Reckless Creed by Alex Kava is the 3rd book in the Ryder Creed series (Available September 27, 2016).
In Chicago, a young man jumps from his thirtieth-story hotel room; along the Missouri river, a hunter and his son stumble upon a lake whose surface is littered with snow geese, all of them dead; and in southern Alabama, Ryder Creed and his search-and-rescue dog Grace find the body of a young woman who went missing in the Conecuh National Forest…and it appears she filled her pockets with rocks and walked into the river. Before long Ryder Creed and FBI profiler Maggie O’Dell will discover the ominous connection among these mysterious deaths. What they find may be the most prolific killer the United States has ever known.
Tony Briggs coughed up blood, then wiped his mouth with his shirtsleeve. This was bad. Although it was nothing he couldn’t handle. He’d been through worse. Lots worse. But still, they didn’t tell him he’d get this sick. He was beginning to think the bastards had double-crossed him.
He tapped out, “fine mess I got myself into,” on his cell phone and hit SEND before he changed his mind.
The text message wasn’t part of his instructions. Not part of the deal. He didn’t care. So what if the watchers found out. What could they do to him now? He already felt like crap. They couldn’t make him feel much worse.
He tossed the phone into the garbage can along with the few brochures he’d picked up throughout the day. His itinerary read like a sight-seeing family vacation. Or in his case, something presented by one of those make-a-wish charities – one final trip, all expenses paid.
He laughed at that and ended up in a coughing fit. Blood sprayed the flat screen TV and even the wall behind. He didn’t like leaving the mess for the hotel housekeeping staff. But it was a little too late for that. Especially since his instructions included touching everything he could throughout the day. The list rattled in his head: light switches, elevator buttons, restaurant menus, remote control, and escalator handrails.
Earlier that morning at the McDonald’s – before the cough, just before the fever spiked and he still had a bit of bravado along with an appetite – he felt his first tinge of apprehension. He’d taken his tray and stopped at the condiment counter.
Touch as many surfaces as possible.
That’s what he’d been told. Germs could live on a hard surface for up to eighteen hours. He may have screwed up a lot of things in his life but he could still follow instructions.
That’s what he’d been thinking when he felt a tap on his elbow.
“Hey, mister, could you please hand me two straws?”
The kid was six, maybe seven with nerdy glasses, the thick black frames way too big for his face. He kept shoving at them, the motion second nature. The kid reminded Tony immediately of his best friend, Jason. They had grown up together since they were six years old. Same schools. Same football team. Joined the Army together. Even came back from Afghanistan, both screwed up in one way or another. Tony was the athlete. Jason was the brains. Smart and pushy even at six. But always following Tony around.
Old four eyes.
“Whadya doing now?” was Jason’s favorite catch phrase.
In grade school they went through a period where Jason mimicked everything Tony did. In high school the kid bulked up just so he could be on the football team, right alongside Tony. In the back of his mind he knew Jason probably joined the Army only because Tony wanted to. And look where it got them.
Tony shoved at the guilt. And suddenly at that moment he found himself hoping that Jason never found out what a coward he really was.
“Mister,” the kid waited with his hand outstretched.
Tony caught himself reaching for the damned straw dispenser then stopped short, fingertips inches away.
“Get your own damned straws,” he told the kid. “You’re not crippled.”
Then he turned and left without even getting his own straw or napkin. Without touching a single thing on the whole frickin’ condiment counter. In fact, he took his tray and walked out, shouldering the door open so he wouldn’t have to touch it either. He dumped the tray and food in a nearby trashcan. The kid had unnerved him so much it took him almost an hour to move on.
Now back in his hotel room, sweat trickled down his face. He wiped at his forehead with the same sleeve he’d used on his mouth.
The fever was something he’d expected. The blurred vision was a surprise.
No, it was more than blurred vision. The last hour or so he knew he’d been having hallucinations. He thought he saw one of his old drill sergeants in the lobby of the John Hancock building. But he’d been too nauseated from the observatory to check it out. Still, he remembered to touch every single button before he got out of the elevator. Nauseated and weak-kneed.
And he was embarrassed.
His mind might not be what it once was thanks to what the doctors called traumatic brain injury, but he was proud that he’d kept his body lean and strong when so many of his buddies had come back without limbs. Now the muscle fatigue set in and it actually hurt to breathe.
Just then Tony heard a click in the hotel room. It came from somewhere behind him. It sounded like the door.
The room’s entrance had a small alcove for the minibar and coffeemaker. He couldn’t see the door without crossing the room.
“Is anybody there?” he asked as he stood up out of the chair.
Was he hallucinating again or had a shadow moved?
Suddenly everything swirled and tipped to the right. He leaned against the room service cart. He’d ordered it just like his watchers had instructed him to do when he got back to his room. Nevermind that he hadn’t been able to eat a thing. Even the scent of fresh strawberries made his stomach roil.
No one was there.
Maybe the fever was making him paranoid. It certainly made him feel like he was burning up from the inside. He needed to cool down. Get some fresh air.
Tony opened the patio door and immediately shivered. The small cement balcony had a cast-iron railing, probably one of the original fixtures that the hotel decided to keep when renovating – something quaint and historic.
The air felt good. Cold against his sweat-drenched body, but good. Made him feel alive. And he smiled at that. Funny how being this sick could make him feel so alive. He’d come close to being killed in Afghanistan several times, knew the exhilaration afterwards.
He stepped out into the night. His head was still three pounds too heavy, but the swirling sensation had eased a bit. And he could breathe finally without hacking up blood.
Listening to the rumble and buzz of the city below he realized if he wanted to, there’d be nothing to this. He had contemplated his own death many times since coming home but never once had he imagined this.
Suddenly he realized it’d be just like stepping out of a C-130.
Only without a parachute.
Nineteen stories made everything look like a miniature world below. Matchbox cars. The kind he and Jason had played with. Fought over. Traded. Shared.
And that’s when his second wave of nausea hit him.
Maybe he didn’t have to finish this. He didn’t even care any more whether they paid him or not. Maybe it wasn’t too late to get to an emergency room. They could probably give him something. Then he’d just go home. There were easier ways to make a few bucks.
But as he started to turn around he felt a shove. Not the wind. Strong hands. A shadow. His arms flailed trying to restore his balance.
His fingers grabbed for the railing but his body was already tipping. The metal dug into the small of his back. His vision blurred with streaks of light. His ears filled with the echo of a wind tunnel. The cold air surrounded him.
No second chances. He was already falling.
Copyright © 2016 Alex Kava.
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Alex Kava is the New York Times–bestselling author of thirteen novels, including Breaking Creed and Silent Creed, as well as the internationally best-selling mystery series featuring FBI profiler Maggie O’Dell. Her novels have been published in more than twenty countries around the world. She is a member of International Thriller Writers and divides her time between Omaha, Nebraska, and Pensacola, Florida.