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Sunday, December 31, 2017

REVIEW: The Acolyte by Nick Cutter @thenickcutter @chizinepub

The Acolyte
by Nick Cutter
Chizine Publications

☠ AVAILABLE NOW ☠


Jonah Murtag is an Acolyte on the New Bethlehem police force. His job: eradicate all heretical religious faiths, their practitioners, and artefacts. Murtag's got problems - one of his partners is a zealot, and he's in love with the other one. Trouble at work, trouble at home. Murtag realizes that you can rob a citizenry of almost anything, but you can't take away its faith. When a string of bombings paralyzes the city, religious fanatics are initially suspected, but startling clues point to a far more ominous perpetrator. If Murtag doesn't get things sorted out, the Divine Council will dispatch The Quints, aka: Heaven's Own Bagmen. The clock is ticking towards doomsday for the Chosen of New Bethlehem. And Jonah Murtag's got another problem. The biggest and most worrisome... Jonah isn't a believer anymore.

My Review:



As an Acolyte, Jonah Murray's job is to eradicate all heretical religious faiths,etc... and while he's troubled in all aspects of his life, the biggest worry is that he no longer believes in the Prophet.  As someone who is not religious, I'm always fascinated by reads regarding religious fanaticism and blind faith.  It can seem extremely cult like with people using these beliefs and twisting them to suit their own selfish wants.  I couldn't even imagine living in a world where everything looks like one big cult.

If you've read Nick Cutter before, then you are already familiar with the way he is beautifully disgusting in his detail of the macabre.  He's especially talented in doing this with animals and children.  There's one scene in the first 100 pages regarding animals that made me cringe... and then smile. 😈  His ability to throw you right into the pages with these details is one of my favorite things about his writing.  There were even a couple of scenes that put me into an Enter the Void kind of mind... and if you've ever seen that movie, I think you'll know what I mean.

This book probably won't be for everyone, but I absolutely loved it.  The only reason I don't have this as 5 star review is that I wasn't as engaged with this one as I was with his other work.  Now that I've read everything under this pen name, I should probably now add his other work under his real name, Craig Davidson. 

★★★★

Saturday, December 30, 2017

REVIEW: Kill Creek by Scott Thomas @inkshares #scotthomas

Kill Creek
by Scott Thomas
Inkshares

👻 AVAILABLE NOW 👻

Thanks so much to Inkshares for this copy in return for my honest review!  



At the end of a dark prairie road, nearly forgotten in the Kansas countryside, lies the Finch House. For years it has perched empty, abandoned, and overgrown--but soon the door will be opened for the first time in many decades. But something waits, lurking in the shadows, anxious to meet its new guests.

When best-selling horror author Sam McGarver is invited to spend Halloween night in one of the country's most infamous haunted houses, he reluctantly agrees. At least he won't be alone; joining him are three other masters of the macabre, writers who have helped shape modern horror. But what begins as a simple publicity stunt soon becomes a fight for survival--the entity they have awakened will follow them, torment them, threatening to make them part of the bloody legacy of Kill Creek.

My Review:


Four horror writers, each unique in their writing style, are invited to do an interview.  Little did they realize that it would be in a house rumored to be haunted.  Hoping to increase their sales, they agree to stay the night.  Their host knows exactly what buttons to push to get the ratings he needs on his live feeds.  Each author has their inner demons and they come to haunt them one by one within the house.  They make it to morning and then leave the house and it's eerie ways.  It's what happens to them afterwards that propels them back into each other's lives... and back into that house.

I love me a good haunted house story if it's done well.  And this one definitely is.  The author does a great job of engaging you with each character.. their differences in writing style, personalities and what keeps them awake at night.  There were definitely some goosebumps and chills in various parts of the read.  The house not only came alive in the book, but in my mind as well.  

The only thing that keeps this from a 5 star rating for me is that ultimately it's your typical kind of haunted house kind of read.  A story that, while maybe slightly different, feels like one I've read before.  However, that does NOT take away with how beautiful of a job the author did with this story.  I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions, getting creeped out and how effortlessly he could become each of his characters and then go into THEIR writing styles.  Fascinating and absolutely impressive.  Will definitely be looking forward to more of this author's work.

★★★★


Thursday, December 28, 2017

SPOTLIGHT: Four African-American Romance E-Novellas!

Not quite ready for the holiday season? Take little, sexy steps with these four African American Romance E-Novellas…
E-Noelas!

