Below is the first chapter of Lost Highway, the upcoming John Tyler thriller.
Nothing in John Tyler’s life prepared him for this.
He’d felt similarly before. Not ready. In over his head. The first time he went on a Special Operations raid in Afghanistan. When Lexi was born, and he held his baby daughter for the first time. While life with his daughter turned out well, Tyler didn’t like feeling he wasn’t ready. He made sure to put in the work and be prepared. It had kept him alive many times over the years. “How the hell does anyone own and run a business?” he wondered.
Lexi, filing her water bottle from the fridge, glanced at him. “With help, Dad.”
“Smitty is helping.”
“As much as you’re letting him,” Lexi said. She capped her bottle and pointed at the papers sitting in front of her father. “I know it’s a lot to deal with. Don’t you know anyone from the army who’s a good accountant?”
“I did,” Tyler said, “but he was a Braxton toady.” Ryan Anderson had indeed been a savant when it came to numbers, but he couldn’t escape the thrall of their corrupt former commander. “I shot him.”
“Find another one, then.” Lexi slung her backpack over her shoulder. “Try not to kill this one.” She wore a light denim jacket over jeans whose tightness Tyler didn’t appreciate. The red bookbag matched the ponytail holder in her dark brown hair. Despite living with his daughter full-time for less than two years, Tyler knew this wasn’t an accident. He’d seen other bags on her back before, and they always coordinated with whatever hair accessory she chose. For a moment, Tyler wished his own problems were so simple. “I gotta go, Dad.”
“Right,” Tyler said, snapping out of his quick reverie. He glanced at the oven clock. Lexi’s drive to the University of Maryland would get her to her first class right about on time. “Have a good day. Love you.”
“Love you, too.” She walked toward the door and turned before she got there. “Don’t forget to meet with Cliff.” Tyler waved his hand. “I mean it. You could use a distraction from being a new business owner.”
“I guess.” Having something take his mind off of everything would be welcome. The door shut as Lexi left for class. When he decided to open his own classic car repair business, Tyler never thought it would be so complicated. He didn’t want to hire a lawyer on general principle, so he’d leaned on his old boss Smitty for advice. The buck stopped with the guy whose name was on the paperwork, however.
Tyler looked at the wall calendar pinned near the fridge. It was late February. He hoped to open in a week or so. Things went in fits and starts. A flurry of activity preceded a period where nothing seemed to happen. Tyler learned to hurry up and wait in the army, so he was used to it even if he didn’t like the rhythm. Currently, the process languished in one of its many lulls. Cliff, one of Tyler’s bosses when he worked in private security, wanted to know if he could handle a simple job for a few days. If nothing else, it would be a good distraction, and the extra money wouldn’t hurt.
Tyler picked up his phone.
* * *
Farzaad Durrani looked around the empty room. It was the third he’d visited today, and he got the feeling it would also be the last. To his eyes, the listed measurements of twenty by thirty looked correct. Plenty of outlets lined the walls. A small bathroom opened off to the left. Durrani looked inside. Sink, tub, shower, but no escapable window. A door to the front and one out the back. Easy to guard and defend. All good so far.
His trusted associate Josef joined him. “I think this one may be right.”
Durrani was diligent about hiring men from his homeland of Afghanistan. Josef, a Serbian mercenary, proved to be the sole exception. He stood out thanks to his blond hair and lean, angular face, but the man proved himself time and again. “I agree, my friend.”
“The minimum time we can lease it for is three months,” Josef said.
Durrani waved a hand. “Whatever they require. We won’t need it more than a few days.”
Josef walked the perimeter of the room. He, too, checked the outlets and walked into the bathroom. “Do we know what’s behind the drywall?”
“Cinder blocks.” Durrani rapped on the wall and nodded. “I think this place used to be industrial before they prettied it up. Business has been slow, though, so we’re getting a pretty good deal.”
“The second door?”
“Hallway to the back entrance and a small office.” Durrani shrugged. “Easy to keep locked . . . or guarded if we need to.”
Josef’s head swiveled as he took in the area. “I’m surprised we’re mobilizing again so soon.”
“I know,” Durrani said. “I prefer to wait at least half a year before we work in an area again.” He held up his index finger. “However, we have a unique and lucrative opportunity. It’s been in the works for a while, but this is the right time and place. Make sure the men are ready and know what they’re looking for.”
“I will,” Josef said with a nod.
“Have the usual crew deliver the supplies we’ll need, too.”
“It sounds like we’re moving quicker than normal this time.” Josef frowned. “Compressed timeframes can lead to mistakes. I’m concerned about some of the men being sloppy.”
“Deal with it if it comes up,” Durrani said. “We’ll be able to hire their replacements several times over when this is finished.”
“Maybe we can even take a few months off,” Josef said. “Let the heat die down before we start working again.”
Durrani clapped Josef on the back. It felt like slapping the wall again. “You will be able to enjoy yourself anywhere you want, my friend.”
Josef’s head bobbed slowly. “We’ll start working on her security. I’ve heard they’re down to one man but looking to bring in another.” He paused. “I’m also concerned people might look for her.”
“They will,” Durrani said. “We won’t be able to avoid it. It’s one of the reasons we’ll need to move quickly. A couple days might be all we get. I want to start acquisitions tonight.”
“I’ll make sure this room is ready,” Josef said.
* * *
Cliff asked Tyler to meet him at the offices of Patriot Security. Tyler considered it for a moment. It could be worth it to see the puzzled look on Danny’s face. He made the expression often enough. In the end, Tyler decided the headquarters of his former employer wouldn’t be the best place. He chose Rizzo’s in the Little Italy neighborhood of Baltimore. He valeted his vintage Oldsmobile 442 and walked inside a few minutes before his reservation.
