Sunday, June 24, 2012
A DEADLY GAMES! EXCERPT--
DEADLY GAMES! can be purchased in paperback and ebook editions at the following:
BEN Books paperback
Drive Thru Fiction ebook
They played the most dangerous game of all and death was only the beginning...
Six years ago, Police Detective John Bartlett and journalist Benjamin West were instrumental in the capture of notorious master criminal Darrin Morehouse. Their story played out in the media, rocketing both Bartlett and West into local celebrity status.
Today, Morehouse, still a master game player and manipulator, commits suicide while in prison. His death initiates one final game of survival for the people Morehouse felt wronged him the most. At that top of the list are Bartlett and West, who must set aside their differences to save the lives of Morehouse's other victims and solve one last game before a dead man’s hired killers catch them and his other enemies.
Deadly Games! is a fast-paced action/thriller featuring action, suspense, murder, and the occasional gunfire from Author Bobby Nash, the writer of Evil Ways, Domino Lady, Lance Star: Sky Ranger, and more.
Visit BEN Books at http://BEN-Books.blogspot.com.
Visit Deadly Games! author Bobby Nash at www.bobbynash.com.
Philip Jason Hall motioned to the television set mounted to the wall.
Immediately all eyes focused on it and the little black box the attorney held in his right hand.
“A DVD?” Laura Sellars asked. She did not seem as surprised by the fact as some of the others at the table, which made sense. Once upon a time she had been Morehouse’s lawyer so she had a unique perspective on the man and his methods.
“If this turns out to be a porn flick-- or worse yet, a Will Ferrell movie-- I’m going to have to hurt someone,” Benjamin West joked, trying to lighten the mood of the room. The tension was so thick he felt like he could have cut it with a plastic butter knife.
“West!” John Bartlett said sternly. As usual, the detective’s sense of humor was missing in action. “Quiet.”
West shrugged. “I mean, that is Morehouse’s style isn’t it? Dragging us all the way out here to the middle of nowhere just to screw with us is exactly the kind of trick I’d expect from that bastard. This is probably his idea of a sick joke.”
“I assure you that this is no joking matter, Mr. West,” Mr. Hall, the attorney for the deceased, said as he popped the disc into the DVD mounted on a shelf below the television set.
“Before we begin there are certain ground rules that were laid down by my client. This DVD is to be viewed once and only once, then it is to be destroyed. We will not rewind for any reason whatsoever. It is his request that this be viewed only this one time and I plan to see that my client’s wishes are observed. Is that understood?” He waited, not saying another word until they were certain that they understood his client’s position.
“Are you serious?” Vivian Morehouse asked.
“Those are my client’s wishes, Mrs. Morehouse,” the attorney said. “It is my duty to see that those wishes are carried out to the letter.”
“I just bet you’re a hit at parties,” West remarked.
Ignoring the comments of the reporter, the attorney removed the remote control from his jacket pocket and pointed it to the DVD player. He pressed the play button. “As we shall now see.”
The screen flickered as it found focus. On the screen sat an exquisite desk, framed with untarnished wood and antique lamps. It looked like the office of a dignitary or a lavish entrepreneur. A large bay window featured a beautiful view of a wooded area. It seemed peaceful and serene.
“That’s here,” West said. “This was filmed in this house.”
“Yes,” Vivian Morehouse agreed. “That looks like Darrin’s study on the third floor.”
The camera shook as it was adjusted by unseen hands. Seconds later a man moved in front of the camera as he slowly walked around the desk from the front to the rear. The man took a seat at the desk. He was sitting in a very plush leather executive’s chair with a high back.
“Morehouse,” Bartlett whispered between gritted teeth as the man came into view on the screen.
The man on the television screen acted as though he did not notice the camera at first. He opened a hand cared wooden box on the desk and selected a nice cigar for himself. Slowly he clipped the end and lit the cigar, exhaling a thick plume of smoke, but never once looking in the direction of the camera.
“What is this?” Warden Chalmers asked. He had been silent long enough and his frustration was starting to show.
Suddenly, the man on the screen turned to look at them, or rather at the camera that had recorded these events. To those seated around the massive table it looked and felt as if man were looking directly at them, as if he were only now noticing their presence for the first time. He cocked his head from one side to the other as if trying to figure out what it was he was looking at.
