After an overseas assignment goes bad, all Rocky Bridges wants is out of the global security business. No more personal protection gigs. No more jaunts to third world countries. No more managing wayward contractors. But when her business partner is killed, Rocky must investigate her own company and clients.
Rocky’s no PI, but she’s always trusted her instincts. Knife-wielding mobsters, sexy insurance investigators, and a Russian-model turned business partner are all in a day’s work. Now her inner voice has developed a mind of its own, and she finds herself questioning her sanity as well as reality as she knows it. Rocky can’t trust those around her. But can she even trust herself?
The Mannequin Offensive is a fast-paced novel of mystery and suspense.
Release Day Sale. 99
It was just meat.
Sickly green tiles, slick with something I didn’t want to identify. A wall of cabinets with square, metallic doors. And on the autopsy table…just meat.
I adjusted my mask, adapted my breathing. My stomach flipped at the smell of ammonia and petroleum. By this point, I should have been used to the oil stink. Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, reeked of the stuff. It seeped from the ground, staining the sand, hanging heavy in the air. But surely I was imagining the odor here, in the morgue two stories below the city’s streets.
My scalp itched where my blonde hair had been shorn away. My brain throbbed, spun, and I recognized the signs of a potential faint. I relaxed my knees so I wouldn’t pass out and focused on his toes. Not his toes, I mentally corrected, its toes, the corpse’s toes, crooked from a lifetime in dress shoes.
It wasn’t Derek, not anymore. The man who, yesterday, had skipped out on a meeting with Azeri officials to drag me to see the burning gas fields was gone. He’d told me the fields had been holy to the Zoroastrians. Mystical. But he’d told me a lot of wild stories, about missing pirate ships and Vikings who’d made their way down to the Caspian.
“Who knows?” he’d said. “One might have been your ancestor. You look like a Valkyrie, tall and blond and powerful.”
“Viking pirates.” I’d rumpled my hair, scanning the low, brown hills for marauders, pickpockets, and corporate spies. “Sounds like a movie.” And I’d launched into a fantasy screenplay, complete with axe-play, wenches, and a traitorous Viking who’d doomed the expedition.
“They were wiped out by disease,” he’d said.
I’d snorted. “Non-fiction. Who needs it?”
The coroner cleared his throat.
I glanced across the table.
The coroner’s black eyes gleamed maliciously over his surgical mask. I was an intruder, my appearance in his morgue an insult to his professional standards.
“Are you all right?” They were the first English words he’d spoken, and they surprised me.
“I’m fine.” I shrugged. “It’s just meat.”
A sunburst of light glinted off the coroner’s scalpel, expanding, disorienting me.
He placed his fingers on the body’s clavicle.
Oh God, he’s going to cut him. My heart thundered. Meat, I told myself. Just meat.
Something grabbed my leg, and I jerked, woke up. My feet swung off the suede couch, and I swayed drunkenly, blinking.
My neighbor, Glenda, stepped hastily back and adjusted her lightweight green duster. A fit seventy-something, she favored flowy fabrics. Her lips moved, silent. Her white brows creased, and her mouth moved again. Glenda prodded the neat coil of white hair piled upon her head with a long finger.
Shaking my head, I tried to escape the remnants of the nightmare. I yanked the earplug from my right ear. “Sorry. What?”
Sun slanted through the sheer curtains, making rectangles on the burnt orange and blue oriental rug. My dog, Churro, panted on the bamboo floor next to Glenda, his black and white head tilted with concern. He was a dachshund-beagle mix. It was a mystery to me how two short-legged breeds had combined to create a svelte, mid-sized dog that looked like neither. But Churro, like me, was his own dog.
“I said, your phone’s been ringing off the hook.” Glenda raised a white brow. “I can hear it in my townhouse.”
I grimaced. My landline was intentionally loud. I checked my cell, lying on the glass coffee table. Dead. I tugged down the hem of my rumpled, white t-shirt. “What are you doing in here?”
She rested her hands on her narrow hips. “You gave me a key. Remember?”
I remembered. We’d exchanged keys when I’d first moved in. Glenda would water my plants when I was away, and I’d make sure that if Glenda died, her body would be found before being eaten by her cats. (Her words, not mine.) Since I traveled often and Glenda could only be eaten by her cats once, it had seemed a good deal at the time.
I squinted at my fireplace mantel, painted a butter-cream yellow, and the clock perched on it. Three o’clock. My gaze drifted upward to the painting of sunflowers. Happy thoughts. Think happy thoughts.
A garbled murmur turned my attention back to my neighbor. “Did you say something?” I asked.
