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Please Welcome Author BRETT BATTLES!

Please welcome BRETT BATTLES to the very last day of our Month of Suspense & Thrillers!

 

 

brett

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[ Edited ]
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Re: Please Welcome Author BRETT BATTLES!

 

 

Shadow of Betrayal (Jonathan Quinn Series #3) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ebook, paperback and hardcover editions

 

 

 

 

 

Shadow of Betrayal (Jonathan Quinn Series #3) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The meeting place was carefully chosen: an abandoned church in rural Ireland just after dark. For Jonathan Quinn—a freelance operative and professional "cleaner"—the job was only to observe. If his cleanup skills were needed, it would mean things had gone horribly wrong. But an assassin hidden in a tree assured just that. And suddenly Quinn had four dead bodies to dispose of and one astounding clue—to a mystery that is about to spin wildly out of control.

 

 

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Re: Please Welcome Author BRETT BATTLES!

 

 

The Deceived (Jonathan Quinn Series #2) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ebook, paperback and hardcover editions

 

As a professional "cleaner," Jonathan Quinn disposes of bodies and ties up loose ends. Doesn't get his hands dirty, no wet work. But when he discovers he's been hired to vanish all traces of Steven Markoff, one of his best friends and a former agent with the CIA, his job suddenly hits too close to home. This time, it's personal. Quinn is determined to get justice for Markoff. Plus, now, Markoff's girlfriend Jenny, who had been an assistant to an ambitious Congressman, has also disappeared. Racing from the corridors of power in Washington to the bustling streets of Singapore—along with his eager, smart apprentice,

The Deceived
UK

Nate, and brilliant, beautiful Orlando, his closest friend who's saved his life more than once—events quickly spiral dangerously out of control. With an addicting momentum and fascinating characters, THE DECEIVED takes us on a thrilling, pulse-pounding journey.

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The Cleaner (Jonathan Quinn Series #1) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ebook, paperback and hardcover editions

 

Jonathan Quinn is a professional cleaner. His job? Nothing too violent, just disposing of bodies, doing a little cleanup if necessary. But in Brett Battles' electrifying debut novel, Quinn's latest assignment will change everything, igniting a harrowing journey of violence, betrayal, and revenge. 

The job seemed simple enough: investigating a suspicious case of arson. But when a dead body turns up where it doesn't belong—and Quinn's handlers at "the Office" turn strangely silent—he knows he's in over his head. 

The Cleaner
UK

With only a handful of clues, Quinn scrambles for cover, struggling to find out why someone wants him dead . . . and if it's linked to a larger attempt to wipe out the Office. 

His only hope may be Orlando, a woman from his past who's reluctant to help but who may hold the key to solving the case. Suddenly the two are prying into old crimes, crisscrossing continents, struggling to stay alive long enough to unbury the truth. But as the hunt intensifies, Quinn is stunned by what he uncovers: a chilling secret . . . and a brilliantly orchestrated conspiracy—with an almost unimaginable goal. 

Furiously paced, filled with superbly drawn characters and pitch-perfect dialogue, The Cleaner puts a powerful twist on all our expectations as it confirms Brett Battles' place as one of the most exciting new talents in suspense fiction today. 

 

 

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Re: Please Welcome Author BRETT BATTLES!

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Re: Please Welcome Author BRETT BATTLES!

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Re: Please Welcome Author BRETT BATTLES!

Brett Battles

 

Brett was born and raised in southern California. His parents, avid readers, instilled the love of books in him early on. 

Though he still makes California his home, he has traveled extensively to such destinations as Ho Chi Minh City, Berlin, Singapore, London, Paris, and Bangkok, all of which play parts in his current and upcoming Jonathan Quinnthrillers

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Tell us about your influences, and how you came to be a writer?


I'm not sure exactly when the idea came to me that I wanted to be a writer, but I do remember that as early as fifth grade I would tell people that's what I was going to do. (Little did I know how much work it would take and how long it would be before I fulfilled that dream.) 

But I guess the inspiration to be a writer came from my love of reading. I can thank my parents for that. They are both huge readers. I can remember that every night after my dad came home from work, he would read for an hour or so, while the chaos of our household unfolded around him. 

He was a huge sci-fi fan, so, naturally, I also became one. I read as much as I could by masters of the genre like Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov, and works by lesser known, but equally talented writers, like James White. 

As I grew older, my tastes expanded. I didn't completely quit reading sci-fi, but I did branch out. I think I read almost everything by Alistair MacLean, and Jack Higgins. And I also read a little book called BLACK SUNDAY by Thomas Harris several times. While science fiction stories were often thrillers, MacLean, Higgins, and Harris exposed me to a different kind of thriller—those set in our world, in our time. 

Those weren't the only authors who influenced me, but they were some of the most important. Still, it would be a mistake to leave out two other authors who have been huge effect on me. The first is Stephen King.THE STAND is a book I've read over half a dozen times. And THE DARK TOWER series is simply brilliant. 

