Exclusive Excerpt From Price of Justice – Coming August 2020!
Copyright © 2020 – Robin James
All Rights Reserved
The Blitz. Across the pond and for another generation, that phrase conjures something far different than it does here in Waynetown, Ohio. Here, it’s what everyone calls Belitzer Quarry. Before it was abandoned fifty years ago, this place formed part of the backbone of the local economy.
Now, a diamond-shaped crystal blue lake shimmered at the bottom of high limestone walls marred only by layers of moss and dirt. Dense woods filled with white pine and maple trees framed it, making it the perfect landscape for the Waynetown postcards still sold at the nearest rest stop on I-280.
For two generations, the place has become our town’s favorite swimming hole. Daredevil teens ignore all the warning signs and jump from the tallest heights of those stone walls like urban cliff divers. Miraculously, no one has ever drowned at the Blitz. Not in fifty years. Still, the place carries the haunted chill of death anyway.
“You ready for this?” Kenya Spaulding asked. My boss, Maumee County’s newly appointed prosecuting attorney stood at the head of the conference room table. Beside her, she’d set up a large easel that was currently covered with a blue tarp.
I turned to the girl sitting at my left shoulder and wondered if I’d ever been that young. The start of the school year came with a fresh crop of law school interns. This one, weighed maybe a hundred pounds dripping wet and had a name that didn’t help people take her seriously either. Melody Chance.
I locked eyes with Kenya. She stood with her arms crossed in front of her. In the two months since she’d accepted this job, I hadn’t seen her smile once. There hadn’t been much of a reason. Today was no exception.
“I’m fine,” Melody said.
Kenya lifted the corner of the tarp and flipped it back with a quick snap of her wrist. She’d asked Melody if she was ready. It hadn’t occurred to me to tell her I might not be.
“Take a good look,” Kenya said. “Get used to it. If you can.”
Melody shuddered. Hot tears sprang to my eyes and I forced them back.
I’d read about what happened at the Blitz before I took the job as assistant prosecutor almost nine years ago now. It made national news. The trial ended in a double murder conviction the year before I came on. My first few months here I’d heard the war stories of everyone who worked on it. That victory had been my old boss, Phil Halsey’s crowning achievement. It took him from assistant to head prosecutor that summer, building the platform he planned to use for higher office.
Now, it all might come crashing down.
I rose from my seat and angled my head to match the view of the bodies I saw before me. You could barely recognize them as such.
“They think Krista Nadler died first,” Kenya explained. She pointed to the body laying prone at the top of the 16 x 20 photograph. I could make out blonde hair but little else. Arms and legs at wrong angles and no face. Krista had been badly burned among other things.
“Cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head,” Kenya said. “Before that, we believe she was flogged with a bike chain.”
Melody sucked in a breath.
“Charlie was alive during it,” she said. “That’s the theory anyway.”
Charlie Brinkman was found on his knees, hands tied in front of him in a prayer pose. He was charred and frozen in place like some ghostly figure from the ruins of Pompei.
“They made him watch,” Melody whispered.
Kenya let her words hang in the air. The horror of it settled over all of us.
“How could anyone do anything like that?” Melody asked.
I gave Kenya a silent nod, telling her “that’s enough.” Kenya hesitated. Then, she slowly pulled the tarp back over the crime scene photos.
That’s when Melody fell apart. Gasping, she covered her hand with her mouth and ran out of the room headed for the restroom. Her violent retching echoed down the hall.
I got up and closed the door then retook my seat. “Was that really necessary?” I asked.
Kenya pulled up a chair opposite me. “Might as well get it out of her system now. Yours too. You weren’t here the first time around,” she said.
“Ah,” I nodded. “It’s been a while since anyone held that against me.”
Kenya’s words were sharp, but her eyes were soft. We’d been through a lot together in since I came to this office. Maumee County was a small, but politically important part of northwest Ohio. It had been a bellwether for the rest of the state in the last four Presidential elections.
“Mara,” she said, her tone becoming more serious. “That wasn’t for show. Not for Melody or for you.”
