Tuesday Sampler: Silent Mayhem by Sue Coletta

Can she find the strength to move forward, or will the truth destroy her? Read Chapter One of Sue Coletta’s new thriller, Silent Mayhem.

Some things in life defy comprehension, but that doesn’t make them any less real. Or deadly.

When a familiar crow drops a cryptic scroll at Shawnee Daniels’ feet, she’s compelled to open it, even though everything in her power warns her not to. Mr. Mayhem—the most prolific serial killer the North Shore has ever known—claims her life is in danger. He “claims” he wants to help her, but just last year he threatened to murder everyone she loves.

While Mayhem taunts her with oddly-placed feathers, like The Creator left at his crime scenes, an interstate killing spree rocks Massachusetts and New Hampshire. A madman is decapitating men and women, dumping their headless corpses on two area beaches. But what Shawnee soon uncovers shatters all she’s ever known, her memories shredded, the whispers of the past in shambles on the ground.

Can she find the strength to move forward, or will the truth destroy her?

Sue Coletta

Chapter One

Tuesday

7:00 p.m.

 Things weren’t all that bad till he showed up and tossed a hand-grenade through my life, shattering my memories, everything I believed in pieces on the ground.

It all started when I left work on Tuesday. One lone crow circled above my head, his wings in a constant flutter. The flapping created a wind tunnel that blew back my hair and shuffled my bangs. Sunlight shimmered off precision-placed feathers, black and gleaming. I stopped dead in the middle of the Revere Police Department parking lot.

Motionless, my time spent imprisoned in an underground bunker clawed at my mind, body, and spirit. In a soft tone, I said, “Poe?” Nah. Couldn’t be. Could it? Mayhem fled months ago. Why would he risk returning to the area? Besides, it’s not like blackbirds avoided urban areas. Revere had more than its fair share—learned that little tidbit the hard way.

When the crow dipped even closer, I curled my forearms around my face. Peeking through the crack between my forearms, a thin and shaded sliver of space, Poe’s gold ankle band collided with the sunlight, and shot a beam straight in my eye. Almost being blinded was probably the highlight of my day. Because if the crow was, in fact, Poe, then Mayhem couldn’t be far behind.

With a quick turn of the head, I scanned the parking lot for the black Caddy, my pulse keeping pace with Poe’s fluttering wings. I’d had run-ins with him before, and I sure as hell wasn’t in a hurry to do it again.

Hovering a mere six inches above me, his talons opened in slow motion and out dropped a scroll, striking the toe of my right motorcycle boot. A direct hit.

Time thudded to a stop.

Every bone in my body screamed for me to step over Mayhem’s note, and that’s exactly what I should’ve done. But I didn’t. God forbid Shawnee Daniels drove down Easy Street. I also should’ve never pulled the twine bow that held the scroll together.

Ivory stationery unfurled, revealing the message inside.

Dearest Cat,

You are in grave danger. Meet me at that quaint diner you like so much. One hour. Please remember, it’s rude and unbecoming to arrive late. I would hate for you to miss what I have to say. It might save your life.

Hugs & Kisses,

Mr. M

Save my life? He had some balls, considering he’s the only one who’d threatened me over the last year, not counting his merry band of psychos. Zings ricocheted head to toe. Was he stalking me again? If so, why? Maybe he’s the danger I should avoid. Either that, or he used the excuse as a ruse to get me to show. Mayhem wasn’t stupid.

I pulled back my shoulders. But neither am I. Two could play this game. All I had to do was scope things out. What choice did I have? That’s exactly why he left the note vague.

Nicely played, asshole.

Within fifteen minutes, my knee bouncing with excess energy, I raced through the entrance of the parking lot to the Lone Range-R, one of my favorite diners. The gas pedal tangoed with the car mat, and I leaned sideways, my hand groping for a way to untangle the two. By the time I straightened, my jeep was sailing straight for the dumpster. I jerked the wheel to the left, tires screeching across the asphalt, Ol’ Bessie’s rear-end fishtailing in leftover sand from the snow plows last winter.

With both feet, I slammed the brakes. The jeep bucked, jumped, and then stalled. Admittedly, I’d made classier entrances.

Ego bruised but not broken, I turned the key.

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. 

“Dammit. Not now.” I twisted the key a second time.

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

“You bitch!” In the hopes of appealing to one of my jeep’s multiple personalities, I rubbed the dash. “I didn’t mean that. C’mon, girl, you can do it. We only need to go another ten feet.”

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

“Screw it. You win.” I got out, slammed the driver’s door, and spit at the tire. “Hope someone hits your sorry ass.” The bitch would probably make me pay for that comment at the worst possible moment.

