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Gnosis

Gnosis

Murder, mystery and redemption are at the heart of “Gnosis.”

Detective Jack Dantzler has no clue why he has been summoned to the prison to meet with the Reverend Eli Whitehouse, a man convicted of committing a double murder twenty-nine years ago.

He is stunned when Eli claims to be innocent and wants Dantzler to prove it. But Eli only gives Dantzler a single clue—look at the obituaries in the local paper for a specific two-week period.

Reluctantly, Dantzler agrees to look into the case. As he does, two more people are brutally murdered. And although Dantzler isn’t aware of it, he has become a target for the killer. Dantzler goes back to Eli and pleads for

another clue. All Eli says is, “think of Jesus’s empty tomb.” It will be this whispered utterance that unlocks the mystery and reveals the killer’s identity. But this isn’t just any ordinary killer. This is a man with a dark and bloody past, a man with connections to the highest levels of organized crime. Dantzler is now on the trail of an ice-cold assassin, fully aware that one slip will mean instant death.

Sometimes having too much knowledge can lead to deadly consequences.

EXCERPT:

PROLOGUE

April 5, 1982
The only thing Bruce Fowler loved more than having sex with Darleen was smoking weed. Most of his friends would say his priorities were all screwed up, but, of course, none of them were getting laid on a regular basis. Being perpetually horny, it was only natural for those guys to prefer sex over . . . well, just about everything.

Not so with Bruce.

True, Darleen was a tiger in the sack—by far the best sex he ever had—but as terrific as she was, she simply couldn’t compare to smoking pot. It wasn’t even a close call.

Bruce took his first toke seven years ago, when he was twelve. His older brother, Daryl, was smoking a joint in his room when Bruce barged in unannounced. Daryl asked his kid brother if he wanted to take a hit. Bruce refused. That changed when Daryl called Bruce a chicken. No one called Bruce Fowler a chicken, because Bruce wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything, not even his older brother, who had a reputation for being a tough guy. He grabbed the joint from Daryl’s hand, and before Daryl had time to show him the proper way to smoke marijuana, Bruce took a long, deep hit. The impact was immediate. His throat and lungs burned, he felt slightly dizzy, and his eyes watered, but . . . there was something else happening as well. Something positive, nice, calming. He had the strangest sensation that he was floating like an angel high above the scene below, looking down at Daryl, who was sitting on the bed laughing at the boldness of his younger brother.

It was a memorable moment in Bruce’s life. A pivotal moment. A life-altering moment. From that initial taken-on-a-dare toke, he swore to make it his life’s goal to find and smoke the best pot he could lay his hands on. It was a goal he achieved with admirable success.

Tonight, with the first drops of rain beginning to fall, Bruce and his best buddy, Carl Osteen, were standing in front of the Kentucky Theatre when Bruce noticed the big car pull up to the curb. The window on the driver’s side went down, and the man behind the wheel asked where he might score some good weed. Naturally wary, Bruce looked at Carl, shrugged, and told the man he had no clue where to buy weed, either good or bad. Of course, this was a lie—Bruce knew a dozen pot dealers in the city. He simply wasn’t about to take a chance that the guy was an undercover narc looking to make a bust.

However, despite his instinct for caution, Bruce couldn’t help but be intrigued. The guy was driving a Lincoln Continental, a pricey car for a narc. And he was dressed in an expensive suit and tie, like a business man or a lawyer. Certainly nothing like the clothes worn by any cop he knew. Most narcs dressed like street bums, hoping to make you think they were ordinary Joes out looking for a score. More often than not, it was the dumb-ass outfit that gave them away. But this guy was different. He didn’t give off a narc vibe, didn’t look like a cop. Maybe he was legit, someone who could be trusted. Bruce was torn, unsure what to do. His gut feeling that the guy was okay waged an interior battle against his fear that he might be wrong. And with so much at stake, this was not the time for an error in judgment. You never roll the dice when dealing with law enforcement.

But when the man reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a wad of bills the size of a softball, well . . . Bruce never saw a narc with that much cash. Hell, he’d never seen anybody with that much cash. Bruce was still unsure what to do until the man peeled off two one-hundred dollar bills and said he would give them to Bruce and Carl if they would direct him to the best pot dealer they knew. Seeing all that cash made Bruce’s decision an easy one to make.

Bruce and Carl climbed into the big Lincoln and informed the man that Eddie Martin sold the best pot in the city. Rarely did Bruce recommend strangers to Eddie. On a couple of occasions he had done so, but only after the stranger was vouched for by someone Bruce knew and trusted. Eddie seldom sold to anyone outside his known clientele.

