Rick Philips isn’t a fighter – but he is a survivor
Haunted by memories of a high school shooting, not even the bottle can wash away the gnawing guilt and creeping feelings of inadequacy that batter Rick’s conscience daily.
His life has been a mess of broken marriages, writer’s block, terrible choices, and the morbid pity of others.
When he meets Harriet at a writer’s conference, the record doesn’t scratch as he falls back – only this time, he may not get up.
Harriet Bristol Wheeler is a dark temptress – and self-confessed serial killer
Harriet has no problem killing – and even fewer issues blending back into the background after the act with the cool, calculating eye of a practiced social chameleon.
Manipulative, unpredictable, and exceptionally intelligent, she’s Rick’s worst nightmare – and the ideal subject for his next book.
A book that they are both desperate to write.
Time is running out – but the sadness will last forever
Rick has no choice but to enter the cracked twilight of Harriet’s world and confront the history of her murderous choices up close.
As Rick starts to gather the evidence for his long-anticipated book, he finds himself looking into answers that put him in even more danger than before – but this time, he may not survive at all.
BY PAUL MICHAEL PETERS
“An enthralling and unnerving probe into the complex mind of a murderer.” - Kirkus Review
“Combustible Punch is a great suspense story with interesting characters, a complex and twisted plot and great writing from Paul Michael Peters.
“Once I started this book I had to stay with it and finally finished it at 3:00 a.m.”
“It had a page-turning plot and a perfect amount of humor.” - RJ Beam
“…what's motivating both characters and where this hurtling train-ride is going will keep you turning the pages long into the night - or maybe that was just my reluctance to turn out the lights, given that "creepy" factor…”
“The character development is excellent and the plot lines kept me reading chapter by chapter as I was fully engrossed in the book (way past my bedtime).”
“Their "acquaintance" bears all the hallmarks of an imminent train wreck. I can hear the brakes squeal, metal clamping against metal, whistle shrieking warning, passengers screaming. Yes, lucky Rick Phillips survived the angry predations of the shooter at his high school, but will he survive the machinations of the Machiavellian, Black-Widowish Harriet Bristol Wheeler?” - Mallory Heart Reviews
When the first bullet hit me, it didn't hurt at all. Not one bit. Which confused me. I remember thinking, "Maybe it was a blank. A misfire. Was this an elaborate prank? Were the others messing with me?"
The perception of time changed. It felt like everything was slowing down. I was aware of everything.
Then I thought, "dear god, what if I'm paralyzed, that's why I don't feel the bullet." So, I wiggled my big toe. I could feel the press of skin against my sock, resist the interior wall of my shoe. I began to list to the side and lose my balance. Still, no sharp pain, no shooting pain like you'd think there would be when a piece of metal rips through your body.
Then came the bee sting. SHARP. The skin went flush. HOT. The temperature in the area went from bite to blister in an instant. That was the moment it started. It's why I'm short a few feet of intestine, carry my mother’s kidney instead of my own. Why my body reacts so differently to food and alcohol.
Later I was informed a bullets damage comes mostly from the momentum. It creates a shockwave through the body. It makes a cavity. Sometimes, it feels like I still have that hole in me. Keep it with me. I just want to fill it.
I’m not very good at a lot of stuff. Bad choices are something familiar to me. Something I tend to fumble through. A fortunate fool? Maybe. I like to think of myself as resilient, a survivor.
She is a perfect example of my bad choice. Her hotel room a hot mess. The mattress edge limp over the box spring. Empty drinking glasses lay on their side on the dresser. The flat screen television has an odd tilt. A wet towel sits soiled on the carpeted floor. There is a biting tang in the air both sour and acid from sex.
“Thank god I don’t have to clean this place,” she says.
Catching my breath in long and deep draws, I notice the morning light in the window. The curtains are open. Come to think of it, they must have been the entire night.
“They must have gotten a good show across the way,” I say.
She teases, “I like to put on a show once in a while.”
Rolling on my side, I reach out to her. Her waxen skin shows the red blooms around her neck and waist where my hands left marks. Matching red plumes go up to her side and back. Her shoulders have already begun to bruise in the shape of my palm slap that was playful and light to start, escalating to something more sinister under her command.
“That was really something,” I say hiding my fear. “I’ve never been that…” What’s the right word here? “Rough.”
“That was nothing,” she says. “Don’t worry yourself, a young buck like you needs to get more experience. Besides, I asked for it.”
Sitting up, looking over the wreckage of the room, I understand why housekeeping was appreciated. Nothing is broken, but everything needs to be put back in place or cleaned. “Maybe that chair should be thrown out after what happened on it.”
She is quick to quip, “You loved it. You know it.”
Looking for my pants, I can see out the window, across the courtyard, into a row of rooms. They had front row seats last night. Three guys standing on the balcony across from ours, each with a Miller High Life in hand, are not fooling anyone. They were here for the show. They watched. I yank the curtains shut and swear. Scattered applause on the other side of the window clap out.
“You’re leaving?” she asks.
