Rookie patrol officer Rose Brighton chases a suspect down an alley. Without warning, her vision wavers, and the lone suspect appears to divide into two men--the real suspect, frozen in time, and a shadow version with a gun. Confused by what she's just seen, but with no time to second guess it's meaning, Rose shoots the real suspect in the back.
Forced to lie to detectives, she risks her job and her life to discover the shocking truth of who she really is--a witch of an ancient House, the prey of one powerful enemy, and the pawn of another.
House of Rose, set in the Deep South city of Birmingham, Alabama, is the first book of the Magic City Stories.
About the Author
T.K. Thorne retired as a captain of the Birmingham Police Department and as executive director of a downtown business improvement district in Birmingham Alabama. Both careers and a Masters of Social Work from the University of Alabama provide fodder for her writing.
Her fiction, poetry, and non-fiction have been published in various venues and have garnered several awards, including her two historical novels--Noah's Wife which won ForeWord Review's "Book of the Year" for Historical Fiction and Angels At The Gate, which won IBPA's Benjamin Franklin award for Historical Fiction and a silver IPPY award. Her debut nonfiction was Last Chance for Justice: How Relentless Investigators Uncovered New Evidence Convicting the Birmingham Church Bombers (2013), which the New York Post listed on their "Books You Should Be Reading." A short film from her screenplay "Six Blocks Wide" was a finalist in a film festival in Italy and was shown at other juried festivals in the U.S. and Europe.
Most recently, she is delving into the world of paranormal thriller set in the deep South. Her hobbies include classical piano, martial arts, and horseback riding. She lives on a mountaintop near Springville, Alabama, with her husband, a horse, two dogs and a cat.
Learn more at TKThorne.com
Read an Excerpt
"Rose" is a difficult name. For one thing, it made me a target throughout childhood for "smells the same" taunts. For another, it sets up an assumption that fails to describe any part of my nature, conjuring an image of a tiny gray-haired woman. I am neither tiny — standing barefoot at 5'8" — nor gray-haired — dark curls minimally tamed per Birmingham police uniform regulations — and I'm more prickly thorns than soft petals.
Setting two to-go cups of coffee on the table, our waitress beams at me. "Just the way you like it, Rose."
I pry off the lid to check anyway. In my world — the world of a patrol officer — a peaceful moment can flip into crazy without notice, so I always order the coffee to-go in case we get a call. I learned this from my partner, who is also my training officer, Paul Nix, only he doesn't drink coffee. He drinks milk.
I can't go there. And besides, by 10 p.m. I need the caffeine to make it through the remaining hour in the shift.
"Thanks, Becca," Paul says. "I'll bet mine is just the way I like it too." He grins and leans his chair back against the wall. We always sit at the same table, the one that gives him the best view of the restaurant, including the door.
"Of course, Officer Nix." She rises to his tease. "Although I'm tempted to make it chocolate milk one night just to surprise you."
I can't help noticing that I am "Rose" and Paul is "Officer Nix." I also can't help wondering if her real motive in being so friendly with me is to get Paul's attention. Almost a decade older, he is a solidly built man, just shy of 6', with a disaster of red hair and pale blue eyes that see right under your skin. I frown. She wouldn't be the first woman to flirt with him. Not that I'm jealous, just suspicious.
"Lighten up, Rose," Becca says, smoothing the checked apron they make her wear. It's incongruous with the tailored pink shirt, gray skirt and heels. She probably had no time to change clothes between jobs, but knowing her, it wouldn't matter. I don't think she owns a tee shirt. The heels make me wince and grateful not to have to worry about fashion choices. Mine is the same every day — navy blue uniform and black lace-up shoes. And for special occasions, a hateful hat that is a size too big in order to fit over my wild hair.
"What?" I say. "Lighten up from what?"
"You're so serious and grim. It's like you're in another world."
I start to snap something back, but bite my tongue. She means well and maybe she's right. Lately, I have been grumpy, distracted by strange adrenalin spurts not related to anything, as if my body is warning me I'm going to step off a cliff. No idea what that is about.
