Friday, October 24, 2014

An Excerpt from Lamentation, a Suspense Thriller by Joe Clifford

Omnimystery News: An Excerpt courtesy of Joe Clifford
Lamentation by Joe Clifford

We are delighted to welcome back novelist Joe Clifford to Omnimystery News.

Earlier this week we had the opportunity to catch up with Joe to discuss his new novel of suspense Lamentation (Oceanview Publishing; October 2014 hardcover and ebook formats) and today we are pleased to introduce you to it with an excerpt from the first two chapters.

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Lamentation by Joe Clifford

I HAD DUCKED INSIDE THE PANTRY TO see what else we could sell when I tripped over a cord of wood and snared the back of my work coat on an old, rusty nail. The sharp point tore through the thick padding and ripped a hole in my long johns, all the way through my undershirt. I hurried to the sink and peeled off the layers. Just a surface cut. Thankfully, unlike the heat and power, the water was still on. I dabbed at the wound. Last thing I needed was lockjaw. I hadn't had a tetanus shot in twelve years. The estate clearing business was big in Ashton, and my boss, Tom Gable, a good guy, but it's not like the gig came with health insurance.
  All afternoon I'd been up at Ben Saunders' place, a two-hundred-year-old farmhouse in the foothills, cherry picking through the dead man's belongings, loading the U-Haul for trips to flea markets and swap shops in southern New England. Saunders had lived alone and was a packrat. The cancer finally got him around Thanksgiving. Most of his stuff was junk. A dumpster sat in the snow-covered driveway overflowing with waterlogged pads of fiberglass, chunks of splintered wood, jagged shards of glass, trash bags jam-packed with leftovers that didn't quite translate to dollars and cents. I was almost done, and I'd be glad for the day to end. If I wrapped up soon enough, I'd have time to shoot across town to catch Jenny before she put our son to bed. I hadn't seen him all week.
  Out the kitchen window, thick, black storm clouds roiled over Lamentation Mountain, churning like the gears to a violent machine, steamrolling the summit and sucking all light from the landscape, pastures and stonewalls shrouded in dense fields of leaden smoke. Cold winds rustled through broken windows. The flapping insulation sounded like a plastic bag held out a speeding car on the highway.
  The big, empty farmhouse smelled of abandon. Night was settling, and the snow began to fall heavier. It had been one of the worst winters on record. Certainly, the worst since the accident.
  Twenty years had passed but my parents' crash felt closer to last week. I stared in the direction of Lamentation Bridge, even though I couldn't see much through the evening gloaming, freezing my ass off, making no effort to get redressed. I knew that somewhere in the dark lay the exact spot where their brakes had failed, and they plunged into the frigid gray water of Echo Lake; the night everything had changed for my older brother, Chris, and me. I could feel death's presence lurking the entire week I'd been working there, a pall hanging over the place. It was the monkey on my back. The elephant in the room. The crazy little bird chirping in my ear.
  The headlights from Tom's truck fanned up the gravel drive, slicing through snowy pines and shining into my eyes.
  I pulled my ripped shirt over my head and bundled back up, then headed outside to greet him.
  Tom climbed down from the cab and lumbered over, broad shoulders curled, hands jammed in pockets. I could hear my untied work boots crunching frozen dirt and snow as harsh winds raced through the valley.
  "Almost done," I shouted above the din of engine and storm, nodding back at the old farmhouse. "Maybe one and a half, two hours left."
  Tom gestured for me to follow him back to his idling Ford F-350, which rumbled like a washing machine stuck with an uneven load. We hoisted ourselves into the warm cab, welcoming the hot air blasting through the vents.
  I pulled the Marlboros from my coat and cupped my hands to light one. The radio softly hummed. The Allman Brothers, "Sweet Melissa." That song had been playing the first time I kissed Jenny in Steve Ryba's basement back in high school. Always hit me hard. Tom offered me the other half of a ham and cheese from the Gas 'n' Go, but I shook him off. Last time I'd made the mistake of eating a gas station sandwich, I spent half the night with my face stuck in the toilet.
  Tom reached in his coat and passed along an envelope.
  By its heft, I could tell that there had to be at least a grand in there.
  Tom was a good boss and treated me well. But the nature of estate clearing meant nothing was permanent, and the brutal winters often made it difficult to transport merchandise. Which frequently spelled downtime for me — downtime I didn't want. A thousand bucks said we were looking at another one of those times.
  "That should hold you over a few," he said.
  "If it doesn't," I said, tucking the envelope into my coat, "that's not your problem."
  "Yeah, it is. You're the best guy I got, Jay. I hate doing this to you, but everything slows down this time of year. You know that."
  I nodded.
  "Might have another place up in Berlin. But that won't be for at least three weeks. Finding somewhere to sell the shit, that's another matter." He forced a laugh. "Helluva place to run antiques." His frost-burned cheeks winced a grin through the bushy beard that covered two-thirds of his face.
  I gazed out the window. Distant lights flickered on the range like fireflies in a jar in the summer, as families retreated safely inside to batten down hatches and weather the latest storm.
  I made for the handle. "Still a few things inside I have to pack. I've got a pair of floodlights in my truck I can use. I want to wrap this up for you today."
  "Don't worry about it," Tom said. "I'll take care of it."
  I didn't like the way he looked when he said that. Because I knew what was coming next. I'd been getting that look since my mom and dad had died, ever since my brother had turned into what he'd become. It spelled a long night of aggravation.
  "Turley's looking for you," he said.
  He didn't need to add the next part, but he did anyway. "They got Chris down at the station."