Scanning the lot, my head swiveling faster than a ceiling fan on high, I searched for Mayhem’s black Cadillac CTS, but couldn’t find it anywhere. Had he changed vehicles? In the far corner of the lot sat a gold Hummer. On its roof, three crows perched on the utility rack. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, they cocked their heads as I strode by, six beady black eyes glaring straight at me.

Super, he brought his freaky pets, too. Lucky me.

Hand trembling, I tugged open the thick glass door of the Lone Range-R and held my head high as I strutted inside, even though nothing about this situation was what I’d call normal. The hostess grabbed a menu from the wooden slat on the side of the podium. “Will anyone be joining you today?”

“Yeah. There’s two of us, but I think he might already be here. I saw his vehicle in the parking lot.” In case I never made it out of here alive, or some poor schmuck discovered my remains in a nearby ditch, I offered her a few details to remember for when Levaughn interviewed her after my death. “See that gold Hummer out there? It’s the one with crows perched on top.”

Obviously, she didn’t give a rat’s ass, because she never bothered to look. Bitch. Instead, all she said was, “Name?”

What name did he use? His moniker, Mr. Mayhem, would sound bizarre at best. Unless he just used Mr. M. Wavering back and forth, I guessed, “Umm, Daniels?”

The hostess ran her finger down the page in an appointment book. “Shawnee Daniels?”

I spread my arms wide, shaking jazz hands as though an unknown entity had entered my body. “In the flesh.”

Where the hell did that come from? Get a grip, Daniels. If you’re not at the top of your game, Mayhem will crush you.

She stared at me as though I’d lost my friggin’ mind. Sadly, she wasn’t wrong.

“Alrighty then,” she said, her tone placating. “Your party arrived fifteen minutes ago.” She swept her arm in the direction of a room full of tables. “Right this way please.”

Mute, my lips glued to one another, I followed her past families and couples who laughed together, having a great time while I, on the other hand, neared the most vicious serial killer the North Shore had ever known. Too bad no one knew that but me. Regardless of how anyone judged my decision to keep Mr. Mayhem’s identity secret, I still held firm. Fact was, the day I ratted him out was the day everyone I loved died in unfathomable ways. Mayhem wasn’t the type of dude to screw with, even on his best days.

As the hostess and I approached the booth in the back, Mr. Mayhem rose, his black fedora pressed to his chest. “Ms. Daniels—” he smiled, his freaky eyes soft and inviting— “how nice of you to join me.” He swept a hand toward the bench across the table from him. “Please, after you …”

Sprinting toward the exit wasn’t an option at this point, so I slid into the booth, my mind racing with endless scenarios of how this covert meeting might play out.

“I’ll send your waitress right over after you’ve had a chance to look at the menu,” the hostess told us. “In the meantime, can I get you something to drink?”

Mayhem grinned, and my fingers balled into a fist; I’d had just about enough of the niceties already. “Ladies first,” he said, the grin morphing into a sly smirk.

I glanced up at the hostess. “Nothing for me, thanks.”

From across the table, Mayhem shot me the concerned parent look, and I didn’t buy the charade for a second. He’d have to up his game to con me into lowering my guard.

“Aw, don’t be like that.” He faked a pout. “We have a lot to discuss.”

“Fine.” Anything to get this over with faster. “I’ll have a hot chocolate with marshmallow.”

He rubbed his palms together. “Ooh, sounds delightful. I’ll have the same please.”

“Two hot chocolates coming right up.” With a curl of the fingers, the hostess swept her hair around the largest turquoise earring on the planet. Okay, maybe it wasn’t big enough to break a record or anything, but it had to weigh at least a quarter pound, her ear lobes stretching to the jawline.

“Thank you kindly—” Mr. Mayhem glanced at the nameplate above her heart— “Alicia. Beautiful name.”

She tittered, and I almost puked. How could anyone buy his nicey-nicey act?

Once Alicia strolled out of earshot, I crossed my arms and legs, my foot involuntarily swinging back and forth. “What’s all this about?” Thinning my eyes, I jerked forward. “I don’t like being summoned by your psychotic crow.”

He winced. “Poe, I assure you, is no more psychotic than I am. His feelings are much like yours and mine. The intricacies of a crow’s brain are really quite fascinating.”

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes … barely. “Yeah. Great. Whatever.”

“Perhaps you’ll feel better if you allow me to explain why I sent Poe.”

Leaning back, I re-crossed my arms. “Go for it, hotshot.”

“The reason I contacted you the way I did was to lessen your level of distress.” He weaved his long fingers together, resting his hands on the table—the same hands that ended the lives of so many, over the years—his black-leather gloves stacked beside them. “Had I knocked on your door, for example, you may have reacted impulsively and without forethought. This way, you had a chance to prepare yourself. Did you not appreciate the advanced notice?”

