Jay Waitkus

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Excerpted from Brood of Thieves by Jay Waitkus

PROLOGUE: 

London, England. Twenty years ago.

“SIS, I’VE GOT ONE!” the boy yelled, as he ran down a back alley holding the wallet aloft.

“Keep your voice down,” his sister responded, jumping up from her spot against the wall. “I’ve got one, too.”

“How much is in yours?”

“Twenty pounds and change. Enough for us to get a decent lunch. Good thing, too. I’m bloody starving. What’s in yours?”

“Don’t know. I just grabbed it from this guy I bumped into at the marketplace. Let’s see — holy shit!”

“What?”

One hundred...two hundred...three hundred...four hundred...five hundred pounds!”

“Jackpot, little brother.”

“Yes, that is quite a bit of money,” another voice called. “But the wallet that it came from is mine.”

The siblings whirled, looking on helplessly as a tall man in a custom-tailored suit calmly approached them. Trapped between their stalker and the wall, the children felt an icy fear welling up inside them.

Surprisingly, though, the man looked anything but angry.

“That was a pretty fair job,” he said to the boy, “but you made a few mistakes. Bumping into me as if by accident wasn’t a bad ploy, though it took you a second or two longer than it should have to locate my coat pocket. Running away like that wasn’t a good idea at all, though. For future reference, it’s much better if you simply say ‘Excuse me,’ and walk off innocently as if nothing’s amiss. 

"I see you and your sister there are in the same line of work. Having a place to meet up after your heist is a good move, but you should never pick a spot quite so close to where you’re operating — or one without a back exit.”

“Is that so?” the girl responded, finding her courage and her anger all at once.

“Yes, it is. Don’t get me wrong, though — for a first effort, it really was quite good.”

“First effort?” she huffed. “I’ll have you know we’ve been working this part of town for three months now, and this is the first time we’ve ever been busted.”

“Uh, sis,” her brother chimed in, “maybe you should tone it down a bit.”

Once again, though, the man seemed mostly amused.

“My apologies,” he told her. “I meant no offence. If you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?”

“I’m twelve, he’s eleven.”

“And you say you’ve been living out here on your own for three months?”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“Nothing. But don’t you have any parents?”

“We had a mother,” the boy replied. “But she’s dead.”

“I see. And your father?”

“We have different fathers.”

“Yeah,” said the girl disdainfully, “and neither one of them are worth a damn.”

“And no other family?”

“You ask a lot of questions.”

“Well, then again, your brother here did steal my wallet. Speaking of which –”

“Here,” the boy said, handing it back to the man.

“Thank you,” he said, reaching inside it. “And here’s your money back.”

With that, the boy's eyes grew as wide as saucers.

“But — but that’s yours.”

“No, you took it fair and square. Besides, I have plenty. Go on, I want you to have it.”

“Thanks.” 

“Clearly, both of you are talented. But you need to be a little more careful. If you’re caught, the consequences in this town can be dire. Even for ones so young.”

“And how do you know so much about it?” the girl inquired, with more than a bit of suspicion.

“Believe it or not, I wasn’t so different from you once. And in a lot of ways, I suppose I’m still not.”

“You’re a thief, too?” she asked. “You don’t dress like any thief I’ve ever seen.”

The man chuckled.

“Many years ago,” he said, “I met a man who taught me how to use my talents a little more... judiciously. He showed me that there are considerably bigger scores available than random grabs from unsuspecting fools at market. You know,” he added, thinking it over a bit more, “given time, he could probably do the same for you.”

“We do okay on our own,” the girl said.

“Why just do okay?” the man replied. “Why not get rich and have a little fun, to boot?”

The boy looked at his sister intensely, waiting for her to say something.

“Why would anyone be interested in us?” she asked.

“Why not?”

“No-one ever has before.”

“And that truly is a shame. But all the more reason to consider what I’m saying.”

“Which is —?”

