Category Archives: book sale

Merry Christmas!

And Happy New Year! I hope everyone has a wonderful, peace- and joy-filled holiday season, and an absolutely fantastic start to 2019. I’m certainly ready for a new year!

Christmas tree

PS: What would a holiday post be without a gift? YUCATAN DEAD (A Kate Jones Thriller) is on sale for .99 through January 4th.  Click here for links to all available platforms. It’s the closest thing I’ve got to a Christmas story 🙂

cover for Yucatan Dead

 


Long Time No Blog…

So remember when I told y’all I was doing the whole “slow blog” thing? Yeah. Well, 6 months later…(that’s reeeeaaallly slooooow blogging, yes?) I’m going to try to get back into posting more. I really enjoy it, and would love to be able to do it more regularly…if I can only find the time (yeah, yeah, cry me a river, right? Hopefully some of you are still out there, or I’ll be shouting into the wind…but at least I’m shouting?)

Please don’t hold me to it, though. Life has a way of shtupping my best-laid plans. You can relate? Yeah.

Thought so.

I’ve been thinking about time a lot lately, probably because my octogenarian parents are here for the summer (literally here, as in they’re living in the mother-in-law apartment in the back yard…) and time seems to have compressed into that whole day-to-day, deal with the now and all the crazy that happens when you have a couple of generations sharing space.

I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Having said that, though, I must confess to yearning for a deserted beach with warm, white sand and turquoise blue water and nothing to do except read and sleep because there’s no service and my cell phone has essentially become a camera. Or a doorstop. Your choice.

So take a vacation, you say. We did. To Europe. In the name of research *cough*

Not to a quiet tropical locale with copious amounts of rum and sun, which, in retrospect may have been a wee bit easier on our so-not-twenty-anymore bodies… (I only took my phone this time–no laptop, no professional camera–to see if I could survive without them. I’d like to report that I only had one or two moments when I wished I had one or the other. It still amazes me.)

 

photo of London Book Fair 2018

The London Book Fair 2018. This is only part of the massive hall. I also was able to snag some time with Joanna Penn and Mark Dawson while we were there 🙂

 

gladiator foot armor

Gladiator foot armor. British Museum

 

Mosaic at the British Museum

Lion mosaic at the British Museum

 

Mark and I at Stonehenge. Early morning and punchy from not quite enough coffee…

 

Roman Baths

Roman Baths in Bath. Such an amazing place…

 

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle. Absolutely fell in love with that city.

 

Castle Trim

Castle Trim in Ireland. Picture perfect. No wonder they used it in Braveheart.

All kidding aside, our time my research trip to Europe was amazing. We saw too many museums, cathedrals, and castles, ate and drank too much, seriously walked way too much, met some fine people (I’m looking at you, Dawn and Barry…and you, too, Dave and Ivca), and had too much fun (wait–is that even possible?). But apparently when I plan a trip, I tend to plan for someone much younger than myself.

Oops.

(Yes, Mark and I are still on speaking terms…)

To top it off, as soon as we got back there was the book launch for Dark Return and all the myriad details attendant to that, including formatting (yes, I still do it myself. I know. I know), updating the back matter in the other books, sending out advance reader copies, emails to my readers’ list, all sorts of promotion, making sure I got some swag out the door, yada yada yada.  Then we flew to Arizona to pick up the folks in sweltering, furnace-like heat (so not comfortable when you’re used to the weather in the Pacific Northwet).

We just got back (after the flight from hell, but that’s another story) and now I’m in the middle of a big sale on one of my box sets. In between, we got Mom and Dad stocked up with all the necessities—wine, snacks, chocolate, wine, and soup—as well as help them get settled, which is understandably more difficult when you’re in your 80s. Oh, and I have a vegetable garden that needs massive help, tons of flowers and too many weeds, the lawn needs mowing, the outdoor chairs really need repainting, and you can’t see my house because the wisteria is taking over the front porch.

And my neighbors wonder why there are so many wine bottles in our recycling.

Anyhow, that’s my report for spring break. Crossing fingers everything settles down and I’ll be able to breathe and actually start posting again. How about you? How is your spring/fall shaping up? Is it just me or is time whooshing by faster than you can say “Holy crap?” 


