New York Times bestselling author Roy Johansen delivers a thrill-a-minute read featuring a fearless heroine for hire.
Kendra Michaels, blind before gaining her sight via a revolutionary surgical procedure, offers her razor-sharp senses to assist her friend Jessie Mercado in a baffling case. An army vet and former bodyguard for the rich and famous, Jessie has faced all kinds of danger but one thing the motorcycle-riding private investigator has never encountered before is an incarceration consultant.
Preparing wealthy people to go to prison is big business. When Owen Blake of Mamertine Consulting hires Mercado to find his missing partner, their suspect list is filled with recently released white-collar criminals, a few drug kingpins, and a couple of murderers to keep things interesting.
As witnesses turn up dead and car chases leave destruction in their wake, Jessie and Kendra learn just how far someone will go to keep the fate of one man hidden. But why? Together they must hunt down the lethal secrets of Blake’s company, hell-bent on staying one step ahead of disaster.
Killer View by Roy Johansen
SERIES n/a; standalone | GENRE Adult Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense
PUBLISHER Grand Central Publishing | PUBLICATION DATE March 8, 2022
KEEP READING TO SEE AN EXCERPT!
A Standalone Novel
© 2022 Roy Johansen
She should have taken the million dollars.
Jessie Mercado squirmed in the back of the police car and tugged at the handcuffs clamped around her wrists. If she’d taken that lucrative job offer, she’d be in San Francisco now, probably pushing her way through a dance club and clearing a path as security director for her twenty-year-old pop-star boss.
And she’d be hating life even more than she did at this very moment. But at least she’d be a millionaire.
Jessie sniffed the air. “Hey,” she called out to the uniformed officer sitting in the passenger seat. “This squad car smells like puke. Doesn’t somebody hose these things out at the end of every shift?”
Officer Gataki snorted. “Union issues. Deal with it. I have to spend eight hours in this thing every day, so pardon me if I don’t feel bad for you.”
“Not looking for sympathy, Gataki.” She glanced around. “So where’s your partner?”
“Probably talking about what in the hell we’ll do with you.”
“You’re taking me to your station, right? I’ll make bail and be home in my jammies in time for Jimmy Kimmel.”
“I didn’t figure you for the jammies type.”
“I use the term loosely. Sweatpants and a tank top.”
“Okay, that I can picture.”
“Please don’t.” Jessie leaned back against the stinky rear seat. She’d just celebrated her two-year anniversary as a private investigator, an occupation that had yielded some decent rewards along with heavy doses of frustration.
This was one for the frustration column.
It was a quarter past 9:00 P.M. in Marina del Rey, and they were parked alongside a ninety-foot yacht that belonged to basketball star Lamar Wood, L.A. Laker point guard and all-around local hero. She’d been arrested after being caught inside the apparently deserted craft. There were now half a dozen police cruisers nearby, flashers on. She suspected most of the cops were here only because Wood himself was expected on the scene at any minute.
Gataki turned back. “So what’s it like in there?”
“Like it belongs to a guy halfway through a five-hundred-and-seventy-million-dollar contract. With a raft of endorsement deals to match. Nice. Really nice. You can see for yourself if you’ll just search the place.”
“We’d need probable cause for that.”
“His kids are on that boat. I’m sure of it. He’s going to leave the country with them.”
“So you say.”
“So his wife says.”
“She’s my client. Wood has been threatening to whisk those kids away for the last year, and I think it’s going to happen tonight. Someone broke into the wife’s house today and stole the kids’ passports.”
“But not just the passports,” Gataki said. “From what I hear, they emptied the safe.”
“He had to do that. Otherwise it would be too obvious.”
Gataki reacted with a start, but Jessie had already seen Lieutenant Dan Wheeler approaching in the rearview mirror. Why in the hell was he here?
“Let me in back,” Wheeler shouted through the closed window.