"You have no parents, and you have no other prospects —”

“So?”

“So how would you like to take a little road trip?”

“You mean to meet this friend of yours.”

“Mm-hmm. But only if you want to, of course. I’m certainly not going to force you.”

“Neither did the witch in Hansel and Gretel — and look at what happened to them. How do we know you’re not some bloody pervert, or a kidnapper, or something?”

“You don’t,” he said. “But in life you have to take chances. And it’s true, doing so can be scary. But what have you been doing out here all these months? Not exactly a safe existence, is it?”

The girl didn’t reply.

“Where does this friend of yours live?” the boy asked.

“In a big estate in Coventry. All of us live there.”

“All of you?”

“Yes, there’s a whole group. We work together.”

“You mean like a gang?”

“A bit of a crude way to put it, but yes, I suppose it’s one way to interpret things.”

Again the siblings looked at one another, then turned back to the man. 

“This place,” the girl said. “Tell me — does it have anything to eat?

Chapter 1

Present Day

TED COLVIN opened the double doors of his study, flicked on the light switch, and headed for his desk. He picked up the receiver of his telephone, hurriedly dialed an overseas number, and paced up and down while waiting for someone to answer.

“Come on, come on, dammit,” he said in frustration.

The line rang eight times, but finally someone picked up.

“Hello?”

“What the hell took you so long?”

“I’m sorry, sir. It’s early here, and —” 

“I don’t give a damn what time it is,” Colvin said. “I told you to get back to me hours ago.”

“I’m sorry, sir. We’ve had some problems with —”

“Is there some question there about who’s in charge? Because I can answer it for everyone here and now if you’d like.”

“No question, sir. I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want your sorrow. I want some goddamn results. Did you do what I asked?”

“Yes, sir. The ship has turned around and is heading back to port as we speak.”

“Good. Make sure it stays there until further notice.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And for future reference, when I say call me back, it doesn’t mean in your own sweet time!”

He slammed down the receiver, and began to pace again.

“Every single day, some other bullshit,” he muttered to himself.

Walking a few steps to the mini-bar, Colvin poured himself a scotch. He looked at the clock on the wall, and saw that it was nearly eight.

The next few weeks were going to be difficult ones. Difficult for his business, for his marriage, and maybe even his very life. He turned to the array of pictures on his desk, his eyes focusing on the portrait of his children, Bryce and Jennifer, both of whom were away at college.

Thank God they were safe, he thought. Whatever his failings, both personally and professionally, he had always done right by them, and this time would be no different. While no-one had ever accused him of being a saint, there were always lines even he was unwilling to cross; for a moment, he’d forgotten that, but for his son and daughter’s sake he made himself remember, stopping the terrible thing he’d set into motion before it was too late.

And it wasn’t too late, was it? It couldn’t be, he resolved. He wasn’t going to let it be.

Colvin set his glass back on the bar and turned to leave the room. It was at that moment, however, when he realized he wasn’t alone.

In his final moment, Ted Colvin saw only two things: the silencer of the gun that was pointed toward him, and the face of his assailant, standing ruefully above him as he slipped away into death.

Chapter 7

“YOU’VE BEEN really decent about this,” Talia Draper said, as she got out of the passenger’s side of the squad car. “I just want you to know I appreciate it.”

Decent, as opposed to what?” Police Detective Nolan Sand asked good-naturedly as he emerged from the driver’s side. “Abject cruelty has never really been in my nature.”

“I know you didn’t want another partner thrust upon you,” she replied. “Someone with your stats could have put up a major fight about it if you’d wanted to.”

“It’s really not that big of a deal,” he said. “As a matter of fact, it’s one of the few times the brass has issued an edict they can actually make a pretty good case for. With all the cop killings we’ve had in the last couple of years, it’s understandable that they’d want to put an end to the days of cowboy police work.”

“It’s been a long time since you’ve been forced to partner up with someone, though.”

