Read a sneak peak of the latest Jack Stratton Novel: And Then She Was GONE
For you my loyal readers:
Here's an exclusive sneak peek of the latest novel in the Detective Jack Stratton Series
And Then She Was Gone
CHAPTER 1 – Where Have All the Heroes Gone?
“HELP ME!” The old woman’s desperate plea rose above the din of the afternoon traffic. The bystanders moved away from the trouble; in the rough neighborhood of Hamilton Heights, you kept your head down and your eyes shut if you wanted to make it home alive.
The lanky junkie yanked on the woman’s handbag. Her money was the ticket to his next fix, and that was a train he wouldn’t miss. His forearms, riddled with scabs, strained as he attempted to twist the leather strap from her hands. “Let go, you old hag.”
A small crowd formed, watching the struggle from a safe distance. None offered assistance. One man took out his phone but didn’t call the police; he pressed the video record button instead.
The frail Hispanic woman, whose age and poverty had worn her shoulders into the shape of a wishbone, begged for mercy. “No money.” She clung to the strap of the handbag like a drowning child clutching a rope. “Jus’ medicine.”
The junkie’s eyes widened. He jerked harder, pulling the old woman forward. Her legs buckled and then her knees crashed down onto the pavement. The junkie planted his feet and dragged her forward. Her fingers tightened on the leather as her legs scraped along the jagged concrete.
“My husband needs it,” the woman begged.
The junkie’s dilated pupils darted erratically. “Give it up.” He smashed his fist down onto her fingers.
The strap broke, and the woman landed with a sick thud onto the sidewalk. The thief bolted with his prize clutched under his arm.
As the indifferent crowd parted to let him through, two young men stepped out of Ma Barker’s Mini Mart—and straight into the junkie’s escape route. When the druggie slammed into the first man—Chandler, all six foot six and two hundred and ninety pounds of him—he bounced right off. Chandler didn’t budge an inch.
The junkie swore, scrambled to his feet, and scurried away down the sidewalk.
“Please, please, stop him!” The woman begged, running toward the two young men. “He stole my purse.”
The second man, Jack, turned and raced after the junkie without hesitation.
“Jack, stop!” Chandler called out, but it was too late.
Adrenaline mixed with testosterone surged through Jack’s body as he ran down the sidewalk. He knew that if there was trouble, you call the police. His adoptive parents had reinforced that concept at every opportunity. But Jack left caution in the dust as he chased the fleeing perp.
“Wait up!” Chandler yelled after him.
Jack, who had been working out every day to get ready for the physical entrance exam, didn’t slow. He wasn’t just “in shape”; he was close to his peak athletically. For the last year, he had been training with the same focus as an Olympian. But a gold medal wasn’t his objective—a gold shield was.
The wiry purse snatcher, clearly determined to sell the handbag for a fix, cradled it like a football. He picked up the pace. He had a huge lead, but Jack’s speed quickly shrank that distance. The sidewalk was crowded and traffic was heavy. The junkie weaved between pedestrians and shoved aside anyone in his way.
The old woman’s cry for help still rang in Jack’s ears. Her face flashed through his mind—desperate, bloody, and helpless. She was a victim. As a little boy, Jack had been the helpless victim—he’d been the prey… but not now. Now Jack was the hunter.
The deep-seated anger Jack kept constrained below the surface exploded inside him and propelled him forward. Blood pumped through him and power surged down his legs. His feet became a blur.
The junkie suddenly changed direction and headed for the other side of the street. Jack quickly adjusted his pursuit, cutting in front of a speeding car. Its horn blared and brakes squealed; His hand brushed the car’s hood and the bumper passed just behind his legs. He made it to the other sidewalk right behind the thief. Less than ten yards separated them now.
“I’m not going to stop,” Jack shouted, as he flew forward.
The junkie cast a desperate glance over his shoulder. He gasped for breath and his legs slowed. Losing steam, he cut down an alley.
Jack barely slowed as he rounded the corner after him. His long legs stretched out and his hands sliced through the air as he pushed himself even harder.