The maitre d’ led him to a square table for two. Tyler took the seat facing the front door. Stairs to the second level and a hallway leading to the kitchen were off to his right. He could keep them in sight easily enough. At the appointed hour, Cliff strolled in. He was a tall light-complected black man whose wiry muscles looked unchanged from his active duty days. “Tyler,” he said as he slipped his light jacket off. Tyler stood, and the two men shook hands.
“Good to see you, Cliff.” Tyler touched the hair on his own forehead. “You’re finally joining the rest of us in going gray, I see.” Tyler would turn fifty-one in a couple months. Cliff was at least as old, but his short hair remained completely black the last time Tyler saw him.
“We’ve had a lot of turnover recently.” Cliff nodded as the waiter filled their water glasses. “Danny doesn’t make things easier, either.”
“He never did.” Danny’s attitude and meddling in Tyler’s work compelled him to leave the company about a year ago. Cliff had been a silent partner for a while. It sounded like he’d started taking a more active role. “Good to see you stepping up.”
“Yeah.” Cliff sighed. “I know I was less involved for a while. Had some stuff going on, you know?”
Tyler offered a congenial nod. He noticed his old boss no longer wore a wedding ring. “Everything good now?”
When the waiter returned, each man ordered. Cliff opted for lasagna with meat sauce, and Tyler chose the veal parmesan. “I’m all right,” Cliff said. “Don’t worry about me. Patriot being short-handed is the reason I’m coming to you.”
Tyler took a swig of his water. “Does Danny know we’re having this conversation?”
“No. The potential client came to me directly. I didn’t think we had anyone to spare . . . but then, I thought of you. This seems like something up your alley.”
“How many people do I get to shoot?”
“Hopefully none,” Cliff said.
“I’ll pass, then,” Tyler said.
Cliff grinned. “I know Danny gave you shit for the job in DC. Hell, I thought you played it right. You got the client back, killed a few drug dealers, and none of it landed on our doorstep Worth a medal in my book. He couldn’t get over it, though.”
“What’s the job?” Tyler asked. “I’m not really interested in rehashing the many failings of your comrade.”
A different server dropped off two salads. Once he left, Cliff said, “It’s a simple protection detail. You get to wear a suit, look menacing, glare at people . . . the whole nine yards. It’ll probably last a few days.”
“Who’s the client?”
“Interested enough to ask the basic questions,” Tyler said. He poured some oil and vinegar on his salad and picked around the pepperocini. “Don’t get your hopes up yet.”
“Fair enough,” Cliff said. “You ever hear of Alex Anne?”
Cliff’s eyed widened. “Wow. I figured you were way too old to know who she is.”
“My daughter listens to her albums,” Tyler said. “She’s among the few modern acts Lexi actually likes.”
“You’ve trapped her with your classic rock?”
Tyler smiled. “I can’t help it if the girl inherited good taste in music from her dad.”
“All right, so you know who she is,” Cliff said. “She’s got some local appearances and a concert this week. Kid’s from the area, so they’re expecting big crowds, media, and probably a few crazies here and there.”
“I don’t know, Cliff.” Tyler swirled ice cubes around his water glass. “I’m working on opening my own car repair shop. It should be ready to go soon. There’s a lot of stuff on my list right now.”
Their waiter returned with the entrees, and he topped off their waters before leaving. “Businesses ain’t cheap,” Cliff said as he cut into his lasagna.
“Good,” Tyler said, “because neither am I.” He closed his eyes and inhaled the steam rising from his veal parmesan. The sauce smelled tangy with enough oregano to make it interesting. The meat was so tender he could cut it with only his fork. “If I do this, I’m going to need more than the normal Patriot rate.”
“I had a feeling you’d want some good coin. The client’s willing to pay well. They have a guy on the detail already but want another.”
“You know much about him?”
Cliff shrugged. “Client says he’s good at his job. I got the impression he’s not very warm and fuzzy. They can’t seem to keep a second man.” Cliff spread his hands and smirked. “With some of the more charming aspects of your personality, I figured you’d fit right in.”
Tyler pondered the offer as he ate the delicious veal. He could use the cash. All new businesses could, and while he didn’t know much about being an entrepreneur, he knew money was a good thing to have in abundance. On the other hand, a few days protecting a pop singer would take him away from the shop at a crucial time. Maybe he could delegate some tasks to Smitty. In a pinch, he could ask his girlfriend Sara for some general management advice. It had been a few months since he’d seen any action, and hours of poring over spreadsheets made Tyler realize how much he missed it. Cuffing around a crazy fan would barely count. “I’ll think about it,” he said after a moment.
“I was hoping to leave with a yes,” Cliff said.
“We might still get there. When do you need to know?”
“As soon as possible.”
“You paying for dinner?”
Cliff frowned. “Why?”
“It’s an extra tally mark in the yes column if you are,” Tyler said.
“Patriot Security would love to buy your meal, then.”
“Thanks.” Tyler used the knife to push about half the remaining entree to the other side of the plate. He’d take it home for Lexi. “I’ll let you know soon.”
“Thanks,” Cliff said. “It’s just protection detail. You’ve done it a bunch of times. How hard could it be?”
Tyler knew the answer.
(Text is copyright 2021 by Tom Fowler)
I hope you enjoyed this preview chapter. Lost Highway releases on October 19th.
To preorder it today, please visit this universal link.