Hillerman Award Winning Author Robert Kidera is back with the next installment of the Gabe McKenna series, “Midnight Blues.” Fans of Craig Johnson will love Gabe McKenna.
Bestselling author Alan Jacobson says “Robert Kidera mixes in a dash of Elmore Leonard with a pinch of Tony Hillerman and cooks up ‘Get Lost,’ an indulging, classy whodunit featuring an engaging cast of characters you’ll look forward to visiting with again in future Gabe McKenna novels.”
NYT Bestselling author Anne Hillerman says “Midnight Blues’ takes its readers on a remarkable journey filled with chilling evil, fiery valor, and heart-racing suspense. Author Robert Kidera writes with energy, passion and a beautiful appreciation for the power of language. At the end—which came too soon—I felt as though I had been holding my breath on a rollercoaster. Well done and highly recommended.”
In this book Gabe must ask himself, just how high a price is he willing to pay to save the innocent?
Check out the exclusive excerpt only on Suspense Magazine below. To see more about the series, click here
What kind of person would harm a child? I gnawed on that question all one-hundred and thirty-eight miles on the interstate from Albuquerque to the edge of Gallup, New Mexico. A headache climbed aboard at milepost forty-two.
Deke Gagnon, my P.I. partner and a guy known as ‘Onion’ since our childhood days, squirmed in the passenger seat of my Land Cruiser. “Gabe, do we have to do this tonight?”
“Kidnappers don’t wait.”
“Maybe, but three a.m. and me have never been friends.” A litany of his groans and carefully crafted grimaces filled the car.
Onion’s not really that bad. In his own words, he’s a man of many interests. Booze. Broads. Burgers.
He grabbed a flashlight out of the glove compartment, took the batteries out of its casing, put them back in, clicked it on and off, on and off. Then he leaned back in his seat.
A silent breeze blew sand and dust against our windshield. I turned on the washer and wipers to improve my view. No cars on the road, no stars in the sky, and nobody else around.
I crossed Old Route 66 in downtown Gallup and turned onto Vega Place. With half the streetlights burned out, and a cloud-covered, moonless sky above, we crept along at five miles per hour, straining to read the house numbers on a row of tired bungalows. No easy task on a night this dark.
New Mexico’s newest private investigators, we were out on our first case—a frightened mother’s phone call about her missing son.
Onion exhaled, his breath clouding the inside of my van. “You sure this is the right street?”
“Five-Twenty Vega. That’s the address Estrella gave me.”
“She cough up anything else?”
“Not much. Tears got in her way.”
Onion rolled his window down and aimed the flashlight beam onto a dilapidated front porch. “That’s it.”
I eased into the driveway and cut the headlights. “Let’s go.”
We took some hesitant steps toward the front of the weathered cottage. Trumpet vines at the porch corners ran wild, engulfing the wooden posts. Their dragon-claw tentacles reached out, brushing my cheek, sap-sticky on my skin.
We climbed the steps and stood shoulder-to-shoulder before a wooden door that could have used paint. It had a circular etched-glass window and a rusted mail slot, like the front door in my childhood home. I nudged Onion aside. “Let me take the lead on this.”
“Gabe, you’re forgetting I’m the experienced P.I. here.”
I sucked in a breath deep enough to hurt. “You didn’t hear what I heard—a mother with her heart ripped out.” I rang the doorbell and stepped back.
I rang again, and then a third time. Something clattered inside. The porch light flickered on. The door opened an inch, stuck for a moment, and then jolted open all the way with a high-pitched squeal.
“He’s gone.” Estrella Chissie’s face showed pain times ten; her eyes were still small, lifeless and lost. But she’d had her broken tooth fixed, and her lips weren’t battered blue as they were the first time we’d met.
I gave her my gentlest middle-of-the-night-tough-guy smile. “Hello, Estrella. We came as soon as you called. How can we help?”
She raised her hand like she was lifting an anchor. Then her body trembled, her eyes rolled out of sight behind her eyebrows, and she nosedived toward the floor. I caught her by one shoulder. She weighed less than my last dog.
“Lemme give you a hand.” Onion grabbed Estrella’s other shoulder and together we dragged her inside to a dimly-lit living room and laid her on an old brocade couch by the front window.
A second woman, no more than four-and-a-half feet tall, all curly brown hair and tan skin, burst into the room. “Estrella?” I heard a slight Hispanic accent, even in that single word.
I pointed to the front door. “She collapsed. We brought her inside.”
“Thank you, señor.” She knelt and stroked Estrella’s cheeks. “It’s all right, dear.”
Onion and I stood there, fifth and sixth wheels, surrounded by a traffic jam of mismatched furniture that overwhelmed the room. The curtains were drawn, a single overhead light fought the darkness. The whole place smelled like a tomb.
Estrella gurgled, her shoulders shook. One at a time her eyes opened, and she blinked her way back to us. “I am sorry. I do not know what happened.”
“Stay there, dear. Let me get you some water.” The short woman glanced over her shoulder like she noticed me for the first time.
“I’m sorry. My name is Gabe McKenna. Perhaps Estrella’s mentioned me. I helped her out of a jam a couple of months back. She called me earlier this evening.”
I looked to Onion for some guidance. He rubbed his nose. He checked the ceiling light. He shrugged. Thanks, pal.
Estrella motioned to me. I knelt next to her. She spoke in a whisper. “I’ll be okay in a few minutes.” She coughed some color into her cheeks. “Thank you for coming. Could you help me up?”
Onion and I propped her on the couch, then backed off and gave her space for the pain.
