Regan C. Ashbaugh In the Red

ISBN 13: 9780671018900

In the Red

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9780671018900: In the Red
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When the top executives at the multi-billion-dollar investment firm of Morson-Grayhead are stalked by a killer who brutally murders their wives and burns their homes to the ground, it is up to arson investigator Jake Ferguson to hunt down the homicidal pyromaniac. By the author of Downtick.

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About the Author:

Regan C. Ashbaugh is a seventeen-year Wall Street veteran and a vice president of investments with a national brokerage firm. He teaches a course on the Federal Reserve Bank at his local high school, serves on two boards of trustees, and is a proud member of his town's fire department. He resides in Maine and is currently working on his next novel for Pocket Books.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

From Book One: A BURNING DESIRE

Chapter One

Sunday
September 8

The phone call came at 2:47 A.M., shattering the oppressively hot and muggy night air in his bedroom like a head-on train collision. It was one of those steamy, sleepless summer evenings every New Yorker dreads, the kind where no one without air-conditioning even bothers with a sheet. Jacob Ferguson jumped from a fitful sleep, peeling his body off the bed. Reaching clumsily for the receiver on his nightstand, he knocked off his alarm clock.

Shit. "Yeah," he moaned as he sat, his brain still in the netherworld from which he'd just been catapulted.

"Jake, it's Don."

Jake knew it was Ederling before he even picked up. At least he hoped so. They'd done this drill a thousand times before. "What's up?" he asked, scratching the hair on the back of his head with his fingernails, instantly aware of the relentless buzzing of a fly against the black night of his bedroom window.

"I think we got another one."

An uneasy silence followed. But Ederling knew that Jake had heard him. He always did. After all, it was the middle of the night. Ederling knew that news just takes longer to filter through the rocks that form in your brain during REM sleep. Especially news like this.

"Jesus."

"It's not pretty, Jake."

"I bet. If it's anything like the last." Jake bent over to retrieve his clock. It had fallen on its numbers and glowed with an eerie, translucent red past its sides through the fabric of his carpet. Bad omen. "Where?"

"Mount Kisco."

Jake replaced the clock on his nightstand, asking the question to which he already knew the answer. "Same MO? "

"To a T. Victim's as crispy as you'll ever find. Can't tell the sex, but twenty bucks says it's another woman."

"Shhhit," Jake said, wiping away the sweat under his testicles with a sheet. "I hate roasts, Donny. They ruin my appetite for a week."

"Yeah...well...ever think of a new line of work? Kind of like a dentist hating teeth, don't you think?"

"Funny. What's the address?"

Jake fumbled for the light, holding the receiver between his chin and left shoulder while he jotted down the necessary information. He hung up, stuck the sheet of paper between his teeth, and slipped on the underwear he'd left on the floor when he'd retired for the night just three hours earlier. He sat silently on the edge of his bed, listening meditatively to the fly as it bumped again an again against the darkness of the glass. Jake grabbed for a pillow and felt an odd delight at the prospect of extinguishing this annoying little speck, and bringing silence, once again, to his womb. But there would be enough death to witness tonight. He reached down, opened his screen, and wooshed it away with his hands, watching with satisfaction as it made its way into the muggy night.

Jacob Ferguson had been named chief fire marshal for Westchester County in the spring of 1987. To everyone's surprise, including Jake's, he was chosen over Ederling, even though Ederling had been Westchester County's deputy fire marshal, as Jake liked to say, "since Christ was a corporal." There was a time, long since gone, when the appointment had formed a gaping chasm between the two men. But a lot can happen in twelve years, and Jake's appointment seemed to them now both ephemeral and distant, almost as if in another life. They had since grown as close as brothers.

Jake stood, stretching his neck slowly from side to side. He glanced at his clock again: 2:54 A.M. He lived in Port Chester and figured he could dress, a comb through his receding, coffee-colored hair, and make Mount Kisco before 3:30 A.M. He started toward the bathroom and stopped at the foot of king-size bed. Jake gazed at its unrumpled right side, biting his bottom lip slightly, disillusioned that he was, yet again, fighting off demons. The lining of Jake's heart grew cold at the thought that it might always be like this, that he would never again experience inner peace.

He walked slowly to the tidy side of his bed and gently sat, as if not to wake a sleeping child. Reaching for the pillow with both hands, he held it softly to his face, breathing deeply through his nose. Jake closed his eyes, letting distant echoes of her scent send him fleetingly to another world, a safer world -- one in which he was not alone. He placed the pillow carefully its place and covered it with a sheet, as he had done a thousand times before.

"I love you," he whispered.

Jake slipped on a pair of chinos and a T-shirt, hit the light, and shuffled sleepily to the bathroom. A night-light usually served his purposes for midnight jaunts to the toilet. The overhead was for wake-up time. To assist in the process he had wired his radio so that it clicked on when he flipped the wall switch. It seemed louder than usual this morning.

"...and the Yankees continue their tear through the Eastern Division, finishing a sweep last night of the red-hot..." The words continued ringing in his ears as he flipped the radio off manually. Though a Yankee fan, he wasn't interested in baseball right now. He preferred his own thoughts, his private slice of found sanity. It mattered little right then that it was fabricated, because real or imaginary, still, it was quiet and serene. The world Jake was about to enter would be anything but.

He splashed some water on his hair, whisking a brush through it just long enough to look presentable, slapped a glob of Crest on an old, fraying toothbrush, and stared hard at himself as he mindlessly went through the motions. He could see the exhaustion in his eyes; their whites were red, yet almost seemed to blend harmoniously with the golden honey color of his irises. Jake leaned closer, never having noticed that before. When he finished, he leaned against the tiled counter, closed his eyes, and took one long, deep breath.

"Ready?" he asked himself in the mirror.

As ready as you're ever going to be, came the customary response.

It was time.


As Jake turned the corner to Chiswell Lane, the scene was like hundreds of others he had witnessed before. Legions of flashing red and blue lights punctuated the surrounding trees and homes, inharmoniously fracturing the pure black of night in a macabre effect Jake liked to call Lucifer's Disco.

It was 3:37 A.M. when Jake Ferguson pulled his department-issue, 1998 Crown Victoria behind a yellow, articulated fire truck. He pocketed his keys and, as was his habit, stood silent a moment, eyeing the assembled crowd. He was actually looking beyond the crowd, hoping to see that one solitary face hiding behind a tree, a car, a Dumpster. Fire starters seldom hang with the throng. They prefer to watch, but usually from a distance. The experienced ones know better than to stand inside the lion's den.

It wasn't that Jake necessarily expected to catch anyone, although he was always optimistic. But if there was one quality for which he was known, it was his keen eye and photographic memory. He'd remember a face if he'd seen it at another scene -- even if it was two years ago. He walked casually a few houses down one side of the street, then back up the other side, scanning his surroundings searching for anyone out of the ordinary.

Jake walked back to the trunk of his car and slipped on the working uniform of his profession. He looked like any other firefighter now, with his thick Ranger Firewalker boots, bunker pants, red suspenders, and bunker jacket. The only thing that set him apart from the others were the words CHIEF FIRE MARSHAL written in bright yellow on the rise of his helmet and across the back of his jacket. It was unbearably hot, and Jake consequently held his heavy firefighter helmet under his arm.

The captain on the scene was casual in his hello. "Chief," he said, sucking water from a sports bottle as Jake approached from the side of h

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