Authors: Nancy Taylor Rosenberg
MY LOST DAUGHTER
FORGE BOOKS BY
NANCY TAYLOR ROSENBERG
My Lost Daughter
NANCY TAYLOR ROSENBERG
A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOKÂ Â
Â Â NEW YORK
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This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
MY LOST DAUGHTER
Copyright Â© 2010 by NTR Literary Inventions, Inc.
All rights reserved.
A Forge Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
First Edition: September 2010
Printed in the United States of America
0Â Â 9Â Â 8Â Â 7Â Â 6Â Â 5Â Â 4Â Â 3Â Â 2Â Â 1
MY LOST DAUGHTER
Death was approaching. Rodents and other small creatures scurried as the dry leaves crinkled and the tall weeds were forcefully pushed aside.
Few people ever visited the area because the trees and brush were dense, and a chemical plant a few miles away had long ago polluted the water. From the road above, the shoreline was invisible. The area was also surrounded by a tall wire fence, the gate secured by a heavy padlock.
Two men climbed down the steep embankment to the lake. Earlier, one of the men had used a bolt cutter to gain access. They stood side by side at the water's edge, the only light from the full moon and the scattering of stars above them.
After several minutes of silence had passed, the taller of the two men asked, “Are you absolutely certain this is what you want?”
“Completely, you know that.”
“What are you expecting to happen when it's over?”
“I'll be dead and my family will collect on my insurance.”
“That's not what I mean,” the taller man said. “What do you believe happens to a person when they die?”
“I'd like to believe I'll be reborn into a healthy body without the limitations I've had in this one. But I know that's bullshit.”
“You must believe. None of us could go through this if we didn't believe in an afterlife. You took a vow, remember?”
His face twisted in frustration. “Okay, I believe.”
“You could live many more years the way you are now,” the taller man commented. “Your body is in good shape.”
“It's my mind that's the problem.” The shorter man became agitated. “Look, we've gone over this a hundred times. I can't live like this anymore. I don't care what happens. I want to die. That's my happy ending. I've fought this too long. I want it to be over.”
“Your family will miss you.”
“No,” the shorter man answered. “My family will be relieved. I'm an embarrassment to them. I know they love me. I also know they'll be better off without me.” He wiped his sweaty palms on his pants. “Can't we get this over with?”
“You can walk away now and no one will ever know about tonight. There's no disgrace in bowing out.”
“Please, you promised it would be quick and that you wouldn't try to talk me out of it.” He reached out and grabbed the taller man's arm. “Give me the gun, damn it. I'll do it myself.”
The tension was so thick, it was palpable. This was the part the taller man enjoyed the most and he wanted to savor it, learn from it. A courageous man stood before him. How many men could stare death in the face and invite it to take him? And this man, whether he realized it or not, was prepared to meet the ultimate test, self-sacrifice. Even knowing these things, he couldn't stop himself from salivating over the terrified look in his eyes, watching as the man's determination was undermined by confusion and doubt. There was no greater suspense. No book, no movie, no TV show could compare with it. The question hung heavy in the night air.
Would he stay or would he go?
The other thing he loved was the intimacy, the dirty deeds people told him, things they had held back from their closest friends and relatives. In their final moments, he became their confessor. “You
know what happens if you shoot yourself?” he told the smaller man. “Your death will be classified as a suicide and your family won't collect on your life insurance. From what you've told me, you didn't take out the policy until last year. Most insurance companies have a two-year clause when it comes to suicide.” He extended his hand with the gun in it. “If that's what you want, go ahead and shoot yourself.”
“Fool!” the man shouted, his anger fueled by fear. “You know that's not what I want. The only reason I'm doing this is to pay my family back for what I've put them through. Two years ago, I almost strangled my son while I was psychotic. My wife covered for me or I would still be in prison. My son never forgave me. Even today, he hates me.” He paused, too emotional to continue. At last, he said, “Kill me now or I'll get someone else to do it.”
The taller man had to stifle a laugh. Where would he find someone to kill him and for free, no less? The man should be grateful. Most people would be too afraid. Going to prison was the least of their fears. Knowing they would have to reconcile what they had done with their creator was a far greater deterrent. When it came to crunch time, everyone believed.
“My own time is coming soon, my friend.” He moved closer to the man and lowered his voice to a whisper. “When I touch your shoulder, turn around and drop your head until your chin almost touches your chest. This is the best way. You'll die instantly and there'll be no pain.”
