Deadout: A New Excerpt

Deadout by Jon McGoran is a thriller centered on a New England island where genetically modified bees hide dark corporate secrets (available August 5, 2014).

A trip to an island off the New England coast—and away from the demands of police work—might be just what is needed to jumpstart Detective Doyle Carrick and Nola Watkins' stalled relationship. But a mysterious plague is killing the island's bees. Nola takes a job at an organic farm hit hard by the disease, working for the rich, handsome, and annoying Teddy, with whom she quickly becomes a little too friendly for Doyle's liking. When Teddy's estranged father offers Doyle a big payday to keep his son out of trouble until he can close a big government contract—and when Doyle meets Annalisa, a beautiful researcher studying the bees—Doyle decides to stick around.

Stoma Corporation, a giant biotech company, moves in with genetically modified super bees that supposedly are the answer to the world's bee crisis. As tension grows between protestors and a private army of thugs, Doyle realizes that bees aren't the only thing being modified. Annalisa's coworkers start to go missing, and she and Doyle uncover a dark, deadly, and terrifying secret. Things spin violently out of control on the tiny island, and when Doyle closes in on what Stoma Corporation is really up to, he must race to stop them before their plot succeeds, and spreads to the mainland and the world.

Chapter 1

Danny and I paused at the bottom of the steps, holding our breath and listening as we looked up and down the dank, dark corridor. The only sound was the squeak of a not-too-distant rat. Danny shrugged and took off, running to the left. I watched him for half a second, listening to his shoes scraping against the gritty wet floor. Then I took off in the opposite direction, breathing through my mouth against the mildew that tickled my nose.

Simeon Jarrett had come down the same steps we had, no more than half a minute earlier. I wasn’t entirely sure about coming down here after him, or about the idea of splitting up, but Danny was the cautious one, not me.

As I rounded a ninety-degree turn to the left, the sound of Danny’s footsteps disappeared behind my own. The basement got darker the farther I ran, the spaces growing longer between the dim pools of light from grimy block windows set near the ceiling. The walls seemed to close in on me, and I wondered for a moment if I was having some sort of anxiety attack. Then I realized it wasn’t the walls closing in on me, it was two very large men, and while neither of them was Simeon Jarrett, I was pretty sure they were on the same side of the good guy/bad guy divide.

A situation like that can make you want to start shooting, but that makes a lot of assumptions about your fellow man. And while it might make life simpler in the short run, it can make it a lot more complicated in the long run.

I didn’t have the time or distance to slow down, so instead I slid feet-first between them.

The guy on my left apparently didn’t share my reluctance to make assumptions because he opened fire on the area where I had just been running. It’s possible he was gunning down a giant rat that had been poised to attack, but more likely he was shooting at me.

The sound of the gun was deafening, bouncing around in the corridor. In the muzzle flash, I recognized the two faces above me as Blink Taylor and Derrell Sims, two of Jarrett’s close associates.

Sliding on the floor between them, I brought the butt of my Glock down as hard as I could, mashing the shooter’s foot with a reassuring crunch. He howled and twisted as he fell, squeezing off another shot. This one passed over my head and apparently struck his partner in the hip, because suddenly the howling was in stereo. By the time I was back on my feet and turned around, they were both on the floor behind me. Twenty feet beyond them a cascade of sparks fell from the remnants of an old fluorescent light fixture, apparently struck by an errant bullet. I was shocked the dump had electricity, but grateful for the illumination, just enough to see the two of them grabbing their injuries and rolling around in the same muck that now soaked the left side of my body.

They had both dropped their weapons to grab their wounds, and I kicked the guns out of the way. I cuffed them both, hands and feet, advised them of their rights, and wished them luck with the rats. Then I took off after Simeon Jarrett.

The light from the sparks helped me see where I was going, but the strobe effect was unsettling. Ahead of me, the corridor ended in a perpendicular hallway.

As I approached it, I could see my silhouette against the far wall. The sight of it stopped me cold.

The last time I’d seen that image, it had been in the middle of an afternoon of carnage that left five people dead—nearly six, including me—and was followed a millisecond later by an explosion that threw me against the wall like overcooked pasta. I knew that wasn’t happening now, but I felt trapped in that moment, waiting for that impact. Standing there, frozen, I heard footsteps approaching down the hallway to my left, but still I couldn’t move. Then there he was, Simeon Jarrett, right in front of me.

It happened in an instant: him running up from the side, skidding to a stop, alarm and surprise on his face, followed by an evil smile as he raised his gun.

I think I was snapping out of it, but before I could move, I heard a thunderous, “Freeze!” coming from down the hallway to my left.

Jarrett pivoted and squeezed off two shots in the direction of the voice, and received several shots back in response.

Then he was gone, pounding down the hallway to my right. Danny Tennison ran up, staring at me with a mixture of confusion and concern. “You okay?” he said.

“Yeah, I’m good.”

He stared at me for a moment longer. Then he turned and resumed his chase. I fell in behind him, then passed him. The hallway ended at a metal door outlined in silver light, and I burst through it, out into blinding sunshine and onto a deserted street.

