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D. Jeffrey Ostling

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Portrait of Deadly Excess
by D. Jeffrey Ostling   

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Publisher:  D. Jeffrey Ostling Type: 


Copyright:  July 19, 2011 ISBN-13:  9780983831709

Barnes &
Hazard Casebook Chronicle

A work of literary suspense in the hardboiled noir tradition.

A haunting work of literary suspense in which nothing is what it seems.  Volatile freelance investigator Van Hazard is unable to save two friends from a mysterious fire.   Arriving too late on the scene to prevent the blaze, he can only rescue a stranger who tells a bizarre tale alleging his friends were murdered by a dead man.   Sparked by guilt and driven by a host of personal demons, Hazard's hardnosed probe into what really happened ignites a tinderbox of treachery, greed and twisted obsession as he races to keep a celebrated artist from completing his greatest and most brazen work --- a spellbinding Portrait of Deadly Excess.  

Van Hazard was an expert in bad feelings. He had them all the time. He seemed to attract them, the way some people do lightning, as if he had an antenna strapped to his skull drawing-in all the ill will of the world. When he was really focused his bad feelings spoke to him in myriad voices. Sometimes they howled, sometimes they whispered, and sometimes they played hide-and-seek in an awkward turn of phrase, an insincere gesture, or in a lie told too often or not especially well.
On this particular occasion Hazard’s instinct for impending disaster had cried out to him like wails of newborn thunder in the shrill, trembling voice of his longtime friend and manager, Curtis Huntington. Huntington had called him, near hysterics, pleading he meet him at the home of their mutual friend, Alex Brodsky, the noted sculptor.
“More than one life hangs in the balance,” Huntington cautioned before the line went dead.
Despite being a little high-strung and given to theatrics, Huntington wasn’t one to cry wolf without sufficient reason. Hazard had heard the sound of fear too many times not to recognize it in his friend’s urgent plea.
A light drizzle tumbled through a lazy fog and onto the slick black pavement of the Verrazano Bridge. The thick snarl of traffic only served to make the knot in Hazard’s stomach pull a little tighter. He glared at the cool blue illuminated face of the clock in his dashboard. Nearly an hour had passed since he had gotten Huntington’s call. The trip usually took twenty minutes. He snatched a cigarette from the pack lying on the seat beside him and lit it while putting his cell phone on speaker. The phone rang and rang until Brodsky’s recorded voice invited him to leave a message.
“Alex, this is Van. I’m stuck in traffic, but tell Curtis I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
He clicked off the phone and turned on the radio, pre-tuned to the one jazz station still on the airwaves, but they were in the middle of a break in the music. The volatile stock market had taken another nosedive and the forecast called for more rain. The windshield wipers scraped out their own squeaky scat while he waited for music. After a few anxious drags on his cigarette he was moving again, suddenly clear of the rubbernecking jam brought on by the sight of flashing lights, mauled metal, and mangled flesh on the road. The details didn’t seem to matter—a case of road rage, bad timing, or another rushing motorist dead set on dying. The bad omens kept on coming. He pressed his foot down on the accelerator when he caught a seam in the traffic, and partly rolled down the car window and took in a few gulps of cool, damp night air that wafted in and curled itself around the languid smoke from his cigarette. He rode the fresh air and the husky riffs of Sarah Vaughn’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” onto Victory Boulevard.
He ran several lights in his haste to reach Huntington, but the closer he got to Brodsky’s house the louder the rumbling inside him became. It wasn’t long before his own internal barking was joined by a chorus of howls from neighborhood dogs down the block from his destination. Like the rain, which oddly seemed to agitate, not cleanse the residual smells of the city—leaving scents of salt water, landfills and recently cut grass to wander the night like disembodied spirits—Sassy’s silky smooth voice could no more dowse the raging dread inside him than it could drown the fire now devouring the suburban calm.
Brodsky’s house was on fire.
