Category Archives: new cover

Thankful

photo of pumpkin pie

Happy Thanksgiving to all my US friends, and Happy Thursday! I am so looking forward to eating pie 🙂

As I sit here at my desk on this wet, blustery Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful first and foremost for the cup of coffee in my hand (without which I’d be a blithering idiot at this time of the morning), my family, the friends I’ve made both online and off, and the work that I have the great fortune to do. Yes, there are lots of things to be concerned about–the state of the world, the environment, extremist religious fanatics who want to take away my right to live as I see fit–but today I’m going to buy into the theory behind Thanksgiving and be…thankful.

What a concept.

I am especially thankful for all of the help and support I get from you guys. I know I haven’t been around much lately (just  checked the date of my last post–holy cow–October 8???), but there’s a good reason for it. I’m excited to say that I’ve gotten the edits back for VIGILANTE DEAD from the lovely Miss Laurie, made the corrections, and have sent out the ARCs to my awesome Advance Reader Team (ART). Which can only mean one thing…

VIGILANTE DEAD will go live December 3rd! In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the cover created by the always fabulous Deranged Doctor Designs:

cover for Vigilante Dead

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 a 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.”

I’m happy to report that I’ve already gotten positive feedback from my ARTeam (don’t you just love fast readers? Cue big sigh of relief). The paperback should be available at the same time, with the audio after that.

Earlier this year, I decided that Kate Jones needed a new look and I asked DDD if they’d create a brand for the series that was different from the Leine Basso books but would still be recognizable. Here’s what they came up with:

bookcovers for Kate Jones series

And here’s the new look for BAD SPIRITS, the lead-in to the series:

bad-spiritsnew

 

I think they did a fantastic job. I especially like the bullets 🙂

So, that’s all I have for now. Since we’re leading up to launch week (Dec. 3-10) you can expect more posts–and have I got some fabulous surprises to share with you!

As always, have a safe and happy weekend/holiday. I’m going to try not to eat too much at dinner today or be too outspoken, but you know how that goes…


A Killing Truth

FINALLY. A Killing Truth, the Leine Basso thriller prequel I’ve been working on, is DONE FINISHED, edited, and has a nifty new cover! 

cover for A Killing Truth

I especially like that the designer used an image of Amsterdam for the background, but also that he nailed the characters: Leine (before she was Leine Basso) is in her mid-twenties and working as an assassin for the Agency. The model is definitely younger than the one used in the other four covers, and I think does a good job of representing her at that age. The guy on the cover is The Frenchman, a ruthless arms dealer mentioned in Serial Date and The Body Market, and the reason she now hates tattoos. And yes, I explain why in the book 🙂

Another character who makes an appearance is her lover and fellow assassin, Carlos. If you read Serial Date, you know what happened to that relationship, but I go into quite a bit more detail in A Killing Truth. Her daughter, April, makes an appearance, as does Leine’s scumbag of a boss, Eric. There are a couple of revelations that I didn’t mention in the other books, which explains their long-running animosity toward each other.

You’ll just have to read it to find out 😀

If you’re new to the series, A Killing Truth is a great place to start, and if you’ve already been introduced to the characters I mention above, then you’re in for a helluva ride. Even if you think you know what’s going to happen…

A Killing Truth is available for preorder for $0.99* on Amazon and Smashwords, and will be available everywhere on March 24. I’m also going to be running a GoodReads giveaway for signed print copies soon, and will post here as soon as that happens.

If you’d like to be the first to find out about new books and special offers, why not hop over and join my Readers’ List? The response to my last newsletter broke my email yesterday 😛 , but I believe it’s all cleared up now, LOL.

Here’s the description:

A deadly assassin. A perpetual target. A double-cross she never saw coming…

They say the truth will set you free, but what if it kills you first?

Before serial killers and drug cartels, Leine faced the ultimate betrayal…

Leine eliminates terrorists for a living. After a routine assassination almost gets her killed, she chalks it up to a fluke. Her lover and fellow assassin, Carlos, has another idea altogether. He thinks their boss is setting them up for a fall.

When Carlos goes missing and a bombing thwarts another mission, Leine suspects the stakes are far higher than she could ever imagine, and wonders if the man in charge might have it in for her after all.

A Killing Truth is the prequel to the award-winning Leine Basso thriller series of crime novels. If you like no-nonsense heroines, page-turning plots, and twists you won’t see coming, then you’ll love D.V. Berkom’s tension-filled series

 

*Price good through Sunday, April 3, when it will increase to $3.99.

