Editor’s Note: We’re pleased to be publishing an excerpt from Burt Weissbourd’s fifth novel here at the Café. Burt is a strong writer with a background in Hollywood movies, and it shows in Danger in Plain Sight. It’s tough, it’s suspenseful and it has strong forward movement like a good Mickey Spillane novel.
This is Burt’s first Callie James thriller, which climbs aboard the Weissbourd novel train behind three Corey Logan works and one non-serial novel set in Wyoming’s Yellowstone Park. In this opening scene, we find Callie James working in her restaurant when her ex-husband Daniel shows up unexpectedly.
If you like Danger in Plain Sight, you’ll probably be clicking away to get some more on Amazon. The following excerpt is drawn from the first two chapters, so let’s get to it!
Daniel was drinking Armagnac, her most expensive, she was sure. She knew just as surely that she’d end up paying for it. Callie James sat, facing him. She signaled Jill, who brought her a tepid San Pellegrino water with lime. Callie took a sip. “Okay. I’m working. Let’s get this over with.”
“Callie, you are even more beautiful,” Daniel said. He made a sweeping gesture with his hand. “And your restaurant, she is fantastic . . . formidable.”
“Please save that.”
“I was too young. And you—so head . . . So headstrong.” Pronounced edstrong.
Callie said nothing. He’d been too young? She was fifteen years younger than he was.
“How is our son?”
Our son? He’s thirteen years old, and he’s never met you. “He’s fine. Before we say another word about Lew, though, tell me—why are you here?”
“Okay. Yes, this is fair . . . I am on a story. The story of the modern terrorist world. Money laundering. Arms dealing. It is very big . . . énorme.” He shrugged. “So they try to kill me.”
“Right. Of course.” She remembered how he used to hide his articles in their freezer, in case some imagined adversary came looking for his work or set their apartment on fire.
“I am not joking. Four years ago, money went offshore. Weapons went to terrorists, I am certain. Then Amjad Hasim, an arms dealer, he is killed, and I find nothing. So last year, I try again to follow the money. In Paris, I was beaten, threatened with death. Since I am here—it’s only four hours—I lost them, but they’ll try again. In Seattle, I am unknown. I trust no one—” He raised his glass. “Sauf toi . . . My life is in danger. I have limited money. I need a place to stay for two days, maximum. Then I am gone.”
“You need protection, call the police. They don’t have to know who you are.”
“Police? In Paris, the police say it was a mugging. They do not understand. They are not, you know . . . sympathetic.” He pursed his lips, nodded tersely. It was French punctuation: something important was coming up. “They hate me since I expose the corruption.”
“I didn’t know that you did that.”
“Mais oui. Absolument. And here, your police are useless. They think every Muslim is a terrorist. They can’t tell a Sikh from India from a Syrian from a Palestinian from a dark-skinned Israeli—”
“Uh-huh.” Memories washed over her. What she didn’t understand—even now—was how she’d ever accepted his egotism. Sex, she supposed—with Daniel, it was like being caught in an undertow, carried insistently out to sea. And youth. She’d been so hopeful. And Daniel, when he was focused on her, was so delightfully charming, so articulate and intellectually able, and, in his way, so intensely in love. Unlike anyone she’d ever known, he could sparkle, light up the night sky like a shooting star. Daniel raised his voice, aware she was distracted. It brought her back.
“And what do I tell them? I have no proof. Just give me the two days and I’m gone. It would be a chance to talk with you—to, as you say, catch up—and I’d like to meet my son.”
“You had your chance for that.” Five years ago, Daniel had called, coming through Seattle. He arranged to meet Lew, then he didn’t show.
“My dear, life is compliqué. Agh . . .” Daniel raised both palms, both eyebrows. “She does not always work out as we wish. I wrote my boy, apologizing. And now I am here.”
