BY: PATRICK ASHTRE

Formerly a sought-after structural engineer and manager of complex construction sites across the country, Tommy Luck is now nothing more than an unemployed drunk. His lifestyle is simple: drink himself into a stupor each night and run each morning to minimize the effects of his nightly binges.

Assisting a friend in retrieving a hard-drive from an upscale residence in Northwest Washington DC, Tommy once again finds himself swept up in a complex web of murder and deceit. This particular hard-drive happens to belong to a powerful organization. It contains sensitive information, and they would do just about anything to get it back. The problem is the organization’s standard operating procedure is to eliminate any outsider who comes into contact with the hard-drive.

Fleeing the country to escape the organization and their pursuing assassins, Tommy finds himself matching wits with his long-time rival, John Smith. As Tommy works to uncover the truth he discovers there is more to this mystery than meets the eye, and no one seems to be who they claim. Every step of headway into exposing what’s really going on creates more uncertainty. The only thing Tommy Luck seems to be able to control, as he peels back the layers of deceit surrounding his situation, is his relentless schedule of drinking and running.

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Tommy’s Rival by Patrick Ashtre, Tommy Luck is in trouble once again, but this time it’s by accident. He gets a call from an attorney friend whose criminal client asks him to retrieve a hard-drive from under a floorboard in the client’s house if the client doesn’t contact him by a certain time. The stolen hard-drive belongs to a powerful secret society and contains sensitive information. When the two men go to retrieve the hard-drive, they run into the society’s thugs, and the game is on. John Smith, Tommy’s long-time rival and an employee of the society, tries, once again, to kill Tommy and his friends, but, once again, Tommy proves very hard to kill. Some people just never learn.

Like the other two books in the series, this one is intense, fast paced, and chilling. You can’t help but root for Tommy and his friends and cheer at their unorthodox methods. A really great read.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Tommy’s Rival by Patrick Ashtre is the third in his Tommy Luck series. In this story, Tommy accompanies an attorney friend to retrieve a hard-drive from the home of a client after the client failed to call at the time he said he would. When Tommy and his friend Jack arrive at the house and retrieve the hard-drive, they are accosted by thugs, one of whom Tommy recognizes as working with Tommy’s nemesis, John Smith. It is later discovered that the hard-drive contains sensitive information on the powerful “Society” and had been stolen from the Society by Jack’s client. Since Tommy realizes that anyone who knows about the hard-drive is probably on a hit list, he and his friend flee to an island in the Gulf of Thailand, where hopefully, the Society will not be able to reach them. But the Society’s reach is very long…

Tommy’s Luck, like the first two books, is compelling, intense, and intriguing. I love trying to figure out how Tommy will get out of each new mess. If you liked the other two books, you really don’t want to miss this one.

CHAPTER 1

Georgetown, Washington DC, USA, 5 December 2016:

Kelly wasn’t sure what had awakened her from a deep sleep. Rubbing her eyes, she looked around the bedroom. Its daisy yellow walls draped in darkness, and took in the shadowy details. An outside street lamp cast a muted light across the room creating a medley of shadows on the ceiling and walls. A long oak dresser stood against one wall with a large oval mirror inside a gold frame hanging above. On another wall stood the doors to the en-suite bathroom and walk-in closet. A door leading to the hallway was situated on a third. The bedroom door was open, and she watched as a series of shadows danced across the hallway walls as a car drove past her house. She took a deep lung full of air and smelled the familiar scent of her slumbering husband, before glancing at a clock on a small round table next to the bed. Its red illuminated face read 0223.