Thick plumes of blackish gray smoke churned up from the rear of the house as red-orange tongues of flame licked them higher into the night. The flames illuminated the sides of neighboring houses and began singeing the tufts of trees bordering Brodsky’s wide plot of land. Bright sparks darted about like confused fireflies, and the heavy stench of burning chemicals, reminding him of too much starter fluid thrown into a backyard grill, stung his eyes and nose. His bad feelings were now in overdrive.
Hazard screeched his car into Brodsky’s driveway and bolted from the door before the vehicle came to a full stop. He ran towards the smoldering house, but the front door was locked. Having been to the house many times, he immediately headed to the rear where Brodsky had built a studio attachment for his work as a sculptor and painter. He could feel the increasing intensity of fire, smoke and heat as he followed the narrow slate path down the side of the house. The studio was the source of the fire. He prowled the patio that opened up to a spacious back yard, trying to glimpse inside the glass-enclosed studio, but saw only a thick curtain of swirling, acrid smoke.
“Alex! Curtis!” he barked at the fire, desperate to determine if either of his friends was still inside.
“Kane! Kane! Is that you?”
The name jarred Hazard, a tap on the shoulder by the cold hand of a ghost, but it was the desperation of the voice that most drew his attention. It didn’t sound like either Brodsky or Huntington, but the voice came from inside the fire. Under the circumstances, Hazard thought that anything was possible, even hearing the name of a dead man cried out into the angry night. He was up to his eyebrows in bad feelings, but knew he couldn’t abandon whoever was inside while he sorted them out. He had only to look at the ferocity of the fire to realize he was the last chance Huntington, Brodsky and whomever else was in the house had of escape, so he hunched himself up into his oversized raincoat, wet from the rain, and anxiously searched the patio for a way into the house.
“Curtis! Alex! Where are you?” he shouted, hoping for a response that would better indicate where he should head.
“Kane! For God’s sake, don’t leave me!”
It was the same desperate voice as before, and again it was calling out to a corpse for assistance. Hazard tried to pinpoint the general origin of the cries, listened for another outburst; but the only sound came from the seductive sigh and crackle of the flames, inviting him to join them, become one with them in some ancient rite of purification. Hazard stood at the outer reaches of the expanding fire, felt its undulating waves of white hot heat caress his skin and make it tingle. He liked to play on the edge, and after staring into the lashing tongues of flames for a second took his chance when it came. An instant later, he was inside the studio and the fire consuming it, having dashed through a wide but jagged gash that had somehow already been made in the glass and aluminum exterior facing the patio. Someone had already forced their way inside.
He nearly fell on his face as he entered, stumbling over an overturned piece of wrought-iron patio furniture and the shattered remains of a wooden workbench and toppled cans of paints, lacquers and other artist supplies obscured by the dense smoke. Behind the smoke the studio was an inferno. The flames had eaten through part of the roof, mostly made of glass set into a steel-and- aluminum frame, and Hazard sensed the heat would soon bring the whole structure down. He looked around, fought off the smoke and fumes that stung his eyes, probed still deeper into the fire.
“Where are you?” he called out, desperate for an answer.
“Over here, Kane,” a desperate voice cried out. “I’m trapped!”
Clearly, that voice thought he was Kane. The plea allowed him to get a beat on the general direction in which he now needed to look, somewhere around ten o’clock in the room, where the flames were the most intense. It figured. The voices inside him were seldom wrong, and those bad feelings were screeching out in a veritable Greek chorus.
He shielded his face with his raincoat and upraised arms and bolted into the maw of the fire. He tripped over a chair, burned his hand grabbing hold of a scorched metal table as he steadied himself, and finally glimpsed the object of his search: the figure of a young man blindly flailing about, his hair and clothes on fire, about to fall, face-first, into the white hot jaws of the blaze. The figure was only an arm’s length away. Small cans of paint and thinner used by Brodsky in his painting were exploding and shooting past him like blunt projectiles fired from canons. They whizzed past with tremendous velocity only to smash into a nearby wall or crash through the glass walls and ceiling. Each explosion fed a fire that, in his humble opinion, had already eaten more than its fill. Breathing was becoming increasingly difficult. Between the heat, the fumes and the smoke, he swore he was gasping fire.