The image of Darrin Morehouse puffed on the offensive cigar and let a small smile play across his lips after a few seconds of pretending he didn’t know the camera was there recording him. He was enjoying himself as he addressed his captive audience.
Just another game.
“Greetings,” Morehouse said pleasantly.
John Bartlett was on his feet in a shot. “When was this made?” he demanded of the lawyer. “When was this tape made, Mr. Hall?”
Hall pressed a button and the image froze in mid puff for an instant until the screen returned to the full blue screen image with the word STOP in white letters in the upper left corner. “I have no knowledge of the exact date that my client recorded his will, Mr. Bartlett.”
“That’s awfully convenient.”
“Your client has been in prison for the past six years. He died in prison.” He pointed at the television set. “Are you telling me that this was made six or more years ago? I don’t buy it.”
“Neither do I,” Francis Chalmers added.
“I do not know what answers you seek,” the attorney said. “My job has been to deliver my client’s final thoughts to you in the manner he dictated. I was not present when Mr. Morehouse recorded his will and I have not yet seen it myself as per my client’s express written condition. I do not know any more about the contents of this DVD than you do.”
“How long have you had this disc in your possession?”
“It was delivered to me two days ago, Mr. Hughes.”
“Delivered by whom?” Laura Sellars piped in.
“I see,” Bartlett said as he rubbed his chin. He was beginning to like this less and less with every word the attorney uttered. Because this involved Morehouse, his guard was already raised, but he wasn’t about to let anything slip by him.
“You know, it is possible he recorded this before he was sentenced,” Michael Coombes said. “John, you know better than anyone that this guy was always thinking four or five moves ahead. You told me as much yourself.”
“True,” Bartlett admitted. “Still, this is a bit much, even for Morehouse.
“You think so?” West said skeptically. “I think this sounds just like him. Before he was arrested he hadn’t had any connection with the judge or the warden. And since they’re here…” his voice trailed off, letting the meaning behind his words sink in.”
Bartlett opened his mouth to respond, but the lawyer interrupted before he could say anything. “If we could please continue,” he said. Hall was beginning to allow these people to annoy him. They all had questions that he had no answers for, but he would be damned if he was going to let any of them disrupt his client’s final wishes.
Reluctantly, Bartlett returned to his seat.
When there were no objections to the attorney’s suggestion, he pressed the play button on the remote before returning it to his jacket pocket.
“As I was saying,” the deceased’s image said as if he had been expecting the delay. Morehouse had been a planner so it was entirely possible that he anticipated the interruption from the group. Certainly, he knew the players. He had gone up against them all at one time or another.
“Greetings one and all,” Morehouse said with gusto. He had control of the room and he relished it. The man liked to be in control. “I assume that there has been a rigorous little debate over when and how I had time to make this little video from my home here.”
He made a swirling gesture with his hands to take in the expanse of the study. It was a beautiful room, very extravagant. Morehouse’s image looked over to the side of the room where Warden Chalmers and Judge Hughes sat.
“I assume that this revelation might have a profound effect on Warden Chalmers,” he said with a sneer and a puff on his cigar. “Wouldn’t you say so, Frankie?”
Bartlett noticed Chalmers flinch, but he kept his composure. At least now he understood the seating arrangement. They were like pieces on a chessboard. He suspected that Morehouse’s little video was going to single each one of them out one by one. All part of the game.
“You are probably wondering right about now whether or not I managed to escape from the hospitality of your quaint little prison to record these, my final thoughts. Are these questions filling your mind right about now, Francis? Oh come now, you and I both know that they are. You are as inept as ever...”
Francis Chalmers got to his feet quickly, his composure gone. “Damn you!” he screamed at the television screen. The image of Darrin Morehouse leaned back in his seat and puffed on his cigar. It almost looked as if he was watching the warden’s sudden outburst. Or expecting it. He knew each of them so well that predicting their responses wouldn’t be all that difficult. Score one for the villain.
Bartlett put a reassuring hand on the older man’s shoulder. “Easy, Francis,” he said. “Easy. He is just trying to rattle you. Come on. Sit down. It’s all part of his game. Don’t take the bait.”
Before the warden was completely back in his seat Darrin Morehouse leaned forward to face the camera again. Thick smoke clung around his head from the cigar.
“Hit a nerve did I, Frankie boy?”
Once again, Bartlett placed a hand in front of the warden, keeping him in his seat.
