Back in Black (McGinnis Investigations #1) - Rhys Ford


I SPENT most of my formative years in Chicago, faithfully cheering on the Cubs and looking down at people who put ketchup on their hot dogs. My older brother, Mike, was—and still is—a hard-core White Sox fan. This doesn’t explain anything about us as brothers other than he’s always on the wrong side of the fence when picking teams.


For example, at some far-off point in our childhood, back when he was actually taller than me, we played an imaginary game we called Cows and Sheep. I’m not sure where we got the idea, probably from some old movie, because it was pretty much an excuse for all-out warfare with dirt clods and water balloons under the guise of me as a cattle rancher and Mike as a sheep wrangler battling it out for control of the land’s only water source for our herds.

Namely, the garden hose attached to the faucet on the side of the house.

Now, while we didn’t actually have any cattle or sheep, I knew enough about the woolly ungulates to know they weren’t bipedal, six feet tall, with a flap in the front of their bodies for easy access to their dangly bits.

Nor did they have a loaded Desert Eagle and a pair of Dobermans intent on running me to ground.

“I’m supposed to be here!” Shouting over my shoulder didn’t seem to help. Maybe the costume’s head was too thick for him to hear me screaming at him, or perhaps he couldn’t make anything out except the dogs’ vicious, frenzied barking. I dodged a thick bush, but its branches slapped at my face with a withering sting as I went by. “I’m doing a security—”

The sheep answered me with a bullet, blowing away the overgrown trellis I’d ducked through to get some distance between us. Its wood frame shattered, showering me with a tidal wave of leaves and splinters, probably adding to the welts already on my face and hands.

This was supposed to be a quick recon—me testing the perimeter of a Brentwood estate not far from the Craftsman I shared with my husband, Jae, and where I ran my investigation business out of what used to be the massive sprawl’s front rooms. I’d taken the job as a favor for Dante Montoya, a detective my best friend, Bobby, used to work with. His boyfriend owned an elite security firm and needed someone who knew the area to scope out the grounds of an overgrown château. He’d been hired by the guy who recently bought it and discovered it was not only missing a perimeter wall but also was in Mother Nature’s firm, hard grip. But since he was being paid to break into the place on another night to test its defenses, he wanted someone who had no dog in the fight to give him a sketch of what the jungle around the battered château looked like but keep him clueless of the interior to better assess the situation.

If I survived the culling, I was going to find Montoya’s boyfriend and punch him right in his pretty, funky-ass-eyed face.

“I’m going to fucking kill you!” the sheep screamed from somewhere behind me.

I couldn’t hear the dogs anymore, but I did kind of hope the man in the full-body costume took the time to Velcro the front flap closed. From what I had seen, it wasn’t much protection against the thorny hedges around us, but at least it would save some of his skin.

I hadn’t gotten a good look at the man wearing it, but as costumes went, it was spectacular. Probably custom-made, it was a hair too cute for my tastes, but then I also couldn’t imagine myself dressed up as an ungulate complete with a pink bow and enormous round tinkling bell tied around my neck or somehow shoving my feet and hands into what looked like hard hooves.

The place should have been empty. I’d been told no one lived there yet and it would be a month or two before renovations began to restore the old, creaking mansion. But when I discovered a light on in the small guesthouse a few yards from the garage I’d parked in front of, I went to investigate.

I expected maybe a few teenagers drinking beer and smoking pot they’d taken from their mom’s stash, or even a transient who’d found a way into the fairly large single-room structure, planning on keeping safe and warm inside its thick walls.

Instead I’d found Psycho Lamb Chop playing blanket mambo with an elegant socialite