She pointed at the woman who’d returned and now stood across the room, a glass of water in her hand. “This is Luna. My sister-in-law. She lives with us.” Estrella’s shoulders slumped, like even that little effort had exhausted her. But she did accept the water from Luna and took a sip.
“Care for some coffee?” Luna looked my way and then at Onion.
We answered in unison. “Please.”
“Is instant okay? It is all we have.”
“That’s fine.” It had already been a long night and I had a three-hour drive back to Albuquerque ahead of me.
Luna smoothed her apron and flashed us our first smile of the night. She turned and scuttled down the hall with the quick, rocking gait of a small dog.
Estrella’s hands never stopped clasping and grasping each other, like she was trying to wash off some stubborn stain. She draped herself at an angle across the couch. Bits of stuffing peeked out next to her knee. The sofa’s dull, green fabric had worn away. An exposed spring nearly reached the floor beneath the nearest cushion.
She swallowed a couple of deep breaths and closed her eyes before speaking again. “He’s gone…” Her voice was as quiet as an empty church, yet it held a startling note of acceptance I wasn’t expecting.
“Tell us what happened. Why you called me. Leave nothing out.” I looked at Onion. He had his spiral notebook and pencil in hand.
“Your son, right?” I nodded to prod her along.
“Yes. Most people call him Jamie. I call him Jay-Jay. He’s seven.” She trembled and leaned forward. “Luna sent him to the pharmacy to pick up my medicine.”
I nodded. “When was this?”
“Yesterday afternoon. An hour went by. I became worried. He’s a good boy, you see. Then I get a phone call at three o’clock.”
“A call from whom?”
“Man or woman’s voice?” I watched her eyes. The truth is in the eyes.
“A man. Mexican accent. Northern Mexico, Norteño. I know people from there. How they speak.”
“What did this man say, exactly?”
“He has Jay-Jay. He wants money.” She shifted around on the couch, the moisture in her eyes reflecting the overhead light. “Señor, I don’t have any money. He demands ten thousand dollars.” She stuck a finger under her glasses and wiped at the tears. “If I don’t pay, he say I never see Jay-Jay again.”
Onion scratched at his jaw. “Why would this man expect you to have that kind of dough?”
“I do not know, sir.” She stared at the ceiling, watery eyes unblinking. Waiting.
I sat next to her on the couch. “Did you recognize this man’s voice? Had you ever heard it before?”
She looked away. “No.”
“Did he give you a deadline to come up with the money?”
“Twenty-four hours. He say twenty-four hours. By tonight.”
She was staring at a clock above the fireplace when Luna returned with two cups of coffee, each set on a thin china plate. She served us like she’d apprenticed at a diner or two somewhere along the line.
The brew was too hot to drink right away. I rested my cup on a small table to my left. Onion placed his on the mantle.
The sister-in-law gasped. “Goodness sakes let me get you something for that.” She hustled off toward the kitchen. I studied the silent, listless Estrella until Luna came back with a tan wooden folding table for Onion’s cup. “There.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” A couple of weeks out west and he’d picked up a twang.
The coffee smelled like burned rubber, but I sipped at it anyway. “Okay, Estrella. You didn’t recognize the man’s voice. He gave you twenty-four hours to come up with ten grand. Did he say where to meet him?”
“I write this down. Permiso por favor.” She reached inside her shirtsleeve and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper, then read it in a soft monotone, “I must bring the money to Red Rock State Park at nine o’clock—that would be tonight. Thursday. Take the Church Rock Trail to a sandstone wall. The wall with foothold grooves in it. He say meet at the base of that wall and give him the money for Jay-Jay.” She handed me her note.
Onion slipped his pencil into a shirt pocket. “So, you’re supposed to meet up with a kidnapper in a remote area late at night?” He shook his head with some force. “Don’t like it at all. More likely he’ll kidnap you too.”
I rubbed my forehead. The headache didn’t budge. “I’m afraid he’s right, Estrella. It’s a sucker bet. I’m familiar with that area from my archeology days. Been there, though not since they made the improvements to the park. Let me check something.” I pulled out my phone and Googled Red Rock State Park. “The park closes each weeknight at eight. How are you supposed to meet him at nine?”
“You’re being lured, ma’am.” Onion closed his notebook. “If all he wanted was money, there are much easier ways to get it.”
Estrella’s eyes glowed with a sudden fire. “I no care. I want my son back. I do whatever he say. I no care what happens to me.” Luna sat at Estrella’s side and wrapped an arm around her. She mewed and cooed. Estrella whimpered. Neither of them spoke.
Onion shrugged and put his coffee cup back on the serving table in front of him. He gave me a slight nod, like the next line was mine.
“Excuse us for a few minutes, would you? I need to speak with my partner.” I motioned toward the door and Onion followed me outside. The porch light was still on. A couple of moths danced about our heads. A cricket chirped a sad lament from somewhere under the porch.
I pointed back toward the house. “What do you think?”
“The lady’s holding back.”
“She knows the man who called her.”
Onion grunted in agreement. “Where’s the husband?”
“I don’t know. But I have an idea how we might find out. Police department back in Grants. That’s where I took Estrella and her kid when I found them in the desert two months ago. Told the cops then I’d be glad to come back and make a statement, but they never asked for one. They must have tried to contact her old man.”
“You think he could be involved in this?”
“I think I want to learn more about the guy.” I stepped over to the front porch railing and looked at the sky. The clouds had blown away, along with any chance of rain. “What time you got?”
Onion still used the pocket watch his dad gave him at our high school graduation. “Three-thirty-two.”
“Doesn’t give us much time. Let me see that notebook for a second.” He handed it to me. I scanned it and put a couple of thoughts together. “I have an idea. Back inside.”