In Jane Haseldine’s new novel of riveting suspense, Detroit newspaper reporter Julia Gooden is up against the city’s most devious criminal—and her own painful past.
Julia Gooden knows how to juggle different lives. A successful crime reporter, she covers the grittiest stories in the city while raising her two young boys in the suburbs. But beneath that accomplished façade is another Julia, still consumed by a tragedy that unfolded thirty years ago when her nine-year-old brother disappeared without a trace.
Julia’s marriage, too, is a balancing act, as she tries to rekindle her relationship with her husband, Assistant District Attorney David Tanner, while maintaining professional boundaries. David is about to bring Nick Rossi to trial for crimes that include drug trafficking, illegal gambling, and bribery. But the story becomes much more urgent when a courthouse bomb claims several victims—including the prosecution’s key witness—and leaves David critically injured.
Though Julia is certain that Rossi orchestrated the attack, the case against him is collapsing, and his power and connections run high and wide. With the help of Detective Raymond Navarro of the Detroit PD, she starts following a trail of blackmail, payback, and political ambition, little imagining where it will lead. Julia has risked her career before, but this time innocent lives—including her children’s—hang in the balance, and justice may come too late to save what truly matters…
“Haseldine has a gift for atmosphere, setting, and suspense, and the many twists and turns will keep readers guessing.” —Library Journal
“Haseldine uses her experience as a crime reporter to bring authenticity to this exciting and gritty tale.” —Kirkus Reviews
Praise for the first Julia Gooden Mystery
THE LAST TIME SHE SAW HIM
“A sharp, breathless thriller. From the opening scene to the last, The Last Time She Saw Him, kept me flipping the pages. I loved it! Jane Haseldine is one to watch!” —Lisa Jackson, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“So visually written and chilling, with such real, believable characters and twists that shocked. A gripping story that I read in one night—I could not put it down...” —Debbie Howells, author of The Bones of You
“Haseldine’s first novel is a solid read that fans of Debbie Howells, Julia Dahl, and Laura Lippman will appreciate.” Library Journal
“Terrific! Suspenseful, poignant, and completely surprising. Jane Haseldine’s riveting story of love, danger, paranoia, and family is powerfully and emotionally authentic—and deserves a standing ovation.” —Hank Phillippi Ryan, Agatha, Anthony, and Mary Higgins Clark award-winning author
About the Author
Jane Haseldine is a journalist, former crime reporter, columnist, and newspaper editor, who also worked in politics as the deputy director of communications for a governor. Jane resides in Southern California. Readers can visit her website at www.janehaseldine.com.
Read an Excerpt
Glenlivet, light on the rocks. A cocktail waitress with bright fuchsia lipstick delivers the drink and motions her head to two tables down, in the direction of a group of aged fifty-something women. The recipient of the cocktail turns his head toward the hoots and low whistles from the likely recent divorcées who are ogling him like participants in a lusty spectator sport.
"Want to join us, hon?" the ringleader asks, and adjusts her leopard print halter top to reveal an extra inch of orange, tanned cleavage. In case her intent wasn't clear enough, the woman scoops a sugar cube from her champagne cocktail, places it between her teeth, and starts sucking.
"No, thank you," the businessman answers coolly, and places the unwanted drink back on the cocktail waitress's tray.
He turns his back on the spurned women and locks in on a tall, willowy blonde in a white dress that clings to her slender curves as she moves fluidly in his direction across the casino floor.
She pauses at his table, slides into the empty seat across from him, and carefully tucks a leather briefcase between her legs.
The rowdy commotion from the neighboring table of women abruptly stops as they wordlessly concede that they've been bested by a thoroughbred.
The businessman slips an Italian charcoal gray suit coat over his tall and tightly muscled frame. He tips back the last few sips of the drink he ordered for himself ten minutes earlier and heads toward the lobby, not bothering to look back. He knows the blonde will follow.