Gataki unlocked the doors, and Wheeler climbed in next to Jessie. He looked at her and just shook his head. Wheeler was a good-looking cop, maybe forty, with chiseled features and gray-brown hair.
“Doesn’t seem like your beat,” Jessie said. “Did they demote you from homicide, Wheeler?”
“I was in the neighborhood.”
“Ah. So you wanted a selfie with the basketball star.”
“Nah. Not my game. I’m more of a Dodgers fan.”
“Then what brings you here?”
“Like I said, I was in the neighborhood.” Wheeler shot her a sideways glance. “And I guess I’ve gotten a rep as someone on the force who can work with you without wanting to slit my wrists.”
“Aw, you’re sweet.”
“This isn’t just going to go away, Jessie. Lamar Wood is practically royalty in this city, and the media is already all over it.”
“Good. The whole world will know he’s abducted those kids.”
“His own kids. We’ve already been in touch with him. He says they’re camping with his sister up in Yosemite.”
“Out of cell phone range. Convenient.”
Wheeler shook his head. “Jessie, can you even admit the possibility that you may be wrong?”
“Sure. Just not tonight.”
“You always say that.”
“Ask him when he gets here. See if he’ll let your men search the yacht. How much you wanna bet he won’t?”
A pair of headlight beams swung over the squad car’s rear window. Wheeler leaned back to look. “It’s a big Range Rover. Probably Wood. I’m supposed to apologize to him and do what I can to keep this from becoming a media firestorm.”
“Bring on the firestorm.”
“It wouldn’t be good for you, Jessie.”
“Only if I’m wrong.”
Wheeler sighed. He climbed out of the car, slammed the door closed behind him, and walked over to the Range Rover. After a moment, Lamar Wood emerged. All seven-foot-one of him. Wood was attractive and well proportioned, without the gangly look that many men his size possessed. His aviator sunglasses were his trademark, and he wore them even now, at night and in the dim illumination of the marina streetlights.
Jessie saw Wood extend his hand as half a dozen cops converged on the basketball star. Wheeler spoke to him for a minute, gesturing a few times between Jessie and his yacht.
“He’s nervous,” Jessie said to herself. “He’s not happy.”
“You broke into his freakin’ yacht,” Officer Gataki said from the front seat.
“It’s more than that.” Jessie’s eyes narrowed on Wood. “Oh, shit.”
“What is it?”
Wood shook Wheeler’s hand and then bounded up the short ramp to his yacht’s stern. Wheeler walked back to the squad car and made the rolling-window-down motion with his hand. Gataki obliged by powering down the rear window.
“So what’s going on?” Jessie said.
“He’s going in to make sure everything is in order. Then he’ll tell us if he wants to press charges or not.”
Jessie clicked her tongue. “I guess you didn’t notice the outline in his shirt pocket.”
“Jeez, Wheeler. I could see it from here. It looked exactly like the dimensions of a passport. Maybe two passports.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
The yacht’s engine suddenly roared to life.
Wheeler turned back toward the yacht. “No freakin’ way.”
Wood’s boat lurched from its mooring. The cops scrambled, obviously unsure what to do.
“It’s been untied!” one of the cops shouted. “He’s taking off!”
“Shit.” Wheeler pointed to an officer who had just driven up. “Call dispatch. Get Harbor Patrol on it.”
Jessie leaned out of her open window. “You won’t need Harbor Patrol.”
Wheeler looked back at her with annoyance. “Why the hell not?”
Before she could reply, the boat’s engine sputtered, and the hull echoed with the sound of grinding gears. The boat drifted lazily just a few feet from the ramp.
Wheeler half smiled. “What did you do, Jessie?”
She shrugged. “The engine might need a good flush now. That’s all I’m saying.”
Wheeler turned to the officers. “Get on that boat and search it top-to-bottom. There may be two kids aboard.”
The officers ran down the ramp and leaped over to the yacht.
Jessie called out to Wheeler. “Hey, I can help.”
“Don’t push it, Jessie.”