Hazard could hear the crackle and moan of the studio walls and roof as they began to succumb to the intense heat of the fire. The whole place was ready to collapse, so he reached out, grabbed hold of the young man and threw him onto his back, and ran as fast as he could, back the same way he had entered. He ploughed through the chair, rammed into the table and brushed them aside with the brute force of his legs. He never looked up. What was the point? He couldn’t see squat, but he could feel his skin start to tingle. He could also smell his own hair begin to singe, felt his raincoat and pant legs begin to smolder, then catch fire, but he dared not stop until he crashed into the glass panes of the studio and tumbled, stranger still on his back, onto the wet patio outside.
The cool, wet slate felt good against his cheek, but he couldn’t afford to dawdle. Both he and the young man he had rescued were on fire. He patted himself down and then quickly removed his smoldering raincoat, straddled the flailing human torch at his feet and smothered the lingering flames. Through it all, the young stranger kept mumbling.
“I knew you wouldn’t leave me, Kane. I knew you couldn’t let me die.”
Hazard wasn’t sure if the kid’s babbling was annoying or intriguing him, but for the time being, at least, he wished it would stop. The kid’s flesh was raw, fused with clothes he was wearing, and the hair on his head had been almost entirely burned off. Hazard again slapped out the last, smoldering patches on his own clothes and then debated, however briefly, whether or not he was going back in to look for Brodsky and Huntington, but he realized it was no use. The fire had won.
He stared at but didn’t recognize the stranger lying at his feet who, Hazard abruptly realized, had stopped rolling about and mumbling. The kid was going into shock. Hazard hurriedly wrapped the stranger in what was left of his raincoat and dragged him further away from the house and onto the wet lawn—and just in time. No sooner had Hazard moved them away from the house than the entire studio collapsed in a long protracted groan and crash. A fresh spout of smoke and ash gushed from the wreckage, but was slowly deflated by the rain. Hazard wrapped the kid in the only thing he could find, the tarp-like cover beside the empty swimming pool; when he was done the stranger looked like a hand-rolled, half-smoked cigar, lying bent on the ground.
That was how the firemen found him when they arrived a minute later. Paramedics ran behind the firemen, and figured out that the wrapped mummy on the grass was the one who most needed attention. Hazard eagerly backed off and pointed toward the burning house to the nearest fireman.
“There might be people still inside!” Hazard said, his body leaning toward the fire, as if tempted by the flames yet again.
“You know that for sure?”
“No,” Hazard replied. “But there should be two others, at least. I’m a friend of the man who lives here.”
“You a firefighter?” the fireman asked, looking Hazard over. Hazard’s hesitation answered the question. “I didn’t think so,” the fireman said, beginning to ease Hazard back, away from the house. “You did good, all the same,” the fireman told him, patting him on the back while gazing down at the stranger being worked on by paramedics. “We can handle things from here. Officer…” the fireman said, leading Hazard into the suspicious stare of a burly cop so young looking he might have been moonlighting from a nearby junior high. The dislike between Hazard and the cop was immediate and mutual. “You might want to talk to this man. He was here when we arrived. He saved this guy’s life!” With that, the fireman rushed back to the house and, with several others, started to fight the fire with hoses while smashing through the wreckage of the collapsed studio.
“A hero, huh!” the burly young cop said, with a smirk that pissed Hazard off.
“Not at all, Officer,” he said, trying to be on best behavior. “I was just trying to help save a friend.”
