A Narrow Escape

When the owners of a dying ad agency ask Brinker to make the competition disappear, the PR whiz must choose between jail and the love of his life.

In Mr. Magic, the disgraced journalist struggles with the forces of greed, addiction and affection as he tries to rebuild the bonds he broke in last year’s debut novel, Mr. Mayhem. Can he carry out his assignment without vanishing himself? Chapter 1 sets the stage for the conflict to come.

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1.

BY THE TIME the first bullet struck the concrete wall, Brinker had run halfway across the parking garage. The second slug hit a car and set off its alarm. As he plunged down the metal stairs, he heard a third strike the blockhouse.

Stumbling out at ground level, Brinker hit the sidewalk at a dead run. A half-block later, he glanced behind to see Buddha gaining on him, the streetlights showing the big man breathing through his mouth. Rounding the corner, Brinker pressed his back against the plate glass window of an abandoned hair salon as a car roared out of the deck, blew through the traffic light and disappeared.

He was twenty yards from the ad agency in downtown Bethlehem and a million miles from safe.

Buddha waved him to keep going.

Chest heaving, Brinker held up a finger and tried to swallow. “She pulled a gun!”

Hands on his hips, Buddha bent forward and talked to the ground. “I am mindful of that fact.”

Brinker massaged a stitch in his side. “She could have killed us.”

“If you remember, I suggested you stay out of sight.”

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00049]Close to two a.m. on a bitter day in early April and Buddha wore sunglasses, a hooded sweatshirt and camo shorts. He straightened and started hopping in his high-top sneakers, his face as round as a balloon. For a moment he looked like that Korean rapper with the bowtie, the guy with the jerky dance moves.

Brinker said, “I thought you said she was drunk.”

“That would be my guess,” Buddha said. “Why else would she open fire on a pair of outstanding citizens in a public garage?”

They started walking, tracing the route Ginger Wright had taken in her flight.

“Christ almighty,” Brinker said. “I thought women only carried Mace.”

“At this point,” Buddha said, “I am more concerned about the police than her method of self-preservation.”

They stopped on Main Street with their backs to the three-story building where Brinker worked and stared at the bulk of the Hotel Bethlehem. The street that ran past the Moravian settlement toward the Hill to Hill Bridge appeared deserted, not a flicker of taillights at this hour to show where the owner of the rival ad agency had fled.

Brinker shook, from cold or adrenalin, he couldn’t tell. He gazed past the hotel with its ancient brick façade and pinprick lights in its arching windows and remembered the last time he’d gotten himself in a jam like this, when an assassin he’d hired came gunning for him in a deserted sandpit. He’d run so hard he could have swallowed a lung.

“No more,” Brinker said as they walked past wrought-iron tables and chairs to the car they’d left in front of the Italian restaurant. “You said when we got into this there’d be no violence.”

Buddha used a remote to unlock the door of the Lincoln. “It is a little late for that, my friend.”

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