When my sister and I were younger we used to play the What If game. What if the man over there is really the secret lover of the woman having coffee next to him? What if the man trying to look invisible is really hiding from the police? You know, that kind of off the wall stuff. I collect impressions of people, so when I began writing fiction, I based many of my characters on real people and real places.
Mystery and suspense have always been my favorite genres so it’s been natural that’s here my focus would be. And with the success of JUNGLE INFERNO and the rest of The Phoenix Agency series, my books now revolved around suspense and mystery with former military as heroes. Book One I the series, JUNGLE INFERNO, was inspired by a former Delta Force member who taught a certification class I was taking. He became the model for Mark Halloran and of course, Faith Wilding, a romance author! Was modelled after me (I wish!).
I introduced the other Phoenix partners in Book One and when JUNGLE INFERNO became such a success and I was asked to expand the series, I built each one around a different partner. They don’t all appear in subsequent books, with the exception of FREEZE FRAME (I need them for the rescue!) but they play key roles.
Dan Romeo, for example, former Force Recon Marine and senior partner, appears as a major secondary character in UNEXPECTED RISK. He is friends with the hero of the book through Special Forces and is loosely based on my intellectual property rights attorney. The heroine is based on and named for one of my best friends, who really gave me the idea for the story. How? When she was here visiting me we took her on a tour of Davis Islands, a wealthy area in Tampa, Florida where I live. She fell in love with a particular house—large, soft grey adobe exterior, circular drive in front behind secure gates, lots of windows and a big lawn in back that stretched down to Hillsborough Bay. The question then became: how can I put Janet and this house in a story?
And that’s how UNEXPECTED RISK was born.
I hope you will give it a try. It’s one of my favorites.
“This guy is like a phantom.”
Dan nodded. “That’s what Brian called him, although he also called him Darkman. It feels like that’s exactly what he is. He comes and goes in the darkness. No one ever sees him, and he leaves no trace. There’s no rhyme or reason for any of these deaths. And one other thing.”
Dan lifted an eyebrow. “Yeah? What’s that?”
“In each case that we know about, he took a souvenir. A piece of jewelry that a friend or family member says the victim always wore, even to bed. A watch. A ring. An identification bracelet. So it’s absence was picked up on right away by whoever made the formal identification.” He shook his head. “It prolongs the sensation of the crime, validates what he or she has done.”
“Sick.” J. T. lifted his water glass and took a healthy swallow as if washing a bitter taste from his mouth. ‘And you think there might be more?”
“I haven’t had time yet to do a search and Brian’s tied up with another disaster. Plus, his boss said he should ask Interpol to do the looking.”
“I imagine he’s not too happy with that.”
Dan shook his head. “The local police only want the FBI sticking their noses in if it can be proved this is part of a national crime spree. His boss says let Interpol come back to them with more international information before Brian starts wasting everyone’s time on unrelated events. They’re already swamped as it is.“
“So I’m guessing this is how you got involved.”
Dan nodded. “I owe him a big favor he did for one of or clients. I talked to my partners and they all agreed I should at least give it a shot. Hence, the trip to Tampa. I’m headed to meet Brian in the coroner’s office after this.”
“I’m also guessing it was a no-brainer,” J.T. said,” because no one was getting anywhere with this. It has to be a political hot potato, and that, apparently, is right up your alley.”
“True that.” Dan nodded. “And if there turn out to be more international incidents, the fact that we operate well in the dark is a big plus.” He paused. “And one more thing. This is very sensitive and actually makes me sick to think of it. Brian and the detective in Colorado think the killer may be former military. The planning of the mission, the precision of killing all speak to some military training.”
“God damn it.” J. T. smacked his hand on the desk. “What is it with the people who always want to blame the military.”
“For some it’s an easy answer.” Dan rubbed his jaw. “In this case they may be right. Every kill smacks of someone trained to handle a knife in combat and swiftly and cleanly kill the enemy. I think that’s another reason Phoenix was brought in. The military angle. Someone probably thought I’d recognize the technique. Or whatever.””
“Fuck.” J. T. swallowed his anger. That wouldn’t get them anywhere. “Did you manage to find anything yet as far as Cote’s death is concerned?”
Dan shook his head. “Nada. I spent the entire day yesterday going over his home office, where the body was found, as well as the house itself and his office at the foundation. I had his desktop computer and his tablet and phone shipped overnight to Andy. We’ll see if he finds anything buried in there. Then this morning I was at the morgue checking the body. I know the local cops and the FBI went over it with a microscope, but another pair of eyes never hurts. I’m telling you, J.T., it’s a big fucking mystery. As if some supernatural being blew in like smoke and drifted out again.”
J.T. lifted an eyebrow. “I know your wives all have psychic abilities, and Phoenix uses them when they fit the situation, but this is a little off-the-wall even for you.”
Dan rubbed his forehead. “No kidding. But it’s driving me nuts. This is fourteen such murders in four years. They’re all over the place, different cities, different countries. I still believe Andy can find a pattern.”
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