HAPPY FATHERS DAY to all you father’s out there. Hopefully you get to sit back, relax, catch a game on TV…read a book! My son is in Michigan this weekend at the Nascar races, an annual Father’s Day event for the past eight years or so, with half a dozen other fathers whose wives are quite happy to take possession of the TV converters for the weekend. I understand Jefferson met his fav driver, Randy Newman, so he’ll be grinning ear to ear all day and I imagine I’ll be posting pics of the Grand Event.
Today, however, I’m turning the spotlight over to my guest blogger Maryann Miller so sit back, relax over a coffee and enjoy.
First of all I want to say “Happy Father’s Day” to all the fathers out there celebrating today. Enjoy your day. Then I want to thank Marsha for inviting me to share a sample from my romantic suspense, One Small Victory. For a while last year, my book and her, Swept Away, were neck and neck on some best-sellers lists on Amazon, a fact I found a bit surprising since my book has less romance. However, we were both pleased to share the spotlight for a while.
In One Small Victory, Jenny Jasik loses her son, Michael, in a car accident and drugs are found at the scene. A single mother who has been busy raising her family, Jenny did not know drugs were so prolific in her small Texas town. She decides to channel her grief into something pro-active, and that complicates her life in ways she did not even imagine.
an excerpt from:
“I want to join this task force.” Jenny dropped the newspaper on top of an open folder on Steve’s desk.
“This.” Jenny pointed to a headline CITY LAUNCHES DRUG TASK FORCE.
Steve glanced at the paper then raised his eyes to meet hers. They appeared to burn with intensity. “You can’t”
“Why not? Aren’t the police always complaining about lack of cooperation from the public?”
Steve regarded her, noting the defiant tilt of her chin. “This isn’t what we’re looking for.”
“I’ve been watching them for two weeks.” Jenny threw a notebook down on top of the paper. It opened to reveal a page dotted with scribbles of numbers and notations. “They’re out there like the freakin’ ice-cream man.”
Jenny didn’t realize how her voice had risen until Trudy popped her head in. “You okay in here, Steve?”
He held Jenny’s gaze. “We okay?”
She released a deep breath and nodded. He waved the other woman off and motioned to a chair. After Jenny perched on the edge of it, he rocked back in his and regarded her. “Do you have any idea what you’re asking?”
“No.” She let a smile touch the corner of her mouth.
The smile looked good, and that realization startled him. Not that he was immune to a pretty woman, but this…
“Civilians have no place in this kind of operation.” He tapped the news story with the tip of his pencil.
“I’m not just any civilian. I’m a woman with a great deal of emotion-driven energy. You ever see what a bit of anxiety can do when it comes to cleaning a house?”
He leaned back in his chair and studied her. Jenny wasn’t sure if he was considering her request or trying to sort out her example. Finally, he sighed. “I hardly think—”
“Are you the final authority, or is there someone else I can talk to?”
The interruption seemed to rattle him and he glanced around quickly as if looking for backup. When he faced her again he tapped his cheek with the end of his pen. “You’re not going away, are you?”
“No.” Again she allowed a small smile.
Steve sighed and stood up. “Come on.”
Grabbing her notebook and the newspaper, Jenny followed him out of the office. They went down the hall and paused in front of a closed door. Steve knocked, then opened it when a voice inside said, “Yo.”
The Hispanic man behind a large, pristine desk looked at Steve, then at Jenny, then back to Steve. He raised one bushy eyebrow in question.
“Mrs. Jasik, this is Chief Gonzales.”
“It’s Ms. Jasik.” She stepped forward and offered a hand. “But you can call me Jenny.”
Gonzales sent another questioning look around her, and she turned to see Steve leaning against the wall with an impassive expression. He spoke to the Chief with a brief nod in her direction. “Ms. Jasik is the one who lost her son in that accident a while back.”
“Oh.” Gonzales spoke softly and gave her a look that she interpreted as sympathetic. “My sincere condolences.”
He continued to look at her as if waiting for her to get to the point of this impromptu meeting.
“She wants to join the new Drug Task Force.” Steve said.
“Oh.” This time the intonation was different, and Gonzales wiped at his stubble of beard.
“I told her we don’t use civilians,” Steve continued.
