“Deals with the Devil” – Excerpt from BODY OF EVIDENCE (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

BoEWhat happens when you bring together the best independent forensic lab in the country, one of the leading pathologists and criminal profilers in the world, and a Federal agent with a very unique skill set, and a gun loaded with Slayer bullets?

Welcome to Witch Hollow!

When kidnapping turns to murder, the hunt could turn from dangerous to deadly for Dr. Faith MacKenzie and her team. A four-year-old cold serial kidnapping cold case is red-hot again, with fresh bodies turning up at a ten-year-old crime scene, and the daughter of a wealthy Witch Hollow family is abducted in broad daylight. Now, time is running out for Elizabeth Prescott, and the price of failure could also mean the life of a man Faith’s partner seems strangely determined is innocent.

“Deals with the Devil” — Excerpt from BODY OF EVIDENCE (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book 6) —

Faith pushed open the heavy, steel door to the abandoned garage warily, shining her flashlight into the dark interior. Her heart thudded harshly against her ribs, and she struggled to keep her breathing slow and even. She knew coming here alone wasn’t a smart idea, but she didn’t have a choice. She didn’t run the statistics for survival in her head – she didn’t want to know how much danger she was in.

“Hello?” She called into the darkness, uncertain who she was supposed to meet, or what she’d find, here. She didn’t want to think she’d been lured her to discover Elizabeth Prescott’s dead body any more than she wanted to contemplate whether she was walking into her own death. She had to stay focused on what she did know, and the only clue she had was that someone claimed to know what happened to Elizabeth.

No one answered her, and Faith steeled herself, then pushed the door open even further, until the sparse street lights filtered into the building ahead of her. Then, with a resolute breath, Faith took a cautious step inside the building, swinging her flashlight in a wide arc, illuminating empty garage bays full of stagnant, algae-filled water, stacks of tires that looked like they’d been slowly rotting away since Katrina, and electrical fixtures that could probably double as electrocution devices, if there was even still a current running to them. Hisses and chittering noises in the dark told her the only inhabitants were probably local wildlife – none of which she was particularly wild about meeting – though an eerie sense she wasn’t alone crawled along her spine.

“Anyone here?”

“Are you alone?” Rasped a breathy voice from the shadows beyond where Faith’s flashlight could reach, sending another shiver down her spine. She was reminded of the Prescott crypt, and the strange, ominous presence of Marie Prescott.

“Yes,” she managed, careful to keep her voice calm and unafraid. She needed to keep the upper hand, and that meant showing no fear.

“Good.” The voice, stronger and deeper, suddenly came from directly behind her, and the heavy door slammed shut. Faith jumped, her self-reminder about showing no fear fleeing as a shadow loomed over her, and her flashlight went out, plunging the room into pitch dark. Then, before she could draw another breath – never mind move – a large hand closed around her throat, and she was tossed across the room, to bounce off a stack of tires and drop to the floor with enough force her head impacted the concrete, and the darkness swam before her eyes, closing in around her with suffocating speed. As heavy, rubber objects – the tires, most likely – pelted down on her, drawing groans of pain with each impact, one final thought sparked through her mind. At least she slipped Jonathan the note. Even if she died here, someone would find her. Jonathan would avenge her.

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“Lights in the Night” – Excerpt from FROM THE SKY (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

WH14 From the SkyWhat happens when you bring together the best independent forensic lab in the country, one of the leading pathologists and criminal profilers in the world, and a Federal agent with a very unique skill set, and a gun loaded with Slayer bullets?

Welcome to Witch Hollow!

When two planes that shouldn’t have been anywhere near each other collide in the middle of the night sky, the FAA suspects terrorism. But when they turn their investigation over to the FBI, the evidence lands the case with the Bureau’s resident expert on the bizarre, and the highly-trained experts at the Bunker. Can they unravel the clues, without reaching beyond the boundaries of Earth?

 

“Lights in the Night” – Excerpt from FROM THE SKY (Guardians, Inc.: Witch Hollow, Book 14) –

 

“It’s irrational to think that a race of beings intelligent enough to figure out how to break not only their own planet’s gravitational pull, but also the boundaries of their star system, and travel light years to get to ours, would be the least bit interested in examining or communicating with a few culturally and politically insignificant individuals, out of the whole planet.”

Joyce propped her head on her hand, where she sat at Faith’s lab table, watching her friend pace. “Faith, we specialize in cases most of the scientific world dismisses as little more than fairy tales. What’s ‘rational,’ anymore?”

“Okay,” Jonathan straightened from where he sat on the edge of Faith’s desk. “Let’s just assume, for the moment, Mac’s right. There are plenty of completely terrestrial explanations for the accident. Let’s focus on those, unless we discover otherwise. What’ve we got, Mac?”

