Homicide detective Sam Harper is torn between guilt and suspicion after his partner is shot and killed in what should have been a routine pick-up for questioning. Determined to find his late partner’s killer, Harper has plunged back into his work when he is called to investigate infant’s skeletal remains found in an abandoned building. The evidence in the Baby Doe case leads Harper to unearth murky secrets involving those he respects most. His former partner, his revered boss -- even his police hero father are under suspicion if drug-dealing, corruption, rape, and murder and an unexpected connection to his partner’s death.For the first time in his life, Harper must stand alone in a fog of lies where dangerous truths loom forth and the boundaries between pursuer and prey blur. Harper is left to decide how far he must go to hunt down the answers and what he will he do when he finds them. The truths Harper uncovers leaves him with a sense he can trust no one, not even himself.
Marta gives an overview of the book:
© Marta Stephens 2007, All Rights Reserved
The hour-long sessions started at nine in the morning, twice a week, whether narcotics detective, Sam Harper liked it or not. The only good thing about this damp and cold Massachusetts morning was that it marked the midpoint of Harper’s commitment. Internal Affairs had drilled him for three days in a row. Now the police shrink wanted a piece of him. He was sick of her dogged questions. That was his job, to wear the other guy down. Three sessions left, three hours of digging into his past, into the events of that night – that goddamned night.
Neither the mild vanilla scent floating up from a flickering candle on the doctor’s desk nor the subtle gurgle bubbling from a tabletop fountain were doing their job to relax him. Harper rubbed the arms of the leather chair with his thumb as he calculated his next move. He stared at her and finally broke the silence.
“You ever kill a man, Doc?” A subtle twitch of her brow told him he had her attention. “A split second. That’s all it takes, pull the trigger, and whoosh! He’s gone.”
Dr Brannon lowered her gaze and resumed her scribbling. The navy overstuffed chair seemed to swallow her small frame.
“Why did you go there?”
“Mellow was our only link in the case. At least that’s what Gillies thought. He told me every damned thing hinged on getting to Mellow before homicide got their hands on him.”
“And you had reservations?”
Harper looked away as the Chandler Police Department psychiatrist took notes of his crumbling life.
“Does it matter?” His glance swept up to the dark panelled wall behind her desk. Framed certificates hung in an orderly row like crows on a wire. They mapped out her qualification and gave credence to her ego.
He didn’t need her to question his motives or to dig into his past and drag the memories of that night to the surface. They were there, frozen in Harper’s mind – the second he got off his round. He’d never forget the blast or the hammering rain beating against his face. The look of Frank Gillies’ lifeless eyes had scorched itself into his memory. Harper leaned forward and dropped his head. Fists jammed against his eyes as if to rub out the intruding images. He had spun the moment any number of ways, but the outcome never changed.
Brannon crossed her legs. She folded her hands and tapped her fingertips. She watched in silence, waiting to analyze his next thoughts.
“You do realize you don’t go back to work without these sessions.” She picked up the notepad again. The sound of her pen striking twice against its surface made dull impatient clicks. “Look, Detective. No one said this was going to be easy, but you have to open up. You are the only one who can do it.”
Harper didn’t buy her attempt to bring him back into the conversation. He didn’t know if he could, as she said, open up. He pursed his lips and glanced out the window.
"Damned wind’s picking up again, Doc.” He buried his mouth in the L of his thumb and index finger touching the outer corner of his eye. He rose and turned his back to hide the familiar burning that blurred his vision. Apprehension had become his unwelcome companion, a reminder of the failings he refused to accept. Anger crept in. It bubbled and seared holes into his sense of reason.
“Should’ve been me.” He closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose, and cleared his throat. “I was right in Mellow’s line of fire. The damned piece was inches from me.” The thrust of his fist made a hollow sound against his chest. “You don’t get it, do you?”
“Yes, I do. Let’s start there.”
