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The Last Van Gogh – Blitz

The Last Van Gogh


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March 2019
Black Rose Writing

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Last Van Gogh” received the 2019 Maxy Award for Best Mystery-Detective
brilliant and troubled artist. A lost masterpiece. The desperate search for the
unknown Van Gogh painting disappears from France at the outbreak of World War
Two. A notorious con man later claims he smuggled the immense painting to the
U.S. where it is never seen again. Ninety years later, his two sons, Adam and
Wesley Barrow, discover letters that supposedly confirm the painting’s
existence, now valued at $250 million if it exists.
by a dysfunctional childhood and skeptical of his father’s tale, Adam at first
dismisses the old letters.
painting’s possible existence also attracts the attention of three unscrupulous
collectors, all  former associates of
his  father, one of whom engages a
professional killer to find the painting.
of its existence, Adam teams with Katya Veranova, a beautiful KGB defector and
ex-assassin, as they travel to Holland, Paris, California, and New York on a
desperate mission, forming an intimate but tenuous bond. Tracked by the unseen
contract killer and threatened at every turn, Adam and Kat face increasing
danger in their quest to find the last Van Gogh.
            The ambulance bearing Wes disappeared around
the corner onto Wells Street, siren moaning as traffic pulled to the curb to
let Chicago’s latest casualty pass. They’d removed Vasily’s body after a flurry
of police photographs, Chicago’s finest dispersing the gawkers. The storm
whipped gray curtains of rain off Lake Michigan, washing blood from the
sidewalk as I surveyed the damage.
and blue strobes atop the remaining police cars illuminated my gallery like a
roadside strip club. Inside the shattered window, a desecrated painting hung
askew on the nearest wall, its frame splintered, the canvas holed by bullets.
Beneath the destroyed Expressionist nude, crumbled wallboard fragments littered
my proud new carpet. None of it mattered so long as Wes was alive.
raised my coat collar and retreated beneath the awning followed by a bored
Chicago police sergeant, glass crunching under our shoes. The cop was a street
veteran down to a scarred chin and wary expression, his belly encroaching on
his belt buckle. He removed his brimmed hat and brushed rainwater from the
clear plastic covering, wiping the checkered band with a thick thumb before he
tugged it back on with a street-weary sigh.
            “Looks like you and your brother
dodged a bullet,” he said with a caustic half-smile. Discomfited by my
expression, he said, “Well, he didn’t actually dodge it. The EMT’s said the
bullet nicked the back of his calf without finding bone. Some blood loss but no
permanent damage.”
            “I’ve got to call his wife,” I
            “Sure, in a minute. First, you
wanna tell me what happened?”
            Across the rain-slicked street, the
space sat empty where the Lincoln had waited for us. “We walked out and someone
started shooting from a car parked across the street.”
            The cop contemplated my shattered
window. “I don’t figure the boys from the projects, but you never know about
those crazy bastards.” 
            I shook my head, recalling the
tinted window sliding down. Maybe a loan shark fed up with Wes’s late payments?
“The car was a black stretch Lincoln, the kind limo owners drive.”
            The cop took a cheap spiral
notebook from his yellow raincoat and made a note. “But it could be gang
bangers the projects. They like to cruise the streets at night,” he said. “Lot
of random shootings. The worst call themselves the Deuce’s Disciples.” He
kicked at the glass rubble around our feet. “I think tonight probably was a
screw-up. Mistaken identity or drug deal gone bad.”
didn’t say so but the cop’s reasoning didn’t feel right, a bunch of brainless
bangers shooting up an art gallery from a limousine. Glad to be out of the
rain, the cop made another note and took on the jaded expression of
investigating endless mayhem. Another Saturday night shooting and one more
bewildered citizen he was supposed to protect.
dead guy,” he asked. “Customer?”      
of my artists.” I almost told him about Vasily’s uncle and decided against it.
The police would find out soon enough, and a whole new avenue of investigation
would begin, including my association with Viktor Krushenko. I didn’t want to
think about it.
            The sergeant closed the notebook.
“The detectives will want to talk with you tomorrow.” He frowned at the rain
blowing through my broken window. “Lousy fucking weather. Better get something
over that hole. We’ll keep a man here until you leave,”
            He ambled back to the circus parade
of flashing lights and I went inside, wondering where in hell I’d find someone
to board up a window on Saturday night. I’d lugged the exposed paintings to the
work area, too disheartened to touch the ruined painting. I thought about Viktor
and knew I should call him, but I put it off. Viktor would know about the
attack soon enough and I tried not to think about what might follow. Vasily was
dead and that would bring repercussions for someone. Possibly me.
            I called Barbara and got her calmed
down after a few minutes, explaining Wes was basically okay. She kept asking me
why Wes had been shot but I had no answer. I gave her the name of the hospital
where they’d taken him and said I’d meet her there. Hanging up, I stared at the
jagged hole where my front window once existed. I waved to the cop stationed at
the door and went to my office. Thumbing my iPhone for repair companies I
located one open 24/7. The answering service claimed they’d be on their way
within the hour and I almost believed the voice. Bundled in a raincoat I walked
outside and told the patrolman to go home, that I’d wait until the hole was
boarded up.
pulled up a chair by the front door as the adrenaline ebbed, watching cars slow
to ogle the destruction. Gusts of rain gleefully destroyed my new carpet and I
tried not to calculate replacement cost, wondering if my insurance covered
gunfire. To my surprise a panel truck arrived half an hour later. Two workmen
hammered up plywood sheeting, the rough wooden patch blighting the front of my
beautiful gallery.
owning a car in a city where parking was a mixture of fate and voodoo, I called
Uber to take me to the hospital. During the ride, it occurred to me the
gunshots had been oddly muffled. I hadn’t told the cop, but the recollection
increased my uneasiness. Why would underage gangsters or a shyster bother with
a silencer?

