A detective juggles a murder investigation and possible romance in this modern day story involving the exposure of a building rebound scam in hurricane ravaged Louisiana.
- B&H Publishing Group
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In the Shadow of Evila novel
By Robin Caroll
B&H PUBLISHING GROUPCopyright © 2011 Robin Miller
All right reserved.
Chapter One"It is possible to provide security against other ills, but as far as death is concerned, we men live in a city without walls." — Epicurus
The wicked drug held him hostage in its merciless grip. Crack turned his eyes red and wild, his face stark. He brandished the knife, stabbing the air in jerky motions. Jittery.
Layla stood still as the stone wall beside her sister, Alana, her attention never shifting from the young man who ranted and paced the gazebo, a mere twenty feet in front of them. Where were Ralph and Cody? Shouldn't they have arrived to contain him by now?
"Gavin, just calm down." Alana's voice hitched.
"Y'all are the ones excited." His eyes darted back and forth between Alana and Layla like he was watching a tennis match. "I need space, dude."
The January wind came across the lake and cut through the grounds of Second Chances retreat. Layla shivered in her hoodie. All the recent rains that had brought a screeching halt to Layla's business left the ground saturated and put a dampness in the cutting wind.
Alana glanced over her shoulder, then took a slow step toward Gavin.
Layla grabbed Alana's arm, holding her in place. What was her sister thinking? With Alana's slight build, blonde hair cut in a short pixie, and big, blue eyes, she looked more like Tinker Bell than someone equipped to handle a drug-induced, deranged kid wielding a hunting knife.
Alana shook off Layla's grip, then inched toward the gazebo. "Gavin, look at me. Look at me." Her voice barely wavered.
His stare snagged on her face.
"I'm calm. Only Layla's with me. We're calm."
"Stop boxing me in." His gaze flitted back and forth again. "Just back off. Leave me alone." He waved the knife with a jumpy hand.
Layla moved beside her sister. No way would she allow Alana to get within striking distance of this hyped-up, armed kid. No telling what could happen with the drug in control. Lord, please watch over her. Us. Send Cody and Ralph quickly.
But Alana moved away from Layla. "Gavin, no one's trapping you. I'm trying to help. You know that."
"Right." He snorted and teetered backward. "Just go away."
From the corner of her eye, Layla caught a shadow of a figure. Cody crept to the gazebo. Ralph crouched behind him, a syringe in his hand.
Alana froze. "Okay. Okay." She took a step back and moved alongside Layla.
He stopped pacing and glared at them. The leeriness came through loud and clear in his body language. He pointed the knife in Alana's direction.
Layla wrapped her hand around Alana's. She tugged her sister back a foot, then another, and another — never turning away from the strung-out kid.
Still glaring and holding the knife, he inched to the stairs.
The interns lunged from the shadows as he stepped. Grabbing Gavin in a choke hold, Cody restrained him while Ralph slipped the needle into Gavin's arm and lowered the plunger on the syringe. The kid bucked and thrashed, then went limp in Cody's arms. The knife clattered to the wood floor of the gazebo.
Layla remembered to breathe. Thank You, Lord.
Alana dropped her hand and approached the gazebo. "Thanks, guys." She squatted beside Gavin. Her hand didn't tremble as she stroked the hair off his forehead. "He was doing so well. Five weeks ... all gone now." She shook her head. "What a waste."
Cody and Ralph hoisted him between them. "We'll take care of him, Ms. Alana." They shuffled along the stone path across the retreat grounds, heading to the main cabin.
Alana stood and popped her hands on her slight hips. Her brow furrowed as she sighed. "I'll have to call his probation officer. He won't take this lightly."
Once again Alana would carry all the world's burdens on her own shoulders. Layla met Alana's intense expression and concentrated on keeping her tone neutral. "Hey, it's not your fault he chose to get high." She nudged her sister. "You can't be responsible for someone else's bad decisions."
Alana lifted her chin. "No, but I'm going to find out where he got the crack. He hasn't left the grounds except to work. I'm going to the big house to check his schedule." She marched away, her steps punctuating her irritation, just as she'd done since her teens.
Layla smiled at her sister's retreating back and followed at a slower pace. The big house. She'd never get used to calling the home her family had once shared the big house, even though she had signed the house and property over to her sister three years ago. It was no longer a family residence but the main office of Second Chances. Oh, Alana still lived in the second-floor loft, but the downstairs was now the retreat's community kitchen, dining, and living room.
Retreat. How about a drug rehabilitation center? That's what Second Chances really was. Set along the bayou in Eternal Springs, Louisiana, it had cabins instead of cells and therapy sessions called group sharing. But it was rehab all the same.
Layla trudged behind her sister, stuffing her hands into the front pocket of the hoodie. The wind whistled through the cypress trees and swayed the Spanish moss. A hint of fishy odor drifted over the vast acreage.
