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Rough Justice

Rough Justice

by Brad Smith
Rough Justice

Rough Justice

by Brad Smith


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Carl Burns returns to his hometown to uncover a viper’s nest of corruption and dark secrets in this tense and twisting novel of suspense: first in a brand-new series.

After ten years’ absence and a spell in prison, Carl Burns has returned to his hometown of Rose City to offer support to his estranged daughter Kate, currently one of four witnesses testifying against former Mayor Joseph Sanderson III, who stands accused of multiple counts of underage rape.

Carl is determined to get justice for Kate, whatever it takes. But with his former sister-in-law Frances his only ally, he finds himself incurring the wrath of powerful enemies as he attempts to uncover the shocking truth beneath the layers of corruption and lies which engulf the town.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847516695
Publisher: Severn House Publishers
Publication date: 11/01/2016
Series: A Carl Burns Thriller , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Brad Smith was born and raised in southern Ontario, and now lives near the north shore of Lake Erie. He is the author of seven previous novels, including three Virgil Cain mysteries, All Hat, which was made into a major feature film, and One-Eyed Jacks, which was shortlisted for the Dashiell Hammett Award.

Read an Excerpt

Rough Justice

By Brad Smith

Severn House Publishers Limited

Copyright © 2015 Brad Smith
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84751-669-5


The trial began Thursday morning. It was late spring and the day dawned cool and clear, the rising sun showing yellow-red to the east. Rose City looked nice at that time of year, bright and clean with the promise of summer on the air. The lake was blue-green under the morning light, the April floods having long since abated. The city parks along the shore sprouted tulips and lilies and mums. Sailboats were docked at the Lancaster Club and the bars along Fremont Street were opening their outdoor patios, the umbrellas and awnings popping up like the flowers in the park.

Kate woke up just past seven, and lay there in bed for a time thinking. Looking out her bedroom window after rising, to the faultless sky, she told herself it was a good day for beginnings. A good day to take him down.

She had decided a couple of days earlier what she would wear, settling on a black knee-length skirt and a maroon silk blouse. She had a jacket to go with the skirt in the front hall closet. Thomas Grant, the prosecutor, had suggested only that she dress conservatively. She assumed the other three women had been given the same instruction. Grant wasn't specific on the question of wardrobe and Kate hadn't expected him to be. He came across as being more substance than style. A tall slump-shouldered man in his fifties, with thinning black hair and a bit of a gut, he himself favored standard two-piece suits of dark blue or brown. Kate doubted he thought much to what was in fashion. His conversations with her had been straight and to the point. He talked as if a conviction was inevitable.

David was making pancakes when she went down to the kitchen. The table was set and beside her plate was a white rose that looked as if it had spent the night in the fridge. Kate picked up the flower and held it to her nose a moment. It smelled faintly of leftover pizza. She moved over to kiss David as he whipped the batter with a wooden spoon.

'You're a sweetheart,' she said.

'Oh, I know.'

'And so humble.' She poured a cup of coffee and sat down. The morning paper was on the table.

'You made the front page,' David said. 'Bunch of nothing ... the first day of the trial, stuff like that. Browning spouting off. Time to correct this terrible wrong. Blah, blah ...'

Kate looked at the story. There was a file picture of the old man from several years back, from a past campaign no doubt, and one of lawyer Browning exiting a courthouse somewhere, his heavy-lidded eyes and jowly face turned to the camera, his expression confident while at the same time contemptuous of the media he was facing. Kate was named in the article, as well as the other three 'accusers', as the paper awkwardly referred to them. Reading between the lines, one might conclude that the reporter was of the opinion that Joseph Sanderson III – or The Mayor, as he was widely known – was the victim of frivolous charges, and that those charges would be dismissed forthwith. Kate realized, though, that she was hardly unbiased enough to be interpreting anyone else's leanings. The phone rang and she reached for it.

'Hey, there.' It was Frances, her voice raised against some clattering racket in the background. 'Just calling to tell you I'm thinking about you. I'll see you down there later.'

'What's all the noise?' Kate asked.

'I'm out in the barn. Just changed the plugs in the cultivator and now Perry thinks he's adjusting the carb.'

'I was going to do that,' Kate said.

'That's pretty good,' Frances said. 'Except you wouldn't know a cultivator from a laying hen.' She paused a moment. 'You OK?'

'I'm good.'

'Walk in that courtroom with your head up.'

'You really don't have to tell me that.'

'I know. I couldn't think of anything profound though so I kind of went Jimmy Stewart on you. I'll see you there.'

'You're my favorite aunt, Frances.'

'I'm your only aunt. And I love you.'


She hung up the phone as David brought her the pancakes. She had no appetite but began to eat anyway, partly because he had gone to the trouble and partly because she knew it was going to be a long day and she needed to eat. After a moment, he sat down across from her with his own plate.

'Can I cook or what?' he said as he made a show of digging in.

'You added water to a box of mix,' she told him.

'And I did it beautifully.' He chewed a mouthful and then swallowed, watching her. 'Nervous?' he asked.