            Wes had been discharged by the time
I reached the hospital. A young black intern assured me the injury wasn’t
serious enough to keep him overnight. In the midst of usual Saturday night
mayhem and need for beds, they’d bound the wound and released him with a supply
of pain killers.
            It was still raining as I called
Uber again and headed for Wes’s apartment. Barbara let me in and I found Wes
with a glass in his hand, leg propped on an ottoman, his smile vacant.
            “Hey, this Vicodin is great stuff,”
he said as if he’d discovered the solution to world peace.
sat on the arm of his chair and shook her head at me with less than fawning
eyes. She inclined her head at the glass in his hand.
            “Water,” she informed me.
            Maybe the shooting would prove a
respite for him. Provide an enforced vacation from his favorite lounges and
liquor stores. Barbara sure as hell wasn’t going to let him mix painkillers
with booze. I pulled up a straight-backed chair from the dining room and tried
to smile.
            “You okay?” I asked.
            “Is Vasily dead?”
            I nodded.
            “Damn. He seemed like a great guy.”
            Wes shifted his weight and winced.
I looked around. The apartment was sparser than I remembered, and Barbara
appeared five years older. She was a lean woman who never worried about her
weight, a great wife to Wes but not my biggest fan. She believed I enabled him
with loans and bail money, short term solutions to his deeper issues. But what
was I supposed to do? Leave him to the mercy of the drunk tank? She loved him
in her own patient way that allowed me to look beyond her faults, mainly her dislike
of me.
hovered over Wes, curly auburn hair and blouse still damp from the rain, her
face wet with tears. “This is quite a night,” she snapped, her voice trembling
as she brushed away a limp strand of hair. “Our home gets broken into, then you
call to tell me Wes has been shot.”
            “You got robbed?” was all I could
think to say.
            “Never imagined the art business
was this violent,” Wes laughed, his eyes swimming with the Vicodin. “Russian
gangsters and artists murdered in the street.”
            “You sure you’re alright?”
            He held up the glass of water. “I’m
fine, but I never needed a drink more in my life. What the hell happened?”
            “The cops aren’t sure.”
            “Great location you picked, Adam”
Barbara said over her shoulder as she strode to the kitchen. “A trendy
neighborhood. You serve Sneaky Pete wine at your gala last night?”
            “C’mon, Barbara,” Wes croaked.
            I resented her criticism. I hadn’t
envisioned a shooting gallery when I selected the location. “You’re clear on
the other side of town and you got robbed,” I reminded her, although the sparse
apartment didn’t appear a likely target.
            “We need to talk about what
happened,” Wes said.
            “I’ll talk with detectives
tomorrow. The cop told me…”
            “Not about the shooting,” Wes said.
“The break-in.”
            “Wes,” Barbara called from the
kitchen, “don’t start again.”
            “He needs to know.”
            “Know what?” I asked.
            Barbara sat on Wes’s chair arm
again and lightly ran her fingers through his hair. “He’s not making a lot of
sense, what with the pills and all,” she said. “Something about a Van Gogh
painting your father claimed to have owned.”
            “He told me about that, but what am
I missing here?”
            “The letters are gone,” Wes said.
“We checked but they’re not here. Nothing else was taken.”
            “You sure the letters were here?”
            “I changed clothes before I came to
the gallery. They were in my jacket.” He looked on the verge of bursting into
tears. “Our one link to the painting.”
            “You’re sure they were stolen.”
            “I’m a recovering drunk, not a
moron,” Wes snapped, slumping back in the chair as the pills worked their
            Barbara shot me a warning look that
hovered between ‘help me’ and ‘get the hell out of here.’ It was obvious they’d
fought a war over a fictional masterpiece that would solve their problems.
            Wes bent forward and winced.
“Dammit, Barbara, it’s real.”
            She searched his haggard face, her
own reflecting defeat fostered by years of disappointment. She started to reply
but looked away.
            “Okay, I’ll agree our old man was
crazy,” Wes admitted, “but he had no reason to lie to us. No money in lying. If
he owned a forgery, why didn’t he pawn it off on somebody years ago? God knows
he always needed money.”
            “This is crazy,” Barbara said.
“What about us? You’re putting this fantasy before everything we’re trying to
do. You’re in no shape to traipse after some painting. In case you haven’t
noticed, we’re almost broke. Where do you think we’ll find money to search for
your Eldorado? You have a portfolio or bank account I don’t know about?”
            “Maybe we can find a backer.” Wes
insisted. I’d heard the same desperation when he discovered a liquor bottle was
empty. He looked up at me. “What about your gangster friend?”
            “Viktor Krushenko is not my
            “He was Vasily’s uncle. He could
help us.”
            “Wes, do you have any idea who
these people are? Where their money comes from? It’s possible Viktor was trying
to get rid of me after our argument. The bastard’s crazy, you saw that. You
heard how unhappy he was about the split Vasily was getting. Maybe he meant the
shooting as an object lesson to me and he screwed up. Either way, he won’t be a
happy Boy Scout when he finds out Vasily’s dead.”
            “We need to find a way,” Wes said,
his optimism bolstered by the pain killers.
            Barbara turned away again and I was
out of arguments. Our dead father was ripping our lives apart yet again, his
sons lost in his dysfunctional shadow.
the Author

