Price of Justice
by Alan Behr
Price of Justice is a crime thriller about two people dealing with personal loss, each from a different perspective. A widowed police detective vows to be a father and mother figure to his young daughter while solving a series of related murders, and a female police crime analyst with a dark secret and a mission: vengeance.
Drawn together by their tragic backgrounds, the two team up to hunt down a killer and a group of lowlife criminals linked together by a mysterious figure known as the CEO. At the same time, two corrupt police commanders do everything in their power to slow the detective’s investigation and end his career. Meanwhile, the analyst’s secret threatens to derail both her life and the investigation. When the detective’s daughter is abducted by the killer and the analyst is taken hostage, the detective is faced with the ethical dilemma of his life, forcing him to rethink the value of playing by the rules.
Retail Price: $17.95
TAA Sale Price: $14.95
“There’s no way out of the desert except through it.”
—old African proverb
Looking down the black barrel of his service weapon, Detective Jason Scarsdale saw the promise of peace. Just pull the trigger, flick out the lights and rest. He didn’t sleep, he didn’t eat, and he couldn’t work. His mind had room only for Charity. He saw the fingers of his right hand on the trigger guard, his left clutching the grip. With deliberation, he shifted his hold to adjust his wedding ring so that the three diamonds were showing. She had bought it for their first anniversary and, after the Catholic priest blessed it, had placed it on his ring finger in a reaffirmation of their vows. She told him the three diamonds signified the Holy Trinity. She said the Trinity would protect them, keeping their union intact as they grew old and feeble.
Now Charity was dead. Killed four weeks ago. Dead at twenty-eight. Dead because of him.
When they first met, he knew right away he wanted to be with her for the rest of his life but it took a while to win her over. He was older and she had reservations about being a cop’s wife. But in the end he had won her heart. Charity had completed him—and he hadn't even known he was incomplete.
What was left was only a shadowy portion. Without Charity there was no warm and intimate place to retreat from the stark realities of police work, no one concerned or waiting for him after a long day of work, no one to share the joys life offered. It was so empty. Who would leave Hershey’s Kisses on his dashboard each morning—the dark kind because she knew that was his favorite. Who would text 'goodnight, I love you' when he was on a late night stake out.
And who would need him for all the little things. Who would he comfort and hold close on cold nights and for whom would he repair all the little things, run errands . . . except that's where he'd failed and he wasn't sure he could live with that failure.
He tried to imagine the future without her. Family and friends said time heals, but time was his enemy. All he could see was an eternity of black emptiness. To him, each minute of each day for the past four weeks had felt the same; empty, except for the pain. Daytime or nighttime—it didn’t matter.
He lifted the gun and opened his mouth, jerking violently as his cell phone rang. His eyes went to the dashboard where he kept it. The display read Home.
He stared at it, wrapping his head around that word Home. He took a deep breath and exhaled.
Mechanically, he laid the gun in his lap, and picked up the phone.
His eyes were riveted on the gun, his voice a flat monotone.
“Jason, are you okay? You didn’t eat anything. You walked out of here like a zombie.”
"Not hungry. Got no appetite." Sarah was his sister, three years his junior. Despite every terrible thing he had done to her when they were kids, from putting frogs and lizards in her bed to blowing up her favorite doll with a cherry bomb, she was always there for him. She wasn’t stronger, but she was kinder. She never held onto things like he did.
“Trust me,” Sarah said. “Things will get better. It’ll just take time.”
He traced the contour of the gun. “Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know anymore.”
A few seconds of silence passed.
“There’s someone here who wants to talk to you.”
“Jason! Who do you think? Does a certain little five-year old named Shannon ring a bell?”
“Is she all right?”
“Of course. She just wants to ask you something. Hang on.”
Shannon. He hadn’t been there for her. Never was a good father. Now, with Charity gone, he was good for nothing. He heard Sarah calling for Shannon. “Honey, your daddy’s on the phone.”
“Daddy!” Shannon said excitedly. “Aunt Sarah read me a story about Narnia.”
Shannon’s image filled his mind. The day in the hospital when he first laid eyes on his new-born daughter, when he first held her in his arms. “She did? That’s great.” He fought the urge to cry.
“When are you coming home, Daddy? I miss you.”
“I miss you too, Princess, but I can’t make it home right now. I’m working on a case. But I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
His police cell buzzed. He glanced at the screen. It was his partner, Sean Harris.
“Sweetheart, I have to hang up. I’ll see you tonight.”
“Daddy, will you read me more about Narnia tonight?”
“Of course I will.”
“You promise?” she asked, anxiously.
“I promise,” he said, and knew that he meant it.
He laid his cell down and pressed the Talk button on the police phone.
A moment of silence on the line and then Harris spoke up, his voice tentative. "Where are you, buddy?"
