Collateral Damage (Annie Ogden Mysteries) Excerpt Tour
Today, I’m pleased to offer you something a little bit different.
A whole chapter of Collateral Damage, the third in a series of mystery novels by my bestselling author friend, Frederick Lee Brooke.
I’ve raved on about the first book in the series, Doing Max Vinyl, before if you want a bit of background. But what’s Collateral Damage about, I hear you ask. Well, there’s …
A love story.
When Annie Ogden’s ex-boyfriend Michael Garcia reappears, she has to confront a lie dating back to her time in Iraq. Will she go back to hot, passionate Michael, who has developed a disturbing interest in meth, or will she stick with her pudgy PI partner and fiancé, Salvatore?
The calculus changes when Michael is arrested for murder. When Salvatore refuses to help investigate, Annie is forced to try to find the killer herself. Meanwhile her sister’s creepy husband, Todd, is making more of an ass of himself than usual.
Annie’s problems with three obsessive men suddenly pale in significance when she realizes the killer has set his sights on her.
You can read the first 26 chapters of the book for FREE by following the excerpt tour (details below), or if you’re so enthralled by the first few chapters and can’t wait, you can also buy it for ONLY $0.99 (for a limited time only) at Amazon US or Amazon UK.
And as if that wasn’t enough, you can also …
Win a $25 Amazon gift card AND a signed paperback edition of any book by Frederick Lee Brooke!
To win, all you have to do is visit every blog on the 26-day Collateral Damage Excerpt Tour and leave a comment showing that you read the excerpt. That’s it! See the blog list and join the tour.
Catch up now if you missed the first few days.
Monday, June 24 – Shannon Mayer (Ch. 1)
Tuesday, June 25 – Scott Bury (Ch. 2)
Wednesday, June 26 – Raine Thomas (Ch. 3)
Thursday, June 27 – Emily Walker (Ch. 4)
Friday, June 28 – You’re here (Ch. 5)
Saturday, June 29 – Amberr Meadows (Ch. 6)
Sunday, June 30 – Anne Chaconas (Ch. 7)
Monday, July 1 – BestsellingReads (Ch. 8 )
Tuesday, July 2 – Tyler-Rose Neath (Ch. 9)
Wednesday, July 3 – Naomi Leadbeater (Ch. 10)
Thursday, July 4 – Mohana Rajakumar (Ch. 11)
Friday, July 5 – Martha Bourke (Ch. 12)
Saturday, July 6 – Marilou George (Ch. 13)
Sunday, July 7 – J.C. Martin (Ch. 14)
Monday, July 8 – Corinne O’Flynn (Ch. 15)
Tuesday, July 9 – Tawdra Kandle (Ch. 16)
Wednesday, July 10 – Helen Hanson (Ch. 17)
Thursday, July 11 – Connie M. Chyle (Ch. 18)
Friday, July 12 – Cyndi (Ch. 19)
Saturday, July 13 – Kenneth Hoss (Ch. 20)
Sunday, July 14 – Andrea Kurian (Ch. 21)
Monday, July 15 – Andy Holloman (Ch. 22)
Tuesday, July 16 – Marilyn Diekman (Ch. 23)
Wednesday, July 17 – Christine Nolfi (Ch. 24)
Thursday, July 18 – Jennifer Chase (Ch. 25)
Friday, July 19 – Patricia Sands (Ch. 26)
Now For The Excerpt – Chapter 5: Annie
“Very strange and intense and full of passion,” my sister said. Alison had majored in art history, but she’d also attended her share of English seminars in college. Bullshitting about poems was her idea of fun. “I like the way he uses texting language like u for ‘you’ and ur for ‘your.’ That makes it more hard-hitting.”
“Let me analyze this poem, Annie. I’m struck by the images of body parts. A lot of them so self-destructive, like writing your name in blood, stitching something to his gut, or a nailing his heart. Hurtful images. Like he’s been hurting himself.”
I looked at Michael. It hurt me to think of him hurting himself. My vision blurred. And just like that, my arms came up and found their old hanging place around his neck. Michael hugged me back, hugged me tight, just like it used to be. He smelled different now, less smoky, and I wondered if he had stopped. We stayed hugging and all I could think was, Michael still loves me.
My sister let out a deep sigh. “Men will do crazy things for attention, Annie. You know it as well as I do.”
When neither of us answered, Alison went on. “Michael, aren’t you the one that once stood in front of a train till the very last second, with all your friends watching? And then dove out of the way with the train blasting its horn, and you had all the girls screaming and sobbing?”
Gently, Michael pulled away. “Annie told you about that?”
