When Brett Higgins gets into trouble, she takes no prisoners.
But when Brett’s long suffering live-in lover Allie catches her cheating with not just one woman, but two, Brett has more than a little oopsie to make up for. She’ll do anything to appease Allie, but never dreams that Allie will ask for a price higher than any she might have imagined: that Brett make contact with her own family.
The family she was born to, the family that tore Brett apart physically, emotionally and mentally, is dying off, one by one, and not always from natural causes. Allie, desperate for proof that Brett is capable of caring about anything besides her own desires, wants Brett to find out who did what, and then do something about it.
Faced with the reality that if she fails Allie again, it will be the last time, Brett walks into her worst nightmare. When It’s All Relative, the prisoner taken could ultimately be Brett.
Therese Szymanski’s 8th Motor City Thriller explores the most terrifying darkness of all: the one inside Brett Higgins.
WHEN IT'S ALL RELATIVE
Brett was sitting at her desk, writing up the dancers’ schedule for the next month and talking with her girlfriend, Allie, on the phone when a shriek broke through the unfaltering pounding of music beneath her feet.
“Gotta go, there’s a problem downstairs,” she said into the phone and leapt to her feet. She didn’t bother to put on her blazer to cover the fact she was carrying her .357, since she had it pulled from her shoulder holster and in her hand even as she flew down the stairs and into the theater below.
After all, her other girlfriend, Pamela Nelson—aka Storm—was dancing that day, and Brett was pretty damned sure it’d been Storm’s scream she’d heard. So Brett leapt down the stairs, past Ted, yelling, “Turn on the goddamned lights!” and raced through the box office and into the auditorium.
Brett was barely through the door before she saw the last of the patrons racing out the back door. They didn’t want to get involved in anything. They were like most of the men who came to the Paradise Theater—slimy. Indulging in porn and dancers on the side. They didn’t want to be around if the cops showed. They wanted no proof that they’d ever been there, and police statements tended to be rather incriminating testaments as to one’s whereabouts.
“Brett!” Storm screamed, as the lights flickered on. Brett had the drop on Storm’s attackers, since her eyes hadn’t yet adjusted to the darkness. She moved Storm into her left arm so she could clearly assess the situation and have her gun hand free. It didn’t take long to determine the source of the problem.
“Stay where you are!” Brett ordered, pointing the gun at the two guys coming up the aisle toward her and Storm. Now she shoved Storm fully behind her. And then her brain registered who, exactly, they were.
“Ah, look, it’s little what’s-her-name,” Matthew said, his thumbs in his pockets as he strode toward Brett and Storm. “Yo, Lukey, didn’t they finally give her a name?”
“Yeah, Matt, they did. I think her name’s Brett now,” Luke said, coming up behind Matt.
“Ah, yeah, dude, little Brett. How I know her so well and all that, dude.” He leered at Brett, then said to Storm, “She likes it when you force her. Make her do what you want.”
“Leave, now,” Brett said. She was covered in a cold chill, and every inch of her was shaking. She couldn’t believe she was still able to aim at two of the six brothers she’d tried to forget existed.
Matt came right up to Brett, until her gun was dead-flat against the center of his chest. Then he brought his hand up and used it to push her hand down so her gun pointed harmlessly at the ground. “Whazzup, lil’ sis?” he said, adjusting himself. “We was just acquaintin’ ourselves with your friend here.”
“Yeah, what’d that guy say her name was?” Luke said, reaching out to grab Storm from behind Brett. “Storm? Well, she’s baby to me.”
“No,” Brett said, almost under her breath. Finally. Years too late.
“Oh, yeah, you got good taste these days, lil’ sis,” Matt said as he and Luke moved Storm between them. Brett was frozen.
“Oh, God, please, Brett, do something!” Storm said. Her back was against Brett’s front. Brett’s back was against the door, her gun still hanging uselessly next to her. Matthew ran a finger along the top of Storm’s lacy black bra, while Luke ran his hand up the outside of her thigh.
“You ’spect lil’ sis to do jack?” Luke said. Storm was between them as they pressed into her.
“She never did before,” Matthew said, licking Storm’s earlobe.
“Don’t worry, little ’un, we’ll get to you next.”
“She’ll just be happy if we just ignore her.” Matt reached up to cup Storm’s breasts.
“But it shore is nice to know she’s doin’ so great for herself,” Luke said. “Warms our hearts and all.”
“No.” Brett hadn’t seen any of her family since she’d walked out of the house to go to college. She never thought she’d see any of them ever again.
