On a warm Friday morning, city councilor Terrance Mack walks into his office to find a stranger waiting with an unexpected warning: If he doesn’t fall in line with the rest of the council on an upcoming vote, he’ll face consequences.
Terrance has earned a reputation as a thorn in the side of corporate America. In fact, he holds such strong values as a father, a husband, a community leader, and an advocate for the disadvantaged that he’s become a target. With his rock-solid stance of being no one’s puppet, he knows that each day he walks into his office could be his last.
When his brakes fail one morning, a man is shot beside him, and he lands in the ER after an accidental poisoning, Terrance learns the secrets and lies that fill the Billings Council office may be only the tip of something truly sinister. Terrance refuses to park his morals for anything, not even his bank account—but he doesn’t know who he can trust, and if he’s not careful, his family could become the next target.
Will Terrance continue to do the right thing, or will he fall in line as a voice for a bigger enemy hiding in the shadows?More info →
Terrance wondered why no one saw what he did. He took in a scrawny man in a dirty brown hoodie, bent over, rummaging through the trash, pulling out cans and tucking them into a large plastic bag. He was tall and thin, the severe thinness Terrance saw often in those on the streets. Terrance figured the man was maybe his age, unshaven, wearing a ball cap and dirty baggy jeans. Human nature was amazing in a sad way. He watched people hurrying past, looking at their phones or anywhere but the lost soul rummaging through a garbage bin filled with everything everyone had tossed away.
Terrance breathed in the warm morning, feeling the bright Montana sun. The sounds of cars drowned out the birds outside the city council building. There were a few bushes, a few trees, but mostly concrete. The division of humanity bothered him more now—because not long ago, that man had been him.
“Terrance, wait up.”
He turned to see Matt McCutchin, the councilor for Ward 3, a man of average height, soft in the middle, in a striped golf shirt, his neat dark hair thinning on top. Terrance said nothing. The man at the garbage had glanced over his shoulder, then back to the garbage, still picking out cans and bottles. No one seemed to notice him.
“Have you given any thought as to how you’re going to vote on the rezoning application?” Matt said as he caught up to Terrance. Then he lifted his wrist and looked at his watch. “Damn. Had to push back my tee time. Was hoping this would be resolved already. What do you think we get everyone in chambers for a quick, easy vote and then be out by ten?”
Terrance realized it wasn’t really a question. He didn’t answer, only stared at a man he figured was all about service to self.
With a clatter, the too-thin man rummaging for cans dropped a few on the ground as he tried to stuff them into that well-used black garbage bag.
“Hey, you piece of shit, get the hell out of here!” Matt yelled.
The man glanced at him and then was already walking away, bag in hand.
Matt, with his fist still raised in the air and his back to Terrance, muttered, “Goddamn piece of shit! I’ll have to have a word with security about keeping the degenerates out of here.”
“He’s just pulling out bottles and cans someone tossed away,” Terrance said. “At least it won’t end up in the landfill, and it’s a few dollars in his pocket.” He wondered how he’d kept his voice so calm.
“It’s not his garbage, and it’s a city code violation.”
Of course it was, just one of many violations of city codes that had been drafted by someone who’d had way too much time on his hands.
Matt was looking his way again. “Come on, I’ll walk with you. You know, Terrance, you’re a hard man to read. You hold your cards close to your chest. I kind of admire that. Seriously, I do.”
Terrance started to the doors of the building where people determined the structure and rules that ran this city. He’d never realized before how much power was in the hands of so few.
“I have a lot of questions no one has answered,” Terrance said. “Who runs the Quinton Group? They’re pushing for this rezoning, and now the council has unanimously, without any discussion, voted to rezone over a thousand acres of what was once farmland. I also can’t help wondering why you’re suddenly wanting to greenlight this, considering just last year, when the prior owner wanted to sell a chunk off and have it rezoned to build a small community, this same council denied his application not just once but three times.”
Matt was shorter than he was, and he didn’t hide his annoyance at that fact, but his cold blue eyes now flickered with a spark that was anything but friendly. “Terrance, is that what this is about? You have a lot to learn. This is about progress and jobs, moving things forward. You cannot ignore the needs of the community, and a rezoning by a group of this magnitude is going to provide not only jobs but services and infrastructure for a booming economy. That will bring in ongoing tax revenue, which is where your paycheck comes from, and provide more city contracts, too.” Matt waved his hand, and Terrance wondered whether he really believed what he was spouting. Matt slapped a hand to his chest to stop him walking. “This is going through one way or another. Do us all a favor and stop dragging your feet, because you don’t want to be known as the councilor responsible for keeping much-needed jobs from the people here. Standing in the way of progress is career suicide.”
