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Elena Jackson adjusted her shoulder holster, easing it into a more comfortable position beneath her ivory linen jacket. She stepped out the front door of her health club into the hot Arizona sun. A black corkscrew curl fell into her eyes. Another bad hair day.
At seven o'clock in the morning, the strip mall was already busy. Cars clustered around the front doors of the supermarket. K-Mart, opening early for a sale, ushered customers inside.
Heat rose in lethal waves from the concrete. On the horizon, Elena saw another thunderstorm brewing. Lightning streaked the azure blue sky. She figured she had an hour before the storm hit Phoenix.
A middle-aged Hispanic woman pushed a shopping cart toward a small red Honda Civic. Her purse bounced on top of several bags of groceries. Out of the corner of her eye, Elena saw two high school age white boys come alert. A bad feeling hit her. After ten years of being a cop, she could spot trouble in the making.
Reaching under her jacket, she loosened the leather flap over her Smith and Wesson and headed toward the shopper. She steeled herself, prepared to face anything.
One of the kids broke into a run, heading straight for the shopping cart. He shoved the woman aside, grabbed the purse, and sprinted away.
Elena revved into high gear, dropped her gym bag. She darted after the boy. "Freeze! Police!"
The kid looked over his shoulder and sneered, "Catch me, bitch." He raced around the corner of the market. After aquick check of the victim, Elena followed.
Dark green trash bags lined the sides of the narrow alley. A wet, dirty smell from an overflowing dumpster penetrated her nose, nearly knocking her to her knees. Unless her perp sprouted a pair of wings, she had him.
The purse snatcher leaped onto the closed half of the dumpster, reaching toward the wall. When Elena grabbed the waistband of his dirty jeans, he twisted, kicking back at her, but missed. The momentum knocked them both into a pile of garbage bags. On impact the bags split, and the putrid odor of rotting garbage filled the air. She gagged, sure she would lose her pineapple-banana smoothie.
The kid rolled over, clawing at her hand, but Elena didn't let go. She would bring this punk in, no matter what. Her grip tightened and she yanked him back toward her. He struggled furiously. She pushed his face into a pile of green slime, straddling his back and jerking one hand behind him.
Pulling handcuffs off her waistband clip, she restrained his wrists. "Guess what?" She slapped the back of his head. "You're busted." She reveled in the feeling of being a real cop again. A rush of adrenaline surged through her.
The boy squirmed. She clamped a hand on the back of his neck and read him his rights.
An attendant from the health club carried the second kid, his body-builder arms locked around the boy. "Miss Jackson, I caught the other one."
Elena looked up smiling. She gave him the thumbs up sign. "Thanks."
"I called 9-1-1, too," the attendant said.
"Thanks again." Elena stood up and dragged the squirming kid to his knees. "Stop moving!" She reached behind her to fasten the strap on her holster. She stole a few more calming breaths. "Don't you have to be in school?"
"Shut up, nigg"
She pushed his face in some mush, cutting off his words. "Don't mess with the nice officer, punk." So much for trying to save his sorry butt. A glance down revealed unrecognizable green and orange stains on her white silk blouse. The heel of her black pump had broken and she'd torn her favorite Donna Karan jacket. Damn. Her mother had bought this suit. All she was supposed to do today was sit at her desk and re-arrange pencils, as she had been doing for the last two weeks.
But Elena had forgotten the first rule of being a good detective: never wear designer outfits to the office, or you'll swim in trash for sure. At least it wasn't blood. Calling on all her self-control, she resisted kicking the kneecap of this little lowlife. She checked for more damage to her clothes. She really needed to get into a new line of work.
Elena sighed. Another boring day in the life of Detective Elena Jackson, Phoenix Police Department.
* * *
Two hours later, Elena hobbled into the squad room to the catcalls and whistles of her fellow officers in the Sex Crimes Unit.
"What's that smell?" a voice yelled out.
"Hey, Jackson," someone else called, "did you forget to take out the trash?"
Elena glared at the group of men gathered around one desk. Biting her tongue, she contemplated blasting all of them with a scathing retort. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her older brother, Marco, get up from her desk. If she said anything vaguely antagonistic, big brother Marco would take it to the next level. She changed her mind. She didn't want the situation to turn ugly. "Not today, boys."