“Yo, did bitch say somethin’?” Matt said.
“Take your hands off her,” Brett said, still pressed against the door. It was more of a whisper than a command, but it was the first time she’d really stood up against them.
“Didja say something, baby?” Matt said to Brett. “We ain’t payin’ ’nuff attention to ya? Is that it?” He took her gun from her and stuffed it into the back of his jeans. Then he pressed her up against the door. “Lil’ sis miss me?” he whispered in her ear.
“No!” Storm said, pushing Luke away from her.
“If either of you motherfuckers think I won’t shoot, you’re even stupider than I imagined,” Rick DeSilva said, coming in from the parking lot via the back door of the auditorium. He had his gun up and out. “Don’t try to draw. Don’t try shit. These women are important to me. More important than either of you are to anybody. And hey, what I say matters more than anything you two fucking morons might, ’cause I pay off half the police department. Monthly.” He was talking as he moved up the aisle toward Brett and Storm and Brett’s brothers. “I could drop your dirty, worthless carcasses on their fuckin’ front porch and they’d ignore ’em if I told ’em to.”
Matthew quickly turned about, pulling Brett’s .357 from the back of his jeans.
Rick shot him in the thigh.
Matthew dropped the gun as he thudded to the floor, screaming. It went skittering to Rick, who picked it up. “That was fun. Anymore goddamned brilliant fucking ideas? Either of you? Bueller?” Rick kicked Brett’s gun up to her. “Take it. It’s yours. Never, ever, let anybody take it from you like that again. I expect more from you.” He leaned down over Matthew. “By the way, I ain’t never heard Brett scream like such a little girly girl. Ever. But one fuckin’ shot and you’re screaming like the bitch you are.”
It was like a little people-locomotive going in and out of her house: Randi, Ski, Rowan and Allie. Each walking out carrying a box of something. Then they’d turn around, come back in and walk back out carrying more stuff. Always in the same order: Randi, Ski, Rowan and Allie.
“I don’t see why you’re the one moving out,” Randi said, yet again passing by Brett, who was sitting on the couch, watching sports on TV. “Don’t you both own this place?”
“Yes, we both own it,” Allie said, “but Brett won’t move out, and I won’t—can’t—continue living with her. Not after what she’s done.” With this, Allie stopped walking and stared at Brett. Fortunately, she was the last in line, so there was no sit-com-ish routine of folks bumping into each other.
“I screwed up,” Brett said, not standing, not looking away from the television, not looking toward anyone. But she was painfully aware of every move Allie made. “I already admitted that. And I also told you it won’t happen again.”
“But how many times has it already happened?” Allie said. “This is just the first time I’ve actually caught you, and I’m sure it’s not the only time you’ve fucked around on me.”
Brett jumped to her feet. “So then what do you want from me? You seem to have all the answers already, but tell me this—what can I do to make it right?”
“I don’t know you can,” Allie said.
“You got your warning years ago,” Randi said, coming back into the house, now empty-handed. “When you cheated on Allie with Storm.”
“That wasn’t cheating,” Brett said. “I never promised monogamy.”
“Oh, don’t go changing your story all around now,” Randi said. “You’ve always said what you did was wrong.”
“Yes, because I should have been clear about it,” Brett said.
“I was just a kid then, you bastard,” Allie said. “I trusted you.”
“Allie, honey,” Brett said, approaching her. “I said I was sorry then. I’m still sorry. Now.”
“But you did it again! You fucker, you did it again!” Allie screamed, pounding on Brett’s chest.
Brett wrapped her arms around her and pulled Allie to her. She rocked Allie gently in her arms. “Shh, baby, shh.” She ran her fingers over and through Allie’s long, blond, silky locks.
“Don’t engage, Allie,” Randi said, standing behind Allie, her arms crossed in front of her. “Don’t listen to her, don’t talk with her, don’t touch her.”
“Get out of here, Randi,” Brett said.
“No,” Randi said. “Allie asked us to be here, to help, and unless she tells us to leave, we won’t.”
“You know nothing about this,” Brett said. “What do you know about longevity? About sticking with the same woman for any real length of time? What’s the longest you’ve been with anyone, huh? A few months, maybe? Do you have any idea how long Allie and I have been together? How many years?”
“But how many of those have you been faithful for?” Allie said, pulling away from Brett. “We’ve been together what? On then off then on again . . . A decade maybe? During all that time, have you ever been faithful?”
“Yes, damnit, yes, I have!”
