Thriller Thursdays: HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN + Giveaway (part 1)

Recognize these faces? They’re starring in the film adaptation of Chuck Hustmyre’s House of the Rising Sun, compliments of Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

House of the Rising Sun, a July trade and e-book release, is as gritty and exciting as you’d expect a New Orleans-set thriller to be. Ray Shane is an ex-cop who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. After the House of the Rising Sun, the mafia-run strip bar where he works, was robbed by gunmen, Ray finds himself targeted by the mafia for a crime he didn’t commit. The corrupt may govern in New Orleans, but can Ray unearth the lies before there’s nowhere left to turn?

So now’s your chance to preview the first chapter for yourselves, thriller fans. If you’re anything like me, you won’t want to stop reading. Be sure to tune in next Thursday for chapter 2!

Thrill on,

Hannah Wolfson

Marketing & Promotions Coordinator

GIVEAWAY: We want to know what you think! Give us your feedback on chapter 1 in the comment thread to be entered for a chance to win a trade copy of HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN (winner to be announced on 3rd and final chapter preview on 6/7).

CHAPTER ONE

Ray Shane turned around and found a gun stuck in his face. The muzzle was a black hole the size of an ashtray, barely a foot from his nose. Somewhere at the other end of the barrel a voice whispered, “Don’t move, motherfucker.”

Ray had been working the front door of a place called The House of the Rising Sun, a mob-owned strip joint on the ground floor of an old four-story hotel in the French Quarter. That was the legal part of the business. What happened on the other three floors was…less legal.

Normally, Ray didn’t even work the front door. He had only been filling in for the regular doorman, a pimply faced Mexican kid named Hector who asked Ray to cover for him while he went to take a leak. Ray had entertained himself during Hector’s absence by chain-smoking Lucky Strikes and watching the freak show flowing past him on Bourbon Street.

Halloween night brought out all the weirdos, but it was late and the crowd was thinning. Most of the tourists had reached their limit and called it a night. The only ones left were kids too dumb to know when to quit and hard-core drunks who couldn’t.

After playing doorman for twenty minutes, Ray had checked his watch and saw it was just past three a.m. He pulled a walkie-talkie from his back pocket and called Hector. When the kid didn’t answer, Ray figured he was probably hanging out by the stage, gawking at the strippers.

One more cigarette. That’s how much time Ray had decided to give Hector. Standing on the sidewalk, he lit another Lucky Strike, breathed in a lungful of smoke, then closed his eyes and rubbed a hand over his face. He was so tired he was having trouble staying awake. Just three more hours. Then he could go home and crash.

Leaning against one of the metal poles holding up the cloth awning over the front door, Ray saw a guy pass by on the street dressed like a hot dog. His partner—Ray couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman—was covered from head to toe in a foam rubber bun.

Hector’s time was up. Ray took one last drag, then flicked the butt into the street. He turned toward the door.

That’s when he found the gun stuck in his face. The muzzle twelve inches from his nose. He still had the walkie-talkie in his hand.

Ray couldn’t see the face behind the gun because his eyes refused to move from that big black hole. It was too big for a 9mm, had to be a .40 caliber, maybe even a .45. The gun was a stainless-steel semiauto, probably a Smith & Wesson. It wasn’t the first time Ray had had a gun stuck in his face, but it wasn’t something you got used to with practice.

“Drop the radio,” the voice said.

Ray forced his eyes to move past the big pistol, back to the hand holding it. A white hand with a spiderweb tattoo covering the back.

The thumb cocked the hammer. “Drop it.”

The walkie-talkie slipped from Ray’s fingers and crashed onto the sidewalk. Something moved to his left. Out of the corner of his eye he saw someone step up to the heavy wooden front door and pull it open.

The voice behind the gun said, “Inside.”

There was no face behind the gun, just a rubber mask shaped like a skull with a pair of bloodshot eyes showing through two holes. Inside the mouth slit, Ray saw two lips and a set of bad teeth. As the muzzle of the big pistol poked Ray in the forehead, the skull said, “Now.”

Carefully, Ray took a step toward the door, his hands up at shoulder height, fingers spread, wanting these guys to understand that he wasn’t a threat. The guy next to the door wore a gorilla mask framed with thick black fur. He carried a sawed-off shotgun in his hands. An old double-barrel, cut off even with the wooden fore end, the stock chopped down to form a pistol grip and wrapped in black tape.