My heart dropped to the floor. It got hard to breathe.
She held up a hand. “I got the word a little while ago. The King brothers are gonna get a new trial. Judge Ivey’s office gave me a courtesy heads up, but the order will come down by tomorrow morning.”
I’d never dove off the cliffs at Blitzer Quarry. I didn’t grow up here. My husband did. He took me out there once right after we first got married. Kenya’s words hit my stomach with the pull of a thirty-foot drop and the icy splash down that might have followed.
“On what grounds?” I asked.
Kenya folded her hands in front of her. “Our former boss left us with a mess, Mara,” she said.
I knew that better than anyone. Phil Halsey had covered up evidence in a different high-profile murder case that had nearly let a serial rapist walk free. Since then, the state attorney general’s office had opened an investigation into several of his most notable, successful prosecutions.
Kenya had a file opened up on the table. The grim faces of Damon and Lyle King stared up at me from their mugshots.
I picked up Damon’s. He’d been handsome. Devastatingly so with thick, dark hair and blazing blue eyes. His younger brother Lyle had the same features, but somehow, where Damon was rakishly good-looking, Lyle looked soulless.
“Lyle was hands-on in the murders,” Kenya said. “But we proved it was all at Damon’s direction.”
“I remember,” I said. “Lyle’s lawyer wanted to argue he wasn’t mentally competent to stand trial.”
“He found himself out of a job right after that,” Kenya said. “It baffled Phil. In a lot of ways, he thought it made his case for him. The jury clearly saw Damon as the mastermind after that. Lyle wasn’t even capable of standing up for himself when aligning with Damon went against sound legal advice and his own self interests.”
“The Demon King,” I whispered. “That’s what the press called Damon.”
“Clever of them,” Kenya said. “Though, I’ll tell you a secret. I’m pretty sure that was Phil’s doing.”
“I’m not surprised.”
She pressed a hand to her forehead. Kenya had always had one of those ageless faces. A granite jawline and deep-set eyes along with flawless skin that made her glow. Today though, I saw fresh lines beneath her eyes.
“An alibi witness has come forward,” she said. “She claims Phil interviewed her ten years ago during trial prep. She says she knows where Lyle King was during the timeframe we established when Krista Nadler and Charlie Brinkman were murdered.”
Again, I felt the drop in my stomach.
“She’s lying,” I said.
“Maybe,” Kenya said. “But there’s an email that showed up on our servers. Phil definitely talked to her when she says he did.”
Kenya took another stack of papers out of the file and slid it across the table to me. She had one page tabbed. I flipped to it.
“Sierra Joy,” I said. “This is from Caroline, confirming an appointment with Phil.” On the next page was an email from this Sierra Joy to Phil asking for the meeting three days prior.
“Don’t tell me,” I said, dropping the stack of papers back to the table.
“He never disclosed the meeting to the defense,” Kenya said.
“But that doesn’t mean…”
“We’re screwed, Mara,” Kenya said. “Even if Phil’s actions were entirely appropriate, the stink of what he did in the Shumway case is all over this. Damon and Lyle King have a major player backing them. Their case has been taken up by non-profit called Devine Justice. They have very deep pockets.”
I bit my lip past the four-letter word I wanted to shout. Kenya knew my mind.
“Exactly,” she said. “Mara, Phil wasn’t wrong about the King brothers. They tortured and murdered those two kids. They were seventeen years old. Seventeen. And they died for the grave sin of getting caught parking at the Blitz. Heck, half the town lost their virginity out there.”
I squeezed my eyes shut, feeling that drop in my stomach once more. Cliff-diving.
“They’re going for bail,” she said. “Both of them.”
My eyes snapped open. “There’s no way…”
“We’re bleeding,” Kenya said. “Badly. And there’s no one I trust to keep those psychopaths where they belong more than you.”
It was as if the icy waters at the bottom of the Blitz hit me all at once. I struggled to come up for air. The charred images of Krista Nadler and Charlie Brinkman would haunt my dreams. Now, it would be up to me to slay the Demon King all over again.