Friday, February 3, 2017

SNEAK PEEK - The Monet Murders

I should be on Catalina Island right about now, kicking back with the sibs and enjoying our annual beach get-away. So I thought today's blog might as well be a snippet from the current work in progress THE MONET MURDERS.


I'm hoping to have the book out at the end of February, but that's a bit tricky for a number of reasons. On the other hand, postponing until March is a bit tricky too because that's when FAIR CHANCE comes out.


So we'll work out the details later. Here's the very (very) unedited rough draft of the first chapter. It may or may not already be listed for preorders on Amazon. It's certainly listed everywhere else.


And yes, it's a full-length novel. 68Kish.




Chapter One


 


 


“Emerson Harley understood that the threat was not simply to the greatest cultural and artistic achievements of all time, the fascist forces of World War Two threatened civilization itself.”


The speeches had started when his cell phone began to vibrate.


Jason had arrived late and was standing near the back of the sizeable audience crowding into the wide entrance hall of the California History Museum of Beverly Hills, but even so he felt the disapproval radiating from that chunk of prime real estate at the front of the room, the holdings currently occupied by the West family--his family. How the hell they could possibly know he was even present, let alone failing to live up to famille expectation was a mystery, but after thirty-three years he was used to it.


Surreptitiously, he pulled his cell out for a quick look at the caller, and felt a leap of pleasure. Sam.


Even so, he nearly shelved the call. Not that he didn’t look forward to talking to Sam--God knows, it was a rare enough occurrence these days--but the dedication of a museum wing to your grandfather did kind of take precedence. Should, anyway.


Some instinct made him click accept. He smiled in apology, edging his way through the crowd of black ties and evening dresses, stepping into the Ancient Americas room with its collection of pre-Columbian art and ceramics.


“Hey.” Jason kept his voice down. Even so that “hey” seemed to whisper up and down the row of stony Olmec faces. It would be hard, maybe impossible, to put a collection together like this now days. Not only were artifacts of enormous cultural significance disappearing into private collections at a breathtaking rate, Native American activists often--and maybe rightly--blocked the excavation and analysis of human remains and artifacts as desecration of sacred space.


“Hey,” Sam said crisply. “You’re about to get called out to a crime scene. Homicide.”


“Okay.” This was a little weird. How would Sam Kennedy, chief of one of the Behavioral Analysis Units at Quantico, know that? And why would he bother to inform Jason?


 “I can’t talk.” Sam was still brusque, still speaking quietly, as though afraid of being overheard. That in itself was interesting. Not like Sam had ever given a damn about what anyone thought about anything. “I just wanted you to have a head’s up. I’m on scene as well.”


Jason’s heart gave another of those disconcerting jumps. Finally. Same corner of the crime fighting universe at the same time. It had been…what? Massachusetts had been June and it was now February. Eight months. Almost a year. It felt like a year.


“Got it.” Jason was equally curt. Because he did get it. Sam was in a different league now. When they’d met, Sam had been under a cloud, his career on the line. Now his reputation was restored and his standing was pretty much unassailable. Jason, by contrast, was a lowly field agent with the Art Crimes Team. And though the Bureau did not have an official non-frat policy, discretion was part of the job description. Right there with Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity.


His phone alerted him to another incoming call, but Sam spoke before he could.


“See you here.” Sam disconnected.


Jason automatically clicked the incoming call. “West.”


A cool, cultured voice said, “Agent West, this is ADC Ritchie.”


After an astonished beat, he said politely, “Ma’am?” Like a phone call from the Assistant Director in Charge was a usual thing.


“I’m sorry to call you out on this very special evening, but we have a situation that could benefit from your particular expertise. ”


Jason said blankly, “Of course.”


This kind of call--not that he had so many of this kind of call--typically came from Special Agent in Charge George Potts, his immediate boss at the very large and very powerful Los Angeles field office.


“We have a dead foreign national on--or, more exactly, under--Santa Monica pier. It turns out he’s a buyer for the Nacht Galerie in Berlin. Gil Hickok at LAPD is requesting our support. Also…” ADC Ritchie’s tone changed indefinably. “BAU Chief Sam Kennedy seems to feel your participation in this investigation would be particularly helpful.”


Translation: the ADC was as bewildered as Jason. Why the hell would the BAU be involved in the investigation into the homicide of a German national--let alone requisition manpower from the local field office’s Art Crimes Team?


