When I first started the Nicki Sosebee series in 2011, I envisioned the books as sort of a Nancy Drew series for adults—where the main sleuth-like character behaved like an adult…with all the trappings. Nicki was free spirited and lighthearted and naïve—and she was so much fun to write. As I began penning the first book (Got the Life), I began envisioning the series as a whole, figuring out where it would go and what would happen, and even though I had a vague idea of where it would end, I had no idea that it would grow more serious and a little darker as I went. So, after writing the first six books quickly, writing that story as fast as I could because I knew what was going to happen, I took a short hiatus (and wrote MADversary), realizing with Nicki book seven (Innocent Bystander) that I was slowing down and that I had to…because the story was growing large. Really large. Much bigger than I’d initially envisioned. That was good, but it also meant that certain things had to work themselves out in my head, and I suspect that’s because I’m not much of an on-paper plotter. It has to move around in my head and play around in my subconscious before I can work with it on the keyboard.
I wrote Nicki #8, Blind, after spending my summer first writing Everything But (Tangled Web #2) and Then Kiss Me (which was actually a rewrite of a book I’d written years earlier). Blind took me longer to write than I’d initially anticipated because, once more, the story was bigger than I’d planned. I also did a bit of a “collaboration,” chatting with guys in one of my favorite indie bands (one from my town), arranging to have Nicki “interview” them in the book, so that was fun, but it took a bit of time to put together.
Blind was published November 28, 2012, and I wouldn’t publish another Nicki book until March 10, 2014 (Fake). The next books will be released this year as the story has finally solidified in my mind, and Nicki readers are thrilled that the end is finally nigh!
Nicki is angry. Now that she’s seen what the people in power will do to keep their control, she knows she has to play it safe. She’s threatened to topple their thrones and they’re feeling nervous. But she’s also feeling guilty about the murder of a prostitute whom she thinks she was responsible for, so she makes it her mission to help all the women of the night working in Winchester. And she does it the only way she knows how—by reporting what she’s learned. And with Sean behind her, she knows she can do anything she’s set her mind to.
Chapter Six from Blind (November 2012)
Nicki hadn’t been able to get out of T what his contingency plan was, and shortly thereafter he announced that her time was up. He’d told her not to call him again but then wrote down his phone number on a piece of paper and handed it to her anyway…probably hoping she’d give in and ask what his price was after all.
She wasn’t stupid, though. She had a feeling T was just as greedy as any of them and that he had a different supplier in mind, someone who would increase his profit by a large margin…not that one hundred K a year was anything to sneeze at.
She decided to swing by the Winchester Tribune office to talk to her editor, Neal Black. He had an open door policy with his staff. If they needed him, he was typically available. She loved her job there, even though she was just a freelancer who was offered the occasional job. For the most part, she found her own news, and Neal seemed to like that about her. He had taken her under his wing, though, and helped her with whatever she needed. But more than that, he’d helped forge her into a solid newspaper writer, teaching her the tricks of the trade and the demands of the field. Her nose for news, though, was something she’d been born with. Even though she hadn’t followed politics and news much before she’d started working for the Tribune, she was a natural for sniffing out topics that were important to their readers.
When she got there, she walked through the writer pool and noticed how quiet it was. It was Friday, and even though the news never stopped, the full-time reporters were feeling tired about this time. They were finishing up their stories so they could enjoy the weekend. The weekend staff was much like Nicki in that they worked more at home or in the field than at the Tribune building. The regular staff had community contacts they’d call and did much of their work in their cubicles, but that wasn’t to say they did all their work there, especially on Friday when they had leftover shit they had to get done.
That meant she’d have Neal all to herself…or so she’d thought. She noticed he was on the phone, but he waved her in, one of his gestures she was familiar with. She sat in one of the chairs across from his desk and waited for him to get off the phone. What he was discussing didn’t sound news related, but she couldn’t quite get a grasp on what his conversation was about. When he hung up, he said, “If they don’t get this damned heating system fixed, it’s going to be hard getting the paper out.”
That’s when she noticed…it was damned cold in there. That explained why no one had been in the writer pool, even though she thought she’d figured out the reason. She hadn’t come in through the front, so she didn’t know if there were any employees working reception. She couldn’t help but notice, though, that Neal had a jacket on. “What happened?”
“It’s an old building, Nicki. We had some guys working on it yesterday and they said it was fixed. It’s not, though, and I think it’s going to take an act of congress to get them back here before Monday.”
Nicki smiled. “You could write a headline about their shoddy service.”
