Excerpt: The Tower of Songs by Casey Barrett

The summer is drawing to an end but there is still time to get in a couple more thrillers before it’s officially fall.

With the long weekend coming up, the time to read a thriller couldn’t be better. I am so excited to share a little sneak peak of this exciting new book with you guys!

This thriller is out tomorrow so you guys are getting an early sneak peak with this one. If you like what you see then be sure to add this one to your Amazon cart and read it this weekend! It sounds like it’s going to be quite a ride!

Summary

Embracing an improbable stretch of sobriety, unlicensed P.I. Duck Darley has proven himself stronger than the temptations that loom in the shadows of New York City. But the familiar pull of self-destruction lingers like garbage in July when Layla Soto, a sharp-tongued Park Avenue teenager with a family as screwed up as his own, presents a twisted missing-persons case he can’t refuse . . .

Layla saw video evidence of her billionaire father being abducted from their home–at the top of the tallest residential tower on earth. She suspects her grandmother, a Chinese social climber on husband number three, orchestrated the act to silence her only son. Duck agrees to investigate the hedge funder’s disappearance, if only for the rush of a new thrill–and an excuse to reconcile with Cass Kimball, his leather-clad sometime partner who nearly got him killed . . .

As the unlikely duo become immersed in a high-stakes ransom linked to the international drug trade and the delicate relations between the two most powerful nations on earth, survival means trusting no one. Because when confronting absolute power, certain forces will stop at nothing to bury the truth. (summary from Goodreads)

Excerpt

PROLOGUE

Danny Soto opened the door to find Mr. Sun flanked by a pair of female bodyguards. He’d heard about the ladies, an eccentric quirk of this enigmatic tycoon. They accompanied him at all times. Each towered over her boss. Each wore tight black fatigues, her silk-black hair cut short across a broad forehead. They were both armed, with shoulder holsters strapped unhidden across their chests. Behind Mr. Sun and his guards there was a slight young man, standing imperious and stern. He was holding a wheelchair before him.

“There he is,” said Danny, offering his wide smile and a quick bow of the head. “Come in, it’s a pleasure to see you, neighbor.”

Mr. Sun smiled. His mouth was full of twisted yellowed teeth. “Neighbors, yes. My neighbor above me, at the very top, Mr. Daniel Soto.”

The men extended hands and shook as the group crossed the threshold. Without acknowledging his guards, Sun turned and guided the young man forward. “And this is my son, Edward. I hope his attendance is acceptable. He will soon be taking a role in my business, after he finishes his studies.”

 The younger Sun grasped Danny’s offered hand in both of his own and bowed in deference. He was maybe twenty-two, another weak fuerdaibeing groomed to lead the family’s next generation. Under normal—that is, American—circumstances Danny would have ignored the punk, but he knew that would be a grave error. Like it or not, it was important that Danny included him with generosity in all they discussed.

“It is an honor to meet a man of your success, Mr. Soto,” said the kid. “Thank you for having me.”

Always acknowledge and respect the elders first. Rote and phony as it was, Danny knew these social obligations of status and age must be adhered to at all times by these fortunate sons.

Edward pushed the wheelchair into the foyer without explanation.

“May I?” asked the elder Sun, motioning to the view.

“Please. Come, come.”

Mr. Sun walked to the large cubed windows that extended in a row of six across the length of the double-height living room. He looked down at the darkness of Central Park, a blanket of black surrounded by the glittering lights of Uptown Manhattan. Danny joined him. He gazed upward, watched a plane descend over the East River. It appeared closer than the masses beneath.

“You are just a few floors higher,” said Mr. Sun, “but it is different from here. So special, there is no one higher.”

“For now,” said Danny. He motioned to the construction below, down the block. It was already sixty floors and rising fast.

“Yes,” sighed Sun. “Records never last, but it is still impressive. It must feel very good to know that no one lives above you—no one ever.”

It was a record that would soon be broken. There were currently five towers in mid-construction across the world—three in the Middle East, one in India, and the one outside the window—that would surpass his. Yet for the moment Danny Soto and his family lived in the highest residential building on Earth—on the top floor, 1,396 feet in the sky. It was pure ego, he knew, another way for billionaires to keep score, after they’d accumulated more than they could spend, but to Danny and to others of his ilk, it meant something.