Simeon Jarrett was gone.

* * *

Lieutenant Suarez stared blankly at me from across his desk. I could tell he wasn’t buying it. Neither was Danny, sitting in the chair next to me, his eyes boring into the side of my head.

“Nothing,” I’d said repeatedly when they’d repeatedly asked what had happened out there.

“Nothing?” Suarez said dubiously, almost mimicking me.

I knew Danny was concerned about me, but I was annoyed with him for diming me out. I loved him like a brother, and like a brother, sometimes I wanted to kick his ass. Yes, he deserved an explanation, and as soon as I had one, he’d be welcome to it.

Until then, fuck him.

“Whatever,” Suarez said, closing the file in front of him and rubbing his eyes. “Look, you sure you don’t want to take some time off?”

“I am taking some time off.”

His eyes narrowed, as if he didn’t believe me.

“Weekend with Nola. Visiting a friend on Martha’s Vineyard.”

“Martha’s Vineyard? What’s that?”

“Little island off Cape Cod.”

“Sounds nice. Good for you. But that’s not what I meant, and you know it. You’ve declined counseling, and apparently I can’t force you to go. Okay. We’re all grateful for what you did in Dunston,” he said, waving his hand as though he was quoting a line he didn’t believe. “Until I’m comfortable that you’re one hundred percent—and frankly, the way I see it, you’re not even close—you’re on low-impact duty.”

Six months earlier, while on suspension and out of jurisdiction, I’d stepped into a big case and got banged up. A lot. It had taken a while for things to get back to normal. Guess they weren’t normal yet.

“So, I want you to think about it seriously: are you sure you don’t want to take some leave time? You’ve already been approved for it. Just a few weeks on us, take your time and come back right.”

I snuck a glance at Danny and got the look I expected: a little bit worried, a lot pissed off.

“No,” I said, my eyes firmly back on Suarez. “I’m good.”

 

Chapter 2

The sun had been up since six, but you couldn’t tell from the blue-gray light seeping through the window. I’d been awake since four, lying there looking at Nola, waiting for the moment when that first golden ray would play across her face. Wasn’t going to happen today.

She looked beautiful as always, but the gray light brought out the sadness in her face. My insomnia had been going on for months, but this part I didn’t mind. I loved watching as she slept, and not just because these days that was the time we got along best. Her face was endlessly fascinating, and I loved to study its lines. Lately, her brow would furrow as she slept, but in the suffused, early morning light, you almost couldn’t see the crease between her eyes.

She sighed deeply, stretched, and rolled away from me. Soon, she’d be awake, and things would get tricky.

I got up and made coffee.

The place was tiny and a bit of a mess, not that I minded. When Nola first moved in, she’d enjoyed keeping it spotless. Now it was almost as bad as when I lived on my own. A few months earlier, we’d talked about buying a place. We even found one, at the edge of the city but right on the woods. We ran the numbers, figured out how much we’d need to make it happen. But then things started getting weird, and we both let it go. We hadn’t mentioned it in weeks, like a silent agreement that we weren’t ready and maybe never would be.

By the time the coffee was done, Nola was in the shower. I put hers on the sink, then pulled on my jeans and a shirt, grabbed my shoes, and got out of the way.

Twenty minutes later she came out of the bedroom wearing jeans and a T-shirt, boots in one hand, mug in the other. “Thanks for the coffee,” she said as she drained it.

“You look great,” I told her. “And Greensgrow would be crazy not to hire you.”

She did look great, but not great for her. The stress was pulled tight across her face. She’d been looking for a job for months, but there wasn’t a lot of work for an organic farmer in the middle of Philadelphia. And not too much else Nola felt comfortable doing. She had a history of chemical sensitivity; she’d ended up in the hospital a couple of times when she was younger because of lawn spray or new carpets. Greensgrow was an urban farm less than a mile from our apartment. I’d told Nola about it but had never been there, because before I met her it never would have crossed my mind. Now it seemed like the ideal job for her.

“Yeah, right,” she said, her smile nervous but giddy with excitement. “I’ll see you afterward for lunch, right?”

“Green Eggs Café,” I said. “Two o’clock.”

* * *

“This sucks,” Danny muttered, breaking the silence between us.

“Tell me about it,” I replied, immediately realizing my mistake.

I’d been watching the tension build in his jaw all morning, and I knew something was coming, but after standing in that hallway for four hours, I guess I’d gotten careless.

“Of course, it could be worse,” he said. “You could be on paid leave. But then again, that would mean I could be out tracking down Simeon Jarrett instead of making sure the deputy assistant undersecretary of useless bullshit doesn’t get ambushed by a Mexican drug cartel in the middle of Philadelphia’s City Hall.”

We were babysitting some low-level federal bureaucrat who was too big a deal for a regular uniform escort but too small for Federal Protective Services. Suarez had snickered when he assigned us. Danny’s eyes hadn’t stopped smoldering since.

“Come on, Danny,” I said. “That’s not fair.”

