Overdose is now available on Audible and Amazon! If you like detective mysteries with a paranormal twist, if you like the idea of The Dresden Files or Monster Hunter International but with aliens—er, offworlders—and UFO sightings, you’ll love this series.
Book 1 came out in early April. If you missed it, go back and start with Culture Shock. If audiobooks are your thing, award-winning narrator Oliver Wyman delivers a knockout performance round 2 in this second novel. You can add on the audiobook for only $1.99 when you buy the ebook for Kindle.
Here’s an excerpt from Overdose to whet your appetite.
Good luck. Have fun. Don’t die.
When I found the house I was looking for, I pulled my beat-up gray Ford onto the shoulder and parked behind a stand of trees.
The lawn was a graveyard of abandoned muscle cars, rusty swing sets, old tires, and discarded beer cans, all ringed in by a bowing chainlink fence about six feet high. The grass itself looked like an unkempt prairie with knee-length weeds growing untamed and wild around the discarded objects.
I killed the engine and settled in for a stakeout.
Travis Mannheim was wanted for evading arrest, theft, and possession with intent to distribute. Compared to the telepathic alien I’d cornered last month, he should have been a piece of cake to find. But a handful of bogus leads sent me ping-ponging all over central Texas from Houston to Midland and back, and frankly, I was sick of all the driving. To find out my skip had been hunkered down in Austin this whole time—that would be perfect. On the list of activities I enjoyed most, right between “doing my taxes” and “plunging a screwdriver into my eye socket.”
I combed my fingers through my greasy hair, then reached over and pawed through the pile of empty water bottles and fast food wrappers littering the passenger seat until I located a pair of black binoculars. Putting them to my face, I studied a magnified version of the dilapidated old home. The residence’s state of disrepair was even more evident up close. I found plenty of structural problems but no sign of people. The house was a typical ranch-style affair, simple and square with a shaded porch and a peaked roof. Once painted white, the siding was now peppered with divots and chips, the wood so weathered that the paint had faded to a drab gray or rotted out to reveal pink insulation underneath. A jagged hole in a window on the side of the house facing me had been patched with a piece of cardboard and taped from the inside.
I was beginning to wonder if the house had been condemned when a shadow passed behind the cardboarded window.
“Bingo,” I said.
The sign of life gave me the encouragement I needed. I made myself comfortable by leaning back the driver’s seat. The action also aided in shielding me from snoopy neighbors.
While I waited, my thoughts wandered. If my conviction that I’d finally located Mannheim didn’t keep me glued to my seat, the knowledge that I still stood to make a few grand in profit on this job would have. Ever since I’d learned that a body-hopping offworlder known as the Gatekeeper had bought up my loans, I had even more reason than usual to make a buck. The influential alien hadn’t called in my debts yet, but I lived in fear that he would—or that he’d ask me to do something more distasteful. Vinny, a friend of mine who I’d known for years but only recently discovered to be an offworlder himself, had warned me that the Gatekeeper was dangerous. I wish I had listened to him.
While the sun crept across the sky, I considered the information that led me to this ramshackle house, turning it over for the hundredth time in my mind and looking for any indication that I had been fooled or misled. Public records confirmed that this house belonged to a friend of Travis Mannheim’s. My source also hinted that the homeowner was a drug addict, as bad or worse than my skip, with a checkered history of run-ins with the law.
Fortunately, unlike a police officer, I had no obligation to enforce the letter of the law wherever I found someone in violation. My duty was simply to grab my bail jumper and transport him back to jail where he belonged.
My patience eventually paid off. After a couple hours of munching on stale sunflower seeds, the chainlink fence rattled and someone with a hoodie pulled low over their face jumped in from the yard of an adjacent property and made their way to the back door.
I searched the windows with my binoculars again, trying to confirm that the person who went inside was, in fact, Travis Mannheim. It was likely to be him, since only someone with a guilty conscience would go through the trouble of sneaking in through the back door of a friend’s house, but I waited to be sure.
Once they were in the house, the person pulled back their hood and I was finally rewarded with a glimpse of the man. Tall, mid-thirties, thin and pale with a scraggly beard that grew in patches. He fit Mannheim’s description exactly.
My pulse quickened. This was what being a bounty hunter was all about. When my debts to the Gatekeeper seemed insurmountable, when my eyes felt sandy and every muscle in my body ached, the rush of the hunt kept me going.
I climbed out of my truck and stuffed a pair of handcuffs in one back pocket and a taser in the other. One advantage of being a bounty hunter was that I didn’t need to wear a uniform or carry a badge. That was part of what made us better at catching fugitives than the cops—my jeans, boots, and a faded t-shirt had no reason to make anyone suspicious. The sight of a sidearm, however, would be cause for alarm. Since Mannheim’s MO was to bolt at the first sign of any law enforcement, be it bounty hunters or police, I opted to leave my gun in the truck.