Elena slammed her black leather purse down on her gunmetal desk. She didn't need the guys in her unit riding her butt at this moment. She could get into enough trouble all by herself. "Slow day in Homicide?" she said to her brother.
Marco shook his head. "I was going to let you take me out to lunch. Seems like I'm too late." He sniffed the air. "Smells like lasagna and cabbage."
"Shut up, Squeaky." At six-foot-two inches, Marco towered over her measly five-foot ten frame. His short dark hair showed the mixture of their heritage. His face was a blend of their Italian mother and the broader features of their black father. He looked like a cop, uptight and pristine. Rumor around the Jackson house was that Marco never gave their mother a moment's worry, until he strapped on a Smith and Wesson to follow in the family business.
Marco gave her an innocent smile, his brown eyes crinkling at the corners. "I can see lunch is out. How about tomorrow? I'll check the trash behind my office. We have some pretty good leftovers."
He didn't fool her. Marco was and always would be the biggest gossip in the Jackson family. She jabbed him in the stomach. "Mom told you check up on me, didn't she?"
He had the grace to look sheepish.
Elena knew everyone in the family was worried about her, especially since she'd filed the sexual harassment suit against one of her fellow detectives. "You tell Mom I don't need a nanny."
"I do one hell of a Mary Poppins." He jiggled thick eyebrows. "Besides, Mom is worried about you. We all are."
"Jackson!" Elena's boss hung out of his office doorway, an angry scowl on his face. "In my office. Now." He pointed over his shoulder with his thumb.
Drawn and quartered time. "Yes, sir." Elena opened the bottom drawer of her desk and jammed her purse inside. She was a wreck, and nothing short of a complete makeover at the Lancome counter would change things. With a pat to her hair, she squared her shoulders and mustered all the dignity she could find.
Marco squeezed her shoulder. "I'll wait for you."
She socked him in the arm. "Thanks, bro."
She entered Lieutenant Russo's small, cramped office. A desk took up most of the space, flanked by three chairs. A bank of file cabinets filled one wall
In one chair, a woman sat, long, graceful legs crossed. She radiated a tough elegance and the kind of self-assurance money couldn't buy. Elena sensed the woman's open curiosity. Beneath short black hair styled in a razor sharp bob, her amber-colored eyes sparkled. Her bronze skin hue announced her black heritage. This woman could take on the world single-handedly and not smudge her lipstick.
Elena used to have the same kind of confidence.
Lieutenant Russo slammed the door. "What the hell did you think you were doing, Jackson?" He glared at her. "You're corralled. I gave you orders to sit at a desk."
"I'm supposed to let purse snatchers go, just because I'm being punished? Sorry, I did my job." Elena bristled under her commander's criticism. After filing a sexual harassment suit against one of the department's highest ranking officers in another division, she was being punished while he continued doing his job. The department brass rallied around the injured party while she was confined to quarters.
"Jackson, you are skating on some thin ice with the bosses."
Russo could have cut her loose on administrative leave. Instead, he showed support by keeping her on duty in the office, albeit on desk duty. As much as she hated being a secretary with a gun, she was glad he hadn't insisted she leave. Russo had enough clout to withstand being steamrolled by his higher-ups.
Why had he called her in? Had he finally lost the battle with the captain, and she was getting her walking papers? Elena's stomach churned, unable to picture herself not being a cop. "Those punks have been doing a lot of business at that end of town. So I put them out of business."
Russo ran an agitated hand through thick blond hair. Lines of exhaustion feathered outward from intense blue eyes. "Jackson, I'm thinking only about your career."
Elena respected Russo. "I appreciate everything you've done for me." He'd done his best to persuade her not to file the complaint. But Elena knew she had to do the right thing.
"Doug, let me take it from here." The strange woman stood and held out her hand. "Detective Jackson, I'm Lieutenant Cher Dawson from the Cold Case Unit."
Elena had heard the name before. "How do you do, Lieutenant. Didn't you work for my dad?" Cher Dawson was three inches shorter than Elena. She had a lean, hungry look.
