Read an Excerpt
It had been a pisser of a day, and Duncan MacLachlan's mood was bleak. He had had to personally arrest one of his officers, a five-year veteran, for blackmailing a fifteen-year-old girl into performing an act of oral sex on him.
It didn't get any worse than that. Rendahl had betrayed the public trust. He'd also been so stupid he had apparently forgotten that his squad car was equipped with a video camera and microphone that uploaded wirelessly. Duncan grunted. Stupidity was the least of Rendahl's sins. Ugly reality was that he was a twenty-seven-year-old married man who'd blackmailed and terrorized an already frightened girl into fulfilling his sexual fantasy.
Duncan realized his teeth were grinding together and he made himself relax. the dentist was already threatening him with having to wear some damn plastic mouth guard at night. "Find another way to express your tension," Dr. Foster had suggested.
Today, Duncan would really have liked to express it by planting his fist in that son of a bitch's face. Hearing his nose crunch and seeing the blood spurt would have worked fine, if only as a temporary fix.
Instead, he'd gone by the book, because that's what he did. He'd been his usual icy self. His only consolation was the way Rendahl and his attorney both had shrunk from him. They'd seen something in his eyes that he hadn't otherwise let show by the slightest twitch of a muscle on his face.
To cap his perfect day, he'd held a press conference announcing the arrest while maintaining the girl's privacy. He had had to ignore most of the shouted questions. How did you explain something like this when you couldn't understand it yourself?
He'd come home and planted himself, cold beer in hand, in front of a Mariners game on TV. He'd gotten up for a couple of replacements, thought about dinner and settled for a sandwich. Purple and secretive, dusk finally crept through the windows. Duncan hadn't turned on a light, inside or out. The game hadn't worked any magic; he didn't know the final score and didn't care. At last he flicked the TV off with the remote and settled in his recliner, brooding.
How could such a lowlife have passed under his radar for five years? Gotten satisfactory ratings in annual reviews? Rendahl had fooled a lot of people. Duncan liked to think he knew the men and women who worked for him, even if there were seventy-four at last count. Knew their strengths, their weaknesses; what motivated them, what tempted them. Police Captain Duncan MacLachlan hadn't gotten where he was by misjudging people.
Dusk became night, and still he sat there, disinclined to go to bed, uninterested in reading or finding out what might be on television. The darkness wasn't complete, not with streetlamps, the Baileys' front porch light across the street, occasional passing headlights. It suited his mood to feel as if he was part of the night, invisible. Anonymous.
The recliner was comfortable enough that Duncan began to nod off. Rousing himself enough to get to bed seemed like too much effort. If he woke up later, fine. He let himself relax into sleep.
The tinkle of shattering glass shot him into wakefulness, instantly alert and incredulous. Unbelievable. Somebody was breaking into his house. He immediately understood why. He hadn't turned lights on and off the way he usually did. To somebody who hadn't seen him pull into the garage at six o'clock, it would have looked as if nobody was home.
He might get a stress reliever after all, he thought with black humor.
Duncan didn't lower the recliner; it might have creaked. Instead he reached for his weapon, which he'd earlier dropped on the side table along with his badge, and eased himself out of the chair. The fact that he'd kicked off his dress shoes was good. He could move far more silently in stockinged feet.
He used the light filtering in the front window to cross the living room without having to feel his way. The further tinkle of glass told him the intruder was brushing shards from the frame before climbing in. Or while climbing in. He knew it was the window in the utility room. Any second he'd hear
He'd left the wicker hamper of dirty clothes right in the middle of the small room. So his intruder didn't have a flashlight, or hadn't turned it on yet.
Duncan slipped down the hall and stationed himself to one side of the open doorway to the utility room. What he wanted to know was whether he had one trespasser, or more.
A dark shadow passed him. After a moment, he risked a look into the utility room. His vision was well-adjusted to the lack of light. Empty. One, then.
He tracked the figure creeping down the hall then moved with a couple of long strides. Duncan slammed into the intruder and took him to the floor, where he held him down effortlessly and pressed the barrel of his gun against his neck.
"Police," he barked. "You're under arrest."
"What the ?" A string of obscenities followed in a voice that was high enough that, for a moment, Duncan believed he'd just flattened one of the rare women who did breaking and entering. The next second, he thought in disgust, Oh, hell. It's a kid.
"Hands behind your back," he snapped, and grabbed both wrists when the boy obliged. Scrawny wrists. He realized the body he was holding down wasn't very big. "All right, push yourself to your knees. That's right. We're getting to our feet." He helpedroughly. He nudged the kid a short ways until they reached the light switch. "Face the wall," he ordered. "Put your hands flat on the wall."
He turned on the light and was momentarily blinded. He didn't like that, but his intruder cringed from the brightness, too. Duncan waited until he could adequately see what he'd caught, then growled a profanity of his own.
"How old are you?"
Cheek ground against the wall, the Hispanic boy glared at him and stayed mute.
Duncan gave him a little shake. "Tell me."
The boy muttered something. Duncan shook him again.
Well, damn. He hadn't caught even a small fish tonight. This was a minnow.
Book the kid? Call the parents? What if there weren't any?
