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About the author:
E. Jones is the author of Jennifer Morgan suspense series. He is a lawyer by trade, and he lives in Canada with his wife and son.
Here is a short sample from the book:
If my hand hadn’t twitched and knocked the teaspoon off the table, I wouldn’t have reached down to pick it up. The bullet aimed at my head would have hit its mark. I would have been dead before I dropped to the floor of the coffeehouse.
I guess it was meant to be that way.
Ten minutes earlier
I usually met my best friend and business partner Amber for our caffeine fix at H2O, an organic coffeehouse that also has a small “holistic to organic” breakfast menu. On Saturdays, we sit for a long lazy meal, which often consists of scrambled eggs and a fruit-and-vegetable smoothie. But today Amber couldn’t make it. She had sent me a brief, almost cryptic text message: Can’t make it, girl. Have fun, like I am.
I tried to think about Amber’s Friday night plan. I couldn’t remember if she had a date or was going to the jazz festival running this weekend. Amber’s schedule is very fluid, and I mostly hear about her escapades after they have taken place, when she calls me with excitement or in a fit of anger and desperation. And then I rush to pick up the pieces of her broken heart.
My head was throbbing and I massaged my temple as I waited in line along the counter. There were three customers in front of me. I dug a small mirror out of my purse and checked my reflection. The black bags under my eyes were the size of Santa’s sack. I hadn’t slept well for over a week. Nightmares and anxiety attacks. My mind kept playing and replaying the Blackwood episode. The tooth-and-nail escape from his house. His pistol aimed at my head.
The clerk’s voice pulled me out of my daydreaming. I put my mirror away, fixed my ponytail, and shuffled forward along with the line. I zipped my pink hoodie another couple of inches. It was quite chilly in the coffeehouse.
My phone vibrated with the arrival of a message. I fished it out of my front jeans pocket and glanced at the screen. I sighed in exasperation. It wasn’t from Amber, but from one of the weirdest clients we’ve ever had. Amber and I own a small ad agency, Creative Advertising. We set it up just after we graduated from Georgetown University. Oh, it’s been about ten years now. Man, time flies so fast when you’re making plans. We lost about half our clients and more than two-thirds of the agency’s revenue because of the economic downturn. And the Blackwood shooting didn’t help our agency’s reputation.
So Amber has been trying to find us freelance work. She put up a bunch of ads on job services websites, which haven’t turned up anything significant, but for a handful of false leads and a few nut jobs. Like the ones who had sent this message. A couple who wanted an ad for their puppy mill. We had checked out their website and followed up with a couple of phone calls. The couple gave me the heebie-jeebies, not only because of the gut feeling I got about their shady business, but also from their insistence and the way they talked. So we informed them we weren’t going to be able to provide our services. But they wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. And they’ve been badgering Amber and me over the last three days with endless calls, emails, and text messages.
I deleted the message without reading it. I sighed again, then switched to my email account. Nothing urgent that needed my attention this Saturday morning. So I put the phone away, hoping I could enjoy a quiet lazy breakfast. I was going back to my apartment afterwards to work on a new project I had undertaken, unrelated to our ad business. It was quite different, my first attempt at working as a private investigator.
The line moved forward again, and I caught a glimpse of Connie, the coffeehouse’s owner. She’s a sweet old lady, hailing from Canada, hence the white-and-red leather chairs and the elegant décor with the color scheme taken from their flag. Connie was pushing a small dolly loaded with bagels, croissants, cookies, and all sorts of other goodies. My mouth turned watery at the thought of enjoying a chocolate coconut cookie. Or two. I had already spent over an hour and a half at the gym, working on cardio, fat burning, and muscle building. I think I had earned my carbs for the day.
“Good morning, Jennifer,” Connie said in her usual loud and cheerful tone, which was the way she always greeted her loyal patrons. “How’s your Saturday, my dear?”
“Hi, Connie. It’s turning out to be a great day. Especially after I enjoy my breakfast. How about you—how are things today?”
“Perfect, my dear, things are perfect,” she gave me her usual reply. “Life is good.”
I loved Connie’s enthusiasm. Even on those days when the coffeehouse was empty and when I knew she was struggling, like most small business owners in these times, she always had a bright smile and a great optimism. It was contagious.
Connie asked, “See anything you like?” She began to place the goodie trays inside the glass counter.