Those voices inside him started yapping again, but he tried to restrain himself despite being looked over as if he were guilty of something. Hazard didn’t like being in a fishbowl, and he found himself carefully studying the young cop while the young cop was studying him. The officer didn’t much like it, but Hazard didn’t much care. Judging by his baby-faced features, the hollow brashness of his voice and the insecure gruffness underlying his manner, Hazard guessed it wasn’t only the cop’s creased and pressed uniform that was fresh out of a box from the Academy. Hazard had been on the force himself long enough to know how most cops were trained to think, and he knew that there was no such thing as a half-white, half-black person to a cop. His experience growing up as well as his professional training warned him that cops usually showed complete disdain for subtle distinctions. To most cops, especially rookies, there was white, and there was “other,” which made Hazard—half black on his father’s side and half white on his mother’s—black enough in this upscale, white bread neighborhood to have just cause to be blue.
“You live here?”
“I’m a friend of the owner,” Hazard tried to explain.
“Really?” the officer said, as if surprised. “You were inside when the fire started?”
“No, I just arrived a little while ago. The house was already on fire. I came back here to see if someone was inside.” The rookie did a quick survey of the terrain and seemed to think it was important they were in the back yard.
“Anything wrong with trying the front door?” the cop asked.
“It was locked.”
“Yeah, I imagine it would be this time of night,” the rookie replied, still holding on to a smirk that ran from ear to ear. “Who’s the guy EMS is working over?”
“Don’t know.”
“I thought you said he was a friend,” the rookie said with a snarl, his long ears twitching, like a dog’s, as if hearing alarms.
“He’s not one of the friends I was trying to rescue.”
“Oh, so now there’s more than one friend,” the cop snapped. “Look, man, you sure you don’t want to start all over again and get your story straight before I write it down?”
Hazard wasn’t sure which part of the rookie’s remark offended him more: the implication he was lying and perhaps responsible for the fire, the condescending tone, or the rookie’s dubious claim that he could write.
“You can jot down anything you want,” Hazard shot back. “Let me know if you need any help with the spelling.”
“You trying to be a smart ass?”
“I’m trying to explain what happened,” he replied, “but if you’d prefer to make something up yourself, don’t let me stop you.” He stared at the rookie, took a deep breath, and tried again. “Look. I got a call to meet two friends here, at this house, but when I got here the place was an inferno.”
“You were meeting two friends here, in this neighborhood?” the rookie asked, panning the suburban setting of luxury houses and landscaped lawns, and did not bother to hide his disbelief. “This is an awfully long way from the ‘hood!”
“That kind of depends on what ‘hood’ you have in mind,” Hazard snapped back. The young cop didn’t catch the reference, and Hazard wasn’t in the mood for elaborating on the cross-burning proclivities of white suburban America.
“This guy the paramedics are working on now, wasn’t one of your friends?” The rookie went on to ask. Hazard, surprised by the civil question, simply nodded. “Then why the hell did you risk your own life saving a complete stranger?”
“I couldn’t be sure without saving him, could I?” he told the cop, looking up at the blazing house and thick billows of smoke.
“So, if I’m hearing you right you wouldn’t have helped this poor guy if you knew he was a stranger.”
Hazard let out a deep sigh. “Look, Officer. It’s late. I’m tired, I hurt, and at last count I’m still missing two very close friends…”
“Were both these friends of yours white?” the cop wanted to know.
“What difference does that make?” Hazard demanded, losing his patience. “Look. I’m not in the mood for this foolishness. Here, take one of my cards. Give me a call in the morning if there’s anything else you want to know.”
The rookie stood motionless, sneering at him while refusing to take the card.
“Do I look like I’m collecting business cards at a hip-hop trade show?” the rookie replied, swiping the card to the ground. “Let’s see some I.D.!”
“Yours, or mine?” Hazard replied, flatly. He didn’t have much patience with idiots. The cop felt the same about him.
“I told you before, don’t get smart with me,” the cop warned, stepping menacingly toward Hazard, reaching for his baton. “You people never know when to shut up and do what you’re told!” The “you people” remark aptly punctuated the conversation. Hazard decided to have as much fun with the rookie as the rookie was having with him. He used to train candidates at the academy on the fine art of self-defense when he was back on the force, and knew several ways to take a baton and a gun away from someone who shouldn’t have one. The rookie seemed to fit that description, especially when he started poking him with the baton.