Scarsdale looked around. In front of him was the Zilker Park pool, closed for the season. He turned to see a single jogger pass by. His lips tipped in the tiniest wry smile at the sight of an older couple strolling along a walking path, smiles on their faces, her hand holding his arm while her head rested on his shoulder. Life just went merrily on. He looked at the gun now resting in his lap.
“You feel up to working a kiddie diddler case with me?”
A long silence.
Scarsdale pushed the revolver firmly into its holster. "Yeah. Meet me at the station."
“I’m already there, buddy,” Harris said.
Harris leaned across the seat and opened the passenger door for Scarsdale. Harris was a heavy-set man with grey stubble around the sides of his shaved head, and eyes that viewed the world with a wary kindness reserved for the proven few.
As they drove away, Scarsdale stared straight ahead, his clenched fists planted on his thighs. With a tremendous effort of will he focused his thoughts on Shannon. Charity had taken the lead being a parent and role model for their daughter. Now it all fell on his shoulders, and he didn’t have a clue how to do it, but starting now no more guy's nights out, no more football Sundays. From here on, Shannon was the reason, the center of his universe.
"Almost ate your gun, didn't you?"
It was more statement than question and Scarsdale felt a weight lift at the plainly spoken fact. God forgive me, I almost did. I almost left my child alone.
They drove a while in silence.
“It should have been me in that car,” Scarsdale said.
The whole afternoon played in his head again, like it had so many times since patrol officers came to his door with the news. It felt strange to him because he always figured, being a cop, he’d be the one to die, not Charity.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Harris said.
“It was my fault. She asked me to—” Scarsdale took a deep breath and let it out. “. . . go to the store.” He stared out the side window. “I begged off. Too damn busy watching the play-off game,” he said quietly. “She gave me a kiss on the cheek, asked who was winning, then left.” He glanced at Harris. “I should have been the one in that car.”
“How’s Shannon doing?” Harris asked.
“She cries a lot at night. But she’s getting better. Sarah’s going back to Waco Thursday evening, so I’ve got to find a babysitter. Know any good ones? Really good ones? I don’t want some gum-chewing teenybopper.”
“Haven’t needed one for quite a while but I’ll check with Mary. Have you asked around the department? A lot of our civilians post stuff on the bulletin board. Try that.”
Scarsdale nodded, etching the task into his memory. He’d need someone available to pick Shannon up from kindergarten, too, on those days when a case prevented him from doing so himself. Or to come in at short notice when he had one of those late night investigations working.
“How many cases did Lieutenant Mitchell pile on your desk?” Harris asked.
“Too many. You recall that citizen’s complaint about kids buying porn from Blue Cloud Adult Books and Videos?” He looked at Harris.
Harris cast a sideways look of surprise at him. “He gave you that crap? Patrol should have handled that.”
“Yeah, tell me about it. How old is the victim in this case?” Scarsdale asked as Harris pulled up to the curb before a rundown duplex. He saw three police patrol cars parked on the street in front.
“Three or four, I think,” Harris replied as they got out of the car.
A scrawny brown dog barked at them, circling around behind them and approaching tentatively as they walked across the dead grass toward the front door. Scarsdale reached down, making the dog skitter away and bark furiously. He picked up a nude Barbie doll lying in the yard, brushing off pieces of grass and a small glob of dirt. Two uniformed officers, providing scene protection, stood about ten yards away from the duplex and nodded at them as they headed for the front door.
The on-scene supervisor, a uniformed sergeant named Daryl Fields, briefed them before they entered the duplex. “The perv lived here. Was the mother’s boyfriend. When she got home from work at seven, she caught him in the kid’s bedroom with his pants down around his knees. According to the neighbor,” Fields nodded toward a gray-haired stoop-shouldered woman standing on the porch of the duplex, “Ruth Short, she heard the mother screaming like a banshee. Stuff smashing against the wall. When Ms. Short got over there, the perv was taking off out the door. Almost ran her over.”
“The perv’s name is . . . ?” Scarsdale asked.
Inside the house, Scarsdale heard the loud Texas twang of a woman he assumed was the mother, threatening violence against the perv.
Fields read from his notes. “Olsen. Terry Wayne Olsen. White male. About fifty. Bald over brown, about six foot, around one hundred forty to one hundred fifty.” Fields nodded in the direction of the door. “The voice you hear is the mother, Dory Mabry. The victim is Beth Ann Mabry, three years old.”
Scarsdale opened the door—a lightweight screen door trimmed in green that wouldn’t close completely. Once inside the duplex, Scarsdale saw the mother and the three-year old victim—her daughter Beth Ann, standing a few feet away. Neither looked his way.
The blonde-haired Dory gestured, using a lit cigarette to emphasize her story. “That bastard better hope you people find him before I do.” She pointed with the cigarette towards the kitchen. “I got me something in there that’ll fix that son of a bitch real good.”
She paused long enough to take a drag off a cigarette and blow the smoke out her nostrils before continuing her rant. She effectively drowned out a female officer who was trying to ask questions.