Dawson smiled warily. "For two years. How is he?"
"Hoping for an Emmy nomination this year," Elena mentally applauded Dawson for not wrinkling her nose or commenting on Elena's state of disorder. "Who'd have thought twenty-five years on the job would lead to a gig as an actor on a TV cop show?"
"So he's enjoying retirement?" Dawson's grin widened. Elena smiled back. "He always said he had movie star written all over him."
Dawson chuckled. "Let's not tell him we know. His ego is astronomical as it is."
"You know my dad pretty well."
"Dawson," Russo interrupted, "can we get over the female bonding? Jackson is stinking up my office."
Dawson tossed Russo an annoyed glance. "I'll be brief, Jackson. Pack your Louis Vuitton, you're moving to Cold Case."
"Why am I being transferred out of Sex Crimes?" Elena searched Russo's face, waiting for the punch line to their joke.
Dawson snapped her fingers. "Listen, you can sit at your desk twiddling your thumbs until you're ready to collect retirement or come be a real cop with me. What's it gonna be?"
Elena didn't have to think twice. This was real. "I'll get my luggage immediately." Ecstatic, she couldn't get out of Sex Crimes fast enough and get back out on the street.
"Good," Cher nodded. "Detective, take a couple of hours and go meet a bar of soap." She handed Elena a business card. "Report to this address after lunch and meet the rest of the unit."
Elena left Russo's office, dazed and bewildered.
Marco sat at her desk, rummaging through the drawers like the good snoop their mother bred him to be. "What happened in there?"
Elena closed the drawer on his fingers. He yelped and jerked back. "I've been transferred to the Cold Case Unit."
His eyebrows rose. "Congratulations, baby sister. Dad will be pleased. He told me Cher Dawson was heading the unit."
Elena tilted her head. "Is there anything Dad doesn't know?"
Marco shook his head. "He knows everything that happens in the department, the city and maybe even in the state. That's why I never got in trouble as a kid. I knew I'd get nailed."
Elena shook her head. "That doesn't explain why Dawson wants me."
Marco shrugged his broad shoulders. "Kid, you have the highest clearance rate in this unit, and your arrests are so clean, God can't find anything wrong with them. If you hadn't filed that suit, you'd be up for sergeant."
Elena took her purse from the drawer. "I need to get home and take a shower. Do me a favor and call me a cab. No way am I driving my new car home. I already stank up a squad car so bad they'll have to retire it. Damn, I smell like a sewer."
* * *
As she showered, Elena couldn't believe she'd been transferred to Cold Case. Eighty years of unsolved murders lingered in the unit's files. She didn't know if she'd been handed a second chance or a death sentence. Usually, CCU was the last stop for cops ready to retire or facing serious burnout. But public outcry over so many unsolved cases had seen the unit reorganized and Dawson given the task of making CCU work.
For Elena, the move signaled a mixed blessing. A few more weeks of desk duty, and she would have handed in her resignation. She'd drafted her letter a week ago. After four years in the chaos of Sex Crimes, she'd hit a wall of cynicism over a woman's ability to do the job. Then she'd added to the problem by filing her sexual harassment suit.
Male cops, who'd secretly approved of the badgering tactics of their fellow officers, publicly decried the behavior while privately expressing the fact that the female officers asked for it, that women didn't belong on the "job." Someone had to take a stand against the old guard of male cops who took advantage of their position. She was that someone.
Her parents hadn't raised a shrinking violet, so to speak, and she knew she could rely on her family for understanding. All her brothers were cops and already knew the problems inside and out.
The water grew cold. She shut off the taps and stepped out, reaching for a towel. She sniffed. No trace of the sewer lingered. All she smelled was vanilla-scented soap.
The CCU reassignment might be exactly what she needed. No more emotionally-scarred victims. No more blood and gore. Just old murders begging for her analytical expertise.
The phone rang. Elena answered, "Jackson."
"Hey, Peaches," her father's robust voice boomed.
"Congratulations. I hear you're moving up in the world."
"Marco called you already. That must be a new record."
He laughed heartily. "Especially since you're the one we call 'The Informer.'"
"I'm the youngest. Tattling was my survival mechanism."