Terrance just took in Matt’s anger—or was it a warning?—before walking around him and pushing through the glass door that led to all the councilors’ offices, where a map hung on the wall, a flag stood in the corner, and a janitor up ahead was mopping the hardwood floor. He heard Matt fall in beside him again. He really didn’t like him.
“You know what, Matt? I’m not a fool, so don’t treat me like one. What’s really going on here? The only thing that comes from this kind of rezoning is tons of low-paying minimum-wage jobs, and it sends property prices skyrocketing, which jacks up taxes for those already struggling. For all those high-paying jobs you talk about, consultants will be brought in from out of state or country. The people who live here now make a meager wage, and all this is going to do is drive more and more families out. You know what really pisses me off? With all this talk of jobs, even low-paying jobs, no one talks about where the folks working them are going to live. They won’t be able to afford rent, because that too will go through the roof.
“Let me assure you that I’ve looked into that development, and what I found interesting is that a community with HOA fees is being pre-sold right now to people out of state. It’s a community for second homeowners. Nothing about that development will benefit the good people of Billings. At one time, I didn’t pay much attention to the driving up of property values. More property taxes are being collected, but where is all that money going?”
Matt just stared at him. He thought his eyelid twitched.
“Yeah, I know that game,” Terrance said. “Sorry, but not on my watch. I didn’t take a seat on this council to collect a paycheck. You have any idea how hard it is out there for the average person?”
Matt wasn’t smiling. He lifted a brow without pulling those piercing cold eyes from Terrance. He didn’t miss a thing. “That’s right,” he said. “You lived on the streets once, didn’t you, with nothing, digging in garbage cans? Well, whatever you did to land there, think of it as a lesson so you don’t land there again.”
His words were like a slap. Then he was walking away, lifting his hand in a wave to a few other city workers. The man was a schmuck, and Terrance liked him even less than he had a few seconds earlier.
Terrance kept walking to his office. Heather, the assistant he shared with the other councilors, was not in yet, her desk empty. His office door was closed, and when he opened it and stepped in, he was met by a man with short light hair, lean, maybe a few inches shorter than he was, standing by the window. The blinds were open just enough to allow the bright sun in.
“Can I help you?” Terrance said. “You lost?” He walked around his desk, which was neat and tidy, but he didn’t sit.
“Terrance Mack, the newest councilor,” the man said. He had a stance that reminded Terrance of the cops or the military. “You didn’t get voted in, did you? You were just whisked into your position. Interesting how that works.” He walked to the open door and closed it.
“You still haven’t told me what you’re doing in my office,” Terrance said. “Who are you?”
The man pointed his thumb at the door. “Heather, was it? Your secretary is running an errand, so she won’t be back for a bit. You’re a family man, Terrance. That wife of yours, Lizzie, is cute even though she’ll be thirty-four on June 11. Her dark hair is growing out from that haircut that didn’t work so well for her. Your boys, Greg and John, are looking more and more like you. Well, actually, Greg favors his mother.” He gestured to his face.
Beads of sweat had gathered under Terrance’s arms, and his heartbeat thudded. “Who are you? How the hell do you know all that about my family?” His voice was calm, level, though a knot twisted in his stomach.
The man hadn’t stepped away from the door. He wore heavy jeans, neat and tidy, with a light blazer over a blue dress shirt, and he held a dark cowboy hat, which he rested on his head as he smiled over at Terrance.
“You know what? I’m calling security.” Terrance reached for the phone on his desk.
“No, don’t go doing that, Terrance. I’m just here to have a friendly chat with you. You look a little pale. Have a seat.”
He was still gripping the phone, but he recognized a nudge inside that had always warned him to pay attention, so he pulled his hand back and gestured to the man. He had an arrogant swagger as he took a step toward the desk, but Terrance didn’t sit.
