When Gary Foster's pregnant wife becomes gravely ill, their only hope is an experimental treatment available abroad, but the high cost is out of their reach. And Beth's time is running out. That's when a strange man approaches Gary, and offers the money he needs on one condition: that he kills someone. No questions asked. Gary's choice forces him to confront the darkest reaches of his soul and betray those closest to him. And as he's swept up in a nightmare of escalating violence, he must determine just how far he's willing to go to save the woman he loves.
First Chapter or Excerpt
1 Twenty minutes after receiving the worst phone call of his life, Gary Foster pulled his Corolla into the parking lot of McCann Medical Center. He followed the signs directing him to the emergency room and came to a stop in an open stall, slamming on the brakes hard enough to momentarily lock his seat belt. He turned off the car. Threw open the car door. Sprinted to the ER entrance. Inside, three women in green scrubs stood behind the check-in counter. Gary stared at them for a moment, heart thundering in his chest, every muscle in his thirty-nine-year-old body tight with tension. "Someone just called me about my wife," he said. The oldest of the group, a woman with cropped black hair who looked to be in her fifties, stepped out from behind the counter. She asked for Gary's name, then identified herself as Abby Fredrickson, the caller. Gary followed her to an empty nearby waiting area and sat down next to her. "Right now, we don't know much more than what I told you on the phone," Abby said. She lightly touched Gary's knee. "Your wife was at Town Shoppe Mall. Apparently, she just collapsed and started convulsing. Someone called nine-one-one and she was brought here by an ambulance. She was conscious when she arrived and she's undergoing tests right now." Gary slowly shook his head. Not even a half hour ago, he'd received the call. He'd been working at the outdoor-clothing retailer he owned with his brother, Rod-just a normal afternoon at the store, spent putting away inventory and helping the occasional customer-when his cell phone rang, displaying a local 989 Michigan number, one he didn't recognize. Pure terror had settled over him like a suffocating blanket as he listened to the story of his wife's-Beth's-sudden collapse. After the call, he drove straight to McCann Medical Center. "What . . ." Gary said. The word trailed off. He swallowed and felt his Adam's apple bob in his throat. "What happened?" "Beth collapsed at the ma-" "I know," he said. "But why?" Abby shook her head and shrugged. "We'll know more after the testing." "Can I see her?" "She's having a CT scan right now. You can see her once she's finished. It should only be a few minutes." Gary opened his mouth but no words came. He ran a hand through his thinning brown hair and massaged his temples, pausing for a moment to compose himself. He just wanted to be alone, wanted to absorb this horrific news in private. But there was one final question he needed to ask, one question he had to have an answer to. "Abby?" Gary said. He paused, glanced down at his hands, unable to look her in the eye. "The doctors know Beth is pregnant, right?" "Yes," she said. "They noticed the baby bump right away." "Is the baby . . ." "We don't know. We'll know more soon. I'm sorry." Gary slumped down farther in the chair and exhaled. He could not comprehend how his life had been upended in such a short amount of time. "Let me know when you hear from the doctors," he said. "Of course. Please come get me if you have more questions," Abby said. She walked back to the check-in counter. Gary stared out the window at the light snowflakes lazily falling in the parking lot, accumulating on the pavement, sprinkling the windshields of parked cars with an early-March dusting. He saw his reflection in the glass; his face was numb with fatigue, his eyes distant. It was the expression of a man who'd had his soul crushed, the look of a man who could do nothing but helplessly wait to find out whether the unthinkable had happened. Gary waited an agonizing five minutes until a doctor wearing green scrubs approached him. He had black hair, and the short sleeves on the scrubs revealed small, wiry forearms. Not young, but young for a doctor-mid-thirties or so. "Gary, I'm Dr. Simpson," he said, shaking Gary's hand. "I'm the ER doc on duty." Gary followed Dr. Simpson through a set of double doors. Down a long, dark hallway. After fifteen seconds that felt more like fifteen minutes, Dr. Simpson stopped in front of an open door, Patient Room 121, and motioned for Gary to enter. Gary said a silent prayer-the third prayer he'd said since receiving the phone call-and stepped inside. It was a small room with beige walls and no windows. An anatomy poster depicting the muscles of the human body was taped on the wall above a small desk. In the middle