The Debt Collector by Steven Max Russo (EXCERPT)

Back in December 2021, I had the pleasure of reviewing Steven Max Russo’s second novel, The Dead Don’t Sleep. Now, we’ve been given the opportunity to give you a sneak peek of his latest novel, The Debt Collector, publishing today!


Abigail Barnes is young, pretty and petite, but her looks and size can be deceiving. A drifter who makes her living collecting outstanding debts for low-end bookies and loan sharks, Abigail arrives in Hackensack, NJ, from Baltimore, MD, and gets a job collecting for a small-time bookie, who winds up dead.

With a large Wall Street firm moving into town bringing jobs, prestige, and money, the press is soon up in arms about the killing. So the cops to put the squeeze on Ronnie “Slacks” Falcone, a mobster who heads organized crime in the Jersey City area, to help find the killer.

Soon Abigail finds herself being sought by a gang of hoodlums, the mob, and the police. She knows she can’t run and she won’t turn herself in because she has a past that could send her to jail. She has little choice but to try and find out who killed the bookie – without getting killed in the process.


Read on for an excerpt from The Debt Collector’s very first chapter!


Abigail Barnes was in her blue, 2013 BMW 328i convertible, top down, cruising slowly along the main drag of downtown Hackensack, NJ, when she first saw Hector. It was around 9:15 p.m. on a warm Tuesday night. Main Street was a one-way, two-lane road and was almost deserted, which seemed strange to Abigail. There were lights on in many of the stores she passed but not many people shopping or walking or loitering on the sidewalks nor many cars driving down the street.

She heard a muffled pop, like the sound of a car backfiring in a garage maybe a block away. The sound registered absently somewhere in the back of her mind, so much so that she barely even noticed it.

Up ahead about a half a block away, a man exited a liquor store. He was wearing nothing but dingy white undershorts and what looked like shower sandals. His legs were long and skinny and slightly hairy. She could almost see the ribs in his thin frame. His brown hair was on the longish side and disheveled, like he had just gotten out of bed. He carried a black, pump-action shotgun in his right hand and what looked like a six pack of beer cradled in his left arm, as if he were carrying a football.

He walked out calmly into the middle of the street, stopped in front of Abigail’s car, and leveled the shotgun, one-handed, rather casually at her windshield.

She stopped about two feet in front of the man and waited.

“I need a ride,” he said matter-of-factly.

She nodded without saying anything, and he made his way around the car. She leaned over, opened the door, and the man got in. She watched as he carefully laid the six-pack of beer on the floor between his feet and then tucked the shotgun in between the two front seats, business end pointing forward.

Abigail looked at the man. He was young, maybe twenty or twenty-five, obviously Hispanic, grungy, unshaven with about two days-worth of stubble on his face.

The man settled in and then reached down and pulled a beer out of the plastic holder. He seemed to notice that the car was not moving and then looked over at Abigail.

She smiled at him and said, “Where to, Sport?”

He motioned forward with the beer and said, “Just head up that way a few blocks, then turn left I guess. I live back the other way.”

She put the car in gear and began slowly driving in the same direction she had been heading. As she got about a block or so on, the loud, piercing sound of an alarm began blaring behind them, apparently coming from the liquor store the man had just exited.

Neither one of them said anything.

She continued on, driving slow, and the man sitting next to her popped the tab on his beer can and took a long pull.

She drove for about two or three blocks, came to an old brick building that looked like it could have been a department store from the 1950s and turned left, then left again onto State Street and began heading back in the direction they had come.

“Thanks for stopping,” he said. He took another sip of beer. “These slippers are good for when you’re laying around the house but not too good for walking in.”

“Not too good for looking at either,” she replied.

He looked at her blankly for a second, and she just smiled back.

“So, what’s your name?” he asked.


“I appreciate the ride, Gabby. You want one of these beers?” the man asked her.

She didn’t correct him on her name. “They cold?”

