Mystery Writers of America Presents The Blue Religion: New Stories about Cops, Criminals, and the Chase edited by Michael Connelly
Nineteen original stories–including a new contribution by New York Times bestselling author Michael Connelly–about riveting showdowns between cops and criminals.
From Hawaii at the turn of the twentieth century to the post-Civil War frontier, from smoggy Los Angeles to the woods of Idaho, these gripping stories trace the perils and occasional triumphs of lawmen and -women who put themselves in harm’s way to face down the bad guys. Some of them even walk the edge of becoming bad guys themselves.
In T. Jefferson Parker’s “Skinhead Central,” an ex-cop and his wife find unexpected menace in the idyllic setting they have chosen for their retirement. In Alafair Burke’s “Winning,” a female officer who is attacked in the line of duty must protect her own husband from his worst impulses. In Edward D. Hoch’s “Friday Night Luck,” a wanna-be cop blows his chance at a spot on the force–and breaks his case. In Michael Connelly’s “Father’s Day,” Harry Bosch faces one of his most emotionally trying cases, investigating a young boy’s death.
Mystery Writers of America Presents The Blue Religion
New Stories about Cops, Criminals, and the Chase
By Michael Connelly
Little, Brown and Company
All rights reserved.
BY T. JEFFERSON PARKER
So we moved up here to Spirit Lake in Idaho, where a lot of Jim’s friends hadcome to live. After forty years in Laguna Beach, it was a shock to walk outsideand see only a few houses here and there, some fog hovering over the pond outfront, and the endless trees. The quiet too, that was another surprise. There’salways the hiss of wind in the pines, but it’s nothing like all the cars andsirens on PCH. I miss the Ruby’s and the Nordstrom Rack up the freeway. Miss myfriends and my children. We talk all the time by phone and e-mail, but it’s notthe same as living close by. We have a guest room.
We’ve had mostly a good life. Our firstborn son died thirteen years ago, andthat was the worst thing that’s ever happened to us. His name was James Junior,but he went by JJ. He was a cop, like his father, and was killed in the line ofduty. After that, Jim drank himself almost to death, then one day juststopped. He never raised a finger or even his voice at me or the kids. Kept onwith the Laguna Beach PD. I had Karen and Ricky to take care of, and I took medsfor a year and had counseling. The one thing I learned from grief is that youfeel better if you do things for other people instead of dwelling on yourself.
We’re living Jim’s dream of hardly any people but plenty of trees and fish.
There’s some skinheads living one lake over, and one of them, Dale, came overthe day we moved in last summer and asked if we had work. Big kid, nineteen,tattoos all over his arms and calves, red hair buzzed short, and eyes the colorof old ice. Jim said there was no work, but they got to talking woodstoves andif the old Vermont Castings in the living room would need a new vent come fall.Dale took a look and said that unless you want to smoke yourself out, it would.Two days later, Dale helped Jim put one in, and Jim paid him well.
A couple of days later, I went to dig out my little jewelry bag from the movingbox where I’d kind of hidden it, but it was gone. I’d labeled each box with theroom it went to, but the movers just put the boxes down wherever — anyway,it was marked “bedroom,” but they put it right there in the living room, whereDale could get at it when I went into town for sandwiches and Jim went outsidefor a smoke or to pee in the trees, which is something he did a lot of thatfirst month or two. Jim told me I should have carried the jewelry on my person,and he was right. On my person.You know how cops talk. Said he’d gofind Dale over in Hayden Lake the next day — skinhead central — whata way to meet the locals.
But the next morning, this skinny young boy shows up on our front porch, darkbangs almost over his eyes, no shirt, jeans hanging low on his waist and hisboxers puffing out. Gigantic sneakers with the laces loose. Twelve or thirteenyears old.
“This yours?” he asked.
Jim took the jewelry bag — pretty little blue thing with Chineseembroidery on it and black drawstrings — and angled it to the brightmorning sun.