EVERY NEW YEAR
Brenda L. Thomas
Pocket Star EBook
December 4, 2017
ISBN 9781501177538
76 pages
$.99

Enjoy the RT Book Reviews exclusive Hump Day excerpt (11/29/17) here!

About the book:
New Year’s Eve is the one night of the year when the line between old and new blurs, when fantasy can become reality, and every woman is given the opportunity to reinvent herself. But in Brenda L. Thomas’s novella, New Year’s Eve turns tragic when a shoot-out lands a respected doctor in the hospital with a bad case of amnesia—and in the care of a man too sexy to resist.

About the author:
Brenda L. Thomas is the national bestselling author of Threesome, Fourplay, The Velvet Rope, Every Woman's Got a Secret, Woman On Top, Secret Service and the deeply moving memoir of her 15-year struggle with domestic violence and drug addiction, Laying Down My Burdens. She has contributed short stories to the anthologies Four Degrees of Heat and Kiss the Year Goodbye. Brenda, a native of Philadelphia, is currently serving as Executive Producer of the movie adaptation of Laying Down My Burdens. Visit her website at BrendaLThomas.net.

WHATEVER IT TAKES
Tu-Shonda L. Whitaker
Pocket Star EBook
December 4, 2017
ISBN 9781501177545
90 pages
$.99

About the book:
India Parker has settled in with the idea that she will be alone. However, all of that changes when her girlfriend, Joan, ask for help catching her husband cheating on camera. When India goes to return the camera and she comes across pictures of Devin, Joan's 23-year-old son. He's not a boy anymore and he wants to prove to India that he's man enough for her. National bestselling author Tu-Shonda Whitaker sets the stage for an older-woman-younger-man relationship that will have you hoping love can find its way with humor and drama.

About the author:
Tu-Shonda L. Whitaker is the Essence bestselling author of Rich Girl Problems, Money Never Sleeps, Millionaire Wives ClubThe Ex Factor and Game Over. She is also a contributing writer to the anthologies: Cream and Kiss The Year Goodbye. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and their children. For more information on Tu-Shonda L. Whitaker, please visit here.

DANGEROUSLY IN LOVE
Crystal Lacey Winslow
Pocket Star EBook
December 4, 2017
ISBN 9781501177552
106 pages
$.99

About the book:
Jovie and London have a lot in common; both are single, creative and they've already spent the New Year together. Thanks to a broken heart and a lot of alcohol, London does not recall their first meeting. As London pursues Jovie, a quality woman who is worthy of so much more, he's quickly caught up in the essence of her uniqueness and soon finds it hard to stay away. Unfortunately, he meets Jada, her cocky, disrespectful identical twin, who appears hell bent on destroying their newfound relationship. Essence bestselling author Crystal Lacey Winslow pens a wild and sexy enovella with Dangerously In Love that will leave you thinking about love in a whole new way.

About the author:
Crystal Lacey Winslow is a publisher and the national bestselling author of Life, Love & LonelinessThe Criss CrossSex, Sin & Brooklyn,HistressTales of a Trainwreck Lifestyle, and the co-author of Four Degrees of HeatKiss the Year Goodbye, and Menace. For more information on Crystal Lacey Winslow, please visit here.

MY BOO
Daaimah S. Poole
Pocket Star EBook
December 4, 2017
ISBN 9781501177521
85 pages
$.99

About the book:
Gina seems to have it all: the job, her own house, her own car, and a boyfriend. The only problem is she's in Philly and Chris, her long distance boo lives in DC. They've been dating for a year and Gina is finding it harder and harder to come home to an empty bed. She and Chris just can find the time to be together. . . but Khalil, her best friend and roomate's ex, might be able to show her just what she's missing.

About the author:
Daaimah S. Poole wrote her first novel, Yo Yo Love, when she was nineteen, and it became an Essence bestseller. She is the author of two other novels, What's Real and Got a Man. Visit her website at daaimahspoole.com.

#allthebookreviews: Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar @cemeterydance @richardchizmar @stephenking

Gwendy's Button Box
by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar
Cemetary Dance Publications

🔲 AVAILABLE NOW ðŸ”²

You all saw my review for this last week - this was also an #allthebookreviews pick for December - see what Jessica had to say as well! 





The little town of Castle Rock, Maine has witnessed some strange events and unusual visitors over the years, but there is one story that has never been told... until now.