To Bruce’s way of thinking, pot was harmless. Unfortunately, the idiots who make laws saw things from a different perspective. They didn’t distinguish pot from deadly heroin. Both sins were equal in their stupid eyes. Getting busted for selling pot meant jail time, and Bruce didn’t want to think about that. He wouldn’t last two hours in prison. Therefore, he had to be safe. Taking unnecessary risks was not an option.

To protect Eddie’s address, Bruce told the man to park two blocks from Eddie’s house. The man gave Bruce five hundred dollars for the purchase. Bruce was only gone fifteen minutes before returning with the pot. The man took the bag, thanked Bruce, and then asked if they would like to smoke some with him. Bruce and Carl both nodded in the affirmative.

With rain coming down harder now, the man drove out of the city and into the county. Neither Bruce nor Carl knew where the man was heading, nor did they care. They were going to smoke some seriously great shit, and it was not only free, they had each been given a hundred bucks. Pot and cash for doing nothing—sometimes dreams do come true. This weird dude in the big car could be taking them to Siberia, for all they cared.

The Lincoln stopped next to a barn seconds before the rain went from steady to serious. The man cut the engine, reached into the glove compartment and extracted a bag filled with pills. He asked the two boys if they wanted to try one of the blue ones before smoking the pot. He promised them it would intensify the experience. They declined. He then told them to go into the barn, and that he would join them in a few minutes.

Bruce and Carl were standing with their backs to the barn door when the man came inside. When they turned around, they were confused by what they saw. The man had a pistol in one hand and several pieces of rope in the other hand. Bruce felt a shudder run through his body, but he felt no real fear. This had to be some kind of a joke, right? They didn’t know this man, and they had done everything he asked them to do, so why would he have any reason to harm them? He didn’t have a reason, which is what made this so confusing. It had to be a joke, Bruce thought. Some kind of weird game. Nothing else made sense. As the man moved closer to the two boys, Carl muttered something like “what the fuck is this all about?” but his question was met by silence.

The man ordered the two boys to turn around and lie face down on the barn floor. He knelt behind Carl and tied his ankles together. Then he moved behind Bruce and performed the same procedure on him. After binding Bruce’s ankles, he told Bruce to get onto his knees and put his hands behind his back. He bound Bruce’s hands, and then did the same to Carl. When the man completed his tasks, the two boys were on their knees, hands and feet bound, facing away from the man.

Bruce was staring straight ahead when he heard the pop and saw Carl’s body tumble forward. Turning his head slightly to the right, he saw blood spurting from the back of Carl’s head. He also noticed that Carl’s eyes were open.

Only now did fear engulf Bruce. Fear and panic combined with bewilderment. He knew he was about to die, but he didn’t know why. He wanted to ask the man why this was happening. What could possibly be his reason for murdering two innocent young kids? What had they done to deserve this? Instead, Bruce chose to remain silent. He knew it was too late to ask the man anything. Anyway, what would be the point? Some questions are beyond answers.

I’ll never smoke pot again was Bruce Fowler’s last thought before the bullet entered his brain

CHAPTER ONE

Present Day, Lexington, Kentucky
Warden Thad Curtis entered his office like an angry water buffalo, moving with great haste and determination from door to desk. Once he’d reached his destination, he removed his coat, loosened his tie, and dropped like a fallen boulder into the soft leather chair. From door to chair took less than five seconds. Not bad for a man whose weight hugged three hundred pounds.

Curtis coughed, shuffled mindlessly through a handful of papers and looked up, a no-nonsense expression on his freckled, moon-like face.

“Thank you for being so prompt, Detective Dantzler,” Curtis said, taking off his glasses. “I appreciate those who are on time. I have little or no patience for the tardy.”

“No problem.”

Curtis leaned back in his chair. “You don’t remember me, do you, Detective?”

Dantzler shook his head. “No. I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage.”

“We squared off against each other in the second round of the state tennis tournament,” Curtis continued. “I was seventeen or eighteen, and you were maybe thirteen or fourteen. I took one look at you and figured if I couldn’t whip a scrawny kid like that, I had no business on a tennis court. You beat me six-love, six-love. Guess you could say I overestimated my ability somewhat.”

“I got lucky.”

“You won the damn tournament, Detective. You weren’t lucky, you were good. Plenty good. Way out of my league.”

Dantzler nodded but didn’t respond to the compliment. He was in no mood to ransack his mental archives for the purpose of discussing a thirty-five-year-old tennis match, especially one against a player he crushed. Anyway, what could he say? The double-bagel said it all.

