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Book Jacket

080075848X
Trade Paperback
272 pages
Oct 2004
Revell Books

Dying to Kill

by Patricia H. Rushford

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt  |  Interview

Excerpt:

One

Sunday, May 4

Dear Dr. Campbell,

For obvious reasons, I can’t tell you who I am. For now, consider me a guardian, an avenger, an angel of death—your alter ego. I think that if you were not constrained by your position, you would do the same. You talk against violence, but deep down, you know it’s the only way.

The police are calling what I did to Jim Kelsey a murder. That’s far too strong a word. I didn’t murder the man, I simply disposed of a piece of garbage. Men like Jim Kelsey deserve to die. Don’t you agree?

This isn’t a confession letter, if that’s what you are thinking. I have no real guilt about it other than being incensed that the police would stoop so low as to think his sweet wife would kill him. She didn’t.

Perhaps that’s why I write—to somehow free her from police tyranny once and for all. And that brings me to the second part of my letter.

Something needs to be done about Phillip Jenkins. After his last episode . . . That’s what his wife calls them—episodes. I call them blowouts. Like the tires on a car when the pressure builds up and makes them explode, spewing rubber all over the highway. Phillip explodes, spewing his rage all over the people who should mean the most to him.

Seeing Candace all beat up and crying, after his last “episode,” I swore it was the last time he would ever hurt anyone again. He should go to prison for his crimes. And that’s what they are—crimes. But Candace won’t take a stand, so someone has to.

Rage seeps into my bones just thinking about the injustice. I laid awake all night staring at the ceiling, praying for an answer. Then it came, bright and clear as crystal. Having made the decision, I feel stronger and more powerful.

I know something Phillip Jenkins doesn’t know. I know the very day and hour he will die.

Dragonslayer

Two

By 7:00 on Tuesday morning, Angel had run two-and-a-half of her five miles; then she detoured inland from the hard-packed sand left by high tide and aimed for what had become her favorite house in Sunset Cove.

The newly remodeled two-story home held her admiration for three reasons. First, the place had become a work of art. The owner had turned the rundown shack into a showplace. Second, a cute little dog waited for her at the door every morning. Third, and most important, the house belonged to the new love in her life, Callen Riley, Detective Callen Riley with the Oregon State Police.

She imagined the handsome detective pulling her into his arms and telling her how much he’d missed her. She sighed and reined in her fantasy. There would be no hugs and kisses this morning. Callen had been gone for nearly a week, working a case involving a missing high school girl from Florence, a town about one hundred miles south of Sunset Cove on the Oregon coast.

God, please keep her safe. Let her be found alive. Angel prayed for the Grant girl every day. And every day, Angel hoped that she’d turn on the news and learn that the teenager hadn’t been abducted—that she had simply gone off on an adventure.

Callen was helping with the search and following up on leads. When she’d talked to him the night before, he told her he’d be coming home today. So, until tonight, she’d have to settle for doggy kisses.

Angel’s jog slowed to a plodding walk as her feet sank into the soft sand. She loved the Oregon coast despite the rainy season, which sometimes seemed to last all year. Behind her and to the west lay the Pacific Ocean. The Coastal Mountains rose to the east, creating peaks and valleys covered with vast green forests through which creeks and rivers tumbled from deep snowbanks into lakes and coves, finally making their way into the ocean.

Clouds hovered over the water today, creeping closer to shore and threatening rain. The sun had risen in a glorious array of colors, reminding Angel of the old fisherman’s ditty, “Red sky at night, sailors delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning.”

Sunset Cove lay at the base of the Coastal range. The sloping hills were perfect for building elegant ocean-view homes. The cove itself lay between two hills, forming a bowl at their base. A channel ran from the cove to the ocean. While Angel appreciated the luxurious developments on the hillsides, she preferred the diverse oceanfront properties with homes of various shapes and sizes and values. Maybe because she’d grown up about a mile north of Callen’s home, with the beach in her backyard and the ocean only a hundred or so yards away at high tide.

Angel had recently moved out of her parents’ home to a place not far from the beach. She now had the view and the rent payments to go with it. The rent, unfortunately, had become somewhat of a problem of late. But that was another story.

Mutt, Callen’s dog, barked when she came up over the dunes where he could see her. Every morning he waited for her at the sliding patio door. And every morning he yelped a greeting that had all the earmarks of a scolding mixed in with obvious glee.

“Morning, Mutt!” She pulled out the key Callen had given her, unlocked the door, and carefully slid it open, holding back the exuberant white ball of fluff with her foot. Once she’d squeezed inside, she scooped the dog into her arms and buried her face in his silky fur. She still couldn’t get used to calling the bichon frise “Mutt.”