“Sorry. I keep forgetting.” Glenda motioned toward my head, and my hand automatically rose to the shaved patch of skin above my left ear. Fine hair grew over the puckered scar. I’d tried parting my hair on the other side, covering it up. But it looked odd, and so I wore my blond hair in its usual long braid.
“I asked when you were planning on returning to work. This moping isn’t healthy.” Glenda’s lips pulled down, deepening the lines around her mouth, and I felt an unreasoning guilt.
“I’m not moping, and I’m not returning. I’m done.” I was done with the travel, done with the health hazards, done with the egos. Done, done, done.
Besides, a lifetime of new possibilities stretched before me. I could do anything. I could open a bar. I could open a bookstore. Or a bakery. Or a bookstore and bakery. I could even start something that didn’t start with the letter B. Lifetime of possibilities? There was an entire alphabet of possibilities.
“Done.” Glenda’s mouth pinched. “You’ve been sleeping all day, ignoring your responsibilities…”
“I’m on leave.”
“You’re too old for this.”
“Thanks.” Sheesh. She wasn’t my mom. Though she was old enough to be.
I stood, unpeeled the t-shirt from my back, and arched, feeling rather than hearing the crack. I was built like a German barmaid, able to carry six steins of beer in one hand, all curves and hidden muscle. It had been a useful physique in my role as security consultant. I rubbed my hands over cheeks splattered with freckles.
The dog pawed at my knee, whining.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I opened the glass door that looked over my fenced garden.
Churro bolted past.
“What will you do?” Glenda asked. For a moment, I thought I heard a hint of motherly concern in her voice.
But I was imagining it.
I watched Churro race in circles, ears flapping, ball in his mouth. He stopped before a New Zealand palm and dropped the tattered ball, cocking his head, as if waiting to play. He nosed the ball toward the plant.
I snorted and shook my head. I loved Churro but was under no illusions about his degree of smarts.
“Well?” Glenda asked.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to open a combo wine bar and bookstore.”
Glenda lowered her chin. “You can’t be serious.”
“It’ll be great,” I said, spinning the fantasy. “I’ll call it the Book Cellar. Get it?”
“What do you know about running a wine bar? You don’t even drink wine. You’re a beer drinker.”
“Yeah, but the Book Keller just doesn’t have the same punny ring.” I laid an earnest hand on my chest. “People buy books during the day and drinks at night. It’s an optimal use of the space.”
“What space? Have you already found a space?”
The phone jangled, and I flinched.
“I told you it was loud,” Glenda said.
I walked into the light-filled kitchen and picked up the phone. “Rocky here.”
Someone pounded on the black-painted front door.
I jerked my chin toward the door, covering the phone with my hand. “Would you mind?” I asked Glenda in a low voice.
My neighbor glided toward the door.
The voice on the phone cleared his throat. “It’s Hank.” He paused. “Rocky, you need to prepare yourself for some bad news.”
My breath hitched, and I leaned against the gray granite counter. I knew those words. I’d spoken those words. And there was no way to prepare for what came next.
The front door swung open, and Glenda stepped aside.
Two uniformed police officers walked in.
“Who?” My throat tightened.
“It’s Pete. He’s been killed.”
My brain stumbled, hit a wall. I pressed my palm into the edge of the granite counter, felt its coolness beneath my skin. The bastard couldn’t be dead. I hadn’t forgiven him yet. I tried to swallow, failed.
“Rocky?” Hank asked.
“How?” My voice was a croak.
“Knifed. They found his body in a parking lot this morning. Must have happened sometime late last night.”
I bowed my head and ran my palm over my hair. My scalp was damp with sweat. “What do you need?” I finally said.
“The police are looking to talk to you. Don’t say anything.”
“Why? I don’t know—”
Hank broke the connection.
I stared at the phone. I wasn’t in the habit of blabbing to cops. Over two decades of working in third world countries had taught me the authorities were not my friends. American cops were light years ahead of the thugs I’d dealt with overseas, but old habits died hard. More importantly, there was nothing I could tell the officers. I didn’t know anything.
It made no sense. Pete couldn’t be dead.
The uniformed police moved toward me, their broad faces grim.
I leaned against a cabinet.
I didn’t cry.
About the Author:
Kirsten Weiss worked overseas for nearly twenty years in the fringes of the former USSR, Africa, and South-east Asia. Her experiences abroad sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives.
Now based in San Mateo, CA, she writes genre-blending steampunk suspense, urban fantasy, and mystery, mixing her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem.
Kirsten has never met a dessert she didn’t like, and her guilty pleasures are watching Ghost Whisperer re-runs and drinking red wine. Sign up for her newsletter to get free updates on her latest work at: http://kirstenweiss.com
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