excerpt: The Valley of the Shadow of Death

An excerpt from the first chapter of this novel. A cop and a mobster find themselves thrown together in a life-or-death situation.

Microsoft Office clipart - This could almost be Delaney!Angelo Trezini was slowing down, too cold and too dull to even think. Well, his only thought was a wistful wish for the energy necessary to feel sad or sorry or righteously pissed off. He was fading fast.

He was in a freezer. A large storage room of a freezer, packed high with cartons of food, and lit so brightly that Trezini was forced to squint. When his eyes were open, that is. Mostly he was just pacing in a circle, eyes shut tight against the harsh light and harsher cold, arms wrapped around his chest. He’d lost count of the number of times he’d walked this circle, but it was often enough that he didn’t have to look where he was going anymore.

A muffled clang, and the door swung open. It all happened so fast, and Trezini was feeling so slow that he didn’t have a chance to take advantage of the situation. As luck would have it, he was as far away as his circle took him – by the time he’d turned and drawn his gun, the door was already slamming shut again. And Trezini had company.

He was staring down his gun-barrel at a big dumb hunk of a man wearing a cop’s uniform. A man who was so ridiculously handsome that Trezini almost forgot the cold for a moment. There was a stillness about the man, a sense that he was completely self-contained.

The two men considered each other for a time; neither making any untoward moves, though Trezini aiming a gun at him didn’t seem to faze the cop. Wisely, even though the cop held a gun loosely in his own hand, he made no attempt to lift it; he hadn’t even instinctively tightened his grip. After a still moment, the cop carefully turned the butt of the handle towards Trezini to show him that the clip was missing, presumably confiscated. Maybe the morons who’d put Trezini in here had already learned one lesson.

Eventually, as the cop lowered his hand to hang harmlessly by his side, Trezini demanded, “Who the hell are you?”

“Officer Joshua Delaney, thirty-third precinct.”

“Yeah, the pleasure’s all mine,” Trezini sarcastically responded. “What are you doing here?”

Speaking in an unexpectedly conversational tone, the man explained, “Well, I assume someone didn’t appreciate me issuing parking tickets. There were cars parked illegally outside the warehouse.”

Parking tickets? Trezini didn’t bother hiding his disbelief. “What, are you feeling suicidal? This isn’t the part of town to get nosy in.”

“I’m new to Chicago.” There was still a complete lack of self-consciousness, despite being so badly caught out.

The guy was patently harmless, so Trezini re-holstered his gun, noting that his companion’s self-possession remained constant despite the withdrawal of this threat. “Yeah, that would explain why you’re in this neighborhood at this time of night, trying to ticket wiseguys for letting their meters run out.”

“Blocking a fire hydrant,” the cop corrected him, “parking too close to an intersection, and parking on the sidewalk.” He let a beat go by before asking, “These people are mobsters?”

Trezini let out a laugh. “Don’t get too excited – this bunch are nothing more than associates and wannabes. Total amateurs.” As requested, the cop remained unexcited, though the frown tilted towards Trezini indicated that he was certainly curious. Trezini asked him, “You’d still have given them tickets, wouldn’t you, even if you knew? You’d still be nosy.”

Delaney shrugged, as if this was of no importance. “Yes.” His breath fogged whenever he spoke.

Belatedly realizing he’d started shivering again, Trezini recommenced pacing around his circle, hugging himself ineffectually. He closed his eyes against this harsh fate.

The cop commented, “We’re in danger of dying from hypothermia.”

Trying to generate the heat of sarcasm, Trezini said, “Quick, aren’t you? They’d have taken my gun if they planned on me surviving.” He shrugged, though his shoulders were already stiff. “Or maybe they panicked, they just didn’t think, and now they have to let the freezer do their work for them.”

“Then we have at least two advantages.”


A hint of humor kicked up one corner of the cop’s mouth. “They didn’t search me. I have a spare clip.”

“Being armed ain’t gonna count for much when we’re dead.”

“Here.” When Trezini opened his eyes again, he found that the cop was shrugging off his woolen coat while looking about him at the freezer’s interior. “Take this,” the guy said, absently holding the coat out towards Trezini.

Well, Trezini was hardly going to refuse it, though he was suspicious of such noble generosity.

Noticing this momentary hesitation, the cop explained, “You’re far slimmer than I am, and you’re only wearing a suit; you need it more.”

“Sure. Who’s arguing?” Trezini grabbed the coat, put it on over his suit jacket and buttoned it up. Unfortunately the extra layer didn’t seem to make much difference: perhaps Trezini was already too cold, and couldn’t warm up again.

Delaney seemed oblivious to the discomfort, though his warmest garment now was a knitted woolen sweater. While the two men were both about six feet tall, the cop certainly had the larger frame, giving the rather attractive impression of solid muscle and perhaps a little excess padding. Turning the collar up and huddling gratefully into the coat, Trezini dismissed the cop for his stupidity while also reluctantly admiring him for his decency.

The cop checked that the door was indeed locked, the safety handle disabled. And then he began looking around the freezer; as he went, he absently reloaded his gun, and chambered a bullet. Trezini watched him with little interest, having already searched for escape routes. Well, Trezini watched him with the interest anyone reserved for men who were movie-star handsome, though it was really far too cold for any reaction beyond a vague appreciation.

There were no exits other than the locked door, but there was a grated vent high on one wall. The cop hauled a few cartons of frozen food over and stacked them so that he could climb up to the vent. Guessing what the guy was intending, Trezini wrestled some of the modular metal shelving apart and handed Delaney a sturdy bar.

The grate was soon prized off, and the cop was leaning inside. But, “It’s no use,” the guy announced. “This duct leads straight up for twenty feet, we’d never climb it.”

Well, Trezini hadn’t really been hoping for much, anyway. The cop scrambled down again, and continued exploring – leaving the cartons, grate and bar where they were. Trezini watched him surreptitiously, beginning to get curious. Who the hell was this guy?

“We must have both surprised them,” Delaney eventually said. He produced a folded-up blanket from a cabinet near the door. “They didn’t remove the first aid kit and, luckily for us, it contains a blanket.”

Trezini frowned at him, wondering what the cop would come up with next, and pondering the problem with this scenario. “Of course,” he sighed. “There’s only one blanket.”