He was currently number 366 on the Forbes richest list, though those rankings were clueless. It was quaint the way a magazine presumed it was able to quantify such things. Many of the world’s grandest fortunes were not even mentioned. Danny himself was worth far more than the insulting number they assigned to him. Yet no one on or off that list had ever lived in a place this high in the clouds that looked down oneverything. All of Manhattan and everything beyond, he could survey it all from his home in a way that had never been done in human history.

Danny wondered who would buy the apartments on the top of these other towers. Probably a Saudi or Russian, he thought. Maybe Chinese, but of late they were having trouble getting their wealth out of the country. His sometime neighbor from the eighty-eighth floor, Sun Bin, had been one of the first to buy here, before the crackdown by the folks in Beijing.

Regardless of the owners’ nationalities, most of these spots sat empty. Safe deposit boxes in the sky, that’s all they were. They weren’t homes, not like his. They shouldn’t even count. Since they moved back to town from Greenwich, the Soto family—Danny; his wife, Nicole; seventeen-year-old daughter, Layla; and twelve-year-old son, Lionel—lived here. It was their primary residence.

The five others—the spread in Southampton, the London pied à terre at Trafalgar Square, the island in the Exumas, the lodge in Jackson Hole, the private residence in the Hong Kong Four Seasons—those were residences that were visited as needed. The Hamptons house was more for his wife and kids, the London and Hong Kong apartments for business, and the Bahamas place for the occasional family holiday. He couldn’t remember the last time any of them went skiing out West. He probably spent more time aboard his jet than inside any one of those properties.

Yet this perch atop Manhattan was the only one that felt like home. Same as tax evaders in Florida, in order to claim the record of world’s highest address, you should have to prove your six-months-and-a-day residency to qualify. Shouldn’t there be an asterisk?

A ridiculous line of reasoning, there were so many ways of keeping score. The damn apartment cost him $96.1 million; it was 9,000-square-feet, which came to over $10,600 per foot, which made Danny a fool. When you started breaking it down it became more and more obscene. His wife’s bathtub alone cost over a million. And the apartment didn’t even have private outdoor space. The lower floors were selling in the five-to-six-grand-a-foot zone, still insane, but only half as preposterous as what Danny paid. Oh well, he was paying for the unprecedented views and the title—the world’s highest apartment. A record soon to be broken, but whatever, in a few years it would prove to be a good investment. The market for these monster properties might have cooled, but what was a nine-figure price tag to multibillionaires? Mortgages were moot.

 You paid cash, always through an anonymous LLC; pride of ownership was to be kept quiet. It was not only crass, it was unsafe to broadcast one’s possessions at a certain level. Men like Danny Soto and Sun Bin understood this. It was Danny’s mother, or to be precise, his mother’s third husband who was responsible for the introduction. Because of the family connection, he hoped the usual time-sucking niceties of doing business with the Chinese could be dispensed with. The slow, fake, getting-to-know-you protocols drove him nuts, but his mother taught him well. Danny might have been half gweilo, but his mother, Eileen, was full Chinese, from Shanghai, a child of the Cultural Revolution who, through savvy successive choices in husbands, had risen high. She was determined to see her only son rise higher still. And he had.

The group stood in silence, contemplating the city below. They waited for the host to speak. Sun’s son, Edward, began to fidget.

“I’m sure this could have been yours,” said Danny, “but it must have been hard to resist the eighty-eighth floor. I know how special that number is in your culture.”

Sun nodded, once. “Very auspicious, yes. bā bā the number of fortune.” Then he turned to face Danny and asked in a gentle voice, “Would you like to sit?”

There was quick movement behind him. There was no time to turn. Danny felt a sharp sting in his neck. Then a hood was forced over his head. His magnificent view replaced by blindness. The injection worked at once. Whatever it was, his adrenalized panic gave way to a spinning wooziness. He heard the sound of wheels behind him. The wheelchair, he remembered. He felt himself being lowered into it, unable to resist, his body as pliant as a puppet.

