Read an Excerpt
The Faces of Evil Series: Book 5
By Debra Webb
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2013 Debra Webb
All rights reserved.
9911 Conroy Road, Monday, August 9, 10:45 p.m.
The room went as black as a tomb.
"Oh, shoot." Jess Harris heaved a beleaguered sigh. She tossed the now-useless hair dryer onto the bed. This was the second night in a row the power had gone out on her. "One of the perks of living in a historic—aka old—home," she muttered.
Reaching into the darkness to prevent any collisions, she shuffled across the room. She hadn't been here a week, and small as the place was she still didn't know it by heart. In her defense she was hardly ever home. A cop's life was rarely calm or routine.
Where the hell had she left that flashlight her landlord had given her? By the kitchen sink? On the table? Wait ... she squinted, trying her best to see as her eyes focused in the darkness. Maybe she'd stuck it out of the way on top of the fridge. One of these days she had to get organized.
Deciding the vintage appliance was the most likely place, she felt her way there and ran her hand as far back and over the top as she could reach. A smile of triumph slid across her lips as her fingers closed around the plastic flashlight.
She nudged the switch with her thumb and a beam of light cut through the blackness. Some of the tension bunching her shoulders ebbed. "Hallelujah."
At this hour, chances were Mr. Louis, her landlord, was in bed. It wasn't as if she really needed the lights back on since she'd planned to hit the sack as soon as her hair was dry. Jess ran a hand through the still-damp ringlets. But, she did have food in the fridge that needed to be kept cold. Besides, this was the second time that breaker had gotten thrown by her hair dryer. According to Mr. Louis, that wasn't supposed to happen. He'd promised to call an electrician today. She'd gotten home late, so there'd been no opportunity to ask him if the problem was fixed.
"Obviously not," she muttered as she tapped her thigh with the flashlight, sending its beam back and forth over the wood floor. "Well, hell." No use standing around here putting off the inevitable.
There was just no way around it. She'd have to go down to the garage and take care of the breaker herself. Resetting the damned thing wasn't a big deal. Not really. After getting Dan out the door last night, she'd hurried through a shower and switched on her hair dryer and poof the lights had gone out—just like tonight. Thankfully her landlord had still been puttering around in his kitchen then, so she'd knocked on his door.
He'd explained that her apartment and the garage were on a subpanel, which also clarified why there was no service disruption in the main house when her lights went out. Inside the garage last night, she'd carefully watched him reset the breaker and even remembered which one it was. Fourth from the top.
"Easy as pie." Jess shoved her cell phone into the pocket of her worn- comfortable robe and strode to the door. She could do this without bothering her elderly landlord.
On the deck outside her door, she verified that Mr. Louis's house was indeed dark before descending the stairs. She hoped the garage side door wasn't locked. That could be a problem. Dammit. She hadn't thought that far ahead. People generally locked all doors at night. Then she'd have no choice but to pester her landlord.
"Don't borrow trouble, Jess."
At the side door, the knob turned without resistance and she was in. Thank the Lord. She roved the flashlight's beam over the cavernous space to get her bearings. Smelled like wood shavings and vaguely of oil. Last night she hadn't really noticed. She'd been too focused on how to get the power back on in her place. This go-round, her curiosity got the better of her.
There was just one vehicle in the garage, a classic black Cadillac Eldorado. That she had spotted last night. The car fit the man, she decided. The thought of Mr. Louis and his horn-rimmed glasses behind the wheel of that big, formidable-looking automobile reminded her of a character straight out of The Sopranos. Like the moneyman or the bookie.
Along the back wall, a workbench and stack of wood in varying sizes awaited the next DIY project. Exposed stone walls were lined with shelves on the other two sides; all were neatly organized with cans of paint and tools. The brush lying across the top of a can of white paint had her remembering and wondering about her landlord's sudden decision to freshen the door to her apartment the other evening. She should ask him about that. Not that it really mattered at this point to the homicide case she had just closed, but he needed to understand that in her line of work sometimes trouble followed her home. And if some jerk decided to leave her a personal message, it was essential that she see it—all of it, no matter how unpleasant—before it was whitewashed.
The sooner she made that point clear to him the better. Maybe tomorrow when she spoke to him about the electrician.
Jess padded across the rough concrete floor and settled the light on the gray metal door of the breaker box. She opened it and sure enough breaker number four from the top had jumped into the off position. "So you don't like my hair dryer. Is that it?" She reached up and snapped the breaker into the on position. She watched for a moment to ensure it wasn't going to repeat its unruly behavior. When the breaker remained in the proper position, she closed the door to the box and turned to go. She stubbed her toes and cringed.