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Ottinger spent his early life in Savannah, Georgia. A graduate of Emory
University with a BA in history, he is also a graduate of Northwestern Graduate
Trust School in Chicago.
first novel, A Season for Ravens, published in 2014, was named by Reader Views
as one of its top-three Historical Fiction works of 2014-2015.  The second novel, The Savannah Betrayals, was
published in March, 2018.  His third
novel, The Last Van Gogh, was released in March, 2019 by Black Rose Writing.
Windrow and Greene Publishers in Great Britain earlier published his
non-fiction work on the art of historical miniatures, an art form in which he
gained international recognition as a Grand Master painter.  He authored a magazine column for seven
years, trained and lectured extensively in the financial field, wrote articles
for trust and investment publications, and has spoken to large and small
audiences. He served as president of Scribbler’s Ink, a Houston writers’ group.
founder and owner of a wealth management training/consulting firm, he and his
wife also owned an art gallery in downtown Chicago. Both are inveterate fly
fishermen and now live in Atlanta Georgia.


RABT Book Tours & PR
Adventure, Thriller A man left alone on earth. Alan is visiting Japan on business. After
Thriller Date Published: July 2019 2019 Book Excellence Awards Winner - The Lost Ones -
The Cleansing by Richard Luciano Publication Date: June 2, 2019 Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Suspense, Thriller
The Cleansing by Richard Luciano Publication Date: June 2, 2019 Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Suspense, Thriller


