Detroit newspaper reporter Julia Gooden returns in a twisting, superbly assured new mystery, where a brutal murder and a father’s sudden return may provide the answers she’s spent decades searching for . . . or lead deep into a fatal trap.
The past never really leaves us. Crime reporter Julia Gooden sees proof of this every day in her stories. A dark childhood, a negligent parent, early abandonment—any one of them can seal a person’s fate as either a villain or victim. Julia, who experienced all three, seems to have beaten the odds, finding happiness raising her two sons and a blossoming relationship with detective Raymond Navarro.
But now, after three decades of absence, Julia’s conman father has resurfaced to throw her life into turmoil again. Julia was only seven when Duke Gooden abruptly left. Barely a month later, her nine-year-old brother, Ben, disappeared. Ben was her hero and protector, and though the case is cold, Julia has never given up hope of finding him. Duke’s return offers vital clues—but it also makes her a target of those who intend to see Duke punished for his many sins.
When Julia investigates the death of a city councilman’s young nephew, she finds links to a string of other murders . . . and to a web of greed and kidnapping that stretches back decades. At long last, Julia may be able to discover what happened to Ben all those years ago, but only if she’s willing to risk everything in her present . . .
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
Angel Perez cursed himself for the stupid-ass Run-DMC T-shirt he was wearing. Angel had ultimately caved to his pregnant girlfriend Sophie's insistence that the shirt would make him stand out in the crowd of the other day laborers, the sorry lot of them hanging around the Dearborn Home Depot like a bunch of male prostitutes in hopes of getting scooped up by a contractor looking to assemble a work crew for the day.
Five forty-five AM. Angel squinted toward the front sliding glass doors of the store to see the first flickers of light come on and prayed he could maybe earn a hundred bucks for eight to twelve hours of sheer unadulterated, dirty grunt work. Hammer, drywall, swig of Mountain Dew, take a piss, repeat.
A small trickle of wet slipped down the center of Angel's back, the first sweat of the morning, making his T-shirt stick to his skin like Velcro. Angel knew this kind of predawn summer heat meant one thing: by ten AM it would be a full-fledged swamp-ass kind of day, a phrase his dad used to use when the two of them were safely out of earshot from Angel's mom, as father and son had worked to replace the worn roof of their house seven years earlier.
Angel scanned the nearly empty parking lot a second time for any possible contractors he could approach and remembered how his dad had taught him the essential home DIY repair skills as a young teen as the two had worked to fix up their own place before his father started drinking and his childhood home was still theirs before the bank took it. The experience had left Angel with shadowy, happy memories of his dad and a pretty decent residual skill of being handy when he had to be.
"Son of a bitch," Angel said as the off-ramp continued to come up empty with cars. Angel closed his eyes and made a silent promise to himself that he wouldn't have to resort to bullshit manual labor jobs much longer.
A low rumble of hunger echoed through his empty belly, and Angel wondered how he and Sophie would make it through the rest of the week if he didn't get work today. The rent on their studio apartment was paid up through the month, and there was still a bottle of milk and some cold cuts and fruit he had left in the fridge for his girl, but they needed the extra money to pay out of pocket for Sophie's twelve-week pregnancy appointment with her doctor. They were close, man, so close. That's what Angel had gently whispered to a half-awake Sophie, who was curled up on their twin-sized mattress that lay on the floor. Angel realized he needed the positive reminder just as much as his girl did. Three more courses at Henry Ford Community College and then he'd have a job with his uncle Edgar in City Hall after he graduated with a degree in website design. His uncle Edgar was a tough man. No degree, no special favors including connecting Angel with a decent job until he earned his diploma.
"Nice shirt, dude."