Except…Detective Gil Hickok didn’t just head LAPD’s Art Theft Detail. He was basically the art cop for most of Southern California and had been for the last twenty years. Smaller forces like Santa Monica PD didn’t keep their own art experts on the payroll, they relied on LAPD’s resources. LAPD’s two man Art Theft Detail was the only such full-time municipal law enforcement unit in the United States. If Gil was requesting Jason’s assistance there was a good reason--beyond the fact that a murdered buyer from one of Germany’s leading art galleries would naturally be of interest to Jason.


Jason’s interest was now fully engaged and he was eager to get on site--and that had zero to do with the fact that Sam would be there.


He impatiently heard out Ritchie, who really had little to add beyond the initial information, and said, “I’m on my way.”


Clicking off, he stepped into the arched doorway, scanning the crowd. All eyes were fastened on the short, stout man behind the lectern positioned at the front of the new hall, trying to cope with the piercing bursts of mic feedback punctuating his speech.


“In March 1945 Harley was named Deputy Chief of the MFAA Section under British Monuments Man Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb. Stationed at SHAEF headquarters at Versailles and later in Frankfurt, Harley and Webb coordinated the operations of Monuments Men in the field as well as managing submitted field reports and planning future MFAA operations. Harley traveled extensively and at great personal peril across the American Zone of Occupation in pursuit of looted works of art and cultural objects.”


Correction. Not all eyes were fastened on museum curator Edward Howie. Jason’s sister Sophie was watching for him.


Sophie, tall, dark and elegant in a dark green Vera Wang halter gown, was married to Republican Congressman Clark Vincent, also in attendance. Clark tried to be in attendance anywhere the press might be. Sophie was the middle kid, but if she suffered from middle child syndrome it had manifested itself in rigorous overachievement and a general bossiness of anyone in her realm. She had seven years on Jason and considered him her pet project.  


Jason held his phone up and shook his head, his expression that blend of apology and resolve all LEO perfected for such occasions. There were always a lot of such occasions. That was another part of the job description.


Sophie, who moonlighted as the family enforcer, expressed her displeasure through her eyebrows. She paid a lot of money for those brows and they served her well. Right now they were looking Joan Crawfordish.


Jason tried to work a little more abject into his silent apology--he was, in fact, sincerely sorry to miss the dedication, but if anyone would have understood it was Grandpa Harley--and Sophie shook her head in disapproval and disappointment. But there was also resignation, and Jason took that as permission for take off.


He jetted.  


* * * * *


It took a fucking forever to find a place to park.


That was something they didn’t ever show on TV or the movies: the detective having to park a mile away and hike to his crime scene. But that happened.


Especially when you were last man on the scene.


Santa Monica on a Saturday night--even in February--was a busy place. The 100 year old landmark pier was bustling with fun seekers, street vendors and performance artists--even a few fishermen. As Jason reached the bottom of Colorado Avenue he could see the glittering multi-colored Ferris wheel churning leisurely through the heavy purple and pewter clouds. Little cars whizzed up and down the twinkling yellow loops of the rollercoaster.


The Pier deck was filled and the lower lots barricaded by black and whites, their blue and red LED lights flashing in the night like sinister amusement park rides. Jason had to park south of the pier and hike back along the mostly empty beach. Up ahead he could see uniformed officers and crime scene technicians moving around beneath the crooked black silhouette of the pier. Small clutches of people stood short distances from each other, watching.


He reached the crime scene tape fluttering in the breeze, flashed his tin and got a few surprised looks from the unis, but that probably had more to do with his formal dress--he hadn’t had a chance to do more than grab his backup piece and replace his tux with his vest--than the Bureau being on the scene.


“The party’s over there,” an officer informed him, holding up the yellow and black ribbon.


“Can’t wait for the buffet,” Jason muttered, ducking under the tape. His shoes sunk into the soft, pale sand.


The neon lights of the pier and the glittering solar panels of the Ferris wheel lit the way across the beach. From the arcade overhead drifted the sound of shouts--happy shouts--music and games. He could hear the jaunty tunes of the carousel and the screams of people riding the rollercoaster. And beneath the pier he could see the flicker of flashlight beams and the flash of cameras.


This time of year the tide would be surging back in around eleven thirty, so the forensics team would have to move fast.


As he drew nearer he became self-consciously aware of a tall blond figure in a blue windbreak with gold FBI letters across his wide back.


And he somehow knew--though Sam was not looking his way, had his back to Jason--that Sam was aware he was on approach.


How did that work? Extrasexually perception?