“Of course I did,” the image of Darrin Morehouse began again seconds later. “We both know that I have...” his voice trailed off. “Excuse me, had more power in your prison than you ever did. Now that I’m dead, I suppose you can start running the place again. I’m sure your chief of
security won’t like it since I paid him more than you did, but these things happen. We can’t all live forever, right Judge?”
The image of Darrin Morehouse turned to stare down Judge Nathan Hughes. The older man did not flinch under the gaze of the deceased lunatic.
“What does that mean?” he said as he looked at the others to see their reactions to the man’s comments.
The image of Darrin Morehouse did not respond. He simply stared at the judge’s assigned seat.
Everyone around the table let out a single burst of laughter at the judge’s blank expression. Score one for the judge. He hadn’t taken the bait. Apparently, Morehouse had not anticipated the responses of everyone as well as he might have thought.
Or had he.
“It wasn’t that funny,” Morehouse said on the television screen before the laughter died down.
Then, as soon as the words left his mouth, there was silence in the room, save from a small giggle that rang from the television monitor. Darrin Morehouse was playing them all like a well-oiled machine. He was in his element. Plus, he had six years worth of preparation before arriving at this moment. John Bartlett, Benjamin West, and the others were now on his playing field and playing by his rules. The only thing that worried Bartlett was that they did not know what the rules were or whether or not Morehouse would change them in the middle of the game.
With a maniac like Darrin Morehouse making up the rules as he went along, there was no way he could even hazard a guess as to what might happen next.
“Now,” the image of Morehouse said. “I have called you all here today to my lovely home away from prison to bestow upon you the collected sum of my wisdom, generosity, and kindness.”
West let out a half cough half laugh. The others just gave him a look.
“I, the honorable Darrin Morehouse, being of sound mind and body do hereby bequeath the following....”
“Here we go,” Bartlett muttered as he straightened in his seat. Be ready for anything, he told to himself.
The image of Darrin Morehouse scratched at his chin. “On second thought,” he said. “Why don’t we just come back to that later. Since I have all of you here in one room... a captive audience, so to speak. God, I love irony.”
“Anyway, I would like to take a moment and say a few things to each and every one of you before I bestow my good fortunes upon you. Kind of like my parting thoughts.”
Gasps of astonishment escaped from a few of the people seated around the table.
“Let us start with my lovely wife. Hmmm... I guess you are technically my ex-wife now, but why split hairs. My darling, Vivian, we spent so many years together and I loved you more than...”
He paused as if to choose his next words carefully.
“Well, lets not go into all that just yet,” he said with a villainous smirk. “I just want you to know how much it hurt me when you decided to testify against me at my trial. You have no idea how it felt to have a knife twisted in your heart like that. Especially to have it twisted by the one person in the world that you would never have suspected. I was, shall we say less than happy that you would do that to me, Vivian.”
Bartlett looked at the former Mrs. Morehouse. She had begun to physically shake and a single tear rolled down her cheek. He had always wondered if she was in any way complicit in her husband’s illegal activities. As part of the investigation he dug into her life, but couldn’t find anything that tied her to her husband’s dealings. He had trouble buying it because there was always something a little off about her, but there was no evidence to back up his gut feeling.
Vivian looked as if she wanted to speak, to cry out, but no words formed. Perhaps he had been wrong. The detective no longer suspected her and seeing her reaction to the video only compounded that belief. Vivian Morehouse didn’t strike him as being that good of an actor that she could fake the nervous breakdown she seemed on the verge of having.
Bartlett could only guess what turmoil was happening inside her mind, but there was nothing he could do for her. He turned his attention once again to the monitor and the image of his most hated enemy.
“However, dear Vivian,” her ex-husband continued. “I do not hold a grudge--”
“Yeah, right,” West said. He made no attempt to hide his contempt.
“--against you anymore. In fact, there are days when I almost forget that you even existed.” He shifted in his chair and took a long draw off of his cigar. He let the smoke billow forth and cloud around his face. “But you were a large part of my life at one time,” he continued. “I cannot forget about you now like you did about me. I will not have secrets from you as you did from me. I sincerely hope that you are as prosperous in life as you have always wanted to be. To help you with your goal to be wealthy beyond your means I leave you a substantial sum of money for your very own use.”
“Wha...?” she managed to stutter.
“Of course, this money is for use however you see fit, Vivian,” Morehouse said as he puffed again on the offensive cigar.