“Believe me, I’ve considered it.” Neal blew air into his hands. “What can I do for you, kiddo?”
“I just wanted to tell you I’m going to try to interview more prostitutes that were connected with Montgomery’s ring. I re-interviewed one of my contacts from before and he tried to assure me that my article had nothing to do with Miranda Cosby’s death. I don’t believe it, though.”
“But you can’t beat yourself up about it either. I wish I could offer you words that would make you feel better, but time will help more than anything I could say.” Nicki nodded. “I’m glad you’re here, because I have something I need to talk with you about.”
Nicki took a deep breath. She hadn’t expected him to say that. Did he have an assignment for her or maybe a new lead? “What’s that?”
“I wanted to let you know about that guy who tried breaking into your roommate’s apartment earlier in the month.”
Nicki hadn’t known what to expect from him, but it hadn’t been that. It took her a couple of seconds to switch gear. “Oh…you mean that skinny meth guy whose friend got away?”
“Yeah. Well, I think you know they let him out on bail, right?” Nicki nodded. She had tried to get Sean to press charges or to pester the cops into telling him what the guy said, but Sean told her they wouldn’t tell him anything. The police were no friends of Sean, and Nicki knew it. “He was found this morning in one of the parks.”
Nicki knew what that meant. “Dead?”
Neal nodded. “Died of an overdose.”
“Heroin?” Nicki knew she wasn’t any kind of expert when it came to drug use, but the guy had clearly been a tweaker, completely strung out on meth. He’d been skinny as a blade of grass, jumpy and edgy, grinding his teeth, his face full of sores. She remembered that much about him. He was a meth user; of that, she had no doubts in her mind. So to have Neal tell her he had OD’d on heroin…it just didn’t add up. “Seriously?”
He nodded. “Yeah. The tourniquet was still wrapped around his upper arm, an empty syringe still sticking out of his arm.”
Nicki took a deep breath. “That just doesn’t feel right.”
Neal leaned forward. “I didn’t think so either. But we can’t prove anything, at least not yet.”
“What are the police doing about it?”
Neal shook his head. “Not sure. They’ll probably handle it a lot like they did that prostitute you interviewed. The guy’s trash, so good riddance. One less problem off the streets.” He saw the look on Nicki’s face. “I don’t know that you’ll be getting to the bottom of it, kiddo.”
“I know. I know. I just…it just…” She let out a long breath of air. “Doesn’t it feel like murder to you? I mean…the guy didn’t look like a junkie. He was a tweaker, Neal, if I’ve ever seen one.”
“You’re thinking whoever killed the prostitute killed this guy, aren’t you?”
“Yeah…how’d you know?”
Neal smiled. “Great minds think alike.”
“It makes sense. I’m convinced they killed Mercedes because she was talking. Well, what about this guy? He and his unknown friend botched getting to me, possibly twice, if they were the same guys who’d been trying to break into my old apartment. And this guy got caught and was probably going to talk. I really don’t know what the fu—I mean what the hell the cops were doing. There was no trial scheduled but he was out on bond…” Neal stared her down. Nicki could tell he was hoping she’d connect the dots, but she couldn’t. “What?”
His voice dropped. “Did you ever think they let him out so he’d get taken out of their misery?”
“You mean…someone made sure he got out so they could ensure he could never talk?”
“Something like that. Makes sense, doesn’t it?”
Nicki thought about it, but she didn’t like it…not one bit. She had known there were dirty cops on the force, but somehow something like this made them seem more sinister. And she still wasn’t sure how the whole justice system worked. Did they need a judge to okay it? “I guess it does, but…”
“Not very tasteful, I know. Bottom line, Nicki: don’t stop watching your back. I can’t emphasize that enough. We don’t know all the players, and we only have an idea of the forces we’re dealing with. I’ll back you, but I’ll also caution you when I think we should back off.” Neal had done that before, so Nicki wouldn’t be surprised if he did, and now, she realized, it was probably to keep her safe as well as keep the paper’s reputation intact. “‘Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you’.”
Nicki recognized it, even though Neal’s sensibilities had grammatically corrected it. “Ah…Kurt Cobain.”
Neal chuckled. “No. Joseph Heller.” She recognized the name. “Catch-22. I highly recommend it.”
She nodded. “I’ll add it to my to be read list.”
“It’s one of my favorites.” He cleared his throat. “In the meantime, take it to heart. Stay safe. Be careful.”
Nicki nodded. She loved Neal, but she hated how nervous she’d been feeling every time she left his office lately. Still, she supposed, being paranoid was better than being dead. A lot better.