Anyway, it made a nice distraction from what was coming. Not that Jason was squeamish, but no one liked homicide scenes. It was the part that came after--the puzzle, the challenge, the race to stop the unsub from striking again--that he liked. Even welcomed.


He reached the small circle silently observing the forensic specialists at work. Gil Hickok acknowledged him first.


He said, “Here’s West,” and Sam turned.


Even in the dark where he was more shadow than flesh and bone, Sam Kennedy made an imposing figure. It was something that went beyond his height or the width of his shoulders or that imperious, not-quite-handsome profile. Sheer force of personality. That was probably a lot of it.


“Agent West.” It was strange to hear Sam in person again after all those months of phone calls. His voice was deep and held a suggestion of his Wyoming boyhood. His expression was unreadable in the flickering light, but then Sam’s expression was usually unreadable, day or night.


Jason nodded hello. They might have been meeting for the first time. Well, no, because the first time they’d met, they’d disliked each other at first sight. So compared to that, this was downright cozy.


Hickok took in his black tie and patent leather kicks, drawling, “You didn’t have to dress up. It’s a casual wear homicide.”


He was in his late fifties. Portly, genial, and perpetually grizzled. He wore a rumpled raincoat, rain or shine, smelled like pipe tobacco, and collected corny jokes, which he delighted in sharing with bewildered suspects during interrogations. They’d worked together several times over the past year. Jason liked him.


“You can never be overdressed or overeducated,” he quoted.


“Says the overdressed, overeducated guy.” Hickok chuckled and shook hands with him.


Sam did not shake hands. Jason met his eyes, but again it was too dark to interpret that gleam. Hopefully there was nothing in his own expression either. He prided himself on his professionalism, and there was no greater test of professionalism than being able to keep your love life out of your work life.


Not that he and Sam were in love. It was hard to define what they were--and getting harder by the minute.


Hickok pointed out the homicide detectives who had caught the case. Diaz and Norquiss were already busy interviewing the clusters of potential witnesses, so Jason really was last to arrive.


“What have we got?” he asked. The real question was what am I doing here? But presumably that would be explained. His gaze went automatically to the victim. The combination of harsh lamp light and deep shade created a chiaroscuro effect around the sprawled figure.


He was about forty. Caucasian. A large man. Not fat, but soft. Doughy. His hair was blond and chin length, his eyes blue and protuberant. His mouth was slack with surprise. The combination of dramatic lighting and that particular expression were reminiscent of some of Goya’s works. People in Goya’s paintings so often wore that same look of shock as horrific events overtook them.


He wore jeans, tennis shoes and a sweatshirt that read I Heart Santa Monica.


There was a darker shadow beneath the victim’s head, but it wasn’t a lot of blood. He bore no obvious signs of having been shot or stabbed or strangled or bludgeoned.


But then if it was a simple case of homicide, Sam wouldn’t be here. Even though he traveled more than typical BAU chiefs--or agents--even he didn’t turn up at common crime scenes.


“Do you know him?” Sam asked.


“Me?” Jason glanced at him. “No.”


“You’ve never dealt with him in a professional context?”


“I’ve never dealt with him in any context. Who is he?”


Hickok said, “Donald Kerk. According to his passport he has dual American-German citizenship. He was the art buyer for Nacht Galerie in Berlin.”


The Nacht Galerie was known for its collection of street culture: paintings by hip young artists on the cusp of real fame, and avant garde photography. They specialized in light installation and graphic design. Not Jason’s area of expertise. Or interest.


“He still has his passport?”


“And his wallet, containing his hotel room key, so robbery doesn’t appear to have been a motive. Mr. Kerk wound up his visit to our fair city with what looks like an ice pick to the base of his skull.”


Yeowch.


“That’s not going to do much for tourism.” Jason was looking at Sam. Waiting for Sam to explain what made this a matter for FBI involvement, let alone for the ACT.


Sam started to speak, but paused as they were joined by Detectives Diaz and Norquiss.


Norquiss was a statuesque redhead. Her partner was big and burly with an impressive scar down the left side of his face.


“Oh goody. More feebs.” Norquiss looked Jason up and down. “To what do we owe this honor?”


Diaz said, “You could have waited till the wedding was over, Agent.”


Jason sighed. Hickok chuckled. “Now, now, kiddies. I invited the Bureau in.”


Why?” Norquiss demanded. “This is nothing that we’re not fully equipped to handle.”