“And for a long time before that, I never worked a case without a partner. It’s a readjustment, that’s all. I’ll get there. So what do you say we get started?”

“Let’s do it,” Talia said.

She and Nolan walked up the expansive, sloping driveway and entered the mansion through the front. The crime scene unit was already at work gathering evidence in the Colvins’ study.

“What have we got?” Nolan asked one of the uniformed officers on the scene.

“White male, age fifty-six, shot to death in the chest. The maid found him about an hour ago.”

“Any sign of forced entry?”

“Nope. But the door-wall that leads to the back was unlocked when we got here.”

“Witnesses?”

“If you believe the wife and staff, no-one heard any commotion beforehand.”

“You almost sound like you don’t believe them.”

The officer shrugged as he thought about it some more.

“The servants’ quarters are at the other end of the estate, so it’s possible they missed the scuffle. The maid’s kinda shaky, as you’d expect, but the wife seems pretty together. Maybe a little too together.”

“Trouble in paradise?” Talia suggested.

"Reminds me of how I ended things with my last partner," Nolan quipped, and Talia smiled wryly.

Chapter 23

"IN CASE nobody told you,” Wesley Barnes said, “Colvin and his friends in their ivory tower put more than fifty of us out of work. Why are you hassling me?”

“We’re not singling you out, Mr. Barnes,” Nolan responded. “As a point of fact, we’re in the process of talking to everyone who might have had it out for your former employer.”

“Then I hope you packed a lunch,” Barnes sneered, “because half the guys on this pier wanted nothing more than to see Colvin end up exactly the way that he did.”

“He was that unpopular, huh?”

“If anything, I’m being charitable.”

Nolan looked around the dock.

“What kind of work is this?”

“Day labor. They pick a bunch of us each morning, and send the rest home. Barely above minimum wage, but it’s all they got around here now. You do what you need to, right?”

“Right. But compared to your last gig —”

“The work was pretty much the same. But yeah, the money was better, and at least we had some benefits.”

“So why did everyone hate Colvin so much?”

“Because he was a jerk. The few times he came down here he walked around with his nose in the air, like he was too good for us commoners. Or barked orders at people he didn’t even know to show everyone how important he was. Then when things got tight with his business, he just locks us out. No notice, no nothing. Corporate scum. That’s all he was.”

“You sound pretty angry.”

“Wouldn’t you be?”

“Yep.”

“That doesn’t mean I shot the prick.”

“I never said it did.”

“Still,” said Talia, “most of the workers here on the docks don’t have a background quite like yours, do they, Mr. Barnes?”

“If you believe that, you need to do some better research,” he snapped. “There’s lots of vets out here. Lots of them.”

“Vets, yes. But you weren’t just a regular soldier, were you? Special Ops. Three tours in Afghanistan. And highly proficient with handguns of every sort.”

“True enough,” Barnes replied. “So — how many guns were used on Colvin? ’Cause unless it was more than one, the fact that I’m familiar with ‘handguns of every sort’ doesn’t mean too much.”

“Ever use a silencer?” asked Nolan. “Most shooters don’t bother.”

“Not the amateurs, anyway,” Talia added.

“Yeah, I’ve used a silencer. Proves nothing.”

“Do you own a .38?”

“I’ve got one in my collection. So what?”

“Has it been fired recently?”

“At the target range. All the time.”

“We’ll need to examine it.”

Barnes looked more than a little annoyed.

“Suppose I refuse?”

“That wasn’t a request,” Nolan told him.

“This is bullshit!”

“No, it’s a murder investigation. Anything you want to tell us?”

“I didn’t kill Colvin.”

“Then why the objection to giving us your gun?”

"No objection, Detective,” Barnes said with disdain. “It’s in my car. You want it? Go ahead and take it.”

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Brood of Thieves copyright © 2022 Jay Waitkus. All rights reserved. Cover image by NZ Graphics.