness here is intentional) with Winner in mind, planting hints liberally. I felt confident the twist wouldn’t seem to come out of left field. I emailed the manuscript around to a first group of beta readers. I got plenty of positive feedback about the manuscript in general, but the twist landed like a soggy towel.

“Yeah, sorta saw it coming, but still enjoyed it.”

“I was pretty sure something was going on there…”

A few readers said the twist had come off just right, but not enough for me to think I’d struck the right balance.

I went back to the drawing board. I didn’t remove any passage that gave the reader new, salient information about the subject in question, but there were several superficial clues I felt I could fairly zap without cheating my readers.

The next step was, again, further testing with betas. My second round of readers loved the new version — I’d tweaked other things besides the twist, of course — and I was feeling great about the book. I did a third round of betas just to be positive. Again, reaction was solid. I lined up my final proofread, shipped the manuscript off for a spiffy format, then uploaded my files to Netgalley so advance reviewers could start doing their worst. I moved on to my next project. (For more info there, see https://www.thirdchancestories.com/ — sorry, shameless plug #2.)

The early reviews were outstanding, 5 stars right down the line. People loved my protagonist Deb. Some bristled at the tech talk—unavoidably given the setting—but even these readers were enjoying the book.

Meanwhile, I was eagerly awaiting two professional reviews: one from Kirkus and another from IndieReader. These take a month or two to come in, and you never know quite when they’ll show up. Often it’s about a week before the delivery date they quote.

I was in the middle of vacation with my family, a long weekend in Toronto, when my phone dinged: Kirkus.

The review was in! I hurried with my phone to the hotel bathroom so I could read the news, which I expected to be good. Ignoring the niggling worry that my non-international Verizon plan might be racking up exorbitant roaming charges, I downloaded the file and read…

The review was, overall, positive. Definitely positive. But the reviewer had made one passing comment that stopped me from yanking the hotel hair dryer out of its wall charging unit and screaming Queen lyrics into it. A line toward the end: “Readers will likely guess one (plot twist) well before it happens, but others are less predictable.”

What?!

But I’d had dozens of readers! I’d calibrated my twist, I’d weighed one word choice against another, I’d plotted how many pages separated each mention of the element.

How could this have happened? Had I blown it?

As I sit here typing today, I still don’t know whether I just got a real smartypants of a Kirkus reviewer, or whether the twist truly was obvious as written. (A week later, the IndieReader review of the same version came in over the moon—“This book is a delight, and one readers should download right away.”) As my eyes read and reread that comment, though, I was convinced I had committed a mortal sin.

As soon as we got back from Toronto, I pulled up the Blackquest manuscript and searched for all mentions of elements pertaining to the twist. (Again, vagueness is intentional.) I considered their number, how “loud” they seemed next to whatever else surrounded them…and yeah, I thought I saw the reviewer’s point.

There were a handful of clues that weren’t integral to the characters or underlying twist, provided no tangible information to the reader. They sort of raised their hands and said, “Hey, look at me! Do you think I might be important…?” Probably I’d stuck them in during the drafting phase, remembering Winner and believing I shouldn’t shock the reader too badly.

Naturally, that very morning, my blog tour coordinator emailed to inquire — politely as ever (I cannot recommend Partners In Crime blog tours highly enough) — whether I’d mailed out review copies to bloggers who’d requested physical books.

Coming! I said. Very, very soon—I promise!

I scrambled to nix my superfluous hints. The changes ended up being minor—maybe a half dozen passages—but, still, I had to square them with everything happening downstream, make sure I wasn’t introducing some newly repetitive word, et cetera. I finished in about a day.

Next, I needed to flow these changes through to IngramSpark and Amazon, the twin behemoths I use to print my books, and get my advance copies out to those bloggers. The beauty of writing books in the Digital Age is that you’re able to pull this off — sling files around the web and implement tweaks like this on a dime.

Well, in theory.

Now is the moment in our tale when we meet The Formatter.

I have an amazing formatter. If you’re reading this, Kind Formatter, know this: you’re tremendous. You design gorgeous-looking interiors. You make no mistakes. You’re creative and clever and have impeccable style. I recently published a short story called The Cleaner (sorry, I believe that’s shameless plug #3), which is more literary in nature than the rest of the books I have out, and asked The Formatter if he could differentiate it as such through formatting. He did a fantastic job—small dignified graphics under the title and chapter heads, perfect fonts and drop caps, everything. I’ve never been anything but ga-ga over his work.