More about The Last Deception

cover for the last deceptionLies. Deception. A nation on the brink of war…

That’s the first line of the description for my latest Leine Basso thriller, THE LAST DECEPTION. This one’s a bit of a departure for Leine, since it primarily deals with espionage and terrorism. I’ve been a huge fan of spy thrillers for as long as I can remember and thought it would be fun to write what I loved to read.

Turns out, it was much more difficult than I thought.

My first draft was all right according to early readers, but it felt like there was something missing. I sent it off to my weapons and operations guy, but he was out of pocket and wouldn’t be able to take a look for a couple of weeks. So I took a chance and sent it to a writer friend who has experience with security operations and arms dealers and such, and asked him to take a look to see if he could identify what was off.

Well, I asked for it 🙂

One month and several pages of detailed, no-holds-barred notes later, and The Last Deception finally felt like the novel I’d been longing to write. One more round of revisions (2 pages of notes this time, and my ops guy got back to me with some great ideas), and I sent it off to my amazing editor, Laurie. The result is a book that I’m very excited to share with you all. Yes, it took 3 months longer than my usual 6-month turnaround, but I’m indie–I have no hard deadlines. The book gets published when the book is ready.

It’s currently available for pre-order at all retailers and you’ll save 50% if you get it before launch day (20 September). Click here for more information.

Here’s a short video I created to go with the novel. Let me know what you think in the comments:

I’d love it if you’d let all your thriller-loving friends know about the book, and especially about the pre-order sale. Advance reader reviews have been fantastic, to say the least, so you can rest assured it’s readable 🙂

That’s it for now. I’ll post sometime next week with an excerpt, so come on back.

Have a thrilling weekend!


Vigilante Dead is Live! (And other news)

cover for Vigilante Dead

 

I’m thrilled to announce that VIGILANTE DEAD is now live! You can get it for the super special launch price of 99c (ends 12/11). Here are the links:

KOBO

iBooks

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

And here’s the description:

Death. Lies. Revenge.

After years of running, Kate Jones is finally putting her past behind her. Between restoring ties with her younger sister, moving in with Sam, a cop-turned PI, and working as a PI herself, she’s learning to live life without looking over her shoulder.

Then Kate lands a case that changes everything: a young college student with no history of drug abuse dies of an overdose, and the parents come to Kate demanding answers. Soon, Seattle is reeling from dozens more deaths, all with the same chemical markers. At first, police assume that the victims are closet junkies who got hold of a bad combination, but after someone close to her becomes a victim, Kate believes something far more sinister is going on.

The deeper Kate digs, the more she uncovers about the deadly drug’s origins, forcing her to choose between doing what’s right…

…and getting revenge.

What are you waiting for? You could be reading this book right now  🙂

In other news…

cover for Thriller13‘Tis the season…I’ve joined forces with 12 bestselling thriller authors to bring you THRILLER 13, a set of 13 thriller novellas and short stories, just in time for the holidays. I consider it an honor to be a part of Thriller 13not only because of the fabulous writers who are involved but because we’re donating 100% of profits to fight the exploitation and human trafficking of children.

As most of you know, human trafficking (especially children) has figured heavily in the Leine Basso series, and is one of the main reasons I wrote Bad Traffick, The Body Market, and Cargo. All of the authors in this set are committed to fighting human trafficking, and I’m stoked to have been asked to participate. For a limited time, you can pick up the set on most retail sites for 99c (once this set is gone, it’s gone). Here are the links:

Amazon

iBooks

Barnes & Noble

KOBO

And, last but not least…

15 free thrillers banner

(*Edited link–it should work now!) How about some FREE ebooks? In another awesome collaboration, I’ve joined 14 other fantastic authors and Instafreebie to bring you 15 free thrillers. NYT & USA Today bestsellers, Amazon bestsellers, you name it, they’re in here. Download 1 or all 15–they’re all free (just click on the image above). You’ll be asked to enter your email address so Instafreebie can send you the free books. The address is then given to the author, which will allow them to send you infrequent notices about new releases and such. A fair exchange for hours of free reading, I think, and a risk-free way to try new authors 🙂

Well, that’s all I have for now. I’ll be back on Friday with another post and a chance to win something. Until then, have a fabulous week!

DV

 


Writing a Prequel, or, What the Hell Was I Thinking?

It wouldn't be long now...

