Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeanceby Mystery Writers of America, Angela Dawe, Jeff Cummings
When a different kind of justice is neededswift, effective, and personala new type of avenger must take action. In Vengeance, bestselling author Lee Child, “a superb craftsman of suspense” (Entertainment Weekly), presents twenty-one riveting stories from some of today’s top crime writers.
In our dangerous world,/i>/i>
When a different kind of justice is neededswift, effective, and personala new type of avenger must take action. In Vengeance, bestselling author Lee Child, “a superb craftsman of suspense” (Entertainment Weekly), presents twenty-one riveting stories from some of today’s top crime writers.
In our dangerous world, offenders cannot always be brought down by the justice system. They must be stopped by someone outside the law. Some call them vigilantes, others claim they are just another brand of criminal.
In Dennis Lehane’s “The Consumers,” a suburban woman hires a hit man to target her husband, who has committed a terrible crime. In Karin Slaughter’s “The Unremarkable Heart,” a dying woman learns the truth about a dark family secret. In Michael Connelly’s “A Fine Mist of Blood,” LAPD Detective Harry Bosch discovers a witness who will lead him to the doorstep of a hardened killer. And in Lee Child’s “The Hollywood I Remember,” an assassin gets his long overdue comeuppance.
Edited and with an introduction by Lee Child, these stories reveal the shocking consequences when men and women take the law into their own hands.
This is one of the strongest and most impressive original collections to appear in a long time."Alan Cranis, Bookgasm.com"
Each contributor has brought his or her 'A' game to the proceedings, and the results will keep you reading one after the other.... Vengeance is a collection you will want to read, keep and re-read."Joe Hartlaub, Bookreporter.com"
A pretty impressive showing."Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
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Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance
By Mystery Writers of America, Inc.
Mulholland BooksCopyright © 2012 Mystery Writers of America, Inc.
All right reserved.
THE FOURTEENTH JUROR
BY TWIST PHELAN
The two detectives stood in the reception area of the judge’s chambers on the fifth floor of the county courthouse. Ebanks made the introductions.
“We have an appointment to see the judge,” he said.
The secretary smiled at them. She was a discreetly elegant woman with assisted blond hair and not too much pink lipstick.
“His Honor is expecting you,” she said. “He shouldn’t be too much longer. He’s just finishing up a JNOV hearing.”
Ebanks had to cough.
“May I get you something to drink?” the secretary asked.
Ebanks cleared his throat. “No, thank you,” he said.
“Coffee would be good,” Martinez said.
Ebanks was pinning his hopes on Martinez. The guy was no genius, but once he got an idea in his head, he was relentless. If Ebanks could get him pointed in the right direction on this case, the rookie’s doggedness would pay off even after Ebanks retired next month.
Ebanks wasn’t looking forward to turning in his shield. Some retired cops spent their days fishing or golfing or motor-homing to Arizona in the winter, but Ebanks didn’t own a motor home or play golf. He did like to fish, but he wouldn’t be getting up to the lake much. He’d be staying put in the house he’d grown up in. He and his wife lived there now.
The two cops sat down on a long sofa. An abstract painting hung on the wall facing them, its vivid reds and bright oranges warming the room. Martinez ran a hand along the plump leather arm of the sofa. “Nice.”
Ebanks glanced around. Smooth parquetry floors gleamed with wax. The government-issue fluorescent overhead fixtures had been replaced with incandescent models. Magazines—current issues only—were lined up equidistant from the edges of the cherry coffee table. The lone plant, a ficus tree, had been trimmed into perfect symmetry, its leaves polished to a glossy green.
“Hmmm,” he said. The rookie was observant, but he usually drew the wrong conclusions.
“How’s Sheila?” Martinez said.
“Sonia,” Ebanks said. He didn’t really mind the mistake. After four years, hardly anyone on the force bothered to ask anymore. “Better,” he lied.
Just then, the door behind the secretary’s desk opened. A woman and a man wearing suits walked out. The woman smoldered with unhappiness. The man bore the dazed grin of a lottery winner.
The justice system at work, Ebanks thought.
THE JUDGE STOOD to greet them as they entered his chambers. His lean, intense face was incised with deep vertical grooves. His body was long and angular. Metal-rimmed glasses were perched on his nose and disapproval was apparent in the set of his mouth, like the preacher in the Pentecostal church Ebanks had attended as a kid.
“Sorry to keep you men waiting,” the judge said. “JNOVs are never easy. But it’s something that has to be done.”
“JNOV?” Martinez said. “What’s that anyway?”
The judge shook his head solemnly. “Of course—you’re from the criminal side. I wish I could do more work over there, but I go only when they need me to fill in. JNOV stands for Latin words that mean ‘judgment notwithstanding the verdict.’ If a jury comes back with a decision that’s contrary to the evidence, the judge has a responsibility to reverse it. The two people you saw leaving were a plaintiff’s attorney, who just lost a two-million-dollar punitive-damage award, and a very relieved defense counsel.”
Ebanks massaged the bridge of his nose. Sonia hadn’t done well last night. He’d barely gotten two hours’ sleep.
“Too bad crim court judges can’t do that,” Martinez said. “Some of these juries come back with the most half-ass—” He stopped himself, cheeks reddening.
The judge smoothly stepped in. “What you’re saying is that jurors are often dazzled by attorney antics or irrelevant issues and so they don’t focus on the evidence.”
“Yeah,” Martinez said gratefully.
“As long as the Constitution says ‘jury of our peers,’ that’s who decides our cases,” the judge said, “but my fundamental duty is to see that justice is done. That female lawyer you saw ran rings around the defendant’s man; she bewitched the jury with her short skirts and PowerPoint closing argument. I can’t let that kind of thing stand. It’s my duty as a judge, in civil court at least. It’s my responsibility.”
Ebanks noted the confident righteousness in the judge’s baritone voice. He looked around the office. The room was large enough to hold not only the judge’s desk and leather swivel chair but four guest chairs and a loveseat. The judge indicated they should take a seat in the guest chairs. He chose the leather swivel one.
There was a tray of dry fly-tying tools on the credenza, with hooks, thread, hackle pliers and guards, scissors, whip finishers, and a vise all lined up in a precise row alongside small containers of feathers and what looked to Ebanks like white goat body hair, usually used for wings. Ebanks preferred Swiss straw.