The catch? He can be a little flaky. Sometimes he’ll respond to email in seconds. Sometimes it’s a few days—and I didn’t feel like I had a few days.

I dashed off my changed manuscript file to him, explaining the urgency, asking him to charge whatever he needed for the rush-job. Advance readers were banging down my door…the local Barnes & Noble would be ordering copies from IngramSpark any day now…it was important that I get this reformatted file out as soon as possible.

That was Monday.

I checked my phone for messages throughout the day. I gave up around one a.m., having received nothing from The Formatter.

Tuesday came.

Tuesday went—with no message from The Formatter.

I sent him a poke in the morning along the lines of “I’m sure you’re swamped, sorry to be a nuisance, but would you mind…”

Twelve hours later — right as I was beginning to consider cracking open the PDF file myself and making the changes (if you’ve ever tried this yourself, you’ll understand it’s folly—deleting/changing more than a character or two annihilates your justification) — The Formatter did write back.

He explained his computer had been plagued by the Blue Screen of Death for the last few days so he’d been unable to respond. All good now. He was on it.

My heart-rate returned to normal levels. I won’t say it reassured me to learn my formatter’s laptop had suffered the blue screen of death—it seemed like BSOD peaked around Windows 95, right?—but I felt I was finally on my way to having the twist fixed.

His ETA to turn around the file was a couple days—at the very latest, he said—which by my math meant Friday night or earlier. No problem. My daughters were competing in their Michigan state gymnastics meet Saturday. It was a three hour drive, which meant we’d have to leave at 10:30 or 11:00 for my youngest to be on time for her 2:00 meet. As long as I had my new format file in to IngramSparks before the meet (we had to stay overnight; it might’ve been Monday before I could use a computer again), I would be able to pay for premium shipping and get the bloggers their books in an acceptable time-frame.

Naturally, The Formatter got me the files Saturday morning.

It was fairly early Saturday, though, and I figured I could make it. I moused through the file just to confirm everything was perfect…which it always is from The Formatter…except that this time, on the last change I’d submitted, there was an extra period.

You MUST be kidding.

I dashed off a note to The Formatter, explaining. I thought he might be able to zap the mistake and beam the file right back, but he wasn’t in reply-in-thirty-second mode.

I waited…and waited…and packed my daughters’ leotards and warm-ups and flip-flops for their meet…tracked down all the hair ties and arcane bun paraphernalia my wife uses to do their hair…(that’s very important, if you’re ever a gymnastics parent)…and waited…

It was 10:15. We had to hit the road or my daughter was going to miss her state meet.

Giving up on The Formatter, I decided I could probably delete a period without the whole PDF file collapsing to gobbledygook. I opened my freebie PDF editor, searched for that double period, backspaced over it, and saved.

The file looked fine.

Then I uploaded to IngramSparks, viewed the preview, accepted the preview, and ordered enough paperbacks for my antsy bloggers — on rush delivery, arriving as soon as possible. I’d be okay with advance readers. Barnes & Noble could order copies for my signing whenever they wanted—and receive the newer, less-obvious version.

Whew. I loaded up the car and off we went. I hadn’t forgotten the leotards, the bun supplies, or either of the girls’ special hair ribbons. Traffic was light. My daughter had a great meet.

I did forget the overnight bag, though. We had to buy toothpaste and pajamas at some Target off the interstate.

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Deb Bollinger has no time for corporate training.BlackQuest 40 cover

Her company’s top engineer at just twenty-seven, Deb has blocked off her day for the one project she truly cares about: the launch of Carebnb, an app that finds spare beds for the homeless. When she’s told all employees must drop everything for some busywork exercise called Blackquest 40, it’s an easy no.

Trouble is, her bosses aren’t really asking.

Blackquest 40 is the mother of all corporate trainings. A near-impossible project to be completed in forty straight hours. No phones. No internet. Sleeping on cots. Nobody in, nobody out. Deb finds the whole setup creepy and authoritarian. When a Carebnb issue necessitates her leaving the office, she heads for the door. What’s the worst that could happen?

