BOOKS

Scar Tissue


Everyone pays for their mistakes. Some pay more than others.

Underground private investigator, Finn Harding, returns in this fast-paced, gripping crime thriller.

When Finn discovers an acquaintance, Dr. Daryl Jennings, is entangled in a fentanyl smuggling operation, he negotiates a deal with the head of an Indianapolis criminal organization to earn the doctor’s freedom. But freedom doesn’t come cheap.

To fulfill his obligation, Finn must locate an anonymous criminal banker who skipped town with $5 million of the organization’s money. But how do you find a man with no name, no identity, and no known location?

In his toughest case yet, Finn must rely on his skill, cunning, and an unlikely connection from his past to find the banker and the cash before Dr. Jennings’ time runs out. Along the way Finn discovers that loyalties run deep, everyone has secrets, and some mistakes can never be forgiven.

 

 

One

EVERYONE PAYS FOR THEIR MISTAKES. Some pay more than others. I’d learned over the years that blowback comes in all shapes and sizes, but it always comes. You can’t hide from it. You can’t outrun it. One day, you turn around to find it staring you in the face. Your next move defines who you are and who you’ll become. There are right choices and there are wrong choices, and the line between them isn’t always clear.

Blowback. It always comes.

 

FAT SAM STEPPED OUT OF the home on Fort View Place in Mount Adams, a neighborhood on Cincinnati’s east side. He set his biggie-sized red-and-white cup on the front porch, pulled the door closed, slid a key into the deadbolt, and twisted his wrist. The metal bolt slid snugly into the strike plate.

He turned back toward the street and scrutinized the half dozen cars parked along the curb. Fat Sam’s eyes assessed each vehicle, noting its license plate, whether the passenger seat was empty, or if it looked out of place in the familiar neighborhood. Satisfied, he bent over, grabbed his cup from the gray concrete porch and then shuffled down the driveway toward his own vehicle.

To anybody on the street, Fat Sam would have been an imposing sight. He stood over six-foot-five, was as wide as a forklift, and might have weighed as much as one, too. He wore an oversized Memphis Grizzlies t-shirt, baggy jeans, and tan work boots. Steel-toed.

Sam arrived at the end of the short paver-stone driveway, a neatly manicured mosaic that was too narrow for his custom-built Ford Expedition. He slurped from his straw and inspected the street’s vehicles again. Nodding to no one in particular, he clicked the key fob in his left hand and the parking lights on the navy-blue SUV blinked as the doors unlocked. Sam crossed the street and opened the driver’s door. He ducked his head and squeezed in behind the wheel, the SUV moaning as Sam settled into the seat. He wedged the monstrous drink container into the console’s cup holder, fastened his seat belt, and fired up the engine.

He was about to shift into gear when he felt the muzzle of a gun press against the back of his head.

“You’re Sam, correct?” said the voice from the back seat.

Fat Sam hesitated.

“Correct?”

“Yes.”

“Good,” said the voice. “I’m not here to kill you, Sam. But I damn sure will, unless you do exactly what I say. We good?”

Sam eased his head forward to relieve the muzzle’s pressure. “We’re good,” he said.

“Peachy. Here are the rules. First, why don’t you go ahead and move that rearview mirror so you’re not tempted to get a look at me. Same with your side view.”

Sam reached out and turned the rearview mirror upward, catching a glimpse of the green baseball cap behind him. Then he pressed the button on the driver’s door. The whir of the mirror angling toward the pavement cut the silence inside the SUV.

“Second rule is you keep both hands on the wheel at all times.”

Sam gripped the wheel at ten and two. “Okay,” he said.

“Super. Now tell me about the contract on Finn Harding?”

“What contract?”

“I received a blast email last week from the Dark Brokerage, Bishop’s little information-sharing service. It was an open contract on Finn Harding, whereabouts unknown. A twenty-five-thousand dollar bounty on his head. I assume it went out to your entire user database. That contract.”

“Right.” Sam rubbed his hands on the steering wheel. “Bishop set that up. An automatic protocol, a trigger in case something happened to him. All I was supposed to do was log into the website and hit send. When I found Bishop dead in the RV, that’s what I did. I logged in and hit send. Just like he said to do. I didn’t order anything.”

Sam heard the man shift against the leather seat.

“So it was Bishop who had the brilliant idea to send every Dark Brokerage account holder after this Finn Harding character?”

“Right. Like I said, only if Bishop turned up dead. And he did.”

“And Finn killed him?”

“I guess. I wasn’t there. But, if it wasn’t Finn, then it was someone working with him.” Sam eyeballed his drink in the cup holder. A bead of condensation dribbled down the cup onto the console.

“How many people did it go to? The email? Did it go to everyone in your database or just a certain category?”

“Everyone, I guess. I don’t know. I didn’t manage the user list. Like I said, I just pressed send. Everything else was already set up.”