The photos on the wall behind the desk showed various images of the judge: proudly displaying a shoulders-wide trout; standing beside his partners—all wearing dark suits and rep ties—in the law firm he’d headed before ascending to the bench; and sitting stiffly with his wife in a room furnished in Modern Hunting Lodge (log timbers, antler chandelier, Black Watch plaid on the chairs).
The mountain range visible through the window in the last photo told Ebanks the house was in the new development on the north shore of the lake. The environmentalists had screamed, but high-priced lawyering had won the day. A small gated community of million-dollar homes had been built in the remote area. Ebanks had once had a place near the lake, a decades-old A-frame.
He used to fish the lake in a sweet little eighteen-footer. Sometimes Sonia went with him. She’d pack thick sandwiches and iced tea in the cooler, and she’d bring a book. Wearing her floppy sun hat, she was content to read while he dropped his line. He’d sold the A-frame, his boat, and most of his gear when Sonia couldn’t go with him anymore. All he had left from those times was the nice Sage fly rod Sonia had given him one birthday.
Ebanks studied the photo of the judge at his lake house. He noted the judge’s blond wife, the modern painting over the fireplace, the polished wood floors.
Class, Martinez would say.
Ebanks knew there was something else. The decor of the judge’s chambers matched the interior of his house. The shade of blond on the judge’s wife was nearly identical to the color of his secretary’s hair. The coffee table was cherry. The flowers in the vases were all trimmed to the same height and were the same shade as the red accent pillows.
His Honor was a man who made sure everything was in order. Ebanks understood that.
The judge regarded the two detectives, his gaze direct. “How can I help you gentlemen?”
“We need to ask you a few questions about the Dolan case,” Martinez said.
UNDER THE SPEEDY Trial Act, a criminal defendant has the right to go to trial within seventy days of his indictment or his initial court appearance, whichever comes first. If the trial doesn’t begin within that period, the charges are dismissed.
Overworked defense attorneys usually ask for, and are readily given, extensions. But occasionally the system logjams, with too many trials and not enough judges to hear them. When that happens, the presiding judge requests that the civil bench jurists assist their criminal colleagues. Civil proceedings are delayed while judges used to hearing securities-fraud claims and divorces preside over robbery and assault trials instead.
This judge had been drafted for such a criminal proceeding two weeks ago. Kenny Dolan was charged with second-degree murder for allegedly stabbing his wife during a domestic dispute. The case had gotten some pretrial coverage in the local press—Dolan was a catcher on the resident minor league team with a real chance of moving up to the big leagues.
The evidence of Dolan’s guilt seemed insurmountable—his fingerprints on the knife, blood spatter on his shoes, his 911 call that was more a confession than a plea for help—but in the middle of the trial, it was revealed that one of the cops assigned to the investigation, an old bull named Borosovsky, had been convicted of planting evidence in another case. Despite a vigorous closing by the prosecutor and absolutely no indication of police misconduct in Dolan’s case, the taint couldn’t be eradicated in some jurors’ minds. After four days of deliberations, the jury had hung, nine to three in favor of conviction.
“Speaking off the record, I believe Mr. Dolan was guilty.” The judge made a face. “Never underestimate the power of celebrity, no matter how minor.”
“Too bad you couldn’t’ve done one of those JN-whatevers,” Martinez said.
“I assure you, I would have entered the order in a heartbeat,” the judge said.
“The way it turned out… ” Ebanks said.
“Justice was done,” the judge said briskly.
After the jury failed to reach a verdict, the judge had dismissed them and concluded the trial. During his posttrial press conference, the prosecutor vowed to retry Dolan. He’d wanted Dolan returned to jail pending the filing of new charges. But the baseball player’s lawyer had argued that his client should be released on bond, and the judge had agreed. It all became moot two days later when Dolan was discovered dead at his lake house. The coroner hadn’t released his final report yet, but the blogosphere had reported the furnace in Dolan’s house had been leaking carbon monoxide.
Ebanks looked over at the tray of fly-tying paraphernalia. The judge noticed.
“Do you fish, Detective?”
“Not so much anymore,” Ebanks said.
“How can you live without it? I get up to the lake every weekend. You should’ve seen the rainbow I caught the day after the Dolan trial—it was at least a foot long.”
“Hmmm,” Ebanks said. “So you tie your own flies?”
“I do.” The judge held up his finger to display a Band-Aid. “Although it has its hazards.”
“Like everything else,” Ebanks said. He checked his watch. “You know, we’re not focusing on Kenny Dolan right now.”
“I don’t understand,” the judge said.
Ebanks nodded at Martinez. The rookie said, “One of the trial jurors was killed.”
“Oh?” the judge said. “Which one?”
Martinez looked toward Ebanks again, and the older detective nodded once more.
Martinez consulted his notebook.
“Eric Shadid. He didn’t even make it to the hospital. The car that hit him was going pretty fast. Witnesses said it aimed right for him, didn’t brake, and bam!”
The judge furrowed his brow in concentration. “Mr. Shadid was the foreman, wasn’t he?”
“Right,” Martinez said.
“When did this happen?” the judge said. “Why didn’t I hear about it?”
“A day after the trial ended,” Ebanks said. “It didn’t make the news.”
“I would have missed it anyway. I’m always at the lake house after a trial.” He grimaced. “This time it was a damn good thing I got up there so fast. There was a burst pipe in the laundry room. I fixed it myself—a foot of half-inch pipe, some solder, a propane torch, and about two hours of labor.” He turned to Martinez. “So you think this hit-and-run is related to the Dolan trial?”
“Maybe,” Martinez said. “At first we just figured Shadid was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“What changed your mind?”
Martinez looked embarrassed. “That magazine writer called.”
“Writer?” the judge said.
“Leonard Lunney. He’s one of those true-crime guys. Said he was writing about the Dolan trial. He got a copy of the jury list and started calling ’em to see if they’d talk. When he found out Shadid thought Dolan was innocent from the get-go and then Shadid’s killed in that hit-and-run… ”
“Journalists are rightly skeptical of coincidence,” the judge said.
“Police too,” Ebanks said.
“I’ve read some of Mr. Lunney’s pieces in Vanity Fair,” the judge said. “It’s his job to spin the suspicious into the sensational.”
“According to Lunney, the first vote was eleven to one to convict,” Martinez said. “Shadid was the holdout. He ended up getting two other jurors to go along with him.”
“I’ve seen some heated deliberations,” the judge said. “That one was among the most acrimonious. I could hear the shouting in my chambers. The bailiff had to break up a scuffle at one point.”
“You catch what the fight was about?” Martinez said.