“She told me lots of stories. Do you still steal cars, or did the military get that out of your system?”
My sister had such a way with words.
“I was wondering if you would let me use your shower?” he said. “It’s been a couple of days, actually.”
Alison looked surprised, but she got up without a word and beckoned him to follow. When she came back, she was shaking her head. She bent low and looked me in the eye. From the other room I heard the shower running. For a second I allowed myself to imagine Michael’s body under the streams. His arms were thinner, but still…all the showers we took together…
“I hope you’re not going to abandon your teddy bear just because some complete lunatic you used to know shows up.”
“Not in a million years,” I said.
“You don’t owe him anything,” Alison said.
“I know. Don’t worry.”
“Is that a promise?” The question came with my sister’s famous cocked eyebrow.
“Of course. Do you think I’m stupid?”
“I didn’t like the look of that hug.”
“That was meaningless,” I said. As I said it I felt the anger flare in me again. Smashing into me on my morning jog…breaking into my sister’s apartment…the things that had happened almost two years ago. “Believe me, it was nothing. Just a spontaneous reaction to his poem.”
“What are you going to tell Salvatore?” Alison was determined to make the most of Michael’s absence.
“What’s the big deal? My ex shows up. He goes home again, end of story. Salvatore has skeletons in his closet too, you know. Who doesn’t?”
“Don’t mess that up, Annie. He treats you better than you deserve.”
“Like you’re some kind of expert?”
“I never told you about this,” Alison said then. She hesitated, choosing her words. “You know, that business about Michael being dead or not dead, it made me remember something. I used to tell myself you were going to die over there.”
“What do you mean?” Alison had the strangest look on her face. She looked calm and serene, the lines around her mouth almost disappearing.
“I used to talk to myself, like coach myself. I used to say things like, ‘She’s probably already dead. You just haven’t heard the news yet.’ I used to go through these whole long dialogues with myself.”
“But why? I don’t understand.” It sounded a little strange.
“I was so sure something had to happen to you, I constantly had to walk myself through it just to live with my own fear.”
“You mean just once?”
“More like every night before bed, Annie. It’s the only way I could get any sleep. Todd thought I was nuts.”
“I never knew.”
“Well, it worked, didn’t it?”
“You mean because I survived?”
“I had my system.” Alison’s eyes filled with tears. She leaned forward and we hugged again. “Annie, I was so afraid when you went over there. All the time you were there.”
For once, I was totally at a loss for words. I’d had no idea that my sister had gone through such anguish over me. She’d never told me this. It was a completely new side of her that I hadn’t known existed. I held her while she sobbed.
Once, when we were young, I think I was seven and she was nine, Alison stole a pack of gum in the grocery store. We were in the checkout line. While we were bringing the groceries in, the gum fell out of her pocket and our mother saw it. Our mother never bought us gum or candy.
After two or three questions she managed to squeeze a confession out of Alison, whose face had gone deep red. Our mother said she would have to tell our father what happened, and then he would bring Alison to the store on Saturday to talk to the manager.
I remembered the feeling of dread I had all that evening. I was sure Alison was going to go to prison, and then she would be gone forever, and then I would be all alone. The fear of her being gone permeated every muscle in my seven-year-old body, paralyzing me.
“I never realized what you went through. Even though that was kind of paranoid,” I said when she’d recovered.
“It’s not paranoid when soldiers are getting killed and maimed over there. It’s a dangerous place, Annie. I prepared myself psychologically for being an only child. I’m just so glad you made it home.”
We were holding hands and still sniffling when Michael came out wearing the same clothes as before but fresh-scented. He had washed his hair. He had one hand on his stomach, like a beggar hinting at food. If he thought he was staying for lunch, he had another thing coming.
“Michael, I’m in a relationship. You know that, right?”
“Well, yeah,” he said.
“It’s nice to see you again, but I can’t come to your party. Say hello to everyone from me, okay?”
We were all standing. Michael stared at me from about twelve inches away. His hair was wet, his eyes shining. He wasn’t happy, he wasn’t angry, just thinking. Maybe he was reflecting about Iraq. Maybe he had seen my side for the first time. My sister broke the silence.
“We were just talking about you,” Alison said. “Up until half an hour ago, everyone but Annie thought you were dead. Annie never reckoned with you coming back, you know.”
“You can’t just smash into me on the street and stalk me all over town and expect me to run away with you.”
He looked at me for a few seconds, then burst out laughing. “I still can’t believe you told people I was dead.”
“It was about self-protection. I didn’t think it would hurt anybody, okay?”
“Who did you tell?”
I’d already been through this with Alison. I didn’t have much patience for Michael’s reaction.