The second is the late Graham Greene. There is a sadness to Greene's work that grips me and pulls me in. And he does it all with a simple, sparse style that I admire. If you haven't read Graham Greene before, you should give him a shot. Try THE QUIET AMERICAN, or THE HEART OF THE MATTER, or OUR MAN IN HAVANA

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What is your process for writing a novel? Where do you get your inspiration?


Let's tackle the inspiration question first. Simple answer: I get it anywhere and everywhere. 

I could be walking down the street and see a couple arguing. I might wonder what the argument is about, but instead of eavesdropping, I'll make something up. Maybe then other questions pop into my mind. Before I know it, I might have the idea for a book. 

As for my process, I'll take that idea, wherever it came from, and let it roll around in my mind for a while. Then, when I feel I'm ready, I'll sit down and start writing. Often I'll jot a few notes down first, maybe even create a bullet list of story points, but I'm not an outliner. Outlining kills the process for me. I enjoy the surprises I come across as I write. 

Once I'm done with a draft, though, the most important part of writing a story begins for me. That's rewriting. I love the rewrite. It's when you make things come alive. When you cut unnecessary weight, and add in those sentences here and there that tie everything together. To me that's the magic time. 

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How do you create the characters in your stories?


They kind of crop up when they're needed. Sometimes they'll only give me a peek into their personality when I first think them up, while other times they'll come to me whole. What is most important to me is that no character, no matter how small, is just a cardboard cut out. The reader might not see much about the character, but I know there is more there to each of them. 


Any advice for aspiring novelists?


Read: Books are your classrooms. Both the good ones and the bad. If you want to write in a particular genre, read that genre. Get a feel for the rhythm and the conventions. Not that you need to stick to the genre "rules", but knowing them will allow you to break time with confidence. Then don't be afraid to read outside the genre. Inspiration will come from everywhere. 

Observe: Writers by nature are observers. Or, at least, I think the good ones are. We are interrupting the world to those who read our work. Sure, perhaps the world we are writing about is a made up one, but it is based on the world we live in everyday. Observe life. People watch. Eavesdrop on conversations in coffee shops. Don't judge anything, just soak it in. 

Experience: I don't mean experience everything your characters will experience. I mean experience life. Travel. Go to a firing range. Hike up a mountain. Even jump out of a plane, if that's something that interests you. Experience life. Then use those experiences to infuse your writing with real emotions and knowledge. 

Finally, and most important, WRITE: Writers write. Simple as that. Write a little everyday if that's all you can manage. It may be crap, but so what? Athletes practice all the time, improving with each drill. It's the same thing with writing. You can't get better unless you write. 

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Killer Year 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ILLER YEAR is a volume of some of the best crime, mystery, and suspense short stories by such rising stars as Brett Battles, Robert Gregory Browne, Toni McGee Causey, Marcus Sakey, Derek Nikitas, Marc Lecard, JT Ellison, Jason Pinter, Bill Cameron, Sean Chercover, Patry Francis, Gregg Olsen, and David White. Each of the stories are introduced by different masters of thriller and mystery world, some of which include bestselling authors Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen and Jeffrey Deaver. In addition to this group of talented writer's stories, there are also tales by Ken Bruen, Allison Brennan and Duane Swierczynski. Bestselling authors Laura Lippman and MJ Rose contribute insightful essays. Inside you'll read about a small time crook in over his head, a story told backwards with a heroine not to be messed with, a tale of boys and the trouble they will get into over a girl, and many more stories of the highest caliber in murder, mayhem, and sheer entertainment. This amazing anthology, edited by the grandmaster Lee Child, is sure to garner lots of attention and keep readers coming back for more. 

Check out the Killer Year website! 

 

 

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Brett Battles

A Writer's Sphere

 

 

I've had a few folks wonder why I'm not posting any more. We'll I am, just not here (though if there is news I'll put something up.) You can find me every other Thursday at: 

Murderati

But I suggest going there everyday as there are 13 other fantastic authors who also post.

Oh, and you can always friend me on Facebook where I occasionally let folks know what's going on.

My Facebook page

 

 

 

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[ Edited ]

 

 

http://www.murderati.com/

 

MURDERATI

 

 

ou can email Brett at brett AT brettbattles DOT com

Check out Brett's MySpace site

 

This is Brett's website: http://www.brettbattles.com/index.html

 

 

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[ Edited ]



A CONVERSATION WITH JONATHAN QUINN 

I make things disappear," Jonathan Quinn said. 

I think we'd known each other about six months at that point. We'd met in Germany when I was working there on a project for a visitor center presentation that would live at a new Volkswagen plant in Dresden. The job itself wasn't in Dresden, though. It was in Berlin, a town Quinn knows well. 