Feeling warm air descending onto the queen-sized bed from an overhead vent, Kelly wondered if it hadn’t been groaning contraction of the house that had awakened her, which happened when the home’s furnace failed to fight off the night chill. She sat up and placed her back against the headboard, smoothing back her straight brunette hair. A thick green quilt fell to her waist, revealing a pearl white silk nightgown that highlighted her soft brown skin. Pulling the quilt back up to her shoulders, she glanced down at Stan, her husband, sleeping soundly next to her and then once again to the open door leading to the hallway and living room. Craning her head to one side, she listened to the house sounds, but heard nothing. Yawning she slipped back down onto the bed. Just as she began nuzzling her head into the pillow she heard the noise again, a shuffling sound coming through the open door from the living room. Sitting back up and craning her head again, her heart jumped when she heard a faint cough come from down the hall.

“Stan,” she quietly whispered, lightly shaking her husband’s shoulder.

Moaning at her touch, Stan rolled away from her onto his side, pulling the quilt from Kelly’s legs.

Feeling panic building in her chest, she whispered, “Stan,” slightly louder and shook him again.

“What?” He hoarsely responded, rolling onto his back and opening his left eye. “What time is it?”

“Someone’s in the living room.” Kelly felt her eyes beginning to fill with tears, as a smoldering terror began to consume her.

Stan slowly pulled himself up, slipping back so he too was resting on the bed’s headboard next to Kelly. He looked over at his panicked wife and asked, “Okay, what is it that you heard that makes you believe someone is in our living room?”

She reached out and placed her hand on his bare chest. “I heard something. Something woke me up. Then I heard someone cough. It came from down the hallway.”

“I don’t hear anything,” Stan replied, the hoarseness giving way to his normal rhythmic tone.

Moving her hand from his chest and clutching Stan’s left forearm, Kelly looked at her husband with frightened and pleading eyes and repeated her earlier claim, “I heard someone cough. There’s someone in the living room.”

“All right, all right, relax, I’ll check it out.” Stan reached out, gently caressing Kelly’s cheek with the back of his hand.

Kelly watched as he slipped his legs out from under the heavy green quilt and placed his bare feet on the floor, rubbing his eyes in an attempt to banish the last of his sleepiness. As he stood up, the quilt fell from his red pajama bottoms, and he walked to the door, briefly stopping to see if he could hear the noise that had scared Kelly.

Looking back at Kelly, Stan whispered, “Are you sure you heard something?”

“Someone is out there.” Her voice cracked. “I heard a cough. I’m sure.”

Watching him disappear down the hallway, Kelly pulled the quilt tightly across her shoulders as she stared at the darkness beyond the hallway door.

Another shuffling noise then a sharp thump, followed by a second loud thud and a grunt echoed across the hallway walls. She pulled the quilt up to her neck, a tear broke from her right eye and worked its way down her cheek. A faint moan was followed by an even fainter gurgling sound, and Kelly felt a shiver snake down her spine.

“Stan.” Her voice cracked. “Stan?”

Hard-soled footsteps could be heard on the hallway’s wooden floor, moving in the direction of the bedroom.

“Stan? Stan?” Kelly called out again in a quivering voice.

A shadow formed in the bedroom’s doorway. Kelly’s mind raced and through a haze of terror a man wearing a black turtleneck sweater, heavy dark jacket, and black pants slowly took shape. The man stood silently inspecting Kelly as she held the green quilt up to her neck.

“Where is it?” The man’s gruff voice echoed off the room’s walls.

“What?” Kelly answered, glancing at her cell phone lying on the top of the small round bed stand, next to the clock, its face now reading a red 0227. “Who are you?”

“Where’s the database?”

Reaching for her cell, she asked, “Who told you about the database?”

“Don’t,” the man hoarsely demanded, taking a step into the room.

Pulling her hand back from the cell and wrapping her arms around her chest, Kelly took several deep breaths, trying to quiet herself. She examined the man, his features now illuminated in the dim light coming from the lamp post outside the room’s window. He was tall with wide shoulders, page boy cut blonde hair, and large dark eyes.

“Who are you?” she asked again, attempting to rein in her panic.

“Where’s the database?”

“What did you do with Stan?” She attempted to summon some resoluteness, but tears now freely streamed down her cheeks. She repeated her question, “Where’s Stan?”