Armed commandos, HVAC-duct chases, a catastrophic master plan that gets darker by the hour — Blackquest 40 is a fresh take on the Die Hard formula, layering smart-drones and a modern heroine onto the classic action tale.

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Jeff BondAbout Jeff Bond

 

Jeff Bond is a Kansas native and graduate of Yale University. He lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters, and belongs to the International Thriller Writers association.

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#BookTour “BLACKQUEST 40” by Jeff Bond

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Synopsis:

Blackquest 40 by Jeff Bond

Deb Bollinger has no time for corporate training.

Her company’s top engineer at just twenty-seven, Deb has blocked off her day for the one project she truly cares about: the launch of Carebnb, an app that finds spare beds for the homeless. When she’s told all employees must drop everything for some busywork exercise called Blackquest 40, it’s an easy no.

Trouble is, her bosses aren’t really asking.

Blackquest 40 is the mother of all corporate trainings. A near-impossible project to be completed in forty straight hours. No phones. No internet. Sleeping on cots. Nobody in, nobody out. Deb finds the whole setup creepy and authoritarian. When a Carebnb issue necessitates her leaving the office, she heads for the door. What’s the worst that could happen?

Armed commandos, HVAC-duct chases, a catastrophic master plan that gets darker by the hour – Blackquest 40 is a fresh take on the Die Hard formula, layering smart-drones and a modern heroine onto the classic action tale.

Praise for Blackquest 40:

“Deb’s first-person narrative is brisk, gleefully snarky, and filled with indelible metaphors… A clever, spirited tale with a brainy, nimble heroine at the helm.”
~ Kirkus Review

“Bond weaves an entertaining story filled with deceit, robots, Russians, and tech entrepreneurs that all combine to give the reader a reason to flip pages furiously to find out what might happen next… BLACKQUEST 40 sparkles with imagination. Code flies from keyboards, setting off ingenious flying devices, hatching plots and subplots and, ultimately, giving heroes the chance to help the good guys win. This book is a delight, and one readers should download right away.”
~ IndieReader’s 5 star review

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Book Details:

Genre: Thriller

Published by: Jeff Bond books

Publication Date: May 15th, 2019

Number of Pages: 348

ISBN:9781732255227

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

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Read an excerpt:

I am in the middle of solving homelessness when my boss raps his knuckles on my cubicle border. I know it’s Paul – my eyes stay on the computer monitor, what with an intractable social ill hanging in the balance – by the timid tap… tap-tap pattern. Also the smell. Paul eats McDonald’s every morning for breakfast. He’s a Sausage McGriddle man.

“Deb, we’re heading up to the meeting – “

“Busy.” I squint around the San Francisco street map on-screen, mousing over a blinking dot labeled Wanda. She isn’t moving. None of them are moving.

Paul sighs. “We’re all busy. But it’s a Company-All, so if you – “

“Is it a Susan meeting?”

“No. It’s the kickoff for Blackquest 40.”

“Means nothing to me.” I click Wanda. Why aren’t they moving? Database problem?

Paul says the meeting invite should have explained everything. Blackquest 40 is a training exercise, mandatory for every employee in the company.

I look up and see that, indeed, he has the whole team in tow. Jared in his My Code Can’t Fix Your Stupid trucker hat. Minosh fingering his spiral-bound notebook, peeking at a clock. They are watching me – all 5’2″ if you count the platinum spikes, and a decade younger than them – like zoo visitors wondering if the glass is thick enough around this freak-colored poison frog.

“Susan hired me,” I say, invoking our rockstar CEO again. “Susan said I don’t have to participate in anything I don’t believe in.”

“Look, this project – “

“Is corporate training. High on my list of things to not believe in.”

With that, I pop over to the log file, which confirms my worst fear: the Carebnb database isn’t refreshing. The last GPS coordinates are from eight minutes ago, meaning Wanda and every other unhoused person on that map is misplaced.

Ugh.

The timing is brutal. Today is my launch, the day I am supposed to start demonstrating to all the venture capitalists not funding my side project that a little technology plus basic human decency can equal disruptive positive change.