Dory was a big woman, not fat, light complected and dressed in a pale-green waitress uniform. From the wrinkles and creases on her cheeks and forehead, Scarsdale guessed her age to be about thirty to thirty-five.
Beth Ann seemed small for a three-year-old but healthy. Cute, with big blue eyes. Little rosy cheeks. Her jeans and T-shirt had some stains. Not too bad for a child her age. Shannon always seemed to find a mud hole in the backyard and wade right into it.
He looked around the room: The inside of the duplex smelled like stale cigarette smoke. Maybe a trace of pee. A large flat screen TV—brand-new, about forty-six to fifty inches—covered the far wall and made the room seem small. The room was fairly clean, a few toys scattered around. No roaches scurrying up the walls. No trash littered around the room. Some dust caked around the window sills. An ordinary room with simple furnishings, except for the TV. He couldn’t help fixating on the TV. It was a lot better one than he had.
Scarsdale moved in front of Dory, drawing her attention away from the officer, who had given up trying to ask any questions, apparently realizing the futility of her efforts.
She stopped talking and stared at him, taking another drag off the cigarette and gave Scarsdale an apprising once-over.
He smiled at Beth Ann as she clung to her mother’s leg, half hiding behind her. She stared up at Scarsdale. Her eyes were wide—a frightened look.
“I believe this is yours,” he said, handing the doll to her. When he knelt down, she moved behind her mother around to the other leg. Dory snatched it out of his hand.
“Don’t.” One word, in a tone that portended an ominous warning. “It ain’t good for her to be taking things from strangers no more.”
And Scarsdale knew better than to say anything. A protective mother, he thought.
The female officer looked at Scarsdale. An ever-so-slight curling up at the corners of her mouth. A rolling of her eyes as she backed away. “She’s all yours, Detective.”
The baton had been passed. Flipping his pocket notepad open, he introduced himself.
“Okay, Ms. Mabry. Tell me exactly what happened.”
She looked down at Beth Ann and handed her the Barbie doll. “Baby girl, why don’t you go over there and play with your doll while me and this here cop visit.”
Beth Ann protested. “Mama . . .”
“You go on now, baby girl. Put some clothes on your doll before she catches a cold.” A minute or two after Beth Ann walked away, Dory turned to face Scarsdale.
“I swear to Holy Jesus if I catch that shitass, I’ll slice and dice him. Trying to stick his dong in her,” she said, her voice subdued. She’s only three, for crissake. I hope the prick rots in hell.”
Scarsdale sighed. He couldn’t blame her. “Where’s Beth Ann’s room?” Scarsdale asked.
“Down this way.”
He followed her down the hall and into the diminutive bedroom. Light-blue walls complete with crayoned stick figures. Pieces of a lamp were scattered around the floor. A few spots of blood sprinkled the floor near the door.
“Was Beth Ann hurt?”
Dory looked at him dumbstruck. “Hurt? Ya mean like broken bones? Bleedin’?”
Scarsdale pointed at the spots. “Bleeding like that. Whose blood is that?”
Dory leaned over, looking at the blood spots. “Aww, hell no. That’s from him.”
“Tell me what happened.” He readied himself to take some good notes.
“When I come in, he had Beth Ann right here,” Dory said, slapping the unmade bed. “He was fixin’ to stick his tool in her mouth. That’s when I took that there lamp and busted his skull with it.” She pivoted around as if she were swinging the lamp. “I caught him right square on the forehead. That jackass done took off runnin’ for the door.” She pointed in the direction of the living room. “Runnin’ faster than a bee-stung stallion. I done grabbed a butcher knife off the kitchen table and chased after that no-good sonofabitch. But he got away before I could catch up to him.”
She nudged the pieces of the lamp into a pile with her shoe. “His head was for sure gushing blood. I hope I cracked his damn skull real good. He ain’t gonna ever come within a mile of Beth Ann or me again. I damn sure guarantee that.”
“Who babysits Beth Ann when you’re at work?”
“He did. My next-door neighbor, Ruth Short, is gonna do it now.”
“Do you have a photograph of Olsen?”
He followed Dory to living room where she grabbed a framed picture off the coffee table and handed it to him. “That’s him,’” she said. “Keep it.”
“Do you know where he may have gone? Any friends? Relatives in the area?”
“No. He don’t have no kin around here and I never seen him with any friends but he did talk about a guy named Fergie and no, I ain’t never met the guy.”
Satisfied that he had all the information, he and Harris left, heading back to the office. Scarsdale had an appointment later with a prosecutor to go over his testimony. And tomorrow, in district court, he’d testify about his investigation and arrest of a pedophile and murderer named Scott Lasiter. By Friday, he figured the jury would sentence that defendant to death. An appropriate punishment.
Retail Price: $17.95
TAA Sale Price: $14.95