“Yeah, I should get dressed, go back to my room, try and get a few hours’ sleep. It’s a long drive back to Dupont’s campus, and I have class tomorrow.”
“No more conference sessions?”
“Yesterday was the last one. My track started Thursday, so...”
“I see. You’re a love ‘em and leave ’em kind of guy, Rick,” she says.
“I don’t know if there’s enough love left for you, honey.”
“Harriet,” she says. “Harriet Bristol Wheeler. It’s okay if you forgot my name Rick. I’m not the type of woman who cares. Besides, we only met a few hours ago.”
“I don’t know if there’s enough left for you, Harriet.”
My underwear and socks on, one leg targeting the left pant leg, and she grabs me back to the mattress. With the speed of a high school wrestler, she has me down and arms pinned behind my head. She straddles my torso, breasts nearly in my face, long red hair draped over my head, crotch on the chest, and she places one of her knees on each of my elbows. She reaches over me, to grab something I can’t see. Returning to my field of view, there is a long twist of fabric in her hands that she snaps taunt by stretching her arms apart. The sudden crack causes me to jolt in fear.
“Just a harmless pillowcase, Rick.”
I start to squirm under her, “What’s it for?”
“This. You’ll love it.”
Her weight bears down on my elbows from her knees pressing my arms deeper into the mattress. Her work to get the twisted pillowcase around my right wrist complete, she now moves to the left wrist. A loss of control to her again makes me fully aroused. Instinctively, I attempt to move my arms away, but the fabric is too tight. There is a look in her eyes that frightens me. I could not see her face this well through the haze of drinks and the dim lighting. Now, I see the coldness.
“You didn’t think I’d let you leave without telling you my secret? Did you?”
Laughter, a little from fear, partly from her playfulness, “I thought you were sharing your secret with me all night.”
“Rough sex? That’s no secret. Not anymore at least. Most people at this conference got the full show,” she turns her head to the window and back. “These people like to tell stories. The rest will know it by lunch. But that’s not my secret.”
“I’m a little more private about this stuff, I guess. Too many years on years in the public eye.” I chuckle nervously. I wiggle into a less painful position under her and wonder if leaving the curtain open was part of a plan? “Okay, you’ve got me. Literally, you have me. What’s your secret?”
Her posture changes. She sits up straight. I can feel her press against me, still aroused, still in full control. She watches my reaction to the slightest movement. A slight sway in her hips moves between a brush of pleasure and a twinge of pain. Slowly, she removes her one knee, followed by the other, and slides over to my right side.
Uncertain of what she will do next, I ask, “What’s your real secret?”
“You thought it was silly when I casually mentioned it last night during drinks,” she taunts.
“I did?” Thinking back to last night is difficult. There is a cloud from drinking, laughter, and the rush of going back to her room. I can feel her fingers trace a light dance on my stomach. I strain to look down to see she is testing the borders between the scar of one of my bullet wounds and the undamaged flesh.
“You did, but I was serious, so don’t laugh, this time.”
“All right tell me. I promise not to laugh.”
She vexes with her hand. It finds way under the band of my underwear and she asks, “this one isn’t a bullet wound, is it?”
Fingernails glide along the long line that marks my inner upper leg. I know exactly what she is asking, “That’s where they went in for the kidney transplant.”
“Really?” More a chuckle of disbelief than a question, “I thought those were in your back.”
“They go through the front, the leg if they have to.” My hands pull at the bindings in a steady torque and twist. It burns. Let’s get this over with already. Sweetly I plead, “Come on tell me, please, what is your real secret? Like I said, I promise not to laugh.”
Her head cranes, red hair shifts, looks me right in the eyes, “I’m a serial killer.”
“Oh,” I say quickly. It is a flat and forced response. It is intended. I would have said that no matter what the secret. It is sheer willpower. Inside there is a fight against panicked instinct. I resist closing my eyes too long or blinking. The focus is on my breathing, to be healthy, steady, not loud. My mind jumps back to the terror of hiding under a desk at school. The terror of seeing the black leather boots of the gunman named Ian Maynard Abbot. Tension in my muscles. My head screaming inside to the rest of the body, don’t make a sound!
“Rick, did you hear me?”
I take a deep breath and return to the now, to the moment, to this room, to this woman controlling me. I say, “I did.” Then I take a second to process the information. It is either true, or she believes it to be true. She is not an ordinary person. The evidence is all over the room. She is serious. Somewhere in the miasma of last night was when she’d said it the first time. It is clear that, if nothing else, Harriet Bristol Wheeler is off balance from the rest of the world.
I force a smile, pull hard at my restraint making sure she notices and ask playfully, “Am I going to be one of your victims?”
Those eyes lack all fun and play. “Not sure yet.” She makes this point clear. “I was protecting myself, sometimes protecting others.”
I pull at the fabric of the pillowcase slowly, but firmly, as to not draw attention this time and say, “Does that make you a serial killer.”
“Some die at my hand,” she explains. “Some just happened to die around me.”