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by Miriam Pace
Description: Jessica Savage, the victim of a drunk driver who killed her husband and left her a paraplegic, is being stalked. She wants the terror to stop. In an effort to stop the escalating violence and uncover the stalker, she teams up with tough cop Mac Mcready. Moving Violations is the story of two wounded people determined to find their way through a labyrinth of secrets, who must learn to trust their instincts again, while seeking a way to love each other.
eBook Publisher: Awe-Struck E-Books, 1999
eBookwise Release Date: April 2002
18 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [327 KB]
Reading time: 210-294 min.
"Prickly, a risk-taker who drives her van way too fast, always too aware of what she is, Jess is not a likable character at the beginning of the book. But she grew on me and taught me much that I will remember. If one sentence can describe the theme of the book, it is: Disabled people are people with a problem, but they are, above all else, people first."--Patricia White, Crescent Blues
Jessica Savage maneuvered her motorized wheelchair through the maze of partitioned cubicles filling the cavernous office. A pile of legal briefs balanced precariously on her lap. Her wrist hurt as she held files steady with one hand while pressing the lever governing motor speed and direction of the chair with the other. A tendril of short black hair fell across her forehead. She blew upward to force it out of her eyes.
"Here's your mail, Jess." Randall Maxfield yelled as she passed his desk. He tossed her a stack of envelopes secured in a rubber band. His elbow brushed a pile of paper that cascaded toward the floor.
Jess caught her mail. "If you did your filing, your desk wouldn't be such a disaster area." Randall grinned.
She motored through the door to her office. The name Jessica Savage was discreetly stenciled in one corner of the glass inset in the door frame. She had worked hard for her law degree and harder still as a prosecuting attorney in the District Attorney's Office for Orange County, California.
She glanced through her mail, stiffening at the sight of a long, white envelope, her name typed in capital letters on the surface. Handling the envelope by the edges, she carefully slit open the flap, and with thumb and forefinger carefully removed a single sheet of paper.
'Bang! Bang! You're dead,' was spelled out in large letters clumsily cut from a glossy magazine. The letters, different sizes and colors, radiated menace and hostility.
Jess' heart raced. Her breathing accelerated. A chill of terror, so intense, engulfed her till she thought she would scream. Closing her eyes against frightening images super-imposed over her vision, she took a deep breath to calm herself. Slowly, the panicked clenching in her chest eased.
"Jess?" Randall Maxfield leaned against the door frame, a frown on his square, bull-dog shaped face. "Is that another threatening letter."
Jess nodded. Over the years, she'd received a number of threats, but none so horrifying as these. For the last month, the letters had appeared in the mail every few days. New threats added to old, each one a reminder that someone stalked her.
At first, Jess had ignored the letters, but as they continued she began to fear them. Each one sent a bolt of terror through her so strong she'd come to dread the simple delivery of her mail.
She struggled to control her voice. "I'd better call the police. Again."
The Orange County Sheriff's Department hadn't been able to do much. After analyzing the letters, cut from popular magazines and glued on paper sold at any stationary store, the cops had shrugged. The envelope, neatly typed on a typewriter identified as an old electric Smith Corona, had no fingerprints except those smudges left by the postal department and Jess. The stalker left no clues to give Jess hope that his, or her, identity might be discovered and the reign of terror ended.
"I just wish I knew why," Jess said.
"We all get threats, Jess. They're part of our job description. The cops will get this jerk."
"I hope so."
Randall left, shouldering past a secretary with yellow legal pads clutched to her bosom.
A man entered her office. He was tall and thin with a crooked mouth, sloping brown eyes and neatly trimmed red hair curling damply around his face as though he'd just gotten out of the shower.
"Mrs. Savage?" Tight-fitting black jeans hugged his thighs. Jess slid the briefs to her desk. Her office was tiny. Storage boxes piled neatly in the corners made the room seem even smaller. Windows overlooked the street. One wall held bookcases, the sagging shelves stuffed with the large legal tomes constituting every lawyers' library.
"I'm Jessica Savage," she said. "No one has called me Mrs. in a long time." Jessica's marriage had lasted five wonderful months. She'd expected the months to stretch into years and then decades. A drunk driver had ended the dream. Peter had died. Jessica had ended up in a chair.
"Excuse me, Ms. Savage."
"What can I do for you?" She lifted her chin. Defiance had become a part of her life. Aware of his assessing gaze and the way he frowned at her chair, she knew he wondered if she were competent. The general public seemed to think a physical handicap equaled a mental one. Jessica bristled.
One side of his mouth tilted slightly up in a wry smile. "I'm Sergeant Will McCready of the Sheriff's Department. My friends call me Mac." He flipped open his ID for her to look at, gripping it with callused hands, the fingernails neatly trimmed.
She glanced at the ID, reassured he was indeed who he said he was. He looked older, harder than the photo which stated his age as thirty-seven. He'd seen a lot of life since he'd last posed for a picture. She detected a haunted edge to his eyes, and a careworn, dispirited droop to his expressive mouth. Life had not been kind to Will McReady.
Jess said, "I'm not a friend." A more detailed study of him showed a faint bulge under one arm of his jacket -- a holstered handgun.
Jess didn't like guns. She had seen the results of uncontrolled gun possession too often to have any sympathy with NRA idealistic narrow- mindedness.
