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GRINGO GULCH is the first book in the gripping Elijah Shaw Crime Thriller Series set in Costa Rica.

Keep scrolling for more information and to read the first three chapters of the novel!

Book Description

To every light, there must also be a dark side, even in a tropical paradise.

No one ever mentions that it’s not only just good & sane people attracted to beautiful destinations, but yet it attracts all types, some even like to kill, repeatedly.

Elijah Shaw is part of an elite unit handling major crimes and high-profile killings in Costa Rica. When Shaw notices an unusual pattern in homicides: all tourists, all Americans, he reaches out to Alexandra Needham, a forensic psychologist and rookie FBI Profiler, to stop this killer from striking again.

Gringo Gulch is a serial killer thriller filled with realistic, complex characters with heart-pounding suspense that will keep you hooked until the last page.

It’s the first book in a new gripping international crime thriller series that’ll have you looking over your shoulder as you turn the pages.

Book Excerpt

Below are the first three chapters of THE PAST NEVER DIES. Enjoy! 

Chapter One

San José, Costa Rica

A man sat alone at the far end of the bar. He nursed a beer while watching the evening unfolding before his eyes with disgust. 

The bar was located inside the Hotel Del Sol, in the heart of San José’s red-light district. It was darkly lit, and the working girls were scantily dressed. The man watched as two women got into a shoving match as they competed for the attention of an aging overweight man with a scruffy white beard—much to his delight.

Pathetic, the man watching thought.

He scanned the packed club, which teemed with young women and older men with beer bellies spilling over ill-fitting blue jeans. 

Most of the men were white foreigners from the United States and Canada, chatting up the young, mostly brown-skinned girls from Costa Rica, Colombia, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

These women wouldn’t give them the time of day if they were not working the room trying to make some money selling themselves while pushing overpriced booze for a cut of the sale. The end goals were simple: pad up the bar bill and get the fools to a room upstairs to complete the transaction.

It was a tough hustle for the women, who outnumbered the men five to one.

The man felt ill watching the debauchery unfolding before his eyes, but he had to stay strong. He continued scanning the bar, watching grown men act like children in a toy store. The fools were beaming at the bevy of young, beautiful women fighting each other for their attention. It was hard for the man to hide his contempt for what he was witnessing as he waved off girls trying to sell him their bodies.

Most of the sex workers moved on quickly. Time is money. But one girl was persistent as she cuddled up next to him, rubbing his forearm.

“Do you want to have a good time with me?” she asked him, almost demurely. 

He ignored her.

“Well? Are you going to buy me a drink?” she purred. 

“Not interested. Leave me alone,” he said, giving her a hard glare.

She rolled her eyes and left without saying another word. He watched her as she scurried away quickly to the next potential customer, then resumed his search. 

Unlike all the other men there that night, he wasn’t looking to hook up with a working girl.

He was looking for something different. And he hadn’t found it yet, so he continued scanning the room over and over. 

Finally, he zeroed in on a couple. 

He leaned forward in his stool, staring at them like a scientist studying a lab rat. It was hard for him to get a good bead on things since the club was so dark and the reggaeton music so loud, but he felt a connection to them he knew well. He’d felt it many times before.

He watched the man who wore a no-brand, poly-blend brown polo shirt that appeared to be at least one size too small; his bloated belly hung over his jeans like a deflating balloon. The man had a ruddy, pudgy face with a flat nose. He was bald on the top of his head, with an unruly crown of peach-fuzzy brown hair on the sides in need of a trim.

He looks like a pig, the man watching thought as he turned his attention to the girl. She was pretty—raven-haired, dark-skinned—and sitting so close to the pig man that she might as well just sit on his lap.

She couldn’t be much older than twenty, if that.

The man watched, transfixed by the couple, who looked odd even by the standards of that seedy bar. He felt like a voyeur, and this excited him.

The girl was working hard to close the deal and the pig man was loving it as she rubbed his leg with her hand. They were so engrossed in their roles that they paid no attention to the man, who couldn’t stop staring at them.