I thought at the time he was just another one of the wanderers I tend to collect, this one a fellow American working overseas. I think I first met him on the U-bahn (the Berlin train system) heading across town from the Mitte toward Ku'damm. I'm not 100% on that, though. The genesis of a character is often a drawn out process, and my memory of Quinn's birth is murky. 

By the time this particular conversation happened, we were both back in Los Angeles, where, it turns out, we both lived—Quinn much more comfortably than I. We were having dinner at a Thai restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. 

At the time it was my favorite place to eat. In the past year and a half, they've changed the decor to some sort of 90s disco theme and I haven't gone back. 

"What does that mean?" I asked. 

As he took a sip of his Singha beer, I thought maybe he was just going to leave it at that. After all, this was the most I'd ever got out of him about what he did for a living. But then he said, "Sometimes things don't go as planned. When that happens I'm the one who makes it all look pretty again." 

"Tell me about Berlin," I said. I had sensed from the beginning that something had happened there, something I wanted to know about. 

"Nothing to tell." He didn't even try to hide the fact that he was lying. 

That's about as far as I got that night. What exactly the 'things' were that didn't go as planned, I wasn't completely sure, but I did have my ideas. 

I could have just let him die right then. He was forcing me to work pretty hard to get to know him. I'd dismissed more talkative characters sooner than this. 

But there was something about him, something that made me want to know more. 

He was interesting and mysterious. And I'd be damned if there wasn't something that had happened in Berlin I wanted to hear about. 

A week later as we rode in my car, I said, "You're not killing people, but you do deal with the dead, right?" 

"You're talking in black and whites. You, as much as anyone, know the world is made up of grays." 

This answer stung me a little bit. He was right. One of my biggest pet peeves is people who only think in black and white, yet here I was trying to put him in a neat little black and white box. 

"Let's just say I don't kill if I don't have to," he went on. "But you're right about dealing with the dead. It's a big part of what I do." 

"You dispose of them?" 

"Exactly." He smiled as if I was a student and he was a proud teacher. "Disposal is one of the services I provide." 

"How does that work?" 

"That I'm not going to tell you." 

"But you will eventually." 

"Eventually." 

"These other things you do, what are they?" 

He looked out the window into the L.A. night. "I think that was your exit," he said. 

He was right. 

I moved over to the right lane, so I could get off at the next ramp and double back. 

"Just getting rid of a body isn't enough. You've got to make it look like whatever went wrong never happened. Blood, fingerprints, spent shells, things out of place. These are all problems I have to deal with. 

"I can't imagine you went to school for this. How did you get in and learn about the business?" 

"I was recruited." 

"Out of college?" 

He shook his head. "I was a cop." 

For some reason, that surprised me. "Who recruited you?" 

"Doesn't matter. He's dead now." 

"Did he teach you a lot?" 

"Everything." 

As I eased my car off the freeway, I decided to press my luck. "And Berlin?" 

I was greeted with only silence. When I looked over at the passenger seat, Quinn was gone. 

As time passed, bits of his story started coming to me. Not from anything Quinn said, but somehow I was sensing it, I guess. Even when he wasn't around, I'd pick up on things. I would be at work or getting into bed or even watching TV and a name or a place or a situation would pop into my mind. Immediately I'd know it was part of Quinn's story. Still, the problem was I had a lot of parts, but I didn't have the whole. 

The only way I was going to get that was to have Quinn tell it to me himself. 

"Tell me about Orlando," I said one morning. 

"Leave her out of it." 

"Then let's talk about Berlin." 

"Let's not." 

The next day: "Is she a friend?" 

"You don't listen very well, do you?" 

"No." 

"She's a friend." I could tell he was holding something back. 

"Was she with you in Berlin?" 

If she was, he didn't hang around to tell me. 

Each day I kept pressing, harder and harder, using the bit of information that had seeped into my mind. 

"What did you learn about the fire in Colorado?" I would ask. "How long did you work for Peter?" "Why do you hate the cold?" 

And finally, "Tell me what happened in Berlin." 

Finally one afternoon, he looked at me for a good long time before answering. 

"Okay," he said. "If you think you're ready." 

"I'm ready." 

"You'd better write this down." 

So I did. 

 

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THE DECEIVED
CHAPTER ONE 

he stench of rotting food and diesel fuel hung over the dock like it had been there forever. Even inside the small warehouse, the foulness overpowered everything. That was until the man in the light gray coveralls opened the door of the shipping container. Suddenly death was all Jonathan Quinn could smell. 

Unflinching, he scanned the interior of the container. With the exception of a bloated body crumpled against the wall to the right, it was empty. 

"Shut the door," Quinn said. 

"But Mr. Albina wanted you to see what was—" 

"I've seen it. Shut the door." 

The man—he'd said his name was Stafford—swung the door shut, locking the handle into place. 

"Why is this still here?" Quinn asked. 

