Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Next of Kin by James Tucker ~ Excerpt

“In Tucker’s impressive first novel and series launch, NYPD detective Buddy Lock…keeps the excitement level high throughout. The surprise ending will leave readers impatiently awaiting Buddy’s next outing.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

A New Year’s Eve celebration begins with the pop of a champagne cork—and ends with the bone-chilling screams of a killer’s victims. Ten-year-old Ben Brook is the lone survivor of the brutal murder of his wealthy family at their upstate New York compound. But from the moment he evades death, Ben’s life is in constant danger. Can NYPD detective Buddy Lock keep the boy safe from a killer intent on wiping out the entire Brook clan?

When two more massacres decimate the Brookses’ ranks, Buddy’s hunt narrows. But his challenges grow as power, money, and secret crimes from the family’s past stand in the way. With Ben more and more at risk, Buddy steps closer to the edge, forcing a relentless killer to become more brazen, brutal, and cunning. Saving the boy will put all of Buddy’s skills to the test…and risk the lives of everyone he loves.

Chapter One
Ben heard shattering glass. He pictured the bottle of champagne his father had been holding, now lying in shards on the oak floor.
His father’s voice boomed from the living room. “What are you doing? What are you doing?
He froze.
He was in the walk-in pantry at the back of the house, looking for a chocolate bar.
He listened for an answer to his father’s question, but only heard him groan loudly. His mother screamed.
Then she shouted: “Run, Benjamin! Run! Ru—
Silence. Her voice had been cut off.
A shiver passed through him. His hands began to shake.
He stared at the columns of shelving. If he could keep his hands steady, he might be able to get out. But what about his sister, Ellen-Marie?
She cried once, a pitiful burst, and the house again grew quiet.
Then he heard footsteps on the oak-plank floor, moving toward the back of the house, toward him.
Slowly, quietly, as only a ten-year-old can do, he moved to his right, to the farthest segment of shelving, the one he’d accidentally pressed against the previous June. He pushed on the section of shelving holding the jars of olives, just as he’d done last summer, but it wouldn’t budge. He put both hands on the vertical planks and pushed. Nothing. He wondered if his father—who’d told him never to mention the secret doorway—had nailed it shut, to keep him from exploring.
The footsteps again. They were in the long hallway now, perhaps fifteen yards from him.
He brought his shoulder against the shelf, leaned into the wood, and shoved as hard as he could. He strained and his slippers began to slide on the floor, but then he heard the faint snap of the catch.
Now he pulled on the heavy shelf, grateful it made no sound as it swung into the pantry. He saw the stone steps leading down into darkness.
The footsteps grew closer and came faster.
He moved onto the stairs, balanced precariously, and turned to pull the pantry shelf closed behind him. He did so carefully. When he heard the catch snap into place, he stood on the top stair, perfectly still.
The footsteps entered the pantry. He heard them cross from one end of the generously sized room to the other and back again. Then they ceased. There was no sound. Yet Ben hadn’t heard the footsteps leave. He held his breath. Someone knocked on the pantry walls. One wall. Another wall and another. Not six inches from his face, a knock on the fourth wall. Startlingly loud. He shook involuntarily and swayed backward. He hoped the shelving sounded solid. For thirty seconds he heard nothing. He shivered with fear and cold. He was dressed in a thick cotton bathrobe over his pajamas, but his hiding place was frigid and he was thin as a reed. Even the pantry had been cold.
Now he heard breathing on the other side of the shelves. He lis­tened carefully but kept still. There was no sound other than the per­son’s calm, full movement of air in and out of his—or her—lungs. An unusual scent, one he didn’t recognize, passed through hairline cracks in the shelving. New leather mixed with lemon and something else.
And then, all at once, the footsteps retreated from the pantry.
A moment later he sensed a change in the air, followed by the sound of the house’s front door opening and closing, but he couldn’t be sure. And because he wasn’t sure, he knew that he remained in danger. He couldn’t go back into the house.
He drew his bathrobe more tightly around himself and eased down the steps into the darkness. It was farther than he remembered. When he reached the tunnel’s soft earthen floor, he began walking. His hands guided him along the left concrete wall into the unknown. He went much farther than he had last summer. His teeth chattered and his hands tightened with cold. He thought he had to get out or he’d die.
After a while he stumbled upon another set of stairs. These he climbed carefully and at the top of them, touched the wooden surface he found. At first it seemed to be the back of another hidden pantry door with no discernable latch, but he was relieved to find a typical round knob.
Turning it, he pushed open the door and walked into a pantry that was much larger than the one in his parents’ house. He knew he’d reached the lodge. Recessed lights burned low, illuminating shelves of spices and juices, canned goods and cereal, flour and wheat, syrup and sugar. On the floor he saw bushels of potatoes and winter squash. At the edge of a green marble countertop was a telephone. Beside the tele­phone was a pile of folded wool blankets.
Without alerting anyone in the lodge to his presence, he picked up the telephone and dialed 911.
“Someone killed my family,” he whispered when the dispatcher answered. “Please help me.”

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