Trash littered both sides of the narrow utility alley. Its graffiti-covered brick walls trapped the summer heat like a furnace, and the stench of garbage and urine hung in the stale air. A rat, searching for its next meal, scurried away under a dumpster.
When the alley came to a dead end stop, so did the junkie. Cornered, he turned to face Jack.
Jack skidded to a halt. Figuring the junkie had had enough, Jack expected the guy to give up. “Hand over the bag.”
A thin smile curled across the junkie’s cracked lips. Then he hurled the handbag at Jack’s head.
Jack snagged it with one hand. “Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?” As Jack glanced down at the bag, a flash of bright sunlight caught his eye. He blinked and looked up to see a knife in the druggie’s hand.
“Whoa!” Jack raised his hands.
The serrated blade was short, about four inches, but long enough to kill.
The junkie took a step forward.
Jack cursed himself. Once again his need for justice had short-circuited his instinct for self-preservation. I should bolt—
Before Jack could make up his mind, the junkie lunged straight at him. The knife cut through the air. Jack jumped back, but not quite fast enough—the blade sliced through the front of Jack’s shirt, grazing his skin.
The junkie thrust again.
All of Jack’s training took over. He pushed off with his right foot and twisted sideways. His right hand swept down in a scoop block, and he used the momentum to knock the junkie’s jab to the side.
Remembering what he’d learned about self-defense, Jack quickly sprang forward. His right elbow shot out and connected with the junkie’s face, just under the nose. The sound of the druggie’s teeth snapping shut echoed off the bricks in the narrow alley. The knife flew out of the junkie’s hand, the blade clanging as skidded along the tar, and the thief was thrown into the wall. His legs wobbled and he slid down into a heap.
“Freeze!” The sharp order came from behind Jack.
Jack started to turn toward the opening of the alley.
“Don’t move!” the policeman yelled. His gun was raised, and he moved forward. “Put your hands over your head.”
“Who, me?” Jack stared at the cop in disbelief as he realized that the order was directed at him. “But…” He looked at the purse still in his hand. “Wait a minute—”
“Put your hands above your head,” the policeman ordered again.
Jack raised his hands.
The junkie rose to his feet and slyly stepped closer to the opening of the alleyway.
Jack moved toward the junkie. The policeman barked, “Freeze!”
As the policeman’s attention was focused on Jack, the junkie bolted past the cop and toward the street.
“That guy’s the thief.” Jack pointed at the fleeing druggie.
“Hands in the air, now.”
Jack’s jaw clenched, but he lifted his hands. “He’s getting away.”
“You’re the one with the handbag. Now show me your hands.”
Jack did what he was told.
“Drop what’s in your left hand.”
Jack started to lower his arm.
“It’s that old lady’s handbag. Can I set it down?”
Jack released the bag.
“Keep your hands in the air and face the wall,” the policeman ordered. “Feet out and spread ’em.”
“I’m the good guy,” Jack grumbled as he put his hands on the brick wall and set his feet wide apart. “Can we hurry this up so you can catch the real thief?” His foot tapped impatiently, his body yearning to continue the pursuit.
The policeman holstered his gun as he moved up behind Jack. “Do you have any weapons on you?”
“I don’t. But that junkie did. A knife. It’s over there.” Jack nodded in the direction of the blade.
“Why were you beating that guy up?” the policeman asked in a low, authoritative voice.
“He stole a woman’s handbag outside Ma Barker’s.”
“That still doesn’t explain you bashing the guy into the wall.”
“He pulled a knife on me. What was I supposed to do—ask him if he cared for some tea and crumpets?”
“Jack!” Chandler panted as he thumped to a stop at the front of the alley.
“Stay where you are.” The policeman kept one hand on Jack’s shoulder and pointed the other at Chandler.
“What happened?” Chandler asked.
Jack grinned. “I’m getting frisked.”
Chandler shook his head. “That’s not a good thing, Jack. Why are you getting frisked?”
Jack shrugged as the policeman patted him down. “He thinks I was beating up the junkie.”
Chandler walked forward.