Faith moved around the desk, and her fingers flew over the computer keyboard. “The information sent over by the FAA from the black box and CVR on the initiating craft rules out any mechanical, electrical, or pilot error issues. According to the FAA, the last radio call to the ground was garbled, but something about the pilot being blinded by some kind of sudden light source.”

Jonathan settled back, flipping open his notebook. “Eyewitnesses told crash investigators they saw ‘weird, flashing lights’ just prior to the crash, too. One person described it as ‘fireworks without the sound’ and others claimed it was more like strobe lights.”

“So,” Joyce looked between them, one brow raised in query, “if it’s not a UFO, just what the hell is it?”

 

“On Display” – Excerpt from HER MOTHER’S LIGHT (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

WH11 Her Mother's Light

 

What happens when you bring together the best independent forensic lab in the country, one of the leading pathologists and criminal profilers in the world, and a Federal agent with a very unique skill set, and a gun loaded with Slayer bullets?

Welcome to Witch Hollow!

When Dr. Faith MacKenzie’s friend is accused of murdering and mutilating three men in a ritualistic “witchcraft” sacrifice, she and her team must prove this modern witch-hunt false, and find the real killer – before he or she strikes again. But when her friend’s past comes to light, can Faith accept what the evidence is telling her?

 

“On Display” – Excerpt from HER MOTHER’S LIGHT (Guardians, Inc.: Witch Hollow, Book 11) –

She frowned and quickly assessed the scene as she gloved up. Her gaze landed finally on the body spread-eagled in the center of the barn floor. Almost as if the victim was displayed to find.

“I don’t understand.” She glanced toward her partner as he finished up his call with Haitsburg PD.

Jonathan put his phone away and joined her. “What’s wrong, Mac?”

“There’s absolutely no attempt to cover this up. No attempt was made to conceal the body, or,” she walked the perimeter of the crime scene, studying the corpse from every angle and enough distance to get an overview of the entire scene, “disguise the brutality. Even from here, I can see his eyes are missing, and given the amount of blood on the lower half of his body, I’d say he suffered the same mutilation as the last two victims, as well.”

Jonathan swore beneath his breath. “So this is the work of a serial killer, then.”

She shrugged, and ducked under the crime scene tape, picking her way to the body’s side. “Since, by definition, a serial killer is someone who kills three or more people, yes, I’d say this qualifies. What I can’t figure out,” she crouched beside the body, easing aside the victim’s jacket to examine the level of mutilation. The arms of his jacket were all but shredded, and a variety of defensive wounds scattered across his hands and arms. Her frown deepened as she finished, “is whether or not this crime is actually sexually motivated.”

Jonathan hunkered down beside her. “Seems pretty obvious, Mac. He’s missing all the right parts to label it sexually motivated.”

She shook her head. Just like with the other bodies, her observation told her something wasn’t right about this. “Sexual crimes tend to be either sadistic or heat of the moment. This doesn’t have any of the indicators for either. He’s missing his eyes, too, and the careful way his genitals and eyes were removed suggests someone meant to preserve them. Just like the other victims.”

“That’s not sadistic enough for you?”

She spared him a glance. “If there were indications of torture or attempts to protect any region of his body but his chest, I might agree with you. Besides, there’s relatively little blood, considering his eyes were removed. If I’m right, the autopsy will show this man’s missing parts were dissected out post-mortem, just like the others’. That’s not typical of a sexual sadist. There’s no sadistic pleasure to be derived from mutilation, if the victim is already deceased.”

Jonathan frowned. “So what does it mean, then?”

Faith sat back on her heels with a sigh. “I have no idea. Not yet.”

“New Body” – Excerpt from BONEYARD (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

Bodies in a graveyard? Usually not a problem. But when bodies start showing up scattered all over graveyards throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, unburied and mutilated beyond recognition, it’s going to take more than simple police work to solve. And when evidence starts appearing that suggests the victims all have one very disturbing, and abnormal, connection, the case is going to go from strange to downright bizarre.

“New Body” — Excerpt from BONEYARD (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book 13):

“Caulder.” Jonathan kept a careful eye on Faith as he answered his cell phone. He didn’t like that she was out here. She was tired, and overdoing it. Normally, he admired her drive for the truth, but right now, he wished she was a little less driven, and a little more agreeable.

“Got another one for you and the Doc,” Tom started right in.

Jonathan frowned. Mac had enough on her plate, right now. “We’re already in the middle of a case, Tom.”

“Yeah, I know. And this goes right along with it.”

Jonathan sighed. “Okay, lay it on me.”

“Another body’s turned up. This one’s in West Virginia.”

“Same M.O.?”

“From the information we’ve been given.”

Jonathan glanced toward Faith, and already knew what she’d say. She practically freaked out when she discovered the body here had already been autopsied, and incompetently, according to her. “Has the body been disturbed, at all?”

