Wings of Mayhem – Excerpt

Wings of Mayhem

“Riveting and haunting! Sue Coletta’s page-turning crime fiction is deliciously nuanced with delectable horror and dark humor. Unique and compelling characters make a sumptuous and satisfying meal. Save room for a decadent dessert of plot twists.” ~ Jordan Dane – Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author of the Ryker Townsend  FBI Profiler series

WINGS OF MAYHEM wins Best Author Award for Crime, Mystery, Heists!!!crime-mystery-heist-award

 

Chapter One

Friday, October 5, 2011

Midnight

The still silence of the night was my addiction. There’s no better drug on earth. The sensation of being the only one awake, the only one stirring among peaceful, darkened homes sent tingles through my core. Alone in the dark I was free. Alive. Invincible. Nothing could touch me.

With my head reclined back, I twirled in circles and let my arms float beside me. The cool night air sifted between my fingers, a light breeze whisking through my long, flowing hair. A slivered moon spilled through trees, casting shadows over the main drag of Bear Clave Estates, a gated community with million-dollar homes.

Flashlight leveled, I veered off the road, trekked through three backyards, jumped two fences, and arrived at an eight-foot wall running the property lines around a massive estate. My target was this dude’s place who thought he was an absolute genius by stealing hundreds of thousands from his company, siphoning a few bucks from each employee’s retirement fund over the course of three years, netting him close to a mil. If ever there was a guy who needed to learn a lesson it was Mr. Jack Delsin. Because I knew for a fact he wouldn’t be home, now was the perfect time to play teacher.

He lived in a gigantic contemporary fronted with stucco and glass. This cool catwalk bridged a pond filled with black-and-white goldfish; their bulging eyes made Don Knotts’ peepers look tiny. A manicured lawn fringed the sides, cherub statues and garden gnomes speckled the landscape. Pretentious as all hell, but hey, I wasn’t interested in the outside.

I climbed the wrought-iron gate, jumped off the top, monogrammed crest, and landed hard on the tarred drive. My knees barely had time to absorb the blow before the stomping of many feet headed in my direction.

I bolted for the catwalk, periodic glances over my shoulder at a pack of Dobermans charging straight at me. Long, white canines snapped at my feet when I pulled myself up the railing and sprinted along the wooden slats.

During my reconnaissance I never once noticed Dobermans. Okay, maybe once, but not a pack, and not loose on the grounds after midnight.

Why add more dogs? Unless he had something valuable to protect. If I weren’t about to become dog food, this notion might’ve excited me more.

Vibrations shook the catwalk.

Two humongous attack dogs were in the lead. Sleek muscles flexed with their fast-moving gait. Their short, fudge-colored hair hackled, pink lips flapping with the force of their stride. With one foot set in front of the other, I moved cat-like, my arms extended at my sides, poised on the three-inch railing as if it were a balance beam.

Snarling, the dogs bared their teeth, lips curled, sharp claws scratching and clawing the baluster rods, massive paws trying to knock me off.

My chest heaved in and out, my gaze shifting to the little darlings craving cat for their midnight snack. Incredible grace and speed had always served me well in the past, allowing me to outrun all sorts of trouble. A pack of hungry Dobies? Perhaps that was a bit optimistic on my part.

I turned toward my mark and narrowed my concentration on a wide ash tree with long, thick branches hooding the main entrance. The dogs barked, jumped, banged against the railing. White foam dripped off razor-sharp teeth.

Being an animal lover, spraying mace in their adorable, albeit murderous, faces was not an option. Though my mentor, Bo Adams, a deceased cat burglar, would’ve had my burglary credentials revoked if he witnessed this particular lapse in judgment.

I blocked all distractions and fixed my sight on that tree. The limbs closest to the catwalk seemed plenty strong to hold my weight. I lunged for the massive branch, caught it with my fingertips and swung my legs over, twisting to an upright position. I scrambled to the end of the branch and hopped on the roof, above the main entrance, thrust out my chest and flung up my arms. “In your face, bitches.”

I regained composure. This was no time to be cocky. With a quick snap of the finger, I flipped the hungry Dobermans the bird and followed the roofline to the backyard.

A bathroom window beckoned, “Shawnee, come in and play.”

Okay, maybe it didn’t actually call my name, but it may as well have.

