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A family, and the security to enjoy it: That’s all Tom and Anna Reed ever wanted. But years of infertility treatments, including four failed attempts at in vitro fertilization, have left them with neither. The emotional and financial costs are straining their marriage and endangering their dreams. Then one night everything changes. Offered a chance at a future they’d almost lost hope in, they seize it. One simple choice. A fairy-tale ending.
But Tom and Anna soon realize that fairy tales never come cheap. Their decision puts them square in the path of some ruthless men. Men who have been double-crossed. Men who won’t stop until they get revenge.
No matter where they find it.
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Marcus Sakey’s novels have been nominated for more than fifteen awards, including the Edgar and two ITW Thriller Awards. His book Good People was adapted as a feature film starring James Franco and Kate Hudson. Three of his other novels have been optioned for film, including Brilliance. To research his work, Marcus has shadowed gang cops, trained with snipers, toured the morgue, flown planes, rappelled with SWAT teams, hung out with spies, and learned to pick a deadbolt. He is the host and writer of the acclaimed television show Hidden City on Travel Channel, for which he is routinely pepper-sprayed and attacked by dogs. Marcus lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter. His website is MarcusSakey.com, or follow him on Facebook (Facebook.com/MarcusSakey) or Twitter, where he posts under the clever handle @MarcusSakey.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
THE SMILE WAS FAMOUS. Jack Witkowski wasn’t particularly a fan, but he’d seen those teeth plenty of times. They shone in the huddle of supermarket checkout lines, gleamed on the cover of a hundred magazines. After a while it was natural to think of the smile as separate from the man, and watching him stop on the club steps to throw it at a gawking chick with a camera phone only reinforced the idea. One minute the guy was just a guy—good-looking and well dressed, sure, but just a guy, and even a little on the short side—then that spotlight smile hit, raw wattage that announced you were in the presence of a Star.
Jack gazed through the windshield, forefinger tapping absently against his shoulder-slung .45. Nines might be the gun du jour, but you couldn’t beat a .45 for stopping power. “One more time.”
Bobby said, “Marshall lets us in. We take the service steps up. Put on the masks. Be careful not to use names. Will and Marshall tie them. I get the money. We go back out the way we came, head for the Chrysler. If anything goes wrong, we split, meet up later.” His knuckles were white on the steering wheel.
Jack squinted at that, wondered again if involving his younger brother had been a good idea. “That’s right,” he said, keeping his voice casual. “Remember, go in hard. These are spoiled kids. Get your pistol right in their face, yell at them. Anybody gives shit, crack them with the gun, and don’t hold back. It’ll just make everybody else step quicker. In and out in five.”
Bobby nodded. “What about that one?” The man he gestured to was taller than the Star and his entourage, built thick through the shoulders and neck. He carried a black briefcase in his left hand and kept his right open against his stomach, fingers just inside the jacket.
“That’s the bodyguard,” Will Tuttle said from the back, his tone smooth as a jazz radio announcer. He’d once said he’d done some voice-over work back when he was in L.A., that he’d been the voice of a dancing soap bubble in a commercial for toilet cleanser. Easy work; two grand for a morning spent repeating We scrub so you don’t have to. “Don’t worry your pretty head, son. Let the real bad guys handle him.”
Will chuckled. “What’s the matter,” he said, drawing Carltons from his suit jacket and tapping the soft pack to pop a cigarette loose. “I hurt your wittle feelings?”
“Enough.” Jack stared in the rearview mirror. “Don’t light that thing.”
Will tucked the cigarette behind his ear. “Victory smoke.”
Across the street, one of his entourage patted the Star on the shoulder, hooked a thumb in a let’s go gesture. The Star nodded, threw one last smile-and-wave, then stepped through the doors. His friends followed, one of them pausing long enough to pluck a stunning brunette from the line, the girl grinning over her shoulder at her squealing friends. Movie people. Shit. The bodyguard went last, stopping at the top of the steps to scan the street. Jack stared back, just another Chicago yokel awed by American Royalty. After a moment, the man went inside, the door swinging shut to muffle thumping beats.
“Go ahead,” Jack said, and Bobby put the stolen Ford into drive, sliding past the line of boys in shiny shirts and girls with spray-tan shoulders. They fell in behind a taxi to the end of the block, turned right, then left, and pulled into an unattended pay lot they’d scoped earlier. Bobby twisted the key to kill the engine, but cranked it the wrong way at first, the engine grinding.
“Jesus Christ,” Will said. “What’re you, fourteen?”
“I said enough.” Jack pulled up the sleeve of his suit, glanced at his watch. They sat in silence, listening to the ticking of the engine, the sound of revelry through the windows. River North, clubland, lah-dee-fucking-dah.
“He look short to you?” Bobby not needing to say the name.
“They all are,” Will said. “Tom Cruise is five-seven. Al Pacino, too.”