In the elevator, the mouth of a camera lens captures its occupants' activities. The pair stand close, but just far enough apart so it doesn't look obvious they are together — just two attractive strangers heading up to their respective rooms. The blond stunner holds the briefcase in her left hand and takes a risk. She lifts her pinky finger up and brushes the back of the businessman's hand for less than a second.
The elevator arrives on the VIP floor, the best the MGM Grand has to offer.
The blonde bends down, slides a keycard out of the front pocket of the briefcase, and opens the hotel room door. Inside, the man stands in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows. He takes a quick pan of downtown Detroit and then snaps the curtains shut. When it is safe, when they are alone, the blonde, now anxious and wanting, drops the briefcase and goes directly for his zipper.
"Wait." He takes the briefcase over to the bed, opens it, and fans the stack of bills across the mattress like a seasoned blackjack dealer some thirty stories below.
"Two million. You don't trust me now?" the woman asks with a contrived pout.
He ignores the question until the cash has been fully accounted for.
"Come here," he commands.
He starts to remove his coat, but she is already there.
"I've missed you," she whispers, and cups her long, delicate fingers around his crotch.
He reciprocates by running his hand across the thin silk of her dress directly over her breast, and then squeezes until the blonde lets out a gasp.
The blonde easily submits when the man pushes her down hard on the bed, letting him believe he still has the upper hand, that he is the aggressor. She stares up at his beautiful face, his breath coming faster now as his body starts to move in a rapid, steady rhythm above her. She doesn't mind when he closes his eyes. He wants her again, reestablishing her position of control, at least for now. That's all that matters.
When they are finished, the businessman turns toward the wall in disgust.
"I knew you weren't through with me yet," she says. "You take all your hostility out on me in bed. You're a rough boy, but I like it."
He ignores her, gets up from the bed, still naked, and heads to the bathroom. The blonde is useless to him now. She knows it but still holds on.
"The birthmark on your ass is so sweet. It looks like a crescent moon with a shooting star underneath," she remarks. "Come back to bed and let me take a closer look."
The man spins around, anger flashing in his eyes as if the blonde's comment violated something personal.
"Shut up," he says.
"No need to talk dirty to me. You know I'll give you what you want, as long as you give me my share of the money."
"When it's over, you'll get it. That's the agreement."
"How do I know you won't screw me?"
"Because I'm not that guy. The money will be in a safe place."
"I want access to it."
"I don't think so."
The door to the bathroom slams shut and she is dismissed. Inside the shower, he scrubs every trace of the woman off his body, hoping she will be gone when he comes out. But the blonde is still in bed. At least she is sleeping.
The businessman climbs back into his suit, grabs the briefcase, and closes the hotel room door quietly behind him. The second elevator in the hallway opens, and he disappears inside just as elevator one chimes its arrival to the VIP floor. Its single occupant emerges — a man, squat and thick but moving swiftly like a gymnast. He wears all black — a bulky Windbreaker, sweatpants, and a baseball cap as if he's just come from the hotel gym. He lets himself into a room with a keycard he extracts from a bulky fanny pack that flanks his waist. Inside, he quickly assesses the scene, pulls a tiny camera out from its hiding place inside a fake antique clock on the dresser, and tucks it into his coat pocket.
He then retrieves a razor blade and scarf from the pack and heads toward the bed where the blonde is still sleeping.
The man moves silently as he eases his body onto the bed. He inches forward across the mattress and then straddles the blonde, locking her in place until she is prone and pinned to the bed. Without opening her eyes, she smiles, thinking her lover has returned. She flicks her tongue across her lips and then opens her mouth expectantly.
"Shhh," he whispers. "You pay now. We know what you did."
The woman's eyes fly open, and she tries to scream out her assailant's name, but he seals one stubby hand across her mouth before she can utter a word. He lifts the razor from his pocket and gently glides the unsharpened side of the blade down her stomach until it reaches the top of her pubic bone.
"Please!" she begs. "I'll give you what you want."
The razor stops short before it makes its final descent.
His breath is warm and steady against her ear. "How do you know what I want?"
"Money. I'll give it to you."
He pauses as though considering the request and flicks the dull side of the blade back and forth across her skin.