Stafford took a few steps toward Quinn, then stopped. "Look, I got a dock to run, okay? I got a ship out there that's only half unloaded." He sucked in a tense, nervous breath. "I got customs people all over the place, you know? It's like they knew something like this was coming in today."_ 

Quinn raised an eyebrow. "Did you know it was coming in today?" 

"Hell, no," Stafford said, voice rising. "Do you think I'd be here if I did? I'd've called in sick. Mr. Albina's got people who should take care of this kind of crap." 

Quinn glanced at the man, then turned his attention back to the container. He began walking around it, scanning it up and down, taking it all in. After a slight hesitation, Stafford followed a few paces behind. 

Quinn had seen thousands of shipping containers over the years: on boats, on trains, being pulled behind big rigs. They were large, bulky rectangular boxes that moved goods between countries and continents. They came in black and red and green and gray. 

This one, with the exception of where the paint had chipped away and rust had started to take hold, was a faded dark blue. On each of the long sides, tall white letters spelled out baron & baron ltd. Quinn didn't recognize the name, but that wasn't surprising. At times it seemed as if there were nearly as many shipping companies scattered around the globe as there were containers. 

When Quinn reached the point where he had begun his inspection, he stopped, his eyes still on the box. 

"You're going to get rid of this, right?" Stafford asked. "I mean . . . that's what Mr. Albina told me. He said he was sending someone to get rid of it. That's you, right?" 

"Manifest?" Quinn asked. 

The man took a second to react, then nodded and picked up the clipboard he'd put on the ground when he'd opened the container's doors. 

"What's supposed to be inside?" Quinn asked. With the trade imbalance the way it was, nothing came into the States empty anymore. Any container that did would be suspicious. 

Stafford flipped through several pages, then stopped. "Tennis shoes," he said, looking up._Quinn glanced over at the man. "One pair?" 

"That's really funny," the man said, not laughing. 

"Who found it?" Quinn asked. 

Stafford seemed unsure what to say. When he did speak, his words didn't match the evasiveness in his eyes. "One of the dockhands. Said he smelled something when the crane set it down on the pier." 

"From that ship out there?" Quinn asked, motioning toward the door that led outside. "The Riegle 3?" 

Stafford nodded his head. "Yeah. It was one of the first ones off-loaded." 

"So this dockhand, he just brought the container in here and called you?"

"Yes." 

"You didn't call the police?" 

"I run everything by Mr. Albina. He said to wait for you." When Quinn didn't reply right away, Stafford added, "That's the way it happened, okay?" 

Quinn continued to stare at the man for a moment, then he turned and started walking toward the exit. 

"Hey! Where are you going?" Stafford asked. 

"Home," Quinn said without stopping. 

"Wait. What am I supposed to do?" 

Quinn paused a few feet from the door and looked back. Stafford was still standing near the container. 

"Where did the crate come from? Who found it? And why did they let you know?" Quinn asked. 

"I already told you that." This time there was even less conviction in Stafford's words. 

Quinn smiled, then shook his head. There was no reason to blame the man. It was obvious he was only saying what he'd been told to say. Still, Quinn didn't like being jerked around. 

"Good luck with your problem." 

He pushed open the door and left. 

* * * 

"That was quick," Nate said. 

Quinn climbed into the passenger seat of his BMW M3. Nate, his apprentice, was sitting behind the wheel, a copy of The Basics of Instrumental Flight in his lap. Just a week earlier, Nate had begun small-aircraft flying lessons. It was just one of many outside training courses he'd be taking during his apprenticeship. 

While his boss had been inside, he'd also rolled down the windows to let the cool ocean breeze pass through the interior while he waited. His iPod was plugged into the stereo playing KT Tunstall low in the background—a live cover of the old Jackson 5 hit "I Want You Back." 

"Turns out they didn't need us," Quinn said. 

"No body?" Nate asked, surprised. 

"There was a body. I just decided it might be better if they take care of it themselves."_Nate let out a short laugh. "Right. Better for who? Them or us?" 

Quinn allowed a smile to touch his lips. "Let's go." 

Nate looked at Quinn for a moment longer, seeming to be expecting more. When that didn't happen, he tossed his book in the back and started the engine. "Where to?" 

Quinn glanced at his watch. It was 11 a.m. The drive back from Long Beach to his house in the Hollywood Hills would take them over an hour. "Home. But I'm hungry. Let's stop someplace first." 

"How about Pink's?" 

Quinn smiled. "That'll work." 

They drove in silence for several minutes as Nate maneuvered the car through the city and onto the freeway. 

Once they were up to cruising speed, Nate said, "So what exactly happened?" 

Quinn gazed out the window at nothing in particular. "They didn't tell me all I needed to know."_ "So you just walked?" 

"I had to," Quinn said. He turned to his apprentice. "We don't need to know everything. That's not our job. But to do it right, sometimes there are things we have to know." 