“For how long? All at once? What’s the longest you’ve ever been faithful for?”
“Years, baby, years. You would not believe how many times I’ve turned down temptation—how many times I’ve said no.”
“Do you always say baby when you lie?” Ski asked from behind Allie and Randi. “Back up in Lansing, when we first met, you hit on me.”
“The first time we met, Allie was with me and you called me a liar,” Brett said. “Then I did whatever I had to to make sure you didn’t arrest me. I did whatever I needed to to find the truth. To discover reality. You wanted to arrest me for murder, and I had to play you until I figured out who killed Chuck.”
“So are you saying those two girls from the bar are the only ones?” Randi asked.
“Who’s asking the questions here?” Brett asked. “Who’s in charge?”
“Answer the question, don’t sidestep,” Ski said.
“Who’s in charge?” Brett repeated.
“Shit,” Allie said. “How many have there been?”
Brett realized she probably shouldn’t lie anymore. “A few.”
“A few dozen?” Randi asked, stepping forward.
“No! Just a few!”
“More or less than a dozen?” Ski asked.
“Less. Definitely less. Far less.”
“Who?” Allie asked. “Tell me who!”
“Erika, Amber . . .” Brett trailed off, only naming the two women who had openly implicated her. She’d had a threesome with them, and later on, Erika’d walked right up to Allie in a bar and told her what a great fuck Brett was.
“Fine,” Allie said. “Be like that. For all I know, you’ve even screwed a ghost.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Brett asked.
“You know who I’m talking about,” Allie said. “You said she haunted you. You saw her. Was that all you did?”
“Um,” Ski said. “Allie, are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I’m remembering about the first time, after we got back together, that I thought Brett was cheating on me.”
“So you’re not gonna suspect me of screwing with Maddy or Leisa,” Brett said. “Just a ghost, eh?”
“I watch you and Maddy, and Leisa, and there’s nothing there,” Allie said. She paused, staring at Brett. “Not like there was with . . . how you were . . . with . . . Her.” She paused again, still staring at Brett. Then she glanced around the room, charged into Brett’s office and stared at the walls, at the pictures Brett hung there. “Oh, God, Brett, tell me you didn’t. Tell me you didn’t.”
Rowan, Ski, Randi and Brett all charged into the study behind Allie.
“Who?” Ski asked.
“Becky, Kathy, Pamela, Erika, Amber, Sarah, Jamie, Jessie—who haven’t you screwed, Brett?”
“Who the hell are Jamie and Jessie?” Brett asked, then, to Allie’s glare, added, “Becky, Sarah—hell, half the women on your list. More than!”
“So how do you want to make this work, huh?” Allie asked. “How are we gonna make us even? Huh, Brett?”
“I. Don’t. Know.”
“How ’bout we become mutually nonmonogamous, huh?” Allie turned toward Randi, as if about to grab her, but then glanced at Ski. “So how ’bout I hook it up with Rowan here, then, huh?” she said, then grabbed Rowan and kissed her, with both an arm and a leg flung about her.
Rowan almost pushed Allie away, but instead pulled her into her arms. And let her hands flow freely over Allie’s nubile body.
Brett leapt forward to yank Allie from Rowan’s grasp. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
“Whatever I want,” Allie said. “Just like you’ve been doing all along. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, isn’t it?”
“So you’re leaving me for Rowan, is that it?”
“No. I’m leaving you. Period.”
“Watch out behind you! He’s coming after you!” Frankie yelled at Brett. “Kill that old bitch, then blast your way into that house!”
“This one?” Brett said, bouncing on her heels, her gaze cutting a swath right and left as she blew people out of the way while she ran to the house. She didn’t think about those she killed; she killed mercilessly. They deserved to die, after all. They died and she lived. And that was what mattered.
“No! No!” Frankie yelled. “Not the clock tower! You’ll get trapped up there and blown away!”
“Well, where the fuck is the goddamned house?” Her hands were shaking and her thumbs were on the triggers. She was ready to kill without thought, without remorse. Not that any was needed with these people.
“Jump down and run to your right! Goddamnit, Brett—run! You’re gonna get yourself killed!”
“Well, what the fuck is new? Where the fuck am I going?” Brett yelled. “Where’s the goddamned house?”
“Use your knife! Use your knife!”
Brett slashed the guy coming at her from the left—slashed him, stabbed him, then saw the house and ran into it, barricading the door behind her.
