Evil Without a Face
Story Behind the Story
EVIL WITHOUT A FACE is book #1 (February 2009) in my Sweet Justice series. In this book, an obsessed bounty hunter and a washed up NFL quarterback must face their demons to confront an insidious global conspiracy and save a young girl from a faceless evil.
With an international setting, these new thrillers will focus on the lives and loves of three womena bounty hunter operating outside the law, an ambitious vice cop, and a former international operative with a mysterious past. These women give Lady Justice a whole new reason to wear blinders. And their brand of justice is anything but sweet.
The Women of EVIL WITHOUT A FACE
My original intention behind this trio of women was to spread the focus to all three equally, but after getting into the head of Jessica Beckett (the bounty hunter) I was hooked. She's scarred both physically and mentally by her past, yet her inner strength is so resilient. Her scars are the imperfections in us all. But one of her most endearing traits is that she's a real smart-ass. Normally, I fall in love with my male characters, but this woman has stolen my heart on so many levels.
The Men of EVIL WITHOUT A FACE
Yum! Before I started writing this book, I had Josh Holloway in my mind as Payton Archer. And the name Payton Archer came to me way before that. Having this guy in my head for so long was a very good thing. And Seth Harper was never anyone else but John Hensley. I had an opportunity to meet John when he was on the TNT TV show Witchblade. Up close, this man is beautiful. He takes your breath away. His boyish face makes him look quite a bit younger than he really is, just like my "boy" Harper. And Joe Tanu was always Graham Greene in my mind. Greene has appealed to me for a long time. His calm reassuring good nature and his intelligence is something I see in Joe.
The Russian Connection
Since I used to live in Alaska, the Russian connection was a natural move, especially once I researched St. Lawrence Island and the old Air Force base located there. Too many choice research tidbits fell into place for me to ignore.
The remote seaport of Providenija was nothing more than a crude airstrip and a modest harbor located at the base of a mountain range on the southeast coast of Chukotka Peninsula. The larger landmass projected into the waters of the Chukchi and the Bering Seas. Less than forty miles separated Russian land from the St. Lawrence Island near Alaska, property of the United States government.
In Providenija, housing consisted of tenements and pre-fabricated metal structures barged into port in the off season when the ice flows permitted. And the main source of income came from the sea and hunting.
Globe HarvestDoes it exist?
In today's world, crimes have become global and harder to prosecute over jurisdictional borders, especially with the Internet. Predators have made cyberspace a dangerous hunting ground. And Globe Harvest is EVIL WITHOUT A FACE.
The old man pulled up the webpage to Globe Harvest, a site with a note it was under construction. The notice had been there for as long as he remembered. He hit the keystrokes to open the site, a pre-designated arrangement. An ID and password box flashed onto the screen. He typed his unique code and hit enter. After a few seconds, a mailbox appeared. No emails waited for him, but he sent one of his own. He typed a simple message and embedded it into a digital photo of Alaska he'd taken off the Internet. Another agreed upon security measure.
Yes, there was little doubt. Money would be good this week...
I've been to Talkeetna many times with my last visit in September 2007 after speaking at Bouchercon in Anchorage, a mystery reader conference. I brought a few author friends to Talkeetna while I took digital photos for research. We had a hardy breakfast at the Roadhouse and had a great time. In my mind, Talkeetna is the home of Payton Archer and his sister Susannah, his niece Nikki, and best friend and father figure, Joe Tanu, a retired Alaskan State Trooper.
With all the trouble in their lives, Payton & his sister Susannah needed a home they would miss once they risked losing it. And on my research trip to Talkeetna, I found these two great homes that anyone would love to call home.
Warm sheets felt good against his bare skin, especially with the soft patter of rain tapping its sweet music along his rooftop and windowpanes. He'd always been a sucker for rain, Nature's version of a lullaby. Behind closed eyelids, Payton Archer pictured a steel gray morning, heavy with the smell of rain, commonplace in Alaska this time of year.
With eyes shut, Payton could imagine his world a different place. Rapt in the last vestiges of sleep, he lay perfectly still, clinging to the twilight before he opened his eyes to the reality of his life. He listened to the sound of his breaths as if they came from someone else. A slow steady rhythm. The simple ebb and flow of a man who didn't know failure.
Today things might be different. Maybe he'd changed.
Talkeetna River Park
On the north edge of town, there is a campground where Nikki made arrangements for someone she didn't know to pick her up in the middle of the night. Once she got into this car, there was no turning back. But when Jessie later realizes Nikki's lapse in judgment mirrors her own life, she says, "The thing is, Nikki made a mistake. She trusted the wrong person and believed what they told her. But a kid's mistake isn't supposed to be a death sentence, damn it."
In no time, she'd be gone. All she had to do was keep a low profile until then.In the background, the confluence of the Talkeetna and Susitna rivers surged against a steel gray sky. Normally, the white noise of the water would be soothing, but not tonight. She knew after tonight, her life would change forever.