Residents rarely locked bathroom windows, especially on the second floor, so I gave the wooden frame a gentle nudge and it glided open like a long-handled spoon through whipped cream. One last glance in all directions and I crawled inside. Feet-first, I landed on the toilet seat—thankfully, it was closed—then padded to the doorway and scanned both ends of a wide hallway.

The house was hauntingly quiet. Too quiet, for some reason.

Granted, ol’ Jackie boy was still in holding until arraignment. This was a different kind of quiet. A strange aura, with an ominous evil that rode the air. The creepy sensation screamed for me to turn back. You’d think that would’ve been my first clue.

This job had to turn out better than last week’s. After all the trouble of hacking a Knox box, a supposedly un-hackable box used in gated communities for emergency vehicles, I discovered my mark snorted everything he owned. A few trinkets were hardly worth my time. Not to mention the skill involved to pull off a heist of that nature. To walk away empty handed…in laymen’s terms, sucked.

Average folk had no idea what went into pulling a professional heist. Half the general public believed what they saw in the movies, and the other half didn’t care. In their eyes, we—and by “we” I mean the artistically inclined—were no better than a common thug. A remark I found truly offensive. A common thug couldn’t swing from trees like Tarzan of the Jungle, hang from third story windows by one hand, or scale rooftops like Mary friggin’ Poppins.

Prowling down the hall, I stepped on a squeaky floorboard—and froze. Normally the rush of almost getting caught rippled across my skin, but tonight was not the night to dance with danger. I was on a mission to make Jack Delsin regret ever stealing from hard-working folks.

The irony was not lost on me.

The steam furnace kicked on and wailed like an injured animal. Clangs and crashes from old pipes rattled the house. Floorboards shifted like they were alive and breathing.

My thunderous heartbeat slowed to a quick pitter-patter—just enough adrenaline to make it interesting. If experience told me anything, it was when to cut my losses and bolt. No one caught me yet. Well, okay, once, but it wasn’t something I put on my resume. The whole mess wasn’t my fault, anyway. If some goofy-looking dude with a neck the width of Rhode Island hadn’t thrown a hissy fit when his steroid-infested body didn’t…shall we say…cooperate in the bedroom, the soles of my boots would’ve hit the asphalt before the last fake moan from his wife.

The open floor plan in this place was the bee’s knees. I especially dug a massive chandelier that hung from the second level and reached into the first. Crystal teardrops dripped from long curved arms. Their twinkle captivated me. Ever since I could remember I’d always been attracted to shiny things. It’s no wonder I chose this profession. Chose wasn’t the correct word. This life was one I fell back into when I saw rich assholes stealing from innocent people.

I crept through a partially open doorway, into a feminine master bedroom. An ivory lace comforter topped with pillow rolls had tassels dangling off the end. On the outside walls stood an antique vanity, rocker, matching his and hers dressers, and an armoire.

In the dark, gold glinted in my light beam atop the narrow six-drawer dresser.

“Nice,” I murmured, stuffing a select few of the necklaces and rings into my backpack. In my trade, it wasn’t wise to steal all the jewelry. Everything in moderation. A clueless homeowner equaled no urgent calls to the cops.

Tan drapes pulled partly closed masked a glass wall overlooking the backyard. I peeked between the folds. The slivered moon cast a glow upon a massive oak tree, in the corner of the yard. Opal-white stones formed an oversized circle around the base. No flowers planted within and too wide and lopsided for the intention to be merely decorative.

Like the rest of the property, I wrote it off to bad taste. Garden gnomes, was there nothing uglier?

I checked in nightstand drawers, in the pockets of Dockers flung over an upholstered chair, between the mattress and box spring, inside the armoire, dressers, and under the bed. All in all, the bedroom held a treasure-trove of valuable items: a gold watch, cash, and a fourteen-karat-gold rope chain that was so my style.

I stashed the goods in my backpack and moseyed down the hall. Skin tingling, warmth radiated through my core. Nothing compared to wandering through an empty home, twirling round and round, arms floating beside me.

Lining the walls hung framed drawings in what looked like charcoal. Two upside-down stick figures, one in a dress, one without. A handprint, and two vertical rectangles with no bottom bars. Jackie boy was one strange dude.