Across the city, 137 unhoused San Franciscans are wearing 137 smart wristbands, produced at great expense by a local micro-manufacture co-op, in the hopes of connecting with a beta host. I signed up 344 hosts, but that number is dicey because many I bullied into joining. Some will have uninstalled the Carebnb app, not anticipating that I’ll soon be combing my list for chicken-outs and visiting their apartments to measure, then post on social media, just how many square feet of covered living space they waste nightly.

My brain races for solutions, but Paul’s voice and eau de McGriddle distract me. He’s explaining that Susan is out of pocket tying up loose ends in Davos, that Carter Kotanchek has the ball until –

“Okay Paul, honestly?” I click over to the T server, the probable source of my issue. “There is no combination of words or faux-words you can say that will get me off this workstation.”

“You’re the principal software architect, Deb,” he says. “We need you. I’m still in the dark myself, but I’m hearing Blackquest 40 is enormous.”

My mouth twists. “Getting colder.”

Paul hates managing me. I’m sure he goes home every night to Li Wei, his former-secretary-now-wife, and curses Susan for poaching me away from Google.

Now, as his eyes roam my workspace – hemp satchel, bin of droid Hot Wheels, Polarity of the Universe toggle currently set to Amoral, my toes in their sandals (he has a pervy thing for my feet) – his face drops another shade closer to dough.

He looks at my screen. “How much time are you spending on Carebnb?”

“Twenty-five percent, just like my contract says.” I manage to keep a straight face.

It’s a required Company-All. You don’t badge in, you lose network privileges. It would set you back.”

“You can void that.”

“I can.” Paul taps his ample jowls, thoughtfully paternal. “But I won’t.”

I’ve been working throughout our exchange, deciphering error messages, rebooting, tweaking this and that… nothing is helping.

I grit my teeth. Resetting my network privileges would be a big, sticky wad of red tape.

“Fine,” I say, “I’ll do the meeting. But I am still not participating in this Blockquest deal.”

“Blackquest.”

“Whatever.” I can bring my laptop and troubleshoot from the conference room. “Our queue is about ten miles long – whose bright idea was some lame time-suck training?”

Paul grimaces. “Carter is driving it.”

Carter Kotanchek, our chief financial officer, is warring with Paul about the makeup of the Codewise Solutions workforce. Paul favors programmers in keeping with our reputation as the leading machine-learning and optimization company on the planet.

Carter wants more salespeople and has a knack for finding third-party vendors who sport the same Gatsby slickback he does. Inexplicably, Carter is winning.

The engineers behind Paul knock in place like pens in a mug, waiting.

I flop my wrist toward the elevators. “Go, go – I’ll catch up. Two minutes.”

They go. Paul lowers his gaze in a final I know you will choose wisely appeal.

I focus on my screen with a wonderfully McGriddle-free breath, then try refreshing the database.

DENIED: CONNECTIVITY ERROR 612.

I rejigger a script and try again.

DENIED: CONNECTIVITY ERROR 612.

Same error every time.

This is infuriating. Have I been found out? I never officially informed Paul about routing Carebnb’s unhoused-person GPS data through T, Codewise’s least busy server. Did he shut me down without telling me? Coincidentally on my most important day of the year?

No way. Paul would write a huffy email or file a ticket. He won’t refill our departmental stash of teabags without paperwork.

My calendar bleeps. YOU HAVE NOT BADGED INTO BLACKQUEST 40 KICKOFF (ORGANIZER: CARTER K.); NETWORK PRIVILEGES WILL RESET IN 4 MINUTES.

I stand and grab my laptop, then remember it doesn’t have the software to access the T server. I won’t be able to troubleshoot during the meeting after all. I’ll be forced to sit there and eat an hour’s worth of corporate mumbo-jumbo.

“Raven!” I call over my shoulder.

My trusty solar-powered quadcopter perks up. She hums around to my sightline, her underside dome blipping green to indicate her attention.

“Attend meeting in conference room 6-A. Badge in. Watch, back row. Record.”

Raven processes each command using natural language algorithms I wrote in grad school, then lowers her claw – repurposed off a junked arcade game – to accept my keycard.

As the drone whispers up the hall, I feel a twinge of unease. She’s attended meetings in my stead before but never on a different floor. She will need to push a button, read a floor indicator, possibly accommodate human riders… logic I have given her but not thoroughly stress-tested. It’s asking a lot.

I work another five minutes without success.