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Girls of Yellow – Blitz

Girls of Yellow banner


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De Jong/Sami Ali Book 1
May 2018
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a world where modern governments failed their citizens and long-simmering
conflicts escalated into global war. Imagine if its survivors migrated toward
those who share the same faith. Imagine the continents are ruled by religions.
the mysterious death of a teenage girl triggers memories of a similar childhood
event, police Detective Sami Ali becomes consumed with solving her murder.
Persecuted by the shame of his past, Ali will stop at nothing to find the
killer, even if his investigation puts his wife and daughter at risk.
he follows the clues, Ali collides with another lost soul – a foreign spy.
Elise De Jong’s official mission in Eurabia involves the acquisition of a
priceless item that could shift the balance of power among the theocracies. But
she also has a personal objective – to find her last living relative, the
little sister whom she hasn’t seen since her birth.
succeed in their missions, Elise and Ali must find common ground despite their
religious differences, for they can depend only on each other.
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Sami Ali knew he’d been assigned the dhimmi’s murder because he was the worst
detective on the Budapest police force. And he understood exactly what his boss
expected him to do – use minimal departmental resources to conduct a basic
investigation, find no evidence of religious cleansing, and bury the case.
knew such a weak effort rendered him a fraud and he didn’t care. Pride didn’t
pay his daughter’s tuition. His job was to follow orders and provide for his
family. Also, his father had made him take an oath as a child to hate
Christians and Jews for the rest of his life. He didn’t give a damn about the
body had been found at the Matthias Catholic Church, one of only three
remaining Christian churches in the section of the city known as Dhimmi Town.
Gothic  spires decorated with gargoyles
towered above a diamond-patterned roof, green and brown ceramic tiles
glittering in the sun. Ismael, the crime scene technician, was kneeling beside
the corpse near the altar when Ali arrived inside. His friend reminded Ali of a
mongoose – unassuming at first glance, but pity the snake who dared to test his
comes Saturday,” Ismael said.
comes Sunday,” Ali said.
salutation had originated in the Middle East during the early twentieth
century, long before the third world war, the collapse of governments and
economies, and the migration of survivors toward people who shared the same
we’ll take care of the Jews, who pray on Saturday, and then we’ll take care of
the Christians, who pray on Sunday.
old prophecy had been fulfilled in Arabia. Then, after Muslims flooded Europe,
Sharia law had been enacted throughout the continent. Only the dhimmis
prevented the prophecy from being true in what was now known as Eurabia, too.
now there were one fewer dhimmis.
couldn’t see the corpse. Ismael was hovering over it, blocking his view.
are we celebrating?” Ali said.
by strangulation,” Ismael said.
No machete?”
blood. He strangled her with his hands.”
blood. You’ve got to be kidding … Wait. Did you say her?”
on both sides of the neck but no actual prints. He must have worn gloves.”
of struggle?” Ali said.
that I can see.”
stepped back to reveal a girl’s corpse, a lithe figure with hair the color of
sun-drenched wheat. “Look, A. She can’t be more than fourteen or fifteen.”
Ali said. The first syllable of his friend’s name was the only sound he could
muster because the sight of the girl had taken him to the place he hoped to
never revisit.
a waste,” Ismael said.
childhood memories were secured in an impenetrable vault protected by imaginary
barbed wire, steel walls, and padlocks. Whenever something or someone prodded
the vault, its protective devices tightened. This time, however, its defenses
disintegrated and the locks sprang open. Out streamed the vision he loathed so
much it made him long for sudden death.
was all in the past, Ali tried to tell himself, but no one could detect a lie
more easily than a cop, even a lousy one. A similar-looking girl was lying
before him. And she, too, was dead.
eyes,” Ismael said. He reached over and lifted the dead girl’s eyelids.  “You see the eyes?”
looked like aquamarine jewels.
course Ali had noticed the eyes, as surely as he’d noticed the girl’s oval
face, alabaster skin, and golden locks. It wasn’t their beauty that shocked Ali
and Ismael, but rather their presence in their sockets, because the typical
religious cleansing involved their removal. Lower your head – submit to Islam –
lest your eyes be snatched.
nodded for Ali to come closer, then glanced in both directions to make sure the
other two technicians taking pictures of the church interior couldn’t hear him.
wasn’t killed here,” Ismael said. “She was brought here after the fact.”
can you be sure?”
lowered his voice further. “Because there was a witness.”
lost his breath. “A witness?” There were never any witnesses in Dhimmi Town, at
least none brave or stupid enough to come forward.
caretaker who called it in. He was here when the killer brought in the body.
Point of entry, front door. Point of exit, front door.
saw the killer?”
was taken to headquarters to give his statement and for his own protection. But
I don’t think it’s his protection your boss will be worried about. Especially
not with the world leaders in town for that conference. Think about it. The
heads of all four kingdoms – the Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and us – all in
the same place. Can’t have religious cleansing when the religions are trying to
find a way to get along, can you?”
heard the question and understood Ismael’s point. His boss wanted the case buried
quickly. But that mattered less to Ali than Ismael’s previous implication, that
the higher-ups would do everything necessary to make sure the witness was
silenced. To Ali’s own amazement, something compelled him right there and then
to do everything in his power to make sure the witness was heard.
was he too late?
told Ismael he’d be in touch and rushed out of the church.  As he ran toward his car, the call to prayer
sounded. It was the second such call of the day which meant it was just past
noon. The sound of the Muezzin’s mellifluous voice always slowed Ali’s pulse,
drained him of angst and sorrow, and lifted his spirits. The thought of not
stopping whatever he was doing to contemplate the substance of his Islamic
beliefs five times a day was unthinkable.
that’s exactly what he considered doing the moment the initial call sounded.
The image of the dead girl from his youth gripped him so tightly that he wanted
– no, he needed  – to begin a thorough
investigation of this girl’s murder immediately. One death bore no relation to
the other. More than twenty-five years had past since the first girl had died.
The victims merely resembled each other.
realized this but it made no difference to him. To say that he’d failed the
first girl was a gross understatement. He couldn’t contemplate repeating the
mistake. Did he even have the skills to solve a murder? Ali wasn’t sure
himself. The other cops called him the Dhimmi Lover precisely because he had no
love for them. It was a joke well-known throughout the force. What would they
say if the worst detective in Eurabia started acting like a real police? The
Dhimmi Lover actually trying to solve the murder of a dhimmi? They’d all get a
laugh out of that one.
the second call came for prayer to begin, Ali didn’t stop to face Mecca.
Instead, he climbed in his car, hammered the gas pedal and raced toward the
station. Never before had he thought of the streets of Dhimmi Town as his own.
Who in his right mind would want them?
they were his, he realized, whether he liked them or not, just as surely as he
was among the few Muslims not prostrating themselves before Allah in the
capital city of the central region of the Eurabian Caliphate.
hoped like hell no one recognized him behind the wheel.
the Author