of the room was a hospital bed, elevated at a slight incline. Sitting on the edge of the bed, her legs crossed and hands resting in her lap, was his wife. Beth. She wore a loose hospital gown that covered her petite, ramrod-straight body. Her light brunette hair was pulled back into a ponytail, revealing the delicate features of her face. Gary rushed to the bed, leaned over, and hugged her. "It's so great to see you," she whispered. Blinking back tears, Gary ran his hands over her hair and rubbed her back through the thin fabric of the gown. He held her for a moment longer, then sat down on the bed beside her. Dr. Simpson pulled a stool from under the desk and dragged it over to them. "What have you been told so far, Gary?" he asked as he sat down. Gary reached over and grabbed Beth's hand, squeezed hard. "All I know is that Beth collapsed and was rushed here." "She was fully conscious and cognizant when she arrived," Dr. Simpson said. "After a few tests determined she was in no immediate danger, we performed an ultrasound. Your baby boy's heart rate is strong and within the expected limits, and everything on the ultrasound looked fine. He wasn't harmed in the fall." Gary looked down at the basketball-sized bump protruding against Beth's hospital gown. Only six months ago, they'd found out about the pregnancy. After years of failed attempts, they'd accepted that starting a family through traditional means just wasn't going to happen. They'd started looking into adoption, possibly from China. But when Gary returned home from a long day at the store last September and Beth greeted him by handing him a positive pregnancy test, they'd danced around and celebrated like teenagers. It had been the most surprising, euphoric moment of their marriage. "Our goal now is to figure out why this happened," Dr. Simpson continued. "Blood pressure will often rise and fall dramatically during pregnancy, and that can cause light-headedness, even fainting. But this was more than a dizzy spell. According to witnesses, Beth's entire body was convulsing when she collapsed. To try to learn what caused this, we'd like to perform a few more tests and scans." Gary looked over at Beth. She stared back and slowly nodded her head-clearly, she'd already been told all of this. "I'm sorry, but the only advice I can give you now is to stay positive until we have some answers," Dr. Simpson said. "We'll expedite Beth's results and should know more in a few hours." Gary closed his eyes. Paused. Took a moment to let it all sink in. "I realize this is a lot to hear," Dr. Simpson said. "Do you have any questions for me?" Gary opened his eyes and blankly stared at Dr. Simpson. Questions? Only about a million of them. As Gary Foster and his wife waited in the hospital, a man halfway across the city nervously paced around the sales floor of a pawnshop named Solid Gold Pawn. He walked back and forth, back and forth, from the windows covered with iron bars at the front of the shop to the checkout counter in the rear, passing shelves and glass display cases filled with watches, electronics, and other assorted merchandise. His legs were unsteady and his hands trembled with nerves. His mouth was downturned, absolute worry etched over his face. He had much to worry about. His entire life was caving in around him. And he had no idea what to do. His name was Otto Brennan. He was in his mid-forties, but his unforgiving face made him look older. Laugh lines spiderwebbed from the corners of his cold, snakelike eyes, but the lines weren't from years of enjoying laughter and merriment with friends. A tight tan T-shirt revealed skinny, pasty white forearms covered in tattoos, a crisscross pattern of winding designs. His head was shaved completely bald. More pacing. He moved with a slight hitch in his step, a limp that was a result of a bullet shattering his left kneecap when he was a teenager. Otto looked at the room surrounding him as he walked, as if the answer to all of his problems were resting on a shelf next to the display of photo equipment or hanging from the wall above the laptop computers. But there was no answer anywhere. Just merchandise. Stacks and displays of stupid shit he'd purchased from customers over the years. The pawnshop's front door rattled open and he snapped his head toward it, alarmed. A Hispanic guy in his twenties stood in the doorway. The sides of his head were shaved but the hair on top was braided in tight cornrows. Underneath one arm, he carried a black flat-screen television. "Yo," the younger guy said. The pawnshop door shut behind him. "Hey, Carlos," Otto said. His voice was scratchy, like his larynx was wrapped in sandpaper. Otto walked behind the counter and sat down. "I got a TV for sale," Carlos said, setting the TV on the countertop. "Heard this was a good place to sell it." "How much you want for it?" Otto asked. "How much you gonna offer?" "I'll