The Viper, Prologue


Boston, 1896

When Inspector Quinn McCurley spotted an incongruous five-dollar bill lying on his desk, he first assumed it to be part of a new case, a piece of evidence. Perhaps Sergeant Boyle or Chief Tukey had dropped it off for his perusal. Other than himself, they were the only ones with keys to his office.

On second glance, he noticed a chilling difference. Just below the "FIVE SILVER DOLLARS," where one would expect to find the phrase, "payable to the bearer on demand" a grim confession was displayed instead:

"I am a killer.”

Below that was a perfect imitation of his signature — of his current alias, to be precise.

Quinn forgot to breathe.

Reflexively, his hand reached for the note but stopped an inch short of touching it. His first instinct was to tear it up and burn it in the ashtray.

But that would change nothing.

A wave of panic rattled his bones. His neck felt itchy with sweat. Who had managed to get through the locked door? Who even had the nerve to break into the office of an Inspector? This was the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, for heaven's sake!

Quinn scrutinised the door and window for signs of forced entry but found none. The lock must have been picked. He rummaged through his entire office for signs of missing files or case notes but came up empty. Nothing had been moved, taken, or damaged.

The counterfeit note was the only thing out of place.

His lungs froze. Was it possible the burglar had had a key? Could it have been a corrupt copper who placed that note on his desk? He trusted Boyle implicitly, but what if the chief…

No. Impossible.

The only dirty copper with a key was himself. Because that was what he would soon be, a dirty copper, he had no doubt. That counterfeit note had only one purpose: to blackmail him into cooperating with whoever had made it and left it here for him to find.

How could they possibly have known about his past? But what if…

What if the men who strategically placed that note were his past? Bile welled up in his throat as he realised it wasn’t only possible, but plausible.

Defeated, Quinn sank onto his chair and buried his face in his hands.

No one in Boston knew about his roots, he’d made sure of that. Starting as a penniless Irishman and clawing himself up the ranks of the Boston police force was no small feat. He’d managed to dodge the dark side of the law for years. It hadn’t been easy for a man like him. But now…

Now all he’d accomplished was threatened by an innocuous slip of paper, a piece of bleached wood pulp bearing a signature that looked exactly like his own.

He should have seen it coming.

Carefully, he spread out the five-dollar counterfeit note between his fingers.

I am a killer.

It wasn’t even a lie. If it were, his life would have been so much easier.

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