“From what I heard, a juror in favor of conviction accused Mr. Shadid of being blinded by Dolan’s status as an athlete.” The judge spread his hands. “Of course you’ll talk to the rest of the panel.”
Ebanks frowned. “You’re thinking maybe a juror who argued with Shadid wanted to kill him because Shadid thought Dolan was innocent?”
The judge looked at Ebanks over the top of his glasses. “Remember Jack Ruby? People have done worse in the name of justice, especially when they have some tangential involvement in the situation.”
“The thing is, we checked into that,” Martinez said. “All the jurors had alibis for when the car hit Shadid.”
“So if a juror isn’t a suspect, I’m not sure how I can help you,” the judge said.
“We’d like to ask you about Mrs. Dolan’s family,” Martinez said. “Specifically, her brothers.”
THE PROSECUTOR, AS usual, had made a point of extolling the victim’s virtues at trial. Tina Lucchese Dolan was a loving wife who supported her husband’s baseball career, cheerfully moving from town to town as he worked his way up from Class-A to Double-A to Triple-A ball. She sang at church and did volunteer work.
Tina’s only blemish was her maiden name. The Luccheses were a second-tier New Jersey crime family. Dolan’s lawyers, trying to create reasonable doubt, made some noise about Tina’s death being payback for a sanitation-contract dispute, but that’s all it was—noise. They didn’t have any evidence to back up their claims, only innuendo, largely in the form of Tina’s two brothers, who attended the trial every day. They sat in the first row behind the defense table and glared daggers at Kenny Dolan’s back, tough guys stuffed like sausages into shiny suits. No one would sit next to them.
The judge blinked. “You think a Lucchese killed Mr. Shadid?”
“We talked to the Jersey police. The Luccheses really are pretty Old World when it comes to justice.” Martinez leaned back in his chair and hooked his thumbs behind his belt. “Make that more like Old Testament. You should see their rap sheets.”
“I’m not surprised,” the judge said.
“Shadid didn’t exactly keep his views to himself,” Martinez said. “Right after the trial he told a blogger the police had planted evidence to frame Dolan. So when the prosecutor said he was going to retry Dolan, we think maybe the Luccheses killed Shadid.”
A hung jury didn’t mean a defendant walked. The prosecutor could try the defendant again, either immediately or after collecting more evidence, as long as the statute of limitations hadn’t run out.
“But why now?” the judge said. “The trial’s over. Mr. Shadid won’t be a member of the new panel.”
“To send a message to the next jury,” Martinez said.
“You’re saying the Luccheses killed Mr. Shadid to intimidate prospective jurors into voting for conviction at the second trial?” The judge steepled his fingers. “I don’t know. Sounds a little far-fetched to me,” he said.
“Fits the Luccheses’ m.o.,” Martinez said. “Besides, we’re kinda running out of suspects. We’ve talked to Shadid’s family, friends, business associates, enemies.” He ticked them off on his fingers. “Everybody’s got an alibi.”
“What about Dolan?” the judge said.
“Dolan was already dead,” Ebanks said.
“No,” the judge said. “The Luccheses. If they were going to kill someone, I would have thought it’d be Dolan.”
Police work was a lot like fishing. You stuck your best fly on your hook and waited for the hungry trout to come along and strike. The fish thinks he’s the predator, but he’s really the prey. Sometimes an even bigger fish comes along and snags your catch right off the hook before you can reel it in.
“Funny you should say that,” Ebanks said. “Because we just got the word that Dolan’s death was no accident.”
The judge looked surprised. Martinez looked confused.
At the press scrum on the courthouse steps, Dolan had expressed his faith in the justice system, refused to answer any questions, and announced he was heading for his lake house to chill. He then drove off in his black SUV.
When he didn’t show for a meeting the next day, his lawyer was annoyed. Later that afternoon, when he couldn’t reach Dolan by cell phone, the lawyer got worried. The next day, the lawyer called the cops. Dolan’s body was found in his bed. He had died of asphyxiation.
“The furnace at the house didn’t malfunction,” Ebanks said. “Someone tampered with the heat exchanger and disabled the CO detectors. Dolan was murdered.”
Now Martinez looked totally stunned. Ebanks shot him a look, and the rookie recovered his poker face.
After a trout bites, you have to set your hook. You can’t allow any slack in your line, but you have to make sure not to pull too hard. Otherwise the fish can throw the hook.
“Let’s talk some more about Tina’s brothers,” Ebanks said to the judge.
He asked a few questions, then let Martinez take over. The rookie led the judge through his prepared queries on how the Lucchese boys had behaved during the trial. Ebanks paid little attention to the questions or the answers. He spent the time reminiscing about past trips to the lake. Romance novels and cookbooks—that was what Sonia liked to read. He wondered where her sun hat was now.
After five minutes or so, Martinez closed his notebook.
The judge said, “Do you have any other suspects?”
Ebanks said, “We’ll be working hard on that.”
“I don’t pretend to know your job… ” The judge hesitated.
“It’s okay,” Ebanks said. “What’s on your mind?”
“Well,” the judge said. “Have you considered Mrs. Batista?”
“The pitcher’s wife?” Martinez said. “Why would—”
Ebanks broke in. “What’s your theory?”
CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEYS know it isn’t enough to say their clients didn’t do it. The jury always wants an alternative suspect for the crime, and if one suspect is good, two are better. In addition to offering the Luccheses’ mob enemies, the Dolan defense team served up Nikki Batista, wife of Dolan’s best friend on the team.
“The evidence will show Kenny and Nikki Batista were having an affair,” Dolan’s attorney announced in his opening. The “evidence” included several months of late-night phone calls and lunch meetings at out-of-the-way restaurants, but no hotel bills or photos of the tabloid variety. Claiming Dolan broke off the affair because he’d come to realize how much he loved his wife, the defense trotted out the “hell hath no fury/scorned woman” maxim and asserted that Mrs. Batista had no alibi for the time of the murder.
The prosecutor called a tearful Nikki to the stand to deny the affair, and to explain that the clandestine meetings and phone calls between Dolan and Nikki were to organize a surprise birthday party for Tina Dolan. As for the night of Tina’s murder, Nikki said she’d driven up to the lake area to visit a friend, who turned out not be home. A PhotoCop shot dug up by the prosecution proved that she’d been doing fifteen over the limit while Tina was being killed.
