Dust Up by Jon McGoran is the 3rd Doyle Carrick ecological thriller (Available April 19, 2016).
Detective Doyle Carrick is awakened in the middle of the night by frantic banging on his front door, followed by gunfire. Ron Hartwell, a complete stranger, is dying on his doorstep.
A halfhearted investigation labels the murder a domestic dispute, with Miriam, Ron’s widow, the sole suspect. Doyle discovers the Hartwells both worked for a big biotech company and suspects something else is going on, but it’s not his case. Then Miriam tracks him down and tells him her story.
Miriam and Ron had been working in Haiti and visiting her friend Regi Baudet, the deputy health minister, when they stumbled upon a corporate cover-up of tainted food aid that sickened an entire village―and was one hundred percent fatal. They were coming to Doyle to blow the whistle. Before Miriam can say more, they are attacked by gunmen and she flees, then disappears.
Doyle tracks her to Haiti, a country on the brink of political chaos. Working with Miriam and Regi, he must untangle a web of deceit and unconscionable corporate greed in order to stop an epidemic of even greater evil before it is released onto an unsuspecting world.
At the first knock, I was fully awake. It was that kind of sound—hard, sharp, urgent. Loud. I pulled on my pants and grabbed my gun. There was the tiniest pause, and for a moment I wondered if it was a cop. It was an almost perfect cop knock—bang, bang, bang. Maybe it was Danny and something was wrong. Or one of my other fellow public guardians got drunk and thought it would be a hoot to “cop knock” my door in the middle of the night. Or maybe I was in trouble.
Then it kept going. Bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang.
That was no cop.
The pounding grew faster, from urgent to frantic. I was halfway down the stairs when it changed again, from a fist against a door to an explosive report. A gunshot. Then another and another. The sounds didn’t overlap—when one started, the other one stopped.
Bang bang bang bang bang—BANG BANG BANG.
I skipped the last few steps, but by the time I jerked open the door, both sounds were gone, replaced by the squeal of tires and the engine roar of a black Toyota Corolla speeding away. Just before it disappeared, the driver looked right at me. She was Asian, young, maybe pretty, but her face was contorted. Anguish, sorrow, fear. Then she was gone.
I looked down.
“What is it?” Nola asked, coming down the stairs behind me.
She stopped, halfway down. “What is it?” she asked again, quieter, sadder. Like somehow she knew.
“Just … stay back, okay?”
The red blossom on his chest was still growing, but his eyes were glassy and gone. Nothing was pumping that blood. He let out a soft sigh. His last breath.
I wanted to close the door, go back to bed and pretend it hadn’t happened. Maybe I would have, but he was slumped across the threshold. I knew it would be a while before I closed that door again.
“Doyle?” Nola called, still standing on the steps, sounding small and far away.
I looked out the doorway, up and down the deserted street.
“It’s okay,” I told her.
That’s what you have to say. What I meant was, I was okay, although that wasn’t true, either. I came back to the bottom of the stairs. “Someone’s been shot.”
She nodded because she already knew it. Tears were rolling down her cheeks. “Who is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ronald Hartwell,” Detective Mike Warren announced, reading it off his notepad like it was the result of some impressive feat of detective work. As if finding the guy’s wallet and copying the name off his driver’s license made Warren a hotshot.
Danny Tennison caught my eye and smiled.
The homicide unit was packed with guys like Warren. He looked good in a nice suit, I’d give him credit for that. Not much else.
We were leaning against one of the parked cars in front of my Fishtown row home while Warren impressed us with his deductive reasoning. Danny was my partner, at least for the time being. After five years, he was considering an assignment with a joint DEA task force. It was a good move career-wise, but I was feeling a bit hard done by.
He was off duty, but he’d come over as soon as he’d heard. His wife Laura had come with him. I’d thought that was strange at first, but now that she was upstairs comforting Nola, I was glad.
“So who is he?”
“Some dead guy,” Warren said with a snort, laughing as though he was unaware he was doing it alone. “Seriously, though…” His head snapped around. “Maybe you should be telling me.”
Mike Warren was a bit of a dick.
“Well, maybe you could look through his wallet a little more,” Danny said. “You know, find some more ‘clues.’”
Across the street, two pairs of uniforms were working their way down the block, door to door, asking if anyone had seen anything. The guys from the medical examiner’s office had already taken away the body.
I pointed toward Albert’s, the darkened deli on the corner. “The deli might have surveillance video.”
Warren ignored that, looking at me sideways. “You’re saying you don’t know the man, but I find it interesting he decides to get himself killed on your front doorstep. Weird, ain’t it?”
I shrugged. I had told him what happened several times already.
He nodded sagely, as if something would come to him.
“Could be coincidence,” Danny said. “Guy sees someone coming up on him, starts pounding on the nearest doorway.”
Warren kept nodding, then turned to me. “But you saw the girl who did it, right?” He looked at his notepad. “Isn’t that what you said? Fleeing the scene of the crime.”
That was not what I had said.
“I don’t know who did it. I saw a woman driving away fast. She looked upset.”