“For your information, I told my fiancé about your attack. He wanted to take it to the police. Now I’m going to have to tell him it was you. He’s going to be pissed when he finds out that’s how you treat me. He’s a former cop himself, you know.”
“Show him the poem,” Michael said. “I’d like to know what he thinks.”
“Are you blind, Michael?” I held up the ring in front of his face. Now I could see the redness around his nose where I’d punched him. I felt a pang of sympathy. Where was that coming from? He’d smashed into me. He could’ve hurt me.
“It’s just an object,” Michael said. He put his hand on his heart. “I’m talking about what’s in here.”
I pushed him toward the door. “I’m in a committed relationship. I’m engaged.”
“Since this morning? What does committed mean? That’s not what your hug was saying.”
“I’m not a machine, Michael. I have feelings. I was happy to see you after so long. And surprised.”
“You belong with me.”
“This is pointless.”
“I’ll wait for you,” he said. “I waited this long. I can wait a year. I’ll wait till you and him are divorced. I could wait forever.”
We stood in front of the door, our eyes locked. We were actually talking. All I ever wanted when Michael walked away from me was to talk. And now he was talking about forever. He tossed those words around as if they were common everyday things people said. I could wait forever. Beautiful words that made my heart ache. I never knew he was a poet. It felt wonderful to be the object of such intense energy. Yet I had promised myself not to fall under his spell again. Never again.
“You don’t wait a single day, you jerk,” I said. “Once was enough. I went through hell with you.”
“All right, but first heaven, for a long time, then maybe a little spot of hell.” Michael always had an answer.
“Please leave.” I turned away and went back to my chair. Seeing that he hadn’t moved, I changed my mind and went back. Someone had to shove him out. I waved my finger. “Michael, you do not stalk me anymore or mess with me on the street. I’ll get a restraining order. I‘ll go to the police. Is that clear?”
With a lightning move, fast as a gang-member pulling a knife, he grabbed my hand, yanked me in close, and conquered my lips. I struggled against him, but he had me in his grip. I felt his electricity going through me, paralyzing and melting me. His tongue probed, and I let him in, just a fleeting moment. I didn’t want to. An image of Salvatore flashed in my mind, pain and grief written in his face. But I was powerless. I relinquished control. Michael’s tongue found mine. It was like an old language I still remembered. His eyes burned a path into my soul, he was looking at me, imploring me, melting my resolve. I pushed away, gasping.
“Michael Garcia, leave this instant. I don’t ever want to see you again.”
“Yeah, I got that.” Michael all goofy and silly now, king macho, chest out, moves for the door. “You have to come to the party, Annie. Everyone’ll be psyched. Not just me. It’s gonna be great.”
“We’re through. I’m not coming.” I closed the door gently in his face, gently but firmly, and locked it. The same lock that he could open at will. I listened for him going down, till I heard the stairs creak. I waited till he was one flight down, then leaned against the door and slid, noodle-like, to the floor.
Five hundred, twenty-three days, I thought, what is it about that number? I took too many math seminars. I can’t help it if my brain makes these associations. They come to me at odd moments. The significance suddenly occurred to me, like an email dropping in my inbox. Prime numbers. The one hundredth prime was 523. In itself it had no meaning, and yet…a coincidence like this, a number that was such a tremendous thing of beauty, in the canon of all numbers, prime numbers in themselves being exquisitely beautiful, and today being the one hundredth prime, a thing exponentially more beautiful than any ordinary prime, and this being the very day that Michael chose to reappear in my life bringing a love poem, after all my desperate pining and longing and refusal to give up all hope. Could it really, truly be meaningless?
My sister stood across the room, arms folded over her chest.
“You have come a long way, Annie. Sometimes you do amaze me.”
“You think so?”
“Girl, I am buying you lunch. You were so strong. That was so hard. I saw every bit. You deserve more than a reward. You’re up for sainthood.”
She took me to lunch, and afterwards we strolled down Michigan Avenue, and all afternoon I had trouble containing myself, even if we avoided the subject for the next four hours. It felt incredible to be alive. I felt like I was bathing in a circle of sunshine even though the day was cold and overcast.
It was late afternoon before I found myself alone again, still in a daze, and called Salvatore.
About The Author
Frederick Lee Brooke is the author of the widely-acclaimed Annie Ogden mystery series, which includes Doing Max Vinyl, Zombie Candy, and Collateral Damage. The books do not have to be read in order.
Having lived in Switzerland for the past two decades, Brooke has taught English, run a business and learned French, German and Italian. You can find him online at www.FrederickLeeBrooke.com. Sign up for his newsletter and read all about his travels, recipes, and upcoming works!