“I didn’t believe that birthday-party story,” the judge said. “I think Dolan was having an affair with Nikki Batista. With his wife gone, Nikki expected to be the next Mrs. Dolan, but Dolan dumped her. Hell indeed hath no fury. Mrs. Batista knew Dolan was going to his lake house. She went there too, and rigged his death.”
“There’s only one problem with pointing the finger at Mrs. Batista,” Ebanks said. “We did the background investigation for the prosecutor. Turns out she was having an affair, but not with Kenny Dolan. Apparently third basemen are more her type. They were in bed together fifty miles north. That explains the PhotoCop shot.”
The judge slowly shook his head. “I must say, my brethren on the criminal bench have a challenging time sorting the sinners from the innocents.”
Ebanks slapped the tops of his thighs. “Well, that’s it, I guess. Sorry to have taken up so much of your time.”
“I’m always happy to do whatever I can in pursuit of justice,” the judge said. “Let me ask you this: What about the forensics? Tire tracks, paint transfer… ” The judge permitted himself a smile. “My wife is a fan of those television shows,” he said. “I suppose some of it has rubbed off.”
Ebanks imagined the judge and his pretty blond wife in a large, tastefully decorated room, sitting in nice chairs like the ones he and Martinez were sitting in, watching TV. Sonia and he used to watch old movies every Friday night. He’d make popcorn and they’d curl up on the old plaid couch together. Sonia couldn’t watch TV anymore. Fast-changing images triggered the seizures.
“Too bad we don’t have a lab like the one on CSI,” Martinez said. “But we need a lot more big-city crime before that happens. Right now, we have to process the crime scenes ourselves. If we want something tested for prints or DNA, we ship it off to the FBI.”
“We better get going,” Ebanks said. He stood, and Martinez followed his lead. The judge pushed his long frame out of the swivel chair.
While his partner shook hands with the judge, Ebanks bent over to tie his shoe. In the wastebasket beside the tray of flies, a partially constructed Parachute Adams lay on top of a piece of Kleenex. Both the fly and the Kleenex were stained with what looked like blood.
Lucky break, Ebanks thought. He hadn’t expected to find something literally soaked with DNA.
Martinez and the judge had walked over to the wall, where the judge was pointing to one of the photos. After making sure they weren’t paying attention, Ebanks reached into the wastebasket and scooped up the bloody fly and the Kleenex. He slipped them into his pocket and straightened up.
The judge showed them into the reception area. The secretary was on the phone. She waved and smiled at them.
“Let’s catch some lunch,” Ebanks said, “but first I want to ask her something.”
The secretary finished her call. “May I help you?” she said.
“About those JNOVs,” Ebanks said. “Aren’t they usually kinda rare?”
The secretary nodded. “They are, except for with this judge. You could almost say he’s famous for it—some of the lawyers call him the ‘thirteenth juror.’ He takes his work very seriously. He always says if the jurors don’t do justice, it’s up to him.”
“The thirteenth juror,” Ebanks repeated. “Hmmm.”
He and Martinez got into the elevator. As the mahogany-paneled box descended, Ebanks said, “Well, that was a bust. We didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know about Shadid.”
“How’d you know about Dolan being a homicide?” Martinez said.
“I got a text when we were waiting for the judge,” Ebanks said. “I thought you did too.”
“Nope. But hey, no problemo.” A few seconds later, Martinez said, “You know, that got me thinking about some of the stuff the judge said.”
Ebanks kept his eyes on the numbers over the door. They lit up as the car passed the floors. “Such as?”
“Such as when you told him Dolan was murdered, he was pretty quick to finger Mrs. Batista, and when that didn’t pan out, he tried to hand us the Luccheses.”
Ebanks shrugged. “You heard him. He was just playing at CSI or Law & Order.”
“Maybe, but did you notice that his house is on that same lake as Dolan’s?”
“So? I used to have a place near there too.”
“Yeah, but the judge was at his house when Dolan was killed.”
Ebanks folded his arms across his chest and made an effort to look thoughtful. “You know, you’re right.”
The elevator doors opened on the ground floor. The two detectives walked across the lobby. The rookie’s thick eyebrows scrunched together whenever he was thinking something through. They were like that now.
“We had it backward,” Martinez said. He pushed forcefully through the revolving door at the courthouse entrance, and Ebanks followed him. When they were out on the street, Martinez said, “We thought Shadid was murdered and what happened to Dolan was an accident.”
“It does look like Shadid was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Ebanks said.
“You mean, it was only a coincidence?”
“Hmm,” Ebanks said. He nodded at the hot-dog cart on the corner. “Feel like a brat?”
“As long as they have mustard and kraut,” Martinez said.
The two detectives walked down the sidewalk.
“You know, I think the judge is as Old World as the Luccheses,” Martinez said. “All that JNOV stuff. What if he did let Dolan out on bail so he could, you know… ”
Ebanks blew out a dismissive breath. “What the judge said about justice being done was just a joke.”
“He strike you as the joker type? All I’m saying is, anyone who can fix a busted pipe would know how to rig a furnace.”
Ebanks rolled his eyes. “You really think the judge killed Dolan?”
Martinez slowed to a stop in the middle of the sidewalk, forcing the other pedestrians to flow around him like water around a rock. He turned and stared back at the courthouse.
“Yeah, I do. After lunch, let’s start at Dolan’s place at the lake. I’d like to look around some more.”
“Fine by me,” Ebanks said. “But I think you’re wasting your time.”
“I don’t,” Martinez said.
The rookie’s face expressed the joyful anticipation of a fisherman who’d just snagged a big fish… or of a big fish who’d just swallowed a hand-tied fly. Peace settled into Ebanks’s soul, not unlike what he used to feel when he and Sonia were in his boat on the lake.
They ordered their brats, enjoying the thin warmth of the sun while the vendor assembled them. The scent of cut grass and freshly turned earth wafted on the breeze. Spring had finally arrived.
Ebanks had been a little worried that the judge might recognize him from Sonia’s trial, although it had been four years ago. He remembered their day in court, even if the judge didn’t. The jury came back after two hours with a seven-figure verdict against the trucking company whose driver had been amped on speed when he broadsided Sonia’s car. The money would have paid for the experimental treatment the insurance company refused to cover. Ebanks still couldn’t figure out what their lawyer, a chubby little bald guy in a bargain-basement suit, had done to offend the judge’s sense of order and justice. Whatever it was, the JNOV killed their chance at the miracle cure. Now his wife was serving a life sentence in a prison of pain, and the judge was still spending every weekend at his lake house.