She took a drink of coffee and looked back at him. He hadn't shaved yet and she could see the spot on his right jaw line – a perfect circle the size of a dime – where his whiskers refused to grow.

'Relieved,' she said then.

'Yeah?' he said. 'Why's that?'

'Because it's here,' she said. 'All these years, it's like I've been out there in the ... I don't know ... in the wilderness. Who's the guy in the Bible who was in the wilderness?'

'Moses,' David said. 'Moses was the guy in the wilderness.'

'So I was raised a heathen.' Kate shrugged. 'Point is – one way or the other, I'll be finished with it. I don't have to think about it every morning, I don't have to have this fucked-up reaction every time I see his picture in the paper.' She paused. 'Wondering if it was my fault.'

'You were fifteen years old.'

'I know. But the question's always there.' She stood up and walked to the counter for more coffee. 'You don't know what to think because you've got nothing to compare it to.'

'I'll tell you what I think,' David said, and he stood up. 'I think you're my hero.'

'Dale Earnhardt's your hero,' she said. She took his face in her hands and kissed him. 'You're going to have to shave and put on a clean shirt if you're walking into that courtroom with me.'

'OK.' He turned to go.

'How long was this Moses dude out there in the wilderness?' she asked.

'Forty years.'

'Shit,' she said. 'I guess I got off easy.'

Miles Browning was fastening the Shelby knot in his tie when the phone rang and the caller announced that his car was waiting. Browning gave the tie a final inspection and took his pants from the back of a chair and pulled them on. He slipped into the suit jacket and stepped into the bathroom for a quick look at his hair and then gathered his briefcase and left the room. He shared the elevator with three software salesmen who were in town for some sort of convention. They were comparing hangovers when Browning got on. One of the salesmen, red-eyed, his chin bleeding from a razor cut, asked if he was there for the convention.

'I'm afraid not,' he said, without looking at the trio. When the elevator stopped he was the first off.

The waiting car was a three-year-old Buick. Browning had instructed his assistant to procure a used vehicle to transport The Mayor and himself to and from the courtroom. With the media this trial would attract – had already attracted, in fact – it wouldn't do for the accused and his counsel to arrive every day in a new Mercedes or BMW, especially when the accusers were working-class women. The Buick was a rental and it fit the bill.

The Mayor was in the back seat of the car as Browning slid in, placing his briefcase on the seat. The driver was a pretty young woman, no more than twenty-five. She had blond hair tucked beneath a poor boy's cap. Browning looked at her face in the rear-view mirror for a moment before turning to The Mayor.


'Good morning,' The Mayor said. 'Sleep well?'

'I did,' Browning replied. 'And you, Joseph?'

'Like a baby. I feel like I could go ten rounds with the heavyweight champion of the world.'

'Not that anybody knows who that is these days,' Browning said.

The Mayor laughed and looked out the car window. He was wearing a navy blue suit, with a white shirt and scarlet tie. His tie clip had a Masonic symbol on it. His hand on the seat between the two men was thin and blue-veined, dotted here and there with liver spots. He was robust, though, for a man in his eighth decade; his gray eyes were sharp and he still possessed the voice of a country auctioneer.

'Say, have a look over here, Miles,' he said. 'That fieldstone building is where William Lyon Mackenzie holed up for a couple of days back in 1837. After your guys chased him out of Toronto. There's a plaque on the opposite wall that tells all about it, or at least somebody's version of it. The place was an inn back then. Now it's an expensive restaurant with lousy food.'

'But one with provenance,' Browning said. 'Does the plaque say whether William and the boys paid their bill?'

'I'm afraid it does not,' The Mayor said. 'History is little concerned with such ... minor indiscretions. Don't you agree?' The old man turned to Browning as he asked this.

'I suppose.'

'History judges on a larger scale. History forgives.'

The courthouse was of recent construction, a forgettable design of glass and concrete located on the east edge of the downtown core, where most of the old buildings had been torn down and replaced in the past twenty or thirty years. There was a sizable assembly of media out in front – TV, radio, print – and there were vans bearing station logos parked haphazardly on the street, cables running here and there, monitors mounted on tripods. Browning glanced at the throng as the Buick pulled to the curb and the driver got out. He watched her as she walked around to open the door.

'I don't know who chose our driver, but this is her last day,' he said to The Mayor.

The Mayor regarded the pretty blond woman a moment and he nodded. Eight or ten reporters closed in on the two men as they stepped out of the Buick.

'You can engage,' Browning said quietly, 'but keep moving.'

'Mr Mayor,' a man holding a microphone called out. 'How are you feeling about today?'

'Happy,' Sanderson told him.

'Happy?' This from two or three people.

The Mayor and Browning moved through the crowd. 'Happy to finally put these charges to rest,' The Mayor said. 'To speak my piece at long last. I've been living in silence for nearly two years.' He smiled. 'You guys know better than anybody how alien a concept that is for me.'

'Did you rape these women?' a woman reporter asked. Browning looked for the call letters on her microphone but the mike was turned away from him.

