Pittsburgher J.J. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service. He is the author of the novels Resolve, Measure Twice, and Chalk’s Outline — which you can start reading right here on Littsburgh!
His latest novel, Bolt Action Remedy, is publishing this fall, and is now available for pre-order.
Don’t miss out: Hensley has a number of events scheduled throughout the summer and into the fall!
From the publisher: “Former Pittsburgh narcotics detective Trevor Galloway has been hired to look into the year-old homicide of a prominent businessman who was gunned down on his estate in Central Pennsylvania. When Galloway arrives, he determines the murder could have only been committed by someone extremely skilled in two areas: Skiing and shooting. He believes the assailant should not be too difficult to identify given the great amount of skill and athleticism needed to pull off the attack. When he discovers the victim’s property is next door to a biathlon training camp, the situation becomes significantly more complicated…”
“Hensley is a crime writer who deserves readers’ attention and trust, because beyond his ever-stronger prose, he brings his ex-badge carrier’s street smart eyes to this hard world we live in. Put him on your READ list.” —James Grady, author of Six Days of the Condor and recipient of the Raymond Chandler medal and the Grand Prix du Roman Noir
“Hensley weaves a captivating tale while providing an authentic voice and a dash of ironic humor.” — Annette Dashofy, USA Today bestselling author of the Zoe Chambers Mysteries
“Fast, dangerous, and with a unique setting used in interesting ways. Oh, and another thing: It’s entertaining as hell.” —Andrew Pyper, International Thriller Writers Award-winning author
Centre County, Pennsylvania
It was a suicidal snowfall. The flakes were bunched together and fell heavy, rather than yielding to an angelic descent. Peter Lanskard exited the black Chrysler, stood with his face to the sky and inhaled while letting the frigid dampness invigorate his sixty-five-year-old lungs. The ride from the regional airport had taken less than an hour, but Lanskard had been anxious to reach his property. He longed to stretch his legs and allow wintertime amnesia to erase memories of stuffy meetings in dusty Southern towns that had once been exploited for coal and were now being explored for pockets of natural gas. Even with the cloud cover, he had to squint to allow his eyes to adjust to the white Pennsylvania hills surrounding him.
“Sir? The perimeter alarm,” reminded his head of security. “We should move indoors.”
Lanskard exhaled a disappointed puff of vapor into the air as reality was once again intruding upon the serene.
“It’s been a hard winter, Brady,” said Lanskard. “The deer are going to be restless until spring. We should just turn the thing off for the season.”
Brady Mason didn’t respond. He didn’t have to. Both men knew the perimeter alarm was going to stay active and would be tripped periodically by the wildlife as long as Lanskard insisted on not fencing in his acres. If it were up to Mason, a web of alarm sensors would cover most the grounds within the perimeter, but the security man knew he was lucky his employer had agreed to the basic system that was deployed along the property line.
Lanskard turned to the security man and said, “Who’s heading out there?”
Mason shifted his weight, uncomfortable with his boss’s procrastination, and said, “Mark took a four-wheeler out to the eastern boundary. He should be there in a moment.”
The landowner took in more fresh air and slowly exhaled, watching the ghost of his breath fade into nothingness. He couldn’t help but grin as he watched Mason’s growing agitation. The driver emerged from his side of the car and asked if everything was okay.
“We’re fine, Jason. Thank you,” Lanskard replied as he watched Mason scan the tree line and bite his lip.
The alarm notification wasn’t unusual in itself, but Mason didn’t like the timing. The call had come just as the car was entering the property. He had turned from the passenger’s seat and informed his boss that an external alarm had been tripped, and that they should stay in the vehicle until the alarm had been cleared. Predictably, the owner of Mountain Resource Solutions stated that he was in a hurry to get inside the house. That Lanskard now appeared to be anything but in a hurry to get out of the open was driving Mason crazy, and the owner of MRS was enjoying every minute of needling his trusted guard.
Sensing he had exhausted the security man’s patience, Lanskard laughed and said, “You’re good people, Mason. But I sure love being a pain in your ass.”
Mason maintained his stern expression, kept his eyes on the woods, and replied, “As always, sir, you are exceptional in all that you do.”
Lanskard leaned back and roared an echoing laugh and patted the shoulder of the man he considered more of a friend than an employee. With a final bit of reluctance, he turned to move toward his home.
The sound of Lanskard’s laugh was still ricocheting off the hills when the bullet struck him in the forehead. Mason drew his Glock, scanned for a target, and knelt beside his employer. With his free hand, he yelled into a radio and then let the quiet return. Wet clumps of snow fell onto, then burned off of, the dead man’s face. The frozen clusters seemed to gravitate to Lanskard’s skin as if they instinctively knew that certain things aren’t meant to survive long in the winter. They knew. They just didn’t care.
Smoke from the thug’s cigarette intruded upon the few remaining pockets of clear air in the room. He moved to a section of the attic where the ceiling hung only a few inches above his head, let the cigarette drop on a board, and crushed it under a charcoal boot. The man crossed his arms and smirked enough to where a chipped tooth peeked out from behind a scarred lip. He looked down into the shadowed corner of the room and focused on the silhouette of the man strapped to the chair.