“Quick, run over to that dresser under the stairs and grab the ammo there, grab the shotgun—”
“I got it, dude—is that a hand grenade?”
Brett grabbed the shotgun and hand grenade, then ran upstairs, where she discovered a lot of zombie-like people coming in through the windows. She shot and cut ’em all up, slashing out and blowing their brains out.
“Dinner’s ready!” Kurt yelled.
“I hate zombies,” Brett said.
What do you get when you stir up a mixture of lap dances, a strap-on, nipple clamps, a Smith and Wesson .357, a family that exceeds the term dysfunctional, a serial killer, a kidnapping and strippers? No, it's not another political scandal. It's Therese Szymanski's latest Brett Higgins novel, When It's All Relative.
Brett Higgins has survived the horrors of her abusive family and a long line of misadventures. When it seems her life might be settling down, her girlfriend, Allie, discovers that Brett has cheated on her. Brett tries to explain that she can't help it if women throw themselves at her, but Allie isn't listening. She's moving out.
And if that's not enough for Brett to deal with, her sister-in-law, Laura, suddenly appears and informs her that several members of the Higgins family have died recently under mysterious circumstances. Brett reluctantly agrees to investigate the deaths and quickly concludes that they aren't accidents. In order to solve this case, she will have to face her demons, both human and emotional.
With the tough, gun-toting, head bashing Brett Higgins, Szymanski pulls no punches. She doesn't hesitate to yank her readers into a sordid underworld that is quite frankly sometimes uncomfortable and disturbing. Then, she'll hit you with sex scenes that will have you squirming in your seat. It's Szymanski's carefully blended wry sense of humor that keeps the story from becoming morose.
In addition to being an author, Therese Szymanski is an editor and an award-winning playwright. She was the recipient of the 2008 Alice B. Readers' Appreciation Award.
This book sort of just happened. I never anticipated it early on. I figured Brett never, ever wanted anything to do with her family again.
But the, as I wrote more and morebooks in the series, I realized that at some point Brett would come face-to-face with her family again, and have to deal with them. And, perhaps, smear their faces in it.
And, even before I knew too much about the book, I had an inkling how it would end. Of course I knew how it would end by the time I finished outlining it, but I don't think I'd even started the outline when I knew how it would end.
My editor’s notes after the first pass included this:
I really like the story. The fun and interesting thing about this series is that nothing ever fits into a traditional Mystery/Thriller Novel box. It’s always part new story, part complete story, part incomplete story, part never-ending story, and part frustrating story
Brett is always Brett, which means as a reader, she frustrates the hell out of me because I just want her to stop cheating, stop beating, stop hurting, and find love and happiness. But the editor/literary-type in me knows that she can’t do that, nor should she.
I like that we’re delving deeper into Brett’s Even-Dr. Phil-Can’t-Help-These-People family. It gives you plenty of fertile ground to plow with the character.
I think all the things we’ve come to expect from this series are there: Brett is still Brett; we’ve got lots of action and quick pace to the scenes and the dialogue; our usual supporting cast of characters are there for her to play off of and to help (or hinder) her along the way; the style is there; the ‘language’ is there; the emotional highs and lows are there. It feels like a Brett story.
I think this says something about the book, and about the editorial relationship I have with my 4th editor on this series. (I’ve gone through Christi Cassidy, from whom I learned A LOT; Lila Empson, who was not assigned to me with Naiad because, I think, Barbara Grier thought I’d freak her out (little did she know that Lila would know more about some dildos than I did); Anna Chinappi, who ended up leaving Bella; and now I’m with Cindy Cresap, who I hope stays around for a good, long while.
Oh, and btw, I don't like reviews that tell you everything that happened in the story. Also, I'm trying, across the board, to not use Amazon reviews. If you want to see all of those, you know where to find them. I'll put them up here if I hear from a lot of folks that I ought to do that, but until then...
Anyway, I think Cindy's lovely notes above serve well as a review for those who want to know a bit about this book before buying it. (I won't share the rest of her notes, though. Y'know, the ones that say, "Fix this, that and the other thing; oh, and stop using these words twenty times on each page..."
And you can buy the book from your local independent/feminist/LGBT or rockin' lesbian bookstore, or any really cool store that might sell books like mine.
Oh, and of course, you can buy it/find out about its availability and such from my terrific publisher, Bella Books.
My books are also available on a veritable plethora of online booksellers, including
all the Amazons in the world:
And a whole lot of other places.
Make sure to check out all of the heartpounding
Brett Higgins Motor City Thrillers!