The Blue Edge of Midnight (Max Freeman Series #1)by Jonathon King
Featuring ex-cop Max Freeman, The Blue Edge of Midnight marks the debut of a powerful new crime series.
Max Freeman's old life ended on a night that will haunt him forever. The night he killed a twelve-year-old child in self-defense in a Philadelphia shootout. The night he stopped being a cop. Now he lives an existence of solitary confinement on the edge of/i>… See more details below
Featuring ex-cop Max Freeman, The Blue Edge of Midnight marks the debut of a powerful new crime series.
Max Freeman's old life ended on a night that will haunt him forever. The night he killed a twelve-year-old child in self-defense in a Philadelphia shootout. The night he stopped being a cop. Now he lives an existence of solitary confinement on the edge of the Florida Everglades, where he answers to no one but the demons that eat away at his conscience.
Until the night he finds the corpse of a child beside an ancient river. The night Max Freeman's past explodes into the present.
Suddenly, Freeman is thrust into the center of the search for a killer responsible for a string of grisly slayings that is baffling both local authorities and the F.B.I. Distrusted as an outsider by the longtime residents of the Glades and pulled into the case as suspect by the police, Freeman must walk a tenuous tightrope of distrust on both sides of the law. When another child goes missing, all eyes turn to Freeman-and the ex-cop, driven by his old habits and the memories of that long-ago Philadelphia midnight, knows that he has no choice but to hunt down the seemingly unstoppable murderer himself.
An electrifying story of crime, punishment, and one man's personal redemption played out against a backdrop of wild natural beauty in conflict with the modern urban world, The Blue Edge of Midnight heralds the arrival of a stunning new voice in contemporary crime fiction.
Author Biography: Jonathon King, a journalist for 20 years, began his career at the Philadelphia Daily News. He has covered crime and criminal courts and is now a national award-winning news feature writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The Blue Edge of Midnight is his first novel.
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The Blue Edge of Midnight
By Jonathon King
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2002 Jonathon King
All rights reserved.
I was a mile upriver, my feet planted on the stained concrete dam, back bent to the task of yanking my canoe over the abutment. It was past midnight and a three-quarter moon hung in the South Florida sky. In the spillover behind me, tea-colored water from the falls burbled and swirled, roiling up against itself and then spinning off in curls and spirals until going flat and black again downstream. Ahead I could see the outlines of thick tree limbs and dripping vine and the slow curve of water bending around a corner before it disappeared into darkness.
When I moved onto this river more than a year ago, my city eyes were nearly useless. My night vision had always been aided by street lamps, storefront displays, and headlights that swept the streets, crosshatching each other to create a web of light at every intersection. I'd spent my life on the Philadelphia streets, watching, gauging the hard flat shadows, interpreting the light from a door left ajar, waiting for a streak from a flashlight, anticipating the flare of a match strike. Out here, fifteen miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean in a swamped lowland forest, it took me a month to train my eyes to navigate in the night's natural light.
Tonight, in moonlight, the river was lit up like an avenue. When I got the canoe floated in the upstream pool, I braced myself with both hands on the rails at either side, balanced my right foot in the middle, steadied myself in a three-point stance, and pushed off onto quiet water.
I settled into the stern seat and pulled six or seven strokes to get upstream from the falls and then readied myself. The mile from my stilted shack had just been a warm-up. Now I'd get into the heavy work that had become my nightly ritual. This time of year in South Florida, high summer when the afternoon rains came like a rhythm, this ancient river to the Everglades spread its banks into the cypress and sabal palms and flooded the sawgrass and pond apple trees until the place looked more like a drowning forest than a tributary. It was also the time of year when a man with a head full of sour memories could power a canoe up the river's middle and muscle and sweat through yet another impossible night.
I tucked my right foot under the seat, propped my left forward against a rib, and was just pulling my first serious strokes when my eyes picked up a glow ahead in the root tangle of a big cypress.
