Authors: JM Harvey
JUSTICE FOR NONE
Books by JM Harvey
Dead on the Vine (Violet Vineyard Murder Mysteries #1)
Justice for None
Coming in 2015:
A Vintage to Die For (Violet Vineyard Murder Mysteries #2)
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Justice for None
All rights reserved
Copyright © 2015 by JM Harvey
Cover design by Brandi Doane McCann (
Edited by Lana Baker ([email protected])
Sutton groaned in pain as she was wrestled out of the dark confines of the car’s trunk and dumped into her wheelchair, the rough treatment reopening the two gunshot wounds in her abdomen. She had no idea how long she had been locked inside the trunk - she had been unconscious for most of the ride - but night had settled, the darkness alleviated only by a full moon that lent everything a ghostly hue.
Abby raised her head and looked around, her eyes narrowed to swollen slits from the beating she had endured, and found that she was atop one of the Trinity River’s tall, earthen levees. To the north she could see the jagged Dallas skyline, its glass towers outlined in a rainbow of neon colors; to the south, a half a mile away across the broad floodplain, was the river - a muddy trickle bracketed by acres of waist-deep grass that rolled like waves on a hot breeze that carried the dusty-burlap smell of the drought-stricken Texas prairie.
Her eyes stayed on the river as her killer pushed her wheelchair across the gravel track that topped the levee, then down the embankment, cutting diagonally across the slope, the steepness of the grade threatening to tumble her out into the weeds. Only when he stopped pushing and circled the chair to face her did she tear her eyes away to look up at him.
“This has been a long time coming,” he said in a voice that was as dry as the wind, his silhouette blocking out the moon. “I should have killed you four years ago. It would have been better for both of us.”
“The money,” she said listlessly, trying one last time to buy her life, but her heart really wasn’t in it anymore. She had been through too much. “The gold coins. Fifteen million dollars. Your share—” She coughed blood. It spilled onto the brittle grass beneath her wheelchair, liquid silver in the pale light of the moon. She said no more. She could barely breathe. She turned her face away, back toward the river. Moonlight glinted off the murky water. The cottonwood trees that overhung its muddy banks swayed on the breeze like mourners wailing for the dead.
Her killer muttered a curse, grabbed her paralyzed legs and jerked her out of the chair, dumping her into the weeds. She heard a knife blade ‘snick’ open, but still she refused to look at him. She was imagining the warmth of the water. The sluggish tug of the current. Heading south. Away from here.
“Damn you,” he snarled as he drove the knife between her ribs. “There is
Justice, dressed in a frayed pair of boxer shorts and a ratty old Ramones T-shirt, leaned into the kitchen counter, lulled into a doze by the coffee maker’s sputter and spew. It was 6:00 AM and he hadn’t gotten to sleep until almost 3:00. His eyes were gummy, his head was filled with static and he’d trade all he owned for another two hours’ sleep.
And he’d still be sleeping if only he’d been smart enough to have a vasectomy…
Val blinked his eyes open and glanced blearily at his twin two-year old sons, Max and Kyle. The pair were pinned in their highchairs, cheerfully slinging milk and Cheerios at their mouths and getting half of it on the floor. Milk was dripping from their chins and Kyle had a Cheerio stuck to his forehead. Val couldn’t help but grin despite the mess he’d soon be cleaning up. Now if they’d only learn to stay in bed until the sun came up…
“I can’t wait until I get to roust your butts out of bed for school,” he said. “I’ll strip the sheets off and watch you shiver. Remember, he who laughs last…”
Kyle looked up at his father, waved his spoon and giggled like a baboon, but Max kept his head down and his spoon working. Nothing came between Max and his food. He was a regular chow machine. Kyle preferred to play with his breakfast, maybe stuff it up his nose or dump it on his brother’s head.
As Val watched, Kyle carefully dipped his spoon into his bowl, cocked his chubby arm and slung a load of soggy cereal at his father. Cheerios plopped on the tile three feet from Val’s left foot.
“Hey, kiddo,” Val said, pointing a warning finger. “Enough of that.” He grabbed a paper towel from the roll, stooped and cleaned up the mess with a sloppy swipe. “Eat it,” he ordered, “don’t throw it.” Amazingly, Kyle did as he was told, proving that there was a first time for everything.
Val opened the refrigerator. A package of turkey bacon and a jug of Egg Beaters sat front and center. His wife had brought them home two days ago, a not so subtle hint that he was almost forty-eight years old. He shoved them aside with a grimace and peered into the back of the fridge. He found the
bacon hidden under a pile of the twins’ Go-GURTS. He grabbed them, hip-bumped the door closed, stripped six slices of bacon from the package, and dropped them into the waiting frying pan. The smell of greasy pork immediately flooded the kitchen.
got Max’s attention. He looked up wide-eyed from his bowl.
“Bacon, daddy,” he pleaded, pinwheeling his arms. “Baaaacon.”