Air blasts through my nostrils.

I need eyes on a live wristband.

I grab the phone and dial Cecil, my go-to trial user. Cecil has known me since I was a baby, when Mom would push me around in her cart, snuggled in among dumpster scraps and Styrofoam peanuts. Cecil walked me through the roughest part of the city every day of second grade, and taught me the nutcracker choke after a kid pushed a shiv through my septum in fifth.

“Lil Deb, yo,” he answers in a deep baritone.

“Cec! Hey Cec, I’m seeing weirdness on my end and I need to know if you – “

“How’s your mom?”

“Oh, she’s cool, I talked to the orderlies and – “

“They’re keeping her meds straight?”

“No no, yeah, it’s all good,” I say – Cecil is so unfailingly polite you have to move him along sometimes – “listen, what are you seeing with Carebnb? Is your wristband working?”

“Think so.”

“Green light?”

“Yep.”

“Map of available host beds showing up?”

“Yep.”

“How many hosts in range? My database wonked and I gotta know if the problem is local or if peer-to-peer transfers are broken too.”

A guttural breath over the line. “English, Deb. Regular English please.”

I grip the keyboard tray, slow myself down. “Could we possibly meet? I think I have to see the wristband myself to diagnose this. Sorry, I hate to inconvenience you.”

“I’m homeless. Where else I gotta go.”

“Right. How about our usual spot, say twenty minutes?”

Before he can respond, the call drops. Bzzzzzzzzzz.

I clench my jaw and redial.

NO SERVICE.

I stand and waggle my phone outside my cube, I walk to the window, I glare at the Verizon logo and telepathically threaten to hack their transceivers to mush if they don’t find me a signal.

Nada.

I plunk back down. I’m contemplating flipping my Polarity of the Universe toggle to Evil when a tinny sound announces the presence of a new window on my monitor: Raven’s livestream.

She made it up to the Blackquest kickoff meeting. Atta girl. I resize the window to span my entire screen and watch as the big conference room comes into focus.

The Company-All is underway. Carter Kotanchek stands at the podium in a dapper summer-weight suit. Raven’s camera won’t win any TechCrunch awards, but Carter’s teeth still gleam from the middle of a plastic grin.

“Like y’t’meet Jim Dawson,” he says, introducing a stone-faced man in chunky glasses. “Jim here runs Elite Development, the company that will be facilitating Blackquest 40. Guys are doing phenomenal stuff in a new space called Extreme Readiness. Helping organizations build capability to complete projects of extreme complexity, requiring extreme teamwork, on extreme deadlines. So far they’ve been working with high-leverage government agencies, paramilitary, et cetera. We, ladies and gents, are fortunate enough to be corporate client number one.”

Dawson, in a bland accent – Ohio? Indiana? – thanks Carter and says he’s pleased to be here today. Excited for our shared journey.

Gag. So not participating.

As my focus returns to Carebnb, I groan at the ceiling. I need to test a wristband, but if I can’t meet Cecil… hmm. I have a few spares lying around, but none are initialized.

I’m figuring how long initialization would take – and how true a read I’d get from a wristband not in the field – when I hear something that stops me cold.

“… campus quarantine and data blockade will remain in place for the duration of Blackquest 40. If you absolutely require outside contact, in case of emergency or vital family obligation, a protocol exists… “

Wait, data blockade? I rewind Raven’s feed and replay the last fifteen seconds. Elite Development, in the name of “improved focus and personal efficiency,” is collecting every cellphone in the building and blocking all inbound-outbound internet traffic.

I feel slight queasiness at the authoritarianism of the whole setup, but mostly relief. Because now I get it. These jerks shut down T. They killed my call. Probably they’re using some military-grade antenna to zap cellular signals, and a simple software block on the servers.

And that won’t stop me.

***

Excerpt from Blackquest 40 by Jeff Bond. Copyright © 2019 by Bond. Reproduced with permission from Bond. All rights reserved.

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Jeff BondAuthor Bio:

Jeff Bond is a Kansas native and graduate of Yale University. He lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters, and belongs to the International Thriller Writers association.

 

Catch Up With Jeff Bond On:
jeffbondbooks.com | BookBub | Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Jeff Bond. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on May 13, 2019 and runs through July 15, 2019. Void where prohibited.

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