Her father snickered. "I know, Peaches."
"Be honest, Dad." Elena shifted the phone as she dried her hair. "You didn't suggest anything to Lieutenant Dawson?"
"I'm retired and out of the loop."
Elena chuckled, "Only when you're six feet under will you be out of the loop."
"Don't let your mother hear you making death curses on your old man. She'll be praying at her shrine for the next five years, even have Archbishop O'Reilly over for dinner again. And you know how I dislike that man."
She couldn't let him start on the archbishop, or she'd never get him off the phone. "Dad ..."
"Right. Your mom and I want to take you out to dinner to celebrate."
"I don't know what time I'll be done."
"You tell Dawson I like my dinner at six o'clock."
"Why don't you call her?"
"Now that's a good idea." He laughed heartily.
"Yeah, right. I'll see you tonight, Dad." She hung up.
Searching through her closet for something more appropriate to wear than a stinky, torn jacket and dirty blouse, she prayed this move was a good one.
* * *
For the hundredth time in the last four hours, Reardon North stared at the official notification. The letter was impressive looking with an embossed seal in one corner. He had passed the Arizona State Bar. Now he could practice law. His brown hands gripped the heavy white paper and he waited for some sense of pride or fulfillment. Nothing happened.
His Uncle Boo set his saxophone case down on the bar. He slapped Reardon on the shoulder. "Are you still looking at that thing? I told you, you gotta celebrate. It's not every day a North graduates from law school."
"Celebrate how?" Having accomplished his goal, Reardon wasn't certain law was what he wanted to do. Maybe he should just stick to being a retired football jock and bar owner.
"Call up all your old friends," Uncle Boo suggested, "and invite them over for a jazz fest right here in the bar."
"Maybe," Reardon replied, unwilling to commit to anything. He'd wanted something different from what his family had wanted for him. His father had wanted him to go into the family business. His mother had wanted him to marry a high-class Boston debutante and produce a dozen well-bred little Norths. Reardon had spent all his life trying to do what he wanted. He'd thought he wanted to practice law, and now that he'd finally been certified, he'd lost his direction again.
Reardon glanced up at the ceiling fresco. Little cherubs strummed harps. Who would have thought the historic church would convert so well into a jazz and blues club? When the property had come on the market, Reardon couldn't resist the challenge. The restoration had been a labor of love, not only for his sense of keeping history alive but also for his Uncle Boo.
The side door opened and late morning sunlight streamed through, bouncing on the highly polished mahogany bar. A beer deliveryman trundled a keg inside.
The deliveryman stopped and stared. "Hey, you're Reardon North. I saw you make that Hail Mary pass against New England during the `96 playoffs. Man, that was sweet Can I get an autograph for my son?"
"What his name?" Reardon still got a thrill out of signing autographs for fans. He always felt honored he could touch people's lives in some way and bring them a little happiness.
"Tommy. Tommy Banton." The man beamed.
Reardon scrawled his name on a coaster and handed it over to the deliveryman with a flourish. "For your son."
"Thanks, Mr. North." The man slipped the coaster into his shirt pocket, then returned to rolling kegs against the back wall.
"People still recognize you after three years." Uncle Boo scratched his forehead. Shoving his fedora back, he exposed a curly mop of snow-white hair.
Reardon shrugged. "Comes with the territory, Uncle Boo."
"I know your daddy wasn't too happy when you decided to play football instead of going into the lipstick business. But I gotta admit, son, every time he saw you throw one of them perfect passes, he secretly cheered."
"I wish he'd said something." A twinge of pain stabbed him. Why couldn't his parents accept his life choices?
"Son, you won one of them Heismann trophies and won the Super Bowl twice. You're rich as sin, and you have a whole passel of pretty women beggin' to keep you company. You just passed the bar, and you're still not happy." Uncle Boo paused and took a breath. "What the hell is wrong?"
His uncle could talk the hide off a pig. "I don't know." Reardon sipped from a bottle of water. "I miss the excitement."
Uncle Boo shook his head and smiled knowingly. "Lawyerin' ain't exactly the most excitin' of occupations."