Sounds from a television and two men talking could be heard through the thin floorboards. Nothing special about the tone of the conversation downstairs. Nothing indicated anybody in the house was giving a second thought to the fact that a man was being held against his will directly above their heads. The man with the chipped tooth lit another cigarette and spoke in heavily accented English.
“You are lucky, man. You know this, right?”
The man in the chair strained to raise his head toward the voice.
“I tell them long time ago that you have nothing left to say. I tell them we cut you up in bathtub, toss parts in river, and be done with you.”
The prisoner’s head dropped, the weight too much for his neck to handle.
“In my home country of Estonia, I once used a saw to make a body disappear. It is hard work, but it—how do you say? It builds character.”
Chipped Tooth laughed at his observation, but his broken smile faded when the man in the chair didn’t respond. The captor strode across the room and grabbed the prisoner’s chin, lifting it so the men were eye to bloodshot eye.
“He is on the way,” spat Chipped Tooth. “He is coming and then we will know for sure that you tell us everything.”
He let the prisoner’s head drop and paced with heavy feet across the thin floor.
“They say he is like a machine, you know?” he continued. “I heard that when he was in Kaunas Prison, a guard liked to hit him in the back with stick right before the lights go out and everyone goes to sleep. One night, he goes in cell and the guard locks the door. In morning, when lights come back on they find the guard’s body in the cell, but he is gone. They searched all over Lithuania, but he is nowhere to be found.”
Chipped Tooth knelt in front of the prisoner and said, “And when they found the guard in that cell, do you know what he was missing?”
The man in the chair made a sound.
“What did you say?” asked Chipped Tooth.
“A ghost story told to fools,” the prisoner managed to whisper. “Go to hell.”
Chipped Tooth grabbed the prisoner’s hair and violently yanked the man’s head backward. He punched the restrained man in the face and produced a straight razor.
“I was told to make sure you not die before he gets here. But I do not think you will die if missing part of your face.”
Chipped Tooth leaned in with the rusty blade, but drew back when he heard commotion coming from beneath his feet. He rushed to the attic door, closed it behind him, and ran down a set of stairs. The man in the chair clung to consciousness as shouts filled the air. The sound of Chipped Tooth’s rapid footsteps descending the stairs stopped and, after all this time in captivity, the prisoner could tell not all the steps had been touched. Chipped Tooth had descended two-thirds of the flight before halting abruptly. The prisoner’s heart sank as Chipped Tooth’s boots once again ascended into the attic. Other footsteps followed, but now the entire house seemed to be coming alive with chaos.
The prisoner managed to raise his head enough to see Chipped Tooth fly through the door with the blade extended in his right hand. The criminal reached the dark corner where the captive sat helplessly awaiting his fate and placed the razor against the prisoner’s neck. The captive waited for, and even welcomed, the decisive slash, but instead of feeling the burn of the cut, the room erupted in gunfire. Chipped Tooth fell hard and the room grew quiet.
In the doorway stood a figure in jacket emblazoned with the word POLICE on one side. The figure swept the room with his eyes and gun before taking cautious steps toward the prisoner whose head had fallen once again.
“Police,” said the cop. “Let me see your hands!”
The man in the chair did not move.
The cop shone a light into the corner. Now he could see the restraints around the man’s wrists and ankles. He was still wary, but asked, “Buddy, are you okay?”
The prisoner willed himself to move, but couldn’t get his body to comply. He managed to remain conscious and heard more footsteps approaching. From the sounds, he deduced at least two more officers had squeezed through the narrow door.
The cop with the flashlight took cautious steps toward Chipped Tooth, reached down to toss the razor out of reach, and conducted a quick search for additional weapons before checking the man’s vital signs. The cop looked back at the other officers and shook his head. He placed two fingers on the prisoner’s neck and checked the carotid artery for a pulse.
“I think this guy’s alive,” said the cop. “Tell the EMTs the house is clear and get them up here fast.”
For several seconds, radios crackled and blared. The cop lifted the prisoner’s head and checked the neck for any cuts. He shined the flashlight from one side of the neck to the other before allowing his gaze to find the man’s battered face.
“Jesus Christ,” he said softly, not believing what he was seeing.
The other cops approached, making a semicircle around the chair.
“Is that… Is that Trevor Galloway?” asked an officer wearing a Pittsburgh PD baseball cap.
“Jesus Christ,” the cop with the flashlight quietly repeated.
More officers entered the room and the prisoner’s name was whispered and mumbled in funeral home tones.
The prisoner’s head dropped and the cop with the flashlight once again checked for a pulse. The cop tried two more times, maneuvering his fingers to find the artery. Trying to sound calm, he turned to another officer and said, “Billy, go find the EMTs and get them up here this second.”
This excerpt of Bolt Action Remedy is published here courtesy of the author and should not be reproduced without permission.