In the face of his steady gaze, a wave of uncertainty washed over Jenny. What the hell did she think she was doing? Extreme frustration had driven her to the station this morning, but did she really think they’d accept her. It wasn’t like she was brimming with qualifications. A florist? A mother? A woman?
But even as the mental debate raged, Jenny’s heart told her she couldn’t back off without a bit of a fight. Scrapping was second nature to her. Anyone who wondered just had to ask Ralph. For all his faults, she was big enough to admit that she didn’t always make it easy to live with her.
“This is highly unorthodox,” Gonzales said.
Jenny resisted the urge to say, “Sure. Sorry I bothered you.” She forced herself not to fidget under the force of his gaze.
Gonzales leaned back and cradled his head in his hands. “What makes you think you can do this?”
“Determination.” It was the first and only thing that came to mind.
“Determination’s good,” Steve said.
“I was thinking in terms of practical experience,” Gonzales said. “Something that would catch my eye on a resume.”
Jenny stifled a laugh. I can arrange a mean centerpiece.
Gonzales released his hands and sat forward. He studied her for a long moment, then sighed. “Tell you what. Pass the fitness test and I’ll consider your request.”
Fitness test? A picture of Marine boot camp training flashed through her mind. How the hell could she pass a fitness test? Was this the moment she should say, ‘thank you very much’ and take her leave? “What exactly do I have to do?”
The man seemed as surprised by her question as she was. “A modified form of our cadet requirements.”
“Run a mile without passing out. Twenty-five sit-ups. Twenty-five push-ups. A few more things I can’t recall. It’s been a while since I looked at the training manual.”
Jenny kept her feet planted firmly in place despite her inclination to run like hell. She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d done a sit-up. “How long do I have to get ready?”
Gonzales seemed to consider her slight frame for a second longer than necessary. “Four weeks.”
Driving home, Jenny’s mind whirled with the effort of trying to sort out the complications she’d never considered before making that brash decision to storm the police station.
Not the least of which was keeping everything a secret.
Gonzales had explained that the only way they could make this happen-if she passed the physical challenge-was to run her as a confidential informant. That meant not telling anyone. “Not your kids. Not your mother. Not even your dog can know where you go or what you do.”
That had struck her as funny at the station, but now as she approached her driveway anxiety tore through her. Her whole relationship with the kids had been built on honesty. How could she lie to them? And hide things from her mother, or Carol? There was a good reason Jenny never played poker.
After the car rolled to a stop in front of the house, Jenny killed the engine and sat for a moment. Through her open window she heard the chatter of a blue jay that was worrying a robin in the elm tree. As she watched the birds, she couldn’t help but notice that the branches of the tree dipped dangerously close to the roof. Pretty soon they’d be scraping across the shingles. Something else to fix. Maybe she should just forget this nonsense and take care of her house. Take care of the family that she had left. Forget the drugs and forget-
No. She couldn’t just forget. Otherwise there would be no way to make any sense of Michael’s death. And somehow there was this burning need for reason, for order, for retribution.
* * * * *
The pain in her side finally brought Jenny to a halt and she bent over to get her breath. Good thing she’d toted deliveries around for all these years. No upper-arm wobble for her. But the stamina could use work. She jogged a few blocks and broke out in a huff.
Surprisingly, Carol had outdistanced her. Who would’ve thought short and a little pudgy would have beat skinny as a rail?
Her friend now came back with a broad grin. “I still have it.”
“How quickly you forget. High school track? Who beat you then?”
“Bite me.” Jenny headed down the street at a slow lope that Carol easily matched.
“Tell me again why we’re doing this?”
“So we can enjoy our old age together.”
“Who says I want to spend it with you?”
Jenny managed a semblance of a laugh in between huffs. That had been an on-going joke with them for years. Carol lost her husband to cancer two years after Ralph had run off. Neither of them had been able to decide which loss was worse; finally deciding that it didn’t have to be a contest. But what they both agreed on was a real reluctance to make that kind of emotional commitment again. Maybe it was enough to have one good friend and plenty of extended family to love and be loved by.
It had seemed to be a good philosophy until some other basic human needs, the kind that could only be met by someone of the opposite sex, had clamored for attention.
