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Nothing Good Happens After Midnight: A Suspense Magazine Anthology

Jeffery Deaver











  D. P. LYLE






  © 2020 Suspense Publishing, LLC.


  * * * * *


  Suspense Publishing


  Suspense Publishing, Hardcover, Paperback and Digital Copy, November 2020

  “Introduction” Copyright © 2020 by Gunner Publications, LLC

  “12:01 AM” Copyright © 2020 by Alan Jacobson

  “Cell Phone Intolerant” Copyright © 2020 by Kevin O’Brien

  “All Aboard” Copyright © 2020 by Hank Phillippi Ryan

  “Gone Forever” Copyright © 2020 by Joseph Badal

  “Night Shift” Copyright © 2020 by NJSB Entertainment Inc.

  “Midnight in the Garden of Death” Copyright © 2020 by Heather Graham

  “The Sixth Decoy” Copyright © 2020 by Paul Kemprecos

  “A Creative Defense” Copyright © 2020 by Gunner Publications, LLC

  “After Midnight: Cinderella Then and Now” Copyright © 2020 by Rhys Bowen

  “Easy Peasey” Copyright © 2020 by John Lescroart

  “Tonic” Copyright © 2020 by D. P. Lyle

  “Tonight is the Night” Copyright © 2020 by Shannon Kirk

  “ATM” Copyright © 2020 by Jon Land

  All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

  Cover Design: Shannon Raab

  Cover Photographer: natalia_maroz/Shutterstock

  Cover Photographer: PGMart/Shutterstock

  Cover Photographer: Ricardo Reitmeyer/iStock


  To our girls:

  Abigail, Ryan & Kensington Grace—may your dreams come true.

  And to John Raab, Sr., for all the stories he told, over and over again. We miss you, Dad.


  “This volume is guaranteed to keep readers burning the midnight oil well into the wee hours.”

  —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

  “Something very good happens after midnight…just pick up this brilliant book and be transported—and very afraid!”

  —Peter James, UK #1 Bestselling Author of the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace Series

  “NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS AFTER MIDNIGHT is a treat—dark, chilling, and delicious. Grab it.”

  —Meg Gardiner, Edgar Award-Winning Author of The Dark Corners of the Night

  “NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS AFTER MIDNIGHT proves that the witching hour still has the power to haunt in this suspenseful collection of stories by luminaries in the literary world. Inventive, twisted, and downright chilling, here is an anthology to be savored—well past midnight and into the dead of night.”

  —James Rollins, #1 New York Times Bestseller of The Last Odyssey

  “This anthology showcases some of the best talent in the thriller genre—or in any genre. Whether quirky or creepy, each story displays the talent and uniqueness of its author. And since all are so good, this collection is a delightful read.”

  —Sandra Brown, #1 New York Times Bestseller of Thick as Thieves

  “NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS AFTER MIDNIGHT is loads of fun. The stories from this lineup of all-star authors are a blast to read, with plenty of neck-snapping twists and heart-stopping thrills that will keep you turning pages way past the title’s witching hour.”

  —Boyd Morrison, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author

  “If you like intrigue and suspense, you’ll love this salmagundi of tense tales from some of today’s short story masters. This book is guaranteed to keep you awake until midnight and beyond.”

  —Steven James, Bestselling Author of The Bowers Files

  “Readers rarely get a gift such as this—a superb collection from the giants of mystery and suspense.”

  —Robert Dugoni, Bestselling Author of the Tracy Crosswhite Series

  “Midnight is the magic switch. Safe becomes dangerous, good becomes evil, quiet turns raucous. When the clock strikes twelve in NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS AFTER MIDNIGHT, a talented crew of writers unleashes a maelstrom of thrills so intense, you will never sleep again. Unputdownable!”

  —K.J. Howe, International Bestselling Author of SKYJACK

  “NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS AFTER MIDNIGHT is a treasure chest of novelties, curiosities and gems. From Kevin O’Brien’s ‘Cell Phone Intolerant’ to Shannon Kirk’s ‘Tonight is the Night’ and Jon Land’s surprisingly heartfelt ‘ATM,’ you’ll never step outside at night in quite the same way.”

  —Joseph Finder, New York Times Bestselling Author of the Nick Heller Series


  I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for the hour of midnight ever since, at a young age, I knew that by then my parents would be asleep and I could pull the blanket off my head and continue to read Ian Fleming or Tolkien or Edgar Allan Poe without the risk of detection…or suffocation (though I did keep the bedside table light off and continued to plow through pages by the less-obvious beam of my Boy Scout flashlight—I wasn’t stupid).