Ebanks chewed his hot dog and thought about the half-finished Parachute Adams in his pocket. He knew exactly where he’d leave it when they went back to Dolan’s place. There’d be no stopping Martinez once he found it.
The only time he’d been back to the lake since Sonia’s trial was the night the Dolan jury hung. Maybe after his retirement was official, he’d take his Sage rod up there and see if the trout were biting.
LOST AND FOUND
BY ZOë SHARP
He waits. No hardship there—he’s waited half his life. But now, tonight, finally you provide him with that perfect moment.
The one he’s been waiting for.
In the alley, in the dark, just the distant glitter of neon off wet concrete. And he’s so scared he can hardly grip the knife. But anger drives him. Anger closes his shaking fingers around it, flesh on bone.
He tries not to know what the blade will do.
But he knows. He’s seen it too many times. He remembers them only as a slur of violence, swirled with a lingering despair.
And he can’t remember a time before you. A time when he was innocent, trusting. You taught him misery and guilt, and he’s carried both through all seasons since. A burden with no respite.
Tonight, he hopes for respite.
Tonight, he hopes finally for peace.
There should be lights in the alley, but he’s taken care of them. Something else you taught him—not to let anyone see.
It’s fitting you should die here in the dark, amid the rats and the filth and the garbage. You are what they are—the detritus of life.
And he is what you made him.
He hopes you’re proud.
But right now he just hopes you’re ready. That he’s ready. He’s dreamed of this so often down the years between then and now that he feels suddenly unprepared, naked in the dark.
Shivering, he’s a seven-year-old boy again, with all the majesty fresh ripped out of him, howling as he’s punished for truth, punished for faith.
Punished for believing, when you told him you would take very special care of him indeed.
He’s punished himself and those around him ever since. Lived a life stripped to base essentials, where “refinement” means cut with stuff that’s only going to kill you slow.
And now he’s found you again, and he thinks, if he does this right, he may find himself again too.
He hears the footsteps, familiar even loaded by the drag and stagger of the years. He folds his hand tighter around the knife, takes in the sodden air, feels the pulse-beat in his fingertips.
It’s a privilege only one of you can share.
Attuned, he sees your figure sway into the open mouth of the alley, hesitating at the unexpected gloom. A stumble, a smothered curse, but he knows you won’t play it safe. You never have. Going the longer way around will take time, and you’re loath to be away from your latest pet project, whoever that might be.
He wonders if he will be in time to save them—not from what’s been but from what’s to come—even as he steps out of the recess, a wraith in the shadows, the knife unsheathed now and eager for the bite.
At the last moment you hear his lunge of breath and you begin to turn. Too slow.
He is on you, fast with the lust of it, strong with the manifestation of his own fear. His hand grasps your forehead, tilting your head back for the sacrifice. Is it instinct that tries to force your chin under, or do you know what’s coming?
He can smell soap overlaying sweat and tobacco, the garlic of your last meal. Garlic that failed to keep this vampire at bay.
The knife, sharp as a butcher’s blade, makes a first pass across your stringy throat. It slips so easily through the skin that for a moment he almost believes you are the demon of his childhood nightmares, to be slain by no mortal hand.
Then he remembers a laughing boast—that the first cut is for free.
The second cut, though, is all for himself.
He goes in deep, hacks blind through muscle, tube, and sinew, glances across bone. The blood that gushes outward now is hot, so hot he can almost hear it sizzle.
Your legs run out on you. Shock puts you down and sheer disbelief keeps you there. He steps back, hollowed out by the skill, watches your eyes as the realization finally sets in. Your heart still pumps but you are dead, even if you don’t know it yet.
He expected a fierce joy. He feels only silence.
He turns his back, not waiting for your feeble struggles to subside, and walks away. At the mouth of the alley he drops the knife into a drain, and walks away.
The rain starts up again, like it’s been waiting, like it’s been holding its breath.
THE RAIN CLEANSES him. His feet take him past the gang tags, the articulation of alienation that forms the melody of his daily life, to the crumbling church. Not the same church, but another very like it. They have all become one to him—a place of undue reverence. A place where he was found and lost, and maybe found again.
A penance. And now a place of twisted sanctuary.
Approaching the altar, he makes jerky obeisance, slides into the second row. The wood is polished smooth by long passage of the tired and the hopeful. And the building smells of incense and velvet, wax dripped on silver, and the pages of old books lined with dusty words.
Still damp from the rain, he finds no warmth here.
Still restless from the act, he finds no comfort.
He wonders if he was expecting to.
You first came upon him sitting alone like this, all those years ago, scuffed and crying, pockets emptied and pride stolen. You comforted him then. He remembers a pathetic gratitude. Salvation.
The blood rises fast in him. His hands are clasped as if for prayer, the knuckles straining to release a plethora of fury and regret.
There was no release then. He had nowhere to take it other than the river, was so close to letting go when strangers wrestled him, a child demented, from the railing’s edge. They were shocked at his vehemence, his determination.
They brought him back to you.
And you smiled as you told him suicide was the gravest sin. That he would go straight to the depths of hell, where he would be raped by every demon up to Lucifer himself.
So he chose to live rather than die, although it seemed to him that there was little to choose between one and the other.
LYING JUMBLED IN the alley, the truth of what’s done finally descends on you, soft as snow.
You see the lights of passing cars, buttoned tight, oblivious. Flashes of colored sound made distant by the glass wall of your dysphonia. Out of reach. Out of touch.
You are nearly out of time.
But still you grip to the coattails of life with the stubborn savagery that is your nature. Logic tells you that you should already be dead, that somehow the blade has missed the vital vessels. You have gotten away with too much to believe you will not get away with this, if you want it badly enough.
After all, by will and nerve you have survived exposure, excoriation, excommunication.
Someone will come.
A stranger, a Samaritan. Someone who doesn’t know you well enough to step over your body and move along through.
If he doesn’t come back to finish you first.
Only a fatalist would believe this is some random act of violence, but not knowing who scratches at the back of your mind. There have been too many likely candidates to narrow it down.
You are troubled that he did not speak. You expected the bitter spill of self-righteous self-pity. Of blame.
See what you made me do, old man.
Killing you without triumph is pointless.
But the face… you don’t remember the face. You are not good with the faces of men, although it’s different with the boys. Unformed and mobile, fresh. You have never forgotten one of your boys.
Your special boys.
It tore your heart out to have them taken away from you. To be taken away from them. But they underestimated the number, and few came forward to be counted.
They called it shame.
You call it love.