The girl laughed loudly at whatever the pig man was saying. It was too loud to eavesdrop, but the watcher knew what he was witnessing. A business transaction going down.

A server arrived with another round of drinks for the couple. The server smiled and winked at the working girl for the good job she was doing of padding up the pig man’s bar bill before heading upstairs.

The man looked away, not wanting to get caught staring. He tore at the label of his beer bottle. He needed to stop staring, but he couldn’t help himself.

He took another look and saw the girl kissing the pig man on his chubby cheek, then subtly sticking her tongue into his ear, making him grin broadly and lick his lips like a hog at the trough. She sat back and smiled, fluttering her huge fake eyelashes.

The pig man downed his watered-down drink in one gulp. “Check!” he shouted, using his thick, sausage-like fingers to make the universal sign for the bill.

The server smiled, nodded, and headed up to the bar. She wasted no time in bringing the pig man his bill. She too knew that time is money, and the more efficient she was at helping the working girls get the men upstairs, the bigger her tip would be.

The man watched the pig man pull out his wallet from his front shirt pocket. It was black and orange velcro with a symbol on it. Through the darkness, he recognized the symbol for the Cincinnati Bengals NFL team.

The pig man was an American. Excellent.

The pig man paid his bill and stuffed the wallet back into his shirt pocket. The pair got up from their table and made their way towards the front door, walking arm in arm.

The bar’s door—the only way in or out—led from the bar into the lobby area of the adjacent Del Sol hotel. It was a very convenient and efficient setup.

As they walked away, a busboy quickly cleared the table. He was a vital cog in the machine that ensured the tables didn’t stay empty for long at the Paradise View bar.

The couple left the bar, the pig man waddling proudly, a ridiculous smirk on his face, like he was some kind of Casanova who had just picked up a girl, blithely ignoring the reality that it was only business between the two of them.

As they reached the door, the pig man put his right hand up the girl’s short skirt and squeezed her behind.

She giggled, playing the role like she enjoyed such boorish behavior. 

The pig man was tall—around six feet. Shouldnt be a problem, the man thought.

The girl looked tiny walking next to the pig man. Her oversized silver hoop earrings swung with every step. Her tall, knee-high black boots clicked in unison with the man’s black no-brand sneakers.

They walked out of the bar and disappeared into the hotel lobby. The man leaned back on the bar stool and closed his eyes for a moment. Then he nodded, pushed back his half empty bottle of beer on the bar’s countertop, and climbed out of the stool to follow the pig man and the girl out to the lobby.

He had found what he was looking for.

Chapter Two

Elijah Shaw and Claudia Monge rolled up to the Hotel Del Sol in an unmarked white SUV at one in the afternoon. There were several patrol cars and a CSI van already parked out front. Monge parked on the curb. They exited the SUV and looked around at the scene.

It was the rainy season in Costa Rica, so Shaw automatically looked up to the gray skies. His partner followed his gaze.

“You worried about the rain? The murder scene is indoors.”

“It might have happened inside, but the killer had to come and go through those doors,” Shaw said as he pointed to the hotel’s front entrance. “It’s the only way in and out.”

“Know your way around the old Hotel Del Fuck, do you?” Monge said teasingly. She referred to the Hotel Del Sol by the nickname it had picked up because of its tawdry history and location, smack dab in the middle of the red-light district of San José.

“Not really. I’d hate to run into you in there while you’re working your side job,” Shaw said matter-of-factly.

Monge cracked a smile. “Well played, sir,” she said, laughing.

They glanced around and saw the uniformed police officers nearby looking at them oddly, so they got back into work mode.

“We need to canvas outside before the rain,” Shaw said.

“Makes sense,” Monge replied. “I’ll get a crew going.”

“Make sure the uniforms canvass a couple blocks in both directions. Anything that catches their eye, bag it. I don’t care if it’s a cigarette butt, a junkie’s needle, a used condom, a single drop of blood. I want it collected. And look for security cameras up and down this block. Commercial, residential, we want it all,” Shaw said.