He started to tell Nate about his meeting with Stafford. When he reached the point where he questioned the man about the discovery of the body, his cell phone rang. He pulled it out, looked at the display, then frowned. He knew the call would come, but it didn't make him happy. 

"This is Quinn." 

"I understand you're not interested in helping us out." The high pitch of his voice was unmistakable. Jorge Albina. 

Based out of San Francisco, Albina was an expert at getting things in and out of the country. Money, people, guns, and apparently now bodies, too. His services didn't come cheap, but his success rate was one of the best in the business. 

"We can pretend that's the reason if it helps," Quinn said. 

"It doesn't help if it's not the truth." 

"That's exactly where you and I agree." 

There was silence. 

"Stafford told me you just left. No reason," Albina said. 

"He was mistaken." 

"That's not an answer." 

Quinn took a deep breath. "Jorge, what's the most important part of my job?" 

There was a hesitation. "Whatever I say is going to be the wrong answer." 

"Not if you really thought about it," Quinn said. "But I'll tell you. Trust." 

"Trust," Albina said as if he was trying out the word for the first time. 

"Yes. See, you're trusting me with the knowledge of what happened, aren't you? You're trusting me to get rid of a problem so that it won't surface later, right? And you're trusting me that I'll never use what I've learned against you. Seems pretty important to me." 

"A little dramatic, don't you think?" Albina said, irritation creeping into his voice. "You're a cleaner. Your job is simple. Just get rid of the body." 

The muscles around Quinn's mouth tensed. "You know, you're right. It's the simplest job in the world. So I'm sure you can find someone else to help you from now on." 

"Wait," Albina said. "Okay. I'm sorry. I know what you do isn't easy. And I trust you, all right? I trust you." 

Quinn took a deep breath. "I have to trust you, too. I don't need to know a lot. Sometimes I don't need to know more than where the problem is. But when I do ask a question, there's a reason. I have to think about who else might know about the situation, and if they need to be steered in a different direction. I have to concern myself with where potential problems might come from while _I'm working. I won't take on a job if I don't trust the information I've been given." 

He could hear Albina take a long, low breath on the other end. "So where was the issue?" 

"I asked your man how the container got there, who discovered the body, and why they called him. He lied."_ Albina sighed. "Look, two days ago I received a phone call, okay? I was told a package was on its way to me. Something for me personally. I was given the name of the ship, the Riegle 3, and the container number. My people were already scheduled to unload it, so controlling it wasn't difficult." 

"Who was the call from?" Quinn asked. 

"I don't know. It was ID'd as a Hawaiian number, but that was a dead end. Who knows where it really came from?" 

"Man or woman?" 

"Man." 

"But you didn't recognize the voice," Quinn said. 

"No. I didn't." 

Quinn contemplated for a moment. This explanation made a hell of a lot more sense than what he'd been told at the warehouse. But Albina was a smoother operator than Stafford, better at lying, so Quinn wasn't ready to trust the information yet. 

"Is your decision not to help a final one?" Albina asked. 

"Who's the dead guy?" Quinn asked. "One of your people?"_ He had seen the body for only a few moments, and even then it had been bloated and discolored. 

"Is that really something you need to know?" Albina said. 

"It is now." 

Albina was silent for several seconds. "Not one of mine," he finally said. "The man on the phone told me the dead guy's name was Steven Markoff. I've never heard of him." 

Quinn tensed, his eyes frozen on the road ahead, but his voice remained neutral. "Markoff?" 

"Yeah. He spelled it for me. M-A-R-K-O-F-F. You know him?" 

"Name's not familiar." 

"Whoever the hell he is, I just need to get rid of him." Albina hesitated a moment. "It's my fault Stafford lied to you. My orders. I just didn't want to get dragged into this more than necessary." Another pause. "I need your help." 

Quinn knew Albina was holding something back. Only now it didn't matter.

"Quinn?" Albina asked. 

"If I do this, you need to follow my instructions exactly," Quinn said. "No questions, no deviations." 

"Of course." 

Quinn tapped Nate on the shoulder, then pointed to the next exit. Immediately Nate began moving the BMW to the right. 

"First you need to get the container away from the port," Quinn said. "You can get it past the customs people, right?" 

"I can do that." 

"The trailer you put it on should be untraceable. You won't be getting it back. And make sure the truck you use doesn't have any tracking devices. If it does, I'll know it, and you won't hear back from me. If everything goes right, I'll leave the truck someplace where you can pick it up when I'm done." 

"Okay. No problem." 

"There's a truck stop along the I-15 east of L.A., toward Corona," Quinn said, then gave him the name of the exit. "Have your driver park the rig there and leave the keys under the seat. You should have someone follow him in a car so they can leave together. But that's it. No one else, understand? If I pick up even a hint that I'm being followed by anyone, the deal's off." 

"Done." 

"Call me once they've left the port." 

Quinn hung up without waiting for a response. 

"So," Nate said, "does this mean we're back on?" 

