BY: MARK PETRY
Secret Service Agent Jack Shields has a secret…He’s not really Jack Shields.
Down and out bouncer, John Ryan, finally had a good night at the track. It’ll buy him some time from the various mobs he owes. Before the night is done, his luck will really change when he gets an offer he can’t refuse—to be Jack Shields.
He’ll need help pulling it off, especially since the bank CEOs he’s supposed to be protecting are being targeted for execution. If he can’t, the only question is—what will come to an end sooner, his secret or his life?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Secret Service by Mark Petry, Jack Shields, a secret service agent, is dying. Unwilling to leave a personal mission unfinished, he contacts his long-lost twin brother and convinces him to switch places. So John becomes Jack and tries to assume his life, while Jack dies as John. A bit convoluted? Yeah, it is, but John pulls it off very well. At least after he learns some secrets about his brother.
The story is clever and intriguing, and the author shows a good understanding of the problems inherent in trying to pass yourself off as someone else. Even someone who looks just like you. The plot has some good twists and turns that will keep you reading well into the night.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Secret Service by Mark Petry revolves around a down and out con man and gambler, John Ryan, who is heavily in debt to the mob. He has a good night at the track and wins enough to buy himself some time. Then his twin brother shows up with an offer he can’t refuse. Keep the money and become his dying twin brother. John accepts and the fun begins, but John has no idea what he is getting into.
I really enjoyed the book. The characters are charming and well developed. And even though the plot is not unique, it does have some fresh twists to it that make it seem brand new with enough surprises that the book is hard to put down.
“It’s just like riding a bike,” he whispered to himself. It had been a while since he had last assembled a bomb. A little shaky, like someone who hadn’t ridden one in a while, he steadied himself quickly as muscle memory took over. The consequences, had he not, would have been quite a bit worse than a simple scraped knee or elbow. But after all, he had been the Lance Armstrong of bomb-making at one point in his life.
“This’ll fix it,” he said. Admiring his work, he placed the detonator on the device and backed away, not considering the irony of his statement.
John Ryan’s heart raced faster than the horses rounding the track. He inhaled and exhaled, almost to the point of hyperventilating between each kick of dirt. They were a quarter of the way around the track and his number three, a filly named Iron Lady, was boxed in so tight by a couple of colts that she could have filed for sexual harassment. The betting magazine, rolled tightly in his hand, began to bruise his leg as he struck it at least as often and, perhaps, even harder than the jockey whipping his Lady. Normally, John wouldn’t stand for a man hitting a female, but this was different by a stretch. Now that stretch was a half mile and it wasn’t looking good. The bruising he would receive later would be much worse if she didn’t respond.
The crowd stood as the horses rounded the first turn toward the backstretch, the sound of their hooves like rolling thunder. The lights surrounding the track shone off their sleek hides, flickering like the lightning in the distance, as their muscles flexed and stretched. He could already smell rain in the air, mixed up with the dust storm rising from the track, making its way up the outdoor stands.
“I told you to take Thunder Clap!” Charlie yelled, slapping John on the shoulder as the colt he’d bet on took the lead.
“It isn’t over yet, Charlie,” John said calmly.
Charlie shook his head in disapproval. “You should’ve listened to me.”
“Do I ever?”
“Guess not,” Charlie replied.
As the horses raced down the backstretch, the two colts boxing in Iron Lady began to separate as Thunder Clap accelerated.
The other colt couldn’t keep up, leaving enough space for Iron Lady to slip into second.
“Told you it wasn’t over yet!” John yelled as he tensed the large muscles in his arms with anticipation.
“You bet on the filly? Boy, you are desperate. What was she, like twenty to one?” Charlie said, almost chuckling.
“Thirty,” John replied, clenching his square jaw as if it would give her the extra push she needed.
“What did you bet? Show or place?”
John kept his eyes glued on the horses, but could sense his friend’s disbelief even before he said anything. “I’m head over heels for her.”
“To win? You are nuts. Sorry, man. She ain’t catching Thunder! Literally!” Charlie boasted as his horse pulled farther ahead.
“Literally? Don’t use words you can’t even spell, Charlie.”
Charlie chuckled. “Then I’d be a mute.”
“Can you even spell mute?”
“Come on, man. Don’t get mad just because you picked the wrong horse. Let me help you pick out the next race.”
“There won’t be a next race for me.” John’s thigh throbbed from the repeated abuse of the magazine, the sound lost to the roar of the crowd as Iron Lady began to make her move.
“You blew your whole wad on that bitch?” Charlie yelled, turning from the race to look at John in shock.
“She’s not a dog, Charlie.”
“Still, you blew your money on a female.”
John smiled. His horse was hanging close to the leader as they entered the last turn. “Wouldn’t be the first time I did that, now would it?”
Over the public address system, the announcer sounded even more excited than the fans. “Iron Lady’s coming on strong going into the final turn, but will she catch Thunder Clap?”
“She ain’t gonna catch him,” Charlie scoffed, turning his attention back to the track. “I can’t believe you put your last two hundred on her.”
Thoughts materialized in John’s head at an elevated level, as they normally did when someone was facing death, in very creative and disturbing ways. Perhaps they’d take him for a swim with a new pair of cement shoes. Maybe do lunch at the slaughterhouse. Certainly would be fitting to end his life amongst the animals he had so much in common with. All he’d ever done was make others fat off his losses.
