A high tech motorcycle, a black disguise, a crusading newscaster’s quest for justice.When a car bomb kills the prosecuting attorney and a key witness against a powerful bioengineering industrialist, the blast shatters the life of the attorney’s husband, popular Phoenix television investigative reporter, Parker Knight. After authorities hit a dead end, Parker risks his career and his life to seek his own revenge. Riding a high tech motorcycle and wearing a black disguise, the crusading newsman inadvertently becomes a media created superhero jeopardizing his quest for justice.
Parker Knight owed his wife an apology. Although he’d acted like a total ass the past few days, he still wanted to talk to his best friend, Justin, about the seed of suspicion he couldn’t quite shake.
Downshifting his Kawasaki, Parker flipped a u-turn in the morning rush hour traffic eliciting a blast from an SUV. Hoping no one recognized him, he sped down the busy Phoenix street. Two blocks later, he pulled into the lot of Kendall’s Motorcycle Shop and parked beside a tricked out candy apple red pickup.
Parker climbed off his bike and pulled out the slip of paper he’d found beside the bedroom phone. The words Ambassador Hotel, in Erica’s handwriting, had fanned his imagination. When he yanked off his helmet, angry shouts inside the garage’s open bay refocused his attention.
Justin Kendall, shoulder-length hair poking out the back of a Phoenix Suns cap, sat adjusting the rear strut on a Honda Sportbike. Ignoring the tirade of a brute standing on the other side of the motorcycle, he flashed Parker a reassuring smile.
The tough guy, with a tattoo of a dragon on his right forearm, probably thought he could snap Justin in two. A spray of spit flew as he shouted, “Where’s my old lady?”
“My girlfriend, smartass.”
Parker moved closer to his former Special Forces buddy. Justin could still handle himself, but he’d always been more of a lover than a fighter.
Justin rose clutching a wrench to his side. “Who’s your girl?”
The man smacked the seat of the bike. “Tina, Dickhead.”
“Tina Dickhead? Never heard of her. I’d remember a name like that.”
“Tina Banks,” he growled.
“The vet assistant? She was in yesterday.”
“So you do know her. Can’t imagine Tina with a skinny runt like you.”
“Who you calling a runt!”
Parker had to diffuse the situation. “I don’t know whether you have reason to suspect your girlfriend of infidelity…”
“Hey, you’re that reporter on TV.” The thug pointed a finger at Parker. “Stay the fuck out of this, pretty boy.”
“It’s all right, Parker.” Justin walked around the bike and gestured with the wrench. “Dude, I didn’t want to tell you, but your girl’s been scoping out motorcycles for your birthday.”
With a look of skepticism, the man gazed around the garage. “From a dump like this?”
“Dump! I’ve got top of the line stuff here.”
The garage smelled of oil and gasoline. Metal trash cans overflowed with greasy blue towels. Hand tools, motorcycle parts and empty Styrofoam cups cluttered the workbench.
The garage might be a dump, but Parker wouldn’t take his Kawasaki anywhere else. Justin had his weaknesses, particularly his tendency to get involved with the wrong kind of girl, but he was a techno-geek and definitely knew motorcycles.
The hothead’s expression softened as he inspected a dozen refurbished bikes along the far wall. “A motorcycle, that would be sweet.” He cleared his throat. “Sometimes I over react.”
“And…” Justin winked at Parker.
“And…I’m sorry I called your place a dump.” Holding up both hands, the man retreated toward the parking lot. “Don’t say nothin’ to Tina, okay, man? Get her whatever she wants.” He jumped into the pickup and sped off, squealing tires.
“Crazy bastard.” Justin chuckled.
“Dodging bullets, my friend, dodging bullets.”
Justin tossed the wrench into his toolbox then focused his attention on Parker. “Troubles? I haven’t seen you look this bad since Afghanistan.”
Parker sat on a stool beside the workbench and handed the slip of paper to Justin.
After reading the note, a smile swept over Justin’s face. He burst out laughing until he snorted. “What is this, jealous idiots day? Dude, Erica would never cheat on you.”
“It’s more than the note. She’s been secretive the past couple months.”
“You’re both secretive. She’s a prosecuting attorney and you’re an investigative reporter. I thought you two have an understanding.”
“We do.” Parker didn’t ask Erica about her cases, and she never prosecuted corruption he’d exposed.
“She’s probably investigating something ultra-sensitive.” Justin snapped his fingers. “I bet she’s on the Bradley case.”
“No, Omar Bradley. You sure you’re a reporter?”
Harrison Bradley, CEO of Biotech and war hero, had built a bioengineering empire in Arizona and created more than five thousand high-tech jobs for the state.