Before he lost consciousness, he sensed himself being wheeled away.

CHAPTER ONE

It was the worst of July heat and I was taking a beating. I was getting tossed around the mat by a beefy young cop named Kingsley. He was a bright, ambitious kid from Lagos, Nigeria. Kings was bound for big things in the department, an NYPD poster boy for enlightened, diverse policing. There were more and more cops around the dojo these days, encouraged by superiors to learn a martial art in lieu of potential lethal force, when scared overwhelmed officers reach for their pieces at crucial moments. My black-belted abilities were still eroded, and Kings had about fifty pounds of muscle on me. Every throw I attempted was swatted away. Aikido is supposed to equalize any opponent, but whatever the color my belt, I was still a joke to a guy like Kings. The beating felt good, just what I needed.

Afterwards, I hit my vape, exhaling as I stepped out into a blazing afternoon. My face burst with sweat, my t-shirt was sticky against my back, but it wasn’t like the booze seeps. There was nothing to release but endorphins. My dojo, New York Aikikai, was over in Chelsea on West 18th Street, a short walk east to my apartment. On a day like this any outdoor movement was offensive. Manhattan in summer is for suckers, for those without the means or the control over careers to escape for more reasonable climates. Count me among them; I’d done a poor job saving what little I had after my latest breakup.

Newly single, another predictable bender had followed. Six weeks devoted to coke and whiskey and regrettable four a.m. decisions. Now, I was off the booze and riding the weed-only wagon. It seemed to be a trend among reluctant alkies these days. There are those out there, a great many, who will always have the need to feel something; a buzz-free life of total clarity is not an option. Light drinkers who’d never consider another substance, folks who can take it or leave it… who are these people? But whether it was whiskey or wine or just the maintenance beers, I could no longer deny the effect the alcohol was having. My liver needed a break.

I wasn’t kidding myself that the change was permanent. I knew I would drink again, someday, but I was fit and energized in a way I hadn’t been in years. In addition to my morning workouts at the pool, I had also returned to the dojo.

I’d received the proverbial call to wake up in a literal way, accompanied by a kick to the ribs. In the darkness after closing time, I’d passed out on my front stoop. Coherent enough to find my way home, but, somehow, I’d been unable to unlock my door and fall through it. I’d spent the early morning hours sprawled on my steps like a bum, unconscious in the February cold. Then it was half past eight and the sidewalks were full of the stroller brigades, moms pushing little sons and daughters off to preschool.

My new landlord-in-waiting was standing over me, disgusted and ready to deliver another swing of his loafer. His name was Kent, a real cunt, and evidently Mr. Petit’s only heir. The owner of my brownstone was in his eighties and running out of whatever borrowed time he had left. For almost fifteen years, Gerald Petit had rented me his garden apartment for a song. I couldn’t remember when he last renewed my lease. At this point I suppose I had squatter’s rights. But ever since his hospitalization in the fall, his nephew Kent had been making regular trips from Jersey into the city. Sniffing around the property he lusted to inherit, like he’d ever cared about his bachelor uncle. He wanted me out. The moment the will was read I knew he intended to sell it for a few million. He’d turn off my heat, if necessary, and maybe try to buy me out for a few bucks. After I vacated like a rodent in the basement, a buyer would gut the place, strip it of every touch of period charm. Yeah, I’d seen that movie, been disgusted every time it aired.

The irony was that I was responsible for Mr. Petit still being alive. If I hadn’t been coked up one morning at six a.m. last October, I wouldn’t have heard him fall. He took a tumble down the stairs and broke his hip. I responded, called 911, the paramedics were there in minutes. After he returned home, now with a live-in nurse, I made a habit of visiting him in his parlor a few days a week. We’d never been close, but faced with imminent expulsion from my longtime home I started to ask him about my father. They’d been colleagues, before my dad’s disgrace and imprisonment, and I suppose I wanted to learn what I could before he spoke no more. Of course, Kent the cunt took my visits as a cynical too-late ploy to ingratiate myself into the will.