Thirty years old and what had he ever accomplished? Odd jobs that changed more frequently than the foster homes he’d grown up in. That was about it. His latest job as a bouncer at an urban club, where most nights he was the only white guy there, certainly wasn’t anything to boast about.
No, the slaughterhouse would be an insult to the cows. At least they were worth something, even dead. They’d probably just put a bullet in his head and throw him in a dumpster.
The real question wasn’t how, but by whom since they could be any of the four different mobs he owed money to. Like people shifting debts from one credit card to another, chasing the best rate, John had borrowed money from one group to temporarily appease another while gambling the rest. Either way, the outcome was always the same. He just ended up owing more money to more people. But instead of just jacking up their rates like banks did, the guys he borrowed from jacked up the borrowers.
Yeah, probably a bullet to the head, he thought. As he pictured the gun going off, he actually heard the crowd gasped in horror–just as if someone had really been shot.
“Oh, shit!” Charlie yelled.
John snapped out of his daze to see a cloud of dust rising from the track. A horse was down, but which one?
Thunder Clap had just collapsed onto it. It was obvious to race fans what had just happened even if Charlie was in denial about it. This was no boxing match where the fighter would get back up after falling down from the weight of a punch. This looked like a snapped front leg, a death sentence for a horse–in this case, Thunder Clap. For John it was a last minute call from the governor, a pardon from execution.
The announcer yelled, “Iron Lady finishes first after Thunder Clap tumbles late!”
“Son of a Bitch!” Charlie yelled, throwing his ticket down on the ground.
“That’s my bitch!” If it hadn’t been for Thunder Clap’s tragic accident, the filly wouldn’t have won, and John didn’t feel right about doing a victory dance.
Charlie looked up at him slowly then his face brightened. “Wait a minute. You said thirty to one…and you put two hundred on her! That’s like four grand or something!”
John nodded. “Six, my friend.”
“Six thousand?” Charlie yelled.
“Hey, don’t go advertising it to everyone. This isn’t exactly the safest place to broadcast your winnings” John said, squinting at him like a teacher would with a bad student.
“Listen to you. Haven’t even collected your winnings yet and you’re already talking like you’re rich.” Charlie shook his head. “Let’s go get your dough, you lucky bastard,” Charlie said, punching John in the shoulder.
“Luck had nothing to do with it. She was going to win anyway.”
“She was due for a win. She’s gotten better with every race she’s run,” John explained.
“How do you know? You haven’t looked at that magazine once since we got here,” Charlie said doubtfully.
John tilted his head and arched an eyebrow at him, as if to say really.
“Oh yeah, photographic memory. Ironic how I always forget you have that, huh?”
“It is. Sorry you weren’t as lucky tonight.”
“Hey, I’m still up eighty bucks,” Charlie said after he checked the tickets in his pocket.
“That’s better than losing eighty.”
“Yeah. Let’s get our money and go celebrate,” Charlie said, turning to head toward the cashier windows.
Charlie watched jealously as the cute cashier slowly counted out John’s six thousand, seemingly not in any hurry to let him leave her window. He could tell John didn’t even pick up on her flirting.
While John stared at the bills being laid out in front of him, she kept trying to gaze into his eyes.
The same girl just handed Charlie his cash, without even counting it. As he turned to walk away, he counted out his eighty bucks, taking almost as long, while John waited with a funny stare.
“Really, Charlie? And you work at a check cashing place? When you get robbed, are the crooks that patient with you?”
“I don’t count it for them, I just hand it to them quick.”
“I have a hard time picturing you doing anything quick, Charlie,” John said with a nod toward Charlie’s right leg.
“Hey, you know my knee never got right again after football in high school.”
“Yeah, I know. Good thing they don’t treat high school football players like horses or you would’ve been put down a long time ago. Besides, you were slow before you blew out your knee,” John said, laughing as he stuck the money in his pocket.
“Screw you, John.”
“I’m just kidding around. Chill, man.”
“You chill. You’ve been working at that black club too long. You’re starting to sound like them.”
“Racist much, Charlie?”
“I’m just saying, the lingo’s rubbing off on you.”
“I just hope nothing else from that place rubs off on me.”
Charlie sighed and shuffled toward the exit. “I’m just still a little upset about my horse. You know, they’re probably getting ready to put him down.”
“How about a moment of silence? Would that make you feel better?” John said, only half sarcastic, as they began down the stairs to the exit.
Charlie stared pointedly at the lump of cash in John’s front pocket. “You know, a nice steak might do the trick. How about we hit Ruth’s Chris on the way home?”
“Sure” John said as he put on his sports coat.
As they headed to John’s El Camino, Charlie looked over at him, concerned, as if the old beat-up car had reminded him of John’s situation. “Is that gonna be enough?” Charlie asked, stopping in his tracks.
John headed around the back of the car, getting the keys out of his pocket, and looked at him as he opened the door. “How hungry are you?”
“You know what I mean. I know you’re in deep with the Italians. Or was it the Chinese?”
“Both. Don’t worry, Charlie. It’ll buy me some time. Now, get in the car. I’m hungry.”
They both climbed in, closing their doors at the same time, the loud metal-on-metal thud in stereo. John looked at Charlie as he put the key in the ignition. “Besides, you forgot about the Mexicans and the Serbs.”
“Then, let’s just go eat a good old American steak,” Charlie said, habitually reaching back for a shoulder belt that wasn’t there since this model predated should belts.
“Good idea.” John started the engine and a big puff of smoke billowed from the old exhaust pipe.
© 2015 by Mark Petry