A door on my left held a sign that read “Enter at your own risk.” Of course I turned the knob. The sign seemed more like an invitation than a warning.

At first, I hesitated. This was obviously a teenager’s bedroom, evident by posters on the wall and an old corded-phone decorated with nail polish. Hitting kids’ rooms was not something I did.

On further inspection, the newest poster was of David Lee Roth from Van Halen. Either this chick was living in the eighties, or Daddy never redecorated after she moved out.

Next to the phone sat a wooden puzzle box like the one I had at seven years old. I swiped it more out of sentiment than value. Made from pine, it wasn’t worth much. The box possessed an intricate pattern that drove most people bonkers.

My cell phone vibrated in my pocket, and I checked the caller ID. Shit. “Whassup, Nay?”

“Where are you?”

I skimmed the contemporary. “Home. Why?”

“You’re out catting again. Aren’t you?”

She knew I hated that word. “What? No.”

“Christopher drove by your house and your jeep wasn’t there. Don’t lie to me. You promised me you were done with that life.”

“You checkin’ up on me now?”

“I knew it!”

“You don’t know shit. I ran outta kitty litter. If there’s nothing else, Your Honor, I’ve gotta bounce.”

“But—”

I didn’t have time for the third degree.

Click.

I ambled toward a wide, sweeping staircase, similar to the ones in old black-and-white films, and ran gloved fingers down the rod-iron railing, twirling off the end of the banister, into the main level. First, I hit the kitchen. Whoever told the wealthy to hide their valuables in the kitchen did them a disservice. There wasn’t a thief alive who hadn’t figured that one out.

I swung open the freezer door and rooted around inside. As I jiggled a half-gallon of fudge swirl, a smile broke across my face. How stupid did he think I was? A fake ice cream container or coffee can didn’t fool anyone. Neither did stashing valuables in the ice cube trays. In which, I found two loose diamonds suspended mid-cube.

I gave the greedy bastard an “A” for ingenuity, but he’d have to step up his game to beat me.

In total, I pocketed about thirty grand worth of stuff. Most of which I’d return to the retirement fund via electronic transfer from Delsin, minus my fee. He wouldn’t understand why, of course, but since he was in a world of hurt, his lawyer would advise him to keep his mouth shut and roll with it. Which he would do. I’d seen it happen many times. His attorney would argue this was his way of making retribution because the theft was all a huge misunderstanding, or bookkeeping error. The prosecution would argue Delsin acted with intent, yada, yada, yada…same drill, different mark.

I crossed a short, hardwood-floored hall and landed in the living room. With a running leap I swan-dived onto a puckered black-leather sectional, flipped on my back, and gazed at the stars through another glass wall. Bright pinpricks of light danced across an inky-black sky.

It’s important to take a moment to appreciate God’s little gifts. Years ago, Mom drilled that nugget of wisdom home.

I crawled off the sofa, my gaze roaming around the living room. Off to the left, oak pocket doors protected either a den or office. Straps dug into the top of my shoulders, the backpack overflowing with sterling, gold, jewelry, and cash.

A solid score.

With gloved hands, I slid one of the doors aside. The moon spilled a cascading smolder through the slats of wooden blinds behind a long mahogany desk, kitty-cornered in the center of the room. On top, sat a banker’s lamp and burgundy desk pad with calendar, where Jackie boy scrawled single digits on some of the days.

I snapped a quick cell phone photo. One never knows when information could come in handy.

To the right of the desk, a padlocked door drew my attention. In seconds, I picked the lock. A foul odor struck me in the face like the slap from a jilted lover. I cupped a hand over my mouth and nose. The stench was like…like…decay.

I swallowed hard.

Pitch-blackness blanketed the inside. I leveled my flashlight. The beam dimmed, flickered, and then died. I banged it against a flat hand. “Not now. C’mon, stay with me.”

No dice. The damn thing refused to cooperate. Using my cell phone, if I triggered the camera, the flash could, in theory, light my way.

It’s worth a shot.

Bright light saturated the room in stark-white for a split-second, and nearly blinded me. Multicolored spots filled my vision. I pressed the heels of my hands in my eyes and this time, I flipped the camera so the flash faced the room.

Flash.

Framed portrait of a woman.

Flash.

Apron.

Flash.

Metal table.