 

So A Killing Truth is out (yay!) and early feedback is encouraging, which is a huge relief. Why, you ask? Because the book is a prequel and had two enormous tasks:

1: it had to hew closely to everything I’d written about Leine’s early life in the other books (my thoughts of which tended to be along the lines of Oh, holy crap, what was I thinking???), and

2: it had to strike the right tone and not be just a rehash so that readers of the series would still be intrigued enough to read it. Aka: Reader Expectation.

Okay, so let me dig a little deeper into the first, seemingly insurmountable task. As many of you know, my writing process is a hybrid of sketching out a rough outline combined with a seat-of-your-pants, cross your fingers and hope for the best, kind of style.

But I wasn’t always that organized 🙂

For example, when I wrote Serial Date, most of that novel came out in a torrent of mad writing sessions with a freaky dream as the catalyst. It’s filled with all sorts of, “Hey! Let’s make Leine loath tattoos. Why? Hell, I don’t know, maybe something happened in her past.” Followed by, “Well, what happened? I know! It should have something to do with an old target named The Frenchman, who of course almost killed her.”

And do you think I left it at that? Nope. Then I had to think of a reason that Leine and her old boss were no longer on speaking terms-the reason she left the Agency and ended her career as an assassin. What could Eric (her boss) have done that was so heinous that she should have killed him off? And why didn’t she? So I created what I thought would be a good explanation and left it at that. But I hadn’t thought through the logistics because I didn’t have to.

You know, because the book was going to be a standalone.

Bonus writing tip: Always think of the book you’re currently writing in terms of an over-arching series, even when it’s not. Because dollars to donuts, if you don’t, it will become one, guaranteed.

Female showing on map vintage photo

Must. Plan. Next. Time.

 

Okay, so readers wanted more Leine and I was happy to oblige, but I wanted to tackle current issues. Although the subject of Serial Date is reality shows, which is a current phenomenon in our culture, the book has an irreverent, satirical tone and I couldn’t figure out a way to satirize human trafficking without coming off as an asshole.

You see my dilemma.

So, I changed the tone of the second book (Bad Traffick) to hard-hitting, traditional-ish thriller and we were off! (Bonus writing tip #2: Always think of the book you’re currently writing in terms of an over-arching series. This includes consistency in tone.) I added a few more details to Leine’s backstory throughout the next three books, this time with the idea that I would someday write a prequel.

And here’s where it gets gnarly. The horrible transgression Eric committed was having Leine do something she would never, ever do if she knew all the details.

Leine’s a smart woman. In A Killing Truth, she’s at the top of her game as an assassin and takes pride in eliminating the worst of the worst. Eric had to make sure she was off-balance and would more likely make a mistake, or at least not be aware of his duplicity, which could royally mess with his plans.

Luckily, after much tooth-gnashing and pulling of hair, I was able to craft a realistic scenario that would incorporate all the little clues my subconscious had deposited throughout the series. I even had a couple of aha! moments that I surely didn’t see coming. Which brings me to Task #2.

Reader Expectation.

The only way I knew to be sure the story matched or exceeded reader expectation was to write a fast-paced, explosive plot, with Leine as the central character. Yes, she’s younger and a bit less damaged (until the end), but the narrative tone is still vintage Leine, ensuring that longtime readers of the series won’t be disappointed.

I refuse to post spoilers here but if you’ve read Serial Date, you’ll have an idea of the heinous thing Eric has Leine do in A Killing Truth. And since I’m not a fan of back story in my novels you’ll also learn a whole lot more about her early life. And, as promised, I reveal why the hell Leine hates tattoos.

Go ahead and read A Killing Truth and tell me what you think. It’s on sale everywhere for the super-special launch price of $0.99. (see links above, on the right).

Do you enjoy reading prequels? If so, which ones really nailed it in terms of story and tone? If not, why not? Inquiring minds want to know.