“Hers,” he said. “Hon? What’s missing?”
I loosened the strings and cupped the bag in my hand and pressed the rings andearrings and bracelets up against one another and the satin. It was mostlycostume and semiprecious stones, but I saw the ruby earrings and choker Jim hadgotten me one Christmas in Laguna and the string of pearls.
“The expensive things are here,” I said.
“You Dale’s brother?” asked Jim.
“What’s your name?”
“Come on in.”
“No reason for that.”
“How are you going to explain this to Dale?”
And he loped down off the porch steps, landed with a crunch, and picked up hisbike.
“Take care of yourself.”
“That’s what I do.”
“We’ve got two cords’ worth of wood and a decent splitter,” said Jim.
Jason sized up Jim the way young teenagers do, by looking not quite at him fornot very long. Like everything about Jim could be covered in a glance.
Later I asked Jim why he offered work to Jason when he’d held it back from Dale.
“I don’t know. Maybe because Jason didn’t ask.”
THE WAY JJ died was that he and Jim were both working for Laguna PD — unusualfor a father and son to work the same department — but everyonewas cool with it, and they made the papers a few times because of the humaninterest. “Father and Son Crime Busters Work Laguna Beat.”
If you don’t know Laguna, it’s in Orange County, California. It’s known as anartist colony and a tourist town, a place prone to disasters such as floods,earth slides, and wildfires. There had been only one LBPD officer killed in theline of duty before JJ. That was back in the early fifties. His name was GordonFrench.
Anyway, Jim was watch commander the night it happened to JJ, and when the”officer down” call came to dispatch, Jim stayed at his post until he knew whoit was.
When Jim got there, JJ’s cruiser was still parked up on the shoulder of PCH,with the lights flashing. It was a routine traffic stop, and the shooter was outof the car and firing before JJ could draw his gun. JJ’s partner had stayed withhim but also called in the plates. They got JJ to South Coast Medical Center butnot in time. One of the reasons they built South Coast Medical Center forty-sevenyears ago was because Gordon French was shot and died for lack of medicalcare in Laguna. Then they build one, and it’s still too late. Life is full ofthings like that, things that are true but badly shaped. JJ was twenty-five— would be thirty-eight today if he hadn’t seen that Corolla weaving downthe southbound lanes. They caught the shooter and gave him death. He’s in SanQuentin. His appeals will take at least six more years. Jim wants to go if theyexecute him. Me too, and I won’t blink.
THE NEXT TIME we saw Jason was at the hardware store two days later. I saw hisbike leaned against the wall by the door, and I spotted him at the counter as Iwalked through the screen door that Jim held open for me. He had on a knitbeanie and a long-sleeve black T-shirt with some kind of skull pattern, and hispants were still just about sliding off his waist, though you couldn’t see anyboxers.
“Try some ice,” the clerk said cheerfully.
Jason turned with a bag of something and started past us, his lips fat andblack. His cheeks were swelled up behind the sunglasses.
Jim wheeled and followed Jason out. Through the screen door, I could hear them.
“Dale do that?”
Silence then. I saw Jason looking down. And Jim with his fists on his hips andthis balanced posture he gets when he’s mad.
“Then what happened?”
“Nothing. Get away from me, man.”
“I can have a word with your brother.”
Jason swung his leg over his bike and rolled down the gravel parking lot.
The next evening, Dale came up our driveway in a black Ram Charger pickup. Itwas “wine thirty,” as Jim calls it, about six o’clock, which is when we wouldopen a bottle, sit, and watch the osprey try to catch one of the big troutrising in our pond out front.
The truck pulled up close to the porch, all the way to the logs Jim had stakedout to mark the end of the parking pad. Dale was leaning forward in the seatlike he was ready to get out, but he didn’t. The window went down, and Dalestared at us, face flushed red, which with his short red hair made him lookready to burst into flames.
