Embers & Ash (A Cold Fury Novel)

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9780147515537: Embers & Ash (A Cold Fury Novel)

Sara Jane Rispoli is willing to do whatever it takes to finally end this terrible journey—even if the price is her own life.

The very cold fury that has seen her through the worst of her troubles is now killing her; she knows the cure, but she can't sacrifice the deadly electricity until she's rescued her family. But when she finally does rescue them, it's not the happy reunion she pictured. And the torment doesn't stop there, not even when she finally discovers Ultimate Power. Only destroying the Outfit completely can end this terrible nightmare. Old enemies return to seek vengeance, double-crosses abound, and even more mysteries are uncovered as we rocket toward an end no one saw coming.
“Goeglein keeps up his uncanny ability to channel a strong, smart, teen heroine; weave Chicago’s Capone era into the twenty-first century; and create a rich supporting cast.”—Booklist

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About the Author:

T.M. Goeglein (www.tmgoeglein.com) began his career as a writer of print and television ads for a host of advertising and media companies. As a screenwriter, he created both original scripts and worked as a script doctor for several production companies in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @TMGoeglein.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


THE SKY ROARED AND FLASHED AS A VIOLENT thunderstorm clustered over Chicago.

By late afternoon, dense clouds made it as dark as midnight. Rain fell like bullets as muddy ponds rose up, engulfing avenues, and electrical lines came down, blacking out neighborhoods. It had been an agonizing month to the day since someone disguised as one of Juan Kone’s ice cream creatures—those poor, addicted teens—disappeared into the void with my family.

An ominous Saturday if ever there was one.

I’d just finished presiding over a sit-down and was rushing to my hideout, the Bird Cage Club, when Doug Stuffins, my best friend, sent me an urgent text message:

SJ—Get back here on the double! Major breakthrough in ToOI!

He didn’t have to tell me to hurry. Those four little letters did the trick. They stood for Troika of Outfit Influence (I still didn’t know if it was an object or a location), beneath which ultimate power was buried. It, too, was a mystery; the notebook spoke of ultimate power and provided a key to its vault, but did not reveal what it was.

I believed in it because there was nothing else to believe in.

Ironically, a mortal enemy strengthened my faith in the existence of ultimate power and its ability to help save my family. Elzy, my former nanny and recent assailant who’d vanished, had been crazed to get the notebook from me; she was certain that a secret existed among those old pages—a secret so strong that it could conquer the Outfit.

I hoped she was right.

I hoped so hard that I stopped paying attention and drove into a trap.

In the street ahead, a fallen electrical line jumped like a cobra on fire, spitting sparks. A skinny ComEd guy in a reflective vest and helmet used a flashlight to divert traffic around it, sending me down a flooded backstreet. I obeyed, driving slowly as water seeped beneath the doors of my car. Between slapping windshield wipers, I peered at a larger, burly ComEd guy waving me to a halt. The utility van sat with its orange siren twirling in the storm. It seemed so real that I stopped, just as instructed, sitting like a complacent fool until I saw his goggles.

They were just like those worn by the other men who’d been chasing me for the past week—actually, less chasing than tracking, as if I were a deer in the woods rather than a girl in a 1965 Lincoln Continental.

My latest pursuers were invisible until the last second, sneaking up in the rolling camouflage of the city—garbage trucks, taxicabs, and other vehicles that blended in unnoticed—until I realized how fast they were approaching. I’d escaped each previous time because I’d been hyperalert, as usual, and driving really, really fast. But now I’d been distracted by Doug’s text and found myself sitting stupidly, motionlessly, staring at the burly guy.

If the goggles were meant to block cold fury, they were a weak defense.

Then I saw a claw-head hammer in his hand.

He swung once, shattering the driver’s window into jagged bits.

I leaped for the passenger side but the other ComEd guy, the skinny one in the reflective vest, was jerking at the door, battering the window with the flashlight. He wore the same goggles above a gaunt face decorated with a dark goatee.

I pushed into the back of the Lincoln, scrabbling at the seats, pulling them down, and rolling inside the trunk. The old car is more than just a vehicle—it’s a V8-charged weapon equipped for bad situations, stocked with water, a tire iron, disposable phones, a baseball bat, and the steel briefcase holding the .45. I knew then that the power line hadn’t fallen—it had been pulled down to stop me. I grasped for the briefcase, desperate for the gun inside, and cursed myself, remembering it had no bullets. I’d taken Doug to a deserted warehouse to teach him to shoot correctly, and hadn’t refilled the clip.

And then my assailants were splashing toward the back of the car.

I heard them muttering, making a plan under the pelting rain.

There was nothing to do but fight.

I grabbed the baseball bat, held tight, and kicked open the trunk top.

It hit something hard—the face of the skinny guy—there was a grunt, and he fell, and then the hammer barreled toward my face.