While Jenny had been too busy with kids and eking out survival to tend to those needs, Carol had the means and the opportunity to seek out someone new. Six months ago George had entered her life; complete with the family she and Barry had never been able to have. Granted, they were only every-other-weekend kids, but it was better than the nothing Carol had had previously. And it looked like the relationship was going to last.
Jenny was happy for her friend. Glad to see the dreamy smiles and hear the contented sighs when she talked about George and his two kids. But a little part of her couldn’t help but be envious. Oh, that old green snake.
She shook off the thoughts and coaxed her trembling leg muscles into action. She only had a week left. No time for loafing.
Jenny’s muscles turned to Jello. She felt the quiver and knew her arms were about to give out. She struggled to hold, but knew there was no way she was going to push her weight up one more time. Damn. I was so close.
Steve stood on the other side of the mat but didn’t say anything when her arms collapsed and she fell flat on her face. He threw her a towel. “Come on.”
Wiping the sweat off her face, Jenny followed him out of the gym. “Twenty-two was pretty good, wasn’t it?”
“Come to the Chief’s office as soon as you’re changed.”
She waved an acknowledgement before stepping into the locker room and closing the door. She quickly mopped the rest of the sweat from her body with the towel, and then pulled her sweats on over her workout clothes. She wasn’t comfortable using the big open showers.
After putting her hair in some semblance of order, Jenny went through the door that led to a long hall back to the office area of the station. She stopped at the door to Gonzales’ office and knocked. His distinctive voice told her to come in, so she pushed the door open and stepped through. Steve was leaning against the wall beside the desk. Gonzales motioned her to close the door. “Steve was waiting for you before he gave his report.”
Jenny nodded, afraid if she opened her mouth she’d whimper.
Gonzales turned to face Steve.
Jenny almost fainted. That was not what she expected to hear. Obviously, Gonzales didn’t either. He looked at her, dark eyes wide with surprise. “She did?”
Steve stepped over and passed a sheet of paper to his boss, avoiding eye contact with her as he stepped near. “Got the results right here.”
Gonzales studied the paper for a moment, then shook his head. “Now what the hell are we supposed to do?”
Steve stepped back from the desk. “I think we sign her up.”
“She’s a civilian for Pete’s sake. We can’t sign her up.”
“A deal’s a deal.”
Gonzales huffed and his face turned an alarming shade of crimson. He turned to her. “Uh, give us a few minutes.Tracycan get you coffee.”
Jenny stepped out but stayed by the door. She could hear Gonzales clearly, “I never dreamed she’d actually do it.”
Did that mean he was just stringing me along? That thought made her want to storm back in the room and confront him, but practicality held her back. Venting her anger would probably destroy any chance she had – slim as it was. She put her ear to the door, trying to make out what Steve was saying, but his response was muffled.
She had to step back when Gonzales shouted again, “Christ, it’s my ass if she screws up and gets injured. Or worse.”
Again, she couldn’t hear what Steve said, and for the next few minutes both voices were muffled. A short, scrawny officer in blues stepped out of the break room, stopped and stared at her. “Can I help you?”
She motioned to the door. “Just waiting for Steve.”
Wariness controlled his expression and he made no move to leave. “I can show you to his office.”
“No need.” Jenny turned and walked down the hall, feeling the officer’s eyes on her as she went. The door to Steve’s office was open and she stepped in, nodding to the officer who still had not moved.
The perpetual coffee pot on the tall filing cabinet was half full of what looked like sludge, but it was better than nothing. She found a Styrofoam cup and poured it half full of the dark liquid that flowed like two-year-old motor oil. She doctored it with two creamer packets, and that made it almost drinkable.
Fifteen minutes later, she was contemplating another cup of the coffee. Just to keep her hands busy so they didn’t respond to the temptation to read some of the case files strewn on Steve’s desk. The Wanted posters tacked to a bulletin board had only provided five minutes of interest.
Her stomach was given a reprieve when Steve stepped through the doorway. She looked at him, letting her expression ask the question.
“Come on. The Chief wants to talk to you.”
She tossed her empty cup in an overflowing trashcan and followed Steve back down the hall. He opened the door to the Chief’s office, and Jenny walked in. Gonzales still sat behind his desk, and he motioned her to sit in the chair facing him. Steve pulled up another visitor chair and sat beside her.
