Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for Justice Gone. I’m sharing an extract which is presented with thanks to Emma Welton of damppebbles Blog Tours for inviting me on the tour and for providing the extract via the publisher.
When a homeless war veteran is beaten to death by the police, stormy protests ensue, engulfing a small New Jersey town. Soon after, three cops are gunned down. A multi-state manhunt is underway for a cop killer on the loose. And Dr. Tessa Thorpe, a veteran’s counselor, is caught up in the chase. Donald Darfield, an African-American Iraqi war vet, war-time buddy of the beaten man, and one of Tessa’s patients, is holed up in a mountain cabin. Tessa, acting on instinct, sets off to find him, but the swarm of law enforcement officers get there first, leading to Darfield’s dramatic capture. Now, the only people separating him from the lethal needle of state justice are Tessa and ageing blind lawyer, Nathaniel Bodine. Can they untangle the web tightening around Darfield in time, when the press and the justice system are baying for revenge? Justice Gone is the first in a series of psychological thrillers involving Dr Tessa Thorpe, wrapped in the divisive issues of modern American society including police brutality and disenfranchised returning war veterans. N Lombardi Jr. is the author of compelling and heartfelt novel The Plain of Jars.
The expected law enforcement professionals responded to Angela Fratollini’s 911 call—not all at once, but in prompt succession. Two patrol units showed up, followed shortly by an ambulance with two paramedics who approached the prone body and attempted to find a pulse before looking at each other and shaking their heads. Not long after, Bruntfield Homicide Detectives Cavaluzzi and Ryan arrived, already aware of the identity of the deceased as one of the officers involved in the Felson beating, and immediately examined the car and the dead body slumped in its trunk before calling in the crime scene forensics squad. Having done that, they entered the house to interview Mrs. Fratollini. They had hardly exchanged introductions when someone from the Medical Examiner’s Office had turned up, interrupting the questioning. Following him was the Crime Scene Investigation Unit from the New Jersey State Police, who had accepted the request for help from Len Peterson, acting chief of police for Bruntfield Township. A photographer, a fingerprint specialist, and a crime scene mapper from the same unit joined their Bruntfield counterparts.
It was only then that Cavaluzzi and Ryan were able to sit down and have a chat with Mrs. Fratollini.
She had heard him pull up, she told them, heard him get out and open the trunk of the car. Then she thought she heard her husband say something, to which she replied, “What?” but got no response. As she was in the middle of a TV show, she sat down again on the couch. After fifteen minutes, when Mr. Fratollini had still not entered the house, she went outside to see what he was up to, and that’s when she discovered her husband flopped inside the trunk, “and all that blood!”
At that point, Mrs. Fratollini lost her control and wept. While trying to calm her down, Cavaluzzi got a call on his mobile. The story he got over the phone was that an evening paperboy had seen a body on the ground in a pool of blood, and had raced home to promptly tell his mother, who in turn had promptly called the police. And would you believe it? What seemed to be yet another chillingly similar shooting had taken place just a few miles from this one!
And so they all exited the scene in the order they had come, proceeding to 74 Elmore Lane. Cavaluzzi, in the unmarked car that Ryan was driving, had the instinct to call the Motor Vehicle Department to get an ID that matched that address: John Fox. He went into emergency mode and grabbed for his cell phone.
“Hello, Chief Peterson, have all units proceed to the house of Rafael Puente…look up his address…and all the other officers involved in the Felson incident…send all available units to those residences!”
But by the time two of the available units got to where Puente lived, he and his dog had been dead for at least an hour. Orders had by then already been given to cover the homes of the remaining three officers involved in Jay Felson’s death, who were so far spared a similar fate. A dragnet that encircled all six sites was implemented by both the Bruntfield police and the New Jersey State Troopers, with barricades set up on all the exit roads out of town. Everyone was stopped, told to get out, and interrogated. Bruntfield units patrolling the side streets hauled in any suspicious person they saw, but all of them were eventually released after irrefutably ruling them out as suspects.
It seemed that the perpetrator had already fled, staying one step ahead of his pursuers.
Murders are the stuff of local news. Nobody could have been more exuberant about such events than the press and TV people who regularly make a living from the dark side of human behavior. They swarmed over the story like ants on a ham sandwich dropped in the woods. As expected, it was received as a gem of a headline, not only by the Bruntfield Daily, but also by regional papers such as the New York Post, the New York Daily News, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. And this time, because of the extraordinary act of pulling off three similar murders within a few hours—the victims, cops, no less—the story even made it to the front pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Tessa sat and stared at the newspaper in front of her, silent tears streaming down her cheeks. Ten minutes perhaps, she sat there quietly anguished before she dumped her face onto the newspaper and began to sob. Her worst fears had materialized. She lifted her face up a few inches, opened the paper, and wrapped it around her head insulating herself like an ostrich submerging its head in the sand, bawling away. She felt someone touching her hands and looked up with black newsprint smudged all over her face to see Ed, Penny, and Casey standing before her with equally mournful faces.
Meanwhile, a hundred miles to the west, at the same time that Tessa was crying into her newspaper, Bruntfield was practically on lockdown. A shelter-in-place order was in effect, meaning in simple terms, stay where you are and don’t leave until further notice. Checkpoints prevented people from entering or leaving the areas of the crime scenes, as well as the neighborhoods of the three other ex-officers, even though those men were apparently being protectively sequestered by the authorities in undisclosed locations. Schools were closed, not only in Bruntfield, but in the nearby townships as well. People locked their doors and windows and slept with the lights on. The police, through the news anchors of local television, advised everyone to keep all garage doors and sheds closed and secured. Gun owners had their weapons locked and loaded. Law enforcement officers were everywhere to be seen.
Justice Gone is available from Amazon.
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