“Why would the county attorney be interested in the golden boy?” Parker asked.
“Hell if I know. I just run a dump of a motorcycle shop, but one of my customers is playing hide the pickle with a paralegal hottie for the county. Apparently, they don’t have an understanding. She says your wife’s boss is after Bradley.”
“That would explain a lot.”
Justin handed the slip of paper back to Parker. “Erica loves you, man.”
Parker never doubted that. He’d just needed to talk things out. He dropped the paper into a trash can beside the workbench. How could an award winning investigative reporter jump to conclusions about his own life? He definitely owed his wife an apology for his recent behavior.
Parker pulled a cell phone from his jacket and dialed his wife’s number. He almost hung up when he reached her voice mail. “Erica, I’ve been a jerk lately, especially at the restaurant last night. I’m sorry I picked a fight this morning. You and I both work long hours. We need to talk, not argue.” Parker snapped the cell phone closed.
“Dude, you groveled by voice mail?”
Parker knew he should apologize in person. Erica deserved that, and much more.
Justin opened a metal coffee can on the bench. He took out a lighter and a marijuana cigarette. He lit the end of the joint, took a hit and held out the cigarette.
Parker declined the offer. “I wouldn’t even remember how, but thanks anyway.”
“Just being polite.” Justin hopped onto a stool beside Parker and took another hit. “Something else is bothering you. Everything okay at the station?”
Parker sighed “My audition is this afternoon.”
“There you go.” Justin took a long drag and held in the smoke. “Tell me again why a hotshot reporter like you would want to give up a job where you get paid to travel around the state.” Justin grabbed the sleeve of Parker’s black leather jacket. “For an anchor desk where you have to wear a suit and tie every freakin’ day.”
Parker shrugged. He loved uncovering corruption and greed and exposing political and business hypocrites. If he took a promotion, he’d miss being a crime reporter. He wanted to take himself out of the running, but he couldn’t just sit back and watch his rival, Marissa Graves, inherit the anchor desk.
Justin finished the cigarette and dropped the remaining flakes of weed into the can. He waved to a pretty blonde jogger in white shorts and a blue sports bra. She smiled and held a fist to her ear in a call me gesture as she ran past.
The restroom door in the back of the shop opened. “Is it safe?” A gum chewing redhead in a purple silk blouse with a plunging neckline strolled out. She sniffed the air that still lingered of pot. “Someone didn’t invite me to the party.”
Ignoring Parker, she stopped in front of Justin and set both hands on her hips. “You forgot about me, didn’t you?”
“Sorry, baby. My buddy’s having marital problems.”
“I’m not having marital problems,” Parker insisted. Maybe a little.
The woman studied Parker then checked her pink manicured nails. “Goody for you.”
Justin winked at Parker. “Parker Knight, meet Tina Banks.”
From a room in the downtown Ambassador Hotel, Erica Knight peered out the window toward her husband’s television station. After hearing Parker’s voice mail apology, she couldn’t help but smile. Now she could focus on the task ahead.
Erica wished her witness looked as confident as she felt. “It’s time,” she said to Biotech’s CFO as he paced the room.
Larry Calderon let out a deep breath. When he buttoned his tailored suit coat, his hand trembled.
“You’ll do fine.” Erica gathered her confidential notes, stuffed them into her briefcase and snapped it closed.
“Once I step out that door, there’s no turning back.”
For either of them. Erica opened the door and nodded to the uniformed deputy in the hallway. The officer led Erica and Calderon to a waiting elevator. They stepped inside, and the deputy punched the button to the parking garage.
“Wildflower,” Calderon said, as the elevator descended.
“Excuse me?” she asked.
“The key that will convince the grand jury that Harrison Bradley isn’t what he seems will be Wildflower.” Calderon ran a finger on the inside of his collar and swallowed hard.
Erica preferred his nervousness to the arrogance so prevalent the first time they’d met. She hoped the grand jurors would as well. “But you can’t prove what Wildflower is.”
“I can’t prove it’s a genetically engineered designer drug, but I know how much money Biotech’s spent on the pharmacology division. Bradley can’t keep it quiet much longer.”
“Until I can get the division head’s cooperation, I won’t be able to bring up Wildflower to the grand jury.”
Calderon shook his head. “Good luck getting Brooke Miller to cooperate. She’s Bradley’s fuckbuddy…sorry, that’s military jargon for mistress.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“I told your boss. I thought you knew.”
The revelation stunned Erica. Although her portion of the grand jury case was to follow the money, she needed to understand the big picture regarding Biotech. What else didn’t she know about Harrison Bradley?
