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Hunt the Shadow Book 1

During the summer of 2018, Pearl River Publishing serialized Hunt the Shadow on the Interestingauthors.com. website. The first chapter appears here. You may purchase the entire novel, ebook or print, and soon audio by applying the links below. Hope you enjoy ~ Ollie

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Chapter 1

The young woman walked up to his favorite Denny’s table and sat, jaw set, ready to battle.

“You’re Phil Pfeiffer, right?”

He looked up at a pair of brown eyes and a clenched jaw. Maybe spousal fallout from one of his cases, though she looked a little young.

“That’s right.”

“I want to hire you.” She pulled off a ballcap, sending brown spikes in several directions. “So, are you available? I’ve come a long way.”

Pfeiffer looked down at his ground school textbook and sighed. Generally, he liked kids nowadays. They acted boldly and wanted results. He dropped his pencil into the binding and closed the book. The navigation problem stretched his math limits, anyway.

“I’m sort of expensive,” he said.

She looked at his electronic calculator, circular slide rule, and full scratch pad.

“Actually, you’re not. I’ve already read the reviews. You’re reasonable, comparatively speaking, and kind of honest …”

Kind of?

“… and the last two reviews said you got results. I checked out your hometown, Bumfuck, Kansas, or something. And if you didn’t lie to the Better Business Bureau, your Army record, too. That’s what I want. Somebody from the Midwest, an ex-Army Ranger, and someone who’ll stand behind me until we get the job done.” She eyed him and he read her assessment: big enough, he could probably take care of himself. “You could stand to lose a little weight, but I’d say you probably fit the bill.”

Mona, his waitress, stood behind the young woman, plate in hand, listening and smiling. She seemed to enjoy watching Pfeiffer faced down by someone so young and tiny.

She finally slid the eggs and home fries onto the table. “Need anything else?”

The younger woman looked at the plate. “How about a heart doctor?”

“Hey, lighten up a little,” he said.

“It’s lunchtime, not breakfast.”

“You can eat breakfast anytime,” he said. “It’s the law. Why don’t you meet me in my office at one?”

Mona tucked her order pad in a pocket, grinning and waiting for the next rejoinder. No way was she leaving.

The young woman’s forehead wrinkled. “Look. I just got off the plane, so let’s do this. If it’s not going to be you, I’ve got to get busy looking again.” When he didn’t move, she rolled palms up. “Well?”

He looked at his books, his eggs, and the smiling Mona.

“Have the nice lady put it in a box,” the young woman said, her voice growing exasperated. “You shouldn’t eat that poison anyway.” She looked at Mona. “Sorry.”

Mona smiled. “I don’t eat here.”

Obviously beaten, Pfeiffer stood, his six-two rising well above the young woman. “Follow me … I guess.” He turned to Mona. “Hold it for me? This won’t take long.”

She picked up the plate. “As always, Phil, you don’t have a clue, do you?”

They walked the hundred steps to the tall office building and took the elevator. He punched Level 2.

“Why didn’t we just use the stairs?” Her glance lingered on his expanded waist. “You have to take the elevator because you broke your back in the war, right?”

“Yeah, right.” He dismissed her remark, pretty certain this kid would be the exception to his ebullient view of the young. “So, you checked me out on Google, huh?”

The elevator’s ding interrupted her struggle to hold back a sharp reply. He led the way to where a faulty fluorescent bulb buzzed and flickered over their heads.

“My secretary has the day off,” he said, opening the dark office and slapping the wall for the switch.

She sighed. “Please, Mr. Pfeiffer. We need to make this fast. You’ve got a heart attack waiting and I’ve only got money for this fight and very little time. Drop the bullshit.”

“Your dime,” he answered and pointed at a straight-back client chair. “Have a seat.” He pulled two forms from the top drawer. “Tell me what you want.”

Pfeiffer worked his modest Phoenix PI business with a bail bondsman and a repo man, both of whom were off fishing and merrymaking in San Diego. Now, he regretted not accepting their invitation. The big fan creaked overhead.

“You know the murderer, Theodore Braiden?” she said.

Pfeiffer took a deep breath. “The next governor of Arizona is a murderer?”

“No, he’s a scumbag and a murderer.”

“Hey, I was kidding. You wouldn’t be a Republican, would you?”

When she scrunched her dark eyebrows, ten years slipped away and she looked twelve. “He’s not a good man. He’s …” She trailed off glancing at the desktop. “Is that an NDA?”