There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs. Every day in the summer of 1974 twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson has taken the stairs, which are held by strong (if time-rusted) iron bolts and zig-zag up the cliffside.

At the top of the stairs, Gwendy catches her breath and listens to the shouts of the kids on the playground. From a bit farther away comes the chink of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball as the Senior League kids practice for the Labor Day charity game.

One day, a stranger calls to Gwendy: "Hey, girl. Come on over here for a bit. We ought to palaver, you and me."

On a bench in the shade sits a man in black jeans, a black coat like for a suit, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top. On his head is a small neat black hat. The time will come when Gwendy has nightmares about that hat...



Jessica's Review:

Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar is a short story that brings us back to Castle Rock. There have been many instances where I've enjoyed some of his short stories more than some of his novels; I think there's something enjoyable about a quick, and many times terrifying, journey. This was no exception. I would definitely read more about Gwendy!

We follow Gwendy, a young girl about to enter into middle school who is just trying to find herself. One morning on her daily run up the Suicide Stairs, she encounters a man. Mr. Richard Farris calls her over to him, and gives to her a peculiar box. This box has 8 colored buttons on top and two leavers, one on each side. She is told that this box is now her responsibility. He explains to her what each colored button is and what both leavers do, then disappears. With great power, comes great responsibility, and equally great consequences. 

The box begins to take over all of her thoughts. She is constantly worried that someone will find it and push the buttons without knowing their consequences. This is a great story about how temptations pull at the mind, the will power to overcome it, and then constant wondering about whether or not Mr. Farris will return to reclaim the button box. 

I really enjoyed this short story. Gwendy was so relatable and likable. You connected with her right away and that connection stayed throughout. I did wonder after finishing, what would I have done with that button box?

I give this 5/5 stars!


My Review:

It takes a lot for a novella or short story to really WOW me.  I realize how difficult it is to put everything you want into a short story - or rather, as a reader, to get everything I want from one.  This isn't to say it can't be done because it most definitely can.. I just usually want MORE - and that's not necessary a bad thing!  Sometimes collaborations don't work well, but in this case I think that it did.



What I loved about this book is Gwendy.  King and Chizmar did well in her character development.  From the age of twelve, when she is first approached, to her as an adult and trying to stay away from the power that has been bestowed upon her.  

Imagine having a box where tiny chocolates seem to empower you with the ability to do no wrong and you have the power to destroy whatever you want at the push of... well, a button!  How strong would you be to not abuse this power?  

I enjoyed this book and read it in an hour.  A feat even for my fast reading eyes as I was completely engaged.  However, I felt like something was just ... missing...  I don't know if I just needed more or what.  Also, I felt the ending to be a little flat.  That was it? I feel like maybe I missed something here (and I did go back and read the ending again just in case but felt the same), which is the only reason I drop this to a four star rating.

★★★★

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

REVIEW: They Know Not What They Do by Jussi Valtonen @1worldnetwork

They Know Not What They Do
by Jussi Valtonen
One World Publications

🖳 AVAILABLE NOW 🖳

Big thank you to One World Publications for this copy in return for my honest opinion.


Joe Chayefski has got what he always wanted: a reputation as one of America's top neuroscientists, a beautiful wife and two perfect daughters. But his carefully created idyll is threatened when his lab is targeted by animal rights activists. The attack is followed by a phone call from Joe's ex-wife in Finland. Two decades have passed since he abandoned Alina and their young son, Samuel, returning to America to advance his career. Now Samuel is somewhere in the States, and Alina fears he is looking for revenge. As Joe struggles to protect his new family from the increasing threat of violence - and to save his eldest daughter from the clutches of an unscrupulous tech company - he is forced to reconsider his priorities and take drastic action to save those he loves.

My Review:


First let me say that for some reason I think a vast majority of readers were expecting this to be a thriller type of read.  However, if you look at the synopsis, you realize that it's NOT.  This is a contemporary fiction piece.  For those expecting the former and getting the latter, I think it will sway reviews.  That being said, let's continue on to what I thought as I was one of the former who then changed my expectations based on the blurb once I read it again.

I absolutely adore a good contemporary piece of fiction.  What the author does well is building each of the characters.  We get an in-depth look into these character's minds.  The writing style is beautifully executed and how well the author takes this complex and multi-layered story is a testament to winning the Finlandia Prize! 

