He’s a PI with nothing to prove. She’s a gorgeous mystery woman with nothing to lose.
The mobsters won’t know what hit them.
David Stever’s new crime thriller Scarlet Fever is an electrifying throwback to the hardboiled detective fiction of yesteryear, where the men are stoic, the women are deadly, and every shadow might conceal a new mystery … or a quick and violent death.
A Pulse-Pounding Noir Detective Thriller Novel
Our man of action is one Johnny Delarosa: a hard-drinking ex-cop trying to make his way as a PI on the streets of Port City. Johnny thinks he’s seen everything the job can throw at him—but when a gorgeous mystery woman sashays into his bar and drops a twenty-grand retainer in his lap, he realizes he’s in way over his head.
Claire Dixon wants our hero to find a cool $2 million stolen from her mob-wife mother thirty years ago, but soon Johnny realizes he’s not the only one after the dough. Every lowlife in Port City wants their share of Claire’s blood-streaked inheritance, and suddenly Johnny’s gorgeous client is nowhere to be found—and the bodies are already piling up.
Scarlet Fever has everything fans adore about the genre: hardboiled detectives; femme fatales; crime-ridden streets; and one of the great twists in modern crime fiction.
Fans of Sunburn by Laura Lippman, Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King, The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, and The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler are sure to love this book.
To celebrate the publication and release of Scarlet Fever, TCK Publishing is proud to present this exclusive sneak peek. We hope you enjoy.
Editor’s note: The excerpt below contains some sensitive material. Reader discretion advised.
An Exclusive Book Preview
Please enjoy this excerpt from David Stever’s Scarlet Fever:
The Blair Trucking Warehouse and Distribution Center was in the industrial section of the city with train tracks on the south side and truck loading docks on the north side. Located on Mechanic Boulevard, I drove by twice before I backed into the driveway of an adjacent construction company that provided a good vantage point for observation. A large structure about the size of a football field, it had truck loading bays every forty feet and security cameras mounted at the corners, but I couldn’t do much about that.
I focused on the girl: twenty-four, five foot eight, blonde hair that fell to the middle of her back. She was being held for ransom, and it was my job to find her and bring her home.
It was midnight, the night warm and quiet, and after an hour of no activity and no security patrol, I drove to the warehouse and parked my car between two large trash bins in the rear of the building. I made my way to the side door on the narrow west side. It was unlocked, just as the note instructed. I slowly turned the handle and the heavy steel door opened without a sound. I slipped inside.
The warehouse was dark; the only light came from night safety lights mounted over each loading door that cast a dim light around the doors but left plenty of dark areas throughout the building. I waited a few moments to allow my eyes to adjust. I had on my black jeans and black leather jacket and stayed in the shadows along the wall. A check of my watch: 1:10 a.m. Doctor Richard Pitts was expected at two o’clock with the ransom money. The wrinkle here was the kidnappers were expecting Pitts and a bag of cash, not me an hour early.
Doctor Pitts hired me two days ago, right after he received the ransom instructions: Five hundred thousand in cash in exchange for his daughter, Katie. Do not call the police. From what we figured, Katie had finished playing tennis at Greenwood Country Club where the doctor and his wife are members. She never showed up at home that evening; her car was still parked at the club.
Pitts found me the next morning through a doctor friend, an Irish urologist named Sullivan, who I helped out of a mistress mess last year. I got his business sorted in less than two weeks, so now Sullivan thought I walked on water and told Pitts that if I could save him a cool million on a divorce settlement, then I could get Pitts’s daughter back. Pitts agreed to my five thousand dollar retainer without hesitation, and I got right to work.
The ransom was to be delivered to the warehouse, and Pitts was to come alone. The whole deal smelled amateur. Pitts said when he received the ransom call, he heard trucks in the background. Did they make the call from the same location as the ransom drop? Not the smartest pigs in the pen.
The plan was to take them by surprise, pull Katie out, call the cops. The cops would have my ass for not calling them first, but that’s the nature of the business. I wanted a peek at Katie, too. The Pitts showed me pictures of their only child but all I saw were the long legs and blonde hair.
Rows and rows of large wooden pallets, loaded with household items, toasters, blenders, and coffeemakers filled the warehouse. Each pallet was eight feet high and six feet square and wrapped in a heavy-duty plastic wrap. The aisles intersecting the rows could fit two forklift trucks side-by-side. I crept along the perimeter wall, my Beretta in my waistband, praying I wouldn’t have to use it.
A man spoke in Spanish. I froze in place. The voice had a tinny sound to it and after a few seconds I realized it came from a radio. I followed the sound and crept another ten yards or so along the wall when Katie Pitts came into view. Lit by a small propane camping lantern, she sat in the center aisle on a metal folding chair with her hands tied behind her. Duct tape secured each of her legs to the legs of the chair and tape covered her mouth. Her long blonde hair hung in a tangled mess and her cheeks were streaked with mascara tears. And the kicker: she had on only a white bra and lacy white panties. I guess our kidnapper figured she wouldn’t run away without her clothes.