“You have to sign this waiver.” Gonzales slid a document across to Jenny. “You’re still a civilian and the department can’t be held responsible.”
Her heart skipped a beat. “You mean I’m in?”
Gonzales nodded toward Steve. “You’ve got quite an advocate.”
Jenny shot Steve a quick glance and noted the little smile that softened the hard planes of his face. She whispered a thank you, then picked up the paper. It had a bold heading:
“It’s not too late,” Gonzales said. “You can still back out.”
His tone made the statement sound a plea and she glanced at him, realizing it would probably be easier for him if she did. Too bad, Chief. You’re stuck with me.
She scanned the document. It had general wordage to the effect that should she be injured or killed while acting in a limited capacity for the Little Oak’s police department, there would be no compensation. Short, sweet, and to the point.
Jenny put the paper back on the desk. “Where do I sign?”
“Right here.” Gonzales pointed to a line at the bottom of the page.
“May I borrow your pen?”
After the slightest hesitation, Gonzales pulled a thin silver pen out of the inside pocket of his jacket and handed it across to her.
As Jenny scrawled her name in the space, he kept up a running commentary. “You call in every day. Even if you don’t think you have anything important to report. Despite what it says on this paper, we are responsible for you. It doesn’t look good if people die on our watch.”
“I’ll be your contact,” Steve said, handing her a piece of paper. “Here’s my cell number. Use it to set up a time and place for a meet or a secure phone call. When we do meet it will be out of this area. A different place each time.”
“Pretty cloak-and-dagger kind of stuff.”
“It’s essential. We’re dealing with the worst of the bad boys.”
The seriousness on his face kept her from a flip comment about chewing the paper after she memorized the number. And she wasn’t quite sure why her mind was going in silly directions. Maybe to keep from latching on to just how dangerous this could be? She’d been so busy just getting in shape; the effort had crowded out any scary thought that dared raise a monster head. But she couldn’t ignore the reality today and a tight fist of panic squeezed her stomach. What on earth have I done?
An instinct for self-preservation tempted her to back out of the room with some lame apology for wasting their time. But the desire to squash the drug-dealing vermin held her resolute.
“When do I start?” she asked.
“After I show you what you’re facing.” Steve took her arm and led her to a conference room that had several long tables with a multitude of chairs. “This is our version of a roll-call room.”
He disappeared for a moment, then returned with coffee in two heavy, ceramic mugs. “Got this fresh from the break room.”
“Good. I’m not sure I could stomach another cup from your office.”
Steve set the mugs down, then motioned for her to sit across from him.
“I saw you at the funeral yesterday,” he said as he spread a folder on the scarred surface of the table.
“You were there?”
“Yeah.” He grinned. “Way in the back on the other side. Made it easier to slip out when I wanted to.”
Jenny flushed at his obvious reference to her early escape. “It was just too—”
“I know.” His smile vanished. “It was nice of you to show up at all.”
“It was the right thing to do.”
His expression turned so serious for a moment, Jenny wondered if her comment had come across too pompous. But then he gave her a slight nod and touched her hand lightly. “Yes it was,” he said.
She shifted slightly and motioned to the folder. “Maybe we should get started.”
Later, driving home, Jenny’s mind swam in a jumbled sea of all the information she’d tried to assimilate in the past hour and a half. That big beautiful ranch just outside of town that she’d always admired so much; Steve said it was the headquarters of a Cuban man who controlled the drug business inNorth Texas,Oklahomaand part ofNew Mexico. And here she’d been naïve enough to think that the price of cattle must have taken an upswing to support a spread like that.
She also realized how incredibly naïve she was about the whole drug scene. Steve had bandied terms about – mule, runner, dealer, distributor, and main man. Other than mule, the rest sounded like they could be applied to any legitimate business. When she’d voiced this thought, Steve had assured her that except for the product and some of the means, the drug trade was run very much like a legal enterprise.
Her first challenge would be to make a connection with the street dealers. She’d have no trouble locating them. God knows she’d seen them often enough around town. But she’d have to actually approach them and convince them she was a customer. Not something she felt adequately prepared to pull off, but then Steve had said they’d meet with someone from DEA tomorrow. Maybe she could learn how to be a druggie in one easy lesson.
You can find information about all Maryann’s books at her website www.maryannwrites.com