Read an Excerpt
SHATTERED JUSTICE[A Novel]
By Karen Ball
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2005 Karen Ball
All right reserved.
Chapter One"A name is the blueprint of the thing we call character.
For when all this comes true, we want to honor you.'"
Dan Justice stared down at his pager. Hard. Concentrating. Go off, darn you. Go off ...
"Justice, will you relax? You're drivin' me nuts!"
Dan looked at his irritated partner. "Aw, I'm sorry, man. It's just, well, you know."
Steve waved off Dan's words, then his big paw went back to rest on the cruiser's steering wheel. "Yeah, I know. But it's not like this is your first."
Dan couldn't restrain his crooked grin. "Not like it's my tenth, either."
Steve's brows arched under his hat. Though few sheriff's deputies wore the hats anymore, Steve seemed surgically attached to his. From the minute he reached the station, he didn't take it off. Dan couldn't imagine it. He loved almost everything about his job as a Jackson County sheriff's deputy, except the hat. "You making fun of me, partner?"
Dan put his hands in front of him, chuckling. "Wouldn't dream of it. Any man crazy ... er, brave enough to have ten kids has my respect and admiration."
The punch to Dan's arm was as good-natured as it was solid. "Riiight. Whatever you say, bucko. But if I've learned anything, it's that you can't sit there watchin' your watch-"
"I wasn't watching my watch."
"-or your beeper, thinkin' the kid's comin' any minute." Steve steered the state patrol cruiser to the highway off-ramp. "Babies show up when they're good 'n' ready. And nothin' we do will rush 'em."
Dan leaned back against the seat. "Yeah, I guess you're ri-stop!"
Steve slammed on the brakes. The cruiser fishtailed, then came to a screeching halt. "What?" He looked around, eyes wide, hand already reaching for the release on his seat belt. "What did you see?"
Dan took in Steve's tensed state. He was ready for action. Dan swallowed. Oh boy. Steve was not going to be happy with him.
He frowned at Dan. "What's goin' on?"
Dan offered a sheepish grin by way of apology and pointed to the side of the road. "A flower shop."
Steve's gaze narrowed, and he peered through Dan's window. "A flower shop? Did you see someone inside with a gun?"
Might as well bite the bullet and admit it. "No. Just ... flowers."
Understanding was slow in coming, but Dan knew the millisecond it hit his partner. If the hard glitter in Steve's eyes hadn't signaled it, the edge to his voice certainly would have.
"Flowers. Let me see if I've got this straight." He read the sign above the door. "That's a flower shop-something, I understand, they have in abundance here in good ol' Medford, Oregon. So you yell at me to stop. For flowers."
With a sigh that came from somewhere in the basement, Steve pulled the cruiser to the curb. "You got five minutes."
Dan was out of the car in a heartbeat. He was inside the shop and at the counter in two. "Hello?"
No answer. Dan surveyed the interior of the store. Wasn't anyone working? He could almost hear precious minutes ticking away. "Hey, anyone here?"
Dan wasn't sure what he heard first-the scream or the sound of glass shattering. But the next sound was one he recognized all too well.
His senses slammed into full alert, and he drew his gun as he keyed the mic at his shoulder. "Gunshots fired! Get in here, Steve!"
Vaulting the counter, Dan headed for a large set of double swinging doors, which probably led to some kind of storeroom. From the sound of things, that's where the action was. Fortunately, there were windows in the doors, so he should be able to get the lay of the land before he went in.
As he drew near the doors, he heard a loud voice. Male. Angry.
No. Furious. Like a bull moose out of control.
Pounding footsteps had Dan spinning, but he relaxed when he saw Steve coming, weapon drawn.
"I called for backup. Whaddya got?"
"One gunshot." Dan indicated the doors. "Sounds like a fight going on."
They moved to look through the windows. What Dan saw made his heart plunge. A raging man, gun in one hand, large glass vase in the other, screaming at a woman cowering against the wall. Even from the doors Dan could see her face was bruised, bleeding.
Dan nodded. Domestic disturbance. Lord, help us. Why couldn't it have been a simple armed robbery? Crooks you could reason with, most of the time. But domestics? No way. People in these situations were flat nuts.
Steve held a hand in the air then counted down with his fingers. Three ... two ... one ... go!
They burst through the double doors. "Police! Freeze!"
The guy was so far gone, he didn't even hear them. He just kept screaming at the terrified woman. He threw the vase at her, and she pulled herself into a ball as it hit the concrete floor next to her, glass shards going everywhere.
The man was on her, grabbing her by the hair, jerking her to her feet. "I told you what I'd do to you if you ever saw him again, you stupid-"
"Police!" Steve's bellow practically shook the walls. "Freeze!"
