Hard ReturnLandry likes San Clemente California well enough for now–a small town tucked inside a large sprawling chain of cities and freeways—quickly accessible to airports and freeways out of L.A. When he came here, the first thing he did was look up the famous natives of San Clemente. It was disappointing. Yes, there was Dick Nixon’s Western White House. The other famous people: Lon Cheney and Lon Cheney Jr; Cara Fawn—a porn star—and Carl Karcher, the guy who founded the restaurant chain Carl’s Jr. Not very auspicious. You’d think San Clemente could have done better than that.

Landry likes the bustle of the California town: surfers, baby boomers, beach bums, working stiffs, Maserati-owners, chefs, charter boat captains, and the younger families who came from the bland neighborhoods across the San Diego Freeway where houses measure more in square feet than originality. Landry doesn’t like the fact that there are more of these houses every day, perched on the buff and gray hills like Monopoly hotels. But who is he to judge? The Millennials make good money. Landry sees them coming in to town for dinner and shopping with their spacious SUVS and collapsible strollers and very cute offspring.

He likes the fact that he can walk among them, unnoticed. He blends in, just another beach bum/surfer type. His long hair has gold streaks in it, which he applied himself. A beard covers half his face. Every picture tells a story and he has made his own story. Even his car, a 2000 Subaru Outback, fits the mold—middle-aged surfer drop-out.

He rents a seventies-era bungalow on Avenida de la Estrella, a short walk up the hill from the main drag and the pier and the ocean. His new passion is paddle-boarding.

He’s retired.

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club is a short drive up the freeway. He could watch his brother’s racehorses run, but he wouldn’t be able to go to the barns. He can’t drive in through the horsemen’s gate—no license. To apply for one, he’d have to be fingerprinted.

Worse, he would be recognized. He’s dead. He’s fish-food in Florida, and plans to keep it that way.

As he walks up the steps to his bungalow, his OnStar beeper sounds. He ignores it, scanning the pocket yard, looking at every potential hiding place, his roof and the roof next door. He ducks under the banana tree and, key ready, eyeballs the pebble he’d set on the middle of the doorstep: still in place. Only then does he unlock the door.

Inside the bungalow, Landry makes a visual sweep of the room—the configuration of the furnishings. Everything looks the way he left it. He eyeballs the kitchen alcove. Nothing has been touched.

He takes the hallway to his bedroom and opens the walk-in closet, where he keeps his “run bag.” His run bag is packed for a moment’s notice: shampoo and bath soap, pain meds, first aid, an extra phone battery, a suit and a dress shirt laid out and folded neatly, dress shoes and socks, work boots, jeans, a baseball cap, and an emergency medical kit. Twist-tie plastic cuffs, a Scarab OTF knife, and loaded magazines. There is also a burner cell phone. Walking back to the living room, he punches in the number for the answering service and enters his security code.

As he waits, he stands inside the doorway looking out at the patch of ocean off to the north. The air, redolent of the ocean, blows past him, fluttering the banana tree leaves. The sky has turned the color of a red plum. It would be a nice night to sit out on the terrace with a beer.

The message plays: a female voice.

“I’m at an old Circle K outside Branch, New Mexico. Mile Marker 138. I need you to come get me. Hurry.”

He tries the number. The phone rings but there is no answer–

He’ll need his run bag.


You can read more about Cyril in Hard Return, the second book in the “Cyril Landry” thriller series, published by Thomas & Mercer. The first book in the series is The Shop.

GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 6 p.m. eastern on September 24 for the chance to win either a print copy or kindle copy of HARD RETURN, winner’s choice.  Print copy is U.S. residents only; kindle copy open to everyone.

Meet the author
Hailed by bestselling author T. Jefferson Parker as “a strong new voice in American crime fiction,” J. Carson Black has written fourteen novels. Her thriller, The Shop, reached #1 on the Kindle Bestseller list, and her crime thriller series featuring homicide detective Laura Cardinal became a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Although Black earned a master’s degree in operatic voice, she was inspired to write a horror novel after reading The Shining. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Visit J. Carson at her website, on Twitter and on Facebook.

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