A shiver stuttered down Layla's spine.
She paused, staring across the bayou. While she couldn't detect any movement out of the ordinary, she couldn't stop the feeling that someone watched her.
She shook her head and continued behind Alana. Gavin's behavior must've spooked her more than she'd thought. But she couldn't have ignored Alana's panicked call if she'd wanted. Somebody had to look out for Alana, and since their father's passing and their mother's move into the hospital, the responsibility fell to Layla. Sure, Cameron was in the picture now as Alana's fiancé, but still ...
When Layla found her sister, Alana was in the office, perusing a spreadsheet sprawled over the desk.
"He didn't even have a weekend privilege." Alana stabbed her fingers through her hair. "So he had to have gotten the crack here." No mistaking her distress at the possibility of drugs being on the retreat's property. It defied everything the retreat stood for.
What Alana stood for.
Layla perched on the edge of the desk. "Has he worked any? Maybe he had someone bring him the drug on-site." She hated the thought of someone having drugs on any construction site as much as Alana hated the possibility that drugs were at Second Chances.
Crossing her arms over her chest, Alana stared out the window. "How could he have contacted anyone? He hasn't been given phone privileges. He only received his last work assignment on Monday."
Four days ago.
If he didn't have privileges last weekend, only got his work assignment on Monday afternoon and it was now Friday, then by process of elimination, he had to have gotten the crack on a construction site. It'd been raining for the last three weeks, so all sites were concentrating on indoor projects.
Layla shifted to scan the work assignments. "He was with Bob every day this week?"
"Yep. Gavin wanted to learn plumbing as his trade."
Splinters! Bob? No way. Bob Johnson was one of the best plumbers in the parish. He was Layla's favorite, by far. She used him more than the other three local plumbers combined. To think there was a chance that drugs would be on one of his jobs ...
"Where's Bob been working this week?"
Alana's brows bunched as she read. "The Thompson repairs."
Old Ike Thompson had allowed his nineteen-year-old son to live in his rental house. Big mistake. When the kid left two weeks ago, the house had been trashed. Holes in the Sheetrock. Burned places in the floor. Plumbing destroyed. And that was just the bottom floor. A sad situation for Ike but an opportunity for Alana.
"You know, Gavin could've found some drugs at the site. Ike's kid was into partying hard, so he might've left some drugs behind. Gavin might have stumbled upon them."
"Maybe. But in my experience, users don't normally leave a stash behind when they split."
"But it's not beyond the realm of possibility. I mean, Ike's kid snuck out of town in the middle of the night. For whatever reason, he left in a hurry. Maybe he was too rushed to get everything."
Alana chewed her bottom lip. "Could be."
"Look," Layla slipped off the desk, "I'll run by Bob's on my way home. Talk with him and see what he says about Gavin."
"I'd appreciate that. It would be best to have as much information as I can before I call his probation officer. I'll call Fred in." Fred was Alana's assistant director. Sweet man who adored Alana.
Layla dug into her jeans pocket for her truck keys. "I'll run there now and talk to Bob."
"Call me as soon as you can." Alana touched Layla's arm. "Thanks. I just can't believe this happened."
"It'll be okay." Layla could only pray that was true.
* * *
This meeting was going to end badly. Not so much for him, but for Dennis.
Dennis just didn't know it. Yet.
Night stole over Eternal Springs, Louisiana. The January wind gusted, whistling around the house. A heavy mist cloaked the parish, a remnant of the gully washers they'd received over the last several weeks.
He leaned against the interior wall of the house and lit a cigarette. Just completed two months ago, the Hope-for-Homes house would welcome its new owners in a matter of weeks. He had to move fast to destroy the evidence and keep his name clear. Although no one suspected him of anything less than stellar quality, he couldn't take the chance. Not with what he had riding on his reputation.
But Dennis had to be taken care of first.
"You shouldn't smoke in here. The smell lingers." Dennis cracked open the front door. The security light at the end of the cul-de-sac spilled into the room. "Someone will know somebody was here that wasn't supposed to be."
He cut Dennis off by tossing the cigarette in the front yard. "There. Happy now?"
Dennis shot him a hard stare in the dim lantern light. "Hardly."
He sighed and quietly moved to the bar, standing in front of the shelf holding the gun he'd placed there before Dennis arrived. The gun he'd stolen from Dennis's car two days ago. The shadows would work in his favor. "What's your problem now, LeJeune?"
"You know what my problem is. You're trying to cut me out."
"How do you figure?" Just how much did Dennis know?
"I know you've put in bids with the casinos."
Dennis knew more than he had thought. Who had Dennis told? "I have."
"And you have an inside source somewhere because word on the street is that you'll get the job."
"So?" Dennis crossed to the other side of the bar, resting his bony palms against the finished granite. "You're not including me."
"How did you hear all this?"
Dennis scraped a thin hand over his face. "That's not important. What matters is you're trying to go solo."