Angel turned quickly to see the only other chump who had gotten to Home Depot before it opened. Angel took in the guy with the mouth and figured he was probably early thirties, tall and built, not from the gym but by an honest day's work, the kind of guy a contractor would pick first for a job instead of someone who was short and wiry, like himself. Angel turned back around and cursed under his breath as he saw a pickup truck with the name DENNIS COLE CONSTRUCTION, emblazed in red on the driver-side door, the first likely job of the day already lost to Mr. Wiseass. Angel almost felt relieved when the truck didn't approach, but instead parked on the far end of the lot, the driver killing his lights while he waited for the store to open at six.
"The guy's probably already got his team in place. Hey, I was only playing with you about your shirt, bro."
"My girl told me to wear it. She's pregnant. I've got to do what she says."
"I hear that. You were here last Tuesday, right? You were still hanging around when a bunch of us got picked up for a crew — real sweet work, too — Monday through Friday, bro, tearing down ceilings in an old warehouse in the city. All kinds of shit came flying down when we tore it up. Probably asbestos and other crap that will kill you. But we do what we gotta do to make money. You know what I'm sayin'?"
"I got work last week, too," Angel said, not bothering to shield the defensiveness in his voice. Besides, it wasn't a lie. A contractor had finally picked Angel, but he surely wasn't going to share with Mr. Asshole Bigmouth that it was because the only other guy still standing had a gut on him that looked like his diet consisted of a steady intake of Ho Hos and Budweiser.
"Tell you what, bro. It's dead right now. I got a thermos of coffee in my car. You want some?"
Angel tried not to look at the off-ramp and tip his hand as he saw a white van coming off the highway and heading in their direction.
"Yeah, sure. That would be great."
"Good. I'm Jose. No hard feelings about the shirt, right?"
"We got no beef. Better go get that coffee before it gets cold," Angel said, and let out a deep exhale as Jose turned his back and headed to a parking area on the other side of the store just as the white van entered the lot. It slowed down for a second in front of the store, and then continued on until the vehicle came to a stop alongside Angel.
The passenger-side window cranked open, and Angel took in the contractor, a giant man with a long, black braid that trailed down his back and the still-angry pink flesh that looked like it never quite healed from a deep scar cut in the shape of a crescent that started at the corner of the contractor's left eye and descended down in a jagged hook until it ended at the man's jawline. The contractor smiled, showing off a set of gleaming white teeth against his olive skin, and Angel figured the man about to hire him must be Native American.
"You looking for work?" the big man asked. "I got a roofing job in downtown Detroit in the Lafayette neighborhood. Two days minimum. I just need one more guy for my crew. We start bright and early at seven. I don't tolerate slackers, but you being here before the store even opens, that gives me a real good feeling about you, even though you're a little dude. You up for the job?"
"I'm a hard worker," Angel said, really wanting to tell the contractor to go screw himself for the comment about his size. "What's the pay?"
"One hundred for the full day. We work until five. One half-hour break. It looks like you didn't bring your lunch. Don't be expecting me to feed you. If I like how you work, you can come back tomorrow, and I'll give you one twenty-five."
"Deal," Angel said, and climbed into the passenger seat just as Jose came around the corner with his thermos and two paper cups. The big contractor hit the gas and Angel didn't bother to suppress a smile as Jose shot him the finger as the van passed him.
"Friend of yours?" the man asked. He reached into his worn denim shirt breast pocket and pulled out a cigarette.
"No. The guy seemed like a douche. Hey, your van's empty. You got all your supplies at the work site already?"
The contractor stuck the tan tip of a Camel cigarette between his thick, dry lips and gestured toward the glove compartment. "Yup. Started the job yesterday. Do me a favor. Reach in there and grab my lighter."
Angel bent down far in his seat and worked for a good minute to pop the sticky glove compartment and felt a bead of sweat form on his brow as he realized the contractor was likely judging his shitty performance.
"Got it," Angel cried with a note of triumph in his voice, which he realized sounded lame as soon as it came out of his mouth. Angel shoved his hand quickly inside the glove compartment to retrieve the lighter, and in his haste to please his temporary boss, accidentally knocked a white envelope to the floor. A half-dozen photographs spilled out, obscene stills of what looked like young men and teenage boys posed against a tree, their eyes fixed with the look of coming death. In each photo, the shaft of an arrow jutted out from the young men's chests in what looked like the precise same spot.