I held the bat wide, a hand at each end, catching the powerful blow as a metal claw splintered wood. The burly guy reared back for another shot but I dodged it, swinging awkwardly, missing him but knocking the hammer from his grip. He reacted quickly, grabbing the bat. I held on to it and he pulled so hard that I flew from the car. Now he had the bat while I went headfirst into cold water, scrambling away as he crushed the spot where I’d lain seconds before.

The skinny guy with the goatee was on his back, groaning, and I was on my feet, running, when the burly one grabbed my collar and flung me toward the Lincoln.

Spinning like a top, I hit the bumper and fell to my knees, hearing the burly guy sloshing toward me. I plunged a hand inside the open trunk, fingers grazing metal, and yanked out the tire iron. With jelly for legs, I gripped the weapon and turned toward the big man, who grinned. “You’re going to lose, girl,” he said, sounding like, Yoord goink to loose, girdle, his voice riddled with a thick accent.

“Maybe,” I said, “but when you see your face in the morning, I guarantee you won’t feel like a winner.”

He smiled again, lifted the bat, and swung. It was like an opponent in a boxing ring throwing a huge roundhouse right, except that it was a thirty-two-ounce Louisville Slugger instead of a fist. I went low, hearing it whoosh above my head, and came up behind him. He turned and alarm flashed in his eyes as I swung the tire iron. Lightning cut the sky like an electric whip and I saw it clearly—the ComEd helmet circling through the air, the guy pirouetting like a three-hundred-pound ballerina, and his skull. I don’t mean his own, which was bald, and bleeding where I’d hit him, but a smaller one, with evil eyes, tattooed on his forehead. There was time for one thought as thunder boomed like a cannon—What kind of freak tattoos a skull on his own head?!—before I broke and ran, going headfirst into water again with Goatee holding my ankle. I brought the tire iron down and heard fingers crunch like dry twigs, the guy making kicked-dog noises as I waded down the alley. Soaked strands of hair covered my face like overcooked spaghetti and I spit rain, pushing past downspouts that were puking liquid gunk. It was like fleeing through quicksand, and I heard shouting and the whining of an engine.

I looked behind me.

The van’s emergency light made orange ripples in puddles as the vehicle cut through the deluge and halted a few feet away. Skull Head climbed from behind the wheel and slung the bat over a shoulder like a caveman hunting meat. Goatee got out of the other seat and angled around me, pointing a gun with his unbroken hand, until I was surrounded.

His words were plain and cold; he was saying, “It ends now,” sounding like, Eet ainds now-uh. I nodded slowly, dropped the tire iron, and raised my hands, signaling surrender, and then rushed him, tucking and rolling like a gymnast as he fired over me. A double boom! was followed by the chik! of a bullet biting brick and the meatier thook! of another piercing Skull Head’s skull. He huffed once and toppled into a puddle, dead in a second. The shock of it froze Goatee until he turned his jaw into the freight train of my left hook and went down hard, the gun skidding away. I jammed a knee into his chest, pulled his face toward mine, and saw that I’d been mistaken—a goatee didn’t occupy his chin. Instead, it was a dark, angular tattoo of a devil’s leering face.

I blinked once, cold fury flickered and burned, and I grabbed his gaze, trying to find the mental swamp where his deepest fear lived, but—

“My own brother . . . I kill him . . . it’s your fault . . . ,” Goatee mumbled.

—I couldn’t locate a single image, not one looping film clip; his mind was shut off to me. Vibrating heart to bone, I said, “Who the hell are you?! What do you want?!”

Goatee spit, smiled with bloody teeth, and said, “Eh, fug you, stupid girl!”

It had to be the goggles—they were blocking cold fury somehow—and I ripped them from his head and jammed them into my pocket. “Look at me,” I said. He squeezed his eyelids, but I pried them open with my thumbs and grabbed his gaze until he was unable to look away. He whimpered once, and I saw him cowering inside a prison cell, surrounded by men tattooed with crude images of stars and skulls, barbed wire, bears, and crosses. The mob converged, holding him down so he couldn’t move. One of them slapped masking tape over his mouth, sealing the screams inside his throat, while another lifted a rusty needle dripping with ink over his chin, saying, “ . . .”

I couldn’t understand the language, but its rhythm—and Goatee’s horror—was disturbingly familiar. Not long ago, for research, Doug made me watch a foreign movie with subtitles called Brother, about a young guy drawn into the gangster life, and how his rivals wanted to murder him. I learned how members were recruited in jail, sometimes against their will, and tattooed to identify their gang affiliation and rank.

For two hours, I’d listened to criminals speak the same language, and I shuddered, realizing what it was.

At that moment, the Outfit was embroiled in a street war with the Russian mob.