“Emilio Estevez. Robert Downey Jr.”
“I like that guy,” Bobby said. “He’s a great actor.”
“Don’t change his height.”
Jack let them talk, taking steady breaths, waiting for the rush to hit.
“Funny,” Bobby said, “it’s like the pope is visiting. All week I been hearing where he was spotted. Saw an article in theRed Eye on his favorite restaurants. He’s just here to work, right? Film a movie. But where he eats is news. Kind’ve feel sorry for him.”
“Yeah,” Will said, “poor famous millionaire, neck-deep in pussy makes the skanks you date look like schnauzers.”
“Will,” Jack said, “go stand on the corner, scope for cops, would you?”
“What the hell? Why?”
“Because I said so.”
Will sighed. “Whatever.” He popped the door, the street noise suddenly louder. “Amateur,” he muttered as he got out.
“Screw you.” Bobby said it quietly.
They sat, Jack letting the tension dissipate. He cracked gloved knuckles. After a minute, he said, “You okay?”
Bobby looked over, face pale and eyes all pupil. “I can’t do this.”
“Sure you can. Easiest thing in the world.”
“You can.” He smiled. “Look, I know where you are. First time I stuck somebody up, I had the shakes like you wouldn’t believe. Almost dropped my gun.”
“Sure. Part of the job. Why do you think Will’s being such a dick? Everybody gets the shakes.”
Jack shrugged. “I don’t know.” He smiled, reached out to put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “This is heavier than what you’re used to, I get that. But try and concentrate on the score. In fifteen minutes, you’ll be a whole lot richer.”
“If I thought we could do this with three, I would. I need you, bro.”
Bobby nodded, took a deep breath, let it out slow. He rolled his head side to side, then said, “Okay.”
Jack felt that old flush of warmth. “It’ll be fun. You’ll see. The Brothers Witkowski, rolling hard. Just follow my lead, it’ll be over before you know it.” He punched Bobby’s bicep. “Besides, you’re a bad man.”
“Right,” Bobby said. He took another breath, then drew a chrome-over-black Smith and racked it. “I’m a bad, bad man.”
They got out of the car, leaving the keys in the ignition. The evening air was alive with the noise of a dozen clubs, the honk of taxis, and the laughter of girls. Rich cocoa tickled Jack’s nose from the Blommer Chocolate Company a mile away.
“You ladies ready?” Will rocked his weight from one foot to another.
They started east, pace easy. Just businessmen, conventioneers maybe, on a weekend away from the wife. Out to check the scene, have a couple of cocktails, try to bang girls their daughters’ age before catching a morning flight back to boredom. Jack put himself between the other two, kept his eyes alert. They jaywalked across Erie, then cut down the alley. Broken glass crunched under Jack’s heels.
As they fell into shadow, he drew his pistol and unsnapped the safety.
INSIDE THE CLUB, Marshall Richards waited till the bartendress in the belly shirt looked away. Then he took the thick-bottomed rocks glass and poured the whiskey on the floor. He smacked the glass down with a wince just as she turned back. She shouted, “Another?”
“Sure.” He put an elbow on the edge, then made a show of slipping and catching himself. Marshall smiled at her, mouthed Oops over the pounding music. She shook her head as she refilled him, raising her arm to stretch a rope of amber between bottle and glass, a neat trick. Then she snagged a twenty from the stack of cash he’d laid out and turned away.
He took the drink and spun on his stool, careful to keep his shoes off the ground. He’d poured about nine whiskeys there, and the puddle was growing sizable. The drunk act probably didn’t matter, but life had a wicked arm for curves. A smart hitter respected the plate.
The VIP lounge sat off the main floor, guarded by a bouncer with a shaved head. Gauzy green curtains puffed and swelled with the motion of air, like the room was breathing. Beyond them a mob of moneyed twenty-somethings danced beneath a frenzy of lasers, visible only as writhing silhouettes. It reminded Marshall of something out of a Bosch painting, a vision of a sweating hell. It was early yet, not even midnight, and the lounge had only a handful of Very Important People: a group nursing the bottle of thirty-dollar vodka they’d dropped two hundred on; a sugar daddy playing garter games with his stripper girlfriend; two lipstick lesbians comped in to add a whiff of the forbidden; and, at the end of the bar, two black guys. His marks.
The boss was dark-skinned and stylish, with a precise mustache,a gold Rolex dangling from French cuffs, and a tailored Armani suit. The other, straining against a Sean John tracksuit, was clearly muscle. Armani drank seltzer. The other didn’t drink at all. Marshall smiled to himself, then spilled his whiskey and ordered another.
The bartendress had just finished pouring it when Boss Man’s cell phone beeped. Marshall cradled his chin in his hands and stared forward, pretending to be lost in a liquor dream. From the corner of his eye, he saw the guy open the phone and scan the screen. His fingers punched keys quickly, replying to the text message. Then he dropped a fifty on the bar and slid off the stool. His bodyguard fell in behind him.