give you fifty bucks," Otto said, making the offer without even looking at the television. "Shit, fifty bucks? It's worth a hell of a lot more than that." "So make a counteroffer." Carlos paused for a moment. He appeared to be a man deeply contemplating his offer, but Otto knew it was an act. "I'll take two hundred thousand dollars for it," Carlos said. "Two hundred grand seems like a fair price to me." Despite everything going on in his life, Otto reacted to Carlos's offer with a tight, restrained smile. He couldn't help it. He and Carlos took part in these phony negotiations every time Carlos showed up at Solid Gold Pawn with something to sell. By now, these exchanges were an old song with a familiar tune, something they did for their own amusement. "Two hundred thousand dollars, you say?" Otto said, keeping it going. "Yeah." "Seems pretty pricey for a cheap-ass TV." "The TV's worth every penny-believe me," Carlos said. "Piece of shit probably doesn't even work." "How about I carry this downstairs?" Carlos said, picking up the television. "You can inspect it down there, appreciate some of its finer details. See what makes it so valuable." "Let's go," Otto said. Otto walked over to a display of ten electric guitars hanging from the wall. He nudged the gray wainscoting next to the guitars and a hidden door slowly swung open, revealing a darkened wooden staircase that led down to the basement. He flipped a switch on the wall and a light at the base of the stairs flickered on. They descended the stairs and reached a shadowy room roughly half the size of the sales floor above. It looked like a mini warehouse, with large cardboard boxes stacked on metal storage racks pushed against the walls. The boxes contained various items Otto had purchased for the pawnshop, the contents scrawled on the outside in Sharpie-video games, books, car stereos. In the middle of the room was a stainless-steel table, as wide as a card table and twice as long. Carlos followed Otto over to it and set the television on top. "Think I'll take a closer look at this fine piece of equipment," Otto said. "Be my guest." A toolbox rested on top of the metal table, right next to the television. Otto grabbed a hammer from inside and hefted it in his hand, feeling its weight. "Take a step back," he said to Carlos. Carlos did as requested. Otto swung the hammer against the television screen, shattering it. He set down the hammer and snaked his hand past a few jagged shards of black glass that were still stuck in the frame. He grabbed a cellophane-wrapped package duct-taped inside the television and put it on the table. One by one, he lifted three more identical packages from inside. "Told you the TV was worth two hundred grand," Carlos said. "Fresh from Xalisco. Four kilos of black tar heroin, straight Mexican Mud." "This looks good," Otto said. "Then let's get to it. I got places to go. Our cut of last month's profits plus the cost of this stuff is two hundred grand. Fork over the cash." Otto paused. He looked at the four cellophane-wrapped packages lined up on the table, stared at them for a moment before looking back up at Carlos. "Listen," he said. "I don't got the cash." Carlos's eyes hardened. The hint of a smile on his face vanished. His casual, joking demeanor was gone-this was business now, pure and simple. "You don't got the cash?" Carlos said. Even his voice had changed-it sounded deeper, more menacing. "Not right now." "Is this some kinda joke?" "No joke. I'm serious." Carlos glared at him, the emotion completely drained from his face. "What the fuck, Otto?" "I'll have the money in a couple months." "A couple months? Fuck that. What the hell am I supposed to tell De La Fuente?" "Tell him exactly what I just told you. Something came up and I don't got the cash right now. I'll get it to him later." Carlos pinched his nose and ran his hand along his jawline. "Are you out of your mind? You're gonna stiff De La Fuente?" "I ain't stiffing him. Make sure he understands that. I'm just delaying payment for a few months. He'll get his money later." "He's gonna go ballistic." "I know," Otto said. He tried to speak coolly, but his voice quavered. "I need you to help me out here. Tell De La Fuente I'm good for this." Carlos shook his head. "I'll do what I can, Otto. But this ain't no joke." They walked across the basement and ascended the stairs, the creaking of the rotting wood underneath them the only sound in the stairwell. Back upstairs, Carlos turned around and faced Otto. "So, what's up?" Carlos said. "Between you and me, what's going on?" "Just some shit." "Gotta be pretty serious to screw De La Fuente out of nearly two hundred grand. This is the head of the El Este cartel you're fucking with, bro. He didn't get to where he is by letting people pull shit like this on him." Excerpted from Killer Choice by Tom Hunt All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.