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Stelmach is a mystery and thriller writer and the author of the Nadia Tesla
series. His novels have been Kindle #1 bestsellers, optioned for film
development, and translated into numerous foreign languages. Prior to becoming
a full-time writer, Orest was an institutional investment portfolio manager for
twenty-five years. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of
Chicago Booth School of Business.
RABT Book Tours & PR
Thriller Date Published: April 2019 Publisher: Rare Bird Books The line between passion and obsession
Adventure, Thriller A man left alone on earth. Alan is visiting Japan on business. After
Thriller Date Published: July 2019 2019 Book Excellence Awards Winner - The Lost Ones -
The Cleansing by Richard Luciano Publication Date: June 2, 2019 Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Suspense, Thriller
The Cleansing by Richard Luciano Publication Date: June 2, 2019 Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Suspense, Thriller


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The Scopas Factor – Blitz


The Scopas Factor banner

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December 2018
Publisher: BookBaby
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Hmong “story cloth,” the Gadsden flag, forged Picassos and a Russian drug
these disparate elements are linked, is Mike Hegan’s latest challenge in The
Scopas Factor.
on sabbatical from the Chicago Police Department, Hegan will travel from
Chicago to California – where he’ll “meet” his girlfriend’s parents – before
being drawn to the South of France.
each component of his quest will fall into place.
if facing down a gang who have committed atrocious crimes in Southeast Asia and
a drug dealing oligarch is a walk in the park – there are the women.
– the traditional one, the aggressive one and the love of his life.
about Scopas?  It’s all Greek to Hegan.
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RABT Book Tours & PR
Adventure, Thriller A man left alone on earth. Alan is visiting Japan on business. After
Thriller Date Published: July 2019 2019 Book Excellence Awards Winner - The Lost Ones -
The Cleansing by Richard Luciano Publication Date: June 2, 2019 Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Suspense, Thriller
The Cleansing by Richard Luciano Publication Date: June 2, 2019 Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Suspense, Thriller


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The Reaper – Blitz

 The Reaper banner

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Spring 2019
Hawk Hill Literary
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Against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War and the rise of the Third Reich, powerful and dangerous interests compete for possession of The Reaper, a painting by Spanish artist Joan Miro. The painting disappears in 1937 at the end of the Paris Exposition, leaving the art world and law enforcement authorities with an unsolved mystery.
Decades later, Magnolia Kanaranza—the gorgeous rags-to-riches estranged mother of struggling artist Hamilton Blethen—contrives to atone for abandoning him as a toddler and covertly arranges to have Blethen offered a million dollars to paint a copy of the vanished Reaper. But Hamilton is convinced he is being asked to paint a forgery, which poses an ethical and ultimately dangerous dilemma for the artist whose career is finally becoming established as a gifted painter of the old masters.
Magnolia’s scheme takes a violent turn in her rise to power as an international media magnate, and a shattered Blethen is forced to seek answers, and redemption, in the mysterious world of The Reaper.