When the elevator door opened, the deputy exited and held up a hand. He scanned the parking garage then waved them into the corridor.
When Erica stepped out, Calderon stayed in the elevator. “Something wrong?” she asked, holding the door open.
Calderon dabbed his forehead with a monogrammed handkerchief.
She offered a reassuring smile. “No one knows you’re here.”
With a quick nod, Calderon stepped off the elevator and followed Erica and the deputy to a blue Buick with dark tinted windows. She opened the rear door, and Calderon climbed inside, buckled his seat belt and wiped his brow.
The officer slipped behind the wheel and glanced into the backseat. “Don’t worry. The windows are bulletproof glass.”
Erica closed the rear door. Her witness’s increasing apprehension troubled her. Maybe they should wait for a police escort. As she reached for the front passenger door handle, the deputy started the car.
A deafening blast knocked Erica off her feet. As if in slow motion, the Buick’s windows exploded. Bright flames surged through the car’s interior.
Erica slammed against the bed of a pickup and slumped to the ground. Her head cracked against the cement floor in a blinding flash.
Shrill screams from inside the flaming car penetrated the ringing in her ears. Ignoring her throbbing head and a sharp pain in her gut, she lunged toward the Buick.
Flames and bitter smoke boiled from the car blocking her advance. The screams faded. Two lifeless shapes, one in the driver’s seat and one in the back disappeared as fire engulfed the car.
As heat swept toward her, Erica choked from the boiling smoke. She stumbled backward and fell. Struggling to crawl from the flames, a wave of dizziness swept over her. She tried to call Parker but dropped the phone. The flaming car blurred, and her vision faded to black.
Parker spun a one-eighty in the station’s parking lot and sped toward the blast. As he struggled to retrieve his cell phone from his jacket, he spotted smoke curling from the parking garage of the Ambassador Hotel two blocks away.
Racing toward the hotel, Parker called Clete Hawkins, the station’s news director. After reporting the location of the blast, he snapped the phone closed, interrupting Clete’s questions. Parker jammed the cell phone into his jacket and raced down the street, the Kawasaki’s engine screaming.
Ears ringing from the blast, Erica coughed, and her eyes blinked open. She could barely breathe. Orange flames leaped from the car’s shattered windows and acrid smoke crawled along the ceiling. In spite of the pain in her gut, she inched away from the heat of the flames.
Two car lengths from the Buick, she rested and sucked in gulps of air. She gagged from the smoke and the bitter stench of burning flesh.
What the hell happened? She’d been meticulous with the arrangements. Only a handful of associates, people she trusted, knew about her meetings to prep Calderon for his testimony.
Erica spotted her phone lying beside the red pickup. She had to reach Parker!
A screaming garage attendant stood paralyzed beside the entrance booth.
“Help,” Erica shouted then grabbed her stomach as a jagged pain ripped through her gut. Crying out, she pulled out a piece of metal and dropped the bloody shrapnel beside her.
Blood spread across her jacket. Ignoring the pain, she pressed on the wound and managed to move another car length from the blaze. When a wave of dizziness swept over her, she collapsed onto her back but fought to stay conscious as her vision blurred again. A massive knot of fear paralyzed her. Erica knew if she closed her eyes, it might be the last time.
The familiar sound of a motorcycle broke through the ringing in her ears. She raised her head and managed a flicker of hope.
Parker sped past the screaming parking garage attendant toward the car with leaping orange flames. “Call nine-one-one,” he shouted before blasting through the wooden entrance arm.
Splinters of wood bounced off the face shield of his helmet. He fought the jerking handlebars. The rear tire slid, and the bike slammed into a convertible. Parker sailed over the front hood and rolled on the garage floor.
Ripping off his helmet, he snapped two photos of the burning car with his camera phone as boiling black smoke clung to the ceiling. He spotted a woman beside a red pickup, snapped her picture and ran to help.
With sirens in the background, Parker stuffed the cell phone in his jacket and sprinted through the garage. Staying clear of the inferno, he choked from burning rubber, gasoline and the distinct stench of burnt flesh. Parker slid to a stop beside the woman covered in shards of broken glass.
Oh my God!
“Erica,” he whispered.
Blood had caked the sides of his wife’s face and matted the front of her tan suit. Even through the hazy smoke, he could tell she’d been critically injured. He couldn’t bear seeing his wife in pain.
“Parker, how did you…” Erica winced.
Seeing how pale she’d grown, Parker summoned his Special Forces survival training, but this wasn’t a drill, this was Erica. “Can you move your neck?”