“Any idea why Eli Whitehouse wants to see me?” Dantzler asked, shifting the subject to why he was at the prison in the first place.

“I was about to ask you that very same question, Detective.”

“I’m as baffled as you are.”

Curtis opened a brown file folder that looked to be five inches thick. “What do you know about John Elijah Whitehouse? Or, as he’s more commonly referred to around here—the Reverend?”

“Probably a lot less than what everybody else knows. I did some research last night, went through his file, the murder book and the trial documents, so I’m familiar with the basics. Beyond that, I don’t really know much.”

“Were you on the force when it all went down?”

“No. I was still in college.”

“Strange, him asking specifically for you,” Curtis said. “I mean nothing personal by saying that. But it is intriguing, wouldn’t you agree? You’re a homicide detective, yet you had nothing to do with his case. I would have expected him to ask for a detective familiar with his situation, if any are still around.”

“Does he have many visitors?”

Curtis shook his head. “Not so many, anymore. Early on he did. You know, church members would visit on a regular basis. But . . . over the years, the number has dwindled. I suppose members of his flock either died off or found a different shepherd. Either way they stopped showing up. These days you can count his visitors on one hand. Close family members, mostly.”

“According to the file, he has two sons and a daughter.”

“That’s correct. The boys never visit, but the daughter sees him regularly. She seems to be closest to him.”

“That’s not surprising.”

“A couple of others come by fairly often. His attorney and a former business associate.” Curtis put his glasses on and searched the folder. “Yeah, here they are. Colt Rogers and Johnny Richards. Rogers is the lawyer.”

I’m familiar with him.”

“Don’t know Johnny Richards?” Curtis said, taking off the glasses.

“The name doesn’t ring a bell.”

“Probably shouldn’t. He’s not from around these parts. Judging by his accent, I’d venture a guess that he’s the New York or New Jersey type.”

“Whitehouse isn’t from Jersey or New York, is he?”

“Nope. The Reverend is an Eastern Kentucky boy all the way. Harlan County, which is deep in Appalachia. He told me once his roots go back seven generations in those mountains. That translates to a multitude of snake-handling relatives.” Curtis closed the folder and leaned forward, both elbows on the desk. “He’s dying, the Reverend. Has the Big C, both lungs, inoperable. Three to six months is what they’re giving him, but I say that’s highly optimistic. I’ll be surprised if he lasts to the end of this month.”

“What kind of prisoner has he been?”

“Model. Of course, he had some age on him when he got here, and older guys tend to cause less trouble. It’s the young ones that give us problems. Punks, assholes, scumbags. Half of ’em pumped on steroids, half just plain mean and crazy. Still . . . I’ve known some old-timers who delighted in causing us grief. The Reverend wasn’t one of them, though. He’s been easy to handle.”

Dantzler closed his eyes and let his mind sift through last night’s research, hoping to find some bit of logic, some reason why Eli Whitehouse would request a meeting. From his brief study, Dantzler learned that Whitehouse was accused of murdering two young men in what, the detectives concluded, was a drug deal gone sour. Cocaine, heroin, and an assortment of pills were found at the crime scene, an old barn located on property owned by Eli. He also knew Charlie Bolton was the lead detective on the case, and that it was one of Dan Matthews’s first Homicide assignments.

Whitehouse was brought in for questioning the day after the bodies were discovered. Less than twenty-four hours later he was arrested and officially charged with the crime. The trial only lasted two days. A guilty verdict was handed down after the jury deliberated for less than an hour. John Elijah Whitehouse, the Reverend, was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Dantzler remembered one more tidbit of information gleaned during his research: the Reverend said very little in his own defense.

“If you’re ready, Detective Dantzler, then we should go,” Curtis said, rising from his chair. “I scheduled the meeting for three and I don’t want to be late. I have no patience for those who cannot be on time.”

“Yeah, I think you said that, already.” Dantzler stood. “Where are we meeting?”

“The gym.”

“Will Colt Rogers be there?”

“No. The Reverend insisted that no one other than the two of you should be present. He also insisted on no recording devices, either ours or yours. If you have one, you’d better hand it over.”

“I don’t.”

“He also insisted that I allow as much time as necessary.”

“He does a lot of insisting for a convict. I’m surprised you cave to his demands.”

“Hell, he’s a dying man,” Curtis said, gruffly. “Might as well let him have a few small victories before his time is up. Contrary to popular opinion, even a prison warden can show compassion.”

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