Or he wanted to humiliate a rich white girl.
He sat in a chair opposite her. A short, pudgy, greased-up son-of-a-bitch. His black hair was slicked back; he wore dirty blue jeans and a dingy wife-beater and had a plastic straw hanging out of his mouth. He slouched in his metal chair, tapping his foot to the music. The portable radio sat on the floor beside him, surrounded by empty beer cans and candy wrappers.
I moved around two of the pallets and made my way to the center aisle, behind him and facing her. She saw me and her eyes went wide. I put a finger to my lips, hoping she was smart enough not to make noise. As I got closer, I could see her chest heave and her breathing increase. I tapped him on the shoulder; he shot from the chair as if I hit an eject button. He turned toward me, and my fist crashed into his mouth, landing him hard on his back. I thought he was out, but he rolled over and scrambled to all fours. I grabbed the chair, swung and caught him on the side of the head and dropped him back to the floor. Now he was out cold, at least for the time being. I checked his pockets for weapons and found a decent switchblade, which I pocketed. I went to Katie and gently pulled the tape from her mouth and then untied her hands.
“Thank God. Are you the cops?” Tears spilled down and she wiped them with the back of her hands, which only smeared the mascara across her cheeks like war paint.
“Not quite. Is he the only one?”
“No. There’s two. The other guy is around here somewhere.”
“They have weapons?”
“I didn’t see any.”
“Are you hurt?”
“They took them.”
I got the last bit of tape off her legs and she jumped up. I took off my jacket and she slipped it on. Something about her wearing my leather jacket with the lacy panties almost made me lose my focus. Almost. “Stay beside me. I’ll get you out of here.”
“Wait.” She picked up the chair and lifted it to smash it down on his head but I grabbed it from her.
“I don’t blame you, but we got to go. Too much noise. Come on.” I reached out my hand and she took it, squeezing as if she would never let go. We only made it a few yards when a voice came from behind a pallet.
“Nice try, amigo.” The second kidnapper—a skinny version of the first guy—stepped out of a shadow with a pistol in one hand, pointed at us, and a bag from a carry-out taco joint in the other. “Back up.”
“You might want to reconsider,” I said. “Police are surrounding the building as we speak.”
“You’re lying. We both know it. You bring the money?”
“Not happening this way, señor.”
“Nobody is leaving here until we get the money.”
I had to make quick work of this. The last thing I needed was a true Mexican standoff. “Fine, we’ll stay here all night.” I nodded to the bag in his hand. “I hope you know your guacamole’s spilling.”
He fell for it. His eyes flicked over to the bag, and in one swift motion I scooped up the propane lantern and threw it at his chest. He yelled and stepped back and I launched myself at him. I got both my hands around his gun hand and my shoulder jammed against his chest. We both went down, with me on top, landing on him with all my weight.
I wrestled his gun away and kicked it to Katie as I pulled my Beretta from my waistband. With one hand around his neck and him gasping for air, I held my gun three inches from his face. “Nice try, amigo.” I stood. “Now get up.”
There was a long spool of plastic wrap leaning against a wall nearby. It was five feet wide—the self-sticking stuff they wrap around the pallets to secure the products. I had Katie pull off a long stretch of the plastic and lay it in the middle of the aisle.
“Seńor?” His eyes went wide. He knew what was coming. He shook so bad his keys rattled.
“Shut up. Lay down on the plastic.”
“Make him take off his clothes,” said Katie.
“What?” I said.
“What?” he said.
She took a step closer to him. “Take off your clothes, you bastard.”
I guess she deserved a little vengeance. “You heard her. Strip.”
“Seńor, please. I can’t,” he pleaded.
“Take off your clothes, you son-of-a-bitch,” Katie screamed. It scared me, and I know it scared him. He stripped off his clothes in seconds. “Yeah, now who’s the big man? What is that, two inches?”
And just like that, I was into Katie Pitts. Leather jacket, blonde hair, black streaks across her face, the bra and panties—a cross between an underwear model and an Amazon.
“Lay down,” I said. He did but still had his hands outstretched. “Put your hands to your sides. You’re about to be a human burrito.” I rolled him in the plastic while he cursed me in Spanish. The naked, plastic-wrapped man floundering around on the warehouse floor put a smile on Katie’s face. “Can we go?”
She went to our plastic-wrapped kidnapper and smashed her heel into his ribs a few times. A muffled scream came from the plastic roll. “Now we can go.”
We got outside and made our way to my BMW. I opened the trunk and pulled out a sweatshirt. “Put this on. Give me my jacket.” Even though she looked good in my leather jacket and her underwear, it was still my leather jacket. She complied. I had bottled water in a cooler and handed her one. She gulped it down. “Sure you’re not hurt?”
“No. I’m okay,” she said.
I handed her my phone. “Call your parents, and let’s get you home.”
“Wait. What’s your name?”
“Delarosa. Get in.”
Want to find out what happens next? Buy Scarlet Fever today and let the mystery unfold!