With less than 2 weeks before UnWrecked Press officially launches Finders, Inc. the start to a new mystery series, we wanted to share with you an excerpt from the opening of the novel.
Here’s Shelby Jamiston, the newest member of the Finder Team.
As an added bonus, jump over to the UnWrecked Press Facebook page to see the “Location Scouting” photos of the actual place in Boone, NC, upon which the Finders, Inc. headquarters was based!
And get your own copy (ebook or paper) of Finders, Inc. on December 9th, 2014!
Shelby hadn’t planned on coming back to the nasty no-tell motel today, but she wanted to see the look on the little guy’s face when she told him about yesterday. The little guy who was supposed to be her new boss.
Who starts a new employee on a Wednesday, anyway? she thought. And then forgets about them?
She gunned the engine to Mom’s big old blue Crown Vic to get up the road leading to the former Mountain Villa Motor Lodge. Just like yesterday, the place was in disarray, with the sign off of Meadowview Drive almost done falling over backwards, and both wings of the guest rooms filled with broken windows and scratched-up doors. Dead weeds poked up out of the snow and the pavement everywhere, a clump of them partially obscuring the rusted metal fence around the frozen pool and the six-sided building next to it with its windows opaque with grime.
But the lobby had been clean, she also remembered from yesterday, with a fresh coat of paint applied maybe a day or two earlier from the smell. And the faded, flowery carpeting had been relatively unstained, though a bit dusty.
It could’ve been worse. She’d been expecting the stink of mildew and dead mice when she walked through the double glass doors of the lobby yesterday, so she’d been pleasantly surprised.
And that hadn’t been the only surprise of what was supposed to be her first day at Finders, Incorporated.
Just twenty-four hours ago, Shelby had walked through the front doors and took five steps into the lobby, mesmerized by the total silence. This old place had good bones, as Dad would’ve said. Sturdily built. The floor didn’t squeak a bit as she walked deeper inside the wide expanse of the lobby.
Three sets of four armchairs made little islands on the burgundy and blue carpet covering the lobby floor. Shelby guessed the musty smell came from the chairs. Straight in front of her, a half dozen boxes sat on the black reception desk. Guests would’ve had to walk right under a yellowing and slightly crooked chandelier fifteen feet up and eight feet tall to get to that desk for check-in. Four doors, one in each direction around the lobby walls, opened into what looked like either storage rooms or offices.
Shelby had been about to call out when she smelled gun oil and heard someone breathing behind her and to the right.
“What’re you doing here?” A female voice, tight with fear and false bravado.
Shelby turned, slowly, and saw a dark-haired, dark-eyed Hispanic woman a few years older than her, holding a small pistol in her right hand. Not pointing it at her, luckily, but holding it at her side, letting Shelby know she had it close. She must have come from the closest office.
“I’m sorry,” Shelby began, talking slowly and calmly despite the sudden jolt of adrenaline. She’d been around guns enough in the past few years, so she knew what to do. “I was supposed to meet someone here. Hank Johnson. Black guy with glasses, about yay high? Owner of Finders, Incorporated? But I must have the wrong place.”
Something bumped from across the lobby. Shelby wanted to turn toward it, but she kept her gaze on the woman with the gun. The woman glanced across the hall toward the sound and flinched, as if realizing what she was holding in her right hand. She quickly stuffed the gun into the back of her jeans just as a man’s voice called out from one of the other offices.
Shelby risked a look in the direction of the voice and saw a dark-haired man in a black wheelchair roll backwards out of another office as if he’d been shot out of a cannon. He did a smooth turn and focused his intense gaze on Shelby, and then the other woman, Marly. Trying not to stare, Shelby noticed his left leg ended just above the knee, and his right near the top of his thigh. Afghanistan or Iraq vet, she figured. With injuries too high—or too much nerve damage—to allow him to comfortable wear prosthetic legs. As he hurried closer, comprehension filled his face, along with a look of consternation.
“You’re Shelby, aren’t you?” he said. His chair appeared to be custom-made: it was sleek as a racing bike, and it made no noise as it rolled up to her and stopped on a dime. “I’m so sorry for any confusion. I’m Juan Hernandez, and this is Marly.”
Shelby nodded at him and glanced over at Marly, who had taken a step backwards, her face red. To her credit, the woman met Shelby’s gaze and gave her a tiny nod.
“Welcome to Finders, Inc.,” Juan said, with just a hint of an accent.
She shook his hand, then Marly’s.
“Lo siento,” Marly said, the words running together. “We’ve had a couple break-ins already since we starting moving in, mostly students looking for trouble, thinking the place was still abandoned. We’ve only been here a week now. I found a homeless man in one of the rooms this morning, trying to unpack his stuff and make himself right at home. So when I heard you, I thought he’d come back with friends or reinforcements, and—”
“It’s okay,” Shelby said as Juan gave Marly a “What the hell did you do?” look. She wasn’t going to take offense at the thought that she could’ve been mistaken for a homeless person. “I’m kinda familiar with guns, you know?”
Marly sucked in a sudden breath. “Hank never told me today was your first day.”
Shelby figured as much. She shrugged.
“Oh crap,” Juan said. He already had his phone up to his ear, probably calling the boss. “He told me, on Monday. Right in the middle of moving. I was going to tell you, Marly, but got, ah, sidetracked.” He lowered the phone. “And now he’s not answering, of course.”
“So Hank’s… not here,” Shelby said, a sentence that had started as a question, but ended as a statement.
She pushed down a growing wave of frustration, tinged with anger at not just the events of today, but the past few months. She needed this job, and in this tiny university town, there weren’t many good-paying jobs outside of education. No way she was going to cut it as a lecturer. What would she teach? Broken Marriages 101, or Intro to Moving Back Home after 35? Right.
“I’m sure this is just an oversight,” Juan said, tapping hard on the keys to a slim blue laptop he’d pulled from a black bag on the side of his chair. He spoke with the slightly distracted patience of a tech support guy on a tricky call. “I’ll get this straightened out in a minute.”
“We’ve got some coffee over here,” Marly said. “Or some water? It’s filtered, not the nasty stuff from these old pipes.”
“Well…” Shelby began.
I probably won’t be staying long, she was about to say.
But then she looked through the smudged glass of the two front doors and saw the small city—more like the big town—of Boone spread out below them, its streets lined with snow-tipped trees and light on traffic, with a dozen mountains rising around the bowl of town like silent guardians. This place reminded her of why she’d left the big city, and the view made her feel like a queen overlooking her kingdom.
And really, she thought, where else do I have to be today?
Shelby watched a few cars pass on Highway 321 below them as she inhaled the scents of fresh paint and dust and Marly’s perfume. She felt glad not to be in Charlotte right now, sitting in her windowless office at the big insurance agency. Waiting for an interesting investigation to come up, which rarely did. She’d felt like she was always waiting for something to happen, either with work or with Wallace. With her life.
“I could really use some coffee,” she said, feeling a smile slip over her face despite the setbacks of the morning. “Just point me toward the pot. I’ll make sure there aren’t any homeless folks trying to bum a cup.”
Marly let out a nervous laugh at that, while Juan muttered over his laptop about how irresponsible someone—most likely Hank Johnson—was, driving through the sticks of South Carolina with his phone off.
“Coffee,” Marly said, “then the dollar tour. It’s the least I could do after what we’ve already put you through, and you haven’t even started working here yet. It needs some renovating, but I think you’ll like this place.”
To her surprise, Shelby had started to agree with her.