|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.79(d)|
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All Things Hidden
By Judy Candis
Warner BooksCopyright © 2004 Judy Candis
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGod had not given her the spirit of fear. Jael knew this like she knew there were sixty-six books in the Bible. She knew this like she knew the exact hour and second that she accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior. More important, she knew this like she knew God's Word was eternal and true. Yet the pounding of her heart was so rapid, so profound, it threatened to burst through her rib cage.
From the moment her foot touched the bottom step of the vacant, notorious crack house, waves of unexplainable panic washed over her. Why she suddenly felt so nervous made no sense, especially since she'd been on calls at this very address a number of times. She had not experienced this kind of gut-quaking since the time she had first laid eyes on Phyllis Wilcox, early in her Christian walk. She'd realized later that the "quaking" was actually her first real experience with one of the gifts of the spirit: the "spirit of discernment," a small nudging in the innermost being of one's soul.
In that case, it had been the alarm of envy and vile hatred to come. But that was not what was going on here. There was no suggestion of a personal attack on her or on those she loved. Just another Code 223, a reported shooting, something Jael had handled many times before.
Or was it?
She shook her head with denial. Satan, you have no power over me. I rebuke the spirit of fear in the name of Jesus.
The grip of anxiety lessened but did not completely release its hold. Tiny knots of nausea tugged at her midsection, causing her a moment of confusion.
Lord, I need you. I need your supernatural strength and control right now.
Jael's pulse, racing seconds ago with Olympic furor, slowly began to quell. Still, she had to dig her nails into her unnaturally sweaty palms to keep a firm grip around her .38, a silver .38 special, standard issue. She prayed that no one-especially the officer now pressed in a similar pose against the outer doorway across from her-noticed her trembling gun. Her anxiety was clearly out of the norm, but she couldn't allow herself to focus on it now. She was the commanding officer, and needed to act like it.
Above, the starless sky was black, ominous, layered in sinister premonition. Around her, red and blue rotating squad lights swept the darkness with flashes of waning colors, illuminating the desolate neighborhood and the unlit porch where she stood pressed against the wall. Through the doorway, hazy yellow light spilled outward from somewhere deep within the house.
She glanced back at the other officers crouched around their blue and white cruisers a few feet away, waiting for her nod to advance. At the same second, her mind diverted, attaching itself to the feel of the peeling paint of the frame house scraping against her jacket; to the tickle of sweat on her brow even as the cool night air brushed across her flesh. Even to the odd thought that her stockings would be a lost cause no matter what happened tonight, since she'd paid her dues-years in a drab officer's uniform-to wear a skirt on duty.
These rampant thoughts seemed to minimize the shawl of doom, but instantly, Ramon, her nine-year-old son, flashed inside her mind. In moments such as this, Jael often wondered, if something were ever to happen to her, if she could count on her ex-husband to continue to raise Ramon in the knowledge of God. Would he see that their son went to church on a regular basis, said his prayers each night and read his Bible daily? She quickly answered her own question. Naw, no way was her ex suddenly going to admit there was a greater power than himself.
A police walkie-talkie crackled, forcing her to refocus on her immediate surroundings. She had entered dangerous ground like this a hundred times, yet there was always a certain measure of fear for any active-duty officer; on any given day, your life was on the line.
The 911 call of fired gunshots from this known crack house could mean anything. Any one of them could end up toast if there was a fool or whacked-out madman waving a weapon somewhere inside. Yet, as commanding officer of this operation, she knew her men were waiting intently for her signal. The Lord is my protector, she prayed silently.
Rearing back her shoulders, Jael sucked in a deep breath, as if she were about to plunge into a sea of icy water. It was time.
Jael lifted her right index finger, counted ten seconds, then jerked her head in a silent "Now!" As she propelled her body into the doorway, every fiber of her being was alert to the possibility of imminent danger. With her stomach muscles tightening, she braced herself for anything.
A fat white candle on a tin jar top flickered weakly from the room beyond. Intermittent light from the street only scratched the darkness through the broken and boarded windows. Expelled puffs of air from fellow officers vibrated around her as she dropped just within the door into a crouching position and swung her gun back and forth before her. Other than the heavy breathing of her men, she heard nothing.