Trash, I thought, pulling two strokes hard in that direction. Even out here you ran into civilization's callousness. But the package seemed too tight as I glided closer. Canvas, I could tell now from the cream-color of the cloth.
I took one more stroke and drifted up to what now appeared to be a bundle the size of a small duffel bag. The package was wedged softly into a crook of moss-covered root by the current. I reached out and prodded it with my paddle, loosening the hidden end from the shadows. When it finally slid out onto free water, moonlight caught it and settled on the calm, dead face of a child.
Air from deep in my throat held and then broke like a bubble in my mouth and I heard my own words come out in a whisper:
"Sweet Jesus. Not again."
For a dozen years I'd been a cop in Philadelphia. I got in at the smooth-faced age of nineteen without my father's blessing. He was a cop. He didn't want me to follow. I went against his wishes, which had become a habit by then, and got through the academy the same way I'd gotten through school. I rode the system, did just enough to satisfy, didn't stand out, but tried always to stand up. My mother, bless her soul, called it a sin.
"Talent," she said, "is God's gift to you. What you do with it, is your gift back to him."
According to her, my talent was brains. My sin was using only half of them.
Police work came easy to me. At six feet three inches tall, and a little over two hundred pounds, I'd played some undistinguished football in high school and my friend Frankie O'Hara used to drag me into his father's South Philly gym once in a while to act as a stand-in sparring partner. My strength there was that I didn't mind getting hit. A shot in the face never bothered me much. How that trait worked with my other "talent," my mother could never explain. But the combination of a cloaked intelligence, some size, and an indifference to a crack on the nose made police work easy for me.
In my years on the force I'd climbed a bit of a ladder, taken some special assignments, worked for a short time in the detective bureau. I'd passed the sergeant's exam a couple of times. But misunderstandings with management and "Officer Freeman's seeming total lack of ambition" found me walking a downtown beat on the four-to-twelve shift. It was fine with me until the night I shot a child in the back.
It was near the end of my shift. I was standing out of a cold drizzle at Murphy's Newsstand, a little step-in shop next to a deli just off Broad Street. Murph peddled the daily newspapers, three shelves of magazines holding the monthly array of faked- up cleavage, and probably the most important item of his business, the daily racing forms. With some thirty years on the street, Murph was the most sour and skeptical human being I'd ever met. He was a huge lump of a man who sat for hours at a time on a four-legged stool with what seemed like half of his weight dripping over the sides of the small circular cushion. He had a fat face that folded in on itself like a two-week-old Halloween pumpkin and you couldn't tell the color of his small slit eyes. He was never without a cigar planted in the corner of his mouth.
"Max, you're a fuckin' idiot you stay on a job what wit da way they been stickin' it to ya," was his standard conversation with me every night for two years. He had a voice like gravel shuffling around in the bottom of a cardboard box. And he called everyone from the mayor to his own mother a "fuckin' idiot," so you didn't take it personally.
On that night he was grumbling over the day's results from Garden State Raceway when my radio started crackling with a report of a silent alarm at C&M's Stop and Shop on Thirteenth Street, just around the corner. I reached down to turn up the volume and Murph rolled the cigar with his tongue and that's when we heard the snap of small caliber gunfire in the distance. The old vendor looked straight into my face and for the first time in two years I could see that his eyes were a pale, clear blue.
"Casamir," he croaked as I started out the open door, my hand already going to the holster strap on my 9mm.
It doesn't take long for adrenaline to flush into your blood when you hear gunshots. As a cop in the city I had heard too many. And each time I had to fight the immediate urge to turn and walk the other way.
I was halfway to the corner and my normally slow heartbeat was banging in my chest. I was trying to set up a scene in my head of Casamir's place; second storefront around the corner, glass doors flush against the wall, dingy fluorescent lighting inside, Casamir with his too-big smile and that pissy little taped-handled .25 behind the counter. I wasn't thinking about the rain-slick sidewalk or the lack of decent cover when I made the corner and tried to plant my foot and went skidding out in full view of some kid's gun barrel.