"Maybe I should have been a blues man like you." Reardon glanced around the bar. He'd opened it a month after retiring from football, after leading his team to their second Super Bowl victory. "I could have been a guitar player like B. B. King."
Uncle Boo laughed.
Reardon smiled. "You never know."
His friend Adam Elliot tugged open the door leading from his apartment behind the sanctuary-turned-stage. He was a big man, but seemed lost as he shuffled across the floor. He'd been tight end to Reardon's quarterback and Reardon's favorite target when they'd played on the Phoenix Scorpions.
"Hi, Adam." Boo signaled Adam over. "Grab yourself and me a beer. Reardon passed the bar."
"Congratulations, man." Adam ran gnarled fingers, broken too many times during play, through disheveled blond hair.
Those hands had caught a lot of passes over the years. They'd seen a lot of pain, but nothing compared to what Adam was going through now. He'd taken refuge in the bar eight months earlier, unable to face loneliness after the murder of his wife, Mary Lynn.
Reardon had offered him sanctuary, feeling protective of his best friend. On nights when he felt the need, Adam tended bar. When he wasn't consumed by his grief, Adam liked to talk. The bar patrons loved hearing his football yarns.
Uncle Boo and Adam had established an odd friendship. Reardon didn't quite understand how his uncle, an old black man, and Adam, a young white one, could be so much in harmony. The only explanation was that they hailed from the same area of the country, shared a passion for the blues, and knew the pain of losing the only women they ever loved.
* * *
Elena pushed open the doors of the warehouse and stepped inside. "Lieutenant Dawson?"
"Back here, Jackson." The voice came from a tower of files.
Elena threaded her way around dangerous looking piles of storage boxes, hoping they wouldn't topple. She'd be buried forever. She found Dawson on her knees in front of a box with split seams, and scattered fries on the floor. "Can I help?"
"No," Dawson growled as she scooped folders back into the broken box. She slapped the cover on and stood up, hand on hips.
Elena itched to roll up her sleeves. She hated chaos and dirta legacy from her mother. "What do you want me to do first?"
Cher spread her arms to indicate the stacks of boxes. "Organize as much as we can while we wait for the other kids to join us in the sandbox."
"And who would that be?" Elena asked curiously. She'd forgotten to inquire whom she would be working with.
"Jacob Greyhorse and Wyatt Earp Whitaker."
Greyhorse she knew little about, but of Whitaker she knew lots. Every woman on the force had been thoroughly warned to stay away from him.
Elena looked around. The room seemed bare of basic provisions. They had three desks, no computers, and only two chairs. "We seem to be a little short on supplies."
Dawson gave an irritated laugh. "That's because Phoenix PD considers chairs a luxury item."
"We don't want to get too above our station."
"Exactly. Though we do have a computer as old as Moses and two typewriters. One has a ratty ribbon and the other one's missing an `O'. How do the powers that be expect me to spell arresting officer without an `O'?"
"You said you had carte blanche?"
"I got the people I wanted. And we do have a real office, but can't move into it until the renovation is completed." Cher shoved the broken box into a corner. "Then watch me go. As soon as the federal grant money comes, I'm shopping at Office Max."
Dawson set Elena to opening boxes and sorting case files into chronological order. Fifteen minutes into the dusty work, Jacob Greyhorse stalked into the warehouse. He looked like a narcotics cop, with jet-black hair down to his waist, three days' stubble on his chin, a silver hoop earring, tight black jeans, motorcycle boots, and a beer advertisement on his T-shirt.
Dawson pointedly checked her watch. "Nice of you to join us, Detective Greyhorse."
Dark eyes narrowed, he said, "I got a deal goin' down in an hour. What do you want, Dawson?"
"Step into my office." Cher led the way into the bathroom.
The gossip mill had been busy with rumors over Greyhorse. In the last year his young son had been killed in a hit and run; his ten-year marriage had broken up when his wife moved back to the Navaho reservation. Rumor claimed he drank too much and took too many chances on the job. Elena could only hope Dawson knew what she was doing in bringing Greyhorse on board.
Excerpted from A Dangerous Love by J.M. Jeffries. Copyright © 2000 by J.M. Jeffries. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.