Stealthily, the team moved in behind her, spreading themselves in strategic positions to cover one another. Her nerves prickled like live wires as she moved forward.
The team quietly spread out toward different areas of the house. Two officers stayed with her as she passed through the foyer and into the main room, her gun poised to fire. Her second in command was right behind her, his high-beam flashlight giving her an even circle of light to scope out what lay ahead.
"There!" he hissed, almost in her ear.
Jael followed the direction of his light and saw a slumped form on the floor of the archway leading to a back room. Cautiously, in case the assumed victim was playing possum, she trained her gun on the body and moved slowly toward it.
Within a few feet, any doubt the victim was dead fled like scattering pigeons. The glare of the flashlight glinted off his eyes as they stared lifelessly at the peeling ceiling above. His fear was over.
Before stooping beside the body, Jael took another look around to ensure no one was using the corpse as a decoy. Finding nothing, she pocketed her weapon, then kneeled beside the man and pressed her fingers against his throat. He was still warm. This bit of knowledge flooded her with caution.
"He's been down only a few minutes," she softly warned the nearby officer. "Alert the team to be extra careful. His assailant may still be on the premises."
The officer behind her whispered the command into his walkie-talkie. Jael rose, retrieved her firearm, carefully stepped over the body and moved into the other room. From the flashlight of the officer with her, she could make out a tattered mattress lying not far from a window covered with cardboard. Trash and filth were everywhere, typical of transient dwellings and drug houses. The scent of stale cigarettes, urine and even dead rodents permeated the area.
Moving to the open closet to her left, Jael peered inside. Nothing. She checked both windows as possible escape routes. Again nothing. Then she nodded at her officer and they returned to the main room of the building.
Two other officers entered from the back rooms, shaking their heads to indicate they had also found nothing.
Now it was time for a closer inspection of the dead man. He was a young brother, possibly in his early twenties, dressed in jeans and a silk shirt open at the collar. Thick gold chains draped his charcoal-colored throat. She sighed. It always seemed to be the young black guys involved in these kinds of crimes. As the only black woman in her division, she found the disappointment rough sometimes.
Jael pocketed her revolver in the shoulder holster just beneath her suit jacket and kneeled again by his side. Her fear was ebbing, but not her caution. One didn't become a lead homicide detective through foolish bravery, but with intelligent caution.
"Think it was a rival dealer, Detective?" one of her men asked. Though the question was directed at her, she didn't get to answer first.
"Who else could it be?" Jael recognized the voice as belonging to Detective Ernest Billups. "These guys fight all the time over a drop of that poison. This one just didn't come out the winner."
In response to his statement, Jael flashed him a warning scowl. As usual he missed it, or pretended to. Though she resented these kinds of prejudgment remarks, she'd been in law enforcement long enough to understand how certain things were often accepted as patterns.
"Search for any clues that might give us a better idea about what happened here," she ordered. It wasn't a good idea to reprimand Billups in front of his fellow officers, but she was darn tired of his prejudiced answers for anything dealing with black men.
"Why bother," he argued. "We know what the hell went on here."
Obviously he had missed her earlier scowl. "Watch your language, Billups," she said between gritted teeth, still stooped beside the victim. "And since you seem to have the up on this situation, why don't you tell us what we don't know."
Billups had a way of getting on her last nerve. It took as much control to keep from barking back at him as it did to stay sane on a seven-day stakeout. For now, she had to keep her mind focused on the job.
"Another drug deal gone bad," he answered, waving his gun toward the victim. "That's all it is."
The other officers took this as a cue of some kind and scurried toward the front door.
"Can't we get some better light in here?" she growled. There would be time for a down-dressing for Billups later.
"No juice," someone said. Again, typical of drug hangouts.
"Bring in the floodlights and tell everyone to be careful where they step." She raised her voice slightly. She could see by the departing looks on some of the officers' faces, it was obvious they thought this was an open-and-shut case. The men might get sloppy if they assumed this was a simple drug theft. As lead detective, she'd learned to never assume.