He pushed over the nondisclosure agreement, and a blank contract. Both forms came from a free website.

She read quickly, signed, and pushed it toward him. “Your turn.” He hesitated. “Look,” she said. “Everyone tells me I’m brash. It was cute when I was a kid. Now I’m a law student about to graduate, and people just want to kick my ass. Well, I’m sorry about that, but this is the world I live in. If I don’t push, nothing gets done. Braiden killed my father for standing up to him. He did worse to my mother.”

“I’m sorry—”

“It’s been a few years. I’m over it. I already know he can’t be arrested, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a douchebag.”

“What do the cops say?”

“What the hell do you think? You live around here, right?”

Pfeiffer watched her for a moment and signed the agreement that would change his life forever.

“Okay, I’m in.”

“Great. I’m Emily Zadack.” She smiled with perfect teeth and held out a hand that was strong when he shook it. “You’ve never heard of me, but I have a story.”

She settled farther back in the chair and didn’t wait for his invitation. “My dad, Roman, owned Zadack Construction. Heavy equipment, big dozers, the works. He builds … built highways, overpasses, and airports with one division, buildings with the other. My uncle, Augie … Augustus Zadack, is the chief operating officer. We’re private, no stock. My mother, Sharon, was the chief finance officer and former Miss Arizona. Even better, she was smart as hell and twice the businessman either my father or uncle could ever be. They’d tell you so.” She looked up. “Oh wait. You can only ask my uncle because, you see, both Mom and Dad are dead.”

“Let’s start at the beginning,” Pfeiffer said. He didn’t shake easy and she was testing him.

“Good idea. I’ve just been handed the key to understanding the last few years of my parents’ lives, so I’m a little on edge. What I know now, I don’t like.”

“I’m listening.”

For the first time that day, she looked uneasy. “Uncle Augie slipped money under the table to Theodore Braiden to buy city and state contracts. They call it ‘contributing to his campaign,’ but it was far bigger than that. My dad couldn’t stand Braiden, and never knew. Augie just kept bidding and winning, and the company expanded. My mom watched the finances, and I know she couldn’t have missed it, but she never let on. More to the point, Dad trusted them both, and knew nothing until a year before he died. When he found out, he picked up the phone and told Braiden where he could stick his state contracts.” She pulled a flash drive from her purse. “Power up your laptop.”

Fifteen minutes later, Pfeiffer leaned back. “Whoa.”

“Yeah,” Emily said. “Whoa is right. That was my mom. Sixty days ago, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer. It had already spread. Lymph nodes, lungs, kidneys. She looks pretty good in the video, but the doctors said she was too far gone. Surgery and transplants were not an option. Only morphine. She kept clean for the video you just saw. I think this would be a dying declaration if we took it to court.”

“You have the paperwork to back this up?” he asked. Emily nodded. “And, she only told your dad the previous year, then?”

“Right. Dad figured out about the bribery and had it out with Uncle Augie. Dad didn’t know about Mom until a month before he died. Mom admitted her part, the sex, and the second set of company books. It almost killed Dad. He could barely go to work. Everything started falling apart, and I had no idea, totally conceited, oblivious to the three people I love most in the world tearing themselves apart.”

A steely resolve. No tears fell. “So, she’d been having this affair­—”

“Forcible sex is rape, Mr. Pfeiffer. No matter how you force it. There’s no affair here.” The set of her chin warned him.

“No argument from me, Emily.”

A perfunctory nod. “Braiden wasn’t satisfied with just money for his campaign, he wanted more. He had pictures and she was embarrassed.”

“You’re a lawyer.”

She shook her head. “I didn’t study criminal. I clerk maritime law for the State Department while I’m waiting for my finals to clear. But, I can read a law book, and I think we’re screwed. Besides, the state won’t prosecute for rape, and the video I’ve got makes it exculpatory … obvious the sex was consensual. Blackmail, extortion, those are better options if I’d like to screw Braiden, but I’m an officer of the court, and I won’t do that. You’ve got to remember that the state belongs to Braiden. He’s the attorney general of Arizona, and he’ll be running for governor on the next cycle.”

“That’s going to make this more of a challenge.” He tapped a pencil on the pad. “But not undoable. Tell me about the house fire.”

She took a breath and nodded. “I’d left for my last year at Georgetown. Like I said, I suspected nothing. Mom had always been this free spirit, and she liked to swim nude. Our neighborhood is a little close-in, nice, but not totally private. If she got the urge, and she did that night, she turned off the pool lights after Dad went to bed and went skinny-dipping. The fire, explosion, whatever you want to call it took out the kitchen, master bedroom, basically the entire front of the house. Mom was in the water and got a sunburn from the fire, but she wasn’t really hurt. I came home, of course. It was a mess. Everything. The business, my mom. The world was upside down.