The man glanced away as if stifling a laugh or a smile. “Ah, I was told you wouldn’t be easy. The holdouts never are. Now, from what I understand, you’ll be heading into the council chambers for another vote on the upcoming land proposal for the Quinton Group. You’re going to vote yes to allow the land use change so the development can proceed. Your
role will be done, and the state and various other land groups will take over.” The man reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a blank envelope, which he held out to him.
“What’s this?” Terrance reached for it and opened it to pull out a folded piece of paper.
The man gestured to it. “Well, it’s not a check or a payment to change your vote. You see, you lost that opportunity when you cost my client because of the delays. Just read all that over and make sure we have the details correct. Those are the test results for your wife. She had some lab work done yesterday. Congratulations, she’s pregnant, nine weeks. I expect the doctor will be calling her to tell her the good news.”
Terrance’s ears were ringing.
The man lifted his wrist and looked at his watch. “I’d say he’ll call her in thirty minutes. When she calls you, you may want to act surprised.”
“Who are you? What is this?” Terrance said. His wife’s name, their address, her date of birth—it was all right there.
“Who I am isn’t important. What’s important, Terrance, is that you do the right thing this morning. I don’t want to have this talk with you again. That there is just a little taste of how easy it is to get to someone close to you, your wife, your boys. I mean, it would be a shame if something were to happen to one of them…”
“Don’t you dare come in here and threaten me or my family!” Terrance said. “Is that what this is, you scare me, intimidate me?”
The man had white teeth. The way he smiled was wolflike. “It’s a warning, Terrance. Change your vote, or you will not like what happens next.” The man thumped his finger on his desk, then walked to the door and pulled it open. “Oh, and congratulations again, Dad.”
Terrance could hear Heather’s voice, then laughter as something passed between her and the man who had left his office. He stared at a lab report no one should’ve had access to and wondered whether he was being fucked with. There was a tap on the door.
“Good morning, Councilor Mack,” Heather said. “I was told to let you know the council meeting has been bumped up to twenty minutes from now.” She had wavy long dark hair, and she wore a pencil skirt and pumps. She set a stack of opened mail on his desk as he tucked the lab report back into the envelope and slid it in his desk drawer.
“Listen, Heather, do you know that man who was in my office?”
Heather lifted her gaze, and her brow knit. Her mascara was thick and flaking. “You mean Jason, who just left?”
“Yeah, Jason. You know him?”
Heather shrugged and let out a soft laugh. “Yeah, of course. Well, not personally. He’s nice. He does business with the mayor. Why? Is something wrong?” She took a step closer and was frowning, then glanced behind her to the open door.
“No, no, everything is fine. Twenty minutes, you said?” He reached into his desk and pulled out the laminated report on the Quinton Group’s rezoning proposal.
“Yes, twenty minutes. Are you sure everything is okay?”
Terrance forced a smile to his lips. “Everything is fine, thank you, Heather.”
She walked to his door. “Open or closed?” Her hand was on the knob.
“Close it, please.”
As soon as the door closed, he let out a sharp breath and sank back into his chair, feeling a puzzle before him. The man’s words had seemed more like a threat than a warning.
“What the fuck, Terrance?” he said to himself as he swiveled his chair, leaning back, looking over to the shiny cover of a proposal put together by some New York PR firm, he figured. Whatever this was, someone was going to a lot of trouble to make sure he voted yes and didn’t stand in the way of this project. But the problem was that Terrance couldn’t be bought, couldn’t be threatened, and wasn’t about to be bullied by anyone.
Buy Direct & Save!
My eBooks and audiobooks can now be purchased directly from me via my new author store! Check out my shop here. Several titles are now available and more are on the way. Keep an eye out for special discounts, plus I’m now accepting crypto payments.
The eBook or audiobook will be delivered instantly from Bookfunnel; if it doesn’t arrive in your inbox immediately, be sure to check your junk folder. Listen easily to my audiobooks by downloading the Bookfunnel Audiobook App which you can download here.
As always, thank you for your support!
Join My Street Team
Are you a super fan of the Friessens, O’Connells, McCabes and more?
I’m looking for eager readers to join my brand new Facebook street team to provide feedback and share your enthusiasm for my stories via reviews, social media and good ‘ole word-of-mouth. Interested? Click the button below to join the team.
Additionally, when my group reaches 2,000 members, I’ll be giving away a new waterproof Kindle Paperwhite to one lucky team member!
Thank you for your consideration and support–I’m truly grateful!