Flash, flash.

Plastic…on the walls?

Flash, flash.

Red splashes. An art studio, perhaps? I aimed toward the table.

Flash, flash.

A power tool.

Flash, flash.

Hedge clippers?

Flash. Flash.

Wait. If those were hedge clippers, then what was—?

Flash, flash, flash.

I cocked my head. Huh?

Flash, flash, flash, flash.

My sight narrowed on the floor beneath the table.

Flash, flash, flash, flash, flash.

I straightened, shifted in my stance.

Flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash.

“Can’t be.” A jolt of raw adrenaline shot through me. “What are the chances I’m in his house?” I sprinted out the room, missed the hole for the padlock three times before re-engaging the lock and hightailed it toward the staircase, tripping over my own feet. At the top, I slid around the end of the banister, the soles of my boots screeching across the hardwood.

Keys in the front door stopped me cold—metal jingling against metal.

My gaze tunneled on the doorknob.

The door creaked open. Slow. Methodical. Deliberate.

I forced myself to breathe—to move—and hauled ass toward the bathroom, where I crawled onto the window ledge. I dove for an oak tree, caught a branch with my fingertips, and slid down the bark, hopped two fences, screamed through three backyards, and didn’t stop till I reached my jeep, parked on a dead-end road around the corner from Bear Clave Estates.

Fumbling with the key, long scratches gouged the paint around the door lock before I managed to get inside.

My piece-of-shit jeep wouldn’t start!

I got out and slammed the door, punched and kicked the front quarter-panel and hood till my knuckles bled. Raw open cuts stung when I slipped behind the wheel and pumped the gas pedal, cursing the day I ever bought the hunk-a-junk. Sweat ravened between my furrowed brow, snaked down my nose, and leaked into my open mouth—salt niggling my taste buds.

Again, I tried the key. The engine still wouldn’t turn over. “Come…on.” I drummed the steering wheel, punched the roof, and made promises I couldn’t keep.

No dice. The little bitch flat-out refused to cooperate.

Stroking my mother’s rosary beads, hanging from the rearview mirror, helped ease my temper. With a calm exhale I twisted the key. The battery ticked as though Ol’ Bessie wanted to comply. Before she changed her mind, I gently nudged the shifter into neutral—careful not to upset her again—and coasted down the hill. Halfway down, I popped the clutch.

That got her motor purring.

As I shifted into fourth gear my cellphone rang. A quick glance at the caller ID told me I better answer. In a groggy voice, I said, “Hello?”

“Sorry to wake you, Ms. Daniels, but we need you to come down the station. Say, one hour?”

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Larry Brooks reviews Wings of Mayhem!!!

“For someone not named Patterson, Harris or Lindsay, Sue Coletta has reinvented the serial killer genre without stepping over the tropes for which we flock to it. In “Wings of Mayhem,” she gives us a “Silence of the Lambs” style yarn that takes us into not one, but two criminal minds: one a twisted psychopathic genius hell-bent on sending sickly cryptic messages through the flesh of his victims (the plot recalls the latest season of “The Following” starring Kevin Bacon, which gave new meaning to “twisted” while being something you could not look away from), the other being our protagonist, who moonlights from her day job (I won’t rat that out here) as a cat-burglar who stumbles into the wrong crib, stealing the aforementioned serial killer’s fetishized “precious.” There is hell to pay for them both as a result.

The story spins ahead with escalating velocity and well-rendered literary layers, always leaving the reader pleading for more information while delivering just enough with exquisite timing, always nailing a clear and rationale dissection of what seemed in the moment like insanity or illogic. The craft of the writer is on display from page one, with intense pacing, deeply drawn characters and a matrix of plot elements that never lets you see the big picture as completely as you think you do, thus setting up an ending that demands you stick with it until the final, unexpected twist.

You think you get it, but you don’t. And when you do, you’re delighted that you didn’t.

Sue Coletta is on a path. She earned her ticket into the crowded arena of dark thriller contenders with her previous novel (“Marred”), and in “Wings of Mayhem” she announces her arrival with the wail of approaching sirens and the quiet horror of a blade swinging at your throat in the dark. Don’t miss this one. A star is born.” ~ First appeared on Amazon.

Wings of Mayhem is available in paperback and ebook.

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