"Damn, damn, damn!" She hopped on one foot while she stretched the injured toes. Aiming her flashlight at the offending object, she glared at the large wooden box. Looked like a homemade toolbox or storage container. Another of her landlord's little projects. The man appeared to be building, patching, or painting something every waking hour. If she was that bored when she got old, she hoped someone took pity and gave her cold case files to analyze—anything to keep her away from power tools and paintbrushes.
Something on the floor just to the left of the annoying box prompted a second look. The floor was uneven, not smooth at all. Looked as if it had been poured in sections in different decades. But the small round object that snagged her attention glittered in the light ... silver. Jess leaned down and picked it up. A ring. Not just a ring ... a wedding band.
She couldn't read the inscription since her glasses were upstairs. The ring made her think of the one she had stopped wearing recently, only this one was larger, a man's maybe, and hers had been gold—
The garage filled with flickering lights.
Her breath stalled somewhere in the vicinity of her throat and she squinted at the flood of harsh fluorescent glare.
"Is there a problem, Chief Harris?"
Mr. Louis, her inordinately patient landlord, waited at the door she'd entered and left standing wide open maybe two minutes ago.
Uh-oh. Busted. So much for not troubling the man. It was a wonder he hadn't barged in toting a twenty-gauge. This was Alabama. Folks took three things very seriously: religion, football, and the right to bear arms. Not necessarily in that order.
Jess shoved her hand, along with the ring, into her robe pocket. "Just that breaker again." She smiled, knowing damned well she must look as guilty as sin. "I should've known better than to use my hair dryer until I checked with you. I hope I didn't disturb you." She gestured to the breaker box. "I thought I'd try to take care of it myself this time. It's so late and all." She clicked off the flashlight and waited for a reaction. He didn't exactly look angry. Maybe frustrated or unsettled.
"The electrician will be here in the morning." His lips shifted into a smile, banishing the less pleasant expression he'd been wearing. "I apologize for the inconvenience."
"No trouble." Truth was she felt like a nosy Nellie. This man had kindly offered his garage apartment when she had no other place to go—besides her sister's, and that was just not doable for a whole host of reasons—and here she was treating him as if he were a suspect. Dan's paranoia about her renting from a stranger was evidently rubbing off.
No, that wasn't fair. She couldn't really blame it on Dan. She'd always overanalyzed people and situations. She walked straight up to her landlord and held out the ring. "I found this on the floor."
He accepted the band, turned it over in the light. "Why, thank you. I'd wondered where it had gotten off to."
She wasn't about to ask the questions pinging at her. A certain level of nosiness came naturally after twenty years in the business of criminal investigation, but he might not understand or appreciate that undeniable and sometimes bothersome fact.
Before she could apologize again for the trouble, he said, "You have company."
At this hour? Surely Dan hadn't come back. He'd taken her to dinner earlier this evening and they'd discussed the ongoing investigation into the bomb that had been planted in the BPD vehicle she'd used last week. They'd gone over the business about Captain Ted Allen. The head of BPD's gang task force had been missing for going on seventy-two hours now. The close timing of the vehicle tampering and a cop going missing had everyone on edge. Especially since the missing cop had been seen in the vicinity of the vehicle in question before going AWOL. She booted the idea that a fellow cop could have wanted to get even with her that badly. The fact that she'd had a rather tense conversation with Allen the last time she saw him was amping up her guilt factor. It shouldn't. Dammit! Barging into his investigation into the Lopez family drug business here in Birmingham had been the right thing to do.
Don't think about it, Jess.
"Company?" She started for the door where Louis waited. "Must be police business." It had better be. Knowing Dan, he'd returned with one more reason she should be wearing full body armor at all times or hiding behind him.
The man took overprotective to a whole new level, particularly with the bomb scare and Allen's abrupt disappearance.
He really had to get past this obsessive need to see after her every minute. Soon! If he was at her door again, she was going to give him what-for. For heaven's sake it was Monday and they were having enough difficulty already leaving their personal relationship with the weekend. That was the deal they made when she accepted this position. During the workweek, he was the chief of police and she was one of his deputies. No exceptions.
She'd been back a month and that rule had gotten broken with tonight's dinner and dessert that segued into getting naked afterward.
God, she had to get this mess that was her personal life in some sort of order.
Starting right now, she promised herself silently.
"Sorry again," she said to Louis. "I'm sure you weren't expecting all this middle-of-the-night activity when you offered to rent the apartment to me."
"Your presence keeps life interesting, Chief Harris." With that he stepped aside for her to exit the garage.
"You should call me Jess," she suggested. It was silly for them to be so formal, considering she was living on his property.
He ducked his head in one of those shy nods she'd come to associate with the older gentleman. "Of course, and you should call me George."