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I’m a storyteller.

Sometimes, I put those stories on paper.

That makes me a writer.

When they get published, I become an author.

But, essentially, I’m a storyteller.

My stories are about people whose lives are altered because of some fissure in the fabric of history; seemingly random occurrences that send ripples through time.   A work of art that disappeared seventy years ago, the reappearance of a white-skinned tribe from the time of the Incas, a treasure hidden by the first witch of Ireland, a hundred-year-old broken covenant: each of them brought tribulation and transformation to contemporary lives.

There are many such historical aberrations.

When one collides with you, I’ll be here to tell your story.
Contact Links
Purchase Link

RABT Book Tours & PR
Thriller Date Published: April 2019 Publisher: Rare Bird Books The line between passion and obsession
Adventure, Thriller A man left alone on earth. Alan is visiting Japan on business. After
Thriller Date Published: July 2019 2019 Book Excellence Awards Winner - The Lost Ones -
The Cleansing by Richard Luciano Publication Date: June 2, 2019 Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Suspense, Thriller
The Cleansing by Richard Luciano Publication Date: June 2, 2019 Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Suspense, Thriller

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Duncan – Blitz

Duncan banner

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Date Published: February 2019
Publisher: Gatekeeper Press
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A cunning pederastic serial killer nicknamed “Santa” is making his way up the East Coast from New Orleans to Boston, leaving a trail of young bodies in his wake. Santa covers his tracks along the way by working as an itinerant bass player in a series of jazz combos. At the same time, the Driscoll family – Mark, Julie and their nine-year-old son Nate – who live in an upstate suburb of Syracuse, New York, struggle to come to grips with Mom’s quadriplegia following a horrific auto accident. The suspense builds to a fever pitch as these two plot strands approach each other for the inevitable confrontation. All this tension is heightened by the mystery of Duncan, Nate’s stuffed-toy gorilla, who is not only the boy’s beloved companion but becomes a kind of family totem, and, later on in the story, so much more.
This is a novel not only for readers addicted to thrill rides and maddening suspense, but also those who are curious about the abnormal psychology of the pedophiliac killer. The book gives food for thought as well as a kind of perverse satisfaction for the imagination and senses. It is a thinking reader’s thriller.
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It was the best cut at the ball little Joey Simmons had ever taken, but he fouled it back over the chain-link fence. As catcher, Zach Moss had the job of retrieving it. He slipped down through the hollowed-out area under the fence, looked both ways before crossing the empty street lined with warehouses and loading docks, and darted across to where the ball lay nestled against the curb—just a few feet in front of the charcoal van. It was Sunday afternoon and the area was deserted. As Zach reached down, out of the corner of his eye he spotted the tall man in the black polo shirt leaning casually against the van’s open sliding door, kicking a crushed paper cup to the curb.
                “Whatcha got there, pal?”
                “A baseball,” Zach answered shyly, noticing the van was empty.
                “Wow, that looks like a Phillies ball. I’ll bet you caught it off the bat of Ryan Howard or some big slugger like that, huh? Could I have a look?”
                Zach hesitated, torn between advancing and retreating, politeness and caution. That hesitation sealed the boy’s doom. The man made as if to reach for the ball, but grabbed the little wrist holding it instead. It was a deft move, a practiced move, and lightning fast, carried out with the larcenous dexterity of a seasoned pickpocket. The boy was so stunned that he forgot to scream.
                The sliding door slammed shut and the man was behind the wheel pressing the accelerator before the boys on the ball field knew what was happening. He had kept himself on the sidewalk side of the van during the entire abduction, carefully hidden from their view. Zach knew he’d done something very wrong, even though he hadn’t meant to. All those endlessly repeated parental warnings raced across his mind, all the “Don’t ever listen’s” and “Always avoid’s” and “Run screaming from’s.” Could he have another chance? Please! He’d do it right this time. He splayed his fingers against the window, crying out—too late—to his friends as the van pulled away. He hadn’t noticed that its windows were dark-tinted, transparent only from the inside.
