Two unconventional private investigators are making a lackluster living running down deadbeat dads and unfaithful spouses. JT Travers is a partially disabled Vietnam vet haunted by his combat trauma; Wally Karpinski is a tough, foul-mouthed Gulf War veteran with a penchant for inane idioms. But everything is about to change for the investigators when a beautiful widow asks them to take on a case involving the brutal murder of her attorney husband.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Mike Fresby is an up-and-coming medical researcher who keeps stumbling upon a series of startling pathological anomalies. As he attempts to understand their grievous implications, he falls victim to a series of events that threaten to destroy his life and career. Desperate and in fear for his life, Mike hires the detectives to find out who is behind the events and why. When the two seemingly unrelated cases converge, the private eyes and young researcher find themselves in the midst of a devious conspiracy.
In this action-packed thriller, three men are immersed in a complex, life-and-death game of intrigue directed by a cartel of brilliant and immoral men who want nothing more than to play God.
Wally. Wally Karpinski. He’s a big guy, a good heart, with a bad temper and a fondness for foul language and stupid idioms. He’s sensitive and thoughtful, impulsive and dogmatic and irritable in the morning. I think years of hard work, eight of them in the military, left him with a chronically sore back, and it takes him an hour or so to loosen up. But he never ever bitches about it. He’s just irritable. He was making coffee and mumbling, one morning when I walked into the small coffee room in our office. “Ready?” I asked, with a bit of a chirp in my voice. I tried to act happy whether I was or not because it irritated him more than usual. “No, it ain’t ready yet! You want it done faster, get your sorry ass in here before me and make it.” “My, my. Aren’t we touchy this morning?” “I’m touchy every morning, JT. You know that. It’s just worse today.” “Any why’s that? Drink too much last night, did you? Get shut out at the club? No lap dance for the big boy?” His glare didn’t affect me. “Maybe. Maybe the problem was I didn’t drink enough. Just butt out or I’ll thump you.” There was no humor in his voice. Even though he is a strange character, I do love him like a brother. Wally has been there. He’s been in that place where no sane or reasonable person should ever have to be. He’s seen death first hand. He’s experienced the horrible empty feeling of not knowing whether he would be alive five more minutes. And that perspective gives him the insight to deal with my pain, with my self-hatred, with my anger. He talks to me when I need to be set straight and he listens when I need a compassionate and non-judgmental ear. He is one of those very few individuals we have in our lives who we can truly call friend. I laughed and patted him on the shoulder as I left the room and walked into my office. He followed me a moment later. “We have an appointment this morning,” I declared, looking at the mess on my desk. “An appointment?” Wally’s eyes were wide. “Since when do we have appointments? Usually we just meet some chump in a bar, buy him a beer and go spy on his ol’ lady.” “Technically, Wall, that would qualify as an appointment. An appointment doesn’t necessarily have to be at the business site.” I supposed I was being condescending, because he stiffened. “One of these days, JT, you’ll talk down to me one too many times. And when that happens, I’ll kick your ass so far over your shoulder blades you’ll have to part your hair to shit.” “I’m trying to visualize that,” I said, smiling. “So what you’re telling me is you’d thump a guy with a crippled arm?” “Of course I would. Gives me an advantage. Plus I’m a good bit bigger than you.” “Fatter. You’re a good deal fatter. Is that what you mean?” “You are a world-class turd, JT. Honest to God.” Finally he smiled and went to retrieve two cups of coffee. “So who’s the appointment?” he asked a minute later as he handed me a cup of the most dreadful coffee ever produced in the civilized world. I’ve never been able to figure out how he can so consistently mess up something as simple as coffee. But what he makes, and calls coffee, would strip the chrome off the bumper of an old Nash Rambler. “Some woman whose husband got killed a year or so back. Apparently, Demotta caught the case. Never cleared it.” “He’s too goddamned busy with that nose of his to clear anything. Except his nasal passages.” “Come on, Wally, that’s not fair.” “Not fair? Oscar is constantly picking his nose. It’s distracting. And gross.” “You constantly scratch your balls,” I pointed out. “We ain’t talking about me, JT. Besides, my balls itch.” “So he’s got boogers.” We looked at one another and laughed. “Excuse me,” said a woman, standing just outside the open door to the office. “I’m looking for Mr. Travers.” A blush formed on Wally’s cheeks and spread like a wildfire through dry grass. He closed his eyes for a few moments and then faced the very attractive and stylishly dressed woman in the doorway. “How long you been standing there, Ma’am?” he asked, looking sheepish. “Not long.” I thought she might be holding back a smile. “But long enough, I figure,” I said, moving toward her. “Yes, long enough.” She looked at Wally, and as he turned away, I was sure his face would burst into flame. “I’m Natalie Noble. Mrs. William Noble,” she said, holding out her hand to me. Her grip was firm and her skin was warm. “I’m John Travers.” I motioned toward Wally with my head. “And that’s my associate, Wally Karpinski.” I wanted to refer to him as Balls, but I didn’t. It would have been unprofessional, yes, but it would have felt wonderful. Wally must have sensed what I wanted to do, and he glared at me before passing his gaze to Natalie Noble. He took a deep breath and offered his hand. She took it and offered him a delightful smile before looking around for a place to sit. Wally moved a straight-backed chair toward her. She sat down, using that fluid motion only a woman can pull off, crossing her legs so casually yet so sensually that both Wally and I stared like a couple of testosterone-laden teenagers. Confusion and doubt seemed to creep across her features, and now her smile looked like it was made of plastic. I figured we blew it. What a couple of losers. “I don’t suppose you have any coffee?” She was good; take the pressure off the morons. “Sure,” Wally barked. “No problem.” He left the room and came back an instant later with a mug that said, “Johnson’s Bar: Licker up front, poker in the back.” On the mug there was a cartoon of a buxom young woman smoking a cigarette. I couldn’t believe it. She acted like she hadn’t read the slogan, but her muted smile said otherwise. Now there was a classy lady. Anyone who could tolerate the show we just put on had to be special. While I appreciated her style, I was embarrassed. We really were clowns. As she sipped Wally’s terrible coffee, she seemed to be assessing us. Here was Wally, about six-foot-four and two hundred thirty pounds, with arms like tree branches, huge shoulders, and a just a hint of a paunch. He had closely cropped hair and a bushy moustache. The scar on his right cheek screamed second-rate physician, the suture scars still and forever evident. He had brilliant blue eyes that could appear both inquisitive and threatening at the same time, and he had a perpetual smile on his lips. Then there was me. A couple inches shorter than Wally, and considerably lighter, but in pretty good shape. Except for my distressed arm and shoulder. I couldn’t help but be self-conscious. Even though I kept the ugly parts covered by a shirt, it sometimes felt like my emaciated arm was ten feet long. Wally thought I bathed with a shirt on so I didn’t have to look at it. You’d think after a couple three decades I’d have learned to accept myself a little better. And it was worse when I was around a beautiful woman because I still wanted to think I had something to offer. What that might be in the real world, I didn’t know.