And maybe Becca does just want to be friendly. Since the diner was robbed two months ago, she always makes sure she waits on us. Unfortunately, Paul and I weren't here when that happened, but we were the first responders to the call. When we arrived — despite having just had a gun stuck in her face — Becca blurted, "Your eyes can't be that green. Do you wear contact lens?" Before I could respond, she added without taking a breath —"You don't look like a police officer. You could be a model, you know. I would die for curls like that!" Her hair, as straight as mine is curly, is a striking ash blonde and cut in a stylish angle at the shoulder.
She talked nonstop, which, at the time, I attributed to nerves, and she didn't back off at my cool answers to her personal probing. Undeterred, she discovered, by dint of direct, random questions that we were both orphans with no siblings and invited herself to be my friend. I don't do friends, but she is difficult to detach.
With a glance over her shoulder to see if her manager is watching, she slips into an empty chair and tilts her chin at the overhead TV that is replaying the local news.
"I just heard about the verdict," she says. "Did you know the officer?"
I shake my head. "It happened before I got here. I was still in college."
Paul's square chin sets. "I knew him."
To her credit, Becca doesn't say anything stupid, just, "I'm sorry," to Paul.
He grunts. "Hoffman is a good man."
The news flashes a photo of the man Officer Hoffman shot. It's a typical happy pose with his wife and son. I am sure at his trial the jury also saw that picture and his grieving family in person.
"Today," the newscaster says, "the jury was out for only two hours and returned a verdict of guilty for Birmingham, Alabama police officer James Hoffman on a charge of manslaughter. The family's reaction was anger that the verdict was not murder."
"Can't you change the channel?" Paul asks, gulping a swallow of milk like a chug of tequila.
"We're not supposed to," Becca says, "but consider it done."
She bounces from the chair with an energy I find amazing at this time of night, not to mention this is job number two for her. Before she can change the TV channel, the dispatcher calls our unit number and gives us the code and address for a domestic.
"I'll drive," Paul says.
I throw him the keys and slide into the car as gracefully as one can with a belt crammed with ten pounds of bulky gear. When we pull out of the lot, I flip on the blue lights and continue the argument we haven't had time to finish and wouldn't discuss in front of a civilian.
"I don't get it," I say. "Hoffman shot a man in the back. How could that possibly be justified? Department policy says lethal force is only justified if you or another person are in imminent danger."
Paul doesn't answer. I hate it when he does that.
"How can a person running away present an imminent danger?" I insist, knowing that as my training officer, he will give me an answer, eventually.
He rubs a hand across his mustache, a thick red that matches his hair.
"They don't, normally."
When he stops for a red light, I automatically check my side for oncoming traffic, not bothering with the siren since the street is empty.
"Clear." I say.
Frowning, Paul pulls through the intersection and picks up his end of the discussion. "According to Hoffman, when he decided to shoot, the man was pointing a gun at him. Then the guy suddenly spun around."
"What about the witness?" I ask. "I don't buy how that could happen. The witness said the suspect was running away and then the officer shot."
"Of course he did. They see what they think they see. They've never been in a situation where a split second decision is life or death."
I want the officer to have made the right decision too, but I don't see how that could be.
"What about his body camera?" I ask.
"Wasn't working. They don't half the time, but there was that pesky bullet in the guy's back. Hoffman never had a chance of winning that one."
"Well," I say, exasperated, "what do you think happened?"
Paul sighs and is silent for a moment, before answering. "I don't know. I wasn't there."
The domestic call is in my own neighborhood, just a few doors from the house I rent in Birmingham's Southside. The back of my house nestles against the wooded flank of hills that divide the city proper from the "over the mountain" suburban municipalities to its south. In daylight, shades of autumn crimson and gold, interspersed with the green of pines, dapple the slope of Red Mountain, the last ripples of the Appalachians. Rich seams of iron oxides stain the heavy clay soil, giving the mountain its name and spawning the mining industry that created the new city of Birmingham in 1870.