Everything’s on SALE

Big Sale

Through January 28th, all books in both the Kate Jones and the Leine Basso thriller series are ON SALE for 25-75% off. If you haven’t had the chance to pick up these award-winning, bestselling thrillers, there’s still time :-)

Details below:

**US $ or equivalent, depending on country**

Kate Jones Thrillers:

The Kate Jones Thriller series, Vol. 1 (#1-4) – $2.99

Cruising for Death (#5) – $2.99

Yucatán Dead (#6) – $2.99

A One Way Ticket to Dead (#7) – $2.99

Leine Basso Crime Thrillers:

Serial Date (#1) – $2.99

Bad Traffick (#2) – $2.99

The Body Market (#3) – ONLY $0.99

Cargo (#4) –  $2.99 

Purchase links:

Amazon

iBooks

KOBO

Barnes and Noble

Smashwords

 


Update on The Body Market: Post-Launch

I thought since I hadn’t posted in a while (I’ve been concentrating on researching and writing the next Leine Basso book) I’d give an update on how things are going after the launch of The Body Market. The book’s been selling well and a couple of authors have contacted me privately to ask what I did differently, and whether I think those strategies worked. Since I love to analyze (not in any real scientific way, mind you) I sorted through all the things I did differently and those I didn’t and came to the same conclusion:

I have no effing idea which strategy worked the best.

Now, before you give me a ration of crap in the comments, let me clarify: if someone tells you that yes, this one thing they did caused Amazon’s bots to get behind their book, I’d have to call bullshit. Only Amazon knows how their site works, no matter what someone says. We can all try to guess what works until the moon explodes, but NO ONE REALLY KNOWS (and if anyone reading this does, in fact, know please leave a comment 🙂 )

Personally, I think it boils down to a combination of things: pre-launch hype, backlist, cover, genre, description (including using SEO keywords, and tags.), early reviews, press releases, advertising, social media posts, et al. You’ll notice I didn’t list pre-order, per se. That’s because while I expected Amazon’s pre-order option to work similarly to traditional pre-orders, e.g., all pre-order purchases rank on release day and give the book a bump of some kind hopefully onto a list or two, this did not happen with The Body Market. In fact, after all the work I did pushing pre-orders, the day after launch book sales on the ‘Zon dropped 70%.

gif of plane crashing

Blech. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I’d never had that happen on a launch before and I was pissed.

GollemAnd I didn’t know who or what to be pissed at, except myself. Somehow, somewhere, I’d messed up, but I didn’t have a clue what I’d done wrong. I dropped the price of Serial Date, the first book in the series, to 99 cents and advertised the hell out of it the week of the launch (AwesomeGang, EreaderNewsToday, FB, etc.). The Body Market’s pre-order price was 99 cents, which I also advertised with both free and paid options, although not too expensively (in other words, no BookBub ads).

cat on slide

Trying to get traction…

There was one bright, shiny moment on launch day: when a handful of advance readers who had agreed to read and review the book posted their reviews. They were all fantastic and I’m so incredibly grateful for their support. If not for them, I think I would have crawled into a corner, assumed the fetal position, and sobbed uncontrollably into a glass of wine.

Elaine with a bottle of wineI had one more ad coming out the Saturday after launch, a new release post with Free Kindle Books and Tips. I usually see a good rate of downloads whenever I run an ad with this site (not NYT bestseller numbers by any means, but enough to push the book onto some lists). This time, though, something was wrong. I clicked over to the page where the book was listed and realized I’d toggled the wrong genre. Instead of thriller/suspense, I’d somehow chosen history. I sent a message to the owner of the site, but by this time the email had gone out to subscribers and that first flush of purchasers, if they didn’t read the description and figure out the book wasn’t even remotely history-related, had more than likely skimmed past the book.

Okay, so at that point Mark pretty much had to talk me off the ledge (which, in retrospect, wasn’t hard to do since we live in a one-story house). I decided then and there that whatever happened to the book was just meant to be and that I had done everything I could short of dancing naked in the middle of Pike Place Market holding up a cardboard cutout of the book cover and offering free booze to passersby.

Hmmm…maybe…um, nah. Seattle’s too damn cold.

Then, a miracle happened. Somewhere, somehow, something clicked and downloads started to do a kind of a crazy zig-zag on the report page. One day, sales tripled, the next day they sank back to post launch. The next day sales tripled again, but then the weekend hit and sales tanked. By this time, I was feeling all zen about the launch and I figured, hey, sales were sales and I should concentrate on the next book, forget about it all, immerse myself in the world of Leine once again, do what makes me happy. Basically, I adopted a fuck it attitude and let it go (cue song from Frozen)

Frozen gifThe following Monday sales increased seven-fold and have been growing ever since. As I write this, the whole series is selling well. I rooted around to see if The Body Market somehow made it onto any big lists on the ‘Zon, but I couldn’t find it anywhere other than the usual suspects like Mystery, Thriller & Suspense>Crime and Thrillers>Assassinations, so I’m stymied. Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe the rate of downloads will last, but I’m supremely happy knowing the series is reaching more readers than ever and can’t wait to see how far the 4th book in the series will go. I wish I could point to one thing I did right, or even a few things, but hell if I know. I’ll probably do a lot of the same stuff for the next launch, but don’t expect it to follow the same patterns. The timing will be different, for one thing, so who knows what’ll happen?