They linked eyes in silence. The man who would soon be dead was drenched in sweat and visibly trembling. The taller man knew it was wrong to make him suffer any longer. He softly touched his shoulder and the man turned his back and bent his head down to his chest, standing perfectly still. He was saying something under his breath, more than likely praying. The taller man eased his finger off the trigger to give him a few more seconds of life.
As soon as the man stopped mumbling, he raised the gun, bracing it with his free hand as he took aim. “I'll see you on the other side.”
A loud explosion pierced the silence. The bullet seared its way into the back of the shorter man's head. He loved the sound of a dead body striking the ground. It reminded him of a tree falling in the wilderness; only tonight there was someone to hear it, bear witness to it. And it had been perfect because there was no wind, no traffic, and no barking dogs to interfere with his hearing.
As his friend's bloody and lifeless body remained on the ground, the man used a small flashlight to search around. As soon as he found what he was looking for, he picked it up and placed it in his pocket. He then shoved the gun in the back of his jeans, wiped his prints off the flashlight, and tossed it in the bushes. After taking another final look to be certain he hadn't missed anything, he zipped up his jacket and climbed back up the hill.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 13
Once the jury was seated and the defendant was led in and placed at the counsel table beside the defense attorney, the bailiff stepped to the front of the courtroom. “All rise,” Leonard Davis announced. “Division Forty-seven of the Superior Court of Ventura County is now in session, the Honorable Lillian Forrester presiding.”
A tall, slender redhead entered through the back door of the courtroom, ascending the three steps to the bench in a swirl of black robes. Lily's hair was one of her most distinctive features, and she wore it long, an inch or so past her shoulders. Today, however, she'd swept it into a ponytail at the base of her neck. Wispy tendrils had already escaped onto her forehead and neck. Her skin was pale with a scattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks. She was a striking woman, with a natural, fresh look and delicate features.
Lily knew the prosecution of criminals was a cat and mouse game. The majority of cases never made their way to trial. If every case required the time and resources of a jury trial, the criminal justice system would collapse. Even in the most gruesome homicides, a plea agreement was the preferable way to put a case to rest.
But plea agreements in cases of this magnitude weren't normally offered right away. The system was similar to a boa constrictor. The longer it squeezed a criminal, the more information would pop out and the more willing a defendant would be to accept whatever sentence was offered. This was particularly true when the alternative was death.
The courtroom was packed and noisy. Lily had forbidden the proceedings to be televised, so members of the media filled most of the seats. Reporters were scribbling on notepads or creeping down the aisles with their cameras in hand to snap photos. The case was sensational, the kind that turned murderers into celebrities. The defendant, Noelle Lynn Reynolds, had been a popular local girl, a former cheerleader and prom queen at Ventura High. The petite blonde with the round face and dove gray eyes didn't look much older than her high school yearbook photos, although she was only a few months shy of her twenty-third birthday. The last thing she looked like was a cold-blooded murderer, a woman so callous she would kill her own child in order to enjoy a carefree existence.
Gone were the plunging necklines and bare midriff Reynolds had so proudly displayed in the various nightclubs, bars, and beaches she'd frequented in the weeks following her two-year-old son's disappearance. She was dressed in a dowdy polyester suit, her large breast implants squashed inside the beige fabric of her jacket. Her hair was slicked back from her face and she wore no makeup. The flamboyant party girl had been intentionally disguised for the benefit of the jury.
Lily's eyes came to rest on Clinton Silverstein, a district attorney she had known and worked with since the beginning of her career. One of the judges was retiring and Clinton was hoping to get his slot. This case could be a deciding factor, and in Lily's opinion, the prosecutor had already made a poor decision. The State was asking for the death penalty. Lily felt it was highly unlikely that a middle-class Ventura jury would send a young woman like Noelle Reynolds to her death, regardless of the unspeakable crime she'd committed.
Lily had called Silverstein into her chambers on several occasions, attempting to get him to reconsider. In a case of this magnitude, prosecutors generally filed numerous counts such as second-degree murder, or even manslaughter, along with other crimes that were considered lesser or included, meaning if the jury decided guilt in one count, they couldn't find the defendant guilty of the others. The benefit of this type of filing is that it gives the jury an alternative other than acquittal. Pleading special circumstances, which justified the death penalty, was also used to pressure the defendant into accepting a plea agreement.