I did think there was a bit TOO much going on sometimes and would find myself becoming disinterested in certain areas of the book.  While I can appreciate the detailing and back stories that were integrated, sometimes it became a bit much to keep my full attention.

This is one of those books where I truly want to love it because I can appreciate all the finer things the book brings to the table.  However, it did move a little too slow for me in certain areas and I found my interest waning.  What did work is the beautiful way the story is told - the back and forth in Joe and Alina's relationships, their son, Samuel and his perspective.  

It's interesting how we live our life through just our own perspective.  If you put three people in the same situation that they are experiencing together, they will tell you three different stories on what actually happened because of how they viewed that experience through their own eyes.  Sometimes you really need to pay attention to how others can perceive your actions and words.

If you want an atmospheric, tech-savvy, domestic drama type of read, then this winner will work for you!

★★★

SPOTLIGHT: Gun Kiss by Khaled Talib @khaledtalib

Gun Kiss
by Khaled Talib
Imajin Books

👄 AVAILABLE NOW 👄

Hey all!  Come check out Khaled Talib's new thriller, GUN KISS!  An action thriller that will keep you on your heels!  Continue below for a synopsis, About the Author, Q&A (he has a cat named Fufu and has seen a great white shark!!) and an excerpt you can read before before you buy 😉.



Synopsis:

A stolen piece of history, an abducted actress and international intrigue…

When the Deringer pistol that shot Abraham Lincoln is stolen and ends up in the hands of a Russian military general, covert agent Blake Deco is tasked by the FBI to head to the Balkans to recover the historical weapon. Meanwhile, the United States media is abuzz with news of the mysterious disappearance of Hollywood movie star, Goldie St. Helen.

After Blake’s return from overseas, he receives a tip from a Mexican friend that a drug lord, obsessed with the beautiful actress, is holding her captive in Tijuana. With the help of a reluctant army friend, Blake mounts a daring rescue. What he doesn’t expect is to have feelings for Goldie—or that a killer is hunting them.

Purchase here: 

Amazon universal link:  http://getbook.at/GunKiss (Christmas Sale till 7, January: $1.99) 
_________________________________________________________________________________

The cabin door flung open, banging against the wall. Three assailants rushed in and began firing. More bodies fell as the projectiles chipped splinters from the wooden walls.

Blake fired back. He made every bullet count as he depleted the magazine. One of the assailants dropped forward, while the other two staggered backward and collapsed outside.

Blake fed a new magazine into the Ruger then crawled to the cabin's door and slammed it shut before rolling to the corner. From across the cabin, he checked survivors: only him and Goldie. He breathed slowly, trying to work past the tightening knot in his chest…

GUN KISS is a high-octane thriller that begins in the prologue as a Lincoln re-enactment event in Washington, D.C. and results in a hostage being taken and a bomber intent on thievery. The story heats up as a missing Deringer from The Ford Theatre Museum triggers a series of escapades and encounters around the world by disparate individuals, each with their own hidden agenda.  There is also a fierce battle against drug lords and a red-hot romance with a Hollywood starlet.

Singapore-born Khaled Talib’s third novel is a departure from his earlier two novels – Smokescreen and Incognito – which has been described as political thrillers, GUN KISS is more genre bender with intrigues and counter intrigues played out against a backdrop of the war on drugs.

The book has already won high praises from leading international authors like Jon Land, USA Today bestselling author of The Rising. Land who has written 25 novels, said: “Gun Kiss is a whip smart thriller that brings to mind Don Winslow's masterful work that includes, most recently, THE FORCE.  Khaled Talib rockets to the top of the pop culture pack with a tale in which every page is chockfull of angst-riddled action and searing suspense.” 

Gayle Lynds, co-founder of the International Thriller Writers and New York Times bestselling author of The Assassins, also praised Khaled for his work. “Gun Kiss by Khaled Talib is a terrific adventure involving the FBI, drug lords, movie stars, and Russian generals.  Grab your copy, drop into your favorite reading chair, and prepare yourself for breathless suspense.” 

GUN KISS introduces protagonist Blake Deco, a former Delta Force soldier who now runs a taco restaurant in Sunset Boulevard.