He barely stifled a groan. Decision time.
The building, divided into perhaps eight or ten apartments, was predictably ramshackle. Clapboard siding needed paint. Parking for tenants was on the street or in a very small dirt lot to one side, which was also home to a rusting hulk on cinder blocks. Another car, apparently ailing, had its hood up. Three men were bent over the engine. One had pants hanging so low, Jane Brooks could see way more than she wanted to. When she parked at the curb, another of the men glanced over his shoulder, but with a conspicuous lack of real interest.
She checked the folder on the passenger seat to verify the address. Yep, this was it. Number 203 was presumably upstairs. There was only one entrance, although fire escapes clung precariously to each end of the apartment house which, to her eye, didn't stand quite square.
She'd been in worse places.
Jane locked her car and made her brisk way in, nodding and greeting a very young, very pregnant woman who was trying to maneuver into one of the downstairs apartments a playpen that didn't quite want to fold the way it was supposed to. Jane held the door, smiled and chatted briefly in Spanish. She was lucky she'd taken it in high school. Currently, one-third of the kids in the local school district were Hispanic, up to half in two of the elementary schools, where instruction was in Spanish in the mornings, in English in the afternoons. She didn't quite consider herself fluent, but she was getting there, what with her volunteer work at the alternative high school and then with the Guardian ad Litem gig.
She was acting today as a court-appointed Guardian ad Litem. Her task was to interview the adults involved, or potentially to be involved, in the life of a boy named Tito Ortez. Tito's father was soon to be released from the Monroe Correctional Complex, and the judge would have to determine whether Tito could be returned to his custody. At the moment, the boy lived with his older sister, one Lupe Salgado, whose address this was. Eventually Jane would talk to Tito's father, of course, Tito himself and perhaps even teachers. His report card suggested he wasn't doing well in school.
The stairwell and hall were shabby but surprisingly clean. Upstairs she rapped firmly on the door displaying an upright metal 2, a listing 0 and a 3 that hung upside down.
"Venga," a voice called, and after only a momentary hesitation Jane opened the door to find herself in a cramped living room.
Two young, black-haired children sat in front of the television, on which a small green dragon seemed to be trying to puff dandelion seeds but was, to his frustration, setting them on fire. Both children turned to stare at Jane. The girl stuck her thumb in her mouth. An ironing board was set up in the narrow space between a stained sofa and the wall. A Formica table with four chairs and a high chair was wedged into the remaining space. The spicy smell of cooking issued from the kitchen.
Jane raised her voice enough to be heard in the kitchen. "Hola. Me llamo Jane Brooks."
A woman appeared, wiping her hands on a dish towel and looking flustered. "Si, si. I forgot you were coming. Perdone". In a flurry of Spanish too fast for Jane, she spoke to the children, then gestured Jane into the kitchen. She was cooking, she explained, and couldn't leave dinner unattended.
She did speak English, but not well; Jane made a mental note that living in a non-English-speaking household probably wasn't helping Tito's school performance. Jane and the boy's sister continued to speak in Spanish.
Jane was urged to sit at a very small table with two chairs while her hostess continued to bustle around the kitchen.
"You're Lupe?" she asked, for confirmation, and the young woman nodded.
Like the pregnant teenager downstairs, she had warm brown skin, long black hair and eyes the color of chocolate. She was pretty, but beginning to look worn. Plump around the middle, and moving as though her feet hurt.
Jane knew from the paperwork that Lupe was twenty-three. There had been other children born between Lupe, the oldest, and Tito, the youngest, but they were either on their own and unable to help with Tito or were in Mexico with their mother. Tito, Lupe explained, had stayed with his father because Mama thought as a boy he needed a man.
She shrugged expressively. "Then, one year after Mama returns to Mexico, Papa is arrested. So stupid! I called Mama, but she is living with an uncle and it is very crowded. So she begged me to keep Tito. Which I've done."
As if this household wasn't crowded. "You have children of your own," Jane said, with what she thought was some restraint.
"Si, three. The little one is napping." She stirred the black bean concoction on the stove. "My husband, he left me." She sounded defeated.'! work at La Fiesta and a neighbor watches the children. I can't depend on Tito. Maybe if he was a girl." She shrugged again.
"Do you visit your father at the prison?" The Monroe correctional institute was nearly an hour's drive away.
"Sometimes." Lupe sent her a shamed glance. "The money for gas You know how it is. And my children have to come, too. I take Tito when I can, but it upsets him, so maybe it is good that we don't go often."
Jane nodded. Having a parent in prison was difficult for a child of any age, but for a middle schooler it must be especially traumatic. He wouldn't be the only kid in the school with an incarcerated parent, but he probably felt like he was.
"Is Tito any trouble to you?" she asked, and got a guarded response.
No, no, he was such a good boy, Lupe assured her, but then admitted that she didn't see much of him. She worked most evenings; tonight was a rare night when she was home with her children, and she didn't know where Tito was. With a friend, she felt sure. Would he be home for dinner? She didn't know, but doubted it.
They talked for half an hour, until Lupe was ready to put dinner on the table and Jane realized she was in the way. She declined a polite invitation to join them and told Lupe she'd be in touch.