Tom Straw — friend of Littsburgh — published his first mystery novel, The Trigger Episode, in 2007. Subsequently, writing as Richard Castle, he authored seven more crime novels, all of which became New York Times bestsellers. Buzz Killer is Tom Straw’s first book under his own name since that blockbuster Nikki Heat series.
In addition to writing thrillers, Straw is also an Emmy- and Writer’s Guild of America-nominated TV writer and producer having written and produced Night Court, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, Dave’s World, Grace Under Fire, Cosby, Whoopi, and Nurse Jackie. A former board member of the Mystery Writers of America, New York Chapter, he lives in Connecticut, where his home is his castle.
“I can say with high confidence that any fan of Castle will love Buzz Killer by Tom Straw, a masterfully entertaining mystery of pulse-pounding fun. Richard Castle has met his match!”—Andrew W. Marlowe, Creator and Executive Producer of Castle
For more on Tom Straw, check out this excellent Q&A in Criminal Element!
Following some well-rehearsed mental checklist, Cody quickly snapped three toggle switches and twisted a fat dial clockwise until it clicked. The hum of servo motors filled the van as the side cams winged-in and the RF snorkel lowered. He tossed his keys to Wild and said, “Fire it up,” then popped the rear door and vaulted out. She hesitated. This day had gone nowhere Macie had been in her life. And now the night had become even more volatile. How far should she take it? The last clack-clack of the antenna mast telescoping into place left her with only the silence of the acoustically deadened van and her thoughts. Bouncing the keys once in her palm, Wild decided she could at least start the engine for him.
Cody darted up to the driver’s side door just as she opened it. “Never mind, I got it,” he said, sounding hurried, for sure, but controlled. “You’re shotgun.” He took the keys from her and turned it over before his ass settled in the seat. Macie was still pulling the passenger door closed behind her while the van lurched from the curb.
“Our man was already downstairs and on the fly when I got out. See him ahead?”
“Not on foot. Up there. He’s in the same car from last night.”
Three cars ahead, the white sedan passed a skinny kid humping his halal cart up Chrystie Street. “Got it.” The post-dinner flow out of Chinatown locked their subject in the middle of a convoy, same as them. “Did he see you?”
“I don’t think so. But you gotta know he’s got his head on a swivel, looking for something.”
Like maybe a van? she thought, but decided it best not to say, being new at this. “Mind if I ask what the plan is?”
“We keep a loose tail,” he said without a blink. They inched along for half a block when the white car jerked a sudden right, climbing up over the curb. People scattered. The sedan’s shocks settled, and the Russian floored it across the pedestrian pathway into Sara Roosevelt Park. “New plan,” said Cody.
He sounded his horn twice and flashed his brights to clear foot traffic as he rode up a service driveway and followed at a slightly slower speed. Not much on swearing, Macie groaned another curse. “You OK?” he asked.
“My whole life in this city, I’ve never actually driven on a sidewalk.”
“Shit. He’s busting a move.” Cody pointed to the taillights ahead. The car had crossed the narrow strip of greenbelt and was making a left to go north—the wrong way on a one-way street.
“This guy’s crazy,” she hollered. Wild’s heart sank a little bit at the thought that they were about to lose him. Then, just as crazily, Cody made a left to follow him. “Ummmm?” she said.
“Relax, we have the easy part. As long as I stay in his wake, he’s the tip of the spear, doing all the clearing.” Oncoming cars were blasting horns and swerving to the side to avoid head-ons. Unruffled, Cody worked the wheel easily and drew closer. “He’s put a plate on that since last night. Probably stolen, but memorize it.” He made an abrupt slalom dodge of a motorcycle and said, “Got it yet?”
“Call 911. Tell them there’s a drunk driver going the wrong way northbound on Forsyth near Grand. Give the color, make, and plate, then hang up.” He gave the directions as calmly as if sharing a recipe. “Use this.” He reached into his door pocket and pulled out a cell phone. “It’s a burner. Do not give your name.”
She did as instructed, even hanging up on the emergency operator, another first in a day with a spinning compass. Wild made a pact with herself not to gasp or say one more “Oh, God,” and to just hang on and trust Cody with the circus ride. They nearly sheared off a man’s car door, and he pegged his frozen yogurt at her side window as they blew past, leaving a pink smear. “I could be at my couples counseling now,” she said.
At Grand the white car lurched east, going with traffic at last. The driver hit the gas for a clear stretch until a trash truck blocking the way put him in a last-second turn up Allen Street. “Looks like he’s working his way to the Williamsburg Bridge.” Cody glanced at his dash. “Fine with me, I’ve got a full tank.”