“No. The cops in West Virginia knew automatically it was out of their league and called us directly.”

“Good. We have people down there?”

“Just sent them out.”

“Call them. Tell them to secure the scene, but not to touch anything until we get there. Cover the crime scene in canopies, but don’t move a thing. We’ll be there sometime tomorrow.”

Tom chuckled. “You sound more like her, every day.”

A wry smile tugged at Jonathan’s face. “Just anticipating.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

“Thanks, Tom.” He disconnected the call, and turned to find Mac watching him speculatively. “What?”

“They found another body, didn’t they?”

He sighed again. “Guess you heard that, huh?”

“Yes. Where is it?”

“West Virginia. We’ll hit there on the way back. I’ve got agents securing the dump site and the body, with strict instructions to not touch anything.”

She nodded. “Good. I’m done here. I can’t get much more, here. Hopefully I’ll find out more with undisturbed remains.”

“Common Link” — Excerpt from DEATH MASK (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

The Death Mask, in Native American legend, was a particular kind of face painting done by warriors and Shamans about to go into battle — whether physical or spiritual.

So when bodies start showing up in the Arizona desert, with the only link being their missing faces and the strange paint in the bloody remains, the FBI calls in their resident expert on weirdness, and the Bunker crew, to investigate. And what they’re about to find out will send Dr. Faith MacKenzie reeling, and bring her cousin’s expertise into the forefront of their investigation.

“Common Link” — Excerpt from DEATH MASK (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book 5 ) —

“The body looks like something’s been gnawing on it.”

“Like a demon?”

She shot him a quelling look. “Or scavengers. The lack of dentition or scratch marks bothers me, though. I don’t know how his flesh was removed. It looks like something chewed on him, but there aren’t any marks. It’s almost like a… a…”

“A demon?”

Faith glared at him. “You and your demons. I should introduce you to my cousin, Hope. She and her husband work for some mercenary outfit, but Hope’s been fixated on this whole demon thing ever since she came back from Africa, in the nineties.”

Jonathan stilled as the name registered. Surely it couldn’t be the same woman. There had to be lots of women with that name, in the world. “What did you say her name was?”

“Hope. Hope MacKenzie. Well, Talladay, now. She–”

It was her. Had to be. “Was she in Africa with UNPAARD? A relief mission in Somalia?”

Faith’s brow furrowed, and her gaze was troubled. “Yes. How did you know that? You didn’t…?”

He shook his head, and forced his expression neutral, even as his gut roiled with the memory of opening those cells, to find men and women covered in mud, muck, and blood, their bodies covered in signs of torture. And one prickly woman with red hair, oddly iridescent eyes, and hatred in her eyes. No wonder Mac looked so familiar, the first time they met.

“I must have read about her, somewhere.”

“A Question of Values” — Excerpt from BODY OF EVIDENCE (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

Something that’s always fascinated me about mythology is the interplay and interweaving of the concepts of good and evil. In the earliest polytheistic myths, the concepts were twined together so intricately, it was clear that early man had a depth of understanding about the duality of both good and evil that later morality tried to divorce itself from. With the advent of more monotheistic religions, and polymorphic derivatives like Christianity, the waters of good and evil became muddled with absolutism, and the concept became one of holy vs unholy, and one could not be both, or have any kind of interplay between the two. The grey area between good and evil began to disappear, and would not re-emerge until the Age of Humanism.

However, even the most holy ancient texts of Christianity and monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Islam make reference to a deity that is both benevolent and wrathful, a protector and a destroyer. I wanted to explore this, and my Guardians, Inc series became the perfect vehicle for exploring the fine line between good and evil, and where religion loses the concept of faith and becomes zealotry, instead.   And, since I’ve always had a fascination with the concept of the Faustian Contract, I found myself very drawn to the creation of the character of Mephistopheles – a Para who is a demon/devil, but who has made his own deals, if you will, and has a code and set of rules he follows, even in his “business.” I came to really like this character, who straddles the line between what is inherently good in all of us, and what is drawn to acts many might consider evil… He is a necessary evil, and I find myself quite liking him. I won’t be the least bit surprised if he ends up turning up in more than one book in this series…

 

“A Question of Values” — Excerpt from BODY OF EVIDENCE (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book 6) —

 

“What can I interest you in, today? We have a fine collection of Ch’in sculpture, or Berber rugs, perhaps?”

Jonathan stared the tall, emaciated-looking old man down. “I’m not in the mood for games, Mephistopheles. We both know you’ve got a lot more hidden away than a few illegal artifacts.”

Thin lips curved upward ever-so-slightly in a cool smile. “What you’re asking for is very expensive, Agent Caulder. Are you certain you want it?”