Mutt hadn’t been Callen’s first choice for a dog. His wife, Karen, had loved the breed, and Callen couldn’t have refused her anything in those last months of her life. Karen had lost her battle with cancer two years ago, but Mutt stayed on, having secured a place in Callen’s heart. Even though the breed didn’t seem to go with a macho detective, Angel couldn’t imagine a better fit.

“Did you miss me? Oh, poor puppy. You’re lonesome for Callen, aren’t you?”

Mutt barked in agreement.

“Me too. Okay, let’s take you potty, then we’ll get you some fresh water and food.” Angel winced at the tone of her voice. Never did she think she’d be talking baby talk to a dog.

Mutt whimpered when she put him down, lifting his paws and prancing around on his hind legs. Angel reached for his leash and fastened it on his collar. “Ready to go outside?”

He cocked his head from side to side, sticking his nose against the glass.

“What am I saying? Of course you are. Okay, let’s go.” Angel opened the door and followed as he strained at the leash, acting as though he hadn’t been outside in days. She closed the door behind them and allowed him to pull her across the stained wooden deck and down the two steps to the beach.

Mutt was definitely in his element, sniffing at the sea leavings and barking at seagulls that ventured too close. Down on the beach, he scampered into the water and out, shaking vigorously after each dip and gifting Angel with saltwater sprays. He pushed through a clump of seaweed with his nose and sneezed.

After ten minutes of romping and exploring, Mutt headed back to the house, pausing to do his duty on the way. Inside, the dog settled into the business of eating breakfast, and when he finished, he curled up on his pillow for a nap.

Ordinarily, Angel might have hurried the process along, but not today—and not this week. She wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere or do anything. Without a job, life had become unbearably boring.

While she didn’t especially enjoy a life of leisure, the prospect of going back to work at the Sunset Cove Police Department seemed overwhelming.

When Mutt fell asleep, she quietly let herself out and resumed her run, heading back to her apartment, a much-needed shower, and her own breakfast.

Guilt niggled at her as she ran. You should be working. The department is way behind because of you. But I need this time away. Nearly everyone agreed—Callen, her mother, her brothers, her counselor, her lawyer. Even Joe, Sunset Cove’s chief of police. With budget cuts and a less than adequate staff, Joe needed her at the department. Even though it irked him to lose an officer, he had signed the papers giving her additional time off without pay.

Her father was another story. Disappointment glinted in Frank Delaney’s eyes every time he looked at her these days, making her feel like a traitor. Her mother tried to assure her that the look wasn’t meant to be critical—at least not toward her. “He’s angry, Angel,” her mother had said. “Angry with the doctors, angry with himself and me and the whole world.”

Angel didn’t buy it. Yes, he’d had a heart attack that had led to surgery, then a stroke. He was angry, but that was not the emotion she saw reflected in his eyes. He was disappointed that she had buckled under pressure. Her father had never tolerated weakness in any of his children—why would he start now? In his eyes, she was a quitter—at least that’s how she saw it.

Her chest constricted, more from heartache than from exertion.

Angel stopped running and closed her eyes, then, tipping her head back, said, “I wish you could understand, Dad. I’m not doing this to hurt you.” She had become a police officer to please her father, and now she needed to take a step back. She needed time to recuperate and determine what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. At least that’s what she kept telling herself.

Though she didn’t want to admit it to anyone, and hadn’t, except to Janet Campbell, her counselor, and Callen, she wasn’t certain she could work as a police officer again. Two events, both tragic, had left her reeling.

The first tragedy had happened in Florida, where she’d gone to work as a rookie after college and the police training program. She’d been partnered with an officer named Daniella Ortega. During the two years they’d worked together, Angel and Dani became closer than friends—more like sisters.

A tear slid down Angel’s cheek. She brushed it away, wondering if she’d ever be able to think about Dani without crying and being angry at God for letting her die. But slowly the anger had begun to lessen as she kept reminding herself that God had not killed Dani, the gunman had.

Angel still wondered why Dani had been the one to die; she’d had a husband and two children. Dani and Angel had been the first officers to arrive on the scene of a hostage situation in a day care. The last words Angel had heard her partner say were in the form of a prayer. “Heavenly Father, don’t let any of those children be harmed.”

Thinking about it now, Angel could still hear the sirens and feel the tightness in her chest as they entered through the back door, hoping to negotiate with the man who’d taken a day-care worker and six children hostage. Two other police officers were supposed to come in from the front. The man must have heard them as he stepped into the hallway at the same moment as Dani and Angel.

He fired twice and ducked back into the room with the children and their caregiver, shouting at the police to stay away or he’d kill them all. His first bullet slammed into Dani’s forehead. The second hit her neck. She staggered back and fell into Angel’s arms, dead before she hit the floor.

God had answered Dani’s prayer that day. The children were spared and the gunman stopped. But Dani was dead, and Angel still bore the emotional scars.