Marshall counted to thirty, then collected his change, folded it, and tucked it in his pocket. Took his whiskey in one hand and staggered for the stairs. The bouncer yawned, looked away.
The dance floor vibrated, the bass line throbbing through his belly, a remix of Fergie singing about being so delicious, how she was so tasty tasty laced with lacy. Bodies mobbed the space, smelling of cologne and desire. He looked at the open staircase over the floor, thick-cut glass that glowed with the sheen of lasers. Boss Man and his bodyguard were halfway up. Perfect.
Shielding the drink with his body, Marshall cut to the back wall. It was painted black, and couples huddled there, the women flush with power, men leaning into them, trying to close the deal. He moved beside a door marked “Private” in white letters. Turned, did an easy scan. No one paid him any mind as he pushed through the door.
The hallway on the other side was drab and overlit. He walked past an open door where men spoke Spanish, turning his face away and walking with purpose. Not like a couple of illegals were going to challenge a man who walked like he belonged. There was a corner at the end of the hallway, and beside it the servers’ steps to the private rooms. He stopped long enough to throw the whiskey down, that sweet burn. He liked one before a job. Then he palmed the glass and turned the corner.
The bouncer sat on a stool, beefy arms crossed. He came off his perch when he spotted Marshall. “This ain’t the bathrooms, mate.”
Marshall took a step, then another, slower. He raised his left hand and put on a confused expression, looked over his shoulder like he was lost. As he spun back, he hurled the heavy rocks glass in an overhand fastball, leg winding up and then down, arm cracking like a whip, form perfect. Once upon a time, he’d been All State.
The glass didn’t so much strike the bouncer’s forehead as explode against it, spraying sparkling shards in all directions, the noise lost against the raging beats through the walls, the bouncer flinging his hands up to his eyes, fluids pouring between his fingers and a horrified moan jerked from his lips.
Marshall stepped forward, drove his fist into the man’s solar plexus to double him over, then hammered an elbow against the back of his neck to drop him. He straightened, shook out his hands, and pushed the release bar to open the back door.
Jack smiled as he stepped over the bouncer. He passed Marshall the .22, and the four of them started for the stairs.
Children. Undisciplined, foolish, and entitled all their lives. From the Star on down, they were all children, and they grated on Malachi. “My brother,” he said, smile wide and arms open, the Rolex sliding down inside the cuffs of his shirt. “How’s it hanging, dog?” Playing the role of the big bad black guy.
The Star flashed white teeth and stepped into the embrace. “Hey G! Thanks for coming.” The room was decked out like a sultan’s palace, dangling fabrics and candles everywhere, cushions instead of chairs. “Drink?”
Malachi smiled, shook his head slightly. He unbuttoned his Armani jacket and tucked his hands in his pockets, exposing the shoulder holster. By the way the Star’s eyes fell on it, Malachi could tell he loved it, loved the image he had of himself, a tough guy hanging with gangsters. Movie people. Shit. “I’m straight,” he said.
“We got Ketel, some Cristal. Oh, I could send down for Hennessy . . .”
“We’re good.” Malachi smiled. “How’s the picture?”
The Star sighed and rubbed at his forehead. “It’s a nightmare. Director doesn’t have the first clue. I don’t know who the guy blew to earn his statue.” He shook his head, then said, “You sure I can’t get you a drink?”
“I’d as soon get down to business, you got no objection.”
The Star smiled. “My man.”
Malachi waited. A moment passed, and then the Star caught on, said, “Right, sorry.” He adopted the tone of a schoolboy answeringan instructor, hamming it up. “I’d like to buy some illegal drugs, please.”
Malachi nodded to his man, who set the briefcase on a low table then stepped back. “Here’s how we do. Blow, smack, Ecstasy, hydro, painkillers I have anytime. You want something special, I might need a couple hours’ warning. I’m available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, anywhere in the country. I don’t fly internationally, I don’t deal for less than twenty-five, and I don’t trade in rock.” He popped the latches on the case but didn’t open it, noting the anticipation in the kid’s eyes, playing out the moment. The brunette on the pillows squealed as one of the entourage poured champagne down the front of her dress. She laughed, then moaned when the blonde leaned in to lick it off her tan skin. The boys whooped in appreciation.
“Is it good stuff?” The kid trying to sound hard. “I don’t want to pay top dollar for some watered-down shit.”
Malachi shook his head. “Pure as a nun’s daydream. Guaranteed premium. My prices are high because of the service and quality I provide. Now,” he said, and flipped open the briefcase to reveal the rows of neat bundles and colored bottles, “the doctor is in.”
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Book Description Brilliance Audio, 2008. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1423366883
Book Description Condition: New. New. Seller Inventory # STRM-1423366883