* * *
Ten minutes later, the boat had been tied up and the cops were escorting basketball superstar Lamar Wood from the boat, along with his two children, Tricia and Alexander. Wood glared at Jessie as he was placed into the back of an LAPD squad car.
“Huh,” Jessie said. “I wonder if that one smells like puke, too.”
Wheeler walked back toward her car and rapped on the roof. “Okay, Gataki. Let her go.”
Without a word, Gataki exited, pulled Jessie from the back, and unlocked her handcuffs.
Jessie smiled at Wheeler. “Where’d you find them?”
“Lamar had the kids hiding in the galley pantry. They thought they were playing the coolest game of hide-and-seek ever.”
Jessie rubbed her wrists. “They probably were. You need anything from me?”
“Nah. The kids’ mother has already been notified. She’s gonna meet them at the station.” He raised his left hand to show he was holding a pair of passports. “Good catch, Jessie.”
“It looks like he was headed to Panama if the navigation maps are any indication. From there, who knows? Those kids would’ve been hard to get back.”
“That’s what my client was afraid of.”
He called over his shoulder as he walked away. “Stay out of trouble, will you?”
She replied under her breath. “Easier said than done.”
A familiar female voice called out behind her. “Just another night in the life of Jessie Mercado, huh?”
Jessie turned. “Kendra?”
Kendra Michaels stepped from the shadows. Kendra was probably her best friend, a San Diego music therapist whose powers of observation made her a go-to consultant in several high-profile law-enforcement investigations. Her senses of hearing, smell, touch, and taste were honed by her first two decades as a blind person, and since gaining her sight, Kendra took nothing she saw for granted, making her a formidable investigator.
Kendra laughed. “You know, something about seeing you handcuffed in the back of that police car…it looked right.”
Jessie smiled. “Screw you. Though I have to admit it’s not the first time I’ve been in that situation.”
“Ooh, I need to hear about that.”
“Another story for another time.” Jessie gave her friend a hug and drew back. “So what in the hell are you doing here?”
“A friend in the LAPD tipped me off. He said you were in police custody and might need a hand. It so happened I’m in town to present a paper at USC, so I came over to see for myself.”
“Glad to give you an evening’s entertainment.”
“You never disappoint. I thought I might help pull a few strings, but you obviously have things under control.”
“This time. But thanks for the thought,” Jessie said.
“I was going to call you anyway.”
“You got a craving for the El Coyote Cantina and their cheap margaritas?”
“I’m always up for that. But this time it’s about a job. I may have a client for you.”
Jessie nodded. “Good timing. It looks like I’m suddenly available. What’s the case? Philandering husband? Sticky-fingered employee?”
Jessie smiled in amusement. “Someone who wants to be missing?”
“Difficult to say. He’s the business partner of a friend of mine. He disappeared two days ago.”
“Sounds like a job for the police.”
“They’re on it, but they’re not taking it seriously. At least not yet. The partner disappeared with a good-size chunk of the firm’s cash reserves.”
“Hmm. What kind of business?”
“I think…” She frowned. “Maybe I’d like my friend to explain that to you.”
Jessie wrinkled her brow. “What’s the big secret?”
“No secret. It’s…an interesting firm.”
Jessie looked at her for a moment longer. It wasn’t like Kendra to be so coy. “Is it something illegal?”
“No.” Kendra smiled. “Is that the kind of business you think I’d toss your way?”
“No, but sometimes you get drawn into some unusual situations.”
“I just think he can explain it better than I could and answer any questions you might have.”
“If he’s your friend, why aren’t you helping him out?”
“That’s what he said. He’s not really my friend. He’s the father of one of my students. I told him that the best way I could help him was to refer his case to you.”
Jessie raised her eyebrows. “And he was okay with that?”
“I didn’t give him any choice. I’m leaving for a symposium in Vilnius tomorrow.”
“Lithuania? Wow. That’s some serious avoidance.”