The first poke to his shoulder got Hazard’s attention. The second, to his ribs, prompted a response. Hazard delivered a crisp stiff arm to the chest to abruptly stop the rookie’s advance, followed by a quick snatch, twist, and pull that dislodged the baton from the young officer’s grasp. Hazard’s burned left palm hurt like hell upon contact, but he refused to show the rookie any sign of pain.
Stunned, the young cop immediately went for his revolver, just as Hazard knew he would. Crack. Hazard beat him to the holster with a slap of the baton, catching the rookie’s knuckles between the metal of the baton and the harder butt of his gun. One measured smack was all he needed to sting the rookie’s knuckles. As the officer withdrew his hand in pain, Hazard made another move. A second later, he held the revolver too and towered over the cop, who was jackknifed over, holding his hand. The cop was suddenly terrified, expecting to be shot at point blank range, gun on its side, gangsta style.
“You didn’t learn much at the academy, did you, son?” Hazard said, matter-of-factly. “You’ve been watching too many bad movies with Hollywood stereotypes. The combination of your bad attitude and piss-poor training could get your dumb ass killed!”
“Still training the rookies, huh Van?” asked a familiar voice from behind. The voice was attached to a hand, and the hand gestured for him to turn over the officer’s baton and gun. “If you’re done having your fun, I’ll take those, thank you. Lord knows we don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
Hazard grinned, recognizing the voice, and slowly offered the rookie’s gun and baton to the figure behind him. He turned around and saw Lieutenant Stan Cummings, an old friend from his days on the force. Cummings was a nineteen-year man determined to make his pension before embarking on a second career in loss prevention. Cummings might have put on a few pounds around the middle and lost hair at the temples since he first met him, but he hadn’t lost his sense of humor. “Some things never change. You still like to press your luck!” Cummings said, taking the baton and revolver.
“I don’t press it as much as this baby blue!” Hazard replied, looking back at the rookie. “Always know who and what you’re dealing with before you make your move.” The young cop was incensed all the more by Hazard’s advice, and started to make another run at him when Cummings headed him off.
“You don’t want to do that, son,” Cummings cautioned, holding the rookie at bay, safely away from Hazard. “It doesn’t look good for a cop to be beaten to a pulp by an unarmed civilian. It makes the whole department look bad.” The rookie glared at Cummings, then at Hazard. Cummings stepped between the two men and kept them at a safe distance, eager to diffuse the situation. Cummings gazed down at the rookie’s name pin next to his badge. “Officer…Connelly, this is Vance Hazard. Those of us who know him call him Van. He used to be on the force before being reborn as a special investigator working insurance claims. His father was also a cop. Best partner I ever had!” The young cop wasn’t impressed.
“I don’t give a fuck who he thinks he is, his ass belongs to me!”
“I thought I already explained that to you, Connelly. Hazard here is way out of your league. You’re lucky all he did was give you a scolding.”
“I want him arrested for assaulting an officer!” the rookie insisted.
“Do you really want to do that, son?” Cummings asked. “It could get embarrassing—for you and for the force.”
“This son of a bitch attacked me!” the rookie barked. “I’ll be damned if he walks! I want him in cuffs!”
Hazard already knew how it would turn out, so he offered Cummings first a shrug and then his hands. Cummings noticed the burn on his palm.
“You should get that taken care of,” Cummings advised, and then glanced back at Connelly, expecting the rookie to waive the cuffs because of the injury. Connelly was as adamant as he was spiteful.
“You know I hate to do this, Van,” Cummings said, putting on the cuffs as gently as gently as possible and escorting Hazard toward a squad car.
“Don’t sweat it, Stan. I’ve been here before.”
Cummings shot him a knowing glance. “And you think that makes it all right? Exactly how many cops do you think you can assault and get away with it?”