But a strange mix of dread and relief came when headlights pierced the gray murkiness and flickered between the tall stand of evergreens. A car eased toward the park. As planned, the vehicle parked and flashed its lights twice. Nikki walked toward it with gravel crunching underfoot. Even up close, she still was unable to see the driver's face. And no one got out. When she reached for the door, doubt kicked her heart into high gear and throbbed in her ears.
She knew once she got inside, there'd be no turning back. After taking one last breath of the crisp night air, she opened the rear door and tossed in her bag, then slipped into the front passenger seat and shut the door behind her. Nikki didn't want to believe in regrets.
Alaska State Trooper Office
Payton drives with Joe Tanu to the nearest Alaska State Trooper's office to plead his case. He's made a promise to his sister, one he intends to keep. He's never thought of himself as a hero, but now he has to be.
"It's the only lead we got and you know it." Joe kept his voice steady and his eyes fixed on Trooper Fitzgerald. "I ain't asking for much. If I got a marker left with you, I need it now, Fitz. Payton and I can observe the interrogation from the next room."
The trooper stared at Joe, letting silence do his talking until Payton broke the stalemate.
"Look, Dan, you know how it is. We gotta do something. Nikki is out there ... with strangers. Susannah is afraid some outsider off the Internet has taken her only kid. She's sick with worry."
He stepped forward, but kept his voice low and in control.
"Please ... I promise. You won't even know I'm there. And Joe is a trained investigator. Doesn't it make sense to have another good man on this case? It would give Susannah peace of mind, something she hasn't had much of lately."
The trooper tightened his jaw and glared through ice blue eyes until his stern expression softened. He let out a sigh and tapped a finger to Payton's chest. "I'm gonna hold you to that promise, Archer. You're gonna follow orders. No questions asked. You hear me?" After Payton nodded, the trooper shook his head and brushed by him, muttering, "Let's get this traveling circus on the road."
Payton's Charter Plane Service
While in Anchorage, Payton had arranged for a private charter to make the trip to Chicago later that evening, but he couldn't leave without first seeing Susannah and explaining what had happened. When he walked through his front door, he gazed at the mess he'd left behind, remnants of his self-indulgence.
A life without consequence.
"You're a piece of work, Archer," he mumbled.
Payton tossed his truck keys on a kitchen counter next to a half empty bottle of Macallan Scotch and noticed the red blinking light from his answering machine. His first thought was that the message might be from Susannah. Without hesitation, he punched the button to hear it.
With garbled noise in the background, it took a while for a voice to come on the line.
"Uncle Payton...I love you."
The faint voice of his niece caught him by surprise.
Knowing how she'd left town, he recognized the background noise as the Anchorage airport with part of a flight announcement recorded. He checked the time stamp for Nikki's call and a cold fist of sadness gripped his heart.
She'd called when he was out drinking. If he'd been home, would things have turned out differently? Had this been her attempt to reach out one last time? "And you picked me, Nikki. God help you."
Payton grabbed for the bottle of scotch, not bothering with a glass, and took a long pull. It burned his throat all the way down, the heat swelling through his chest and belly. Gasping, he came up for air and wiped his lips with the back of his hand. Guilt closed in without mercy.
Up until now, he thought he'd only done harm to himself with the choices he'd made, but that wasn't true. He'd cut himself off from the people he loved and there had been consequences.
How would he face Susannah?
The Peninsula Hotel in Chicago
Part of Seth Harper's strange and unexplained world, the Peninsula Hotel in downtown Chicago becomes his hideaway. His posh terrace suite in the 5-Star hotel overlooks Chicago's famed Gold Coast.
Located on the 'Magnificent Mile', The Peninsula Chicago on Superior Street was one of the city's most luxurious and sophisticated five-star hotels, set in the heart of Chicago's exclusive shopping scene. In contrast, the posh hotel stood beside the historic Water Tower, a uniquely eye-catching and ornate limestone structure that looked more like a small chapel at first glancethe old and new set in perfect harmony.
Yet again, Seth Harper had surprised her with his new digs. And he'd promised to meet her in the lobby since his accommodations required card-key access to the secured floors.
"Card-key access, my ass," she muttered as she pushed through the revolving glass door, running a hand through her tousled hair. Once inside, she searched the lobby for her enigmatic boy genius. When she spotted him, Jess did a double take, unable to contain her grin.
"Well, I'll be damned." She raised an eyebrow and cocked a hip.
Nice dark slacks and a blue open-collar button down shirt had replaced his Jerry Springer tee and worn jeans. He'd even combed his hair for the occasion. Harper was a damned chameleon. If it weren't for the bruises on his face and his cut lip, she might have mistaken him for someone else.