Sam said, “There are indications Kerk’s homicide is connected to a case already under BAU investigation.”


“Oh for--!” Diaz cut the rest of it short. He exchanged looks with Norquiss who folded her arms in a not-too-subtle display of resistance. In most cases local law enforcement had to invite the Bureau into an investigation, but there were exceptions to the rule. This appeared to be one of them.


“Connected how?” Jason asked.


 It was Hickok who answered. “I want to get your opinion of something.”


The something turned out to be a 6x8 inch oil painting on canvas board.


“It was propped against the right side of the body,” Hickok informed him.


“Like a museum exhibit label?” Jason reached for his gloves. Of course, he wasn’t wearing gloves. Hadn’t expected to be called out to a crime scene that night.


“Use mine.” Sam peeled off his own latex gloves and handed them to Jason.


Jason pulled on the still warm plastic--an act which felt strangely intimate--and took the canvas board from Hickok, who flicked on his flashlight to better illume the painted surface.


He recognized the creative intent at once. How could he miss it? Those distinct brushstrokes and careful and strongly horizontal representation of the sky and sea so typical of the artist’s early efforts? The ocean and a shoreline that was probably supposed to be Sainte-Adresse, although it might as easily have been Catalina. Wherever it was supposed to be--and despite the distinctive signature in the lower right hand corner--it was a lousy effort and a lousy forgery.


Not even taking into account the macabre and incongruous central figure of the corpse floating in the surf. He felt a prickling at the nape of his neck at the image of that small, bloody form.


“It’s sure as hell not Monet,” Jason said.


“It’s his style,” Norquiss said.


“I think Monet would beg to differ.”


“Maybe it’s an early work,” Diaz suggested.


“No. It’s not even a good imitation,” Jason said. “This is not genius in the making. It’s fully formed ineptitude.”


Hickok laughed. “What did I tell you?” he asked Sam.

“You can’t know for sure without running tests. I don’t think it’s so terrible,” Norquiss said. She sounded defensive. Maybe she was a regular at garage sales. Had she really thought they’d discovered a genuine Monet at the crime scene?


Jason said, “For the sake of argument, why would Kerk be wandering around the beach carrying a priceless painting? And if this was a robbery gone bad, why would the unsub have then left a priceless painting at the scene?”


“Maybe robbery wasn’t the motive. Maybe the perp had no idea this was a priceless painting.”


 “That still doesn’t explain why Kerk would be casually carrying around a valuable piece of art.”


Norquiss retorted, “What makes no sense is that the perp would bother to stage the scene when this whole area is going to be underwater in about an hour.”


She had a point. The tide was already starting to swirl around the pilings.


“Maybe your perp isn’t familiar with the tides--”


“All right, never mind all that,” Sam cut in impatiently. “You don’t believe that Kerk purchased this work?” The question for Jason was clearly rhetorical. Sam already knew the answer.


“No way.” Jason glanced at Hickok.


“Hell no,” Hickok said. “That’s not a mistake even a rookie buyer would make. Sorry, guys,” he added to Norquiss and Diaz. “However this piece figures in, there’s no way an experienced art dealer purchased a forgery of this quality. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Kerk did not introduce the painting to the crime scene.”


It wasn’t really much of a limb if the painting had been propped next to the body, but having been shut up once, Jason kept the thought to himself.


Norquiss and Diaz exchanged frustrated looks. “Then what do we have here?” Norquiss asked. “What are we looking at?”


Sam said, “Best guess? The calling card of a serial killer.”

39 comments:

  1. Sam + Jason = <3

    I'm so looking forward to this one. Can't. Wait.

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  2. Looks like a great opening - can't wait! But I *do* hope we get lots and lots about Sam & Jason. Don't get me wrong: I like mystery element in all your series, but for me, it's all about the S&J relationship.

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    1. Yes. There will be plenty of Sam and Jason. At least, I hope so!

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  3. Such a great start :) Just to be contradictory, I can't wait either but since good things are worth it and and April is my birthday anyway, I'd just put a note here and on Goodreads to say it's delayed rather than working yourself into the ground. Also you have something like four audio books coming out in the next few months as well as Fair Chance, so you already have Feb and March more than covered.

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    1. Well, I'm actually really eager to get back to work on it. I love these characters and this story, so I don't think it will be delayed much. :-)

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  4. Great beginning! Thank you for the snippet.

    The mystery seems already...mysterious, but I'm totally with Georgie on this: I'm especially invested in the relationship.

    Enjoy your break, dear Josh!