"The boats don't use local inspectors. They bring in their own. Federals." He casually lifted a shoulder. "I don't need you on this one."
Dennis's eyes narrowed as he stroked his shaggy mustache. "After all I've done for you —"
"That you've been paid well for. Let's not pretend you've done anything out of the goodness of your heart. It's always been about the money."
"Same with you."
He spread his hands through the air. "I've made no other claims."
"But the boats are big deals. Really big. We're talking a lot of money to be made. You didn't think I'd let you cut me out, did you?"
Laughing, he lowered his hand to rest on the butt of the gun. "You have nothing to do with this deal."
"What about the others?"
Dennis snorted. "Don't think I haven't noticed what you've been doing these last eight or nine months."
Maybe the old inspector was onto more than just the casino deals. "What's that, LeJeune?"
"All these buildings we fudged on ... some freaky accidents have happened to them." Dennis's thinning gray hair flew as he shook his head.
He swallowed. "I don't control Mother Nature. A lot of our homes were lost in the hurricanes. A lot of the offices."
"What about the fires? Three, over the last six months. Tell me you didn't burn those down to hide the evidence."
He sucked in air, struggling to keep his composure. Everything he'd fought so hard to achieve could be lost because of this ... this moron. "Who else have you told about our agreement?"
"No one." Dennis paused, his jaw popping as he ground his teeth. "Yet. We have a nice setup going here."
They did. But he had to go legitimate to get the casino boats deal. They'd check him out thoroughly. He couldn't take a chance on any link between him and certain buildings. He had no other choice but to destroy them.
Like this house.
He sighed. "Bottom line, what do you want?"
"I want my cut, just like always."
"But you aren't going to inspect the boats. No one will find a single problem. Why should I give you a percentage for doing nothing?"
"Because that will keep my mouth closed." Dennis crossed his arms over his chest and cocked out his hip. "About the past. I kept records too you know."
And there it was — the threat. The bluff.
He couldn't allow that. He couldn't allow Dennis to be a loose end.
Dennis had just sealed his own fate.
"Just cut me in on this deal, and we'll go on with business as usual." Dennis shifted and shoved his hand into the pocket of his coat.
He gripped the loaded gun and whipped it from the shelf in one fluid motion. He pointed the barrel at Dennis's chest. Didn't even take a breath before pulling the trigger.
A muzzle flash barely registered before Dennis took two steps backward. He staggered. Swayed. His eyes widened for a split second before Dennis slumped. His limp body didn't move once it hit the floor.
He let out the breath he'd been holding. He leveled the gun, shot Dennis in the head just for good measure, then wiped down the gun. Using the corner of a rag, he dropped the gun beside Dennis.
He moved to the garage and retrieved the gallons of gasoline he'd stowed there earlier. Now to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. Disposing of the body to remove all evidence and burning down the house with the substandard materials.
Fate couldn't have given him a better gift.
Chapter Two"If there is no struggle, there is no progress." — Frederick Douglass
Maddox grabbed his badge and gun off the table and headed out into the darkness of night. A dusting of rain covered him as he ducked to the road. He swallowed a yawn and slipped in the passenger seat of the unmarked cruiser.
"Already missing your beauty sleep?" His partner, Houston Wallace, popped gum while steering the car down the street. Even in the wee hours, his partner looked the same as when they'd clocked out at five. Even right down to the untucked, wild Hawaiian-print shirt and stained coat. His thinning, salt-and-pepper hair was kept short, which did nothing to mask the receding hairline. At five foot eleven, Houston was a couple of inches short of Maddox's height. A fact Maddox never let him forget.
"It's three in the morning. Of course I'm missing my sleep." He cocked his gaze to his partner. "Man, being on call bites."
"If you make commander, you won't have to take these early calls." Houston popped his gum again and turned the car onto I-210. "A homicide. Practically right in our backyard."
Maddox's gut tightened. He wanted to make commander, could taste it. A real rank, as his father would say. Houston had turned down the promotion a year ago. The new commander was making noise about running for sheriff in one of the little bayou towns in the parish. If the slot opened ... "Yeah, we'll see."
"It could happen." Houston popped his gum again. "Dispatcher said they'd found a gunshot vic."
"Yeah, that's what he told me too."
Maddox looked down into the mouth of the west fork of the Calcasieu River as they topped the bridge. So high up . . . He forced himself to release the fists he'd balled his hands into and pinched his eyes shut.
Eternity passed. Slowly.
"We're off the bridge."
He opened his eyes. Even though Houston had never teased him about his fear, the heat crept up the back of Maddox's neck. He glanced out the window. They now sped along LA378 into Westlake. "Outside city limits, huh?"
Excerpted from In the Shadow of Evil by Robin Caroll Copyright © 2011 by Robin Miller. Excerpted by permission of B&H PUBLISHING GROUP. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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