The guy heard that. He'd have to be dead not to. He spun to face them, the weeping woman in one meaty paw, the gun in the other. "This ain't none of your business."
Steve and Dan inched closer, keeping their guns trained on the man. "You made it our business, pal, when you shot that gun off."
He shook the woman. "This is my store."
"Drop the gun." Dan kept his voice low and even.
"I got a permit for this gun-"
"Drop it! Now!"
He wavered. The gun started to lower.
The woman's trembling hands clawed at her hair, trying to pry her captor's fingers loose.
Stop! Dan tried to catch her eye. But it was too late.
"Jimmy-" her broken words came out on a sob-"do what they say, baby-"
Her voice was like gas on a sputtering flame. Jimmy spun, slamming the gun into her face. "Shut up!"
"Drop the gun, Jimmy. Now!"
Steve managed to keep his voice steady, but Dan knew his partner felt the same thing he did: Time was running out.
As though he sensed it too, Jimmy jerked the battered woman in front of him, clamping an arm around her neck as he pinned her against him-and pressed the barrel of the gun to her temple.
Shock sent Dan reeling as he realized the woman was pregnant. Oh, Lord ... please ... "Come on, Jimmy. Don't do this."
Jimmy pressed his cheek against the top of the woman's head, all but spitting his fury at her. "See what you did, Shelia? See what your whoring around got you?"
Desperation glistened in the woman's eyes as she looked at Dan. Her hands moved over her slightly swollen abdomen, as though to protect the child within her from what was happening. Terror held her mute, except for a pitiful whimper.
God, please! Stop this guy! You can stop him ...
"Drop. The gun." There was steel in Steve's tone. If anyone could take this guy out, even hunkering behind his hostage, it was Steve. All he'd need was one opening.
And as much as Dan didn't want to see anyone die, he'd do everything he could to give Steve that opening.
Father God, give me the words. Help me save this woman. His fingers tensed on his gun. This baby.
He forced a friendly note into his voice. "Come on, Jimmy. It's not worth it."
At the change in Dan's tone, the man's brow crinkled.
Dan dipped his head toward Sheila. "She's not worth it. No woman is worth dying over, man." Should he mention the baby? Appeal to him for the baby's life?
"She betrayed me!"
Dan licked his dry lips. No. Keep his attention away from the baby. Too much risk. If he thought the child wasn't his ... "I hear you. But she's a woman. You know how weak they are." He took one step forward. "They're not like us, you know? Not strong."
"She'll see how strong I am now."
Dan had to struggle to keep the anger out of his tone. "That's right."
"Strong enough to make her pay."
"Sure. Make her pay. Let her see what she lost." He forced a chuckle, amazed when it sounded authentic. "She had a real man with you, and she blew it. She doesn't deserve you."
"You better believe she doesn't deserve me." His tone hardened. "Or my baby."
Dan's heart sank. No escaping it now. "That's right. Your baby. Forget Sheila. She's nothing. But that baby, man. You gotta get it. Raise it right."
Jimmy's lip trembled. "No way they'll let me near it now."
Dan's mind scrambled to interpret. "Who? The courts?"
"They hear what I did, they'll put me away."
Bingo. "Nah, they'll understand. They're men, too. They know what it's like. They'll see you're a good man, and you'll be a good dad."
Sirens sounded just outside. Backup was here. "Hear those sirens, Jimmy?"
The man listened.
"There's an ambulance outside. They can check Sheila out. Make sure the baby's okay. Just let her go, Jimmy. Let's walk out of here together, and I'll tell 'em you were a stand-up guy when it counted."
Out of the corner of his eye, Dan saw Steve moving, angling for a shot. Dan shifted so that Jimmy had to turn his head away from Steve.
"I tried." Jimmy moved the gun away from Sheila's temple, rubbing at his eyes with the back of his hand. "I tried to be a man. Tried to make her love me."
"Sure you did. You did everything you could."
"I thought she loved me." Jimmy ground his teeth, shaking Sheila. "You said you loved me!"
Dan jumped in. "So she lied. What woman doesn't li-?"
"You said you loved me!"
The anguished wail in Jimmy's voice sent a chill ripping through Dan. "Steve! Now!"
But even as Dan cried out, he knew.
It was too late.
The next few seconds seemed to take an eternity to pass. In simultaneous motions, Jimmy pressed the gun against Sheila's temple, his finger convulsing on the trigger, and Steve took his shot. The two explosions mixed, as violent an assault on Dan's senses as what he saw in front of him.
Sheila's head jerking. Red everywhere. Her body going limp. Falling.
Jimmy's cry as the bullet struck him. His hands grasping for Sheila as he fell. Her name the word that ushered life from his body.
And then ... silence.
Cold, barren silence.