“What’s the point? You know what happened. We’ve been over it a million times. Don’t you get tired of listening to this crap?”
“It’s the only way.”
“We can talk all you want. Won’t change a damned thing. Won’t bring him back.” He dropped back into his chair and swept a hand across the stubble he hadn’t shaved in three days. “What’re you going to do? Tell me to think happy thoughts? Will that do it? Is that going to stop the
“Tell me about them.”
“Not today.” He wrestled between his grief and growing suspicions of Gillies. What really went down five days ago in front of the Roving Dog Saloon? He jabbed a white knuckled fist onto the arm of the chair and looked away. Every sordid detail came rushing back without prodding. “It was past eleven that night when Gillies got the tip that Mellow had violated parole.”
“Come on. Gotta go.” Detective Frank Gillies rushed to Harper’s desk and slammed an opened hand against it on his way to the elevator. “The big guy just answered our prayers.”
Harper caught his partner’s grin and his thumbs up gesture. The gray had gone beyond Gillies’ temples to the mass of short locks that covered his head. Harper’s glance dropped to the new spot that had landed on his partner’s tie six hours before from a greasy burger. One of many meals that had settled around Gillies’ middle.
“Let me guess, Stewart Martin’s leaving.” Harper turned to the next page in the file. He prayed every day that Detective Martin would transfer.
“Yeah right. Soon buddy, real soon, but not tonight. Word is Mellow blew a guy’s brains out.” Gillies struggled to slip his arms through the narrow sleeves of his overcoat.
“Wasn’t he just released a couple of days ago?” Harper was unmoved by the news. Mellow was nothing to their case against Jimmy Owens. They were after the supplier, not the low-end dealer. “When was this?”
“Few minutes ago. Over on Calvert near the Trenton overpass. Homicide’s on their way. Come on.” Gillies shook his head. “Will ya put that crap down already?”
Harper turned his head in time to see a bolt of lightning crackle and spark across the eastern sky followed by a quick clap of thunder. He adjusted his sight on the windowpane and the ribbons of rain flowing down the glass. “We don’t need him.”
“He knows where to find Owens.”
“Di Napoli is on it.”
“Di Napoli can’t find his ass with both hands. Move it, Harper!” Gillies rushed toward the fourth floor elevator and jabbed the down button.
Harper glanced at his watch. It was exactly eleven twenty-five p.m. He grabbed his coat off the back of a chair and motioned to Gillies he would meet him downstairs. His partner was a master at spewing out insults. Harper wondered how he had managed to measure up to the man’s expectations when Di Napoli, the eight-year veteran undercover assigned to work with them, couldn’t. He took the steps two at a time and reached the lobby as the elevator doors opened.
“He’s out, what, four days and breaks parole?” Harper pressed Gillies. “It’s a waste of time. The guys in Homicide aren’t going to let us anywhere near him. Hell, you know what they’re like. Bunch of assholes.”
“No shit. That’s why we’re going someplace else.”
“A dive over on Howard and Third. Just got a tip the fucker’s sitting in a booth there right now.”
Harper pulled his coat collar up and looked out the glass doors. The March rains were pounding down for the fourth consecutive day. The odds on staying dry weren’t adding up in his favor. He swept a glance over to Gillies’ and caught a similar sense of hesitation before the two of them made a run for the car.
Another bolt of lightning lit the sky followed closely by a clap of loud thunder.
“Harper?” Dr Brannon leaned her head to one side. “Where did you go?” The light of a small Tiffany lamp on the corner of her credenza illuminated the right side of her face.
“Want to let me in on your thoughts? It’s just you and me here,” she said, tapping her pencil on her notepad again.
He threw back his head against the back of the couch and closed his eyes. His left foot dangled over his knee while the restless right tapped on the floor.
“Right. You, me, and that thing.” He motioned toward the tape recorder on the coffee table.