“You were fighting.” The policeman stepped back and pointed at Chandler. “You get against the wall too.”
“Yes, sir.” Chandler moved right over and stood next to Jack, his back to the wall and his hands in the air.
“Why are you making him get against the wall?” Jack asked. “Is it because he’s black—”
“Shut up, Jack,” Chandler snapped.
“He didn’t do anything.” Jack kept his hands on the wall and craned his neck so he could get a good look at the cop.
The cop scowled but didn’t respond.
“Jack, you’re going to get us arrested,” Chandler said out of the side of his mouth.
“For what? We’re not going to get arrested. We’re the good guys.”
“Just be quiet, okay?”
The police officer directed his next question to Chandler. “Now what’s your story?”
“We were coming out of Ma Barker’s on D Street when this junkie stole an older woman’s handbag,” Chandler politely explained, keeping his hands in the air.
“Is she all right?” Jack asked.
“She seemed more worried about her husband’s medicine than about herself.” Chandler looked down at the handbag. “She’ll be happy you got it back.”
“Did you see the other man steal it?” The policeman finished patting Jack down.
“Neither of us did,” Jack said over his shoulder, “but the lady was screaming, ‘He stole my bag,’ and that junkie didn’t exactly look like the purple handbag type.” Jack started to turn around.
“Keep facing the wall.” The policeman pointed at Chandler. “You too.”
“Yes, sir.” Chandler turned right around and put his big hands against the brick.
“He didn’t do anything,” Jack persisted.
“Shut up,” the policeman snapped. He patted down Chandler, then stepped back and looked back and forth between them. “What’s your name?”
“Chandler Campbell, sir.”
“Stratton. Jack Stratton.”
The policeman reached for his shoulder radio. “This is Officer Denby. Have there been any reports of a situation around D Street and 43rd?”
As the officer called it in, Chandler whispered to Jack, “How about trying to get us out of this?”
“We didn’t do anything. We’re fine.”
“No, we’re not. Have you forgotten what it’s like to live in the hood?”
“What took you so long to get here, anyway?”
“I… er… I wanted to make sure the old lady was okay.”
Jack frowned. “You haven’t been exercising, have you?”
“I have,” Chandler muttered.
“Yeah, right.” Jack cocked an eyebrow and looked toward Chandler’s belly. “You’ve got three months to lose fifteen pounds.”
“That’s what it was last month. You gained weight.”
The policeman’s radio beeped, and the dispatcher came on: “Officer Jenkins is on scene. Possible mugging.”
“Eat less, run more,” Jack said.
“Just keep your big mouth shut or I won’t have to worry about my weight.”
“Because we’ll be disqualified before the weigh-in,” Chandler grumbled.
The policeman spoke into his radio. “Officer Jenkins? This is Officer Denby. Do you copy?”
Jenkins’s voice came through the speaker: “Copy.”
“Can you give me a description of the perp?”
“Tall. Thin build. He’s wearing a red hoodie.”
“Was anyone with him?”
“No. But two teenagers chased after him. One African-American, one Caucasian, both male.”
Jack kept his hands on the wall and looked over his shoulder. “Ask him if one of the teens is tall and really good-looking.”
“That would be me.” Chandler grinned as he raised himself up to his full six-foot-six.
“I’m with the teenagers now,” Denby said.
Over the radio, Jack could hear the old woman asking, “My handbag, where’s my handbag?”
“Hold on, ma’am.” Jenkins’s voice. To Denby, he asked, “Did you recover the handbag?”
Jack smiled, broadly.
Officer Denby responded, “That’s affirmative. We did.”
Jack glanced over at Chandler and mouthed, We?
Chandler gave Jack his shut-your-big-mouth face.
“I’m driving the victim over to you. What’s your location?” Jenkins asked.
“I’m in a dead-end alley between J and K Streets.”
Denby clicked his radio off. “Okay, you two can turn around.” The officer took a long breath and then somewhat begrudgingly added, “I know you thought you were doing the right thing, but you should have called the police.”
“I didn’t want him to get away,” Jack said.