 


Giveaway Mania

Got a couple of giveaways happening with the Leine Basso series and wanted to share. But first, look what came in the mail today 😀

photo of Cargo advance copies

Always a treat when the ARCs come…

back cover for Cargo

Back cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YAY. CARGO is almost live! The book is set to drop August 1st (Saturday). If all goes well, the print version will be available at the same time as the eBook, so if you’re a fan of paperbacks, I’ve got you covered.

I’m oh so happy with the cover art by Deranged Doctor Design~ it didn’t hurt that they were a dream to work with 😀 I think the back cover turned out pretty well, too. This time I broke down and finally ordered matte covers and I LOVE them. Yeah, I know they’ve been available for a while (okay, a long while) but what can I say? I’m stubborn. This shit takes time.

And now, on to the free stuff!

First up is a chance to win a signed ARC (advance review copy) of CARGO from the fine folks over at Goodreads. (Who knows? The copy in the photo above could be yours!) Ends this Friday, July 31, 2015. (If you’d rather read an eBook, you can click on the pre-order links at the top right of this post and order your very own copy today. C’mon. You know you want to 🙂 )

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Cargo by D.V. Berkom

Cargo

by D.V. Berkom

Giveaway ends July 31, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Next, I wanted to let y’all know that the first book in the series, SERIAL DATE, is FREE to download oncover for Serial Date most platforms:

iBooks

Barnes & Noble

KOBO

Amazon hasn’t reduced the price yet, but if you need a copy for your Kindle you can download the MOBI file from Smashwords here.

And there you have it. I’m still working on some posts for later in the week, so I hope you’ll stop by. I’ll be giving away more stuff, of course 🙂

Have a spectacular Monday!


All The News That’s Fit to Print

Cover for CargoWell, it’s official– CARGO, Leine Basso #4, is available for pre-order! (link is to Amazon–other retailers coming soon.) Here’s the description:

Money—the universal merchant. Anyone can be bought, anyone can be sold.

Anyone.

Haunted by memories of an op gone bad, former assassin Leine Basso travels to Bangkok in search of a missing backpacker. With help from an old contact, she discovers the man responsible for the girl’s disappearance is connected to a violent Hong Kong triad and is the linchpin of an extensive trafficking network—both animal and human.

Making enemies isn’t new for Leine, but making one in the triad is—she soon finds herself a prisoner on board a cargo ship headed for sub-Saharan Africa. To ensure her survival and to continue her hunt for the missing girl, she must join forces with Derek, an ivory poacher who promises to help her.

For a price.

As her involvement intensifies, Leine delves deeper into a disturbing and treacherous criminal underworld where everything has a price.

Click here for an excerpt.

CARGO was pretty far outside my comfort zone (so what’s new, right?), but the perfect contact/information appeared each time I needed it–so often, in fact, that it became downright spooky. The book contains a scene that was one of the hardest I’ve ever written and deals with an issue I feel strongly about. I’ll do a post on that (and other interesting factoids I discovered) in the near future.

I’ve also been working with a designer over at Demented Doctor Design (fitting name, right?) to re-brand the Leine Basso series. Here are the new covers:

Serial Date eBook Cover1563x25001563x2500 eBook Cover Bad TraffickeBook Cover 1563x2500 The Body Market Cover for Cargo

 

 

 

 

I wanted a more cohesive feel as well as something instantly recognizable, and I think they nailed it. I absolutely love the model–she reminds me of Leine: cool and classy, and sexy in a slightly intimidating way… 🙂

Only thing, though. You know when you paint a room a different color and all of a sudden the furniture looks out of place? Yeah. When I embarked on changing the covers, I realized my website was looking a little tired and I did a complete overhaul. You can check it out here. It’s a work in progress, but you’ll get the idea. It is now mobile-friendly and I think easier to navigate. Using WordPress.org was a steep learning curve for me since I’d created the old site with Dreamweaver, but I’ve been able to figure out what I needed to, in no small part to the awesome tutorials at StudioPress.

audio book -the body marketSome GREAT news for all you diehard audiobook fans–the fabulous Kristi Alsip has agreed to continue on as the voice of Leine Basso, and will narrate both The Body Market and Cargo. Look for the new titles on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes in the near future.

One last thing. While completing the final edits for CARGO, I got the exciting news that THE BODY MARKET was chosen as a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree. Whee! The medallion is a much-coveted indie award given out by a groupBRAG Medallion of international readers, and I’m pretty stoked. I’ll be doing an interview with one of their affiliates in August and I’m really looking forward to it.

Well, that’s it for now. In the coming weeks I’ll (hopefully) be back to posting more often. I hope y’all stay tuned! Happy summer 😀


The Body Market: Prepare to Launch

Cover for The Body Market

I’m ecstatic to announce that The Body Market is now available for pre-order on Amazon at the SPECIAL PRE-ORDER price of $ .99 (iBooks, BN, KOBO coming soon) After release day (January 8) the price goes up to $3.99, so get yours today 😀

You’re welcome.