Two more assholes stood beside the skull, both wearing plastic masks, the kind with a rubber band that went around the back of the head to keep them in place. George Bush and a vampire. Each of them carried a pistol in one hand and a canvas gym bag in the other. Ray stepped through the door first, the skull with the bad teeth right behind him, keeping the muzzle of his Smith jammed against the back of Ray’s head. The other three trailed in. The door swung closed behind them and cut off the light from the street lamps outside.

The first floor housed the bar and strip club, the stage directly opposite the door so that people passing on the street could get a peek at what they were missing. From the speakers, Jonny Lang’s voice sang “Lie To Me” while a naked girl danced across the stage, hips grinding to the beat. Maybe forty people in the room, almost all men, everyone focused on the stage.

A hand on Ray’s shoulder spun him to the right, toward the stairwell. At the foot of the stairs, next to the bar, stood an empty wooden bar stool. That was where Ray spent most of his time, sitting on his ass, smoking cigarettes and drinking the club’s cheap whiskey, keeping the riffraff from going upstairs. For the last twenty-five minutes, ever since Hector went to take a leak, the stool had been empty.

The skull stepped in real close behind Ray and lowered his pistol, pressing the muzzle against the base of Ray’s spine. No one looked at them as they crossed the room. The stairs went up half a flight to a landing, then turned around before going up to the second floor. Ray crept up the steps, feeling the gun in his back. When they got to the mid-floor landing, he said, “You sure you know what you’re doing? You know who owns this place?”

“Shut up and walk.”

“You’re not the first guy to pull a gun on me. I just want you to think about it. You can still walk away, no hard feelings.”

The pistol jabbed hard, making Ray wince. “I said shut up,” the skull hissed.

“What’s he saying?” the vampire asked.

“Nothing,” the skull said. “Just stick to the plan.”

At the top of the stairs Ray felt another tug on his shoulder that spun him to the right. “This way,” the skull said as he pushed Ray toward the money cage built into the back right-hand corner.

The second-floor casino was about 10,000 square feet. A bar ran along the right-hand wall directly above the one on the first floor. The rest of the room was crammed with gambling tables—craps, roulette, blackjack, and poker. Every table was packed, the players tossing their chips and cash around, trying to keep a hot streak alive or turn a cold one around. There was urgency in the air. In less than an hour the House was closing for the night. Everyone was so busy trying to win their money back or add to their winnings that no one had time to look at five guys strolling toward the money cage.

Even the two drunks perched at the end of the bar didn’t look up as Ray and the four masked gunmen passed behind them. On the other side of the bar, the door to the storeroom stood open, the bartender’s back visible as he bent over to pick something up.

Ray did some quick mental math. The nightly take from all three floors was usually somewhere around a hundred grand. At this time of night, almost all of that cash, less what was still out on the tables and at the bars, was in the counting room behind the money cage. Even the money from the whorehouse upstairs was in there because every couple of hours someone walked the third floor take down to the counting room just to be safe.

If you had the guts—and the guys in the masks had already shown they had guts—this kind of job beat the hell out of knocking off a 7-Eleven for fifty bucks. But nobody had to die. Let them take the money and go. The last thing Ray wanted was a Wild West shootout.

“When we get there,” the man whispered in Ray’s ear, “tell the girl to open the door.”

Ray nodded. Nobody has to die.

The money cage wasn’t really a cage, but a chest-high wooden counter with wire mesh running from the top of the counter to the ceiling. There were two openings in the wire, each the size of a toaster. It was through them that money passed back and forth to the players. At the end of the counter, separating it from the wall, stood a locked gate made of the same wire mesh. The gate was the only way in or out of the money cage.

In the back wall of the cage was a solid wooden door that led into the counting room. The door had a peephole and a dead bolt, but Ray knew it wasn’t locked because the girls at the counter were always in and out of the counting room carrying trays of money.

The House wasn’t fitted with the elaborate security setup found in legal casinos. The owners had their own special security arrangements. It was simple, nobody had the balls to fuck with them. Only somebody forgot to tell Mr. Skull and his friends that you didn’t try to take down a mob joint.

One girl was working the cage, cashing in chips for a player. She had cat whiskers drawn on her face and a pair of cat ears on her head. She was young and pretty. Ray couldn’t remember her name. Bobby was inside the cage next to the girl, leaning against the counter, drooling over her and ignoring everything else. Bobby was twentysomething and big. He was built like a wrestler and didn’t mind letting people know how tough he was. Ray knew there was a sawed-off pump-action shotgun with a pistol grip clamped to the wall inside the cage just under the counter. He hoped Bobby wasn’t stupid enough to reach for it.

