“WOW! I JUST GOT OFF THE ROCKET ROLLER COASTER RIDE THAT IS ‘CHOKED UP’–THE THRILLS JUST KEEP COMING, IN WAVES. YOU’RE GONNA GET WHIPLASH!
LES EDGERTON, AUTHOR OF THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING AND MORE
“MACK’S SPRIGHTLY SECOND MAISIE MCGRANE MYSTERY… A WILD WHIRL OF PLOTS AND COUNTER-PLOTS, THE BOOK OFFERS OCCASIONAL HOT SEX. MOUTH-WATERING DESCRIPTIONS OF LAVISH MEALS ARE A PLUS.”
“THIS ENTERTAINING CAPER CAREENS ALONG WITH ITS COMPLICATED AND COMPELLING HEROINE, MAISIE MIGRAINE, FIRMLY IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT.”
BARBARA ROSS, AUTHOR OF THE MAINE CLAMBAKE MYSTERIES
“MYSTER BUFFS WILL NOT ONLY BE SWEPT UP IN THE INGENIOUS AND WELL-CRAFTED PLOT BUT WILL LOVE THE IRREPRESSIBLE MAISIE, WHO KNOWS WHAT SHE WANTS. RECOMMEND FOR READERS WHO MISS THE WORKS OF ELEANOR TAYLOR BLAND AND ENJOY THOSE OF TIM DORSEY.”
LIBRARY JOURNAL, STARRED REVIEW
“CHOKED UP WILL LEAVE READERS BEGGING FOR MORE FROM CRACKERJACK STORYTELLER JANEY MACK, AND WHIP-SMART, SMART-MOUTHED METER MAID TURNED UNDERCOVER COP MAISIE MCGRANE.”
C. C. HARRISON, AWARD WINNING AUTHOR OF PICTURES OF LIES AND THE CHARMSTONE.
by Janey Mack
She’s working undercover–and she’s in way over her head.
Scrappy Traffic Enforcement agent Maisie McGrane has finally landed her dream job as a Chicago police officer. There’s just one catch. She must remain undercover as a meter maid to gather evidence against Stannislav Renko, a charismatic Serbian mobster running a brutal multi-million dollar mobile chop-shop operation.
When Maisie is targeted by a killer who leaves a body slumped against her car, Renko comes to her rescue and takes her under his wing. From her perch inside the crime boss’s inner circle, Maisie sets up a daring sting operation to take down Renko once and for all. But can she pull it off before her family of overprotective Irish cops and her sexy ex-Army Ranger boyfriend blow her cover?
I punched out at the Traffic Enforcement Bureau, the ca-chunk of the time stamp putting a bullet in the brain of yet another workday. I started the five-block hike to my car, feeling lighter with each step. Only three days and a wake-up until Hank returned.
By the time I hit Marston Avenue’s squalid stretch of sidewalk, I was a heel away from skipping. Nothing makes a tomboy feel as deliciously girly as dating the ultimate alpha male. And with five older brothers carrying more machismo per square inch than The Wild Bunch, I’m pretty much an expert.
A teal Chevy Sonic swerved toward me, window down. “Fuck you, Meter Bitch!” A white ball flew out, bounced off the sidewalk, and nailed me in the shin.
The Sonic’s tires squealed and it tore off up the street.
Gee, thanks, guy.
Rubbing my leg, I looked down at the cement. A rolled-up disposable diaper.
Who does that?
I picked up the stale diaper rock with two fingers and threw it in a street can, feeling nothing but lucky it hadn’t hit me in the face. A typical Thursday.
Infatuation had me off my game. I was still wearing the “Loogie,” the neon phlegm yellow-green reflective vest of a Chicago Parking Enforcement Agent. Idiot. I took it off and shoved it in my backpack as I rounded the corner onto Fourth Street.
No raining on my parade—it’s Miller Time.