"God, please. You don't want money then. Okay. Just tell me what you want and I'll give it to you."
He shakes his head and teases the sharp edge of the razor blade against her leg.
"Who is it?" he whispers as the razor makes a tiny, precise knick on the inside of her thigh, drawing a single drop of blood that trickles down her ivory skin like a crimson teardrop.
"The name. I'll give you the name!" she pleads. "Sammy Biggs, the Butcher. He's the one. I just found out, I swear. I didn't betray you. He did. Now, please! Let me go."
The hired hand sighs deeply, as if savoring an indulgent pleasure, now finally satisfied. But not quite. Lessons must be learned and never forgotten. The man stuffs the scarf down the woman's mouth to muffle the pain of her penance. It is ingrained in his soul that those who sin must atone. He clasps the razor blade between his thumb and middle finger and cuts off the blonde's left earlobe in one clean slice.
"Hail Mary, full of grace," he prays as he pulls out a locket from underneath his black T-shirt. He kisses a likeness of the face of the blessed Virgin Mary etched into the front of the gold necklace charm and stuffs his newly won keepsake from the blonde into his pocket.
Concrete — gray, cold, and quickly passing — is the only thing Julia sees. The running started the previous summer when she was at the lake house, the place she mistakenly thought would be a sanctuary for her boys after the separation from her husband, David.
The runs started as just one lap around the rocky coastal loop along Lake Huron. But when Julia migrated back to the Detroit suburbs for a second shot at her marriage, her runs progressed; three times a week turned into seven, and the start times became earlier and earlier.
Five a.m. Julia conquers the stretch of her comfortable, suburban Rochester Hills neighborhood within five minutes. She expands her perimeter to downtown and then all the way to the Auburn Hills border. Ten miles today. No negotiation.
Julia races through the darkness just starting to break and ignores everything she passes — the funky downtown stores, the tidy homes with daily papers waiting on the icy driveway blacktops, and the Assembly of God church with its message board warning: "Sin: It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time."
None of the scenery matters. The steady rhythm of her sneakers pounding against the concrete pushes Julia forward, getting her closer to some invisible finish line as she races her one constant opponent: herself.
Spring officially arrived in Michigan a week prior, but the depressing mounds of frozen gray snow from another cruel midwestern winter obviously didn't get the memo. Julia pushes herself harder and starts to sprint as she passes the elementary school that her oldest son, Logan, attends — her half-mile mark to home. She breathes in deeply. The cold air stings as it goes down, but it's worth it. Julia is certain she can smell the ground starting its impatient thaw and the bulbs, in a deep slumber since October, beginning to stir. Change is coming, and she is ready for it.
A car drives by slowly, reaches the corner, and then turns back around in her direction. Julia instinctively moves away from the curb and reaches down toward her waist pack. Instead of a water bottle, Julia packs protection: pepper spray, and a folding knife with a three-inch blade. Paranoia always ran hard and deep after what happened to her brother when Julia was a little girl, compounded by twelve years covering the crime beat, not to mention a deranged religious fanatic who kidnapped her youngest son. For Julia, it all adds up to one thing: Trust no one.
The car slows to a crawl as it approaches a second time. A dark sedan, nondescript, probably a Ford model about five years old with tinted windows, Julia calculates, as her hand sweeps inside her pack. She runs her fingers across the flat side of the knife's blade as the car's driver-side window opens.
"Hey, Gooden, I thought that was you. If you're going to jog in the dark, you better wear brighter colors or you're going to get mowed down out here," Detroit Police Detective Leroy Russell says. Julia recalls that Russell lives somewhere in the Rochester Hills community, where his ex-wife is an assistant professor of journalism at Oakland University.
Julia finally exhales, her breath turning into a puff of white that disappears into the frigid March morning. Now knowing she won't have to engage in hand-to-hand combat, Julia fixes her gaze back on Russell, whose trademark Mr. Clean buzz cut looks freshly shaved. She feels the sting of adrenaline coursing through her body as the fear leaves her.