Monge nodded as she walked up to two uniformed officers with the San José Municipal Police, who were leaning against a patrol car. 

Shaw heard her giving the officers the instructions as he walked towards the hotel’s entrance. There were two other uniformed police officers with the San José Municipal Police guarding the front door. He knew one of them well—Pedro Caldera, a senior officer who didn’t rattle easily—so the ashen and distraught look on his face surprised Shaw.

“How are you doing, Pedro?” Shaw asked, shaking the officer’s hand.

“Not good, Eli. It’s a mess up there. A real horror-show type of shit. I’ve seen nothing like it,” Caldera said, his eyes glancing up towards the hotel building behind him. Caldera’s demeanor took Shaw aback; he was a grizzled beat cop with almost twenty years walking the rough and tumble streets of the downtown San José area. Shaw couldn’t imagine there was much Caldera hadn’t seen on the job when it came to the evil humans could inflict on each other.

“Were you the first officer at the scene?”

Caldera shook his head. “Two of my kids caught it,” he said, referring to the two rookies he was training. “They’re upstairs with the other detectives. One kid has been a cop for five weeks. Says he’s going to quit after his shift.”

Shaw’s eyebrows arched as he shook his head. “All right, I’m heading up there then.”

“I’m staying out here if that’s okay. Crowd control,” Caldera said, his hand trembling as he popped a cigarette in his mouth.

“That’s fine,” Shaw said as he stepped inside.

Shaw wasn’t given any details about the crime scene. He was only told that it was a double homicide, no suspects, and that the crime scene was bad. Like there was such a thing as a good crime scene. But the warning was odd. He’d seen plenty of nasty crime scenes in his ten years as a homicide investigator. And seeing Caldera shaken like a rookie had piqued his curiosity about what was waiting for him in room 415.

How bad could it be? he thought as he made his way through the hotel’s lobby, which was desolate and quiet. Not exactly out of the norm since the hotel and bar didn’t usually come to life until nightfall. But it seemed way too quiet for the busiest hotel in the Gringo Gulch.

It probably would not be good for business in the red-light district, with the entire block saturated by cops.

He walked past the front desk, behind which were stationed a young man and woman. They both looked like they would rather be anywhere but there at that moment.

Shaw reached the elevator just as the doors opened, and Detective Rodrigo Morales exited the elevator in such haste that he nearly knocked Shaw over.

“Whoa,” Shaw said as Morales bumped into him.

“Oh, hey, Eli. Sorry, I need fresh air,” Morales said, eyeing the lobby doors with the look of a man who wanted to make a break for it.

Morales was a fifteen-year veteran of homicide, and he looked as shaken as Caldera outside.

“That bad?” Shaw asked.

“Tell you what… you’re not going to catch any shit for poaching this case from us. It’s all yours,” Morales said. 

Before Shaw could say anything, Morales made his way around him and headed towards the doors. He turned as he walked away from Shaw and said, “The crime-scene unit is upstairs. I’ll be outside. I need a cigarette.” 

Shaw stood there for a moment, dumbfounded, as Morales made his way outside to join Caldera. He jabbed the button to open the elevator doors again, which had closed behind Morales. 

The elevator doors seemed menacing suddenly, like the jaws of a steel monster. Shaw stepped inside and pressed the button for the fourth floor. He was still processing his interaction with Morales, who was a top-notch cop with a chip on his shoulder who fought Major Crimes tooth and nail when it wanted to wrestle a case away from him. Yet there he was, seemingly happy to get this case off his hands.

Shaw and Monge were part of the Major Crimes squad known as the Special Investigations Unit, or SIU, which was an even more elite unit in the already elite Judicial Investigation Police of Costa Rica.

The judicial police was known as the OIJ, for the initials of its official name in Spanish, Organismo de Investigación Judicial. 

The OIJ was a special law enforcement group operated by the judicial branch of the Costa Rican government. Its functions were more investigative than regular police work. OIJ agents were like a police plainclothes detective and an FBI agent in the United States rolled into one with jurisdiction and detachments throughout Costa Rica.