I smiled back. “Oh, I like everything. The question is: which one should I have?”
“Which one or one of each?”
I laughed aloud. “Good one, Connie. Maybe a chocolate coconut cookie.”
“All right, dear. You decide and let me know.”
The line moved again. The last customer in front of me was a young man with long blond hair, a large tattoo of an eagle or some predator bird on his biceps, and holding a skateboard in his hand. I looked up at the beverages menu on the wall, paying particular attention to the specials on the right side. Connie ran what she called the “exotic flavor of the week.” This week, she was offering a Mount Elgon Gumutindo from Uganda. Medium roast with citrus notes. Yeah, that sounded like something I would like. So I decided to get a cup.
The door jingle rang behind me and announced the arrival of a new customer. A shiver zipped down my spine, and I didn’t dare to turn my head. The last time I did that, I saw a very good-looking man who turned out to have a very dark, evil soul. Blackwood, who kept tormenting me in my panic attacks and nightmares.
Connie greeted the customer who had just entered the store. By her voice, I could tell she was a young woman. I breathed easier and made my way to the clerk. I ordered my large coffee and breakfast, but not the cookie. Once the clerk had processed my payment, I left a tip, and took the filled cup. At the other counter, I put some Stevia sweetener drops and coconut milk in my cup, and found a table near the window.
As I waited for my breakfast, I stirred my cup slowly with a small plastic teaspoon, enjoying the coffee’s strong aroma. I took a small sip. It had a sweet, delicious taste, and I was glad I had ordered it.
I glanced out the window and looked at the stream of vehicles. The traffic was surprisingly light even for a Saturday morning on this side of Manhattan. A few passersby were strolling on the sidewalk, enjoying the cool morning, the fresh breeze, and the warm sunrays.
Then a slick black Mercedes-Benz glided around the corner. My heart almost stopped beating. It made no sense, and I knew my fear was irrational, but I still couldn’t stop myself from panicking. Blackwood used to drive a black Mercedes. But Blackwood was dead. Why am I allowing him to have so much control over me? C’mon, Jennifer. Pull it together. You’re a big girl. You can do this.
I shook my head and shrugged. Then I pulled out the phone again and scrolled through the numbers log. Faith Armenti, my psychologist. I had seen her a few times, right after the incident. Those sessions had been very helpful. I still needed to make a lot of progress in regaining self-control, shedding the feeling that Blackwood’s death was my fault, and in learning how to recognize anxiety triggers and control my reactions.
It’s time to book another session. I sighed. I had canceled the last one because of a work commitment, and Faith had canceled the one before that, since she was under the weather. Yes, maybe Wednesday will work.
I checked my schedule. Wednesday afternoon was open, either 2:00 or 3:00. I hoped one of those would work for Faith.
I dialed her number, then brought the phone to my ear. As it began to ring, I looked out the window. The Mercedes had stopped, but now began to move at a slow pace, slower than necessary, considering the light traffic.
My heart again skipped a beat.
My hand twitched, and I knocked the teaspoon off the table.
Thankfully, my other hand was able to catch the cup before it spilled all over me. I moved the cup further away, then leaned to pick up the spoon.
That’s when the first bullet shattered the large windowpane.
I dropped to my knees and rolled on my stomach. Bullets whizzed over my head as I crawled away from the windows. My vision was blurry, and I felt fragments of glass on my hair and neck. My hands were bleeding and my elbows hurt, as if cut by the sharp glass.
The long barrage of bullets continued. It shredded pretty much everything around me. I flattened myself to the floor, sliding, then rolling. I bumped into other chairs, then a table collapsed to my left. Other patrons were screaming, shouting, and scrambling to safety behind the counter.
I was a couple of feet away from the counter when the shooting stopped. I raised my head a few inches and cast a quick glance through the window. My teary eyes caught a split-second glimpse of the Mercedes just as it rounded the corner. The barrel of a rifle was sticking out of the side window.
I sighed and lay on the floor. I didn’t think I was hit; just my hands and elbows were scraped. My knees felt weak, and a jab of pain came from my right shoulder. Maybe I injured it when I hit the ground.
I listened to the sobbing and shouting. Then someone said, “I called 911. They’ll . . . they’ll be here soon.”
911. Yes, the police. James. Maybe my James will come here and make sense of this mess.