"Well, I have to say it. You clean up nice, Harper. But I'm still reporting you to Springer. Where's your loyalty, man?"
Harper didn't bat an eye. He opened a button to reveal a Jerry tee under his shirt.
"Never question my sense of loyalty, Jessie. Some things about me never change."
"I'm beginning to appreciate that fact, Harper." She smiled. "Lead the way, Uptown Boy."
Seth escorted her to the top floor and into the most fabulous suite she had ever seen. Jaw dropping gorgeous. Massive windows in every room offered stunning panoramic views of Lake Michigan, the Water Tower, and Chicago's historic Gold Coast district. Without waiting for her reaction, Harper headed for an impressive study, leaving her to exploresomething she couldn't resist.
Painted in gold tones and creamy ivory, the suite had two living areas, one casual and the other more formal. If a patron ever got confused on which was which, the grand piano served as a focal point to the formal one. She had no idea if Harper played, but nothing would surprise her about the guy anymore.
NE Cape - St. Lawrence Island
In the hunt for Globe Harvest, rescuers search in Chicago, Russia, and Alaska.
Now their plane prepared to land and made a pass over a sparse airstrip near Kookoolik Cape on the Bering Sea, the island's northern coastline. The sky was overcast and metal gray, giving the land a drab and listless feel. Barren tundra with small ponds and marshy areas dotted the landscape below.
Jess stopped talking when the aircraft made its final turn and she looked out the window to watch the landing, a glutton for punishment. The plane swung in almost sideways when a strong gust of wind buffeted the fuselage. She gripped her armrest until the charter landed with a series of bumps that jarred her teeth.
Once off the plane, she noticed the 'airport terminal' was nothing more than a metal Quonset hut that she would have mistaken for a warehouse if it hadn't been for the windsock on a flagpole, thrashing in the gusts. A smattering of small planes were tied down outside with wooden blocks at their wheels and signs were posted for Frontier Flying Service and a couple of other carriers.
While Payton took care of offloading the plane and their belongings, she contended with the steady wind and gazed over the horizon. The terrain was mostly flat and boggy, not much more than a wind battered finger of land surrounded by a turbulent sea. No big city noise. No traffic. Nothing familiar. And an odd stillness closed in on her, prickling her skin with a chillaided by the realization that she'd entered a world so radically different from any she had experienced.
I enjoyed discovering the character of Seth Harper as I wrote EVIL WITHOUT A FACE. He was one of my big surprises. I let my mind drift into his life and wrote him with compounding mysteries to challenge myself as an author. I love puzzles and painting myself into corners. But at the end of this bookbelieve it or notI had no clue what his back story would be until I started the next book in the Sweet Justice seriesTHE WRONG SIDE OF DEAD. In book 2 of this series, you'll get answers. Seth crossed Jessie's path for a reason, one she never saw coming. And as you will learn, not everything is rosy in Harperworld 24/7.
"Speaking of Seth," Sam changed the subject. "I went to check on him like you asked."
Harper hadn't answered his cell phone for the last several days. At first, Jess took this in stride and didn't give it a second thought. She'd gotten used to the guy's mysterious ways. But finally, his disappearing act had gotten to her. She asked Sam to check on him at The Peninsula in Chicago.
"Did he freak when a cop showed up at his hotel door?" She joked, but her heart wasn't in it. Jess wanted to hear Harper's voice. Most of all, she wanted to thank him. None of this would have happened without him. None of it.
Sad-eyed Seth Harper had been the real hero.
"He wasn't at the hotel, Jess. And get this. No one there had ever heard of him. And when I described him and told them which suite he'd been staying, they said that room hadn't been booked in the last two weeks. What do you make of that?" Sam asked.
Jess felt a sudden disconnect from Seth as if meeting him had only been a strange dream, like none of it had been real. She flashed to the last time she'd seen him. The tall lanky kid didn't look as if he'd slept in a while. He'd dismissed her concern by saying, "...not everything is rosy in Harperworld twenty-four seven ... but I'll figure it out soon. No worries." And when she left the hotel that day, she recalled how he'd made a point to say "good-bye" instead of his usual shrug and "see ya" attitude.
Well, now she was worried. Why hadn't she pressed him more...to find out what was going on with him? When she got back to town, Jess vowed to look for Harper. Maybe he would need saving. And she wanted to be there, holding his lifeline.
In THE WRONG SIDE OF DEAD (Fall 2009), enigmatic Seth Harper, computer wizard and friend to bounty hunter Jessica Beckett, is framed for a heinous murder and becomes a sacrificial lamb to a ruthless killer. And between his gaps in memory and reluctance to reveal his secrets, fugitive recovery agent Jessica Beckett, vice cop Sam Cooper and international operative Alexa Marlowe have an uphill battle to help the boy genius. But Harper's plight is not what it seems. And with one fatal mistake, more innocent lives could wind up on the wrong side of dead.