“For me?” she squeaked.
“Provided,” he continued. “That you always remember from where this money came. You must always remember that it came from me.
You’ll have to live with how I came about earning this money. Can you live with yourself day in and day out knowing that the very money that sustains you came from me? You once told me that you could not abide by how I did my business. A business you wanted no part of, if I recall your testimony correctly. Does that still apply, Vivian. Or are you willing to cleanse yourself of your newfound conscience and take what I have offered you?”
All eyes in the room were on Vivian Morehouse, those of her former husband’s on the television screen as well. There was an internal struggle within her and the signs were evident on her tortured face. Morehouse was playing her conscience against her lifestyle. It would be a toss up to see which side would win out in the end.
“If you can live with my conditions Vivian, my attorney will discuss the sum with you shortly and it will be wired to your private account. You know the one I’m talking about.”
A pause as Darrin Morehouse smiled a toothy smile for the camera.
“He will also detail the conditions I mentioned.”
Bartlett thought Vivian was going to explode. She finally broke down and cried. She could no longer stand the verbal abuse of her late husband. He started to stand and tell the attorney that enough was enough when the image of Darrin Morehouse turned toward another at the table.
“Ah, Mr. District Attorney Coombes. How nice it is to have you with us here today. I understand that you are probably a very busy man. There are all of those nasty criminals to put away and the like. Just like me,” he said as he tapped himself on the chest. The man was obviously very proud of himself.
Michael Coombes said nothing. He stared point blank at the smiling visage, but tried to act calm. John knew it was an act. He could tell these things. It was probably obvious to the others around the table as well. The police officer wondered what type of game Morehouse had planned for the district attorney that prosecuted him.
“Do you like your job, Mr. Coombes?”
“Of course I...” Michael caught himself before he could finish. He had no intention of playing into Morehouse’s game, whatever it might be.
Morehouse continued, “Of course you do. It must be very satisfying to be a protector of the innocent and punisher of the wicked. Your mother must be very proud of you. I know I would be if you were my son.”
The DA still said nothing. He was resisting the urge to yell at the image as was probably what Morehouse had intended. The man had obviously studied each of them very closely. He was using clinical psychology against them and one by one the pawns were falling into place exactly where and how Darrin Morehouse wanted them to. The only question was why?
“I have afforded my attorney a check to help fund your political aspirations. I know that you have held an interest in running for a higher political office for some time, maybe even becoming Governor one day. I want to help you make those dreams a reality. I am willing to furnish you with a campaign staff and all the materials you could ever possibly need to run a successful campaign and crush your opposition.”
Michael Coombes coughed once, then adjusted his tie. That was his tell. In court, he tended to fidget with his tie when things were not going his way. It was an unconscious tick he was trying hard to stop. He let out a breath.
“As with Vivian’s inheritance, there is a catch. You too would have to know that I funded your political career. You would owe everything to me, if only in part. And of course, you would always have to wonder whether or not someone working under my orders would be buying your election for you. You see, Michael...”
Morehouse’s image leaned in close to the camera.
“May I call you Michael?” he asked, but continued without waiting for the man’s reply. “Anyway, Michael, it’s like this, my influence reaches far and wide. Some of the people that work for me probably don’t even know it. No matter what you accomplish, whether on your own or with aid from others, that small sliver of doubt will always be there. Did I do it? Did you do it on your own? Who can you trust? Those are the questions that will haunt your dreams nightly. You will never know when or where or how someone under my instructions will knock at your door.”
The DA allowed his head to drop. Just like Morehouse’s ex, he too was now dealing with a question that had no simple answer.
“You just never know,” Morehouse reiterated.
Underneath his calm demeanor, Michael Coombes was seething. How dare this... this... man do this to him-- to him of all people. He knew that the man on the recording was only trying to taunt him, to make him suffer. Wanted to make all of them suffer, but Coombes refused to become a pawn in the madman’s game.
“But we shall wait a little longer for your answer, Mister District Attorney,” the image that was Darrin Morehouse said as he sat back comfortably in his chair. “Let’s see. Who’s next on the list. Ah, yes, the honorable Judge Nathan Hughes. Who would ever have suspected that you, of all people, would outlive me? Ha! Now isn’t that a laugh riot, you old coot?”
The room stayed silent.