SIU agents, like Shaw, handled crimes considered to be beyond the scope of the regular investigators, thus detectives from the other squads referred to them as poachers for stealing away their cases.

Shaw couldn’t recall any other time when one of the regular homicide investigators was eager to hand off a case to him. It was usually like taking a bone from a dog. 

The elevator was old, and it showed its age as it moved between floors; slow and creaky. The cab was small—four people would have to be packed in like sardines. 

The entire building was a relic from the past. Initially, the seedy hotel was the regal home of coffee barons before they turned it into a swanky hotel for the bon vivants of the country that attended the grand theaters that used to line the block.

Those glamorous days were long gone, replaced in the area with a seedy collection of casinos, bars, hotels, and brothels that catered mostly to gamblers and sex tourists from the United States.

Shaw looked around the tiny, dank elevator cab. It smelled like cheap perfume and spilled beer. He was trying to find a camera, but no such luck, at least not clearly visible. He would need to follow up with the hotel manager regarding camera coverage inside and outside the hotel.

The elevator finally arrived at the fourth floor, its cables and wiring whirring loudly like gears grinding on sand. The cab shook and swayed as the doors slowly opened. Im taking the stairs down, Shaw thought as he stepped out into the hallway. 

Any hopes for a breath of fresh air were dashed—the entire hallway had the same fetid odor as the elevator.

He made his way down the long corridor on well-worn carpets right out of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

It was easy to spot the crime scene with the bevy of hazmat-wearing CSI investigators milling about. A uniformed cop with the municipal police and another OIJ agent stood nearby. Shaw didn’t know the uniformed officer. He was young, so he figured it was Caldera’s rookie, the one who was reconsidering his career choice about now.

The other inspector he knew well. It was Morales’ partner, Francisco Pacheco. He greeted Shaw as he got closer.

“Man, I’m glad to see you,” Pacheco said.

Shaw felt like looking around and asking if he was talking about him. “That’s a first,” he said with a smirk.

Pacheco shrugged and looked down at the floor.

“So what do we got here?” Shaw asked.

You… have a bloodbath on your hands, my friend,” Pacheco said.

“Cartels?” Shaw asked. Usually, when the carnage was violent and bloody, the cartels were behind it.

“Doubt it, but it’s in your capable hands now,” Pacheco said in a mocking tone.

“Your partner shared that sentiment with me already.”

“It’s all yours,” Pacheco said, making the hand-washing motion at Shaw and stepping away from the door of room 415.

Shaw looked at him curiously.

“Mind the puke,” Pacheco said, indicating a pile of vomit on the carpet near the door with his chin.

“Goddamn it, who puked at the crime scene?” Shaw said.

“The security guard who found the body,” Pacheco replied, pointing at a huge man sitting on the floor two rooms away, his back to the wall. The security guard was as big as an NFL defensive lineman. If he handled security in this part of town, that meant he was a rough character with a shady past and the least likely to get squeamish around a dead body.

“I’ll talk to him later,” Shaw said.

As he prepared to enter room 415, one of the forensic investigators wearing a white hazmat suit and face mask walked out.

“Hi, Eli,” the figure said. It took Shaw a few seconds to place the voice behind all that gear as belonging to Lola Quesada, who headed the forensic investigation unit.

He was pleased she was there since she was the best forensic investigator in the country as far as he was concerned.

Quesada pulled up the plastic visor on her face shield and pulled her surgical mask down to her chin.

“Hi, Lola, I’ve heard it’s quite the crime scene there,” Shaw said.

“Made the top five worst of my career,” Quesada said. She stood by the open door, blocking his entry, and pointed to a box of latex gloves and shoe booties on the floor. “Make sure you suit up before going inside.”

“Of course,” Shaw said, yanking a pair of gloves and booties from their boxes. He slipped the blue shoe coveralls over his black leather loafers. Then he slipped on the gloves. Quesada handed him a surgical mask and said, “You can go in for a quick get-to-know-you look, but that’s it for now.”

“You bet,” Shaw said. Satisfied, Quesada stepped aside, letting him enter room 415.