“I always told you, my music therapy research comes first.”
“You have a gift, Kendra. You really shouldn’t turn your back on it.”
Kendra shook her head. She’d obviously heard it many times before, including from several law-enforcement agencies that had tried to recruit her over the years. But she ignored it and went her own path. So did Jessie, which was probably why they were such good friends.
“Whatever,” Kendra said. “You want the job or not?”
Jessie shrugged. “I’ll talk to the guy. Have him come to my office tomorrow.”
“Actually…he’s anxious. Frantic, even. Any way you can meet with him now?”
“He’s texted me three times in the last hour, ever since I told him about you.”
Jessie watched two of the police cars pull away. “Did you tell him I was being arrested?”
“I left that part out.”
“It’s already been a hell of a night.” She thought about it. “Why not? Can he be at my office in half an hour?”
“He lives in the Palisades. I’m sure he can swing that.”
“Thanks, Jessie.” Kendra raised her phone and tapped out a text. Before she could even lower it, a reply chimed in. She looked up. “Told you he was eager. He says he’ll be there. I’ll follow you there and make the introduction.”
She grinned. “Sounds like a plan.”
* * *
In less than twenty minutes, Jessie and Kendra parked in front of a revival movie theater on Santa Monica’s Montana Avenue, in a charming block lined with boutiques and small restaurants. Kendra looked up at the theater’s neon marquee, which advertised a double-feature of Thin Man films.
“Ever seen a movie here?”
Jessie shook her head. “No, even though I can go for free anytime I want. One of the perks of having a movie theater as a landlord. I do stop in the lobby for popcorn once in a while. It’s pretty good.”
They walked around the theater’s vine-covered east side and headed back toward a metal security gate in the shadows, next to a small plaque that read JESSIE MERCADO INVESTIGATIONS. A silver keypad was mounted next to the door, onto which Jessie punched a six-digit number. The lock buzzed. Jessie opened the door and led Kendra up a long stairway that ended in a small reception area. The carpeted room was decorated with a desk, a sofa, and two wing-backed chairs.
“Did you ever find a new receptionist?” Kendra asked.
“Three since you’ve been here last. None of them lasted a week.”
“You must be a tough boss.”
“Why? Because I didn’t like that the last one had sex with a client on that desk?”
“Yeah. I fired her and the client. And I still may have to burn the desk.”
Jessie flipped on the lights, and they walked back to her main office. The room preserved the 1930s-era design of the theater downstairs with stylish light fixtures and a large mahogany desk. Matching wood accent panels and window shutters lined the corner office, and the rest of the wall was populated by framed photographs.
Kendra listened to the faint bass sounds coming from the theater under them. “I think the movies would bother me.”
“I usually don’t even hear them unless it’s a war film or a Western. The Wild Bunch gave me some issues.”
A buzzer sounded from Jessie’s desk phone. She picked it up and heard a man’s voice. “Owen Blake here for Jessie Mercado.”
“You’re in the right place. Come on up.” She buzzed him in, and they heard his footsteps on the steep stairway. After a moment, Owen Blake appeared in the office. Owen was a handsome man with a layered haircut that probably set him back four hundred bucks every month or so, Jessie figured, probably in the same neighborhood where he picked up his expensive blue tailored suit. His shirt was open, but the creases on his collar indicated he’d been wearing a tie earlier in the day. His face was tense, jibing with Kendra’s description of his anxious state of mind.
Jessie crossed behind her desk while Kendra made the introductions. “Jessie Mercado, Owen Blake. Jessie just wrapped up a case tonight—in the last hour, actually—and she’s doing me a favor by opening up the office for you.”
“I appreciate it,” he said. “It’s been a rough time.”
“So Kendra tells me. Mr. Blake—”
Jessie nodded. “Owen, I usually start by telling prospective clients a little about myself.”
“I appreciate the confidence, but you may want to know—”
“I’ve spent a good part of the day researching you, Jessie. I already know everything I need to know.”