“Why didn’t you go after the contract yourself? You’re local. Seems like you’d have an easy time finding Finn.”

“I don’t need that kind of heat on me. Plus, I’m a glorified admin, not a killer.”

The man in the back seat was quiet.

“I can tell you that most of the people on that distribution list were hackers and information resellers,” said Sam. “They’re not killers either, but there might be a few who could pull it off. Assuming they can find Finn, which is probably a long shot. I’d wager he’s long gone by now. There were two…” Fat Sam stopped.

“Go on,” said the man in the back seat. “Two who?”

Fat Sam’s shoulders slouched into his seat. He felt the muzzle bury deeper into the back of his head.

“I received an email yesterday, to our admin account. Two brothers. Last name’s Nolan. They said they were close to finding him, but they didn’t give any details. It could all be bullshit.”

“Nolan? Brothers, you said?”

“Yes, but I don’t know anything else about them. Don’t even know their first names or where they are. Finn could be on the other side of the country by now.”

The man in the back seat shifted again. “Sam, here’s what I need you to do. Email that same distribution list and call off the hit. Tell everyone the contract has been closed and the twenty-five thousand has been claimed. Then reply to the Nolan brothers and tell them the same thing.”

“Why? Then no one will be looking for…”

“Wrong. I’ll be looking for him. And I’ll get him. But you’re going to call off the dogs so I can take care of Finn Harding my way. I don’t need to worry about a bunch of hill jack amateurs fucking things up. I’ll handle it the right way.”

“But if more people look for him, there’s a better chance of finding him.”

“We’re not painting a fence here. You’ve got too many cooks in the kitchen. I’d bet most of them have no idea what they’re doing. That means they’re more likely to do something stupid, which is either going to tip Finn off or get the police involved. If either of those two things happen you can be sure Finn will disappear for good. We’ve only got one chance at this. And I’ll do it the discreet way.”

“And you won’t have any competition for the bounty.” Sam closed his eyes tight, regretting saying it before the last word crossed his lips.

“You’re going to pay out anyway. Might as well pay someone who knows what the fuck he’s doing.”

Sam sensed a smile from the back seat.

“I’ll wait while you send that mail,” said the voice.

“I’ll have to get my phone from my pocket. And I’ll have to let go of the steering wheel.”

“Fine, but do anything stupid and I’ll relocate your frontal lobe to that stop sign up the street.”

Fat Sam arched his back and slowly reached into his front jeans pocket for his mobile phone. As he turned slightly to the right, he felt the muzzle slide across the back of his head. Once he slipped the phone from his pocket, he squared his shoulders against the seat and began typing, his fat thumbs tripping over themselves on the small screen. He replied to the Nolan email first. Then he sent a message to the original distribution list indicating the contract was closed. A moment after hitting send, Sam heard a muffled ding in the backseat. Whoever was behind him had just received his email.

“Okay, looks good,” said the voice. “You’ll have Finn Harding in a week.”

“Assuming you can find him,” said Sam. “What if he’s already gone?”

“Doesn’t matter where he is. I’ll find him. Then I’ll be in touch for my money.” The muzzle rattled against the headrest’s steel rod as the man pulled it away. “You kept up your side of the bargain, and I’ll keep mine. Put your forehead on the steering wheel and count down from sixty.”

Sam struggled to place his forehead on the wheel. As he bent forward, his gut pressed against his insides making his teeth clench. Fat Sam heard the rear door open. “Wait,” he said. “Who are you anyway?”

“You not knowing that is the only thing keeping you alive.”

The rear door closed and Fat Sam sat alone in the SUV, grimacing and counting backwards.

 

 

“Conger’s writing is direct. It moves clearly and quickly, perfect for thrillers… Scar Tissue proves that Conger has more than one good story.” – Ronald Tierney, author of the Deets Shanahan Mysteries

“The Mr. Finn series breathes new life into the PI genre…These are some of the most fully realized characters I’ve encountered in a long time, and this is one of the best detective series I’ve ever read… I strongly recommend this series to fans of the private investigator novel. You won’t be disappointed.” Gumshoes, Gats and Gams

“Great gritty entertainment.” Peter J. Earle, BookPostMortem

“This novel is well written with tight dialogue, witty remarks, and an often surprising plot with unforeseen twists and turns. How he manages to get from the original problem as stated to the eventual and immaculate conclusion is the product of a really fertile mind.” Scott H., Amazon Reviewer

“If you’re interested in an edge-of-your-seat mystery and suspense novel, Trace Conger is for you. Mr. Finn is an excellent character. I can’t wait for the 3rd in this series.” Florence, Goodreads

“Exciting, fast-paced, lots of twists and turns, and hard to put down. I read it in less than 24 hours! Great fun.” Regena V., Goodreads

 

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