She glanced at her watch. “Cut the crap, Harper. This is your third session and you have been defiant from the very beginning. Let’s get one thing straight. I’m not out to get you, understand? The bad guys are out there.” She pointed toward the door. “You want to fight them, fine. Go ahead. But walk out that door and I’ll make sure you don’t come back.” She stared at him in icy silence. “You don’t have a choice, Detective.”
“The hell I don’t. I risk my life every goddamn day. That’s my choice just as much as it was my duty to follow my partner to the dive that night. I didn’t do anything wrong. And there’s not a damned thing you can do to change it.” Heat rushed to his face. “Who do you think you are, anyway? All you do is sit in your office and analyze the hell out of us. Where do you get off ordering me around?”
“You have a problem with authority?”
“Interesting. Let’s get back to what you were thinking a minute ago.”
He hated her self-assurance. He frowned – wished he could run. He glanced at the door then turned to focus his sight on the wet bark of the maple tree in front of the window.
“It’s spitting snow.”
“Damn it, Harper. I’m sworn to secrecy. Nothing you say leaves this room.” She paused for a moment. “I am not going to risk your confidence unless you give me reason to think you are capable of hurting yourself or others.” Again, she waited for a response. “Did you hear me?”
“Guess it’s only rain.” Guilt continued to eat at him. If only he’d shot sooner. If only he had known. If only. The questions outweighed the number of plausible answers. He rose to his feet again and paced.
“No one was supposed to get killed. Not Mellow, sure as hell not Frank.” His fingers sliced through his hair and spiked the blond strands with the random pass of his hand. The knot in the pit of his gut tightened like a vise. The sessions, the job; he had to get through one to have the other. “I just wanted the truth. What the hell was Gillies thinking?”
“He knew the risks,” she said, without taking her eyes from him. “Let’s talk a minute about you. What have you been doing with yourself?”
“What difference does it make?” He knew the drill. Sure, the shrink time was mandated, but he didn’t want to talk about himself and the baggage he had swung over his shoulder.
She remained straight-faced and waiting. There was no way around it that he could see. The doc seemed as determined to make him talk, as he was to remain evasive.
“I finished a fifth of Scotch, and when I was good and drunk, I watched soap operas. Only damned thing I know more depressing than me these days.”
“You do that often?”
“I’m fine. All right? I can handle the booze.”
“How do you know I was asking about the booze?”
She caught him off guard with that remark. How damned stupid was he anyway?
“Do you think you have a problem with it?”
Harper sized her up with a seasoned glance. Her dark green sweater set off the red tones in her hair that curved slightly beneath her chin and framed the curvature of her face. She was easy on the eyes but too damned clinical for his taste. Nothing worse than a scrutinizing shrink to kill the moment. He assumed she was in her thirties, like him, but obviously twice as smart and a lot more obnoxious. Part of him wanted to tell her about Frank Gillies, how he died, and the thoughts that had haunted him since that night. He could still hear Gillies’ voice as they ran out to the car. He fingered the change in his pocket, leaned his forehead against the cool windowpane, and tuned her out.
Harper rushed into the car and slammed the door. He wiped his face and secured the straps of his bulletproof vest.
“What’s Mellow doing in a bar?” he asked Gillies. “Is it near the scene?”
“Nah. It’s down in Avondale.” Gillies switched on the siren and cut through traffic. “Hole in the wall place smack in the middle of slum lord row.”
“That’s clear across town. How long ago was the shooting?”
“What do I look like, some fucking information sign?” Gillies growled. “How the hell should I know? Idiots in homicide can figure that one out.”
“You sure your informant has it right this time?”
“What the hell’s with ya and the million fucking questions? All we need to do is talk to the guy about Owens before homicide gets to him.”
“Doesn’t make sense,” said Harper. “Most shooters would run like hell, not stop for a drink. Besides, what makes you think he’s going to talk now when he wouldn’t before?”
“No one accused him of having brains, ya know what I’m saying, college boy? You and me, we’d be out of jobs if little shits like him had any brains.”