As he neared the cage, Ray caught the tail end of a joke Bobby was telling the girl. “…so the old Jew comedian says, ‘You think you got problems. My shtick hasn’t worked in years.’”

The girl ignored him and finished cashing in the player’s chips.

The skull shoved Ray the last couple of feet. Off balance, he stumbled forward and had to grab the counter to keep from falling. The girl looked up at him. “Been celebrating?”

He shook his head. “Open up. I need to check on something.”

Turning toward the locked gate, she hesitated and gave Ray a curious look. He could read her face. It was an unusual time for him to be here. He always stayed out of the counting room until after the House closed and all the customers were out. The girl shot a look at the men with the masks. Then she glanced back at Ray. “It’s Halloween, how come you’re not dressed up?”

Ray didn’t answer.

“Party pooper,” she said as she twisted the knob.

“Wait!” Bobby said, finally roused from his stupor. But it was too late.

The skull pushed Ray through the door so hard he stumbled into the girl. She screamed and Ray had to grab her to keep her from falling. Bobby was stunned into inaction for a moment. Then he turned and clawed for the pump scattergun. Bobby was big but slow. Skull lunged across the open space between them and clubbed Bobby on the head like a baby seal. He went down hard and didn’t move.

Skull, Bush, and Vampire rushed into the counting room. The gorilla stayed in the cage, his back to the gate, shotgun leveled at Ray and the girl. She pushed away from Ray and stared at him, challenging him with her eyes. “Aren’t you going to do something?”

Ray shrugged. “Like what?”

“Stop them.”

He nodded toward the gorilla with the sawed-off. “How?”

She looked at Ray for a second, then shook her head in disgust. Turning to the gorilla, she said, “You guys are dead. You know that?”

The gorilla didn’t say anything.

Ray heard shouting from inside the counting room, then the sound of someone getting smacked with a pistol. A player showed up at the cage and stuck a cupful of chips inside the opening. He seemed confused when no one moved to help him, but then he looked at the gorilla with the shotgun and backed away, raising his hands in surrender and leaving his cup of chips on the counter.

More shouting from inside, another smack. This time it sounded like someone fell to the floor. Then the skull’s voice yelling, “Hurry up!”

People were starting to take notice. At least a dozen players and several dealers had stopped what they were doing and stood staring at the cage. The gorilla’s head swiveled back and forth, glancing out at the casino floor, then at Ray, then at the counting room door. Even though Ray couldn’t see his face, he knew the guy was scared.

It seemed like an hour, but was probably more like sixty seconds, before Ray heard thudding footsteps and saw all three gunmen rush out of the counting room. The skull carried nothing but his big automatic while the other two carried their pistols and lugged the gym bags, bulging now with what Ray knew was cash.

Skull nodded toward the cage door and the other three went out, the gorilla with the sawed-off taking the lead. Ray didn’t move. He hoped they didn’t need him anymore. The skull dashed that hope by pointing the Smith & Wesson at him, the muzzle about two feet from Ray’s face. “Move,” he said, then jerked the barrel toward the cage door.

As Ray took a step, a hand grabbed his shirt and bent him backward. Again, the gun was pressed against the back of his head as the skull prodded him through the door. There was a lot of murmuring from the crowd. Glancing at the casino floor, Ray saw that all the gambling had stopped. Everyone was staring at the cage.

The other three masked goons stood just outside the cage, their backs against the counter, guns aimed at the crowd. Skull pushed Ray past the gorilla holding the shotgun and kept going, using Ray as a shield. The others fell in behind as they headed for the stairs.

Halfway down, Ray stumbled. A hard pull on the back of his shirt kept him from falling. “Slow down,” the skull breathed in his ear. Ray kept thinking, Nobody has to die. Just let these motherfuckers get out of here and everything will be okay.

At the bottom of the stairs, the end of the bar was just to Ray’s right, the front door about thirty feet ahead and to the left. Ray glanced out across the room. It looked like no one down here had a clue what was going on. All the customers were still staring at the stage, where a second girl had joined the first. The two dancers were oiled up and rubbing their breasts together.

Ray looked at the door. Thirty feet to go and these guys would be out of here. He took a couple of steps forward with the guy in the skull mask shuffling along behind him and hanging on to Ray’s shirt, his pistol still pressed against Ray’s head.

Behind the bar, the storeroom door flew open and banged against the wall. Ray spun toward it and saw Peter Messina step through the door carrying a bottle of champagne in one hand and two glasses in the other. He wore jeans and a T-shirt, a white apron hanging from his neck.