Maybe that is the reason you are lying here, bleeding out into a rain-drummed puddle smeared with oil, in an alley, in the dark, alone.
Maybe he loves you too much to see you with anyone else.
HE IS ON his knees when the cops come for him. They shuffle into the church snapping the rain from their topcoats, muting radio traffic, hats awkward between their fingers. Like they’ve seen too much to believe in the solace of this place. Like they’re embarrassed by their own lack of devotion.
For a moment panic clenches in him and he teeters on the cusp of relief and outright despair. He should have anticipated this.
He rises, crosses himself—a reflex of muscle memory—and turns to them with empty hands.
The cops don’t need to speak. Their faces speak for them. It is not the first time they have come for him like this. Not here. He doesn’t stop long enough to pull on a coat before they hustle him out, through the slanted rain to the black-and-white angled by the curb, lights still turning lazily.
The ride is short. The cops exchange muttered words in the front seat. He reads questions in their gaze reflected from glass and mirrors but has nothing to say. This is the place of his choosing, and they cannot understand the choice.
He stares out through the streaked side window at the passing night, at the tawdry glitz of hidden desperation.
The rain comes down with relentless fervor. Water begins to pile up in the gutters, flash-flooding debris toward the storm drains. If only sins were as easily swept clean away.
The car slews to a halt beside two others just outside the crime tape. The lights zigzag in and out of sync with more urgency than the men around them.
Hope plucks at him.
The cops step out; one opens his door. They lift the tape to duck inside the perimeter, though there is nobody to keep at bay. Violence is too common here to draw a crowd in this rain.
A detective intercepts them with a doubtful glance, hunched into the weather. He has a day’s tired stubble above his collar, and a tired suit beneath his overcoat.
One of the cops nods. “All yours.”
“Let’s go.” The detective steps back with a spread arm, an open invitation tinged with mocking—for what he is, for what he represents.
“Wallet was still in the vic’s hip pocket—how we knew he was one of yours,” the detective says as they walk toward the alley. “But we would have made him sooner or later.”
The detective waits for a response, for a simple curiosity that’s not forthcoming.
“I do what needs to be done.”
The detective shrugs. “Sure you do. For the sinners as much as the saints, huh?”
“That’s always been the way of it.”
“Sure.” The detective’s face bulges, bones pressing against his skin as if engorged. “This guy’s a convicted pederast. He fucks boys—kids. The younger the better. And he was a priest when they sent him down. A goddamn priest.”
“He’ll be judged.”
They reach the throat of the alley and the detective stops, as if to go farther will leave him open to contamination.
“Well, I’d say he’s had his earthly judgment.” And if the voice is ice, the eyes are fire. “All that’s left for him is the fucking divine.”
ADRIFT IN YOUR own circle of confusion, you catch only snatches of words you recognize but can no longer comprehend.
“… amazed he’s lasted this long… ”
“… nothing more we can do… ”
“… had it coming… ”
And you’re colder than the sea, locked inside a faltering body and a breaking mind, locked into a tumult of regret and the terror of going to meet a vengeful Maker.
The medics rise, retreat, leaving the clutter of their futile effort strewn around you.
You want to cry for them not to leave you, not to let you die alone, but you lie muted by the blade, stilled by the approaching darkness. Darker than the alley, darker than the earth. The devil prowls the shadows, waiting without tolerance, watching with lascivious eyes. Soon he will engulf you, rip apart your body even as your last breath decays, and devour a soul already rotten.
“… he’s here… ”
Your eyes flutter closed.
It takes effort to open them again, to see the priest approaching. The medics have moved back a respectful distance, clustering with the detective at the mouth of the alley, superfluous. The priest bends over you.
You prepare yourself for Penance, Anointing, Viaticum. He’ll hear no spoken confession from your lips, but absolution assuming contrition surely must be granted.
You prepare yourself for a ritual worn with consoling familiarity. One you carried out often enough, back in a former life.
But as the priest bends low, you catch sight of his face, and this man’s face you do remember, from behind the blade all the way back to his boyhood.
He was a special boy, all right.
Your first temptation on the path of sin.
And now your last.
The fear writhes in you, but he touches your forehead with a gentle finger and when he speaks, his voice is gentle too.
“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace… ”
Impatient, your mind runs on ahead:
… and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
But the expectation is not fulfilled. The essential words do not follow.
Your eyes seek his, frantic, pleading. The devil growls at your shoulder, taking shape out of the umbra, exulting as he solidifies. Closer. You feel his talons pluck at your vision, begin to pull the fetid shroud across your eyes. You are sinking.
Quickly! Finish it!
The priest bends closer still, his voice a whisper in your closing ear.
“You found me, and I was lost. Now you are lost, because I found you… ”
BY ALAFAIR BURKE
Diane Light closed the file folder and added it to the heap on her desk. At nearly a foot high, the pile began to wobble. She rested her forearm on top of the tower to hold it steady.
She resisted the urge to separate that last file from the rest. It was special. It deserved to be carried into court on its own.
“Jesus, I thought I was late.” Diane heard harried footsteps rush past her office door, her coworker’s generic voice fading as he moved farther down the hallway. “Stone’s a stickler about time, you know.”
She stole a glance at her watch as she scooped the stack of files against her chest. Two minutes until Stone would be seated at his bench, tapping the face of his own watch, eager for the deputy district attorney to start calling cases.
Judge Stone was a stickler for promptness, but he was also a stickler for facts. She’d memorized the contents of Kiley’s file, from start to finish.
TWO HOURS IN, Stone finally commented on the time. “Nice job this morning, Miss Light. You could teach your colleagues a thing or two about docket management.”
Her previously foot-high pile was now down to two inches. Three more cases. Two more before Kiley’s. And still an hour to go before Stone’s hardwired lunch alarm would sound. The strategy was working.
She rushed through the next two cases. They were easy ones: Mothers complying with conditions. Social workers report progress and recommend continued monitoring and treatment. No request for immediate disposition, Your Honor.
Forty-five minutes to go, and only one more file. The file. Kiley’s file. She called the case number and watched Kiley’s father approach the opposition table with his court-appointed counsel. Kiley’s assigned guardian ad litem stood between the two lawyers.
“Your Honor, you may recall this case. The State originally moved to terminate parental rights ten months ago, after police learned the child had been sold sexually by her parents. She was only twenty-two months old at the time.” Twenty-two months sounded much younger than two years old. Somehow it sounded even more babylike than a year and a half.
“Objection.” It came from the dad’s attorney, Lisa Hobbins.