Shaw looked inquiringly at Pacheco.

“I’m staying right here. I’m just waiting until I’m officially pulled from this freak show,” Pacheco said.

Shaw took a step into the room, stopping at the door frame to look around. He felt like Neil Armstrong on the last rung of the ladder, about to step onto the moon.

Chapter Three

The smell of death hung thick in the air as it always did at crime scenes; a smell never forgotten. A foul stench from the various gases a body releases upon death. Shaw knew from the rust-like smell of blood that overwhelmed his nostrils that this was going to be a bloody crime scene before he had even set a foot inside.

Shaw stepped through the door, slowly, meticulously looking around the room, taking it all in. He did not even focus on the body yet. He was trying to get the lay of the land of his crime scene.

Inside were several members of Quesada’s CSI team. They were all wearing their white hazmat suits with aspirator masks as they collected evidence and photographed the room, inch by inch.

Quesada said nothing. She knew Shaw well, and she let him take in the entire crime scene as he liked to do when he saw it for the first time. He looked up, down, and all around as he took in the room expectantly, as if he was asking it to talk to him.

Shaw removed a red pocket notebook and a black stick pen from his jacket pocket. He flicked his wrist to open the notebook as he continued scanning the room.

He jotted down his first notes. There was a king-size bed that was too big for the dimensions of the room. Next to it were a small nightstand and a cheap-looking four-drawer dresser with chipped laminated particleboard against the wall. There was a decent-looking flatscreen television on the wall, which surprised Shaw since, compared to the rest of the room’s furnishings, that television stood out for not being old and junky.

A small coffee table next to the window held a wallet and other knickknacks on it. The curtain was drawn open, offering a view to the brick wall of the casino building across the street. He had noticed the bed and what appeared at first glance to be a pile of laundry on it. He knew it was the body. 

The sheets seemed to have been dipped into a vat of red food coloring. Shaw finally turned his attention to the body of the victim lying on the bed. It appeared to be naked but there was so much blood he couldn’t be certain. He wasn’t even sure if it was a man or woman from where he was standing.

“Victim is a male,” Quesada said, walking up behind Shaw like she was reading his mind.

Shaw turned towards Quesada. He couldn’t see her long brown hair underneath the gear she was wearing. All he could really see were her brown eyes and the bridge of her small nose. She was only five feet two, and that white garb that she and the rest of her team were wearing gave him the image of the Oompa-Loompas prancing around in Wonka’s clean room. He shook that silly thought out of his mind and put his attention back to the dead body on the bed.

He took a few steps towards it and got a closer look, under the watchful eye of Quesada. She seemed about ready to hold him back as if he were about to climb onto the bed and compromise the crime scene.

He studied the victim’s face and torso. It was now obvious that the victim was indeed male. The body was drenched in a dark maroon gelatin-like gunk of congealed blood.

There was so much blood on the bottom extremities that Shaw assumed the femoral artery in the thigh must have been severed. That was when he noticed the groin area, but he wasn’t sure at first what he was seeing, or more precisely, what he was not seeing.

He gave Quesada a puzzled look.

“You’re not seeing things. Victim was emasculated,” Quesada said.

“It’s a John Wayne Bobbitt special,” one of the other forensic investigators, whom Shaw recognized from his voice as being Johnnie Castillo, said with a snicker.

Even though Quesada’s face was covered by her hazmat and aspirator mask, her anger was clear. She snapped a look at Castillo.

“Sorry,” he said slowly, as he returned his attention to the evidence he was cataloging.

“His penis was severed like Bobbitt’s?” Shaw asked.

“Not even in the same ballpark,” Quesada said. “That nincompoop’s penis was sliced at the tip. They were able to find it and reattach it. This poor bastard went through a complete emasculation; the removal of both the penis and the testicles, as in all of his external sex organs. Gone.”

“What do you mean, gone? Like cut off and recovered, or gone as in missing?”

“Well, we haven’t completed processing the crime scene yet, but so far we haven’t found the victim’s penis or his testicles. They’re missing and we’ve been looking for them,” Quesada said.