I think that whole unknown is what intrigues me about this business. Predictable, it’s not.

So how about you guys? What are your launch strategies? Are you doing anything different? If so, what’s working and what isn’t?


And…We Have Lift-off!

The Body Market_wbrdrenhancedEXCITEMENTE! Frabjous joy! and all that 🙂 THE BODY MARKET is LIVE! A HUGE thank you to everyone who pre-ordered a copy and an extra-special shout out to the Advance Reader Team–you guys ROCK! (want to be a member? Send an email to dvb@dvberkom.com and I’ll hook you up :-D).

It’s been pretty cool to watch the book hit etailers around the world–pre-orders are a great way to launch (yeah, even when you’re patience-challenged like myself 🙂 ) The book has sold way better in a bunch more countries than is usual for one of my launches, and I have to give the credit to pre-order availability. It’s definitely a keeper.

Anywho, if you missed the super-special low-price offer on the pre-order, don’t despair! There’s still time to download your copy before the price increases! (although, admittedly, not a LOT of time…) There’s even a bonus short story at the end featuring a character from the book. Prepare to be surprised…

Here are the links–feel free to bandy them about with abandon on any social media sites you might frequent. And, as always, an honest review is greatly appreciated 🙂

Amazon: http://bit.ly/bodymkt

Barnes & Noble:  http://bit.ly/bodymktBN

iBooks:   http://bit.ly/thebodymktiBooks

Smashwords:   http://bit.ly/bodymktSW

KOBO:   http://bit.ly/bodymktKOBO

Have a GREAT weekend!

 

 


7 Author Signing Today!

Maestri, Michelangelo - Busto di Bacco - 1850Come and join myself and 6 local Washington authors as we party at Paperbacks Plus in Port Orchard from 1:00pm to 5:00pm today! We’ll be signing books, giving away prizes, and who knows what other kinds of trouble we’ll be getting into. Libations and chocolate provided. If you can’t make it, you can join us on Facebook for an online party!

See you there 🙂


A One Way Ticket to Dead is NOW LIVE

cover for a one way ticket to deadIT’S ALIVE! The latest Kate Jones Thriller, A One Way Ticket to Dead is now LIVE. This book has been a loooong time in coming and I am really stoked.  It will be available March 7th-15th for the special price of $2.99 at all your favorite etailers. (After March 15th, the price changes to $4.99.) Here are the links: Amazon, BN. The Smashwords version will be available either later today or tomorrow (The print version will be available later this month. Look for it at the iBookstore, Diesel, Kobo, et al.) **UPDATE** Here is the Smashwords link.

There’s plenty of action and suspense in A One Way Ticket to Dead, and some of your favorite characters are back: Sam, Cole, Angie, and the commandos from Yucatan Dead all make an appearance in this high-octane, edge of your seat thriller. To celebrate (and because I can’t wait, either) here’s a taste:

Chapter 1

 I NEVER DREAMED I’d come back.

I shouldn’t have.

Even though I told myself things were safer compared to when I’d passed through all those years ago, deep down I knew I was only kidding myself.

The deepening shadows brought scant relief from the blistering heat, although the lower the sun dipped on the horizon the more bearable it became. The sun set early in this part of the world. I took a deep drink from my water bottle and wiped the sweat from my face with the back of my hand.

And waited.

I’d changed my hair for the umpteenth time and wore brown-tinted contacts so I’d blend, but there’s only so much a girl can do to change her appearance short of surgery. Thanks to Quinn and his lies, the men who had tried to kill me thought I was dead. For now. The ruse wouldn’t last long, not if someone from the old days got curious about the new American woman in town.

No sense lingering longer than I had to. Find the stash if it was still there, then get the hell out of Mexico.

The tiny house on the even smaller lot looked like the owner had lost interest and decided to let nature take its course. Dirt-green vines strangled the walls as if they were trying to squeeze the last drop of moisture from the filthy stucco. The cracked and faded flower pots flanking the walkway grew dirt in profusion, their long-dead occupants a distant memory. Two lime trees in the side yard still shaded my target. The ground looked like it hadn’t been disturbed in all the time I’d been gone.