“Life’s not fair, Doyle. Besides, it’s true and you know it. And while we’re standing here with our dicks in our hands so you can try to prove whatever you’re trying to prove, Jarrett’s out there doing whatever he came to do and going on his merry way.”

Danny had been closing in on Jarrett three years earlier, and the guy had vanished. Now he was back, and we didn’t want him to get away again.

I kept quiet, hoping he was done.

He wasn’t.

“I know you went through some crazy shit out there, and a lesser man might have crumbled completely, but you’re delusional if you don’t think you got a little dinged up.” He pointed to his head, in case I missed the point. “You got to heal, buddy. You might have saved the day up there, proved you’re a certifiable badass, but I’ll tell you what—right now you’re not. You walk into that same situation right now, and you’re toast.”

I don’t know if I was more pissed off because what he was saying wasn’t true or because it was. I didn’t have an argument to make, but that had never stopped me before. I opened my mouth. Luckily, before I could say something stupid, the door behind us opened as well, and the deputy assistant undersecretary of useless bullshit walked out.

We escorted our guest back onto I-95 South under a light rain. It was one-thirty and I wasn’t supposed to meet Nola until two, but I had Danny drop me off near the restaurant anyway. I figured a walk in the rain would be more pleasant than hanging around with Danny. Besides, unencumbered by me, maybe he could go out and do some real police work.

I was walking north on Second Street, approaching Spring Garden, when the guy walking toward me stopped abruptly and turned down Green. Medium height and broad shoulders, face obscured by a blue hoodie. Something about him seemed suspicious, and familiar. I turned and followed. At the end of the block was a sheer concrete retaining wall with I-95 on top of it. Squeezed right up against it was a narrow block of Hancock Street. Not a typical pedestrian route. I kept back but kept up, and at the end of the block, he turned to look at me.

Simeon fucking Jarrett.

He took off like a shot. I paused long enough for a heavy sigh, because I really wasn’t up for a chase. Then I took off after him.

“Police,” I yelled, holding up my badge. “Simeon Jarrett, you are under arrest.”

Jarrett cut down an alley next to a house being gutted and rebuilt. I followed, pushing as hard as I could and closing the distance between us. He was at least ten years younger than me, and if the chase dragged on I knew stamina would become an issue.

Halfway down the alley, he jumped onto a row of Dumpsters, running along the lids. I followed suit, maybe not quite so gracefully. As I was bounding across the third Dumpster, my foot hit the gap between the two sections of the lid, and my leg went in up to the thigh. The lid scraped the length of my leg, something pulled in my groin, and my foot hit something squishy, suddenly soaking wet. Jarrett was extending himself to reach for the bottom rung of a fire escape hanging over the last Dumpster. I knew if he pulled himself up, he was gone.

I launched myself at him, but my arms closed on air. I looked up to see him swinging around the ladder, using his momentum and his upper-body strength to propel himself back the way he had come.

He planted one foot between my neck and my right shoulder and landed his other foot on my left triceps, squashing me back into the Dumpster and using me as a springboard to vault back onto the pavement. By the time I pulled myself up, he was turning up another alley and out of sight.

I punched the lid of the Dumpster and growled, my face burning with a mixture of humiliation and fury as I climbed out. No way I was going to catch up with him, but there was a good chance he was going to double back up Second Street.

I sprinted, hoping to head him off. The sounds of my own heavy breathing and the rhythmic squelch of my wet left foot were soon drowned out by a pounding noise in my ears. My lungs were aching almost as much as my leg and my neck and my shoulder and my arm. I knew Jarrett was probably gone, halfway across the city, laughing once again at some dumbass cop who couldn’t keep up. The heat from my face spread throughout my entire body with exertion and shame and anger. And hatred.

I threw myself around the corner, and was almost startled to see Simeon Jarrett coming straight at me.

I swung a left into the middle of his face. At the speed he was going, I could have just held up my fist and the effect would have been the same. His face seemed to split: the lower half trying to keep going until he flipped up into the air, ass over elbows. Somehow, he managed to land on his toes and his fingertips, ready to take off again, but I planted another left into his face, knocking him back onto his heels. As I closed on him, his right arm came around with a knife, sweeping toward my midsection in an arc that would have disemboweled me if I hadn’t pulled back at the last second. I kicked him hard under the elbow, and I might have heard a crack, but I definitely heard the knife go spinning off across the concrete. I looked down and saw an eight-inch slit in my shirt, and that’s when I set on him. Two more in the face with enough in them to push him back onto his ass. He still had a little fight left in him, landing a vigorous kick, so I used the last bit of mine to beat it out of him.

By the time we were both done, his face was a bloody mess, but only marginally worse than mine. I read him his rights and tumbled back onto the sidewalk.

That’s when I saw Nola standing fifteen feet away, her face twisted in horror and disgust.

I went to her and she stepped back, away from me. “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay.”

She wouldn’t look at me. “Then I’ll see you at home.”

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Jon McGoran is the author of Deadout and Drift. He has written about food and sustainability for twenty years, as communication director at Weavers Way Co-op in Philadelphia, and now as editor 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.

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