“Maybe just a bite,” Val said as he poured a cup of coffee. Their mother would kill him. Feeding maple-cured, fatty-as-hell bacon to her children? Victoria Justice, Felony Trial Division Chief for the Dallas District Attorney’s Office, would send him to jail for less.
And they were his kids too. He’d let them have a piece of bacon. After all, a willingness to take risks is what separated the men from the boys. Val had been shot at and shot back. Had killed and almost been killed.
And Victoria still scared the hell out of him.
“Just one bite,” he said.
Right on cue, Victoria shuffled into the kitchen. Dressed in a gunnysack of a T-shirt, her dark hair a tangled mess, eyes bloodshot, she was still beautiful.
“A bite of what?” she asked, squinting against the glare of the overhead lights as she padded across the kitchen. She pried Val’s coffee cup out of his hand and carried it to the kitchen table, pausing to kiss her children en route.
“Nothing,” Val said. “A cookie.”
Victoria cocked an eyebrow. “Cookies for breakfast?”
Why had he said cookie? Why not apple or granola? Did he have a death wish?
“I meant later. Like lunch time.”
“Right,” she said, managing to ladle a gallon of disapproval over that single word. She took a slurp of coffee. “Cute outfit you’ve got on there. I have shoes that match that apron if you’re interested.”
Valentine looked down. In his pre-dawn haze he’d strapped on Victoria’s apron. It was pink with white ruffles. That was the kind of thing that happened when you staggered into a dark kitchen at 5:30 in the morning toting a pair of toddlers and aching for caffeine.
“I remember more than one morning when you were wearing this and nothing else,” he replied as he flipped the bacon. “The good old days,” he added wistfully. “Before 2:00 AM feedings and overloaded diapers. That’s something
like to wake up to again someday.”
Victoria snorted. “I hope I looked better than you do,” she said. “Hairy legs and droopy boxer shorts.” Her eyes traveled over his body appraisingly. Valentine still looked good, even at forty-seven. He was tan and lean, six-foot-three and dark haired with gray eyes that reminded her of lake ice. Marriage hadn’t softened him much and neither had retirement. He still looked as fit as the first time she had seen him at the Frank Crowley Courts Complex.
Back then, Val had been a Dallas Police Department Homicide detective. Val had frightened her a little at first. Hell, Valentine had frightened
He was good looking, despite the deep frown lines that bracketed his mouth, but there was something about the way he looked at people. A cold remoteness that was palpable. The look of a predator. A look that had faded in the four years since his retirement, but had never completely disappeared.
Valentine interrupted her thoughts. “Grab the bread, will you?” he asked, flipping the bacon while scratching his hip with his free hand.
“Did you wash your hands?” Victoria asked as she rose and crossed to the cabinet.
“Of course I did,” he lied, keeping his eyes aimed at the bacon.
“You mean you ran water on them then started scratching your hairy butt?” She put the bread on the counter and grabbed a tea towel.
“There are worse things I could be scratching,” he pointed out as he flipped the top on the egg carton. Five eggs left and they were almost out of milk. He’d have to go to the grocery store after bathing the twins and cleaning up the kitchen. Woo-hoo.
“What’s on the agenda today?” Victoria asked as she wiped Kyle’s face with the towel then picked the Cheerio off his forehead.
“The usual.” Val prodded the bacon to one side of the pan then broke the eggs into the grease. Healthy cooking. “Laundry, shopping, potty training.” Just saying it made him weary.
“What a life,” Victoria laughed, moving on to Max.
Max cringed away from the towel and banged his bowl with his spoon like a convict rattling the prison bars.
“More!” he bellowed. The kid needed a lesson in manners, but Victoria let it slide. She poured him another handful.
“Want to trade?” Val asked. It wasn’t a joke. Retirement sucked in a lot of ways. Being with the boys all day was pretty cool, but the isolation was a killer. He missed his peers. Even the assholes. But mainly he just missed adult conversation. If it weren’t for the ladies down at the library he’d have had a nervous breakdown long ago. A cup of tea while talking about teething and vitamins while the kids listened to stories about Tommy the Train was far too often the difference between a good day and a bad day.
God, he hoped Victoria never found that out. He’d never live it down. As it was, if he heard one more ‘Mr. Mom’ joke he was going to snap.
“I’ll wait until they’re potty trained,” she said as she sat back down at the table with her coffee and watched the boys eat. In a little while she’d be leaving them for the day. She hated that.
“I see you’re passing on the turkey bacon,” she said over the rim of her cup, turning her eyes back to Val. “They say it’s really good.”
“Compared to what?” Val asked as he plated the bacon. “Cardboard?”
“Remind me to up your life insurance policy,” she replied as she watched him butter the toast, slathering it on. “You’re heart’s probably got enough lard in it to deep fry a water buffalo.”