    Antonella (trying once more to post here)

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    1. Hey, you managed to post! Blogger loves you again. :-D

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  5. Why would it be a problem to bring out this story around the same time as Fair Chance? That's like saying we can't bring out cream because we just had kippers. I ask you, what kind of sense is that?

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    1. I agree with Mr. Pinkerton :)

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    2. LOL Well, when you put it like that!

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  6. So far so good. I'm eager for the rest of it. I hope you are enjoying your vacation!

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    1. Thanks, Lori! It was too short, but really a wonderful break.

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  7. I can't wait! But by all my impatience, please get relaxing time,too. One week of free time is not overly much.

    It is always fascinating, that you have me on the hook after only a couple of sentences. Magic!

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    1. Such a wonderful, relaxing vacation! It was wonderful.

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  8. I was debating whether I wanted to read this preview or wait for the whole book, but the pull of Sam and Jason is too much.

    Definitely not a slow start to this book. Can't wait to read the rest!

    One thing had me giggling out loud - Sam knowing Jason was there with Extrasexually perception? Love that idea, especially from the stoic Sam. :D

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  9. Oh wow! How wonderful. I'm in love with this already!!! So many awesome things going on here! (And... Santa Monica! Squee!)

    By the way, I love, love, love your description on Hickok: "Portly, genial, and perpetually grizzled. He wore a rumpled raincoat, rain or shine, smelled like pipe tobacco, and collected corny jokes, which he delighted in sharing with bewildered suspects during interrogations." Ha! :-D

    I'm willing to wait for this as long as it takes. No need to hurry with it. It's clearly going to be worth the wait. :-)

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    1. I do hope so! It's really a pleasure to get back to these two.

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  10. Loved it!! I'm looking forward to read this one! I tried to resist but I couldn't and finally read the chapter :) And, by the way, I loved the reference to Goya there... Now I want to visit El Prado again.

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    1. I would so love to visit the Prado!

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    2. I know it's not the same, but you can take a virtual look at the collection here:
      https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection
      And if you have the opportunity I recommend to pay it a visit in person. I went there last year for the first time because I live a bit faraway from Madrid and I loved it! I'm a big fan of Velázquez and the feeling of seeing his paintings in person was incredible :)

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  11. l'm sort of stuck on the image of Jason in formal evening wear, on the beach... Bet I'm not alone, ahem, Sam ;-)

    Can't wait for this one, yet I can wait. It's gonna be worth it.

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  12. This is so good, thank you so much for the sneak peek. Glad I've preordered because I can't wait for this book!

    Love how you let us know even after the long separation, they remain hyper aware of each other.

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    Replies
    1. It's funny how that works, but it's real. We've all experienced it. :-D

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  13. Ah that was amazing I can't wait to read more about these guys! Especially as an art graduate myself , I 'm really excited!!! I honestly love your writing, even though it's all crime all your characters are different with their own problems and issues. I haven't read one single book of yours were I though "oups, deja vu". So a big thank you and I hope you continue writing for many years.

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  14. GHA!!!! I just can't wait! Don't want to pressure anyone but GHA!! The Mermaid Murders is my favourite book after Harry Potter so I am really delighted about this little Sneak Peek. Jason is so adorable even though he is an adult FBI guy and the fact that we have no idea what sam is thinking makes him so intriguing. Just can't get enough of them and the whole FBI-world you created. GHA!! (*Gha is an expression of my excitement and not an indication that I'm a seagull)

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    1. Having just left Catalina island I have great affection for seagulls. :-D

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    2. :D
      I daydreamed about The Monet Murders for like an eternity and have this funny scene in my head, where Elliot and Jason know each other because they were in rehab together and everytime they meet, they get drunk together and talk about Nurse Merrybottom and what a nightmare she was and Tucker, when he asks about details gets only gloomy looks of two men who behave like they survived a war together and 'boy you had to experience it to understand our pain' and he just shakes his head everytime and prevents them from stripping because at one point they want to compare their scars.
      And with every drink the number of attackers gets higher :D
      Ahhhh - i love your FBI Universe!

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    3. cosmo martini

      1 jigger vodka
      1/2 ounce orange liqueur
      1/2 ounce dry vermouth
      2 jiggers cranberry juice
      1 cup ice
      cranberries

      Combine vodka, orange liqueur, vermouth, cranberry juice, and ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously to chill. Pour into martini glasses, and serve. Garnish with cranberries.

      Your welcome :D

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