“As many as have it coming,” he told Cummings, who seemed to want to say something before thinking better of it. On the way to the car they lingered for a second to watch the paramedics work on the burned stranger pulled from the fire. The kid was alive but looked in a bad way.
“I’m sorry I missed that show of your paintings at that uptown gallery, but I did read about you negotiating the return of those rugs stolen from the museum.”
“Tapestries, Stan,” Hazard said, correcting him. “Medieval tapestries.” Cummings shrugged, dismissing the distinction all the while running his fingers along the smooth and luxurious wool lapel of Hazard’s sports jacket.
“Very nice! Between your painting and your freelance work you seem to be doing all right. What do they give you, ten percent of what you find or reclaim?” Cummings said, keeping them both moving.
“I’ve talked them up to twelve,” Hazard replied. “Nicole just started college, so I thought it was time for a raise.” Cummings started to chuckle, then turned very serious.
“What exactly happened here, Van?”
“Damned if I know. I only got here myself a few minutes before the firemen. I know the guy who lives here,” Hazard said. “I got a call from Curtis Huntington…”
“Your manager?” Cummings asked.
“Yeah,” Hazard said. “He called about ninety minutes ago and asked me to meet him here. He didn’t say why, but he sounded upset.”
“About?” Cummings prodded.
“I don’t know,” Hazard said, shrugging. “He said he’d explain when I got here. He said more than one life might be in danger.”
“Meaning?” Cummings asked. Hazard could only offer a dumb shrug in reply. “Not much to work with,” Cummings remarked. “For our part, all I know is that we got a call from a neighbor about some noise, maybe a gunshot and a possible break-in.” Cummings paused as the paramedics hurried past with the burned stranger on a stretcher. “Who’s he?”
“Your guess is a good as mine,” Hazard replied.
“You really have no idea what this was all about?” Cummings asked.
“I wish I did!” Hazard replied. “I only know it sounded urgent. Curtis was scared, real scared.”
“About what?”
“I told you, I don’t know,” Hazard said, exasperated.
“You wouldn’t be holding back a few details, now would you?” the detective asked. Hazard shook his head.
“Square business, Stan,” Hazard assured him. “That’s all I know.”
They paused on the wet lawn, in between the snarl of thick hoses snaking across the grass, to watch as the paramedics loaded the stranger into a waiting ambulance. The kid was moaning, out loud.
“Don’t leave me, Kane,” the charcoal-broiled kid continued to mutter, incoherently. “Don’t leave me!”
Hazard glanced coyly at Cummings. “He was crying out the same thing when I found him.”
“For chrissakes, Van!” Cummings scolded, his face twisted in an irritated scowl. “Not Kane again!”
“I’m not the one mumbling his name!” Hazard explained, but Cummings wasn’t amused.
“People are going to start thinking you’re some sort of ghoul if you keep trying to bring back the dead.”
“The only problem with that, Stan, is that Kane isn’t dead,” he tried to explain.
“I don’t want to hear it, understand!” Cummings said, sternly. “And don’t think this will persuade Vega to reopen the case after all you put him through when he closed it!” Cummings seemed relieved at the prospect of a change in subject when a fireman came up on them from behind with some urgency.
“We just found two more bodies in the wreckage,” the fireman said. “They’re both dead.”
Hazard began to feel sick to his stomach, and even more so when he saw the approach of two groups of EMS and police carrying black body bags. Hazard was nearly doubled over by the knot in his gut. For a moment he wasn’t sure he wanted to look but followed Cummings to a place on the edge of the lawn where the bags were set down.
“Do you know them?” Cummings asked Hazard, as the police unzipped the bags halfway; revealing in one the badly burned body of a plump, rotund man with stubby, well-jeweled fingers.
“Goddammit!” Hazard moaned, kneeling down over the corpse. The knot in his gut became a new navel, and he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to vomit or cry. “It’s Curtis, all right.”