The man took another step toward the bed and pulled an eight-inch knife from his jacket’s pocket, before pointing its shadowy edge at Kelly, slowly and coarsely said, “Tell me where the database is.”

“There. It’s there.” Her voice cracked again, all firmness gone, as she pointed to a framed picture of Stan on a sailboat someplace on the Chesapeake Bay hanging between the walk-in closet and bathroom doors. “Where’s Stan?”

The man walked to the wall and pulled the picture from its mount, revealing a small greenish colored safe with a black dial, a digital screen with key pad, and silver handle. He tossed the picture to the floor. The picture’s glass shattered as it hit the edge of the rug. It clattered to a stop on the wooden floor.

“What’s the digital code?” The man looked over his shoulder at Kelly while placing the knife back into his pocket.

Frozen in fear, Kelly rattled off six numbers before mumbling again, “What have you done with Stan?”

The man typed in the numbers before looking over his shoulder again and saying, “If an alarm goes off, you’re dead.”

“The alarm was deactivated when you entered the numbers onto the keypad.”

“What’s the combination?”

“Seventeen, forty-two, thirteen.”

Twisting the combination into the dial, the man pulled the silver handle down and opened the small heavy door. Reaching inside, he grabbed a rectangular shaped black box. From the box, he pulled a small cobalt blue and silver rectangular device with a USB port on one side, and placed it in the pocket of his jacket, dropping the box to the floor. Turning, the man walked over to Kelly and stood, towering over her, as she shivered under the quilt. Kelly could smell the man’s body odor, harsh and pungent.

Roughly pushing her back on to the bed, the man grabbed the quilt and threw it aside. He then groped at her nightgown, pushing it up and revealing white panties. Terrified, Kelly pulled her gown back down, shimmying backward on the mattress. Grabbing her left ankle, the big-shouldered man pulled her back to the edge of the bed before silently taking the knife from his pocket and pointing its edge at her throat. Reaching out, he roughly grabbed the top of her nightgown and ripped it from her, showing her bared breasts and white panties.

“Take them off,” he grunted, pointing the knife at her panties.

“Please don’t.”

“Take them off,” the man growled, placing the tip of the knife against her throat.

“Please,” she cried as she slipped her panties off.

CHAPTER 2

Chevy Chase, Maryland, USA, 5 December 2016:

The three older men sat in the spacious bookcase-lined study. Heavy snow could be seen falling through windows edged with frost. Beyond the falling snow, traffic moved slowly along Connecticut Avenue, providing a slow-motion light show of white headlights and red taillights flickering off of the descending flurry. Leaping flames burnt large logs in a massive stone fireplace, not ten feet away from where the men sat, and reflected off a polished wood ceiling and floor. A blue and red Persian rug lay across the center of the floor and a wide silver chandelier hung overhead. The room smelt a mixture of burnt wood, fine liquors, and old men.

Oliver Mason, a narrow-shouldered and wide-hipped man with straight white hair that resembled that of an aging monk, sat in a red velvet chair to the left of the fire. Dressed in hunter green pants with a sharp crease and a light blue shirt, Oliver turned his attention to a single piece of white paper in his hand, silently reading the typed black print for the second time.

A large plump man, Andres Tressel, with unruly curly white hair and a matching white beard, dressed in rumpled khaki pants, sat across from him on the right side of the fire in a high backed and overstuffed chair covered in a floral fabric. Wearing a paisley vest over and white shirt and wide red suspenders, Andres sat scratching his ruddy white haired cheek with his right hand while holding a glass filled with ice and brown bourbon in his left. Turning his attention from the fire and looking at Oliver, he grunted.

Sitting on a couch directly in front of the fire and between his two companions, James Tillage, a lean man with bald top and short white stubble on the sides of his head, dressed in dark tailored trousers and a white shirt, yawned. A recovering alcoholic, James picked up a crystal glass filled with ice and sparkling water that had been sitting on a small round table next to the couch, and began raising it to his lips. Midway through the process, he reversed the motion and placed glass back down on the round table, as if changing his mind.