It wasn’t Kent’s kick on the stoop that morning that put me on the wagon. It was the witnesses that accompanied it. My first sight as I regained consciousness was a young mother pushing a double-seated stroller. Her kids were maybe three, twins, a girl and a boy. The mother looked weary, like she’d slept about as well as I had. She was dressed in sweatpants, UGGs, and a puffer coat. The twins were bound up like a pair of bloated Easter eggs.

“What’s the matter with that man?” asked the girl.

“Not everyone has a home,” said the mom. “Not everyone is as lucky as you two.”

She patted their heads and wheeled around us. Mistaken for the homeless, in front of my own home. If I believed in rock bottom, that might have qualified. Kent leered at me. You will be soon enoughhis look seemed to say. I averted my eyes, offered no apologies, and unlocked my door. Then I emptied my apartment of all alcohol.

I braced for the withdrawal. Without professional help, I knew going cold turkey off the booze could kill. I accepted the risk. Made sure I had a refill of Xanax ready to soften the shakes and the dread. To my surprise, the first few days were rather pleasant. There was a certain joy in feeling my face un-puff; in the morning there was clarity, a weird sense of well-being. I was reminded of that old Sinatra line, how he felt sorry for people who didn’t drink, when they woke it was the best they were going to feel all day. Old Frank might have been right, but I’d been waking with doom and shame for a long time. By the fourth day I was feeling smug about shaking off my habit without the terrors and seizures they warn you about.

A week in I wasn’t so cocky. The whiskey whispers started and grew to a roar by my tenth sober day. I curled up on the couch, popped one Xanie after another, and binge-watched Boschand Jack Taylorand Wallander. The shows didn’t compare to the books, but I was in no position to indulge in the cliché when I couldn’t focus on the page. When I managed to sleep, I dreamt of amber and hops and the sounds of loud barroom chatter.

It turned out my old friend, Page Six reporter extraordinaire, Roy Perry, was coming through his own bout of drying out. Coke was more his issue, but there’s no such thing as a cokehead who’s not also an alcoholic. He suggested I try smoking my way through. He said pot was the only way he’d managed to stay sober.

I called his guy, bought a few strains he recommended—Girl Scout Cookies, Gorilla Glue, Trainwreck. Times had changed since I dealt. Back when I was hustling around the city, before I got busted, I never knew a thing about Indicas or Sativas or THC content—pot was pot. It looked fresh, or it wasn’t. Now each canister came with descriptions of the high and treatment suggestions, like a mobile pharmacy of greens. It all seemed too precious but fuck me if they didn’t work as directed. It seemed I’d come full circle, a druggy journey home, back to the substance that got me started.

A few months later I was getting stronger by the day. I’d shed fifteen pounds. The definition was coming back to my chest and abs. My face had shape again, the whiskey bloat no longer. So what if I was dependent on the weed and the Xanies? I was rather proud of myself.

My workload increased. Perhaps word of my reformed habits got around. I was getting referral upon referral for divorce cases, averaging one per month, lining them up and knocking them down. I’d noticed a curious twist to my standard catch-the-cheating-bastard assignments. It used to be that I gathered evidence for the wronged wife, so she could divorce him and score the highest settlement possible. Now, more and more wives weren’t after a divorce—they were determined to scare off the mistress. The New Yorkereven ran a story about this burgeoning cottage industry. They called it “The Mistress Dispellers,” reporting that it was now standard practice in China. A fine piece, though it failed to investigate its own backyard. This was not something limited to the Chinese and their tai-taiclass. It was also common practice on the Upper East Side and other pockets of our city with more money than love.

My latest assignment wrapped two days before. The client in question was a Belgian beauty named Kimberley; a former model married for a dozen years to a trust fund kid turned pseudo real estate developer. She had a four-bedroom loft on Bond Street, two kids in private school nearby, a staff of nannies and help, and an ironclad prenup that would have left her with ten million, should the marriage end for any reason. It had once seemed like a lot. Her husband, Cody, once seemed like a good man. Now he had a twenty-two-year-old girlfriend, an English tart who looked depressingly like Kim two decades earlier.