“He waited up for you until three in the morning. He fell asleep on the windowsill. You stood him up. You got around to writing him two weeks later.” The postcard was still tacked to Lew’s wall. Thinking about it made her mad. “Just seeing you brings back a raft of unwanted memories. Daniel, you can’t just waltz back into our lives and . . . I’m sorry. This is too hard.” She was tearing up, losing her composure. She stood, working to stay calm. “Please . . . Please leave.”
Daniel spread his arms, palms up. “Callie, fourteen years is a long time. Excepting one brief call, no contact—you even returned my letters unopened. A price, a dear price, has been paid.” He nodded. “I propose we put the past behind us. I need help. I’ve changed . . . I’m ready to try again.”
“You’re ready?” Somewhere inside Callie, a dam gave way. “Fourteen years ago, I would have done anything for you. I loved you that much. You married me—I still don’t know why. When I caught you cheating on me, I thought my life was over. When I caught you with that same woman again, you told me in your best sincere way that you weren’t ready for marriage. Daniel, you washed your hands of me.” She was leaning over now, in his face. “Do you remember what you said?
Do you? You said you wanted to be ‘intégré et complet’ before committing to one woman. Later, you were angry with me, in that egotistical way of yours, for having Lew without consulting you. You said that you didn’t ask for—nor, truthfully, want—the responsibilities of a child. You gave up on me, and your son, a long time ago.”
“You are too hard.” He leaned in, frowning. “Too hard and—what is this word?—yes. Unforgiving.”
She was upset and angry now. Still, this word, unforgiving, rang a distant bell. “Just leave. Please.” She pointed. Brian, her bouncer, was hovering.
Callie followed Daniel down the front stairway. As he neared the door, something came over her. Perhaps it was the thought of explaining to Lew that his father had been here and she’d turned him away. Perhaps it was a last, lingering memory of her first, her only, great love. She watched Daniel walk through her front door, past her little bronze pig. Callie grabbed her purse and angrily followed him out. A light rain was drizzling, and the street was a slick, gunmetal gray. From under the canopy she called his name. He turned toward her. “Here, take this,” she said. Callie dug into her purse. She handed him all of her money: almost a hundred and fifty dollars—singles, tens and twenties.
He frowned again, took the cash and walked into the street, into the rain. She watched as he tried in vain to hail a taxi. He waved his hand angrily as one passed him by. It was just like Daniel to walk into the middle of the street and expect the cabs to line up. Callie was relieved, though, that he was leaving.
She turned back toward the restaurant. Inside, it was warm, lively and festive. Through the wet, steamy windowpanes, Callie thought the scene looked like a lovely Impressionist rendering of life well lived.
“Callie,” Daniel called from the street, where he was still trying to hail a cab. When she turned toward him, he called out, “Adieu,” and threw her money at her. It was a Daniel-sized gesture.
As he turned back, the speeding black pickup truck struck him in the side. It was a bone-crushing collision that sent Daniel flying through the air and crashing through the restaurant’s front window.
People screamed. Callie was suddenly breathless. She couldn’t focus. Broken glass was everywhere. Singles, tens and twenty-dollar bills floated through the air and scattered across the sidewalk, where a crowd was already forming. And inside—
Inside, her restaurant was a shambles, bedlam. Daniel lay sprawled across the Reynoldses’ table; his left arm and leg were angled in a stomach-churning way; blood was streaming from his face. The Reynoldses were standing there covered with glass and spattered with blood. Plates and glasses fell to the floor as people stood, moving away from the body or rushing for the front door. They bumped into one another, jostling tables and chairs. Was it a terrorist event? Callie heard someone ask. A few patrons had ducked under tables. Callie just stood there, trying to process what had happened.
Will came running out, trying to get the license plate number of the hit-and-run driver. But he was too late; the pickup was long gone.
It was, Callie decided, a nightmare, a dark, unyielding vision of her world gone mad. That was her last thought before she passed out under the French-blue canopy with the name of her restaurant scripted on it in beige.