“Dad told me to get over here to apologize for the jewelry, so that’s what I’mdoing.”
“You beat up your brother because he brought it back?”
“He deserved every bit he got.”
“A twelve-year-old doesn’t deserve a beating like that,” said Jim.
“You can’t miss the point much further,” said Jim.
Dale gunned the truck engine, and I watched the red dust jump away from theground below the pipe. He was still leaning away from the seat like you wouldback home in July when your car’s been in the sun and all you’ve got on is ahalter or your swimsuit top. But this was Idaho in June at evening time, and itprobably wasn’t more than seventy degrees.
“Get out and show me your back,” said Jim.
“What about it?”
“You know what it’s about.”
“You don’t know shit,” said Dale, pressing his back against the seat. “I dealwith things.”
Then the truck revved and lurched backward. I could see Dale leaning forward inthe seat again and his eyes raised to the rearview. He kept a good watch on thedriveway behind him as the truck backed out. Most young guys in trucks, they’dhave swung an arm out and turned to look directly where they were driving. Maybebraced the arm on the seat. JJ always did that. I liked watching JJ learn todrive because his attention was so pure and undistractible. Dale headed down theroad, and the dust rose like it was chasing him.
“Someone whipped his back,” I said.
“You made some calls.”
Jim nodded. Cops are curious people. Just because they retire doesn’t mean theystop nosing into things. Jim has a network of friends that stretches all the wayacross the country, though most of them are in the West. Mostly retired but afew still active. And they grouse and gossip and yap and yaw like you wouldn’tbelieve, swap information and stories and contacts and just about anything youcan imagine that relates to cops. You want to know something about a guy,someone will know someone who can help. Mostly by Internet but by phone too. Jimcalls it the Geezer Enforcement Network.
“Dale’s father has a nice jacket because he’s a nice guy,” said Jim. “Aggravatedassault in a local bar, pled down to disturbing the peace. Probation for assaulton his wife. Ten months in county for another assault — a Vietnamese kid,student at Boise — broke his jaw with his fist. There was a child-abuseinquiry raised by the school when Dale showed up for first grade with bruises.Dale got homeschooled after that. Dad’s been clean since ’93. The wife sticks byher man — won’t file, won’t do squat. Tory and Teri Badger. Christ, what aname.”
I thought about that for a second while the osprey launched himself from a tree.
“Is Tory an Aryan Brother?”
“Nobody said that.”
“Clean for thirteen years,” I said. “Since Jason was born. So, you could sayhe’s trying.”
Jim nodded. I did the math in my mind and knew that Jim was doing it too. Cleansince 1993. That was the year JJ died. We can’t even think of that year withoutremembering him. I’m not sure exactly what goes through Jim’s mind, but I knowthat just the mention of the year takes him right back to that watch commander’sdesk on August 20, 1993. I’ll bet he hears the “officer down” call with perfectclarity, every syllable and beat. Me, I think of JJ when he was seven years old,running down the sidewalk to the bus stop with his friends. Or the way he usedto comb his hair straight down onto his forehead when he was a boy. To tell youthe truth, sometimes I think about him for hours, all twenty-five years of him,whether somebody says “1993” or not.
That Saturday Jason came back over and split the wood. I watched him off and onfrom inside as he lined up the logs in the splitter and stood back as the woodcracked and fell into smaller and smaller halves. Twice he stopped and pulled asmall blue notebook from the back pocket of his slipping-down jeans andscribbled something with a pen from another pocket. The three of us ate lunch onthe porch even though it was getting cold. Jason didn’t say much, and I couldtell the lemonade stung his lips. The swelling around his eyes was down, but onewas black. He was going to be a freshman come September.
“Can your dad protect you from your brother?” Jim asked out of nowhere.
“Dale’s stronger now. But mostly, yeah.”
Jim didn’t say anything to that. After nearly forty years of being married tohim, I can tell you his silences mean he doesn’t believe you. And of coursethere were the broken lips and black eye making his case.