The girlfriend’s name was Katie. She did a bit of modeling, but mostly aspired to influence people on Instagram. Kim was prepared to pay her off, but I convinced her it wouldn’t be necessary. Katie just needed someone more tempting—cooler, richer, whatever—than her current married sugar daddy. With the help of Roy Perry’s club connections, I managed to get her in front of Ian Kahn, a nightlife and hotel magnate, divorced and looking. He had a thing for blondes with a posh accent, if two of his four ex-wives were any indication. One night at Libra in the West Village we made sure he spotted her. He didn’t stop looking until she looked back. Sometimes cupid’s job is rather easy. Roy placed the item in Page Six: Ian “Killer” Kahn’s newest hot young thing…Old playboy Cody was yesterday’s news. Consider Kim’s marriage saved, if not full of unbroken vows. She told me to stay in touch, adding that her husband was going on a golf trip soon, and her kids would be away at camp. If not with me, Kim would be exacting her revenge sex with someone soon, and she’d also keep the lifestyle to which she’d become accustomed. Maybe she’d ask her husband what he thought of Ian Kahn sometime, just to see him squirm.

Sin in the city, it seemed my job was recession-proof. As long as I stayed clean-ish and stuck with the impersonal cases involving affairs of the heartless.

But what fun is that?

I saw her waiting by my stoop and knew by the troubled look on her fresh face that this was about more than a marriage. She was somewhere in that discomforting range between late high school and early college, full of precocious arrogance and useless facts. She stood there in an expensive-looking red sundress, her black hair swept back in a high ponytail, her wide eyes peering over sunglasses that tipped at the point of a button nose. She straightened up as I approached.

“Mr. Darley?” she asked.

“That’s right. Do I know you?”

I tried to step around her, down the steps to my apartment. She moved with me, blocked my entrance.

“No, you don’t, my name is Layla Soto,” she said. “I think you’ve met my father, Danny Soto, a few years back.”

“Don’t think so.”

“He was Charlie McKay’s boss,” she said, “at Soto Capital, my dad’s fund.”

The name was not one I liked to hear. Charlie McKay, my old teammate, an Olympic swimming champion turned millionaire trader with a soul sold to Satan. The association had almost killed me on more than one occasion. It had also given me my fifteen-minutes as an investigator, a D-list, days-long brush with fame.

“I think I talked to your dad once,” I told her. “But I don’t really remember, sorry.”

Of course, I remembered him. He was a toxic presence, a supercilious snake of a man dressed in black. I recalled how Charlie McKay had lusted for his approval after a profitable day in the markets.

“I also know Steven Cohen,” she said. “He goes to my school.”

If invoking the McKay name was a punch to the gut, mentioning Stevie Cohen next was a left hook to the jaw. I staggered and set a hand on my gate.

My ex, Juliette Cohen, had a son, Stevie. I still missed him, but Juls and I agreed that it was best for me to stay away. His therapy was not going well; the night terrors had not subsided. Thanks to a case I pulled them into, then eight-year-old Stevie killed a man. It was an act of astonishing bravery, saving my life and that of another, but it would take time for him to recover from the psychological scarring.

He may never.

“You’re calling out the greatest hits. How’s Stevie doing?”

She shrugged. “He’s in fourth grade, I’m going to be a senior. I only know him because he’s sort of famous at school, because of…”

“Because he killed somebody.”

“I guess. He was out for a few months. Everyone was talking about it when he came back.”

“So, what is it I can do for you, Layla? You writing a story for your school paper or something?”

She motioned toward my front door. “Would you mind if we talked for a few minutes?”

No way was I letting her inside my place. I was notorious enough around the neighborhood. No one was going to witness me leading an underage girl into my home, no matter how innocent or business-oriented the meeting.

“I’ll give you five minutes,” I said, “but not here. Why don’t we walk over to Piccolo around the corner? You can tell me about your dad over a coffee.”

She glanced over my shoulder, then turned and scanned the street behind her. Her eyes were quick and mistrusting and full of worry. She covered them with her sunglasses.

“We need to speak in private,” she said. “My father is missing. I think he’s been abducted. I knowit. He’s been taken. Please, I think my whole family is in danger.”

WHERE TO BUY (AFFILIATE LINKS)

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