Our call is to a cedar-sided house a half block away, but in sight from my front porch. Thankfully, I don't know the combatants. I don't know any of my neighbors, actually, and like it that way.
The Southside streets of Birmingham are pretty much deserted and dark. Several streetlights are out. Others battle the branches of live oaks and hickories. A few blocks north, everything changes to the red bricks of the university, but this area was built between 1890 and 1920, before the university existed. The wedged-together houses are home to an eclectic bohemian mix — from students and professors to artists and dopers. A resurgence in redeveloping older homes has gentrified it some, and I was lucky to find a house I could (barely) afford.
Porch-sitters and dog-walkers have gone inside. The warm, mid-October "Indian summer" air carries just a hint of crisp promise. Fallen leaves congregate on the sidewalks and gutters, and the crisp, smoky scent of an unseen pile burning triggers childhood trick-or-treat memories — sticky hands and unmitigated terror of false vampire teeth.
There's no parking available on the street, so Paul pulls into the narrow alley that runs beside our destination, a perk that comes with the marked patrol car. A walkway leads to the steps and raised front porch. Patches of dirt and yellow grass dot the small front yard, evidence of the season and the long dry days of the past few weeks.
The fact that domestic violence calls are one of the most dangerous encounters for police was drummed into our heads at the Academy. It's hard to get worked up about them, hence, the "drumming." By habit, Paul and I stand on either side of the door, in case bullets are involved in the "hello."
A woman pulls open the door. Pole thin with pale skin and raccoon smudges under her eyes, she blinks at us as if trying to register who we are in the yellow porch light. The waft of alcohol-evaporating-from-pores means she's been at it for multiple hours. Clinging to her pants leg is a boy about five years old. He stares up at us, one fist in his mouth.
"Hi," I say to the woman. "We got a call on a disturbance here."
I feel Paul's eyes on me, evaluating how I will handle this. Tonight is my last night on the three-month patrol training car under his supervision. After tonight, if he passes me, I will stay in patrol for years, probably on the late shift at some precinct, not necessarily this one. I don't want him to say I'm not ready. I like this job. It feels right.
The woman's hand tightens on the door latch. "No problem here," she says. "He's gone."
"Mind if we come in and make sure?" I ask.
The child looks up with frightened, dark eyes fringed in a thicket of lashes.
"I do mind," she slurs. "Nothing for you to see."
Paul offers no assistance. This is my call.
I'm not sure what to do. If there is someone inside, we need to keep him from hurting her or the child, but we can't go in her house without permission unless he is there and is a threat. And, of course, if he is, the odds of violence are high, from him or her. That lesson sank home on my first domestic disturbance call when a woman jumped on my back while we were trying to arrest the man who'd just beaten her bloody.
"You called us for help," I say carefully. "That's why we're here."
"Go away now," she says.
"We can't go away until we make sure you are okay, and there's no one inside threatening you."
"So you're not going away?" She seems to be processing this through the alcohol fuzz.
"That's right." I jump on her logic. "We're not going away until we can come in and make sure no one is here who might hurt you." I look down at the child and add, "Or your son."
Her eyes follow mine to rest on the top of his dark tousled head. Her shoulders slump and she steps aside.
For all Paul's "women have to carry their own weight" talk, he makes sure he is the first to enter. I grew up in a military foster home, but we spent several years based in the South. If a man wants to be gallant, it doesn't bother me. Besides, I am his rookie. He doesn't want to get me hurt or have me make a mistake that gets him hurt.
Inside, we focus first on making sure we won't be ambushed. Paul and I draw our guns as soon as we're out of the woman's sight and work through the house, clearing it room by room. As always, my pulse does a stutter at the bathroom door. Old demons.
Nobody jumps up out of the bathtub or the linen closet. But the rear door in the kitchen has been forced open.
Returning to the living room, I start to sit on the couch to take the report, but it is nasty, so I remain standing. The burn holes on the sofa arm add to my concerns for the little boy. Drinking and smoking can be a lethal combo.