Shaw shook his head and felt his body tremble at the thought. 

“So the killer might have taken the sex organs. Okay, that is new for me,” he said, turning back to face the victim’s mutilated body. 

He had seen a castrated victim once before, but it had been a cartel killing where the killer cut off the victim’s penis and stuffed it down the dead man’s throat to send some psychotic message about sleeping with the wrong woman. 

Shaw jotted down a few more notes as he took in the victim’s body. There was something peculiar about the way the body was lying on the bed. A familiar pose that was lost amid the carnage. Shaw stepped back a few steps, tilting his head. He looked at the body like an art critic examining a painting. 

It was the way the victim’s head and hands were positioned. The head was tilted slightly down and to the right so that as a person walked into the room they were greeted by the victim’s gray, milky, lifeless eyes. The hands were folded and resting on the body. There was a familiarity to it all.

“Was he posed?” Shaw was mostly talking to himself out loud, but Quesada replied.

“It appears that way. I took a mortuary science class and that looks like a classic casket pose to me,” Quesada said.

That was it, Shaw thought. Memories of himself as a nine-year-old. His mother lying in a casket posed that way. An image tattooed into his memories. He shook off that memory and turned his attention back towards Quesada. “We had two victims, correct?”

Quesada nodded. “She’s in the bathroom.” She turned and walked towards the front of the room, where the bathroom lay to the right of the front door. Shaw followed her. Two CSI analysts were working the bathroom, so Shaw had to look over their shoulders. In the bathtub was a young woman. She was fully clothed, shiny knee-high black boots still on her feet.

Compared to the male victim, her killing didn’t seem as brutal, except for the part that she was dead. She was lying inside the tub, one foot and arm dangling over its side. Her head lolled to the left. She looked gray and pale, her eyes slightly bulging, the tip of her tongue sneaking out from her mouth. A white towel was tightly wrapped around her neck. 

“Strangulation?” Shaw asked.

Quesada nodded. “Yes. Looks like the killer used the towel to asphyxiate her.”

She couldn’t be over twenty years old. Shaw felt anger bubbling inside.

He walked back out to the main room. “Looks like the killer gave all his sadistic attention to the male victim. The female was what… collateral damage?” Shaw said, though he was mostly thinking out loud to himself once again.

“Holy shit. What a mess,” Monge said.

Shaw, Quesada, and the other forensic investigators turned their attention to the door, where Claudia Monge was standing. She had put on the latex gloves and shoe coveralls but not the mask, so Shaw could see her mouth agape.

“Put this on, before you contaminate my crime scene,” Quesada said curtly as she handed Monge a face mask.

Shaw remembered that Monge and Quesada got along like oil and water. Monge put the mask on as she walked up to her partner. He gave her the quick lowdown about the two victims.

She looked at the body in the bathroom, then stood in a trance, surveying the carnage left on the bed.

“We still haven’t been able to locate the victim’s missing appendages,” Castillo, the forensic analyst said with a giggle.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Monge said.

“It’s a nasty one,” Shaw said, walking to the dresser. He could see a wallet, some crumpled receipts, and some cash in both dollars and colones strewn about the dresser.

“Robbery doesn’t seem to be the motive,” Shaw said over his shoulder at Monge. 

He jotted down more notes. Robbery with a big question mark. He noted the wallet was distinctive. Black nylon with an orange stripe and two words emblazoned on it horizontally: Cincinnati Bengals.

“This case just got even nastier,” Shaw said.

“What could be nastier than this?” Monge asked.

“Looks like the victim is an American. From the look of that wallet, he’s from Ohio.”

“Well, we are in Gringo Gulch,” Monge said.

“Victim is from Springfield, Ohio,” Quesada said.

It was becoming clearer why this was a Major Crime case. An American tourist butchered would certainly fall into SIU territory.

“This is going to be a shit show,” Shaw said. 

“Party is over. Out, inspectors,” Quesada said as she kicked Shaw and Monge out of the room so her team could finish processing the scene.

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