Khaled took just six months to complete GUN KISS as he himself got caught up in Blake Deco’s adventure. “Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have been able to write an 80,000-word novel in such a short time. My first two novels took me a few years to complete. With GUN KISS, I was as supercharged as the book’s main character. I worked on the story every single day.  The characters, the locations, the dialogue and action had me on a high, so much so that I often had to remind myself to surface for air and food. I hope GUN KISS readers will get to feel the same high as I did and enjoy reading it as much as I did in writing the book.”


Khaled Talib is the author of two other thriller novels: Smokescreen and Incognito. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers and the Crime Writers Association. He is a former journalist turned public relations practitioner. To learn more about the author, please visit www.khaledtalibthriller.com The rights of the author’s first two novels are represented by The Evan Marshall Agency 

Follow him here:


Author Q&A
Would you like to start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started as a writer?

I was born in Singapore. I began my career as a staff writer for a weekly oil and gas newspaper before switching to a lifestyle magazine. I’ve worked for several magazines and ad agencies, and I also spent some years spent in Cairo, Egypt working for a current affairs magazine. When I returned to Singapore, I entered the world of public relations before staring my own agency. Journalism and press liaison work contributed slightly to my talent in fiction writing.  It taught me how to research and fact check.

Why do you write?

Answer: I’m simply responding to how my mind works. Instinct encourages me to tap my imagination. Why does an artist paint? Same thing. More importantly, I do it for the reader. Their happiness is my happiness. I love it when I get emails or tags on Facebook from readers saying how much they enjoyed reading my books.

Would you consider writing other genres like literature?

Answer:  Honestly, I have no idea what the future holds, but for now I enjoy writing novels that make people bite their finger nails and send a shiver up their spine.

Your latest thriller is about a Hollywood movie star who gets kidnapped by a drug lord. Where did you get the idea for such a story?

Answer: I knew what was going on in Hollywood before this Harvey Weinstein and the whole sexual harassment incident took place. You know, bits and pieces of news coming out from time to time. There was also the fan stalking. You read reports of how movie stars get harassed by deranged fans, so I thought this would be an interesting theme to work on.  Gun Kiss has a bit of everything, including pedophilia, especially after some actors and actresses brought it up. This is a thriller, written simply, but it features important and current issues that needs to be addressed strongly. I also raised concerns about racism as part of a subplot. I’m afraid this thing won’t go away, but at the same time, we shouldn’t turn the other cheek. On the light side, I included a cat in the story inspired by my own tuxedo cat, Fufu.

What are you interests apart from writing?

I dabble in photography and I like writing travel features. I’ve contributed to magazines, newspapers and online sites. I also enjoy watching foreign films from drama to thrillers. I also enjoy watching Hallmark Christmas movies. It’s very relaxing.

Tell us three surprising things about yourself.

I have a sweet tooth. I’ve seen a great white shark. I have guessed the names of three strangers and got all their names right. Explain that.

EXCERPT

The tall buildings around Washington, D.C.’s 10th Street overshadowed the historic Ford’s Theatre. Though the building had undergone refurbishment both inside and out, it still seemed slightly out of place in modern America. However, that didn’t stop the throngs of tourists visiting the building that June morning as wispy clouds threaded through the cerulean sky.

It was a crowded weekend day when Abraham Lincoln, in his overcoat, and two Union soldiers, their faces covered with bandanas, stepped out of the van. They meandered past the theater’s five historic doorways toward the modern glass entrance. Everyone assumed they were part of a promotion taking place at the museum. It was not uncommon to see park rangers and tour guides dressed in period costumes.

The man behind the Lincoln mask was Rick Walker—at least, that was the name he was currently going by. Highly educated, the thirty-six-year-old professional thief had a penchant for the fast life. If the assignment was a success today, he’d promised his girlfriend a nice holiday.
Two female park rangers stepped forward when Rick and his companions reached the front of the line.

“You have to get in line, sir. Also, you need to get tickets. Kindly remove the mask and bandanas before entering,” one of the park rangers said. 

“I do apologize, madam, but I’m in a bit of a hurry,” Rick said. “I don’t think I need a ticket, nor do I have to get in line given who I am.”

“That’s the only way you’re going to get in,” the park ranger said.

 “Well, if you insist, madam, and once again, please accept my apologies.” Rick bowed and tipped his hat, then extended a hand to the park ranger, who instinctively took it.

Rick grabbed her wrist tightly and locked it to his own with a steel cuff.

“What are you doing?” the park ranger yelled, trying to jerk her hand away.

“Getting acquainted,” Rick said.