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CHAPTER TWO 

hey made a few stops on the way out of town, picking up some items they'd need. 

"Park over there," Quinn said when they reached the truck stop. He pointed toward a group of big rigs parked just behind a row of cars. Albina had called only five minutes before to tell him the container had just left the port, so he knew it hadn't arrived yet. Still, he did a quick scan of the trucks to be sure Jorge wasn't playing any games. The container wasn't there. 

After they parked, Quinn got out and had Nate pop the trunk. The storage space was covered by a dark gray carpet Quinn had installed himself. On the left side, on top of the carpet, were the items they'd purchased on the way. 

Quinn ignored those and lifted up a section of the carpet on the right. Underneath was what anyone would expect, the metal bottom of the trunk. The only exception was a small black square mounted at the junction where the floor met the rear of the car. 

Quinn placed the pad of his left thumb on the square. A moment later, the base of the trunk hinged up an inch, exposing a custom-built compartment below. He reached into the gap and released the catch, freeing the panel to open all the way. 

The space below held his standard kit, things he might need at a moment's notice. There were several cases, most made of hard plastic, and a few simple leather pouches. He ran his fingers over the cases until he found the one he wanted. After pulling it out, he grabbed one of the leather pouches, then shut the panel and put the carpet back into place.

He walked up to the open driver's window. "You watch from here," he told his apprentice. 

"Got it," Nate said. 

Quinn opened the leather pouch and removed one set of communication gear. He inserted the earpiece into his right ear, its small size making it all but invisible, then attached the tiny transmitter inside his collar. 

"Let me know if you spot anything I should know about," he said, handing Nate the bag with a second set of radio gear still inside. 

The interior of the truck stop was a familiar one—restaurant, gift shop, restrooms. Quinn wandered around looking at the postcards, the T-shirts, and the discount CDs as he checked out the other people inside. No one registered as a threat. 

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[ Edited ]

THE CLEANER
CHAPTER ONE 

DENVER WAS NOT HAWAII. THERE WERE NO BEACHES, NO palm trees, no bikinis, no mai tais sipped slowly on the deck of the Lava Shack on Maui. Instead there were people dressed like they were expecting the next ice age, directing planes down taxiways lined with mounds of freshly plowed snow. There wasn't anyone wearing a bikini within five hundred miles. Worse yet, while it was only 3:00 p.m. local time on Thursday afternoon when Jonathan Quinn's flight began disembarking, a layer of gunmetal-gray clouds made it seem like it was almost night. 

It was definitely vacation over, back to work. 

After he exited the plane, Quinn made his way toward the front of the terminal, pulling his only piece of luggage, a carry-on suitcase, behind him. Not far beyond his arrival gate was a small kiosk. He stopped and bought an overpriced cup of coffee. 

As he took a sip he glanced around. There seemed to be an equal amount of people walking to and from the gates. A typical busy afternoon in a typical busy international airport. 

But it wasn't typical people he was looking for. He did a lot of traveling and knew from experience that you could never be sure who you might run into. In his business, that wasn't necessarily a good thing. But his arrival appeared to have been unobserved. He took another sip of his coffee and moved on. 

Instead of following the crowd and proceeding to the passenger pickup area, Quinn found a seat next to a set of arrival and departure screens near the ticketing and check-in counters. He pulled out the book he'd been reading on the plane, South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami, and started in where he'd left off. When he finished the book an hour later, two dozen additional flights had arrived. He closed the novel and returned it to his bag. Time to call in. 

"I thought you said you'd arrive first thing this morning," the voice on the other end of Quinn's phone said, irritated. 

"Selective memory, Peter," Quinn replied. "Those were your words. Is my ride here?" 

"It's been there since eight a.m.," Peter fumed. He told Quinn where to find the car, then hung up. 

*** 

The ride turned out to be a blue Ford Explorer. The vehicle came equipped with leather seats, an AM/FM radio, a CD player, and two men, neither of whom felt it necessary to give Quinn their names. He designated them the Driver and the Other One. 

As Quinn climbed into the back seat, the Other One tossed him a nine-by-twelve-inch padded manila envelope. It was about an inch thick and weighed maybe a pound. Quinn started to open it. 

"Don't," the Driver said. He was glancing at Quinn in the rearview mirror. 

"Why not?" Quinn asked. 

The Other One turned toward him. "Not until we're gone. Instructions." 

Quinn rolled his eyes and set the envelope on the seat beside him. "I wouldn't want you to get in trouble." 

*** 

They drove in silence for the next hour, through Denver and into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It was dark now and Quinn was getting hungry. The last meal he'd had was on the plane somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, if you could call the less-than-inviting beef Stroganoff he'd been served a meal. But he kept his hunger to himself. He knew if he didn't, his two new companions might decide that they were hungry, too. God forbid he be forced to eat with them. 