"You saw," the man said.
"No ... I didn't see anything. I swear," Angel answered, trying as hard as he could to sound like everything was perfectly normal. But Angel's voice cracked on his last word, betraying his realization that he was trapped in a car with a likely monster that kept a cache of macabre souvenirs of his gruesome handiwork. Angel's eyes darted to the passenger-side window where he watched the road underneath him blur as his mind scrambled to come up with an escape plan. Angel could hear the big Indian begin to chant in a strange language and realized his only hope of survival would be to jump out of the moving vehicle. Angel slid his hand toward the right front pocket of his jeans for his keys, his only possible weapon, when the big Indian spoke again, his deep voice sounding like a potent, heavy thundercloud closing in.
"Doesn't matter if you did or you didn't. The outcome would still be the same."
The van picked up speed as it hugged the on-ramp to the highway. Angel swallowed hard and grabbed the door handle just as the locks snapped in place.
"Please, man! My girl is pregnant. You let me go and, I swear, I won't say anything," Angel begged, but the big Indian's mammoth fist came down like a bloody hammer before Angel could say another word.
* * *
It was a fever dream, it had to be, one of the really bad ones where his temperature scooted up past 105, when his mom would wake Angel up from the nightmare and hand-feed him spoonfuls of tomato soup and sips of cold water from a straw.
Angel's eyes felt sticky and his left one was swollen shut. He pried his good eye open and was hit with a sickly reality that was worse than the incessant pounding in his head as he recalled the big Indian and the pictures in the van. He quickly took in his surroundings and realized he was on the floor of a small room, wedged in the corner of the tiny space in a fetal position. Angel tried to open his mouth to speak, but his tongue felt lazy and fat as if it was affixed to the sides of his teeth.
"You're up," the big Indian said. "The small ones usually wake up sooner, since the big ones soak up the drugs real slow because of all their body fat."
Angel felt a single tear slide from his right eye and stared straight ahead at a series of tiny, scuffed letters someone had etched like a desperate SOS into the floor border directly in front of him. Angel heard the big man's footsteps thump purposefully in his direction. Before the giant hands pulled him to his feet, Angel silently read the message: Ben Gooden was here.
* * *
Angel couldn't remember how he got into the middle of the woods, or how long he had been in the little house, but it was night now, pure dark with a blanket of clouds hanging thick and low, shielding any light from the stars that could help him find his way out. Angel looked down at the wide swath of not quite dried blood on his Run-DMC T-shirt. His fuzzy mind was alert just enough to give him one instruction.
The woods seemed eerily silent as Angel tried to make his escape, but the drugs and the pummeling he took in the van from the Indian slowed him down to an uneven, inebriated gait.
With each step, Angel began to remember the big Indian, who had been dressed in all black with dark smudges of paint that seemed to nearly erase his face, telling Angel he'd give him a five-minute lead before he started the hunt.
"Get it together," Angel panted. He forced his eyes to focus and realized he was in the middle of a clearing, making him an easy target. Angel lumbered awkwardly toward a thicket of trees, his judgment still intact enough to realize if he couldn't run, he could at least hide.
"Chak, chak, chak!" a bird called out its warning.
"Blackbirds aren't red," Angel heard himself say as what appeared to be a large bloodred blackbird swoop down in his direction at breakneck speed. Angel put his hands over his head to protect himself from the oncoming assault, but the bird made a sharp ascent at the last second and was swallowed up into the night sky.
"Shit, man. I'm hallucinating. I've got to get my head straight."
A hum of mosquitoes, a likely new batch ready to feast on Angel's exposed forearms, whined in the near distance. Angel instinctively began swatting at his arms when the sound intensified, not a hum from mosquitoes he realized, but the sound of an object moving at a high rate of speed like it was splitting the air.