I heard the crack of his pistol but barely registered the sharp smack against my neck and I came up on one knee, brought up the 9mm and saw the kid standing thirty feet away, a black hole of a gun barrel as his only eye. I was staring into that hole when I picked up the movement of something coming out of Casamir's door and then Snap, another round went off.
I hesitated for one bad instant, and then pulled the trigger. My weapon jumped. My eyes instinctively blinked. Chaos competed for only a second. And then the street went quiet.
The first kid went down without so much as a whimper. Casamir's .25 had sounded the third report of the night and caught the shooter in the street flush in the temple. My round hit the second boy, the one who had jumped out the door just as I hesitated. The 9mm slug caught him in the back between his skinny shoulder blades and he dropped. Unlike the Hollywood version, the kid didn't get blown back from the impact. He didn't get spun around. He didn't slowly crumple to his knees or try to reach out and call someone's name. He just melted.
The noise of my own gun was ringing in my ears and I must have been getting up because the angle of the scene was changing, but I didn't know how my knees were working.
Casamir was standing over the bodies by the time I made it thirty feet. He looked up at me, the old .25 hanging from his hand.
"Max?" he said, confused at my presence. His face was blank. His smile was gone. Maybe forever.
The first boy was facedown, the pistol that he had fired, first at Casamir and then at me, had clattered off into the gutter. The younger boy, mine, lay oddly twisted, his clothes, all baggy and black, seemed comically empty. But his face was turned up, his open eyes gone cloudy through long, childlike lashes. He couldn't have been more than twelve.
I was staring into that face when Murph, trailing from the newsstand, stepped up to my side and looked at me and then down at the kid.
"Fuckin' idiot," he says. But I wasn't sure which one of us he was talking about.
I was still staring into the boy's face, trying to breathe through a liquid burbling in my throat, and then I heard Casamir repeating my name: "Max? Max?" And I looked up and he was staring at me and pointing to his neck and saying, "Max. You are shot." And suddenly that night, and that world, went softly black.CHAPTER 2
"Sweet Jesus. Not again."
On the river I am still looking at the child's face, glowing in the moonlight, bobbing in the water, and my first reaction is to help. My second is to get the hell out. My third is to calm down.
The sound of a billion chirping insects is overpowering the silence. I draw a breath full of warm humid air and force myself to think. I'm a mile from my shack and a good two and a half miles from the ranger station. I'm staring at a dead child and a crime scene. I'm a cop too long, despite bailing out of the title two years ago, and if my isolation has taught me anything it is that you can't flush everything out of your head for good.
I start organizing, running through a list. The bundle was wedged up into the roots of the cypress tree but it could have been pushed there by the current, or placed there on purpose. The body is neatly and tightly wrapped, but the face is exposed. Why? Why does it need to look out? The skin is so pale that it looks preserved, but who knows what effect the brackish water has had? And if it's been floating upright, the settling blood could already be drawn down from the face.
The sailcloth of the bundle is a rip-stop nylon. Too clean, I think. Too new. I start to reach out and hook it with my paddle but I look at the face again and stop. Crime scene, I say to myself. Let the crime scene guys do it. It's not going anywhere. Go call it in.
It's two and a half miles, downstream, at least a hard hour to the ranger station at Thompson's Point. Cleve Wilson, the senior ranger, would be there on his monthly, twenty-four-hour live-in shift. I spin the canoe and start back north, heading for the falls. In eight or ten deep strokes I pick up speed and then lean back and launch myself over the four-foot dam, whumping down onto the lower river, kicking a spray up on either side. On the bob up, I grab another purchase of thick water with the paddle and pull back on it and shoot the canoe forward. The face of a dead child is chasing me again.
In seconds I fall into the stroke. Efficient, full, with a swift lift at the end. Same power, same pull, same finish. I glide through the wet forest, backpaddling only to make the quick corners, swing stroking only to pull around the rounder ones. In minutes I am running with sweat but don't even try to wipe it from my eyes, just whip the droplets with a head snap and keep digging. I know the route by memory and in forty minutes the river widens out and starts its curve east toward the ocean. The canopy of cypress opens up and then falls behind me. The moon is following. I ignore the burn building in my back and shoulders and keep my eyes focused on the next dark silhouette of mangroves bulling out in the water that indicates a bend in the river, and cut straight for it. Moving point to point, I just keep working it.