  It also didn’t hurt my affection for that transitional time that one of the films steering me toward crime writing was the gritty 1957 noir The Midnight Story, set in San Francisco and starring Tony Curtis and Gilbert Roland.

  So it was with unbound eagerness that I leapt at the chance to edit this volume of suspense stories describing incidents of the curious, the eerie, the disturbed, the violent that occur in that netherworld after the witching hour (yes, yes, I know that purists claim that title belongs to three a.m. but I’m the editor and I’m bestowing it upon 00:00).

  Another soft spot? For short form fiction.

  We readers are long-distance travelers when we enter the world of novels, taking our time as we get to know characters and bask in their journey, their perils, their wins and losses. Sometimes, though not necessarily, we’re treated to a big wallop of a twist at the end. A short story doesn’t have the luxury of seducing us during the course of such leisurely transit; it has to grab us immediately with a high-speed plot and, in the end, deliver a gut punch of the unexpected.

  And the more spine-tingling the atmosphere the author has created, the better.

  All of the tales in this anthology deliver that punch, and t
ingle that spine, and do so in a fascinating variety of ways, reflecting the wide-ranging talents, themes and styles of our contributors. You’ll be reminded of Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, O. Henry, Agatha Christie and Stephen King, as well as episodes from The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

  Let’s meet our crew.

  Rarely has a ticking clock been put to such keen effect—before, at and after midnight—as in Alan Jacobson’s “12:01 AM.” As the moments count down to the execution of a particularly nasty serial killer, we learn that there’s much more to the crimes and the man’s history than meets the eye. Jacobson’s sharp, compelling series character Karen Vail, ace FBI profiler, joins forces with some familiar faces in the Commonwealth of Virginia in a break-neck race to save an innocent life before time runs out. The back and forth between Vail and the soon-to-die killer will also keep you on the edge of your seat.

  You’d think it would be tough to write about the start of an entire social movement in a short story but Kevin O’Brien has done just that in the witty “Cell Phone Intolerant.” The story hits all the right buttons—forgive that—and makes us smile with satisfaction at the exploits of Ed, a dyspeptic divorcé, who, to borrow from pop culture of a few years back, comes up with his own variation of “We’re not going to take it anymore!” I, for one, recognized a bit of Ed in myself, and I suspect you’ll feel the same when you finish the story.

  Nothing is more exotic—and potentially eerier—than an overnight train ride. Think of From Russia With Love or Strangers on a Train, not to mention Agatha Christie’s classic. Hank Phillippi Ryan’s “All Aboard” perfectly recreates the claustrophobia and suspense of such nighttime travel on the rails. The setup is indeed Hitchcockian: a savvy public relations expert overhears something not intended for her ears, which sets the plot in motion. In addition to being a page-turning thriller, Ryan’s contribution asks this telling question: is not information as powerful a weapon as a gun or knife?

  In “Gone Forever” Joseph Badal takes us front and center to an event that is all too common in the news, a mass killing, this one in a church. We relive the event through the eyes of a stalwart police officer and the man she’s interviewing, the shaken priest whose congregation was the target of the assault. I always like to see a storywright’s skill at work in coming up with a title that does double duty. That can be a surprise in itself. In Badal’s tale the phrase “gone forever” comes hauntingly home to roost on the last few pages.

  Imagine this: you’re on the phone with a crazy man, you don’t know his identity and you’re the only one who can stop him from a killing spree. How would you play that scenario out? This is the edge-of-the-seat premise of Linwood Barclay’s twisty “Night Shift.” As a former journalist, I know how accurately the author has recreated the atmosphere of a late-night newsroom, a place that is invariably placid and sleepy and dull…until it absolutely isn’t.

  What would a midnight-themed anthology be without a visit to a graveyard? Heather Graham’s “Midnight in the Garden of Death” has us flipping pages in rapid order to see what happens next in her tale of teens whose on-a-lark sleepover in a cemetery doesn’t go exactly as planned. Graham’s fine depiction of the characters takes us straight back to those days when our world could be divided into the inside kids and the geeks—and the portrayal of that fraught time is as spot-on as the action is heart-racing.

  Every suspense anthology needs a classic private eye story and Paul Kemprecos has contributed a great one with “The Sixth Decoy,” which stars his immensely likable series character, Aristotle Socarides, ex-marine, old salt, and part-time P.I. In this tale Soc is hired by a wealthy recluse to track down a missing sculpture, carved by an artist who can only be described as the Michelangelo of wooden birds. This story will remind you of John D. MacDonald, the creator of Travis McGee, at his best.