Angel felt the steel head of the arrow pierce his chest, and he dropped to his knees. The pain was enormous, like nothing he'd ever felt before, and his heart seemed to quiver in an agonizing, unnatural beat. Angel watched helplessly as the big Indian appeared from behind a tree and pulled a camera out from his waist pack.
"It hurts, I know. The head of the arrow pierced your heart. I'm a perfect shot, but just to be sure, I always lace my arrows with a little something extra."
Angel realized he was being dragged across the clearing. His chest felt like it would explode, and his heart would spring from his body, as the poison the big Indian had added to the arrow was quickly working its way through his system. Angel slumped forward and retched on himself, throwing up his own blood.
The big Indian dragged Angel's body to a giant oak, ready to pose him for his death shot. Angel started to think of his girl, Sophie, but the image of her face seemed to fly away and was replaced by a little boy, maybe nine years old, running through the woods for all he was worth, away from a man who looked like a younger version of the big Indian. Angel could see the boy, bathed in black and white like he was starring in a vintage slasher movie, breathing hard as his lean arms and legs ducked under branches and weaved carefully through the dense woods until he reached a road. An older-model car, which somehow looked brand-new, screeched to a stop as the boy ran in front of its path, and he waved his small hands in the air so the vehicle would be forced to see him.
"Please stop! I've got to get home before they get my sister!" the boy cried out.
Angel felt his torso being propped up against a tree. As the flash from the big Indian's camera lit up a few feet away from him, Angel felt like crying when he saw the image of the car veer to the other lane to avoid the little boy and then speed away.
Not to be defeated, the little boy ran as fast as he could and skimmed the tree line along the side of the road to avoid being seen by the big Indian. The boy followed the bend in the road up ahead of him; and when the child disappeared from sight, Angel let out one last whisper before he died, "I hope the Ben boy made it."
Julia Gooden needed to do the first five-mile loop around Belle Isle Park alone. The unforgiving Detroit morning summer heat made her long, dark ponytail feel slick against her back, but Julia refused to let up on her punishing pace. She pushed herself even harder as she gained ground on two early-thirtysomething male joggers whom she had seen check her and another woman out earlier in the parking lot, the two men snickering like two junior-high-school boys as one obviously said something lewd about Julia to his buddy as they stretched out by their Beemer convertible, a flashy red car with an obnoxious license plate that read C YABABY.
Julia felt a screaming burn in her calf muscles, but ignored the pain. The Dossin Great Lakes Museum became a blur as she sprinted past it and edged her way toward the two Beemer guys ahead of her on the path. The men were likely a few years younger than Julia, who was thirty-seven, but she had no plans of letting them win. Being a crime reporter in the city of Detroit for almost fifteen years, Julia knew how to read people in an instant, and she'd bet her life that neither of the two men had to learn the cold, hard lessons she was forced to as a child, that she'd have to fight like hell each and every day just to survive. Julia smiled as she easily outpaced the two men and gave them a victory wave over her shoulder, not bothering to look back as she pounded ahead of them on the trail. Julia had survived several attempts on her life in recent years, and she surely wasn't going to let two prissy guys who thought it was okay to talk smack about women beat her.
Julia looked out at the Detroit River as she looped past the Coast Guard Station and took in the Canadian shoreline in the far distance. Belle Isle was the city's largest public park, and at 983 acres, it was even bigger than Central Park in New York. While the city of Detroit underwent the decline of the automobile industry, a painful bankruptcy, and a scourge of blight as homes and entire neighborhoods on its outskirts were abandoned, leaving many areas of the city looking like a postapocalyptic urban jungle, Belle Isle Park somehow remained untouched. It was far enough away from the city, its only physical point of connection to Detroit being the Douglas MacArthur Bridge, and provided Julia the comfort of anonymity. That was exactly what Julia wanted, a place large enough so that when she met up with her running partner, it would be unlikely that she'd bump into anyone else she knew.
Excerpted from "Worth Killing For"
Copyright © 2018 Jane Haseldine.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.