There may be blood, though, after I kick the ass of the bum sleeping on the hood of my– well, Hank’s–perfectly restored Dodge Coronet.
The guy leaned against the windshield, head lolled back onto the roof.
“Hey. Buddy!” I called in my best law and order voice from across the street. “Off the car.”
The guy didn’t flinch. A couple steps closer and I saw and smelled why.
His throat was a gaping maw of red. And pink and white gristle. Slashed from ear to ear.
“Holy mother of…” I averted my eyes to the car’s grille. Thickening blood covered the air intakes while a slow trickle of red slid down the Coronet’s glossy black fender wing and dripped into a puddle on the pavement.
I fumbled my iPhone out of my pocket and sent a dozen crime scene snaps to the Cloud. “Call Hank’s office,” I slurred into the mic, talking too fast, Siri unable to understand. I started again, “Call–”
“Step away from the car, ma’am,” a man said over a loudspeaker.
I slipped my phone down the front of my shirt and glanced over my shoulder to see a blue and white CPD Tahoe, red lights flashing.
I raised my hands and backed up.
Officer Reynolds was about as nice as they came, but even with a blanket and a Hershey bar, the back of a police car was not a fun place to be. No amount of Febreze could eradicate the lingering stink of piss and puke that permeated the leather seats. Reynolds peered at me through silver-rimmed specs in the rearview mirror.
“Where’d you go to high school, Maisie?”
I sighed inwardly. “St. Ignatius.”
“Nope. Not it.” He shook his head. “Where do I know you from?”
“I just have one of those faces.”
He kept staring. I rotated my fingers in a circle. “This is where you say I have the look of an Irish angel.”
“Ha!” Officer Reynolds twisted awkwardly in his seat and jabbed a finger at me. “You’re the meter maid. The one that threw up on Coles.”
They never remember the car bomb I saved the mayor from. Only the puking.
A Crime Scene van parked in front of us and a couple of techs got out. One, a pal of my brother Rory’s, spotted me in the back of the Tahoe and gave me the surprised-point-and-smile. I returned a halfhearted salute.
“How do you know–” The young cop’s voice trailed off as the penny dropped. “Wait. Maisie McGrane as in one of the McGrane McGranes?”
“Man, your whole family’s on the force.”
“Half. The other half’s defense attorneys, to keep it even.” “So why are you a meter maid?”
“Ouch. Don’t pull any punches, do you?”
“I…erm.” Reynolds’s cheeks reddened. “Do you like it?”
About as much as teaching blind kids to use a band saw.
A couple of beat cops and a detective showed up and started working the scene. Reynolds drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “Think your brothers’ll show?”
I sure as hell hope not. “Maybe.”
It was killing him to miss out on the action. And it was killing me to have him in the car.
“Are you sure they don’t need you out there?”
“Well…” He puffed out his cheeks in a show of consideration while his hand went straight to the door handle. “I probably should let ’em know I gotcha in the car.”
I had my phone out of my shirt before he was all the way out of the Tahoe. He shut the door and I hit Call.
“Mr. Bannon’s office,” Hank’s secretary answered in a voice so smoky-sexy I wanted to wipe my ear off. “How may I help you, Ms. McGrane?”
“I need to get a message to him.”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. Mr. Bannon is currently in-country and unable to receive messages for the next twenty-two hours and eight minutes.”
“That’s, um…” Unfortunate. I ran a hand through my hair. “We have kind of a…situation.”
I blew out a slow breath. “I drove his car to work today. Now there’s a dead guy lying on the hood and I’m calling you from the back of a police car.”
“Will you be needing a ride home from the police station?”
Why the heck not?
“Yes, please,” I said and hung up as Officer Reynolds got back behind the wheel.
“How you feeling, Maisie?” His voice was light, but he’d gone a little green around the gills. “That was a pretty tough thing to see.”
I suppose it would be if I hadn’t spent my childhood playing Concentration with crime scene photos.