                Passing through the industrial outskirts of the city, the van headed up Old York Road into the northern suburbs. It neither sped nor lagged and it obeyed all traffic laws. The man at the wheel enjoyed a supreme confidence in his trapping skills. It was a craft, an art even, and he had mastered it. Soon there was more wilderness than houses, until at some point the van turned left off the main road onto a poorly marked crossroad that, in short order, forked at a dirt road. The van took the dirt road across a tiny rustic bridge spanning a creek, continuing then across a cleared, open field on the right, at the end of which stood a modest white colonial house atop a gently sloping lawn. Potted plants overhung the small porch with its two rockers diagonally facing each other on either side of the front door. The place stood in the open, yet was well hidden by hilly wilderness beyond property boundaries. The dirt road saw little traffic.
                The van pulled off the road and circled around to the rear of the house, stopping next to the angled steel cellar doors. The man got out, looked around and inhaled deeply, basking in the mellow sunlight of late afternoon. He was alone, the only sound that of the gently rustling trees. He slid open the van’s side door and leaned in, hands braced against the roof, ogling his prey with satisfaction. And lust.
                Terror widened the boy’s eyes, making them—and him—all the more alluring to his captor. He cowered, pressed against the corner of his seat, his body balled up in futile self-protection.
                “What do you want, mister? Why am I here?” he asked tentatively, knowing full well the man knew he knew why he was there.
                “All in good time, Zach, all in good time,” the man chuckled. He’d heard the other kids call the boy by name weeks ago when he first began scouting him. He always made sure, if at all possible, to get a kid’s name before taking him. The process went much smoother that way. Strategic use of a boy’s name soothed the boy with the delusion that, despite appearances, his captor was well disposed towards him. A tactic that would make an adult instantly wary tended to pacify an eight-year-old. He’d learned that the hard way many years ago from the debacle in Austin when the words, “Whaddaya say, kid, let’s hang out,” triggered a shrieking that forced him to start, rather than end, the process with lethal violence. After that, from Atlanta through Nashville and Blacksburg and on up the east coast—it was his first “tour”—he made sure to get the name up front and learned to soften his diction. It was part of his evolution from a seat-of-the-pants amateur predator to a serial pedophile of deadly proficiency.   
                “Why don’t you climb out of there and come in for a cold drink, Zach? You must be thirsty. Catchers eat a lot of dust. They need to rehydrate all the time.”
                “No! I don’t want to! I wanna go home!”
                “I’d like you to think you are home—for now.”
                “No, I’m not!” the boy cried with mounting panic. He began to whimper.
                “Come on now,” the man said, mildly irritated. He extended his powerful right arm inside, like reaching for a prize in a grab bag, and gently but firmly pulled Zach out of the van. Then, bending over slightly while holding onto the boy, he pulled open the already unlocked cellar doors with his free arm.
                Instinctively, Zach began to buck. He tried to pull away and squirmed furiously—to no avail. He had never felt such physical strength before. It was like trying to jerk a piece of wood loose from the vice in his father’s basement tool shop. Even when, not so long ago, his father would playfully toss him up in the air and catch him coming down like a medicine ball, it was nothing like the sheer physical resistance, the total control by another, he was feeling now.
                The man carried the boy down the steps, bracing him on his hip like a surfboard. They entered a finished basement, though one that had the same dank, musty air all basements have, with or without dehumidifiers. The smell of the air caused a new spike in the boy’s panic, suggesting as it did the mold of the grave. Even at eight Zach was aware of the connotations of mold. The man cuffed him, as if scolding a pet, and got off on it. It was all part of the one-way foreplay.
                The man carried him to the far end of the dark basement, which was largely uncluttered by the usual piles of stored junk, as if the house hadn’t been occupied long enough to accumulate much to store. There, well behind the furnace and hot-water heater, was a small, inconspicuous room, walled off from the rest, no doubt originally intended as a study or office. But the man had converted it to a kind of private pleasure cave. Richly paneled and lushly carpeted, hung with lurid pornographic images, both paintings and photographs, of naked children, many interacting with “erect” naked men, the windowless room was the sick expression of what had become the man’s sole reason for being. He had left the door unlocked and ajar for quick and easy sequestering of his latest prey. Lowering the boy onto the quilt-covered king-size bed that occupied more than half the room’s space, he raised an index finger to his smiling lips to shush the signs of panic contorting the boy’s face and body language. Then he leaned forward and switched on the portable CD-player on the nightstand. The soft strains of “So What” filled the room, the opening track of Miles Davis’s cool-jazz masterpiece, Kind of Blue, with the insouciant opening base sequence introducing Davis’s smokey trumpet. It was always the same music, always “So What,” setting the same naughty jazzy mood— anything else would have been unthinkable to him.