Up ahead, a box truck made a sudden lane change for a right onto Delancey then brake checked for a couple pushing a stroller in the crosswalk. Tires squealed and the white sedan rear-ended the truck. With Cody closing in, their perp abandoned his car and raced off around the corner. Cody pulled into the driveway of a loading dock and hopped out. He must have heard Macie’s footfalls behind him because he chirped the lock on the van without turning. Cody ran fast but so did Wild. He stopped, raised his arm across her as a caution barrier, then made a one-eyed peek around the front of a seafood restaurant on the corner. “We’re good,” he said, then bolted off. She caught up, pacing him again. Cody seemed to know exactly where he was going but it took Macie half a block before she could pick out the back of the balding head weaving through the night crowd filling the sidewalk on Delancey Street.
The man looked back and must have spotted them, too, because he turned a hairpin off the curb and shoved a passing cyclist to the pavement. He fell onto her and the two struggled. Macie couldn’t tell if the cyclist was fighting him off or he was just tangled in the bike. Losing time as Cody and Wild closed the gap, he gave up on jacking the Cannondale and charged out into Delancey, nearly getting taken down by a beer truck. The Russian continued across the street, busting through the greenery of the center divider, and disappeared from view. Car horns marked him, though, as he played dodge ’em on the other side in the westbound lanes. Cody lofted both his arms to signal traffic and followed him with Macie keeping stride.
“Subway.” Again, the ex-cop’s eye put him way ahead of hers. Up the sidewalk, their target flicked a quick check back, making eye contact this time as he pushed through the crowd streaming up from the Essex Station. Wild and Cody picked up their speed, but, as they approached the head of the stairs, they heard shouts and a scream. A logjam of toppled bodies littered the steps beneath them. Their perp was gone but not before he had bowled over a half- dozen commuters.
It killed Macie not to give assistance, but when Cody pressed on, rapidly picking his way through the Lincoln Logs of arms and legs, she followed, with every “fucking asshole” a stinging lash to her heart. They heard the subway’s warning chimes and the recorded voice announcing, “Stand clear of the closing doors, please.” Racking up another lifetime first, she leaped the turnstile behind Cody and sprinted with him down to the platform where the doors had just closed on an M train. As it pulled out Cody tore off, keeping up with the last car, searching through the windows for a glimpse of their man among the departing passengers. When it gained speed and became just two red taillights disappearing into the grimy tunnel, he turned to her, thirty yards distant, and said it all with a headshake. But Wild was windmilling her arm, and he jogged back to join her.
“Whatcha got?” He was breathing rapidly, but still controlled. She indicated a trio of college students at the opposite end of the platform, acting like they just spotted the Yeti across the tracks. “Good eye,” he said, and they started toward them, picking up bits of their conversation on the way.
“You think we should call someone?” said one of the girls.
A guy in a straw fedora said, “Dude’s off his meds, or something.”
“Hi. Train safety,” said Cody with authority. “You see a guy go that way?”
All three pointed across the rails where a curtain of beige tarps running the full length of the station hung like sooty bed sheets from a wire cable. There was one gap where the drapes had been parted. It was just the size of a man, and it was fluttering.
Cody descended the emergency rungs as if they were no more than a swimming pool ladder. Wild traced a wary side look for train headlights in the dark tunnel and followed. “Third rail,” he said pointing. She made an exaggerated step over it and they proceeded at a walk toward the gap. Cody held a shush finger to his lips then made a fast peek through the tarp opening then ducked back. He gave a nod and they both went inside.
He squatted behind a low concrete wall and drew her down beside him while he got his bearings, listening and looking off into the dingy gloom of the subway’s vast underworld. Wild maintained her silence but knew exactly where they were. This was the abandoned Williamsburg Bridge trolley station. She knew because her ex-fiancé had taken her to a fund- raising event for a group trying to convert this defunct subterranean acre into an underground park called the Low Line, their pun on the famous High Line. It had a long way to go. Sprawling before them in murky light, a ghost forest of rusty girders sprouted up from hundred-year-old cobblestones and a bayou of rain runoff. The water surfaces rippled, the ground shook, and soon a train pulled into the station behind them, filling the curtain with a Close Encounters glow, and illuminating enough graffiti tags to rival the Berlin Wall.
Camouflaged by the noise of the idling train, Cody put his lips to her ear and whispered, “Watch out for that light, it’ll make you a silhouette target.” Which made her think, and not for the first time, about that .44 magnum she saw getting waved around the flophouse.
She turned to his ear, feeling oddly comfortable with the intimacy of that. “You haven’t told me. What do we do if we catch him?”
This excerpt from Buzz Killer is © Tom Straw, 2017, and should not be reprinted without permission.