“Who called in the shooting?”
“Shit, Harper. Here, let me get my crystal ball out.” Gillies sneered. “That’s Homicide’s problem; I could give a rat’s ass about it.” He shook his head. “All right, look, someone in dispatch called up about the shooting. Thought we’d want to know. That’s all. Just following a lead, all right?”
Harper knew about Gillies’ connections. Not who they were or how he managed them, but that they existed. They didn’t always pan out, but the grin that split Gillies’ face and the urgency in his voice implied this one was a sure thing.
“Seems stupid of Mellow to screw up right after making parole.”
“Yeah, well, like I said, if little shits like him had brains we wouldn’t be here.”
Harper had seen anger take over people’s minds. It shoved them over the edge without saying how far or how hard they would fall. Maybe Mellow hadn’t figured the distance yet.
Gillies turned off the headlights and nosed the unmarked patrol car into position across the street from the Roving Dog Saloon. The deserted street and the rain thumping against the car roof gave a false sense of tranquility.
Harper glanced across the way at the tavern door and the red neon lights shaped like a dog just above it. The dog’s legs and tail appeared to move back and forth making him seem to rove for a good mug of beer. The sign’s light cast an eerie red glow and shimmered off the wet objects beneath it. Harper pulled up his collar, cupped his hands around his mouth, and blew warmth into them.
“What now? You’re sure he’s in there?”
Gillies winced as he watched the windshield wipers slap the water from side to side. “Only one way to find out. It’s your turn, rookie.”
“The hell it is. I ran after the scum in the Capelli case, remember? Chased the guy five blocks through a foot of snow before you cut him off with the car. You can be so damned smug sometimes. You and that stupid grin of yours. This wasn’t even my call.”
“Ah, come on. Rookies aren’t allowed to say no. Besides, you’re younger. What are ya, thirty-one, thirty-two now?”
“Cut the jabs.”
“What? What’d I say?”
“Cut the rookie and college boy bit.”
“I’m just joshing with ya. Don’t go getting sensitive on me, all right?”
“It gets old.” It was almost midnight. Harper was tired and in no mood for Gillies’ mindless humor. “Haven’t been a rookie in years.”
“Is that so?” Gillies chuckled and threw him a playful punch. “All right. Listen. Ya don’t even have to talk to the asshole. Just see if he’s in there. Don’t want him running out the back or nothing and have to chase the little creep in this shit.”
“That’s it, huh?” Harper leaned his head against the window and watched the rain. “It’s not letting up.”
“Go on. It’ll take ya two minutes. We’ll wait him out. Ask him a few questions and go home.”
“Was that a typical surveillance?” asked Brannon. Expressionless eyes studied him from behind a set of silver framed reading glasses.
“No. We always worked together before. That night.” Harper shook his head. “Nothing made sense. One minute we’re just going to talk to the guy. Next thing I know I’ve got two fatalities to answer for and I don’t know what in the hell happened.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“We didn’t need Mellow to get Owens. Gillies knew it as well as I did. He acted as if we were the only ones on the case. There was a whole team of us including some undercover. But Gillies, he was so bent on going after Mellow that night. It was almost as if …”
“He wouldn’t take no for an answer. What the hell was I supposed to do? He was the senior partner. Had to trust his judgment.”
“That’s what we’re supposed to do, trust each other.” Harper lowered his glance. “That night, after it was over, I checked with dispatch.” He swallowed hard. “There was no shooting reported anywhere on or near the Trenton overpass.”
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense novels. Her debut book, SILENCED CRY, was released by BeWrite Books (UK) in April 2007. Look for the next in the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series, THE BLACK PEARL in 2008. Stephens resides with her family in the US Midwest.
I live in the Midwest and have been writing crime mysteries/suspense for several years. I'm with a small independent press from the UK who published my debut novel, SILENCED CRY, in April 2007. The second in my Sam Harper Crime series will hit the shelves in the fall of 2008...