                As the man pulled his shirt over his head and began unbuckling his jeans, the boy’s whimpering swelled into alternating sobs and shrieks. He had no idea he was playing right into his predator’s game plan, for the man’s lust was spiked above all else by another creature’s helplessness. He wanted the boy to beg for his innocence, his bodily integrity—his life. He craved the dark bliss of godlike power over the destiny of another, especially when that other was fully aware of his own utter dependency. This was his drug, his elixir, immeasurably more potent than the heroin he had tried so many times, which, while bestowing bliss, had also dulled his senses, and he lived for the sharpening of his senses. This got him out of bed in the morning.
                “Zach, Zach. It’s all right. We’re just gonna cuddle for a while. Okay? Just lie together and hold each other and make each other feel good, you know?”
                “I wanna go home!” the boy bawled in tearful protest, apparently shocked by the urgency of his own voice, for his sobbing escalated, opening up to a pathetic wail fueled by panic.
                Its only effect was a quickening of the man’s desire. Stimulus … response. No one could hear them there, and it was all just becoming so delicious. As the man slipped out of his jeans, Zach’s eyes were riveted on the bulge in the crotch of his briefs. At eight, he had just enough sexual awareness to know what that bulge meant. Still, it was his dim but nightmarish sense of what might come afterward that intensified the stabs of panic.
                The man lay down on the bed and snuggled up to his prey, whose flinching reflex merely spiked his lust once again. The man was lost within the dark caverns of his desire, the boy trapped within those same caverns.
                “This is so nice,” the man breathed dreamily, reaching down deftly to their mutual nether regions while pressing the sobbing boy to him with unnatural strength …
The sun was down and a purplish twilight graced the overgrown area behind the house as a dark figure strode purposefully from the cellar doors in the rear into a little copse of oak and cedar about a stone’s throw away. He was carrying a base fiddle case. But his firm grip and taut right arm left no doubt that the case’s contents were heavier than any fiddle.  
                After a while, the only sound to pierce the darkening stillness was the rhythmic thrusting of the spade into the soft earth. Far from being drained by the effort of the
cleanup, the man felt juiced, energized, expansive, and, at the same time, utterly relaxed. He reveled in the digging, each thrust of the shovel a little aftershock of that explosion of pleasure for which he lived. Finally, dropping the shovel behind him, he sank to his knees, opened the case and stared for a while at the olive-hued double-strength trash bag that served as a shroud for the lifeless body. Gently lifting the body from the case, he lowered it into its shallow grave, again staring and carefully straightening out both the bag and the body it contained, though without attempting to pose the body in any way. No tableaus, no “necro-symbolism” to titillate the profilers. Just putting it where it belonged.
About the Author

 photo Duncan Author Dennis McCort_zpscsmk42bm.jpg

Author Dennis McCort (1941-) was born and raised in Hoboken, New Jersey, the „mile square city“ on the Hudson, in the shadow of Manhattan. He writes of his experiences growing up there in the postwar industrial era before gentrification in his book, A Kafkaesque Memoir: Confessions from the Analytic Couch (PalmArt Press). McCort is now retired from Syracuse University in upstate New York where he taught German language and literature over a long career. He has authored literary studies on German and Swiss writers and on the influence of Zen Buddhism on such Western writers as J.D. Salinger, R.M. Rilke and Thomas Merton. His understanding of Zen, both as scholar and practitioner, i.e., from both outside and inside, helped him to add layers of complexity to the fascinating personality of the pedophiliac protagonist of Duncan. McCort has also written a comic novel, titled The Man Who Loved Doughnuts, about a young professor who fails to get tenure at his upstate university and spends a lost weekend in lower Manhattan. It is available as an Amazon Kindle eBook. Duncan is his novelization of a macabre seed-concept coming from his wife Dorothy: that of a serial pedophiliac murderer on a collision course with a young boy whose only defense is his stuffed toy gorilla. Both McCort and wife describe the book as a “thinking man’s thriller.”
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