"Can you tell me what happened?" I ask the woman after I've gotten the basic info on her.
She shrugs. "This man just burst in the back door."
"A man? You didn't know him?"
"Never seen him before. A white man with a dark blue ball cap."
This changes things from a domestic violence to a burglary and maybe an assault.
"What did he want?"
"He seemed surprised to see me, like he thought I wouldn't be here."
On the other side of the room, Paul squats on his heels and gravely accepts a plastic toy soldier from the little boy.
"What did you do when you saw him?" I ask, turning back to the woman.
"Went after him with a kitchen knife." She sniffs. "He won't be back."
I frown. There is no guarantee of that. "Did you cut him?" I hadn't noticed any blood anywhere.
"No, but scared the crap outta him." She lights the cigarette and belatedly glances at me. "You mind?"
I do, but it's her house, so I just try to take shallow breaths and hurry us along.
Paul hands the boy back his soldier, eliciting a shy smile. I wonder what this woman's real priorities are — her son or the bottle she obviously has a close relationship with? If there is evidence of neglect, we can take custody of the boy. But it's not an easy call to make — to leave a child in what could be a nasty environment or to snatch him away from the only family he knows.
"So," I say, "you ran him off with a knife, but he didn't threaten you or hurt you?"
"Nope. Didn't get a chance."
I'm not sure I believe she didn't know him, and I try again. "Who was he? The boy's father?"
"Lord no. He's been gone since before Daniel was born. I told you, never seen this man before."
While I finish writing the report and get a case number from the dispatcher, I try to think of some reason to go look in the refrigerator to see if she feeds the kid. He is very thin and his shirt is filthy.
Before I can pursue the thought, the dispatcher gives out a residential burglary-in-progress call less than a block away with a description — short, white male wearing a dark ball cap. Adrenaline jazzes my pulse. There is nothing routine about an "in-progress" felony call, and it's on our beat, close. It might even be the same man who broke in here.
Paul is on his feet. He glances at his watch and nods at me to answer.
Startled by Paul's abrupt movement and the voice over the radio, the little boy draws back into his mother's shadow. I hate to leave him, but I don't have a choice. There's not enough evidence to take him. I pull out the radio on my belt while we head for the door.
"Three-two-four," I say, giving the dispatcher our car. "We'll get it. Give us a 'A-alpha' on this call."
"Sorry," I say to the woman, laying a card on the coffee table with the case number for the report. "We have to take a call."
In the car, I glance at Paul's grim profile, ghostly in the glow of the patrol car's dashboard lights and computer screen. He doesn't look at me, just guns the accelerator straight down the alley. The address is in the block behind this street, and the alley will put us out halfway there. I snatch the mike from its hook on the dashboard.
"Three-two-four, we're close."
At the alley's end, Paul turns right onto the street, slams on the brakes and jerks his head. My gaze follows. A man barrels out of the night, pelting toward us on the narrow sidewalk. A short white man, he's wearing a navy ball cap pulled low and running from the direction of the burglary. No time to tell more.
Apparently seeing us at the same time we see him, he abruptly changes course, sprinting down the same alley we just cleared.
"Stay with him!" Paul says. "I'll cut him off."
Without questioning, I jump from the car. Tires squeal behind me.
For a moment, I hesitate. It seems a safer bet to stay at this end of the alley and seek cover, rather than run down a dim passageway after a possibly armed suspect. But Paul said, Stay with him, and I trust him implicitly. He's always had my back.
I draw my gun and plunge forward.
On my left, a fenced back yard gives way to the two-story house we just left. The long side runs almost the length of the narrow alley. I hope the little boy stays inside.
Along the alley's opposite side, thick bushes form a barrier. A heavy tree canopy patterns the pavement with intermittent patches of darkness. At the far end, the single working streetlight dimly exposes the suspect needling through broken shadows.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "House of Rose"
Copyright © 2018 T.K. Thorne.
Excerpted by permission of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc.
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