Dan lowered his gun and went to feel for a pulse at Sheila's neck. But it was no use. She was gone.
The double doors burst open as police and paramedics came in. Dan moved out of the way, watching as they went to work. A touch on his shoulder drew his attention, and he saw a somber-faced Steve standing beside him.
"You did your best, Dan."
He looked to the woman on the cold, concrete floor. Too bad his best wasn't good enough.
The paramedics shook their heads.
One of the paramedics looked up at Dan's hoarse inquiry. His eyes said it all. "The mother wasn't far enough along. Baby didn't have a chance."
Dan swallowed hard.
"Let it go, partner."
Dan met Steve's gaze.
"We can't save them all, Dan."
He was right. But that truth didn't do much to stop the aching knowledge, deep inside, that Dan should have been able to save this one.
They were the most beautiful eyes Dan had ever seen.
Deep, endless blue. Wide open and taking everything in.
Sarah had told him they probably wouldn't stay blue. And as beautiful as they were, Dan hoped his wife was right. Hoped this little one's eyes would take on the rich brown of her mother's eyes.
The baby gurgled, and Dan's heart ached. For a moment, the image of Sheila lying lifeless on the floor-of another infant, one who never had the chance to live-haunted him.
He'd barely gotten back to the cruiser when his pager went off. Steve drove him to the hospital in record time, red lights flashing, siren blaring. Just before Dan hopped out of the car, Steve offered this bit of wisdom: "You can't let the loss get to you, partner. Go be with your wife and your new baby. Focus on life. Let death take care of itself."
Focus on life.
He was trying. He traced a finger down the baby's soft temple. "So what's it like, kiddo? Being born? There you were, all safe and warm in Mom's tummy, then bam! You're shoved out into reality."
Reality. Cold. Dismal. A world where women love the wrong men. Where children die before they have the chance to live. Where no amount of prayer can change some people's hearts.
No wonder babies screamed when they were born.
Stop it. Stop thinking about it.
Sarah was still deep asleep. Well, she deserved it. She'd worked hard. And her work had produced a miracle. That's what he needed to think about now. The tiny miracle in his arms.
Dan cupped his daughter's head, leaning close and drawing a deep breath, savoring the sweet fragrance of new life.
His daughter. A tiny gift from God.
Lord, please, help me keep her safe. Help me keep them all safe. Sarah. Our little boy, Aaron. They're in Your hands, I know. But sometimes, Father ... sometimes I get so afraid.
Dan closed his eyes, unable to stop the images of Sheila. Jimmy. The paramedics shaking their heads. "Baby didn't have a chance."
He cradled his infant close, felt tears slip down his cheeks. "Oh, Father, why the baby?"
Deep within him, a battle raged as despair grabbed hope by the neck and wrestled it to the ground. Pinned it. Fear rammed into peace and joy, shaking them from what Dan had always believed was rock-solid footing.
Jesus, Jesus ...
The name was a prayer from the depths of his spirit.
Please, take these images away. Help me keep my eyes on You, Lord, not on the world. Help me ...
The tiniest sound caught at him, and he opened his eyes, looking down. His new daughter gurgled again, bubbles of baby laughter on her pink lips. Her wobbly head moved, and she looked right at him-Dan was sure of it-and smiled.
Trapped under that blue gaze, Dan felt the battle within ease. Hope rose from the ground, brushed itself off, and raised its arms to the heavens.
Tears choked Dan again, but this time they held the sweet taste of gratitude. No, he couldn't help Sheila or her little one. But he could do everything in his power to ensure this tiny creature in his arms had a chance.
More than that. He'd ensure she had a life full of love and faith and truth.
Who is this child, Father? What shall we call her? Dan sighed, watching the baby blink as his breath caressed her face. What's your name, little girl?
He listened to the silence, drank in the peace that had settled over them. Leaning back in the rocker, he hummed.
At the sound of his voice, the baby's tiny hand came up, those perfect fingers reaching toward him.
Dan smiled. "You like that song? I do, too. You know, my momma used to sing it to me." He started singing it softly, letting the lyrics wash over them with their promise.
"Be not dismayed whate'er betide, God will take care of you ..."
He lifted the soft baby blanket from the arm of the chair and tucked it around his daughter.
"Beneath His wings of love abide, God will take care of you."
Dan smoothed the soft hair. The nurses couldn't get over so much hair on a newborn.
"God will take care of you, Through every day, o'er all the way; He will take care of you, God will take care of you."
His words slowed. It was as though a choir of amens resounded in the heavens, washing down over the two of them. Awe shivered up Dan's spine as a certainty dawned in his heart.
Excerpted from SHATTERED JUSTICE by Karen Ball Copyright © 2005 by Karen Ball. Excerpted by permission.
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