They were highly organized interlopers who had clawed away at the Outfit’s core businesses of drugs, prostitution, gambling, and hijacking. The Boss of Bosses, Lucky, had finally had enough and declared war. The conflict was bloody, from knee-cracking to car bombings, shotgun ambushes to plain old knives dragged across a neck. The violence was bad enough, but even worse, the war was expensive. Spending time fighting meant business suffered and profits plummeted. It made perfect sense that my pursuers were trying to catch me. Preoccupied with losing my family, I hadn’t considered what a juicy hostage target I was as counselor-at-large. What I didn’t know, what no one in the Outfit knew, was who was issuing orders on the Russian side. Their boss remained hidden in the shadows. The identity of their boss was invaluable information, and knowing it would make my always tenuous position with the Outfit more secure.

I looked at Goatee and said, “You belong to the Russian mob . . .”

Quivering, he said, “Mob? You mean Mafyia,” and nodded.

“Who is your boss? The one in charge? What’s his name?”

Tears and raindrops cut lines into his filthy face. “Please, please . . . ,” he said, sounding like plis, plis. “Let me look away . . .”

“Tell me!”

“I don’t know! I swear! I’m soldier! Only officers know boss . . . the ones with stars, here!” he said, pointing a shaky finger at his knuckles. “They say, bring girl, we pay this much! Bring girl and old notebook, we pay more!”

“Notebook?” I said, the word an icy needle to my spine. Besides Doug and me, the only other living person who knew about it was—“Oh god,” I said quietly. “Elzy.”

She’d once commandeered the Chicago Police Department to try to capture me. Was it possible—had she done the same with the Russian mob?

“That name, Elzy—you know it?” I said, boring my gaze into Goatee’s like a blue diamond drill. He shook his head, drained of all emotion except terror. “What else did the officers tell you? What else have you heard?”

He tried not to answer, tried to squeeze his mouth shut, but it was impossible, and he said, “When they have notebook, no more need for family . . . please . . . no more . . .”

Family—it stung my ears as a charged current burrowed through my body, searching for an outlet. Goatee was struggling to look away. With my thumb and forefinger on his chin, I squeezed his face firmly in place. “Your Mafyia has them,” I said, twitching with voltage, trying and failing to hold it in check.

“I don’t know! I only hear!”

“You’re lying!” I said. “Tell me now!” An electrical dam burst, flooding my fingertips, setting fire to the devil head on his chin. His body kicked and buckled, and I didn’t want to kill him—I didn’t!—but I’d lost all control. The bottom of his face was eaten by flame, and then his entire head, and then my fingers were ablaze. I fumbled away, shoving my hand into rainwater, hearing it sizzle as that same torturous electricity attacked my heart. I lay on the alley floor clutching my chest, gasping for air, sensing death creep through the storm; my eyelids fluttering, I was just on the other side of consciousness and the deadly specter looked and felt like Elzy.

She’d come back. No—she’d never left.

After finding my body, it would be simple for her to track down the Bird Cage Club and the notebook. The phone in my pocket with all its text messages between me and Doug, all its telling information. And then no more need for my family, and—

—inch by inch, pain receded like a slow tide.

Cool droplets of rain covered my eyelids and cheeks.

I was able to breathe, and rose weakly to my feet, shuddering with knowledge. Elzy had lost Poor Kevin. She’d disappeared from the Chicago Police Department.

But she’d gained control of the Russian mob.


I HURRIED PAST THE UTILITY VAN, ITS ORANGE light still spinning, got into the car, and made waves through the flooded streets. Ten blocks away, I pulled to the curb and cut the engine. The downpour thumped the top of the Lincoln like tiny hammers. I’d taken a last glance at Goatee, incinerated from the neck up. Skull Head was a pile of rain-soaked flesh, lying in a puddle, staring at eternity.

Two fresh deaths, one I caused, the other I committed.

You weren’t born to kill, I thought, looking into my own eyes in the rearview mirror. You do it to protect yourself. If you die, no one will save your family.

The car was silent except for the rain outside.

Doesn’t make it right, I thought, looking away from myself.

Throughout the past six months, I’d learned a hard, indelible lesson. The unspeakable acts I’d committed—the things I was forced to do, and chose to do—erased parts of who I was. My senses of sympathy and compassion were waning. Worst of all, human life had begun to seem expendable. I felt like a building whose original bricks were being removed from the foundation, one by one.

Those spaces couldn’t remain empty. No one is immune to her own experiences.

My survival habits had become less conscious and more instinctive—more an ingrained part of who I was. The original Sara Jane felt like a childhood friend who’d moved to another place, never to return.

Did I even remember who she’d been?

It was if I’d taken a step away from the old me, and then another, and when I looked back she was opaque, difficult to bring into focus. But then, when I really thought about her, a singular trait she’d possessed rose to the top and surprised me—hopefulness. Despite a lack of friends and the insularity of my life, I’d once thought that every new day came with its own happy possibilities. But since my family was kidnapped, almost from the moment I became counselor-at-large, that belief—that illusion—had been torn away piece by piece. Belonging to the Outfit w...

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