The department had given Angel two weeks off. When she insisted on going back to work, they put her on a desk job. She’d hated it and fought going to counseling, making only the mandatory visit. She realized now that she’d been operating in the same mode as her father, dealing with emotions by stuffing them inside.

For far too long, Angel had been in denial, refusing to admit how much Dani’s death had affected her. Delaney pride and stubbornness died hard if it died at all. She’d eventually quit her job in Bay City and come back home to Sunset Cove to heal, lick her wounds, and start over. At first, she’d lived with her parents and eventually moved into her own apartment. Police Chief Joe Brady hired her mostly as a favor to his old friend, Frank Delaney, who had served on the Sunset Cove police force for forty-some years.

Angel had worked for the Sunset Cove PD for less than a year when tragedy struck again. This time it came in the death of a twelve-year-old boy who’d been at the scene of a gang-related burglary at a pharmacy. She learned later that he wasn’t one of the gang members after all, and that his gun had been a toy, but by then it was too late.

Images flooded her mind as they often did these days. Janet called them flashbacks, the result of post-traumatic stress. Images of her pulling the trigger, of Billy falling to the floor, of her covered in his blood. She shoved the thoughts aside.

You can’t keep blaming yourself. It’s over. You have to move on. And she would someday. But Dani’s and Billy’s deaths were carved into her life. Two deep and still bleeding wounds. Her mother often reminded her that God worked all things for good for those who love the Lord. There had been some good things in her life. She’d made her peace with God and she’d met Callen.

And she was growing closer to her mother. Healing came softly in often imperceptible ways. Angel marveled at how differently she felt now as compared to just a few weeks earlier. Angel continued her run, stopping when she reached her apartment complex. She let herself in, locked the door behind her, and headed for the shower. She wished she could turn off her brain with as little effort as it took to turn off the water faucet. Unfortunately, the worrisome thoughts continued to swirl in her head. As she dried off, she decided she needed something constructive to do with her day so she could quit ruminating about the past and her tenuous future.

“You could look for a different job,” she muttered aloud to the steamed-up image in the mirror.

She’d been off work for nearly six weeks and missed it. Part of her wanted to go back to being a police officer. But part of her wanted nothing more to do with law enforcement.

Problem was, she couldn’t think of anything she would like better than being a cop. Secretarial work got two thumbs-down. She needed to be active and involved with people. Her counselor had suggested that with her degree in criminal justice she could get a job teaching at the local college. Not a bad idea, but would the college hire someone with only four years of experience in the field?

“You’d better make up your mind soon.” Angel brushed through her dark, dripping curls. With her paid leave at an end, the stack of bills lying on the kitchen counter would only get higher.

Angel had enough money for another month, then she’d either have to go back to her old job, quit and go on unemployment, or find another job. At the moment she didn’t feel like doing any of the above. Maybe she could find a cheaper apartment. Or move back in with her parents again.

Angel cringed at the thought. Her mother would love that. Anna Delaney lived to take care of others.

Determined not to dwell on her problems, Angel focused on Callen’s homecoming. She wanted to do something special to welcome him back and knew just the thing. Once she’d dressed in her daily uniform, jeans and a lightweight knit top, she picked up her phone and dialed the Delaney residence.

“Hey, Ma,” Angel said when her mother answered. “What’s your schedule like today?”

“Tell me what you want, and I’ll see if I can work it in.”

“I’d like you to teach me how to make soup. Callen’s coming home tonight, and I want to surprise him.”

“That’s a wonderful idea. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”

Angel laughed. “Not Callen’s. He’s a better cook than . . . than I am.” Which wasn’t saying much. Everyone cooked better than she did.

“Speaking of Callen, have you talked to him today?”

“No, why?”

“I was watching the news this morning. The police think they’ve found the car they’ve been looking for. You know the one they think that high school girl got into with that man. It doesn’t look good.”

“Have they found her?”

“Not yet.”

Angel ran a hand through her damp curls. “There’s still hope.”

“I know. My heart aches for those poor parents. I don’t suppose you’d want to call Callen. Maybe you could find out more.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea right now. He most likely has his hands full. We’ll see him tonight, and he can fill us in then.”

After agreeing to come over for lunch, Angel hung up and finished getting dressed. She couldn’t help thinking about the fate of the high school cheerleader who should have known better than to get into a stranger’s car. If he was a stranger. He could well have been a classmate or relative or friend. Though she’d told her mother there was still hope, Angel couldn’t quite convince herself.

If she were still working as a police officer, she’d have all the facts by now. She might even be part of the team trying to piece clues together. But you are not working, Angel Delaney, she reminded herself. You are not part of the team. You are a civilian and you are about to learn how to make soup.

Whoopee.