Authors: J.A. JANCE
ALSO BY J.A. JANCE
Edge of Evil
Web of Evil
Hand of Evil
Shoot / Don’t Shoot
Dead to Rights
Partner in Crime
Fire and Ice
J. P. B
Until Proven Guilty
Injustice for All
Trial by Fury
Taking the Fifth
A More Perfect Union
Dismissed with Prejudice
Minor in Possession
Payment in Kind
Without Due Process
Failure to Appear
Lying in Wait
Breach of Duty
Birds of Prey
Partner in Crime
Long Time Gone
Fire and Ice
Hour of the Hunter
Kiss of the Bees
Day of the Dead
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents
either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead,
is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2009 by J.A. Jance
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Manufactured in the United States of America
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Jance, Judith A.
Trial by fire/J.A. Jance.
“A Touchstone book.”
1. Reynolds, Ali (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2.
Arizona—Fiction. I. Title.
ISBN 978-1-4165-6388-4 (ebook)
In memory of Anthony Nadolski and to Ernie Gabrielson,
two outstanding Bisbee educators.
TRIAL BY FIRE
She awakened to the sound of roaring flames and to searing heat and lung-choking smoke. Maybe she was already dead and this was hell, but why would she go to hell? What had she done to deserve that? Just then a scorched beam fell across her leg, and she felt the horrifying pain of burning flesh—
burning flesh. That’s when she knew wasn’t dead. She was still alive. And on fire.
She tried to shake the burning two-by-four off her leg but it was too heavy. It wouldn’t budge. She tried shoving it away and managed to move it a little, but in the process her hand caught fire as well. She tried to sit up, desperate to find some avenue of escape, but the floor around her was a sea of flame. She was barefoot. She couldn’t bring herself to step into the fire. There was nowhere for her to go, no way to escape. It was hopeless. She was going to die.
Falling back onto the bed, she began screaming and praying and coughing, all at the same time. “Please, God. Let it be quick. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Another wooden beam fell. This one didn’t land on her di
rectly, but as the hungry flames licked away at it, she knew they were really searching for her. The pain was all around her now. Her whole body was on fire. Somewhere, far beyond the flames, she heard something else—the sound of breaking glass. Was there glass in heaven?
“Hello,” a voice called. “Where are you?”
Why is He asking that?
God knows everything.
He must know where I am.
Then, unexpectedly, a mysterious figure clothed all in yellow or maybe even orange rose up silently out of the flame and smoke. He was holding his arms stretched out toward her, reaching for her.
Not God after all,
she thought despairingly.
Satan. I really am in hell.
Darkness fell and there was nothing at all.
On a gorgeous mid-May morning with temperatures still in the seventies, all was right with Ali Reynolds’s world. The cobalt blue sky overhead was unblemished by even a single cloud, and Sedona’s towering red rocks gleamed in brilliant sunlight.
The seemingly endless remodeling project on Ali’s recently purchased Manzanita Hills Road house had finally come to an end. The workers were gone, along with their trucks and their constant noise. Now, seated on her newly refurbished flagstone patio and surrounded by an ancient wisteria in full and glorious bloom, she was enjoying the peace and quiet, as well as a third cup of freshly brewed coffee, while she worked on a speech, a commencement speech actually, that she was due to deliver at not one but two high school graduation ceremonies at the end of the week.
How she had gotten roped into doing two commencement speeches one day apart was a wonder to her still.
A year or so earlier Ali had agreed to take the helm of the Amelia Dougherty Askins Scholarship Fund, a charitable entity
that helped provide financial assistance for college expenses to deserving students from schools all over Arizona’s Verde Valley. Though she was once an Askins Scholarship winner herself, this was Ali’s first year of administering the program. The time-consuming process of searching out and evaluating likely recipients had put her in touch with students, teachers, and administrators from a number of local schools.
Ali’s ties to Sedona Red Rock High School had to do with the fact that both her son, Christopher, and her new daughter-in-law, Chris’s bride, Athena, taught there. When it came time to cajole Ali into agreeing to speak at commencement, her son and daughter-in-law had known just which strings to pull.
Although Sedona was Ali’s hometown, Sedona Red Rock wasn’t her actual alma mater, since there had been no high school in Sedona at the time Ali was an eligible student. Instead, Ali and her classmates had been bused to nearby Cottonwood, where they had attended Mingus Union High School and where Ali’s favorite teacher had been the head of the English department, a gruff but caring character named Ernie Gabrielson. Once word leaked out that Ali had been scheduled to speak at Sedona’s graduation ceremonies, a delegation had been sent requesting that Ali do the same for Mingus. Hence the two separate invitations. The two events, however, required only one speech, and Ali had been working on it for several days.
She wanted her talk to be fun and meaningful. Ali had graduated from high school and gone away to college. After obtaining her degree in journalism, she had gone off to work in the world of television news, first reporting and then anchoring newscasts in Milwaukee, New York City, and finally L.A. She had returned to her hometown in the aftermath of losing both her anchor position and her philandering husband, Paul
Grayson. Her initial intention had been to stay in Sedona just long enough to regroup, but now she had settled back into small-town life and was reveling in it. She was glad to be out of the constant hustle and bustle and traffic of L.A., and she was enjoying living close to her parents and her son.
That was part of what she wanted to say to the graduates later this week, on Thursday evening in Sedona and on Friday in Cottonwood—that it was fine for students to leave home in order to further their educations and make their marks in the big, wide world—but she also wanted to tell them that it was fine for them to stay at home or to come back home eventually, bringing with them the benefit of both their education and their hard-won experience, which they could then apply to problems and opportunities that existed in their own backyards.
Lost in thought and concentrating on the work at hand, Ali was surprised when her majordomo, Leland Brooks, cleared his throat and announced, “Excuse me, madam, but you have a visitor.”
For the better part of fifty years, Leland had managed the house on Manzanita Hills Road, first for the previous owner, Arabella Ashcroft, and for her mother. Now he did the same thing for the new owner. During Ali’s massive remodeling project he had served as the on-site supervisor. Now he mostly supervised Ali. She didn’t require much supervision, but she’d grown too fond of Leland Brooks to consider putting him out to pasture.
Ali looked up in time to realize that the guest in question, Gordon Maxwell, had followed Leland onto the patio. Maxwell was sheriff of Yavapai County, and he certainly looked the part. He was dressed in a crisply starched khaki uniform and held a white Stetson gripped in one hand. A loaded pistol, a
9-millimeter Smith and Wesson M&P in its molded scabbard, was strapped to his right hip. Weaponry aside, he looked like a man who could handle himself.