Val sighed. “You’ll nag me to death long before the cholesterol gets me.” He put three eggs on his wife’s plate and carried it to the table.
“Ah,” she said as she snatched up her fork, “eggs and bacon with essence of hairy butt and dirty hands.”
“Shut up and eat.” Val fixed his own plate and returned to the table.
Victoria plowed through her breakfast with a gusto that Val hadn’t seen since his days at the Dallas Police Academy. It was amazing she stayed so thin. She claimed that it was her height that burned the calories. Maybe so. At five-eleven she was taller than most men, but her height had been letting her down since the twins were born. She was still carrying ten pounds of pregnancy weight. Ten pounds that Val liked a lot - it was in all the right places - but Victoria wasn’t so pleased.
“What’s up for you today?” he asked around a mouthful of eggs, unable to hide his envy.
Victoria pretended not to notice. After fifteen years in courtrooms she had a pretty good poker face.
“Stuck at my desk most of the day. I’ve got to write Randall Rusk’s plea agreement. Life without parole,” she said with a frown.
In the last nineteen months the bodies of four prostitutes had been dumped along the Trinity River south of Dallas. The police investigation had led nowhere until Randall Rusk, a truck driver working the IH 30 corridor from El Paso to Kansas City, had been caught dumping the corpse of a young woman on the river’s northern levee. Rusk’s DNA had quickly been matched to the previous homicides. An open and shut death penalty case. Then Rusk had pitched a deal: he’d offered detailed confessions to more than a dozen unsolved homicides in exchange for a guarantee of life without parole.
Victoria continued. “But, before I sign off on the deal, we’ve got another issue to address. Rusk gave us a teaser. He admits to murdering a woman in Oklahoma City four years ago. A truck stop prostitute. She was strangled and stabbed, just like our girls, then dumped in a cow pasture. No semen was recovered but a pair of cigarette butts were found under the body. Two different brands with two different DNA profiles. One of them is Rusk’s, but the other isn’t. It might just be a coincidence or Rusk might be part of a team of creep-o rapist-murderers like the Sutton—” Victoria stopped abruptly, flushed and looked down at her plate as the mood in the kitchen suddenly turned dark.
Val didn’t look away. He stared across the table, his food forgotten. He knew what she had almost said: ‘creep-o rapist-murderers like the Sutton brothers.’
Jesus, would he never be free of Lamar and Lemuel Sutton? Even in his own home? Not for the first time he bit back the desire to justify his actions that day four years ago. But there was
justification and he knew it. And he had already paid the price for his actions. The best thing he could do was bury the dead and move on.
If the rest of the world would let him.
After a long moment of silence, Victoria lifted her head and continued on as if nothing had happened. She’d had a lot of practice at that when it came to the Sutton brothers. It was the one subject that was unapproachable in their marriage.
“Rusk deserves to die, but clearing a dozen homicides and maybe getting another serial killer off the street is too good a deal to pass up. So…” she shrugged. Valentine didn’t need to be schooled in the machinations of the legal system. He had been a cop for twenty-one years.
Victoria polished off her bacon, stood, leaned down and kissed his cheek. She smelled like bacon and soap: irresistible. Valentine slid his hand under her T-shirt and placed it on her hip.
“Gonna jump in the shower,” she said, leaning into him as she toyed with the hair at the back of his neck.
“Need any help?” he asked as his hand inched higher. “Somebody to wash your front for you?”
Victoria gave his hair a sharp tug. “Not in front of the kids, buster,” she said as she pulled away.
Val rolled his eyes. “They don’t know S-E-X from disco dancing.”
“Like father, like sons,” she laughed over her shoulder as she exited the kitchen.
“I’m not nearly as sloppy,” Val grumbled, eyeing the mess of puddled milk and soggy cereal under the twins’ highchairs.
the time Victoria had showered and dressed, Val had the kitchen floor mopped, the stovetop cleaned and the dishwasher running. It was amazing how many things you could do on autopilot at 7:00 in the morning. Maybe he should get up before dawn every day? Not a chance. He sat down at the table with a fresh cup of coffee, the twins on the floor at his feet.
Max was building something with soft cloth blocks while Kyle threw blocks at his brother’s head with unrelenting precision, one after the other. Max didn’t seem to mind, he giggled every time a block bounced off his forehead.
The kid had an arm, Valentine mused. He wondered if they made toddler-sized baseball gloves?
Kyle turned and threw a block at Val. It went wide, arcing over Val’s shoulder and flying halfway across the room. That’s when Victoria breezed in carrying her briefcase.
“Kid’s got an arm,” she said.
“Takes after his dad,” Valentine replied. “His mother throws like a girl. A real girly-girl-type girl.”
“His mother knows judo,” she reminded him as she grabbed his coffee cup and took a slurp before kneeling down and dragging the twins in for slobbery kisses. “And daddy can’t hit a lick. That’s why they kicked him off the softball team.”