'Of course not,' The Mayor said.

'Mr Browning!' the first reporter called. Browning saw now that the man was from RCTV. He recognized him from the previous night's newscast. Browning slowed slightly, turned toward him.

'How do you like your client's chances?' the man shouted.

'His chances?' Browning replied. 'This is not a lottery. I'm not interested in chance. I'm interested in truth. And the truth is that these charges against my client should never have seen the light of day. This is character assassination, pure and simple. But you needn't take my word for it. Stick around and you'll see it is so.'

He and The Mayor reached the steps and it occurred to Browning that the old man was purposefully lagging, enjoying the ride. He was back on the stage he'd strutted for so long, back in the game he'd played so well. For the press, opportunity was fast slipping away and questions were flying now.

'Are these women lying, then?'

'What are their motivations?'

'Is there a civil suit in the works?'

'Mr Browning, what are your expectations?'

Browning, cherry picking, got the question he wanted. He stopped just outside the main doors to the courthouse. The Mayor stopped too, his expression one of calm benevolence.

'My expectations?' Browning repeated. 'Why, thank you for asking me that question. Perhaps I should apologize for being such a simple man, but I expect the same thing every time I walk into a courtroom.' He paused, waiting for the question. He seemed impatient, waiting for the reporter's intellect to catch up with his.

'And what is that?'

'Justice,' Browning said.

And he and The Mayor went inside.

Kate was meeting the other three women for the first time. This was by design, as the prosecution was determined that the defense would have no grounds to suggest any collaboration among the four. In pre-trial discussions, Browning had gone a step further and requested that any three of the accusers not be allowed in the courtroom while the fourth was testifying. Judge Oliver Pemberton – who'd been brought in from Ottawa to preside – had considered and then dismissed the motion, reasoning that the four would be giving testimony on four separate incidents, with no common evidence tying one to another. When Browning had argued that each might still appropriate from the others, whether in detail or inference, the judge had reminded him that the women's statements were already in the disclosure, and that any straying from those statements would, in fact, be detrimental to the prosecution's case. And that had been that, although Browning, in defeat, did not seem particularly dismayed by the fact.

Prosecutor Thomas Grant had an office down a wide hallway from the main courtroom and it was there that Kate met the others. She guessed the other three women to be anywhere from thirty to forty years old. Maria Secord was dark-haired, slightly heavy, attractive and outgoing. She had a harsh smoker's voice, and a tattoo on her neck that she'd managed to hide partially with a turtleneck sweater. There were rougher edges that the sweater did not hide. Debra Williams was tall and rail thin. She had washed-out blue eyes, and lank blond hair. She wore an inexpensive suit of ivory cotton. She worked as an assistant golf pro somewhere in the city, Kate had been told, and she had the cool detached manner of someone who'd grown up around country clubs, even though that apparently wasn't true. She spoke in clipped sentences and had a look of resolve about her that seemed practiced yet not quite perfected. Amanda Long was the quiet one; she was quite overweight and had beautiful brown eyes that never rested, darting from place to place like those of a feral cat looking for escape. She wore a long sweater dress over pants. Her fingernails were bitten to the quick, her fingertips red and raw from the effort.

The four of them sat uncomfortably in Grant's office, on hard wooden chairs which lined the wall, while the prosecutor sat on the edge of his desk and talked to them. He told them the case would be a marathon, not a sprint, and that it would ebb and flow along the way. Piling on the metaphors, he described a criminal trial as a series of skirmishes, and he went on to say that whoever won the key skirmishes would win the war. He advised them, most emphatically, not to lose their tempers under cross-examination, that doing so would be playing into Browning's hands. Saying this, he looked pointedly at first Maria and then Kate. He concluded by emphasizing that they held a distinct advantage in what was to come because they – and not Joseph Sanderson III – were telling the truth.

The speech came off as a pep talk and was uncharacteristic of Grant, at least of what Kate had seen of the man, and she wondered if he was trying to convince himself of their chances, as much as them. As he was speaking, she glanced from time to time at the other three women, trying to decide who might be the weak link in the bunch, wondering if it might be her. But she didn't feel that way, not at this moment. Then again, it had yet to begin.

And then it did. It was like a blur, moving single file down the hallway and into the noisy courtroom, where a dozen conversations merged into a jangle of words each indistinguishable from the other, the talkers gathered in groups – clerks and lawyers and spectators and cops. The chatter subsided briefly as they entered, as nearly everyone turned for a first look at the four, then the talking resumed, although at a significantly lower volume.

They were led by Grant to a long wooden table marked PROSECUTOR. There were five chairs waiting, and plastic bottles of water on the table, and legal pads, with sharpened pencils at the ready. Miles Browning was already present, installed at an identical table on the far side of the courtroom. He was leaning forward, talking to a young guy in a black suit. Between the two was Joseph Sanderson III.

The Mayor.


Excerpted from Rough Justice by Brad Smith. Copyright © 2015 Brad Smith. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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