“It’s fine, whatever.” My right knee bounced in anticipation. “Tell me why I’m here.”

He glanced in the mirror above my head. “Let’s wait for Alicia to deliver our drink order. In the meantime—” he rested his chin in an open hand, mesmerizing almost-translucent eyes drilling a hole straight through me— “what’s going on in your life?”

“Meh. Same shit, different day.” I leaned across the table, lowering my voice, my tone cold, calculating. “A better question might be, what’s happening in yours? Murder anyone recently, Mister Mayhem?”

As if I’d said nothing at all, he shook out the linen napkin and spread it across his lap. He folded his hands in front of him on the table again and then leaned back against the booth’s maroon-pleather. Then, out of the blue, he asked, “Are you aware of your heritage?”

And my head almost snapped off my neck. “Excuse me?”

“You worked The Creator case, did you not?”

How could he possibly know that?“Yeah,” I said, hesitant. “I work on a lotta cases. What’s your point?”

“In fact, one could say you had a personal stake in the outcome of that case. Correct?” His eyes flickered toward the mirror; this dude took cautious to a whole new level. “Hold that thought a moment.”

The hostess set our drinks on the table.

“You are too kind, Alicia.” He gave her a quick wink, and she blushed. “Thank you.”

If she only knew what he was capable of, she’d take off and never look back.

Once Mayhem’s new admirer left, he puckered his lips, blowing steam off his hot chocolate, as if he hadn’t just tossed a grenade through my cool façade. “You were saying, Shawnee? Pardon. Do you mind if I call you by your first name?”

I half-shrugged. “Hey, why not? Apparently, you think you know everything about me anyway.”

Au contraire. If I were cognizant of all things, there would be no need for this conversation.” He gestured with his hand, urging me to drink. “Your cocoa is getting cold, dear.”

The only reason I’d ordered the damn thing was to shut him up. I could care less if it rose up and danced a jig. Hm. Actually, that might be kinda cool.

My mind snapped back to reality. Whatever possessed me to open that damn scroll?

To force Mr. Mayhem to pay attention I leaned forward, my gaze transfixed on his unflinching stare. “What was your involvement in The Creator case? Were you helping Jack Delsin, is that it?”

All innocent-like, he rested an opened hand to his heart as though appalled by my question. “Goodness, no. Although, I did admire his creativity. Even you have to admit, the wings were an ingenious touch.”

“What? No, I don’t.” A bitter tang engulfed my mouth, my voice rising in intensity. “Lives were lost, and for what?” Huffing out a breath, I clawed a hand through my hair. “Look who I’m talkin’ to. Enough!” I slapped the table, a wave of anger shooting through me, threatening to give Mayhem the advantage. “Tell me why I’m here.”

Cool as ice, he dabbed his lips with the napkin. “Jack was a powerful man. Were you aware of that?”

“‘Powerful’ would not be my description of Jack Delsin, but whatever. Make your point.”

He scanned the room, then lowered his voice to almost a whisper. “I assume by your earlier reaction that your parents passed away before teaching you about your roots. Is that a fair assessment?”

“I have no idea what in the hell you’re talkin’ about. Is this why you brought me here, to dig through my childhood?” I rose halfway, rooted through my pocket for cash. “Save it, pal. I’m outta here.”

Mayhem reached across the table and latched onto my forearm, his grip firm, and threatening. “Please, Ms. Daniels. I have never lied to you. Listen to what I have to say. It could save your life.”

I lowered my gaze to his vice-grip around my arm, and he let go. “You’ve got five minutes.” I tapped the gold watch that I’d procured from a power couple a few years back. “And those five minutes start now.”

“Not here.” He skimmed the restaurant. “As it is, I shouldn’t even be discussing this matter, especially in public.” He swigged his cocoa, dabbed his lips with the napkin, and rose. From his front pocket,he withdrew a gold Ferragamo money clip and slapped a twenty-dollar bill on the table. “Join me for a stroll outside.”

I flashed both palms. “Whoa. I’m not goin’ anywhere with you, pal.”

“Pal.” He smirked. “Love your style, I really do.” Pausing, his unblinking stare lasered into my soul. “Last chance. Are you sure you won’t reconsider my offer?”

“Positive.”

“What a shame. Well—” he sighed — “I gave it the ol’ college try.” With no further explanation, he set his fedora on his head, tipped the hat toward me, turned, and soldiered out the exit.

I collapsed against the booth, my arms hung by my sides. What the hell just happened?

At the glass door, I waited for the Hummer to drive out of the parking lot before hustling to my jeep. A black feather laid against the windshield. Had Poe dropped it on purpose?

I leaned in to study the white ring around its base. The opaque quill snuggled under the driver’s side windshield wiper. It’s impossible to land that way. But why would Mayhem leave me a feather?

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