To complete my disguise, I took a clipboard from beneath the pile of litter on my passenger seat. A ballpoint pen was artfully tied to it with string, and the papers it held in place were phonies, old bills and credit card statements I’d taken out of the mail the day I’d left town.
With the clipboard in hand, I strode purposefully through the squeaky chainlink gate, whistling the cheery melody of the jingle for Alek Ludwig’s bail bond business. When I knocked on the doorframe, the rotted wood gave off muted thuds.
No one answered. I knocked again and said, “Hello? Is anyone home?” in the cheeriest salesman voice I could manage.
“Calm down,” a frustrated voice came from inside the house. “I’m coming, aight?”
I didn’t have to fake the grin that spread across my face. When the door swung open, Travis Mannheim stood before me. Greasy blonde hair veiled a long, thin face, and his clothes hung loosely on his frame. He had dark circles under his eyes and cracked lips. My heart hammered in my chest. After two weeks on a wild goose chase, this was too good to be true.
“Howdy,” I said. “How ya doin, fella?”
“What do you want?”
“Are you the homeowner?”
“No.” His eyes darted over his shoulder and a hand drifted to his waist line, scratching at his stomach near near his belt. He shook his head and made as if to close to the door. “We ain’t interested.”
I stepped forward and wedged the door open with one booted foot.
“But you are,” I said, pretending to check the papers on my clipboard, “Travis Mannheim, yes?”
“Wha—” His eyes grew wide as they swept up and down my body. When he came to the inevitable realization, the hand at his waistline reached around to the small of his back and drew out a pistol.
I slammed the side of the clipboard down on his wrist and heard what sounded like a bone crack. The gun thudded against wooden floorboards.
Mannheim threw his shoulder into me, knocking me back a step, and scrambled backward into the house.
“So predictable,” I muttered. I relieved the gun of its magazine and lobbed both pieces into the yard where they vanished in the long grass. As I turned, I caught sight of a disheveled woman out of the corner of my eye. She was slumped on a ripped couch and shivering, as if with extreme cold, or maybe a seizure.
Though my instinct was to help her, if I wanted to catch Mannheim, I didn’t have time. I vaulted over the side of the porch and sprinted around the house. I was halfway to the fence when Mannheim dove out the back door. He tripped on a dried-out water hose that was curled up like a dead snake in the tall grass, stumbling forward and windmilling his arms until he managed to right himself and keep going.
I cut off his angle as he launched toward the fence in the same place I’d seen him come over a few minutes ago. I caught Mannheim as he was attempting to throw one leg over the top. With a fistful of his jeans in my hands, I yanked him down a few feet. Still, he clung on, bucking and thrashing until he nailed me in the chin with the heel of one dirty sneaker.
I tasted copper in my mouth where my tooth had cut the inside of my lip. Annoyed, I reached into my back pocket with one hand and grabbed my taser. Electricity crackled between the prongs as I shoved it up into Travis Mannheim’s ribcage.
He thrashed harder, but this time the movement was involuntary. I leaned back, away from his feet. He finally released his hold on the chainlink fence and tumbled into the uncut grass.
“Dick move, Travis,” I said, spitting blood onto the dirt. “Shouldn’t have kicked me.”
He groaned, which I decided was an appropriate response. While he was down, I wrenched his arms behind his back and handcuffed him.
“Ow, c’mon, man. Go easy!”
I cranked the cuffs down another notch. “Not a chance.”
With one hand on the cuffs, and another on his hoodie near his shoulder blades, I jerked Mannheim to his feet, then directed him back toward the house.
I led Mannheim around to the front and had every intention of taking him straight to my truck. He struggled less and less with each step. By the time I catch a skip, they’re usually resigned to the fact that they’re guilty—you don’t get a bounty hunter sicced on you otherwise.
But as we rounded the corner into the overgrown front yard, I noticed that the front door hung open. That reminded me of what I’d seen inside, and suddenly, I got worried. What if that woman needed help? She could have been dying in there, for all I knew.
Mannheim craned around, presumably to figure out why I’d stopped.
I smacked the back of his head. “Face forward.”
He struggled, but I had all the leverage, and kept him firmly in my grip.
Although I had no obligation to the woman who owned the place, it struck me as unusual that she hadn’t come out to see the spectacle of her so-called friend being handcuffed and dragged away. Usually, even if people in the home had no vested interest in interfering with what I was doing, they would at least come out to watch the show. This woman hadn’t even bothered to get up to close the front door. I’d seen her shivering. What if she needed medical attention?