She begins to respond to Russell when the smell hits from the open car window. Julia makes out the distinct aroma of almost metabolized late-night, heavy drinking and Old Spice, the latter applied so liberally, it makes her eyes sting.
"How are you doing, Russell?" Julia asks. "Are you on the early shift?"
Russell reaches toward his glove compartment and extracts a green bottle of Excedrin, which he pops open, and then he crushes four white tablets under his tongue.
"Retirement party last night for Sergeant Walter Shaw," Russell explains. "I'm meeting Navarro for breakfast, so hopefully an order of scrambled eggs and home fries will soak it all up before a hangover hits."
"You and Navarro are meeting up to discuss the Rossi trial," Julia states, no question necessary. "I caught both your names on the prosecution's witness list."
Julia jogs in place without realizing it and strategizes how she can pump Russell for information for her story. The court part of the crime beat is her least favorite, despite the fact Julia is married to a lawyer. To her, courtrooms feel like tight little boxes where various versions of the truth run fast and loose amidst the big show, and the winner is often selected not by the culmination of the presented facts but by which side puts on a better performance.
"I heard there's going to be a surprise witness the prosecution is going to pull out at the last minute. Do you know anything about that? We can go off the record. You know I won't burn you. I just need a name," Julia pushes.
Russell reaches up and massages his right temple with his index finger.
"I don't know," he says. "Even if there is some last-minute witness, Judge Palmer probably won't allow it if they aren't on the list. Why are you asking anyway? You've got a much better source at home. You and David are back together, right?"
"We're working on it. I can't ask David, though. It would be a conflict of interest. The D.A.'s office doesn't want to get sued for leaking information to the press. Plus, David and I are pros. Neither of us would cross that line."
"Come on. You can't tell me you don't pull some favors in the bedroom to get your husband to talk. Sex is a woman's secret weapon. It always has been since the dawn of time. A sweet, firm ass has toppled many a mighty man. I'm more of a leg man myself, though," Russell says as he gives Julia's well-toned runner's legs a nod of silent approval.
At thirty-seven, Julia has long mastered the fine art of the dodge and weave around unwanted advances. Unless the guy is completely out of line, Julia ignores the come-on as if it never happened. The talent serves her well covering the cop beat, where egos and virility are often intertwined, enormous, and surprisingly fragile.
"Where are you and Navarro having breakfast?" she asks.
"Chanel's in Greektown. You want to join us?"
Julia gives just a hint of a smile. Dodge and weave successful.
"Thanks for the invite. I'll try."
"All right, Gooden. Tell the assistant D.A. we'll see him later. And be careful out here in the dark," Russell answers, and raps a red-chafed hand outside his driver-side window before he disappears behind the tinted glass.
Julia watches Russell's car pull away, and a small shiver runs down her back.
(Don't ever take a ride from a stranger, Julia, or, I swear, I'll kick your butt.)
The sudden childhood memory jolts her, and Julia starts to sprint as if she could race fast enough to outrun the passage of time and warn her younger self to lock the door the night her older brother, Ben, was taken.
Julia finally reaches home, nowhere left to run. She drops onto the front step, looks up at the first soft lights of dawn finally penetrating through night's heavy cloak of darkness, and chokes back a sob. She knows how to get through the pain. She always has. Julia pushes her emotions down deep and focuses on what she can control.
Her mind clicks off the pieces of the Rossi story she will have to assemble and file into some kind of compelling piece to run in the paper's online edition before opening arguments. The facts will be the bones of her story: Nick Rossi's illegal Detroit empire is believed to encompass hijacking and shipping stolen goods, mainly computers and electronics, illegal gambling, and drug trafficking. Both the feds and the Detroit PD had been trying to nail him for years. Rossi finally got busted in a city police sting courtesy of hidden cameras placed in the VIP suites of the MGM Grand Hotel. Images on the tapes showed payoffs to the former Detroit mayor and a city councilman, in addition to drug trafficking and cash exchanges for high-stakes gambling bets.
Excerpted from "Duplicity"
Copyright © 2017 Jane Haseldine.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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