What I had wanted when I came down here was something mindless and physically daunting and simple. I'd bought this specially made Voyager canoe, a classic wood design that was modern but made in the old-fashioned style with its ribs and wood rails. I'd plunked it down in this river and paddled the hell out of it. I had heard athletes, long-distance runners and swimmers, say they could get into a zone where they could work without thought. Just settle into a pace and tune out the world.
But I couldn't do it. I found out soon into my isolation that it wasn't going to work that way for me. Rhythm or no rhythm. Quiet or no quiet. I'm a grinder. And the rocks that went into my head after I shot a kid in front of a late-night convenience store were going to tumble and tumble and I wasn't going to forget. Maybe I'd wear the sharp edges off after time. Maybe I'd round off the corners. But I wasn't going to forget.
The last thing I recalled that night in Philadelphia was Casamir's words, "You are shot." Then I mimicked his own hand going to his neck and found my own was wet and sticky with a soup of sweat and blood. I swabbed at the muscle below my ear with my fingertips and felt nothing until my index finger slipped into a hole that didn't belong there. I either blacked out or just plain fainted.
When I woke up at Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson Hospital, I started grinding. I knew they must have had me loaded up with a morphine drip and all the other procedural narcotics, but I didn't come out groggy, I came out analyzing.
My first thought was paralysis and I was afraid to move because I wasn't sure I wanted to know. I stared up at the ceiling and then started working my eyes to the white corners and down to a light fixture and then to a television screen mounted high on the opposite wall and then to my left on the curtain rod and to the right a mirror that I couldn't look into.
I concentrated on what I could feel and picked up the cool stiffness of the sheet against my legs and chest and was encouraged enough to move my right hand. "Thank Him for small miracles." I could hear my mother's old mantra and my hand went across to the left side of my neck and felt the bandage, thick and gauzy and wrapped all the way around. When I tried to move my head, pain shot straight into my temples and I knew from the tingle that my vertebra were probably intact.
I was taking an accounting of fingers and toes when District Chief Osborne walked into my room, followed by my father's brother-in-law, Sergeant Keith O'Brien, and someone in a dark suit that should have had "Beancounter" written up and down one of the legs like they do on sweatsuits from the universities that say "Hurricanes" or "Quakers."
"Freeman. Good to see you awake, man."
I'd never met the district chief in the dozen years I'd been on the force and was sure he'd never known my name until early this morning when a dispatcher woke him out of a warm sleep in his home in comfortable East Falls. He was a big man, broad in the shoulders and the belly, and was wearing some kind of paisley button-down shirt and had tossed on a navy sport coat to look both official and hurried. He had gray-flecked hair and a bulbous nose that was starting to show the spider web of reddish veins from too much whiskey for too many years.
"Surgeons tell us you're one lucky officer, Freeman," he said. "They say a couple inches the other way could have been fatal."
Of course a few inches the other way and I wouldn't have been hit at all, but being such a lucky officer, I decided to hold on to that charm and not respond, even if I could. I hadn't yet attempted to speak. My throat felt thick and swollen as if I'd been to the dentist and the guy had pumped me full of novocaine all the way down to my collarbone.
I swung my eyes over to my uncle, who'd taken a deferential step back from the chief. Since he was studying either the end of the bed or the top of his shoes, I took a clue.
"They say you're out of the woods now. So don't you worry. But as soon as you're ready, we'll need a statement," said Osborne, tipping his head to the beancounter as part of the "we" but not introducing him.
There was an awkward silence. You can't have an interview with a mute man. You can't say congratulations to a shot cop. You can't say "good job" to an officer who just killed a child.
Excerpted from The Blue Edge of Midnight by Jonathon King. Copyright © 2002 Jonathon King. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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