Peter nodded to Ray and took a step toward the lift gate at the end of the bar. “How you doing, Ray?” he said. Then he froze and stared at the gun behind Ray’s head.

Ray spoke calmly. “It’s okay, Pete, everything’s—”

The bottle of champagne slipped from Pete’s fingers and exploded on the floor. Ray tried to turn around but got stiff-armed. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the guy in the gorilla mask step off the stairs, saw the shotgun come up, the twin barrels pointing across the bar. He wanted to tell the guy not to worry. Pete looked like an adult. Twenty years old, but he had the mind of a child. He wasn’t a threat. Ray’s mind screamed, Nobody has to die! But when he opened his mouth, the roar of the shotgun cut him off. Most of the blast hit Pete in the face, arching him back like a gymnast doing a backward somersault. He hit the floor hard. Not even a dead-cat bounce. Not even a twitch.

Screams. Some of the customers jumped to their feet, some dove to the floor. Ray glanced up at the stage. One of the dancers was bent over, looking at blood pouring out of a hole in her thigh. Something heavy cracked against the top of Ray’s head and he dropped to his knees. Dazed, but still looking at the stage, Ray saw the dancer with the hole in her leg collapse onto her ass. The other girl knelt beside her and cradled her head like a lover.

Sound was muffled, but Ray heard the skull yelling something. Then a foot in his back shoved Ray facedown onto the floor. He heard another blast as the guy with the sawed-off let go with his second shot. From the corner of his eye, Ray saw the twin barrels aimed at the ceiling. Glass from the colored track lights hit the floor. Then there was more screaming. At least the big gun was empty.

There was a dull pop just above Ray’s head. Heat seared the back of his neck as something smacked into the wooden floor next to his face. He could barely focus his eyes, but he was still able to see four pairs of feet rush past him on their way out the door.

Although he was glad they were finally gone, all Ray could really concentrate on was how badly he needed a cigarette. As he remembered the half-full pack of Lucky Strikes in his shirt pocket, he slid his hand along the floor trying to reach it, but he was just too tired. Something warm dripped into his left eye.

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9 Responses to Thriller Thursdays: HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN + Giveaway (part 1)

  1. sewcraftyme says:

    WOW. Very good read and you’re right I did not want to stop reading. I really liked Ray: and could almost smell the streets and hear the music.

    His mantra “Nobody has to die” sounds like one he’s used a long time but certainly one the bad guys aren’t familiar with.

    I found myself wondering “Why” he’s working in this particular place? Why is Ray there and not somewhere else? Is there more to him that we’re going to discover farther on in the book, perhaps he’s undercover? I’m anxious to find out and look forward to next week with anticipation.

    Thank you for a great addition to my Thursday.

    Ila in Maine

  2. Stacia Russell says:

    Oooh, this is SO good…what a tease! I cannot wait to read the rest of this book. What a great job, and fantastic idea for a giveaway! I will also be first in line to see this movie…I’ve been reading snippets about it online.

    Thank you, and keep them coming!
    Stacia in Massachusetts 🙂

  3. Kelly J says:

    I wanted to keep reading, I love starting a book and the action & suspence immediately starts, thats my kind of read! Love it, I want to find out what happened to Ray!! I agree it’s a great tease.
    Thanks for the read, Kelly Dallas, Tx

  4. Yvonne B. says:

    Great tease, didn’t want to stop reading.

  5. Tracey D says:

    OK, I’m hooked. This chapter ended way to early. I’m adding this to my must have list.

  6. HANNAH WOLFSON, MARKETING AND PROMOTIONS COORDINATOR says:

    Readers, thank you for your feedback! I’m so glad you enjoyed the first chapter of House of the Rising Sun. I hope you enjoy the second chapter just as much. Tune into this week’s Thriller Thursday post to read it (and comment again to double your chances of winning the trade paperback of House of the Rising Sun)!

  7. Linda says:

    WOW, NOW I JUST GOTTA READ IT!

  8. Richard says:

    I feel like a fish that swallowed the whole hook! Wow going to read Chater 2! Thanks!!

  9. HANNAH WOLFSON, MARKETING AND PROMOTIONS COORDINATOR says:

    Thanks for your contributions to our HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN preview series! I hope you enjoyed what you read.

    Although the winner of the trade paperback copy has been chosen and contacted, remember that HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN is now available in eBook (and trade to follow July 15th)! http://www.dorchesterpub.com/store/product.aspx?ProductID=1801.

    Cheers,
    Hannah

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