Monday, June 24, 2013

COLLATRAL DAMAGE by Frederick Lee Brooke



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 fiancĂ©, Salvatore?
A murder.
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.
An obsession.
Annie's problems with three obsessive men suddenly pale in significance when she realizes the killer has set his sights on her. 




Chapter 1—Annie

Chilly air stung my cheeks as I stepped out the door. January in Chicago in the dark of morning—true, it was harsh, but if I didn’t run, I got cabin fever. Cabin fever made me bitchy. So I ran every morning, and when I got back I did two hundred crunches. Down from the four hundred I used to do at Camp Liberty.

I jogged up Lincoln Avenue, music flowing through my earbuds. I ran the same route around the North Side of Chicago most every morning, varying only the pace. Gritty, wind-sculpted snow lay plastered against chain-link fences. At least for today the sidewalk was dry.

I’d switched on the coffee machine before leaving. Salvatore wanted to take me to the aquarium. Five different times in the last week he’d told me today was going to be our six-month anniversary. Although I’d moved in with him six months, two weeks and three days ago, he considered today the big day. For some reason he wasn’t counting those first seventeen days.

Salvatore kept saying he had something for me. Hint, hint, hint. In spite of his hints, I hadn’t bought a card, much less a gift. I actually looked in one Hallmark store, but they had no cards for six-month anniversaries. Who celebrates six months together? Anniversaries can only be whole numbers.

Salvatore was a romantic innovator.

The odd importance he attached to our six months still nagged me as I rounded the corner at Belmont. Traffic passed in uninterrupted chaos, bus engines groaned, and taxi horns beeped—all muted by my music. Scarf-wrapped commuters hurried by, angled against the wind, as street people hunched over trash cans, rummaging for food. Another jogger loped gazelle-like toward me. We did a dance to avoid colliding before he squeezed by on my left.

At that instant, something crashed into my neck. It came so hard I saw stars. The rest happened very fast. One moment I was jogging along, the next, I was under attack. You wouldn’t know from looking, but my army training is always there, right under the surface. We’d hear a rocket coming in, we’d hit the dirt. Or we’d see a flash. Seeing a flash was never good.

My eyes shut tight as I crouched down, instinct kicking in. A voice in my head said, this isn’t happening, you’re home now. My gaze swept over my left field. The blow came from the left. The human brain is wired for surveillance. Something we’re good at.

I’d been duped. The blow had come from my left, but my attacker hung on my right, hung now, literally. I felt his weight pulling me down. He’d clamped his arm over my left shoulder but he was crushing me from the right, screeching in some weird high-pitched tone. My body bent under his pressure. I couldn’t see where his right arm was. I knew I had to do something before he dragged me to the ground.

I planted my right foot, swiveled my hips, and threw a left-handed roundhouse. Tight in his grip, I had just enough turning radius to connect with the soft middle of his face. I felt his surprise, his grip loosening. Only then did I see the mask.
Mitt Romney masks had popped up all over—bank robberies, school shootings, rapes. Attacks on joggers. Without breaking my momentum, I mashed a heel into the side of his knee. My running shoes were featherweight, but my leg muscles were pumped. My attacker groaned and fell back, giving me space. Then he was laughing again, a sick, grotesque, high-pitched cackle.

“What the hell!” I shouted. I ran a couple of steps toward him, grabbed for the mask. The bastard wasn’t much taller than me. He dodged and I missed. “Get away! Leave me alone! What’s your problem?”

The best defense a woman really has is her voice. I shouted so loud, people walking past could no longer ignore us. My attacker was backing into the street as a bus approached. He turned and ran right in front of it, never saw it. The driver honked. It’s amazing how fast city buses stop. Unfortunate, I thought as the bus stopped inches in front of him. I saw people grabbing handrails, people falling down in the bus. My attacker nipped between two passing cars and dashed across Belmont Avenue.

“I see shit like this, I wish I had my gun.” A man in a leather coat ran up. He gave a shout at my attacker, but he was far away now, melting into a crowd. A thick unbroken line of traffic blocked any pursuit.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Bunch of sickos,” the man said. He looked in close at my face, as if he thought he knew me. He pointed at a billboard atop a nearby building, then back at me, then at the billboard again, some Swedish model in a bikini. Fake look of recognition. As if we looked anything alike. “Hey, that’s not you, is it?”

“You must be joking.”

Just what I needed—a random attack followed by a random come-on, all before breakfast. Way to make a girl feel pretty, fellas. This pigheaded slavish obsession with blond hair. Someday I’m going to shave my head, honestly. The billboard brightened up their winter walk to the elevated train, but also fed their sick fantasies. Evolution took a wrong turn somewhere. If only men’s hormones came with an off-switch.

I glanced over my shoulder again and again while working back up to my pace. I couldn’t get this freak out of my mind, that parrot-like screech, the sick tilt of that mask. Why single me out? Why me? Why do it with crowds of people around? What kind of nutcase pounds a woman on the back and then laughs at her?
I had to talk about it with my sister. Alison and I went way back when it came to attacks. Every day, somewhere in the world, women were getting raped and murdered. I saw it online, some forest in India, six boys. A school party in Ohio, three boys and one drunk girl. A bus in Brazil, boys with guns made the other passengers get off, leaving just the guy and his girlfriend, then gang-raped the woman.

I didn’t carry money on my morning run. My earbuds stayed in place through the skirmish. My music played on. If that dude with the leather coat hadn’t muddied the picture, I might’ve convinced myself it had all been a dream. Here I was running home through the same streets, past the same buses and taxis and people. Gray streaks shot across the sky over the lake as darkness opened the gates over Chicago and allowed daylight in.

How I wished I’d hit him harder. If only I’d knocked him out instead of letting him sneak away. Attacks don’t bring out the best in me. Speeding up the pace as I neared Salvatore’s, I fantasized about ripping off that mask and screaming a few things straight into his eyes and then stomping on his face, just to let him know how I felt. How a woman feels.


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 Sign up for his newsletter and read all about his travels, recipes, and upcoming works!




Martine Sangster said...

After reading this first chapter, I have to know how this story ends!

info said...

Thank you for stopping by, Martine! Hope to see you tomorrow on the next stop on the tour.

Unknown said...

I just finished reading this book and the only word is "Mind-blowing!". Stunning work by Frederick.

Frederick Lee Brooke said...

Naznin, thank you for your kind words!