Dispatch came in loud and clear over the Tahoe’s radio. “Car 162, call in, please.”
The young cop took his cell from the glove box and called in. “Officer Brian Reynolds reporting.”
There was a short silence.
Reynolds shot upright in his seat. “Yessir, Captain McGrane.”
Aww for cripes’ sake. Da.
“Yessir. She’s in the patrol car.” Officer Reynolds practically vibrated with excitement.
“No sir. Detective Forman hasn’t interviewed her yet.”
A tiny window of hope opened before me.
“I’ll bring her in myself, sir. Thank you, sir.”
And slammed shut in my face.
Reynolds smiled at me in the rearview mirror. “You want me to light ’em up?”
I spent the next half hour ignoring the urge to check the crime scene photos and playing Zombie Gunship on my phone, cooling my heels in the frigid gray-on-gray interrogation room.
I figured I’d waited long enough and raised my phone to the two-way mirror. I shut it off, stowed it in my pocket, then folded my arms on the gray Formica table and put my head down. That worked.
Detective Alan Forman came into the room, all pleasantries and platitudes, thinking I didn’t know any better. He offered me a soda, which I declined, then took a seat, turned on a voice recorder and trolled through the usual questions.
No, I don’t know the victim. No, Hank has been out of town for the last ten days. Yes, I currently reside in his home. Yes, I drive his vehicles on a regular basis. Blah blah blah.
“Hang on.” The detective tapped his pen against his teeth. “I want to make sure I got this right. This Bannon guy restores a 1969 Dodge Super Bee 440 six-pack to cherry and says what– ‘Hey girl, drive this to work instead of your Accord’?”
He gave me a quick once-over and scratched a note on his pad. “I see.” “What?” I was chilly, hungry, and getting tired. “You see what?”
The detective shrugged. “Golden handcuffs.”
“Hardly,” I said. “Hank believes material things are only that. Things.”
“You’d know.” He stifled a snort. “So what exactly is Mr. Bannon doing in Eastern Europe?”
I rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands. “About that soda…”
A female uniformed officer entered the room and whispered something into the detective’s ear. Whatever she said made my interrogator click off his recorder and close his notebook with a strained smile. “I think we’ve finished here, Miss McGrane. Officer Miller will show you out.”
Officer Miller, however, did not return me to the main lobby. Instead she turned right andled me down a series of beige hallways to a tiny nondescript conference room. “Take a seat,” she said and left.
I was moving up in the world. The room was warm, beige, and did not contain a two-way mirror. This would be Da or my brothers–Flynn and Rory or even Cash–jacking me around for the hell of it and, of course, for living in sin with my ex–Army Ranger boyfriend.
A soft knock at the door preceded a lightly tanned man in his early fifties wearing an expensive gray suit with a silver striped tie and brown John Lobb shoes. A heavy hitter. Good-looking in a polished, aristocratic way with a slim, foxy face and flaxen hair. “Do you have a moment, Miss McGrane?”
I straightened up. “Yes sir.”
No matter where he was or what he was doing, Hank always had my six.
Hank’s Law Number Twenty-One: Never confuse politeness with civility.
The man slid into the seat, folded his hands on the table, and took a good long look at me. His eyes, the color of cognac held to light, were fringed with thick gold lashes and left me feeling as exposed as a field mouse in a clearing. “My name is Walt Sawyer. I command the Bureau of Organized Crime’s Special Unit.”
Was the murder vic Mob connected?
A thin layer of sweat broke out between my shoulder blades while my fingers turned to ice.
Easy now. Don’t spin out.
My mother, “Hang ’Em High July Pruitt,” was a former prosecutor. This wouldn’t be my first or worst interrogation. “Nice to meet you, sir. I’m not sure what I’ll be able to add to what I told Detective Forman.”
“I have no interest in that case.”
“I am, however, interested in you.”
This just kept getting better.