Cummings stared at Hazard with the look of pained sympathy, and then implored him to look at the other body.
“How about this one?” Cummings wanted to know. Identifying the second body wasn’t so easy. There was little but a charred shell to see; it had been burned far worse than had Huntington. Hazard nearly lost his dinner, and still he wasn’t sure.
“It could be Alex. Alex Brodsky, the sculptor,” Hazard finally said. The name meant nothing to Cummings. “There isn’t much left to identify. It’s kind of hard to tell. The features are Alex’s, only older.”
“How old was this Brodsky?” Cummings asked.
“My age, mid-forties.”
Cummings stared down into the burned remains inside the bag and calmly shook his head. “This guy looks well over sixty!” Cummings observed. Hazard couldn’t stop staring at the body in the bag, Cummings finally patted him on the back and gestured for the bags to be closed up and taken away.
“Sorry I had to put you through that, Van, but I thought you would want to know.”
“You thought right.”
“Now come on, here’s your ride,” Cummings said, pointing to a waiting white-and-blue patrol car. “Maybe I can talk our rookie into dropping the charges.”
“I wouldn’t count on it, Stan,” Hazard replied, leaning over, bowing his head and angling into the back seat of the squad car. “I embarrassed him, and if he’s lucky, he won’t soon forget it.” Cummings was about to slam the door shut when Hazard kept it open with his foot. “Do me a solid?”
“What do you need?”
“Call Kyoko for me?” Hazard asked. Cummings started smiling at the mere mention of the name then stared at Hazard and started to scratch his head.
“I still can’t figure out what a woman who looks that good and has that much class sees in a hard ass like you.”
Hazard chuckled. “That makes two of us. Do you still know her number?”
Cummings shook his head. “Believe me, Van, if I had Kyoko’s number I would have called it long before now. If only I was just a little younger, with a bit less of a paunch…”
Cummings was too absorbed flirting with his fantasy to notice how easily Hazard picked the lock of his handcuffs with an uncoiled paperclip he had found in his pocket. Cummings could merely look on, hands on hips, as Hazard quickly reached inside another pocket, took out a pen, and scribbled a phone number on the back of one of his own business cards and handed it to him. Hazard then dutifully put himself back in the cuffs and relaxed into the back seat of the squad car.
“Tell her what happened and where I am. She’ll know what to do.” Cummings glared at Hazard as he took the card, and caught a glimpse of the burn on his hand again.
“I’ll get a paramedic over here for that burn,” Cummings told him, gesturing to get the attention of the nearest EMS worker. “But I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t pull that stunt with the cuffs while I’m around,” he said. “I don’t want to get another lecture from Vega over cutting you too much slack.”
“How is the Captain?” Hazard asked.
“Vega? Same as always,” Cummings said. “But I’m not sure he’s going to be thrilled to see you again.” Cummings waited for the paramedic to look over Hazard’s burned hand, slather it with ointment and wrap it up in gauze.
“It’s not all that serious,” the paramedic told them. “But I’d have your family doctor take a look at it in the morning just the same.”
Cummings patted the medic on the shoulder, slid into the front seat of the squad car and told the uniformed cop behind the wheel to get going.
Hazard laid his head back on the seat and closed his eyes. His evening had been more eventful than he had wanted it to be. Judging from the knot of bad feelings still wound tight in his stomach, the fun wasn’t over quite yet.

Professional Reviews

Michael Dunford, Midwest Review of Books
"A Portrait of Deadly Excess is a fine spin on mystery. Highly Recommended."

M. Wayne Cunningham, Clarion Reviews, ForeWord Magazine
"Portrait of Deadly Excess presents the deadly excesses of the noir genre in a unique framework of the art world. A fascinating premise for a story. An action-thriller at the edge of horror-fantasy."

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Her romantic life in shambles, Danielle McKinnon is ready for a change in her life. Unexpected circumstances grants her desire, but terror strikes when her life is threatened by ma..  
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