Hobbins pretended to care about her clients, but Diane knew for a fact that last Cinco de Mayo, after too many tequila shots at Veritable Quandary, Hobbins had puked her guts out in the gutter of First Avenue, crying about the scumbag parents she represents. “Miss Light is well aware that only the mother was convicted of those charges,” Hobbins said now. “My client was estranged from his wife at the time the crimes occurred. He wanted to get clean. She didn’t. He wouldn’t have left Kiley with his wife if he’d known—”
“We dispute all of that, Your Honor. A grand jury indicted the father as well after finding probable cause for his involvement. The defendant was acquitted at trial after his wife testified about her sole responsibility, but the State’s position is that his wife, a battered woman and not estranged from her husband at all, protected Mr. Chance—”
Judge Stone held up a hand to cut her off. “The State lost at trial, Miss Light. The jury must have rejected your theory.”
“But this is a separate case, Your Honor. As an independent finder of fact, you can make a fresh assessment—”
“So where are we now?” He didn’t try to mask the long glance at his watch.
“The mother has stipulated to a termination of parental rights, but Mr. Chance has not. The case has been continued seven times over the past ten months. At the third hearing, Judge Parker found grounds for termination but wanted assurances that Kiley would have a permanent home. The State objected to the condition and has continued to object since, but the case has been set over at each subsequent hearing pending further monitoring of the situation and while Kiley’s foster mother, Janice Miller, decided whether to enter into a legal adoption.”
Stone was rifling through the court’s file, still trying to understand the procedural posture. She didn’t want him thinking about continuances, hearings, and orders held at bay. She needed him to care about Kiley. That little girl was not just a number. She was not just the last case of the day. Maybe Diane should have called the case first. All that work. All that planning. And now she was blowing it.
“To cut to the chase, Your Honor”—she knew that was Stone’s favorite phrase—“Kiley was not an easy child to place. Adoptive parents are reluctant to take on children who have been through the kind of trauma Kiley experienced. In addition to having been subjected to repeated molestations, she was born drug affected. At the time of her parents’ arrest, she was undernourished and suffering from PTSD. But after nearly a year as a foster parent to Kiley, Miss Miller was sufficiently comfortable with Kiley’s physical and emotional progress. This was to be a hearing to finalize the termination of Mr. Chance’s parental rights with a simultaneous adoption by Miss Miller.”
“But Miss Miller was struck and killed by a drunk driver two nights ago as she was jogging across Powell Boulevard.” Judge Stone made a tsk sound. “The State is still seeking termination of parental rights. Although counsel notes that Mr. Chance was acquitted, it cannot be ignored that one of the men who was paying for sexual contact with the child was a former cellmate of Mr. Chance. At Mr. Chance’s trial, that man testified that—”
Hobbins interjected on her client’s behalf. “Your Honor, that man was a child rapist who testified in exchange for leniency. Given how child abusers are treated in prison, he would have said anything to get in the prosecutor’s good graces.”
The man’s name was Trevor Williams. His status as a convicted felon was the primary reason the State’s criminal case had come together. A neighbor in the Chances’ apartment building called the police after she saw blood on a child’s pair of pants in the communal laundry room. A fan of CSI, she went so far as to seize the evidence and seal it in a Ziploc bag. Police found not only blood but also seminal fluid. A search warrant executed at the Chances’ home turned up a set of pajamas with a different man’s fluids. Thanks to the state’s DNA data bank for convicts, they linked the second sample to Williams.
Cutting a deal with that pedophile was the hardest bargain Diane had ever struck. They might never identify the other man—or men—to whom Kiley was traded off, but they had Williams, and Williams was willing to give them both of the parents. It was the only way to protect the girl in the long run.
Judge Stone wasn’t interested in the details of Williams’s testimony, however. He raised an impatient palm again. “I’m not going to relitigate the criminal case here, ladies. You should both know that the standard is the best interests of the child.”
And how the hell was it in Kiley’s best interests to live with a man who sold her as a two-year-old to support his crack habit?
Diane knew her argument would only go downhill from there. The State had not yet secured a new foster placement for Kiley. She was staying in a group home, the youngest of all the children there.
Then it was Hobbins’s turn. The conviction of Chance’s wife and initiation of TPR hearings had been the wake-up call the father needed, she said. After some initial relapses, he had been clean for five months. He still denied all knowledge of his wife’s crimes, but he had been willing to let Kiley go with Janice Miller because the woman had been there for his daughter when he had not. But now Miller was gone, and he was finally in a position to parent.
“Miss Hobbins, does your client live in a residence suitable for the child to be there now?”
“Yes, Your Honor. He has a private apartment with subsidization through Section Eight. It is a one-bedroom; Kiley would have the bedroom, and he would sleep in the living room. Were he granted custodial status, he would qualify for additional subsidization. He has a social worker through his drug rehabilitation program, and she would assist him in securing a two-bedroom. He is working part-time as a janitor at Portland State, but his sister has agreed to watch Kiley while he is at work.”
Diane remembered the sister. She’d refused to take Kiley in because “my food stamps barely cover my own three kids, and you people don’t pay foster parents for shit.”
“And what does Kiley want?” The judge directed his question to the guardian ad litem.
“Your Honor, she’s not even three years old,” Diane said.
“I didn’t ask if she wanted to run off and live with Santa Claus. I’m simply asking a question of our assigned guardian ad litem, since presumably she needs to justify her public-interest salary here today. Is that all right with you, Miss Light? Am I allowed to ask a question?”
The guardian ad litem’s role was to advocate directly for Kiley, but in this case, Diane believed that the prosecution was doing precisely that.
Diane took a deep breath and forced herself to nod deferentially. She waited while the guardian ad litem rushed through the basics. In some ways, Kiley was lucky to have suffered the abuse at such at a young age. The psychiatrists said she was unlikely to retain any conscious long-term memory of the incidents.
She tested at below-average intelligence—most likely a consequence of her mother’s prenatal drug use—but the experts attributed her delayed speech to the lack of environmental stimulation prior to her placement with Miss Miller. She had recently shown some willingness to vocalize but had become distracted and unresponsive in the two days since her move to the group home. She had seen her father six times during the last three months with the consent and supervision of her foster mom. According to the monitoring social worker, she demonstrated a “natural fondness” for him and “clearly recognized that he played some role in her life.”
Kiley’s father said, “I just want one more chance to be her dad, Judge. I promise you on my life that I will not mess it up this time. Please, sir. Please.”