“If you need a place, you come stay here a night or two,” he said. “Anytime.”
“You’d be welcome,” I said.
“Okay,” he said, looking down at his sandwich.
I wanted to ask him what he wrote in the notebook, but I didn’t. I have a placewhere I put things for safekeeping too, though it’s not a physical place.
Later that night, we went to a party at Ed and Ann Logan’s house on the otherside of Spirit Lake. It was mostly retired SoCal cops, the old faces from OrangeCounty and some Long Beach people Jim fell in with whom I never really got toknow. I’ve come to like cops in general. I guess that would figure. And theirwives too — we pretty much get along. There’s a closedness about most copsthat used to put me off until JJ died and I realized that you can’t explaineverything to everybody. You have to have that place inside where something canbe safe. Even if it’s only a thought or a memory. It’s the opposite of the realworld, where people die as easily as leaves fall off a tree. And the old clichéabout cops believing it’s them and us, well, it’s absolutely true that that’swhat they think. Most people think that way — it’s just the “thems” andthe “usses” are different.
A man was stacking firewood on the Logans’ deck when we got there. He was shortand thick, gave us a level-eyed nod, and that was all. Later Jim and I wentoutside for some fresh air. The breeze was strong and cool. The guy was justfinishing up the wood. He walked toward us, slapping his leather work glovestogether.
“I apologize for Dale,” he said. “I’m his dad. He ain’t the trustworthiest kidaround.”
“No apology needed,” said Jim. “But he’s no kid.”
“He swore there was nothin’ missing from that bag.”
“It was all there,” I said.
Badger jammed the gloves down into a pocket. “Jason says you’re good people. ButI would appreciate it if you didn’t offer him no more work. And if he comes by,if you would just send him back home.”
“To get beat up?” said Jim.
“That’s not an everyday occurrence,” said Badger. “We keep the family businessin the family.”
“There’s the law.”
“You aren’t it.”
Badger had the same old-ice eyes as Dale. There was sawdust on his shirt andbits of wood stuck to his bootlaces, and he smelled like a cord of fresh-cutpine. “Stay away from my sons. Maybe you should move back to California. I’msure they got plenty a’need for bleedin’ heart know-it-alls like you.”
WE LEFT THE party early. When we were almost home, Jim saw a truck parked off inthe trees just before our driveway. He caught the shine of the grill in hisheadlights when we made the turn. I don’t know how he saw that thing, but hestill has twenty-fifteen vision for distance, so he’s always seeing things thatI miss. A wind had come up, so maybe it parted the trees at just the rightsecond.
He cut the lights and stopped well away from our house. The outdoor securitylights were on, and I could see the glimmer of the pond and the branchesswaying. Jim reached across and drew his .380 automatic from its holster underthe seat.
“We can go down the road and call the sheriff,” I said.
“This is our home, Sally. I’m leaving the keys in.”
“Be careful, Jim. We didn’t retire up here for this.”
I didn’t know a person could get in and out of a truck so quietly. He walkeddown the driveway with the gun in his right hand and a flashlight in the other.He had that balanced walk, the one that meant he was ready for things. Jim’s nota big guy, six feet, though, and still pretty solid.
Then I saw Dale backing around from the direction of the front porch, hunchedover with a green gas can in one hand. Jim yelled, and Dale turned and saw him,then he dropped the can and got something out of his pocket, and a wall offlames huffed up along the house. Dale lit out around the house and disappeared.
I climbed over the console and drove the truck fast down the driveway and almostskidded on the gravel into the fire. Had to back it up, rocks flying everywhere.I got the extinguisher off its clip behind the seat and walked along the base ofthe house, blasting the white powder down where the gas was. A bird’s nest upunder an eave had caught fire, so I gave that a shot too. Could hear the chickscheeping. I couldn’t tell the sound of the extinguisher from the roaring in myears.