"Well, George, thank you and good night." Jess gave him a nod as she walked past him.
"Good night, Jess," he called after her.
She almost paused and turned around at the way he said her name. Familiar almost, like they'd known each other for a long time. Instead she kept going, slowing only to check the driveway. He was right about her having company but thank God it wasn't Dan.
A white sedan she didn't recognize sat in the drive behind her Audi. The slightest inkling of trepidation trickled through her veins as she rounded the rear corner of the garage and peered up at the top of the stairs leading to her apartment. The light outside her door illuminated a woman who knocked firmly, most likely not for the first time. She wore khaki slacks and a matching blouse. Her gray hair was tucked into a neat bun. Her bearing looked vaguely familiar. As Jess watched, the woman reached up and knocked again.
"Hello," Jess called as she started up the stairs.
Her visitor turned toward the sound of Jess's voice and recognition jarred her.
"Ms. Frances?" Of all the people ... "Is that really you?"
Frances Wallace had been Jess's ninth-grade English teacher. She was unquestionably the only reason Jess didn't quit school the day she turned sixteen. In truth the woman had been the closest thing to a mother in Jess's life since she was ten. What in the world was she doing here? Jess hadn't seen her in ages. She hated to admit it but she hadn't even been sure the woman was still alive.
Yet here she was.
"The one and only," Frances confessed. "I've been following the news about you since you returned to Birmingham," she announced as Jess climbed the final step. "You always did do things with panache, young lady."
It had also been ages since anyone had called Jess a young lady. She liked the sound of it. "I had an excellent teacher."
Frances Wallace was a genuine character. No one got anything over on her and she did everything—including her teaching—exactly the way she wanted, the rules be damned.
For one long moment Jess got so caught up in the memories she lost all sense of decorum. "Come in, Ms. Frances. Please."
She opened the door and ushered her former teacher inside. "Have a seat." She gestured to the new-old sofa she'd discovered at a thrift store on Saturday. "Would you like coffee?" She should have had wine to offer but she and Dan had finished it off before getting naked. A flush of embarrassment went through her at the idea of even thinking about sex in front of Ms. Frances.
Her former teacher took a moment to survey the apartment. Jess felt that same heat rise in her cheeks as her gaze lit on the tousled sheets of the bed.
"I'm still getting organized—"
Frances turned to Jess then, and the unabashed fear on her face stole the rest of what Jess was about to say.
Without a word of explanation, Frances drew her into a fierce hug. "I need your help, Jess," she whispered with the same ferocity as her embrace. "I think I'm about to be charged with murder."CHAPTER 2
Vestavia Village, Tuesday, August 10, 2:01 a.m.
Despite the lack of lights and sirens, within half an hour of the police's arrival, the residents of Vestavia Village were gathering in the food court for complimentary coffee and the promise of a briefing. Excited chatter and curious stares accompanied their meandering path through the solarium that served as a lobby. Not a single member of the geriatric crowd paid the slightest bit of attention to Jess and her team. They were far too busy attempting to get a glimpse of the body.
Word had already spread that someone was dead.
Jess couldn't exactly fault their curiosity. These folks had lots of time on their hands, and the fact was no one was more curious about the dead than her. Maybe because her parents died when she was so young. Jess didn't really remember when her interest was stirred but that morbid curiosity made her very good at her job. She turned back to resume her survey of the crime scene. They'd cordoned off an area that extended along the corridor leading from the solarium to the offices of the administrator and his staff up to and including the main entrance of the facility. With two ways to reach the administrator's office—via the main entrance and the solarium lobby—it was necessary to protect both until any evidence was recovered.
The timing of the call from dispatch, not fifteen minutes after Frances whispered her stunning announcement in Jess's ear, would have been freaky bizarre except that impeccable timing had always been another of her favorite teacher's notable attributes. The man Frances suspected she would be accused of murdering was indeed dead. Which was no coincidence since Frances had found him that way before rushing across town to pay Jess an impromptu visit.
Further proof that Jess drew killers like bees to honey, except Frances Wallace was no killer. Her explanation of tonight's events was a little scattered and a lot thin but Jess had gotten the gist of things. Even at seventy-five, the woman wasn't going to be hoodwinked by some whippersnapper—said whippersnapper was, unfortunately, the murder victim.
Since her options were limited, Jess had brought Frances to the crime scene with her. She was ensconced in the library in the company of one of Birmingham PD's finest. Not that she was going anywhere, but Jess had no intention of letting her talk to anyone else until she got to the bottom of exactly what had transpired.
Excerpted from Revenge by Debra Webb. Copyright © 2013 Debra Webb. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.