“Baby steps, Mr. Chance. We’ll start with five-hour days with you, one hour supervised. She’ll remain at the group home at night. We’ll hear again from all parties in two weeks and make a decision then.”
“Your Honor, that’s four hours a day without supervision,” Diane protested.
“I’m aware of basic math, Miss Light.”
“But the best interests of the child—”
“—require some consistency for this little girl. The biological mother is in prison. The foster mother just died. She has one person left, and he stands here by all accounts a changed—and acquitted—man. You have nothing to offer but a group home filled with juvenile delinquents.”
“I can offer myself, Your Honor. I’ll take her if that’s the only option. You can’t put her back with this man.”
“Good Lord, Miss Light. Get control of yourself. I recognize your indignation, and it’s on the record. There’s no need to be hyperbolic.”
“It’s not hyperbole, Your Honor. I’ve been on this case for ten months. I handled the criminal prosecution. I have shepherded the case through the family court process. I went to Miss Miller’s home multiple times to talk to her about the adoption. He’s seen Kiley—what, six times since this all happened? I’ve seen her on at least twenty occasions. Does he even know her favorite stuffed animal? It’s a raccoon. Its name is Coo-Coo. It was one of the only times Kiley repeated after her speech therapists—she tried to say raccoon, and she said coo-coo, so that became the toy’s name. I was there for that, not him. Kiley knows me. I know Kiley. I will take her.”
The courtroom fell silent. Even Diane could not believe her outburst. In all those hours studying the file, she had never once considered the possibility. But suddenly every piece fell into place. There was a reason she had been the major-crimes attorney assigned to the trial. There was a reason she had requested the transfer from criminal court to the family law unit. Maybe there was even a reason Janice Miller had been hit by a drunk driver.
Diane could do this. She could be a good mother to that girl. She and Kiley could be a family. The two of them, together.
Stone cleared his throat before speaking. “Well, that’s very noble of you, Miss Light, but the best interests of the child value biological connections. Let’s give Kiley a chance at a life with her father. I hope I’m not wrong about you, Mr. Chance.”
“You’re not, sir. I promise you, you’re not. Thank you. Thank you so, so much.”
Chance grabbed both of Hobbins’s hands and shook them hard. Diane saw the defense attorney’s eyes tear up and wanted to slap her.
THREE WEEKS LATER, Kiley officially moved in with her father full-time. Kiley’s clothing and Coo-Coo were packed into a black Hefty bag at the group home. A social worker drove her and the bag to Chance’s recently rented two-bedroom apartment, outfitted with a new twin bed for Kiley, and left her there.
DIANE STARTED HER car engine, searching for the comfort of the radio. All that silence made the minutes tick by too slowly. Where the hell was Jake?
The guy leaving the Wendy’s was looking at her. He saw her notice him. He smiled.
She still wasn’t used to that kind of smile from a man. She had spent her entire life as the type of girl men looked away from. Or if one looked, the glance would be followed by a nudge of his buddy, then a wisecrack and guilty giggle. Dude, that’s just wrong.
At least they usually had the courtesy to keep their voices down. Well, not that one time, back in law school. She’d worn her knee-length purple sweater tunic to class. Even with the black leggings, it was a bold fashion choice. She’d thought she looked pretty good until she heard the male voices singing in the undergrad quad, “I love you, you love me… ” Maybe she would have managed to forget the incident—the day abandoned somewhere in the recesses of her mind like that enormous sweater discarded in the bathroom garbage can—but someone had yelled, “Barney!” as she walked the stage at commencement. To this day, she couldn’t see that big purple dinosaur without wanting to eat a pint of Häagen-Dazs.
Her cell phone buzzed on the console. A text message illuminated the screen. It was from Mark. Will u pls change cable bill to ur name? Mindy tried 2 add Showtime. Mix-up b/c 2 accts under mine. Thx.
Mark and Mindy. Just the sound of it was ridiculous. Diane had spent nearly thirty years with the man, and now her relationship with Mark was nothing but logistics hammered out through misspellings and abbreviations. She hit Delete.
Where the fuck was Jake?
Maybe pulling Jake into this had been too big a risk. At one point, they’d had something resembling a friendly relationship, albeit based on reciprocal compensation: He was her favorite informant; she was his benefactor in the drug unit. Relying on and rewarding the cooperation of criminals was one of the ugly realities of her job, but as drug dealers went, Jake wasn’t so bad. He sold only to adults and only in small quantities. Most important—for her purposes, at least—he always kept his ears and eyes open for information that he could trade for a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Jake was so well connected to Portland’s white crack trade that she’d gone to him last January hoping he might recognize Kiley’s parents. Maybe he was selling to them or had seen them in the usual spots looking to buy. Jake had never seen either one of the Chances, but Diane had mentally added a chit to his account, just for the time he spent studying their mug shots.
Jake the Snake had been popped fourteen times, but because of the chits, he had never taken a conviction.
That track record made him a good informant, but not a good ally. A senior deputy district attorney’s head on a silver platter was some pretty hefty currency in Jake’s trade, much more valuable to him than yet another IOU from her.
She wondered how the office would respond if she were tainted by the whiff of scandal. She’d been with the office for nearly eighteen years; she’d known colleagues who had DUIs, arrests for so-called domestic disturbances, even coke problems. Some had jobs waiting for them after the appropriate amount of rehab. Others got shipped off, their cases referred to the attorney general for investigation.
A year ago, she would have gotten the kid-glove treatment. She’d been a team player. Kept her head down. Put the office first, always.
And then Mark left her. The boy who’d taken her to the high school prom. The guy she’d shacked up with in college. The man she’d married the weekend after graduation. The asshole left her.
When he’d asked her to prom, she was already approaching two hundred pounds. She was nearly at three when he told her there was someone else.
Her weight was never really an issue for him. That’s what she’d thought, at least. He was big too. They both liked to eat. They both said they were happy in their bodies and wished other people would accept them as they were. Instead, they had accepted each other. Now she wondered whether they’d loved each other only because no one else would.
Everything started to change about five years ago. They’d gotten married so young that they just assumed a baby would come along eventually. Before they knew it, their thirties were almost over. The doctors said her weight might be the reason she hadn’t conceived.
Excerpted from Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance by Mystery Writers of America, Inc. Copyright © 2012 by Mystery Writers of America, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Mystery Writers of America, the premier organization for established and aspiring mystery writers, is dedicated to promoting higher regard for crime writing, and recognition and respect for those who write within the genre.
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