Jessie shot a glance toward Kendra. “Is that right?”
“It must have been a fascinating day for you,” she said sarcastically.
“Oh, it was. You’ve lived quite a life.” Owen looked at the framed photographs, which illustrated his point. “Two tours in Afghanistan, then one of the all-time champions on the American Ninja TV show. I watched some of your clips from that on YouTube this afternoon. Very impressive.”
“Hardly,” Jessie said. “But it paid some bills while I figured out what I wanted to do with my life.”
“And it somehow led to you being a rock star’s security director. How’d that happen?”
Jessie shrugged. “Delilah Winter saw me on that show and offered me a spot on her security detail. After a few weeks, I saw some things that could be improved, and Delilah agreed. She put me in charge.”
“Simple as that?”
“Pretty much. But after a couple of years, I decided to strike out on my own and start this firm. It’s worked out so far.”
“Obviously, but I have one question. It’s about something I read in Rolling Stone.”
Kendra smiled. “Here we go…”
Jessie flashed a pained smile. Hardly a day passed that someone didn’t ask her about that story. She’d wanted to strangle Dee for giving it to Rolling Stone magazine.
“Delilah Winter said she brought you a million dollars in cash to try and convince you to come back and work security for her world tour. Is that true?”
“Yep. She brought it in a knapsack and dumped it all over this desk.”
“Excellent salesmanship on her part. Trust me, it looked damn good here. But I turned her down. This is where I belong.”
He nodded approvingly. “Good. That’s what I want to hear. Someone who’s dedicated to her work.”
“That’s me.” Jessie needed to change the subject. She sat and motioned toward the chairs in front of her desk. “Now I need to hear about you.”
“I don’t know what Kendra has told you…”
“Less than I’d like.” She cast a sideways glance at her friend. “I know your partner has gone missing. But you can start by telling me about your business. What do you do?”
“We help people go to jail.”
He repeated himself, emphasizing each word. “We help people go to jail.”
She crossed her arms. “Tough business model. People usually try not to go to jail.”
“True. But if they try that and it doesn’t work, then they come to us. We’re personal incarceration consultants. I’m an attorney, and my partner is from a private security background. When someone is going to prison for months or years, they need help getting their affairs in order. We work with accountants, financial planners, real estate managers, and whoever else we need. There are families who need to be taken care of, businesses and obligations that still need to be met. The world doesn’t stop turning just because they’re in prison. We negotiate with creditors and tax authorities, and we sometimes even help them negotiate the job market when they get out.”
Jessie nodded. “A full-service operation. I take it most of your clientele has been convicted of white-collar crimes?”
“Mostly. But we do have the occasional drug lord and organized crime figure. And a couple of murderers.”
“Of course,” she said solemnly. “Just to shake things up.”
Owen smiled. “It’s never dull.”
“So what happened to your partner?”
ROY JOHANSEN began his professional writing career with his original screenplay for “Murder 101,” written in college and for which he won the national FOCUS (Films Of College and University Students) award, a competition sponsored by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese. The screenplay was later produced for cable television and starred Pierce Brosnan. The “Murder 101” script was awarded the Edgar Allen Poe award in the Best Television Miniseries or Movie category from the Mystery Writers of America.
Later, Johansen collaborated with comic book legend Stan Lee in creating The Accuser superhero character, which appeared in a series of adventures from Stan Lee media. Johansen has written screenplays for Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Disney, and MGM.
More recently, Johansen has written several New York Times bestselling mystery novels, including THE ANSWER MAN, BEYOND BELIEF, DEADLY VISIONS, and the Kendra Michaels series (co-authored with Iris Johansen) that includes CLOSE YOUR EYES, SIGHT UNSEEN, THE NAKED EYE, NIGHT WATCH, LOOK BEHIND YOU, DOUBLE BLIND, HINDSIGHT, and BLINK OF AN EYE.