Erica moved her head from side to side then flexed both hands.
Sweat dripped down his forehead, burning his eyes. “What about your legs?”
She nodded then grimaced as she wiggled both feet.
Parker couldn’t wait any longer. He had to get her away before the gas tank erupted. Careful to avoid injuring her further, he gently pulled her away from the flaming car.
They made it to the far wall just as the Buick’s gas tank exploded. Parker fell on top of his wife shielding her body. A wave of heat and smoke belched over their heads.
Coughing, Parker rolled to his side and knelt beside his wife. His knee slipped in a smear of Erica’s blood.
Away from the thick smoke, he noticed blood oozing from both of her ears. More disturbing was the bright red that soaked the front of her tan suit. He swallowed hard knowing she had a concussion, probably two broken legs. The worst was the wound to her abdomen.
Parker untied the scarf from her neck and pressed it against the wound. “Hold this.”
Erica held the scarf against her wound and bit her lip in a grimace of pain.
Hoping to provide some comfort, he lifted her head and cradled his wife in his arms. His vision blurred as tears slid down his face. Where were the damn paramedics?
“Help, someone! I need a doctor,” he screamed over the sound of the fire. His voice echoed off the walls of the garage, hollow and empty. Even in war, he’d never felt so helpless.
Pulling a handkerchief from his jacket, he wiped blood from his wife’s face.
Erica stopped him, took the cloth and dried his tears.
Parker felt ashamed. He should be comforting her, not the other way around.
“I’m cold.” Erica shivered, eyes fluttering. She dropped the handkerchief and scarf.
Parker eased her down onto the cement floor. He ripped off his jacket and tucked it under her head. He held the blood-soaked scarf against Erica’s wound. In seconds, blood covered his hand. “Help me, someone!” he yelled.
As sirens grew louder, he fought to calm his voice. “You’re going to be okay.” He hoped she couldn’t see the fear in his eyes.
Erica appeared calm, or was it resignation he saw on her face?
Parker kissed her. Who would do such a thing? And why? He choked back a wave of fury that surged through his soul like a rotten fish.
Erica reached for his hand and pried his clenched fist open. “Don’t…let this consume you.”
A patrol car skidded to a stop on the street. About damn time.
As one of the officers sprinted toward them, Erica squeezed his hand, her grip weaker this time. “I’m sorry about our fight, Parker.”
Parker didn’t want to talk about their stupid argument. He had so many things he wanted to say, how she’d brought him from the depths of uncontrollable depression after he came home from Iraq, how their marriage gave him purpose, how he couldn’t live without her. How long had it been since he told her how much she meant to him? His voice caught as he said, “I love you.”
While the officer radioed their location, a satellite truck from his station parked behind the patrol car. The media had arrived before the damn paramedics.
Parker wasn’t used to being a victim, or source of a news story. He didn’t miss the irony that he’d callously taken a picture of the scene with his cell phone before he knew it was Erica lying on the cold cement, bleeding and in pain. For the first time, he felt guilt toward his profession.
From the corner of his eye, he saw a fire truck and paramedics stop behind the patrol car.
“Goddamn it, over here!” Parker shouted.
Erica’s breathing grew more shallow and faint, nearly drowned out by his own sucking gasps. When she closed her eyes and lay still, he fought to remain calm.
As the paramedics removed their equipment, firefighters shot white foam into the flames covering the car.
“Help is here, Erica.”
Erica’s eyes fluttered open. She managed a smile. “Not…not in time.”
“Don’t say that.”
“I’ll always love you, Parker. Remember that.”
Parker choked back a sob. “I’ll always love you.”
“Kiss me. Kiss me like you did at Scorpion Bay.”
As the officer met the paramedics, Parker brushed a strand of hair from her face and kissed Erica, kissed her like he hadn’t for far too long. For a moment, they both forgot the tragedy.
Erica smiled. She grew weaker, the life fading from her eyes.
“My…briefcase.” Erica’s voice was barely a whisper as she stared across the garage.
Parker followed her gaze and spotted a briefcase under a delivery van two cars over. “Who…who did this?”
Squeezing his hand, Erica clamped both eyes shut. Then her hand fell away. When a paramedic knelt beside them, Erica gasped, a death rattle Parker recognized from combat. With a knife-like stabbing in his chest, Parker lifted her and clung to his wife, as Erica took a final breath.
Award winning novelist Michael Murphy is a full time writer and part time urban chicken rancher. He and his wife make their home in Arizona with their two cats, four dogs and five chickens. He enjoys writing mystery and suspense novels with twists and turns and splashes of humor. Scorpion Bay is his seventh novel.