“He won’t. We’ll pick him up.” He took a small notebook and pen from a pocket on his shirt. “Anything you can tell me about him?”
“Approximately five foot eleven. One hundred and fifty pounds. Newer white Nikes, ripped blue jeans, grubby Puma red hoodie. He has medium-length sandy hair with a Grim Reaper tattoo on his neck.”
The cop’s mouth fell slightly open.
“And he’s missing at least two front teeth.” Jack smiled cheekily.
Chandler lowered his eyes and rubbed his forehead.
“What?” Jack shrugged. “He knocked down that old lady.”
“How did you remember all that?” Denby asked.
“I’m studying to be a cop.”
Denby radioed in the enhanced description of the junkie, then nodded toward the weapon on the ground. “Is this the knife the guy had on him?” He took a plastic evidence bag from his pocket.
“Yes, sir, it is.”
Chandler pointed to Jack’s side. “Did you tear your shirt?”
“Crud,” Jack muttered as he stuck a finger through the slice in his t-shirt. “It’s one of my favorites.”
Chandler grabbed Jack’s shirt and examined it. “Did he stab you?”
“No.” Jack pulled back. “It’s a scratch.”
“A guy almost slices you up and you’re more worried about your t-shirt.”
“I looked really good in it.”
Chandler shook his head. “That’s why you call the cops. Simple math. Bad guys have knives. Cops have guns.”
“I got the handbag.”
“You don’t get it,” Chandler said. “Nothing’s worth getting killed over, Jack. What would your father say?”
Jack ran his hand through his thick brown hair. “Don’t bring my dad into it. That’s crossing the line.”
“Ha!” Chandler said. “Your dad would flip out and he’d be right.”
“Whatever. I got the handbag back.”
“You pull any of that crap in the Army and I’ll shoot you myself.” Chandler shook his head, but he grinned.
Denby picked up the handbag. “You boys enlist?”
Jack nodded. “Yes, sir. We go to basic in three months. Serve two years. Pay for college with a GI bill, and then off to the Police Academy.”
“I went through Fort Benning.”
“We don’t know where they’re sending us yet,” Chandler said.
A police cruiser stopped at the end of the alley, and the old woman peered out of the window.
Denby handed the handbag to Jack. “I think you can do the honors.”
Chandler nudged him forward, and Jack walked over to the car.
The woman opened the window and leaned out, her hands gripping the frame. Her deep brown eyes searched Jack’s face.
Jack held out the handbag. “Here you go, ma’am.”
“Oh, thank you.” Her bruised hand trembled as she took it. She zipped it open, checked that the pharmacy bag was still inside, then clutched it to her chest. “Thank you. Thank you, young man.” She reached out for Jack’s arm. Her frail hand, as light as a bird, patted him.
“It was our pleasure, ma’am.” Jack nodded toward Chandler and the cop.
She waved them closer, then reached out and squeezed Chandler’s hand too. “You boys are my heroes.”
“We’re just happy to help, ma’am.” Chandler tipped his head to the woman, then to Denby, and he and Jack headed down the street.
When they were out of earshot, Jack swaggered like a cowboy and in his best John Wayne Texan drawl said, “We’re just happy to help, little lady,” as he tipped an imaginary ten-gallon hat.
Chandler punched his arm. “Shut up. You’re making me sound corny.”
“You are.” Jack laughed.
“Whatever!” Chandler waved him off. “That cop was right—you should have called the police.”
“What was I going to do? Did you see her? All scared and helpless. I had to do something. Anyways, her stuff would be as good as gone if I hadn’t.”
Chandler grabbed Jack’s arm and pulled him to stop. “Seriously. I know you’ve had a hard life, Jack, and you want to help others. But you can’t help everyone.”
“I’m not. She was different. Believe me, I stick my neck out for nobody.”
“I mean it. Nobody.” Jack walked on.
“You say that, except you keep doing just that,” Chandler said, catching up. “Someday you’re going to find someone you can’t help, Jack. Not everyone can be saved.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Jack said, but as he walked on a pit began to grow in his stomach.