If my luck held.

I’d spent the day and evening before casing the place, watching for signs of life. The house appeared abandoned. How much longer could I stay without arousing suspicion? More time than absolutely necessary in Los Otros made me nervous, and I itched to get the deed done.

My stomach growled as I walked back to the rental. With a loan from Luis, my contact in the Drug Enforcement Administration, I’d chosen an unassuming Nissan Versa with plenty of dings and scratches. I told him I needed to find someone before going back to the States now that Roberto Salazar was dead. At first Luis had argued, asking why I’d even consider staying in Mexico, but finally relented when I told him I owed my life to this person. Nothing he said would change my mind.

Memories of the old man who’d saved me from being gunned down in the street eleven years before flooded my mind. Oggie. Vincent Anaya’s right-hand guy, Frank Lanzarotti, put a bullet in him as we left Oggie’s house. I’d never forgiven him and felt grim satisfaction when Frank had been shot. This final trip through cartel-country wasn’t only about the money.

I got in the car and turned on the air while I ate the now-cold tamale I’d bought earlier. I could have gone back into town and gotten something else, but wanted to keep my visibility to a minimum. Old friends would not be a welcome diversion and I’d already risked discovery by staying the previous evening at a nearby hotel.

Hours later, after I’d moved the car twice and taken a fitful nap, I parked in the dirt-track alley behind the house and cut the lights. From behind, the abandoned house took on a miserable, thoroughly depressive mien. I could almost make out the dark windows and back door, all three of which appeared as though they hadn’t been seen to in years. The backyard where Lana served me dinner so many lives ago was grown over with tenacious vegetation, the kind that could survive drought-ridden, remorseless summers.

What had finally prompted Lana to leave? I tried to imagine her happy, dragging her sadness and the fallout from the choices she’d made to wherever the wave of her life deposited her. All that came to mind were bottles of cheap tequila on a beat-up nightstand and dark, lonely sojourns with men who didn’t care.

Bad choices put me in this backyard of a tiny, run-down two-bedroom casa at the end of an unpaved street in a one-horse Mexican town. I hoped this wasn’t another of those.

Bad choices, I mean.

I popped the trunk and walked around to grab the pickaxe and shovel I’d purchased the day before, along with a large backpack. My idea was to work as quickly as possible until I’d unearthed the stash of gallon-sized plastic bags, backfill the hole and leave. I glanced through the rear window at the glowing clock on the dash: a quarter past three. The post office wouldn’t be open for hours. I’d have a long wait.

I walked along the back of the house to the side yard, picking my way past rampant prickly pear and creosote and paused in the shadows to listen. The wind slid past me, circling my bare legs, churning the dirt at my feet into a dust devil that swirled and crested, and then disintegrated into the night. The breathy hoo of an owl nearby assured me I wouldn’t work alone.

The three other homes on the street remained dark, signifying no one on the block suffered from insomnia, at least not tonight. The houses were far enough apart and on the opposite side of the unlit street from where I’d be working so it was reasonable to assume my efforts would go unnoticed. One of the three boasted a noisy swamp cooler that clanked in protest at the stifling night air, helping to further disguise my activities.

I proceeded to the lime trees and leaned the shovel against the house. The new pickaxe broke through the caliche easier than I remembered and soon the earth resembled a miniature plowed field. Afraid I’d damage the plastic bags or wake up light-sleeping neighbors I reined in my enthusiasm a few inches deep and switched to the spade.

Though not as noisy, the shovel took much longer to dig the remaining depth of the hole. About an hour later, when I still hadn’t hit what I was looking for, worry crept in like a feral cat scrounging for food. What if it’s not here? What if Lana somehow found it, dug it up, and is now living large somewhere in South America?

Well, then I’d have to figure out something else. If it was gone, I’d be shit out of luck. I straightened and took a deep breath, collecting my thoughts. Panicked and wired from dodging death that night so long ago, I thought I’d be back to retrieve the stash long before now. A faulty memory could be the reason I hadn’t found it yet.

Or Lana was dancing the tango in Argentina.