“So, what,” he said, “you don’t think she was fleeing the scene of the crime?”
“Pretty rough thing to witness. She might have just wanted to get away before she was next.”
“But you didn’t see anybody else out here, right?”
I shook my head. I knew she was the main suspect, and she should be, but the look on her face said she wasn’t trying to get away with murder; she was trying to get away from murder.
Warren shrugged. “Maybe she wasn’t running away at all. Maybe she was in a hurry to go kill someone else.”
He had a laugh at that, then he held out a business card. “Call me if you remember anything else.”
I left his hand hanging there. “I know where to reach you.”
He nodded smugly as he put the card away, like he’d heard I was an asshole and I had just confirmed it. “Let me know if you leave town.”
“From what I hear, you leave town a lot.”
I turned to go inside but was confronted with the blood that drenched the front steps. There was a dense circle of spatter on the front door, too, and a hole where one of the bullets had lodged after it shredded Ron Hartwell’s heart.
I stopped and sighed. I thought about going around to the back, but I didn’t want Nola to ever see our home looking like this.
Danny clapped a hand on my shoulder. “I’ll take care of that.”
Nola and Laura were talking quietly on the sofa when Danny and I walked in. They had become pretty close friends since Nola had moved in with me a year earlier. Laura had always been fond of me in a disapproving way, but she adored Nola. That had earned me some points.
Laura got up and went to Danny, patting my arm on the way. I took her place on the sofa and put my arm around Nola, kissing her head. Her face was pink and wet.
Danny spoke quietly to Laura, went into the kitchen and found a bucket under the sink, and started filling it from the tap.
Laura whispered to Danny, but he shook his head and slipped out the door with the bucket of hot water in one hand and a roll of paper towels in the other.
Nola opened her eyes and watched him go, then squeezed her eyes against her tears. I understood. The blood being rinsed off our steps was the last of Ron Hartwell. Dead is dead, but when your blood has been washed off the sidewalk and down into the sewer, you were erased. Dead and gone.
I held Nola tight and closed my eyes. Her breathing grew softer. Danny came back inside to refill his bucket a few times. At some point, I guess when the worst of it was gone, Laura went outside with him. Finally, I heard Danny putting the bucket back into the cabinet under the sink. Nola was asleep. I might have been, as well. I opened my eyes and smiled at Danny.
He gave me a questioning look and a thumbs-up, asking if we were okay. I nodded, and then he was gone.
It was four A.M.
Nola stirred when the door clicked shut. Without a word, she slid off the sofa, grabbed my hand, and pulled me to my feet, into the bedroom, onto the bed. She didn’t get undressed, didn’t let go of my hand the entire time. She rolled up against my arm until her back was firmly pressed against my front. Then she fell back to sleep.
I had bad dreams. Imagine that.
Ron Hartwell was looking up at me, his body dissolving as it was rinsed down the steps, into the gutter, down the sewer, the whole time his dead eyes somehow protesting, saying this wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
I had the same dream several times. The only thing that saved me was Nola, thrashing around from bad dreams of her own.
I had decided early that regardless of how little sleep I got, I was still going into work in the morning. I had rehearsed in my mind what I was going to say to Nola, how I would explain that I had to go in—I had work to do, and I needed to find out what the hell had happened last night. I’d kiss her sleepy head, tell her that she needed to rest and I’d check in on her later.
She was up before I was.
“Good morning,” I said, sitting up in bed.
She gave me a tight smile, not quite ready to commit to that yet.
She brought me coffee and sat next to me on the bed.
“What happened last night, Doyle?”
I put my arm around her and pulled her tight. “I don’t know, baby. But I’m going to find out.”
Three coffees later, I was still sleepwalking, but I was walking. Nola wasn’t much better, but when I suggested she take the day off, she shook her head.
“And hang around here all day? No thanks. Not yet.”
We walked out together through the front door. I had considered using the back door, through the basement, but that would have been almost as strange. As it was, I tried not to notice how the sidewalk was still damp in places, tried not to look around for evidence of the killing, or at least not to get caught looking. Nola made no secret about it, scanning the steps, the sidewalk. Danny had done a great job. There wasn’t a trace of blood, not even in the gutter. I kept walking—casual, like nothing was out of the ordinary—and Nola kept up, looking back over her shoulder as we walked to the car. I hurried us along, trying to get away before she noticed the splintered hole where they’d pulled the slug out of the front door.
Copyright © 2016 Jon McGoran.
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Jon McGoran is the author of six novels, including the ecological thrillers Drift, Deadout andDust Up, and the D. H. Dublin forensic thrillers Body Trace, Blood Poison, and Freezer Burn. He has been writing about food and sustainability for twenty years, as communication director at Weavers Way Co-op in Philadelphia and editor The Shuttle, and editor in chief at Grid magazine. During that time he has also been an advocate for urban agriculture, cooperative development and labeling of genetically engineered foods. He is a founding member of the Philadelphia Liars Club, a group of published authors dedicated to promotion, networking, and service work. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and son.