Instead, he tried to imagine that the pine trees they drove by were palm trees, and that the cloudy sky was just the regular afternoon rainstorm moving onto the island. After a few minutes, he gave up and just stared out the window. The dirty snow along the side of the road was a poor substitute for the beaches of Kaanapali. 

Finally, the Driver exited I-70 and drove a mile down a two-lane road into the darkened wilderness, before turning left onto a narrower, snow-packed road. A hundred yards ahead, a green Ford Taurus sedan was parked off to the side, tucked up against the encroaching woods. The Driver stopped behind it and turned the SUV's engine off. If Quinn didn't know better, he would bet he was about to be removed permanently. Deserted road. Two silent goons. A getaway car. Classic assassination scenario. 

Game over, buddy. Thanks for playing, but you lose. 

And though he knew he had nothing to worry about, he tensed a little, preparing himself just in case. 

Without a word, both the Driver and the Other One opened their doors and got out. As they did, a blast of cold air swept into the SUV. Quinn watched as they walked over to the Taurus and climbed in. A moment later, the sedan roared to life. Without even giving the engine time to warm up, the Driver executed a quick U-turn, then sped off, back toward I-70.Quinn chuckled to himself. This sort of cloak-and-dagger bullshit was really kind of amusing, if you thought about it. Asinine, but amusing. 

He got out of the Explorer, his teeth clenching against the frigid air. The leather jacket he was wearing was a lousy barrier to the cold, but it was all he'd had with him when his vacation on the islands was cut short. 

He hurried around the front of the vehicle and got into the driver's seat. The moment he had the door closed and the engine started again, he flipped the heater on full blast, letting the warm air fill the cabin. One of his first stops would be a place he could buy a winter coat, maybe even a couple of sweaters. Thermals, too. God, he hated cold weather. 

Once he was reasonably warm, Quinn reached into the back and retrieved the padded envelope. He poured the contents onto the passenger seat. Inside were two business-size envelopes, a folded map, and three sheets of paper. Two of the sheets were a wire-copy news report about a fire in some place called Allyson. Apparently a vacation rental had burned down, and the person who'd been staying there—an unnamed man—had died. 

Quinn picked up the final piece of paper and scanned it. It was the job brief containing his instructions and a limited amount of background information. Peter, as always, was trying to control what Quinn knew. Still, it was more information than the news article had revealed. 

The dead guy's name was Robert Taggert. Quinn's assignment was to determine if the fire had indeed been an accident—which the local authorities were leaning toward—or something else. 

That was all there was. Nothing else on Taggert. No helpful hints as to what Quinn should look for. Just an address—215 Yancy Lane—and a contact name with the local police force. On the surface, a piece-of-cake job. No reason for Quinn to have been brought in. Which to Quinn meant there was _probably more to it than the brief was letting on. 

He grabbed the map and unfolded it. The location of the fire was marked with a small red X. It was at least a couple hours' drive from Quinn's current position. He set the map down and opened the first envelope. Cash, about five grand. A week's worth of expense money if nothing too costly came along. Longer if Quinn didn't have to pay anyone off. And if this really turned out to be a one- or two-day job, a little extra cash for his own pocket. 

The other envelope held two identifications, both with Quinn's picture. The first was a Colorado driver's license. The second was an authentic-looking FBI ID. He'd played a Fed before, but it had been a while. 

His new name, he was amused to see, was Frank Bennett. Peter had a thing for classic pop singers. Quinn guessed that "Tony Sinatra" would have been a little too obvious. 

He set everything back down, then reached under the driver's seat looking for the one thing that hadn't been in the packet. When he pulled his hand back out, he was holding a soft leather case. He unzipped it and found what he expected inside, a 9mm SIG Sauer P226 and three fully loaded magazines. It was his weapon of choice. He put his hand back under his seat and pulled out a second pouch, this one containing a sound suppressor designed to attach to the end of the gun's barrel. Anything else he needed would be in the standard surveillance kit that was undoubtedly in the back of the vehicle. 

He stored the gun, mags, and suppressor in the glove compartment, then put the Explorer in drive._ 

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CHAPTER TWO 

BREAKFAST THE NEXT MORNING WAS SCRAMBLED EGGS and sausage, in the restaurant at the Allyson Holiday Inn, where he'd spent the night. He sat alone in a booth, with a copy of the local paper on the table next to his plate. 

It was full of the usual stuff small-town papers were interested in. A couple of short blurbs made up the international section: one about curbing ethnic tensions in Europe, and another on the continuing chaos in Somalia. The national news items were longer stories, with footers directing readers to other pages for the rest of the story—an ailing Supreme Court justice, a corporate fraud trial in Chicago, and a rundown of the expected highlights in the President's upcoming State of the Union address. 