Rising from her crouched position, she sent up a silent prayer for the victim's family, as was her custom for the last ten years of police service. She had witnessed more than any normal person should of death and violence, but never once regretted the profession she had chosen. In many ways it had been her destiny since that infamous day, October 17, nineteen years ago. A day forever etched in her brain. A frown crept to her face. Jael quickly banished the uncomfortable thought from her mind.
Instead, she admitted it was certainly days like this, while working with an irritating imbecile like Billups, that she thought twice about her career choice.
Now, after close inspection of the remains, she determined the victim had died from at least three gunshot wounds to the chest. His torn flesh lay open in three places like small anthills saturated with blood. The autopsy would tell her later which bullet penetrated what and the ultimate cause of death.
As she backed away from the body, the heel of her boot connected with the victim's outstretched right arm where it lay on the tattered linoleum. Watching her step, Jael eased around, took a penlight from the inside pocket of her jacket and aimed it at the floor. Two thick plastic bags of rock cocaine lay beside the body, and near his open hand, a large stash of bills. She stood there for a second absorbing the scene, grateful she had discovered this before the other officers. It was not unheard of for an officer to pocket money at a scene such as this one. She decided to stay put until the forensics team arrived and all the money was accounted for.
More important, she wondered why the money was even there. This was not a drug deal gone bad. If it were that simple, this much money, along with a commodity of street drugs she estimated to be well over $4,000, would not have been left behind. Of course, there was the possibility that they had arrived on the scene before the assailant could grab the money, but the body had sprawled backward from the impact of the bullets. It was as if he'd been shot by surprise, while the money and drugs were still gripped in his hands, almost as if in offering. Was he about to pass them over when he was shot? Was he boasting and the shot came after? But why leave it all behind? It couldn't have taken long for the assailant to grab the goods and rush for the back door.
This scenario was a new one for her and naturally raised questions. And, with these thoughts, her earlier fear kicked in with a wallop.
She was no psychic and trusted completely in her heavenly Father for anything she needed to know about the future. At the same time, she felt an undeniable check in her spirit. Had she stumbled onto something that would personally affect her in some way? Was there something here she was missing? The tingling in the base of her stomach felt like an inner warning of bad news ahead, and the sensation was making her edgy.
"Have the techs arrived yet?" she barked, attempting to wrap her mind around what this scene was trying to tell her.
"They're pulling up now," someone answered.
"Get them in here, pronto!" she ordered. "I want photographs of this on my desk before the night is out."
Officer Rick Sills, three inches taller than her five-foot-eight frame, with thick reddish-blond hair that forever stayed in his eyes, leaned over her shoulder. Though she was no longer a street cop and just happened to be with Sills when they heard the code over her police radio, she had agreed with his suggestion she be the first on the scene. Kudo points, he'd said, toward her promotion. He tended to carry their office camaraderie with them everywhere, which humored Jael to no end. It was kind of comforting now.
"Man, it looks like all hundred-dollar bills, Lieutenant!" he whispered.
Jael smiled. "Not lieutenant yet, Sills, but I love the way your mind works."
"Only a matter of time." He turned and looked at her with respect. "Only a matter of time. No one deserves this promotion more than you, and soon we'll all be calling you Lieutenant Jael Reynolds. First name, by the way, pronounced Jay-el,"-he let the "el" roll across his tongue for effect-"for the benefit of those who might try to use your name in unsavory jail jokes."
"I've heard them all before anyway," she said with a grin. "But could I stand to leave you at your desk alone and move into my own office?" This light banter was just what she needed now, as she kept her gaze on the dead man.
"Yeah, that may put a major crease in my day-to-day work duties. Who would I have to tease?"
"I have a few names in mind, but for now I'll run my ship as if I'll still be here for a while. So, can I get the techs in here, Rick, please? We need photos of this."
"Yes, ma'am," he answered, teasing back. Then, almost in her ear, he yelled, "Hey! We need the photographer, STAT!"
Jael sighed and tried not to roll her eyes playfully. Instead, she began counting to ten.
Excerpted from All Things Hidden by Judy Candis Copyright © 2004 by Judy Candis. Excerpted by permission.
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