Justice at Risk (Benjamin Justice Series #3)by John Morgan Wilson
A Benjamin Justice Mystery
Benjamin Justice knows a reporter is nothing without credibility. He learned the hard way when a Pulitzer was snatched from his grasp. It's been a long, hard climb to find even a fraction of the work he once had. But his fortunes are about to change: Justice has been offered the opportunity to script a documentary for public television… See more details below
A Benjamin Justice Mystery
Benjamin Justice knows a reporter is nothing without credibility. He learned the hard way when a Pulitzer was snatched from his grasp. It's been a long, hard climb to find even a fraction of the work he once had. But his fortunes are about to change: Justice has been offered the opportunity to script a documentary for public television.
Only after he accepts the job does he learn a crucial piece of information: The man who had the assignment before him has disappeared, leaving behind his trashed motel room-and a spattering of blood. As Justice delves into his predecessor's notes and follows his tracks, he enters a world of pleasure and peril-and deadly secrets. And soon it will not be his reputation Justice must protect...but his very life.
Read an Excerpt
I've heard that turning forty is the hardest passage for men.
It's such a clear demarcation point in the average male life span--youth gone, middle age looming, physical powers and youthful passion waning, dreams unrealized and starting to feel dishearteningly elusive, while the reality and finality of death begin to insinuate themselves on the consciousness now that the years seem to pass so much more swiftly. Perhaps that's why so many men attempt such desperate transformations as they pass through their forties: dumping mates, leaving families, changing careers, consuming more and more alcohol to numb the fear, as the suffocation of routine and the shock of shattered illusions leave them trembling deep inside where we men keep our private truths so well hidden.
My fortieth year was not like that. Most of my close friends were gone by then, having died suddenly or faded miserably away beginning in the early eighties, many of them well before their fortieth birthdays. This wholesale loss of friends, and the rapid succession of funerals and memorials that followed, is something men and women are supposed to experience piecemeal over several decades as they grow older, with enough healing time in between to allow for genuine grieving when the next death notice comes. Yet more and more in my world, it was the lucky survivors who buried the young, with numbing regularity, as in a long war.
My landlords, Maurice and Fred, together now for almost five decades, were among those who attended selflessly to the dying and the dead. I stood dutifully if more aloofly beside them, saluting the fallen long after my tears were spent, until I lost Jacques, the one who mattered most to me, and the tears came back in a torrent, erupting from somewhere within me I previously had no knowledge of, with such wild force I was left shaken to my soul. My shameful reaction was to write a fictitious series of newspaper articles about a young man dying, cared for by his lover, but changing enough of the cold, harsh facts to create a warm fantasy I foolishly felt I might live with. I wrote with such desperate guilt that many people were moved by the articles, by their strange power, and a great prize was awarded to me that I was later forced to return when my pathetic act of fraud was exposed. After that, I shut myself away, hiding from the plague that had consumed us both in different ways, burying the pain, embracing denial like a sedative, and seriously afraid I would go mad if I attempted to participate in a world that went merrily about its business while so many suffered so horribly and died so young.
Then, after several years, I was turning forty. Why I had survived--uninfected by the virus, no less--was something unanswerable, as impenetrable as the notion of fate. To a generation of men like me, the age of forty was an unexpected threshold, and the possibility of reaching fifty a near miracle. It came upon us like a burst of sunlight illuminating a path in a dark forest where we had become utterly lost, never expecting to emerge. I realize this may sound overly dramatic, needlessly exaggerated, to those who were not directly involved in the plague that swept my particular community. I realize also that many people are simply tired of hearing about it. I cannot help that. It was a terrible, terrible time.
So I turned forty, with life ahead, but without the usual markers behind me. I had no career to change; to even think in those terms was laughable. I had no real family to abandon, only the faint outlines of one, made up of others, like myself, who had no close families in the traditional sense. There was no central relationship in my life; I had made sure of that by falling safely in love with the most improbable partners, or those for whom death was imminent, a guarantee the union would be brief, the loss expected, preordained. I was nearly without possessions, certainly without goals or dreams. The millennium was quickly approaching, with its own inevitable momentum and change, reminding me that forty was merely a number without much meaning in the great scheme of things.
In an odd way, with such a messy life behind me, turning forty felt like the end of a long, troubled childhood, and the brink of a bright adventure. It was a milestone that marked the end of the long crisis, a time for celebration, renewal.
Maurice and Fred wanted to throw a little party--Maurice, of course, never forgot a birthday or an anniversary, and loved nothing better than the gathering of friends. The idea was to invite Harry Brofsky, who had once been my editor at the Los Angeles Times and had managed to forgive my journalistic transgressions, even though they had nearly destroyed his own career; Alexandra Templeton, a young reporter at the less respected Los Angeles Sun, where Harry now worked as her editor, and with whom I had become friends; and one or two others whom I saw from time to time. Predictably, I begged off, finding arranged social gatherings not just awkward, but almost unbearable.
So Maurice and Fred climbed the old wooden stairs to the small apartment over the garage that I called home, and invited me down to the house for dinner. We celebrated afterward with a delicious sponge cake Maurice had baked that afternoon, frosted white and decorated with colored sprinkles, and festooned with a single tiny candle. Maurice led the way, and we took our plates out to the front porch, where we sat in the swing in the peace of the early autumn evening, looking out on Norma Place as our West Hollywood neighbors passed in the twilight, with the dog and the two cats curled up at our feet or in our laps.
That was how I quietly entered my forties, and began a year in which two men, each improbably beautiful and appealing in his own way, would come into my life and turn it in a profoundly new direction, while the cold shadow of violence returned, darkening my existence as it never had before.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
John Morgan Wilson's first Benjamin Justice mystery, Simple Justice, won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. The second, Revision of Justice, was also nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. Wilson lives in West Hollywood, California, where he is now at work on the fourth Justice novel.
From the Hardcover edition.
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