“Sure they’re cold. I just took the damn six pack out of the freezer at that liquor store back there.”

“Okay then, pop me one.”

The man set his can between his legs, careful not to spill any beer on the leather seat, then reached down and pulled another can out of the plastic holder, popped the tab, and handed it to Abigail.

They heard sirens in the distance and then saw the flashing lights of a police cruiser go screaming across the intersection up ahead, moving left in the direction of Main Street.

“You shoot somebody?” she asked taking a small, delicate sip of her beer.

“Naw, that asshole Arab ran out the back soon as he saw me. Was gonna shoot his sorry ass he hung around. I shot the fucking register though. Had to shoot something.”

“You rob the place?”

“Just this six pack.”

“You went in there with a shotgun, blew up the register, and didn’t take any money?”

He looked at her and tilted his head on just a bit of an angle.

“Just where the fuck you think I was gonna to put the money? Can’t you see I don’t got no pants on?”

Abigail nodded her head once and kept driving, right past the Hackensack Police Department building on the right. Neither of them spoke a word as they passed.

They drove on in relative silence for the next few minutes, the only conversation a “turn left here” or “turn right up there” until he had directed her to his house, a shoddy, rundown two-family dwelling on the south side of town.

“That’s it there,” he said, “I live upstairs.” She pulled to a stop in front as he gathered his beer, opened the door and then shut it with his rump. “Thanks again for stopping. I guess I’ll see you around.” He stepped into the overgrown yard carrying his beers in one hand and scratching his rear absently with the other. He shuffled along the cracked concrete walkway in his shower slippers and up the stairs and onto the porch, then through one of the two front doors and into the house.

She watched him the whole way and waited for a full minute after he disappeared inside. A light came on in one of the rooms on the second floor, and she decided to wait a minute more to see if he would come back down again to get his shotgun. When he didn’t, she put the car in drive and headed back to the Holiday Inn on Route 17 where she had gotten a room.

She was planning to take a nice hot shower and maybe watch some TV.


At around 11 a.m. the next day, Hector Perez was just finishing shaving when he heard the knock on his door. He was wearing a pair of black jeans, no shirt and no socks or shoes. He walked to the door, put his hand on the doorknob and then leaned slightly in to the door and asked softly, “Who is it?”

“It’s Gabby.” It was a girl’s voice.


“The girl you carjacked last night.”

He opened the door and saw a very attractive young blond woman standing there. She was a white girl, with very white skin; piercing, electric blue eyes, and a sort of round face framed by shoulder-length hair that added to her youthful appearance. She was average height for a girl with a well-rounded, curvy body that looked more solid than it did plump. She had on a white blouse that matched her very white teeth and blue jeans with black cowboy boots. She was carrying a six-pack of beer in one hand. In the other was his Maverick 88 pump action shotgun, angled upward and pointed directly at him at just about crotch height.

He just looked at her and didn’t say anything.

“You want to back up some and maybe let me in there, Sport?”

He backed up, and she entered, keeping the shotgun level with his testicles.

When they were both inside, she gently kicked the door closed with her boot without turning around and then stuck out the hand with the beer and said, “How about you open two of these and put the others in the fridge.”

He pulled two beers out and set them on the scarred coffee table, then went into the kitchen, opened the fridge, and put the rest of the beer on the shelf.

When he came back into the living area, she was sitting on his couch, the shotgun across her lap, an open beer sitting on the table in front of her.

“I bought these beers at that same store you shot up last night,” she said. “They got a brand new, shiny register all set up already and are open for business. Was a guy up on a ladder putting in a closed-circuit video camera. That’s actually why I went in. Wanted to see if they had a camera. Lucky for you they didn’t, but I wouldn’t go in there again for a while if I were you.”

She took a sip of beer and smiled at him.


From The Debt Collector by Steven Max Russo. Copyright © 2024 by the author and reprinted by permission.

The Debt Collector by Steven Max Russo was published today March 20 2024 and is available on

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