Holy crap is getting a book ready for publication a LOT of work. Like anything painful, you forget in the interim how much hard work each book takes. Fun, yes, but a helluva lot of details. Not only do you have to keep track of the twisty plot and sub-plots, and all those pesky character details, but once all the writing’s done, there’s an effing checklist you have to go over (and over) in order to get your ducks in a row to publish.

Especially when you’re attempting a pre-order. As we all pretty well know by now, I am NOT a patient woman. Waiting for much of anything drives me to drink (short drive) and I will do anything, ANYTHING to keep from having to do so. The microwave is my best friend and I’m known for finishing dinner waaaay before anyone else at the table. (Okay, that may be a holdover from when I worked in the restaurant industry. There’s only so much time to take a break so you can stuff food into your mouth during a busy shift.) So why the hell did I decide to do a pre-order?

I have no idea. It sounded like fun at the time.

Ah, the halcyon days when I thought all I had to do to when I wrote The End was to make sure the book was edited, dream up a description and a suitable cover, format it so it would work in Smashword’s meatgrinder, do a couple of blog posts, and voila! Published book!

Now? Not so much. As they say, the more you know, the more you know.

Ack.

So now, in addition to stuff like work with my (awesome) editor, create a cover, write the description and tagline, and format the eBook, I get to:

  1. update the back matter in all of my other books with links to the new title–on Amazon, Smashwords, BN, etc.;
  2. re-format my other books because I’m doing things a little differently now, and want to be consistent (which I’m beginning to think is HIGHLY overrated);
  3. change covers in the series to more effectively ‘brand’ them (don’t you just hate the word brand? These are not steers, for crying out loud);
  4. get my newsletter ready and generate coupons, write copy, etc. (you too can participate in coupon therapy: join my newsletter and I’ll send you exclusive subscriber stuff, too! The next one’s due out Saturday…)
  5. work on blog posts and contact virtual book tour companies to set up something because, you know, I’m actually ahead of the game this time. Sort of… ;
  6. contact reviewers and send out Advance Reader Copies (ARC) for release day reviews. **Note: If you’re interested in reading and reviewing The Body Market by January 8 and will post your review on Amazon and/or any of the other sites on that same day, shoot me an email at dvb (at) dvberkom (dot) com and I’d be more than happy to send you an ARC in any e-format you’d like 🙂 ;
  7. create a print cover and interior files so the print version will be available around the release date;
  8. Do a GoodReads giveaway;
  9. update my website, blog, and a bunch of other places where I’ve listed my books;
  10. develop an advertising plan of attack–which I should have done last summer, apparently.File:Cinderella - Project Gutenberg etext 19993.jpg

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something incredibly important, but there’s the gist of it. I knew when I went indie that I’d be responsible for everything–in fact, that’s why I  became an indie. I love the whole hands-on aspect of self-publishing and I find the challenge invigorating.  But, there are days I wish my fairy godmother would come down out of the ether, whisk me away to some Zen-like retreat, and hand me a glass of wine as she murmurs in my ear, “There, there, Dear. Don’t you worry your little head. Leave the details to me…

If you’d like to pre-order The Body Market (Leine Basso Thriller #3), click here. I’d be ever so grateful. The description is below:

A retired assassin is called in when a celebration south of the border turns into a nightmare.

Former assassin Leine Basso is hired by a wealthy Beverly Hills power couple to find their missing daughter, Elise, who was last seen partying with her boyfriend at a club in Tijuana. At first, police believe the two teenagers are the victims of a carjacking. But when Leine finds their missing vehicle with the boyfriend’s mutilated body stuffed inside the trunk, and is then warned away by the local cartel, she knows if Elise isn’t already dead, she will be soon, or worse.

In the dangerous world of organized crime, there’s always a worse.

As time runs out, Leine races to uncover the real reason behind Elise Bennett’s disappearance and learns powerful interests are willing to go to great lengths to keep her from the truth.

***The Body Market is the 3rd book in the Leine Basso Thriller series, but can be read as a stand alone.

 

 

 

 

 


Guest Post: Does Your Cover Need a Reboot?

By Jen Blood

As a publishing consultant with Adian Enterprises, I offer what I call a Post-Publishing Consult for authors whose books are on the market but aren’t selling quite as well as they’d hoped. One of the first things I look at in the Consult? You guessed it: The book cover. Why? It’s simple, really: The book cover is the first thing readers see. It is the thing they rely on before reviews, before excerpts, before awards or author endorsements… That cover is what reels them in or sends them running. That cover is critical.