“Last night?” Oliver asked with a distinct English accent, breaking their momentary silence. Looking over to the other two men, he reached out to a small square table beside the red velvet chair and picked up a snifter filled with brandy. “What time?”

“Early this morning. Just before two-thirty a.m.,” Anders relied in a heavy Scandinavian accent.

“And Kelly?” Oliver inquired, before raising the glass to his mouth and taking a sip of its brownish contents.

“The swine cut her husband’s throat when he went into the living room in an attempt to discover the source of a noise that had awakened Kelly. He then had his way with the poor girl after acquiring the database from her wall safe.” Andres continued, “She’s traumatized to say the least.”

Oliver asked, “Where is she now?”

“With our private physician at the Hartford residence,” Andres answered in his baritone like voice. “I have several men taking care of the security, as well.”

“How did the thief know about the hard-drive and database?” Oliver arched his white eyebrows. “There are only a handful of people that knew it existed—even fewer knew its location—and all members of the Society.”

“No idea,” James said in a North American accent. “Kelly’s house is one of the many safe places we store the database in a rotation process. A computer randomly selects the storage facility and the time it is to be stored, we are informed of the next storage location one day before a scheduled move, and, finally, the database is discreetly moved by one or two trusted employees. All in all, six individuals, at most, know where the database is at any given moment. But you’re correct. It has to be someone within the Society. It has to be one of the six.”

“I believe we can discount Kelly as responsible for communicating its location.” Andres remarked. “I doubt she would have planned her husband’s death and her subsequent rape in order to obtain the database.”

“She, or one of the two employees charged with moving the database, might have let it slip out,” James noted, picking up his sparkling water from the small round table, again.

“This move was conducted by only one individual. Only five people knew the database’s location,” Andres explained then added, “Or someone may have identified the employee tasked with moving the device and simply followed him. Do we use the same individuals each time it’s moved?”

“Yes and no, the individuals assigned to transport the database come from a short list of vetted employees,” James clarified, placing the crystal glass filled with sparkling water back on the small table, once again untouched. “Another selection randomly made by the computer.”

“The contents would be devastating to the Society if it were to find its way into the wrong hands. Do we have any clue to who might be responsible?” Oliver asked.

“I called our man John Smith,” James explained, brushing invisible lint from his white shirt. “He’s working on the problem as we speak. He’s also at the Hartford residence.”

“I don’t trust that man,” Oliver commented up before he picked up the crystal snifter of brandy again, taking another sip.

“Whatever happen to the gentleman we wished to hire as our executive assistant?” Andres chirped in.

“Thomas Luck,” James answered without hesitation.

“Mr. Luck chose to turn down the position due to our selection of John Smith to participate in the operation designed to measure his capacity to handle the unknown stress,” Oliver explained, shaking his head while looking whimsically into the fire. “It was an enormous mistake. Even Caroline, our long time executive secretary, quit over our subsequent employment of John Smith.”

“We chose John Smith to be a part of Mr. Luck’s qualification test because they were enemies,” James interjected, “They participated in the same NSA operation the year before—”

“And we still have Mr. Smith on the payroll,” Andres interrupted.

“John Smith is simply a stand in until we can find an adequate replacement,” James said.

“I don’t trust the man,” Andres said, repeating Oliver’s earlier proclamation.

“We should have offered Mr. Luck more compensation,” Oliver muttered.

“We did,” James replied. “We offered him three times the previous executive assistant’s salary and he turned it down.”

“We should have offered more,” Oliver repeated.

“He would have turned it down. We attempted to hire a principled drunk. Who would have known they existed,” James answered, looking at his two companions and shaking his head. “The minute we involved John Smith, Mr. Luck was lost to us.”

“He is indeed a drunk,” Andres agreed with a slight chuckle, before pouring the remaining contents of his glass into his mouth and taking massive swallow of bourbon. “However, he is a very effective drunk.”

© 2019 by Patrick Ashtre