“Ah, come now,” Morehouse continued. “Can’t you see the humor in that? You people are pathetic. Why so dour? You’ve all won. I’m the one that’s dead. Remember? You win. I’m gone. Can any of you honestly admit that you have not thought of my death some time in the years since my imprisonment? This should be like a party to you people. Sheesh!”
No one dared speak. Benjamin West opened his mouth, but a gesture from Laura Sellars at his left convinced him to keep quiet.
“Oh well. As I was saying, Judge. I know that you cannot be bought. I tried that during the trial. Hell, I even had my -ahem- associates try to convince you to swing things in my favor.”
“The bastard tried to threaten me off. Threatened my family!” the Judge exclaimed. Morehouse kept talking even as the judge did, their voices overlapping.
“But did you?” the man on the screen continued uninterrupted. “Noooooooo!” He drew out the word. “You were too high and mighty to do that. I remember what you told me right before the trial started. You told me that I was going to hang for what I had done. You had pronounced me guilty before the first witness had even been called.”
Laura Sellars let out an audible gasp, a seed of doubt and distrust successfully planted. If she had been informed of any threat made by a sitting judge to her client before him she would have made a motion to have the judge recuse himself from the case. She wondered why this piece of important information had not been shared with her.
“You wanted me gone as much as any of these other vultures in the room with you now. You just hid behind the law. That and that big black robe you were wearing.”
“Judge...” Warden Chalmers warned as he got a firm grip on the man’s shoulder. The judge calmed slightly and stayed in his seat.
“Well, since I know that you are above bribes I’m not even going to try. I guess I’ll simply have you killed.”
That protest came from several different people around the table. The judge’s face went ashen and he seemed in shock.
“This has gone on long enough,” Coombes shouted.
Morehouse’s image said nothing more.
John Bartlett got to his feet and pointed a finger toward the attorney. “Alright,” he demanded. “That’s enough! How much more of this do you expect us to sit through?”
“Mr. Bartlett,” the attorney spoke quietly. “The views of the deceased are his own. I am only required to deliver my client’s final comments. No matter how despicable I may or may not find them. I will see my duty through to the end.”
“Your client just threatened a man!”
“I understand that, Detective,” Hall said in the same monotone voice. “However, I think we can both agree that it is an empty threat at best since my client is, in fact, deceased.”
“Obviously, you don’t know your client as well as you think,” Bartlett said, the muscle in his jaw tightening.
Mr. Hall was unfazed. “As I said before, Detective, none of you have to stay here. You are free to leave as soon as you’re ready.” He motioned toward the door. “However, if you intend to stay I would ask that you return to your seat.”
Bartlett opened his mouth to retort, but thought better of it and silently sat back down.
“If you will all take your seats we can continue,” Mr. Hall said calmly.
Slowly, the other guests returned to their seats as well. Somehow, Darrin Morehouse had managed to unhinge three of the people around the table already with nothing but words. Mere words that had cut to the quick far more severely than any knife could. It was a not-so-subtle reminder that they were playing in his arena now and just like the lawyers in the room, he knew how to make words work for him.
Bartlett’s internal alert went up a notch. He knew that his turn would soon come. He began to prepare himself mentally for the challenge.
In the commotion, Mr. Hall had switched off the VCR and the familiar blue screen was prominent again. Something about that made John think, but he had no time to further ponder the outrageous thought that had just filtered through his brain like a rogue bolt of lightning.
The cop spared a glance toward Benjamin West and his suspicions were confirmed as the two men locked their gazes upon one another. The reporter had his suspicions as well and he was fairly certain that the younger man had noticed the same clues that he had. Still, he could not make himself believe the ridiculous thought that kept running through his mind.
Why does he keep cutting it off? Why not just pause it?
He closed off the rest of the room from his thoughts and he focused on the attorney at the far end of the room. He stood stiff as a rail at the head of the table, his body framed by the ornate brick fireplace where a portrait of the deceased hung proudly. The television sat next to Phillip Jason Hall.
The blue from the screen stared back at Bartlett.
It’s crazy, he thought to himself. He was fairly certain that West was having similar thoughts and he also wondered if any of the others had picked up on it.
Maybe, he thought. Maybe, just maybe Darrin Morehouse isn’t dead after all.
What if he’s somewhere in this house right now?
Toying with us.
Is this all a game?
Continued in Deadly Games! by Bobby Nash