Discarding the tango possibility, I stepped past the freshly dug hole to survey the yard. Closing my eyes, I thought back to that night, the memories resurrecting long-buried emotions. So many years of running, of looking over my shoulder, never being able to live a normal life.

So many friends lost.

Fallout from a bad choice made long ago. Payback, I supposed, for being stupid and young and attracted to shiny things. My fingers curled around the onyx jaguar figurine I wore around my neck. Now that Salazar was dead, I hoped my life could get more or less back to normal.

Then again, what the hell was normal?

I opened my eyes and took in the lime trees, the house, the surrounding vegetation. The yard had looked different back then. Well-tended. Then it hit me.

Unchecked catclaw choked the tree trunks, creating an optical illusion. I’d misjudged the distance of the stash from the base of the tree and had dug too far out. Once again working the pickaxe, I hacked away with new purpose at the base of the overgrown shrub until I cleared a space where I gauged the target should be.

Rinse, repeat. Switch to the shovel.

Focused on digging, I didn’t realize I had company until it was too late.

“Hey,” a voice demanded in slurred Spanish. “What’re you doing?” The rank smell of cheap tequila accompanied the words. Slowly, I turned.

His features semi-distinct in the darkness, the man swayed on his feet, his thick torso and muscled arms reminiscent of a man who worked long hours lifting heavy things. I gave him a half-smile and tightened my grip on the shovel.

“My friend Lana asked me to stop by her house and pick something up for her. I noticed the vines were choking the tree.” I glanced over my shoulder at the offending catclaw. “She’d be very upset if one of her trees died, so I thought I’d clear some of it away before I left.” Not a great story, but the man was obviously drunk, so I didn’t think I’d have to be too convincing.

With a puzzled expression, he swiveled unsteadily on his feet, glancing first down one side of the street, and then back the other way before returning his bleary gaze to me and the shovel. His expression morphed from perplexed to concerned, transitioning to a leer.

“You’re a liar,” he slurred as he lurched toward me. “No one lives here.” He took another step closer. “You do somethin’ nice for me, an’ this’ll jus’ be our lil’ secret, yes?” he stage-whispered, reaching for his fly. I hoisted the shovel over my head. I couldn’t afford to wake the neighbors.

“One more step and you’re going to have one hell of a headache come morning,” I said, my voice low.

“Huh?” He gaped at the shovel in my hands, incomprehension clouding his face. Frowning, he wiped his hands down the front of his shirt, his confusion obvious. He closed his eyes for a moment but lost his balance and stumbled to one side, barely catching himself before taking a header onto the street.

Aye carumba,” he muttered, shaking his head. Obviously unhappy with the way things were turning out, he waved me away, mumbling incoherently to himself as he zigzagged a path down the street.

I lowered the shovel with a sigh. I’d have to work faster, in case he came to his senses and raised an alarm.

Forty-five minutes later the muted clang of metal against dirt changed to a dull thud. I cut in around the spot with the edge of the shovel and then scooped out the rest by hand, revealing a dirt-encrusted bundle. My heart beat faster as I slid the tip of the shovel underneath the plastic bag and pushed down on the handle, leveraging the first package out of its resting place.

Eight gallon-sized bags later, I stopped to take a breath. I leaned the shovel against the tree and knelt down. The outer bags had become stiff from the dry and the dirt and the heat, but remained intact. I grabbed one and opened it, removing the inner bag, which was surprisingly flexible. I flashed on how long it would take for plastic to degrade when it wasn’t subjected to light, like in a landfill. Our civilization would be long gone before that ever happened. For now, I had immense gratitude for the durability of plastic.

I slid open the plastic zipper holding the bag closed and reached inside for a stack of bills. Money in hand, I flipped through the hundreds with my fingers, fanning my face.

Still there. Still intact.

Yes.

Once all eight bags were safely inside the backpack, I zipped it closed and stood, kicking some of the dirt back into the hole to make it look less obvious. Since the house had evidently been abandoned and my visitor had been quite drunk, I doubted anyone would take notice, at least long enough for me to disappear. I picked up my tools and the hefty pack and returned to the car, my heart light. With Salazar dead, even if the home had been on a cartel watch list, it wouldn’t be now. They were tenacious, yes, but that would be too obsessive, even for cartel thugs. Besides, they thought I was dead.

I threw everything in the trunk and climbed into the driver’s seat. One more errand and I’d be long gone.

Goodbye, Mexico. Hello, freedom.


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