“May I ask why you turned down Mayor Coles’s personal appointment to join the Chicago Police Department, Miss McGrane?” Hello, left field. “Yes sir.”
This was his dance. He could lead.
Sawyer’s lips twitched. “Yes, as in I may ask but you won’t tell?”
“I’m guessing as Special Unit commander, you have a pretty good idea already.” Coles was as dirty as they came. Not even being a cop was worth working his private security detail.
He unbuttoned the button of his suit coat. “Have you ever considered applying to the BOC?”
“No sir, I haven’t.” Gee, you’re cute. I can be cute, too. “I didn’t imagine the Bureau of Organized Crime would have much use for a police academy washout turned meter maid.”
“But you weren’t really a washout, were you, Miss McGrane? A BS in Criminal Justice.Top cadet at the Academy.” He gave me a vulpine smile and said lazily, “Until, of course, your father clipped your wings.”
I took a slow breath, unclenched my teeth, and lied. “I don’t know what you’re referring to, sir.”
“The pressure Homicide Captain Conn McGrane applied to the police academy psychologist to falsify your psych report, resulting in your subsequent expulsion.”
Jaysus crimeny, he’s been busy.
“I’m afraid you’re mistaken, sir.”
“No matter.” Sawyer leaned back in his chair and plucked invisible lint from his French cuff. “It’s my preference to develop inexperienced high fliers in Special Unit.” He reached inside his suit jacket, removed a tri-folded paper, and slid it across the table to me.
I opened it.
A letter. On Police Academy stationery.
Upon further review of Case #7M-23RC426 re: Cadet Maisie McGrane, I rescind my previous diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.
Ms. McGrane is fit for duty within the Chicago Police Department. Dr. Tom Lucey
The bullshit Benghazi-style lack of reason and responsibility certified its legitimacy. My fingers trembled, rattling the paper.
“Miss McGrane, I want you to work for me as an undercover officer in Special Unit.”
Blood pulsed in my ears.
Me? An undercover cop?
“I find recruits infinitely more valuable without the indelible imprint of police work.”
The cop look. The stance, the stride, the indefinable big-dog attitude. Eyes continually scanning for weapons while assessing threat level. Half my family walked around with it. I’d been hoping I’d acquired it through osmosis, but apparently not.
“As you can imagine,” he said, “the least desirable action for an undercover officer is to react as a patrolman. My U.C.s aren’t merely police working in plainclothes. No short-stint Vice stings. True undercover agents are infiltrators, going native for months, even years at a time. Identity on a need-to-know basis only.”
I cleared my throat, trying hard to stay frosty in the face of serious Serpico action. I could keep my nerve and my mouth shut, sure. But a police spook? It wasn’t the way I wanted to be a cop.
“Covert work is highly stressful and extremely dangerous.” He held out his hand for the letter. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think you were built for it.”
I folded it up and handed it back to him, unable to look away as he returned it to his inside jacket pocket.
Sawyer cocked his head. “Reservations?”
“Maybe.” It wasn’t the criminals I was afraid of. It was my family.
“Rather tortured, aren’t you?” His odd-colored eyes seemed lit from within. “Shielding the father who betrayed you and dreaming of becoming a cop while sleeping with a mercenary.”
My entire life summed up in one smooth sentence. It wasn’t enough to make me swoon.
“I won’t go against Hank Bannon or my father. Not ever.”
A whisper of irritation crossed his face. “Special Unit has little interest in an ex–Army Ranger operating primarily outside of the United States. Even less for a decorated police captain exerting his influence, which I assume he’ll continue to do.”
Yes, he will, goddammit.
Sawyer leaned forward. “This is your shot. Are you going to take it?”
“Yes,” I said. Hell, yes!
He handed me a small white envelope.
Sawyer’s mouth quirked at the corner. “Your ticket to the show.” He rose and walked to the door. “I’ll be in touch.”
Tiny sparks danced in front of my eyes.
Where’s a paper bag when you need one?