CHAPTER TWO

Lamentation Mountain was a misnomer, since it wasn't actually one mountain but a whole range of them, divided by the main thoroughfare of the Desmond Turnpike, which ran south all the way to Concord and north across the border into Montreal. There were no roads out of town to the east, and the only route west traversed the treacherous Ragged Pass, an icy deathtrap most of the year.
  The Ashton Police Station was deep in the flats, across Camel's Back and past Axel Rod Road. As I descended the ridge, snow dumped in big clumps, glopping on everything like wet, sticky rice, obscuring traffic lights and stop signs. The sporadic streetlamps couldn't make a dent in the dark, which made the short ride take a lot longer than it should have. Not that I was in any rush to get there.
  I'd lost count of how many times I'd picked up my asshole brother over the years. Shoplifting at the Price Chopper. Dealing at the TC Truck Stop. Garden-variety vagrancy. We were a small town, and people rarely pressed charges, but, still, it was embarrassing. Usually, they'd stick my big brother in a tiny cell for a night or two, then release him to me. Who else were they going to call? Chris was Ashton's village idiot. And he was my problem.
  The police station was brand-spanking new, part of the recently remodeled Town Centre. A few years ago, Ashton placed a measure on the ballot to allocate more police funds. Lombardi Construction got behind it, so it passed without a fight. Why wouldn't Lombardi support the measure? They'd be building the damned thing. With Michael Lombardi in the state senate and Adam Lombardi running the construction business, the family was the closest thing to royalty we had. Their dad, Gerry, even coached the high school wrestling team, on which Chris used to star back in the day, and the old man served on the board of UpStart, a mentoring program for at-risk boys throughout northern New Hampshire. Whenever he'd had too much to drink, Chris invariably would evoke the slight of having been left off the All-State team as the reason for his downfall. My brother never ran out of injustices to blame.
  Besides the precinct, the renovated Centre also included a senior living facility, the library, and town hall. In a town of under three thousand, adding extra squad cars and a new holding cell smacked of overkill. But the drug epidemic up here was getting out of hand. At least that had been the posturing by local media. A recent poll in the Herald claimed that over half of high school students had admitted to trying some narcotic before tenth grade, if nothing more than popping the occasional painkiller from mom's stash. According to the paper, drug use had become "a blight and a scourge on the community." That may've been hyperbole, but it didn't take much to put the fear of God into God-fearing people.
  Not that there wasn't a drug problem, especially at the truck stop, which was where most of those people seemed to congregate, setting up shop next door at the Maple Motor Inn, or in one of the sleazy motels along the Desmond Turnpike, waiting for their welfare checks on the first and fifteenth of every month. I'd seen firsthand the drug problem in Ashton, but giving cops shiny new toys to play with wasn't going to change anything; people were going to do whatever the hell they wanted to do.

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Joe Clifford
Photo provided courtesy of
Joe Clifford

As an artist, I explore the dark places, the uncomfortable places, the dingy bricks and concrete cracks of a cold uncaring city. I write about the criminals and dope fiends, the dealers and the dreamers, the cops with their heels on the throat, closing in on the kill. I know this scene well, because I once moved among them.

As a homeless junkie for several years, I stole with them, slept with them. I fought along side them. My work shows this world intimately, and ultimately it is not a loss I choose to lament; rather, it is a celebration I embrace. Because for as ugly as it gets out there at times, something beautiful can still shine through the darkness of that life. You just have to know where to look, and you only need to stay on your feet long enough to find it.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at JoeClifford.com and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

— ♦ —

Lamentation by Joe Clifford

Lamentation
Joe Clifford
A Suspense Thriller

In a frigid New Hampshire winter, Jay Porter is trying to eke out a living and maintain some semblance of a relationship with his former girlfriend and their two-year-old son. When he receives an urgent call that Chris, his drug-addicted brother, is being questioned by the sheriff about his missing junkie business partner, Jay feels obliged to come to his rescue. After Jay negotiates his brother's release from the county jail, Chris disappears into the night.

As Jay begins to search for him, he is plunged into a cauldron of ugly lies and long-kept secrets that could tear apart his small hometown and threaten the lives of Jay and all those he holds dear. Powerful forces come into play that will stop at nothing until Chris is dead and the information he harbors is destroyed.

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