But it was the local stories that commanded the bulk of the front page. Rather, one local story. The Farnham house fire. The story was a follow-up to the piece that had been included in Quinn's brief. It contained nothing new. Just old information reworked to sound fresh and feed the curiosity of the local population. The fire investigators were calling the blaze an accident. Faulty wiring. One tourist dead. There was little else. Taggert's name still hadn't appeared. That seemed a bit unusual, but Quinn suspected Peter might have something to do with it. 

A waitress walked by carrying a pot of coffee. She stopped when she saw what Quinn was reading. "That was awful, wasn't it?" she asked. 

He looked up. Her nametag identified her as Mindy. "The fire?" 

"Yeah," she said. "That poor man." 

"Did you know him?" 

"No," she said. "He might have come in here to eat, I guess. A lot of tourists do. Coffee?" 

"Please," Quinn said, pushing his cup toward her. 

She refilled it. "What I can't help wondering is if he has a family somewhere. Maybe a wife. Maybe some kids." She sighed. "Awful." 

"It sure is," Quinn said. 

She shook her head. "They say it happened while he was sleeping. Probably a nice guy, just enjoying a vacation, then suddenly he's dead." 

She moved on, refilling a few more cups of coffee on her way back to the register. Happens all the time, Quinn thought to himself. 

*** 

The Allyson Police Department's headquarters was located about a mile from the Holiday Inn. Quinn's contact was the chief of police, a guy named George Johnson. 

Quinn flashed his FBI ID to the desk sergeant and was quickly ushered into Chief Johnson's office. The chief stood as Quinn entered. 

Johnson was a tall man. He'd probably been in good shape once, but now carried a few extra pounds from too many years behind a desk. His face showed the strain of his job, too, eyes baggy and dark, jowls heavy and drooping. But his smile was genuine, and his handshake was firm. Quinn took both _as signs of a man who liked his job despite its difficulties. 

"Agent Bennett," Chief Johnson said. "I can't say that I've ever really had to deal with the FBI before. But I guess this is a day of firsts for me." 

The chief motioned to the empty chair in front of his desk. As Quinn sat down he wondered what Chief Johnson meant by "a day of firsts," but knew better than to ask right away. 

"What can I do for you?" Johnson said as he eased himself back into his chair. 

"Quite honestly, Chief, I'm not sure you can do anything," Quinn began. "I'm not really here on official Bureau business." 

Johnson eyed Quinn curiously. "Then why are you here?" 

"It's about the fire you had the other day." 

"The Farnham fire," the chief said as if he'd expected it all along. 

"That's right," Quinn said. "I'm here about the victim. Robert Taggert." 

The chief paused, obviously surprised Quinn knew the man's name. "What about him?" 

"He's apparently a relative of a special agent back in D.C. Somebody a bit higher up the food chain than I am. Since I was in the area on other business, they asked me if I could swing by and check things out. It's more soothing someone's concerns than anything else. I'm sure you have everything well in hand." 

The chief was silent for a moment. "Is that why that other guy was out here earlier this morning?"_ 

Now it was Quinn's turn to hesitate. "I'm not sure I know who you're talking about." 

The chief opened the center drawer of his desk and pulled out a business card. Reading, he said, " 'Nathan S. Driscoll. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.' ""May I see that?" Quinn asked. 

The chief shrugged, then handed the card to Quinn. "I've never talked to anyone from ATF before either," the chief said. 

The card was high-quality, printed on government-issued card stock, and complete with the ATF symbol embossed on one side. 

"I don't know him," Quinn said. "But could be he's here for the same reason I am. If my guy back in D.C. was desperate enough, I'm sure he'd call in as many favors as he could." Quinn handed the card _back to Johnson. "What time was he here?" 

"Left no more than thirty minutes ago," Johnson said. 

Outwardly Quinn forced himself to smile. "I hate to make you go over this stuff again, but would you mind?" 

The chief shook his head. "No problem. But like I said to Agent Driscoll, there's really not much to tell. It was an accident. That's it." 

"I heard that. But Andersen—that's the guy back in D.C.—he wasn't satisfied. I guess when all your information is coming from what you read in the paper, you just want to make sure you're not missing something." 

"If he's getting his information from the paper, how did he know Taggert was the one killed?" 

"That's a great question," Quinn said honestly. "I have no idea." 

The chief seemed to give it some thought. "Maybe it was the sister." 

"The sister?" Quinn asked. 

"Taggert's sister," the chief said. "She's the only one we told." 

Quinn nodded. "That makes sense. Is there anything else you can tell me?" 

The chief shrugged, then said, "It's not much." 

"Anything will help." 

Johnson pulled a thin file off the top of a stack on the right side of his desk. He perused its contents for a moment, then gave Quinn a halfhearted smile. "As I said, it's not much. The fire was apparently electrical. We think it started in the living room. A space heater that caught fire or something similar. Taggert was in the upstairs bedroom. He was probably overcome by smoke before he could get out. By the time the fire department got there, it was too late. Once the flames were finally out, there wasn't really much left of anything." 

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