When she came to after the accident, Callie was propped up across from Will in a booth inside her restaurant. She looked around, apprehensive. Daniel was being packed into an ambulance and the police were everywhere. Will explained how he’d given Daniel’s name to a police officer, and they’d called it in. Apparently, Daniel had made it onto several lists in the US Homeland Security database. The police had called the FBI, who would be heading to the hospital to talk with him. When Will left, one of the cops—an older detective, sixty at least, with a worn, creased face and crew-cut gray hair—sat opposite her. Politely, Detective Samter told her that, occasionally, he’d read Mr. Odile-Grand’s articles about Islamic terrorism, the causes, the objectives, and so on.
Callie grimaced. She looked around her. Every time she got near Daniel, horrible—unimaginable—things happened.
“You know this guy?” he asked Callie.
“Uh-huh.” She watched her staff, amazed at how quickly they’d cleaned up, cleared out her restaurant, then restored some kind of order.
“You agree with him?” The guy cracked a gnarly knuckle, taking in everything, she was sure, though he seemed vaguely bored.
“He understands and writes about things that most Westerners don’t even think about. He says things about the origins, the reasons for terrorism that people need to hear, but I haven’t agreed with him in fourteen years,” she said truthfully.
“I know. His articles—” She saw that she didn’t need to finish. Callie shrugged. She didn’t write the damn things.
“He’s done worse. According to our database, he’s friendly with lots of terrorists.”
“He interviews them. He tries to understand why they do what they do. It doesn’t mean he likes them.” She pressed her thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose, feeling the start of a migraine. Why was she defending him? Guilt. She had nothing to feel guilty for, damn it. “He says people are trying to kill him.”
“Maybe. Witnesses said it might have been an accident, hit-and-run.”
“He turned and threw that money at me. Otherwise, he’d be dead.”
The detective shrugged, rubbed his knuckle. “The Feds are interested in him; they’ll decide how to handle it.”
“They debriefed him in Paris, after a trip to interview Al-Qaeda leaders. It was four or five years after 9/11. I was still with him. It didn’t go too well.” She lowered her head, massaging her temples now with her fingertips. “Will they help him?”
Detective Samter frowned down at her, grim-faced. “You like this guy?”
No. The way he asked it, though, she realized it was not an idle question. Callie thought about what to say. She felt somehow responsible for what happened to Daniel now. She’d ignored his plea for help—Lew’s father—and he’d almost been killed. It wasn’t an accident, either, she knew that much. Callie glanced up. “He’s the father of my child,” she reluctantly admitted.
“Uh-huh.” Samter scratched his head. “In that case, lady, send him home as soon as the doctors release him. I’ll be honest—lots of good cops died on September eleventh. SPD, the Feds, they’ll never forget that terrorists did that. And they’ll know that your ex recently visited the territory controlled by ISIS in Syria. I read that, after, he refused to be debriefed by the Feds and the CIA. He antagonized them, called them incompetent imperialists.”
Callie sighed, nodded; that was Daniel, all right.
“They’d love to get their hands on him, try again, so they’ll find a reason to lock him up. In prison, he could get hurt . . . And if someone wants to kill him, he’s an easy target inside. Get him out of the US. He doesn’t belong here.”
They watched the ambulance pull away, lights flashing, siren wailing.
Callie stood, ignoring the rush of head pain that threatened to make her pass out again. “Thank you, Detective,” she said, extending her hand, “When I can, I’ll talk with him about that.”
Will and the staff covered the destroyed front window with flattened cardboard boxes, held together by staples and duct tape. It was 1:00 a.m. before the window was sealed. The police were long gone and the restaurant was empty. Will locked up the front, then went looking for Callie. He found her sitting at her favorite spot in the kitchen, head down on the long maple prep table.
“We’re okay.” He put a hand on her shoulder.
She raised her head. “They tried to kill him. He told me he was in danger. He said he needed to hide. I didn’t even believe him.”
“The police and the FBI, they hate him.”