  My first novel was not in crime, but horror, and occasionally I’ll pen a story in that genre, as I’ve done here. In “A Creative Defense” I aim for supernatural gothic in telling a tale of a horrific murder in a small New England town. The inspiration was this: trying to imagine the expression on the jurors’ faces when the defendant’s attorney pitches a particular argument as to why his client should not be found guilty for the slaughter. And just to try something a little different, the “midnight,” after which something bad happens doesn’t refer to the time, but to something else entirely. And, no, it isn’t a cat’s name.

  It would simply be wrong to publish an anthology based on the theme of midnight without a Cinderella story and I’m pleased to report that we have not one, but two—and both written by the same author. In “After Midnight” Rhys Bowen has given us a clever retelling of the classic fairy tale of old, though we meet a protagonist who’s a bit different from the one we’re familiar with. Her second Cinderella tale is set in the modern time. Suffice it to say no mice, pumpkins or slippers figure in this story.

  I’ve made up a variation on the old saw, “No good deed goes unpunished.” It reads like this: “No bad deed goes unpunished…or does it?” In John Lescroart’s whipsawing suspense offering, “Easy Peasey,” plots aplenty unfold, as we watch the shenanigans of school kids—both innocent and otherwise—spiraling out of control. As always, the author takes us deep inside the motives of each character as he shifts masterfully from one point of view to another.

  In D. P. Lyle’s “Tonic” a couple of good old boys in rural America are cruising the back roads in an ancient pickup and simply pursuing the American dream of trying to make a living. Who could blame them? And, a more cogent question, what could go wrong? Oh, a thing or two, especially when they decide to explore a new business model and attract a little more attention than is wise. The cast includes a great small-town sheriff and a medicine man you won’t soon forget, try though you might.

  It was a dark and snowy night… In “Tonight is the Night,” by Shannon Kirk, we meet George, an outsized ski resort trail groomer, known for his expertise on local-versus-tourist etiquette and his tall tales, which may not be as fantastical as his joshing fellow workers believe. With his mind on romance, and on the fierce blizzard, George learns that a dark past that has dogged him for years still has more on the agenda during the course of this one harrowing night. After reading this switchback-filled story, you may think twice about waxing up those skis and heading for the slopes.

  Jon Land takes us to the mean streets of New York City in “ATM,” where we meet Venn, a young man who’s bottomed out and is desperately seeking to parley his last few bucks into something resembling a break. When reality and fantasy appear to blur, Venn’s life takes a dramatic turn and he sets out on a mission at the behest of… well, I’ll leave that for you to find out. Land evokes the after-midnight atmosphere of the boroughs of the city so well, you’ll feel you’re walking along the streets in person.

  All right. Enough of the appetizers, now it’s time for the main course.

  Just let me offer some advice before you dig in: For your own comfort, I’d make sure your doors are barred and windows locked, and maybe you might want to have a flashlight ready, Boy Scout or otherwise, in case the power mysteriously goes out at an inopportune moment.

  That is, at least if you’re going to be reading our collection after midnight.

  —Jeffery Deaver

  12:01 AM

  A Karen Vail Short Story




  Stephen Raye Vaughn—no relation to the famed musician—sat on the edge of his death row cot. His “music” was a tune of a different sort, his cauldron of creativity emanating from death and mayhem—and finding new ways to wreak havoc on a city.

  With his time remaining on this Earth melting away like a glacier in the throes of climate change, he was now reduced to digging out the dirt from under his fingernails. Why? He had no goddamn idea. He was due to die in 120 minutes and nothing really mattered anymore, did i

  Did it ever really matter?

  Yeah, it did. Back when he was hunting for his prey, he had to present himself as an upstanding, clean cut individual. He had to play the part. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to sit undisturbed in his van in parking lots while selecting the 16 women he would eventually murder.

  His van. He missed that thing. He didn’t know exactly where it was at this moment, but he knew who had it. Fortunately, he had disposed of it before the police caught him, so it could not be used as evidence against him. And man, was there a lot of evidence in it that could be used against him.

  As it turned out, the one victim who got away went to the police and turned him in. It was very difficult to commit the perfect crime, although it did happen on occasion. People did get away with murder sometimes, but there was usually at least one major mistake a guy made that proved to be his undoing.

  Stephen Raye Vaughn was no exception. For him it would be the mistake of a lifetime, one he could not take back.

  But so be it. He was like a star in the nighttime sky, burning very brightly before going supernova. He had made peace with that. Not that he didn’t want to continue living, but sometimes you just had to accept your fortune. It took him a dozen years, but he had finally reached that point.

  Time was short, and his lifespan was now shorter, but at least he had lived a helluva ride. And unlike 99% of the individuals populating this planet, he had made plans to ensure his legacy continued on, at least for the near future. If all played out the way he figured it would, he would be forever immortalized in movies, television, books, Internet memes, and American history.