“What’s up with your friend?” I asked Mannheim as I marched him toward the house. “Should I be worried?”
He smacked his lips and shook his head.
“Don’t you care about her? She let your parole-violating ass stay here.”
“Nah,” he said. Apparently, the woman wasn’t worth a second syllable.
“Nah, you don’t care, or nah, she didn’t let you stay here?”
“Neither, aight? Monica’s a junkie. If the sun’s up, she’s stoned. She barely noticed I was even here.”
That didn’t contradict the information I’d received from Mannheim’s college friend which led me here. If this place was a flophouse, Travis Mannheim could probably come and go as he pleased. It also explained the building’s decrepitude. Junkies weren’t exactly known for their housekeeping abilities.
Still, I’d feel guilty if I found out later that I’d turned my back on someone I could have helped. I didn’t have any Narcan to reverse an overdose, but I could call an ambulance if she was in real trouble. I’d just go in and make sure her heart was still beating. It would only take a second.
I led Mannheim into a filthy living room. The place was even more of a mess than I would have guessed. It was like the front seat of my truck, but on a much larger scale. Food wrappers and discarded clothing littered the scraped wooden floor. Ratty couches lined the walls. A coffee table, overflowing with bent spoons, lighters, plastic baggies, and other drug paraphernalia had been pulled next to a couch against the wall to the right, across from an old television. Marvin the Martian played on the discolored screen. Ah, the irony.
On the couch was the woman I’d seen through the open door earlier. The inside of her elbow and wrist were spotted with what looked like spider bites, a sure sign of an addict.
I shoved Mannheim onto an empty couch. “Stay.”
He rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically, but followed my orders as he tried to get comfortable with his wrists still secured behind his back.
I knelt down next to the woman. She was older, maybe mid-forties though judging by the state of her sallow skin, she could have been mistaken for twenty years older. She had stringy brown hair and wore a pair of denim overalls over a stained, white t-shirt. She continued to shiver like I had seen her do before but up close, I was pretty sure it wasn’t caused by the cold or a seizure—her face wore a serene, stoned expression and her thin lips were curved into a blissful smile. Her eyes were vacant and she convulsed with pleasure.
“What did you give her?” I demanded.
“Nothing!” Mannheim said, indignant. “Monica’s got her own sources.”
I waved my hand in front of the woman’s face. She didn’t respond. I laid the back of my hand against her forehead. Her skin was incredibly hot, practically feverish. The bumps on her arms were a raw, angry red, and there were used needles on the coffee table. Putting two fingers to her neck, I felt for a pulse, and was surprised to find her heart pounding double-time. The comatose behavior was what I would have expected from a heroin addict, but if this was a heroin overdose, she would have had a slowed heart rate rather than an elevated one. To be doubly sure, I gently peeled one eyelid open with my thumb.
Her eye swirled and flashed with a bright burst of orange light.
Inhaling sharply through my nose and slitting my eyes, I peered closer. The hue and degree of brightness wasn’t consistent. It faded and moved, pulsing in and out in time with some unheard rhythm. When the light flared, it shone brilliantly enough to hurt my own eyes. After my vision adjusted, which took no longer than the span of a couple breaths, I made out microscopic movements within the orange light, like tiny, glowing minnows swam in the woman’s irises.
Somewhere outside, wings flapped as a large bird of some kind took flight.
“Gah!” Mannheim exclaimed. He bucked off the couch and hit the floor, backpedaling across the room. The sound had come from a window just behind where he’d been sitting. “Damn grackles… little devils.”
The tiny hairs on my neck stood on end. Was it grackles, as Mannheim assumed? Or had something else been watching us?
“What kind of drug is she on?” I asked.
Mannheim shook his head. “Beats me.”
The woman sank deeper into the couch, tilting onto her side so that her cheek rested against the pillow. Drool pooled there as she continued to shiver-shake and now—how had I not seen it before?—I could tell that a soft orange glow bled out from behind her eyelids even when they were closed.
“You ever seen a drug that does that to your eyes?”
He shrugged as if it wasn’t worth thinking about. “I seen weirder shit. You ever tried ketamine?”
I shook my head.
“How about LSD?”
LSD and ketamine didn’t do that to your eyes. Unexplained weirdness was going on here. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case I’d come here to solve. As long as Monica was still breathing, she was someone else’s problem.
I called 911 and reported an overdose. Then, I yanked Travis Mannheim off the floor and steered him back out onto the porch where I bent to pick up the prop clipboard I’d dropped earlier.
Whatever Monica had taken, I’d bet money I didn’t have that it wasn’t terrestrial in origin. There was only one offworlder I trusted who would be able to tell me more.
But first, I had to get my fugitive to the police station and collect my paycheck.