A few months ago, I decided to take my own advice, and took a long, hard look at my own novels. I write a mystery series revolving around a reporter named Erin Solomon, who’s investigating an alleged cult suicide she witnessed as a child. The novels are moody and fast-paced, with intricate mysteries and an underlying (sometimes overlying) romance brewing between Erin and her two co-stars in the books, FBI agent Jack Juarez and fellow reporter Daniel Diggins. My work has been compared to Dennis Lehane, Kathy Reichs, John Connelly, and Iris Johansen… When I looked at my covers, however, I realized that they were telling a very different story about what these novels are about, and who they will appeal to. After a whole lot of soul-searching and a LOT of pestering loyal readers for their points of view, I decided drastic measures were called for if I wanted my novels to compete in the market in which I believe they are best suited. Four novels into the series, I hired a new designer to redesign all four covers. We’re only one novel in at this point, but I’m already thrilled with the results they’ve come up with and the fine work they have done.

old cover for All the Blue-Eyed Angels         new cover for All the Blue-Eyed Angels

If you’re wondering if maybe your covers aren’t doing the best job they could for you, here are a few questions to ask in determining whether or not a cover reboot is in your best interest.

  1. Who is your target audience? Get specific here. I did a whole lot of research before I ultimately found that my target audience consists primarily of professional men and women (with a stronger female following) ages thirty and above with some type of secondary education. My readers are predominantly mystery fans who like (or at least tolerate) some romance with their mystery, rather than some mystery with their romance. What about you? What age groups do your books most appeal to? Do you have more male readers than female, or vice versa? What about income level, education, professional status? The more you know about your readers, the more accurately you can determine what kind of cover will appeal.
  2. What is your target audience buying? Go to Amazon and shop by book genre. Check out current bestsellers. What do the covers look like? Covers in contemporary romance look a whole lot different from mystery noir; literary fiction and science fiction covers are worlds apart. How does your current cover compare with all those bestsellers? Do you see similarities between your design and other top sellers in your category?
  3. What do your current readers say? Take a handful of loyal readers who represent the target audience you’re going for, and ask them: What do you think of my book cover? The responses I got were eye opening, to say the least. Several readers even said that when they recommended my books, they told their friends to pay no attention to the cover because, “… the book is so much better than that.” How’s that for honesty?! If you’re consistently hearing from others that your cover isn’t representative of the caliber or style of your novel, pay attention. That kind of feedback is invaluable!
  4. What do the experts say? Joel Friedlander, who runs the stellar website The BookDesigner , offers a monthly book cover contest, in which independent authors submit their covers for his consideration and comments. Two winners are chosen each month, one in fiction and one in nonfiction, but Joel provides helpful feedback on a significant percentage of the entries. You can submit your cover for consideration in the contest by following this link. Or, you can hire an expert. If you want feedback on your cover alone, the crew at 1106 Design will provide a complete, detailed analysis of what works and what doesn’t about your current book cover, for $110. If you’re looking for a professional perspective that includes an evaluation of your cover, book blurb, marketing techniques to date, and novel content, we offer a full Post-Publishing Evaluation at Adian Enterprises for $250. Whatever option you choose, I highly recommend seeking some type of feedback from a professional in the business.

At the end of the day, you’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not a new book cover is the right move for you. But, if sales are lagging or you’re just looking to infuse some new life into a novel that has been on the market for a couple of years, taking the leap with a new cover designer might be just the thing to get your career moving in the right direction. Bestselling author Russell Blake has a stellar article on just that topic, and provides some great tips for determining what the focus of your next book cover should be. He also takes a more laidback, philosophical approach to the cover design process. In essence: This isn’t brain surgery. No one will die (not even your career!) if you need to change your cover… And, as hard as it is to believe, the world won’t even end if you don’t get it absolutely perfect the second time around. The point is to keep trying. Keep learning. And don’t be afraid to make a change in the ongoing quest for the writing career of your dreams!

author photoBorn and raised in rural Maine, Jen Blood brings a love of complex characters and serpentine plots to her fiction. Her bestselling Erin Solomon mysteries combine this love with rich settings, evocative writing, cults, conspiracies, epic romance, and a breakneck pace.

In her “day job” as owner of Adian Editing, Jen uses her own experience as a veteran freelance editor working with traditional publishing houses and independently published novelists alike, to provide authors with expert proofreading and editing services. Additionally, with the aid of her experience as a bestselling author and a graduate degree in Creative Writing/Popular Fiction, Jen provides detailed evaluations of published novels in every genre, keying into problem areas impacting sales for independent and traditionally published authors. Using these evaluations, she assists fledgling and veteran authors in writing, revising, and marketing their work. Visit the Adian website for services, rates, and a schedule of Jen’s upcoming classes, seminars, and workshops.

You can learn more about Jen here and here.


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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