“They’re going to throw him in jail. He’s hurt. He’s afraid of prison. And it’s not safe for him. He won’t be able to manage.”
“Just how big is this guy’s reputation?”
“Do you ever read the New York Review of Books, the Guardian, the Economist—”
“Honey, unlike you, I can sleep.”
“Right.” She sat up straight. “He’s got an international following among left-leaning intellectuals. The point is, he’s met quite a few terrorists. He often interviews them before they’re well known.
Recently, he wrote about terrorism in Somalia and the Philippines. Several years ago, after he visited the Islamic State to interview ISIS leaders, the FBI and the CIA wanted to debrief him, but he denounced them both.” She nodded; it was even worse than the detective had made it sound. “He said the FBI were stupid, racist and inept. That the CIA had as much chance of infiltrating a terrorist cell as breathing underwater. For good measure, he added that the jihadists, as a rule, were more sensible than the members of the Freedom Caucus in Congress . . . You get the picture?”
“They’re going to throw away the key.”
“Yes. If only I’d helped him when he asked . . .” She took his hand, feeling low again.
“What’s come over you?”
“I handled this badly. All he wanted was a place to stay. Will, he could have been killed . . . He said I’m unforgiving.”
“Unforgiving? It’s all right to hate your ex.”
“He’s Lew’s dad,” she said, suddenly teary. “That’s what I’ve been thinking. What if he’d died? What would I tell Lew? That his dad was dead because I was an unforgiving bitch?”
“Callie, that’s way too harsh . . .”
She ignored him. “What do I tell Lew?”
“You tell him what you always tell him, the truth. And then you all will work it out . . . Now, you need some rest. This will be easier to sort out in the morning. And in this godforsaken gray city, it’ll surely keep till then.” Will bowed slightly as he offered his arm to help her stand. “I’ll lock up.”
“Thank you,” she said softly. Callie took his arm, got up slowly, then went to the Dutch door that led down four stairs to the landing where she’d take the other staircase up to her apartment. Will opened the door for her. A Southern gentleman, he always waited at the foot of the stairs until she was safely inside. Approaching her apartment door, Callie decided that she’d visit Daniel at the hospital tomorrow morning, try talking with him again. That decision made her feel better.
At her door, she stepped back. Something wasn’t right. She could see where the lock had been forced open. Had the police looked in her apartment? Someone else? Why?
She waved for Will. He came up quickly, motioned her back, then slowly cracked the door. He looked inside, and with two fingers waved her in. “You have a problem,” he said.
Looking inside, she saw a man’s body lying on her carpet, his legs sticking out from behind the couch. She stepped in, looking more closely. “Oh Jesus,” she said, recognizing Daniel, passed out on her living room floor. A cut on his face had reopened. A pool of blood was slowly spreading on her white, woven Berber rug. She cried unexpectedly, relieved he was alive.
“You going to call the police?” Will asked when she stopped crying.
Callie shook her head. She knew she couldn’t call the police. She also knew that she would help Daniel—for Lew and, though she didn’t fully understand why, for herself, too.
“What a time to turn squishy.”
Callie clicked into restaurant mode. “We need a doctor, right away. And Daniel needs to be moved.”
Burt Weissbourd is a novelist, screenwriter and producer of feature films. He was born in 1949 and graduated cum laude from Yale University, with honors in psychology. After graduation he wrote, directed, and produced educational films for Gilbert Altschul Productions. He began a finance program at the Northwestern University Graduate School of Business but left to start his own film production company in Los Angeles. He managed that company from 1977 until 1986, producing films including “Ghost Story” starring Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Patricia Neal, and “Raggedy Man” starring Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard, which The New York Times called “a movie of sweet, low-keyed charm.” Burt is still a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He is the author of four previous novels; his fifth novel, Danger in Plain Sight, was released in May 2020 as an e-book. The Audible audiobook version is available now. See more at www.burtweissbourd.com. This is his first feature on The Fictional Café.