The park ranger reached for the walkie-talkie strapped to her belt, but Rick snatched it away from her. Frantically, she turned to the other park ranger. “Get security!”

One of the two Union soldiers dropped his prop rifle and grabbed the other park ranger’s hand, then cuffed her wrist to his own. He pulled out a real gun tucked under his waistband and aimed it at her.

Rick unbuttoned the jacket of his three-piece suit and brandished the bomb strapped to his chest.

 “Bomb! Bomb!” a young teenager in the line shrieked.

Pandemonium broke out as the screams of panic amplified. People ran in every direction. Those who moved slowly were slammed aside, or knocked over.

Rick pulled the ranger cuffed to him aside. “We’re going downstairs, and we’re going to take the Deringer. Obey your president,” he said in a hollow voice.

“Yes, sir,” the park ranger said as beads of sweat formed on her forehead.

They descended by elevator and emptied into an interactive museum. The wealth of history in the dimly lit space featured original artifacts in glass showcases, furniture, statues, murals, and narrative devices. The visitors already in the museum scattered wildly at the sight of a man in a Lincoln mask displaying a bomb strapped to his chest, a park ranger cuffed to his wrist.

“Show’s over, folks,” Rick yelled. “Go!”

The park ranger guided her captors to a section in the museum where the Deringer floated in an oblong glass case capped at both ends with wood. A mural behind it depicted John Wilkes Booth firing a single shot at Abraham Lincoln as he sat in the theater box.

The Union soldier not cuffed to a park ranger took out a glasscutter from his coat pocket and began to cut a circle in the glass. When it popped free, he inserted his hand inside and yanked out the Deringer.

“We’re going to take you with us. Don’t give me trouble. If you behave, you’ll be back home in time for dinner with the family,” Rick said, dragging the park ranger closer to him. “Understand?”

The park ranger nodded once, nervously.

 “Excellent,” Rick said.

They exited through the theater’s main door and stepped out into the empty street. The crowd had dispersed. Some had regrouped tensely a few hundred meters away at both ends. “Cheer up—it’s going to be a fun day,” Rick said, walking toward the van.

 The park ranger with Rick raised her voice. “Please, please, let us go. I don’t want to die.”

“Well, behave and everything will be fine.”  He opened the side, forced her in and jumped in after her. He shut the door after the accomplice had climbed in with the second park ranger. 

The van began to move off.

“Hallelujah!” Rick yelled in excitement behind the mask as he sat at the back of the van.  He removed the cuff from his wrist and secured the park ranger onto a railing.

“We’ll be arriving in five,” the driver said after a few blocks. “You know what to do.”

“I sure do,” Rick said as he removed the bomb strapped to his chest. Still wearing the mask, he looked at the hostages. “Don’t worry about the bomb, it’s fake.”

He unhooked a tote bag from the wall and began removing the contents. Facing away from the hostages, he removed the Lincoln mask and slipped into casual attire. He hid his face by putting on a red baseball cap and a pair of dark shades then stuffed the costume into the bag and swung it over his shoulder.

Rick looked again at the park rangers. “Look on the bright side—now you get to tell visitors a different story at the museum.”

The Union soldier in the back with him handed over the Deringer, which Rick slipped into the bag.
The driver slowed down and stopped behind a parked car.

“All good outside?” Rick asked.

“Yeah…all good. I parked a few cars behind us,” the driver replied, looking at the side mirror.
“Okay. Nice doing business with you guys.” Rick pulled open a trapdoor in the center of the floorboard, slid out, and slithered under the parked car in front of the van.

The van pulled away from the curb and sped down the street. After a minute, Rick rolled onto the road, got up, and walked toward the park at Judiciary Square on the Red Line and descended into the Metro.

A day later, Rick sat at a café with his eyes glued to the screen of a laptop, drinking a hot latte with his back against the wall. He scanned the faces of everyone who entered. Though he wasn’t expecting trouble, he remained vigilant.

“Is it in yet?” the tall blonde sitting across from him asked.

He scratched the roughness of his stubble as he continued to stare at the screen. “Not yet.”

Moments later, the figures on his account changed. A new deposit had been registered: ten million dollars.

Rick lifted his eyes. “Darling.”

“Yeah?”

“Remember, we’re in a public place, so don’t scream.”

She leaned forward. “It’s in?”

Rick wriggled his eyebrows. “Pack your bags. We’re going on a holiday, as I promised.”