“I’d never been told why we were so successful, Mr. Pfeiffer. Uncle Augie never let on but he knew, too, and I’ll deal with him myself. That was not a gas leak. That was getting my angrier-than-hell father out of the way. That was fucking murder.”

* * *

Pfeiffer spent the next two weeks digging through Roman Zadack’s death. Pfeiffer’s backdoor contact at the police department copied the reports showing the fire to be accidental.

Emily had fought the evidence every inch of the way but in the end, lost to the bureaucracy and decided on a private investigator.

She sat at lunch with him now.

Mona, with a wide grin, placed the Cobb salad in front of him. “Staying away from the fat burgers, I see. Good choice. Let me know when you need to burn off some of that extra energy.” She gave an extra sway of her hips as she walked off.

“Cute,” Emily said, glancing after her. “She your girlfriend?”

“No, and let’s stay on track here. The reports all say accidental, no doubts.”

“Yeah, right. What about the witness statement?” she asked. “The flash of light inside the study?”

“One person. Uncorroborated. And from across the street. Another insomniac watching television. No traces of an accelerant. I’m sure you’ve researched arson enough to know even a bad investigator can find the signs. They had the state police in on it, and they’re good. No one found anything except for evidence of a gas buildup.”

She crossed her arms, indomitable. “Money talks. Even if we can’t prove Braiden paid someone to cover up, I still want his head on a pike. He did this.”

Pfeiffer put his fork down. “I think it’s time to come clean with me, Emily. I’m willing to help you, but what are we really doing here?”

“Proving this guy killed my father.”

“Yes and no,” Pfeiffer said. “This is beyond simple vengeance. If it was only that, you’d need to get someone else. I’m not a contract killer. If I’m going to screw up this guy’s life beyond all recognition, I need to be sure of why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

She worked tight jaw muscles. “All right. That better be a goddamn good NDA.”

“It’s the best Google can buy. Talk to me.”

She pushed over her notebook and inserted a flash drive. “I promised Mom I’d never let anyone else see this, but I’m going to make an exception with you. The camera was on my mom’s desktop computer. She set this up.”

He took the device and watched the video of a woman reading in a living room chair. She wore glasses and had her hair up, yet he thought this might be Sharon Zadack. A man, presumably a burglar, slowly opened the patio French doors and stealthily slipped in. His coat collar was turned high and a baseball cap pulled low over his face. The woman apparently didn’t notice as he approached.

Pfeiffer thought he recognized the mane of silver hair as the man reached around both sides of the chair and took hold of her throat. For a moment, the woman struggled and he held. Then, theatrically, she slumped until sliding to the rug-covered floor. Her skirt hiked high over lace panties and dark thigh-high nylons. The man quickly undressed himself, his male tumescence obvious, and eased on top of her as she “recovered.” In quick moments her clothes were shed and two naked bodies roiled on the rug, accompanied by gruff, arousing language. The man’s hat flew to one side as the sexual temperature in the room spiked.

Pfeiffer hit the pause button. “I recognize AG Braiden. The woman?”

“Mom, wearing a wig for their little game.” Her eyes filled and she swallowed hard. “There are other … games that she filmed, but I think this is enough. And you can see who that asshole is pretty clearly.”

“Okay.”

“Mom believed Braiden was responsible for Dad’s death, too, but she couldn’t prove it. After she learned about the cancer, she did the one thing she knew the bastard couldn’t resist. My mother was a beautiful woman right up to the end of her life. She told me others can’t humiliate you unless you let them. She gave me the ammunition to take that toad down. That’s what I want to do.”

“I assume Braiden will have an alibi for each of the time stamps.”

“If he doesn’t now, he will soon. Mom showed him this, and he laughed. Then he broke her nose. He took the flash drive and made it clear if this got out, he’d kill her, me, the dog, my uncle and boyfriend … if I had one. Everyone we love. He’s a very bad man.”

Pfeiffer’s own anger built and he couldn’t trust his words.

She misunderstood. “It’s all real, Mr. Pfeiffer. I guarantee it. With the right breaks, this man could be president of the United States one day. Once he wins the governorship, there’s no stopping him.”

Pfeiffer held her gaze. “In a pig’s eye.”