Jonathan laughed shortly. As if. “You and I both know you can’t make those kinds of bargains with me, Mephistopheles.”

The old demon sighed exaggeratedly. “More’s the pity, too. You’d make a fine addition to my collection. I could get a lot at auction.”

Mardi Gras tourists not doing it for you, anymore, huh?”

One thin shoulder shrugged up. “You know how it is. One vice, no imagination. No value, there.”

“Wouldn’t know. What I do know is, word has it you might have a lead on the whereabouts of Elizabeth Prescott.”

Mephistopheles’ slim brow raised. “Sweet girl. And very much not my type.”

“Too innocent for you?”

A chuckle answered that. “No such thing, my dear boy. Everyone has some kind of darkness, some price. Well, almost everyone,” he admitted grudgingly. “Young Miss Prescott is incorruptible.” His gaze narrowed on Jonathan. “You, however, have a price. You’ve had value for years, but I see that one — of little enough value, as vengeance always is — has been paid off in full. But you’ve got a new one, now. Much more valuable. Ah, love, maybe? Yes,” he nodded as Jonathan tensed. “Definitely love. I could help you out.”

Jonathan’s fists clenched. He wasn’t playing this game. “I don’t need your help. You even think about messing with her, and so help me God…”

A derisive chuckle met his unguarded oath. “It has been an eternity since the god of Abraham saw my showroom floor. We have an understanding, he and I. I don’t barter for that which is pure, and he doesn’t interfere with my…” He cleared his throat tellingly, “legitimate business.”

“Wonderful.” Jonathan wasn’t interested in any business that didn’t involve his case. “My sources say you helped someone ‘acquire’ Elizabeth.”

Mephistopheles tsk-ed regretfully. “Someone has been talking shop off the showroom floor. It is so difficult to find reliable help, these days.”

Jonathan laughed without humor. “You, complaining about vice? I don’t buy it.”

“You never buy anything,” Mephistopheles complained. “But I have hope for you. Someday, I’ll find the right price.”

Those words drove a cold spike through Jonathan. Mac had a stalker no one had seen yet. Could that be because they weren’t supposed to see? “What have you done?”

“Nothing, yet.” Mephistopheles appeared blandly unconcerned. “As for your Miss Prescott, don’t look my way. I had a Dark Court partisan inquire about acquiring her a few months back, but he didn’t like my price and I’m afraid I was required to have him removed from the premises. Rather forcefully, I might add.”

Meaning, of course, that one of Mephistopheles’ thugs likely vaporized him. Another potential suspect gone. Great.

“I would suggest,” Mephistopheles tapped his steepled fingers against his bony chin, “if you are looking for Miss Prescott, you look into her brother’s associations. Dear Maximillian has a very high price on his head.”

“Body Dump” – Excerpt from NIGHTSTALKER (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

When a body turns up in the middle of a National Forest with no visible evidence of how it got there, but clearly having been torn apart, the case is instantly handed over to Bunker team to investigate. And when as the body count starts mounting, the only evidence they uncover points to the impossible. Only, Faith and her team have already learned, when it comes to their cases, nothing is impossible.

Witch Hollow brings together a wide variety of my life-long fascinations, from forensics and anatomy to the paranormal and mythological.  Add in characters who have literally snagged not just my imagination and interest, but also my heart, and this is fast becoming one of my favorite series to write.

 

“Body Dump” – Excerpt from NIGHTSTALKER (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow) –

 

Linda lowered the camera from her eye with a frown.  “There aren’t any footprints.”

Faith glanced up. “What?”

“Footprints.” Linda gestured to the soft earth around them. “Aside from yours, mine, and Agent Caulder’s, there aren’t any footprints anywhere around here, and absolutely no tire treads. How did the killer get the body in here?”

Faith sighed inwardly as she realized Linda was right. Looking back down at the body, the sick certainty this was going to be another of Jonathan’s oddities clenched in her gut. “That’s not all that’s wrong with this scene.  The corpse has been mutilated, and the liver, spleen, and heart are a pulverized mess.” She poked around inside the torn-open abdominal cavity, and sat back on her heels with grim certainty. “And the posterior ribs and pelvis have been shattered.” She looked up at Linda again. “I don’t think he was dumped here. I think he was dropped here. From a considerable height, too.”

Linda looked up. “Passing plane, maybe?”

“Maybe.” Faith couldn’t help the doubtful tone of her own voice.  “If it was a low-flying, relatively slow plane. Anything higher than five thousand feet, and there’d be a lot more extensive trauma than this.”

“Like a biplane. Or a helicopter, maybe?”

Faith nodded. “We’ll have to test the hypothesis, but I hope you’re right.”

Linda snapped more pictures. “Why?”

“Because otherwise, I’m not sure I want to know what did this.”