Mac laughed, low and raw like a sore throat mixed with smoker's cough. "I didn't mean to suggest you are. I hope we can be, though. Friends, that is."
His face was cool, stoical as though trying to decide how to respond to her handicapped status.
He settled for politeness. "May I sit down." He glanced around for a chair.
Jess's office was usually neat, with papers filed, and folders returned to the file drawers. Recently, the stacks had gotten out of control, occupying every available surface, especially now when she had so many cases to juggle and too many distractions. She fretted over the lack of order. Her office wasn't messy, but the extreme tidiness she craved was currently missing and the clutter made her feel claustrophobic. The government thrived on paperwork, results seemed secondary.
"Just put those files on that table." Jess pointed at an empty spot near window. She leaned back in her chair, waiting for him to reveal his purpose.
Jess had learned long ago to wait. Her husband had been a man who had revealed himself to her slowly, like an onion peeled layer by layer. Something about this man reminded Jess of Peter, soft-spoken and gentle -- a man at odds with his profession.
"I've been assigned your case." He settled down gingerly, stretching long legs out in front of him, hands resting lightly on the chair's arms. He flexed his fingers. He studied her as though trying to decide if he liked her.
Jess opened a side drawer and pulled out a clear plastic bag. Gently, she dropped threatening note and envelope into the bag, sealed it, and handed it to Sergeant McCready. "Here's an addition for your collection."
Cautiously, he accepted the bag and glanced at the letter, his frown increasing. Faint wrinkles fanned the edges of his eyes. "We've got quite a file started on this guy. I'm deeply sorry, Mrs. Savage. I know how frightened you must be feeling." His gaze flickered over her chair, the chrome chassis catching the light of the sun and reflecting it back, refracted against the walls.
"Sometimes I'm more angry than frightened, Sergeant. What I really want is for you to catch him, or her. I sometimes think it's a woman." Jess swept her hand at the note in the evidence bag. She hated the way this unknown individual made her feel vulnerable and helpless, a Peeping Tom interfering with her life, creating invisible barriers that kept her isolated and alone.
"That's why I'm here. The order came down from on high." He raised his eyebrows at her and looked skyward, the names of the 'powers that be' left unmentioned. "You've been given top priority. I'm assigned to you for the next week or two to see if we can figure out who's writing you these nasty notes."
"You mean you have no idea yet," Jess said caustically, "your people went through my files weeks ago." They'd turned her life upside down and inside out looking for clues and made a mess, too.
Sergeant McCready flushed, then offered her a disarming smile. "You've been with the D.A.'s office for six, seven years. You've tried a lot of cases and made quite a few enemies. The Department has been following up on what they found and narrowed their leads to three possibilities."
"Only three!" Exhausted, the adrenaline rush ended, she slumped.
He opened a briefcase, put the evidence bag inside and drew out a manila folder. "Do you remember Alphonse Piaget?"
Jess remembered and shuddered at the hatred the man had aimed at her when she'd successfully won a conviction.
Sgt. McCready continued, his eyes moving over the folder's contents. "He escaped from the Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo two days ago and is still at large."
"I've been receiving these letters for nearly a month." Jess frowned. "The prison authorities wouldn't just let him mail them from prison. Don't they monitor the inmates mail?"
He ran his hand through his hair. "Yes they do, but Alphonse could have gotten someone else to compose the letters and mail them."
"How did he escape?"
"Apparently he walked right out the front door and disappeared. Prison authorities think he had someone waiting for him. He publicly threatened you in court, in front of two dozen witnesses, making him a prime suspect."
Jess felt the blood drain from her face. "Pray tell me how did a dangerous criminal like Alphonse walked out of the front door of a maximum security prison?" Tension crawled along her spine.
McReady slid a finger around the inside of his collar. "Prison authorities are still investigating."
"Our tax dollars at work," Jess replied wryly.
Alphonse Piaget had been a minor Mafia don in training who had dabbled in drugs, prostitution, and extortion. Alphonse had threatened her loudly and violently the day the guilty verdict, had been announced by the jury foreman. At his sentencing, he'd screamed obscenities and vowed revenge. Jess had refused to be intimidated. She'd changed her mind since then.
She clutched the edge of her desk remembering the way he'd fought the bailiffs to get to her.
"Who else?" Jess rubbed her temples. The beginnings of a headache rooted itself in her brain.
News like this, she didn't need. Could the day start over? She had a game on her computer she played in the night when tortured memories wouldn't let her sleep. The command 'restore' allowed her to restart the game from the last place she'd saved it -- a useful tool in a role playing game when the adventuring characters tended to die a lot. Sometimes Jess let them die, just for the satisfaction. Only in the game, the characters were automatically resurrected, not like real life where the dead stayed dead.
McCready consulted his file. "The second suspect is Doris DeVille. She was released from Corona's Institution for Women four months ago. Her parole officer, Carlos Moralis, says she failed to check in as per the agreement for her release."
"I don't remember Doris DeVille." She searched her memory for a clue, a face, a case, or a personality. Nothing came to her. After a few years, the faces merged into one, their cases became distant memories that only surfaced in nightmares.
In a flat voice, Mac said, "She killed her brother."
Dimly, a face popped into Jess's mind. Since she'd started receiving the letters, she'd been going over her own case files. She shook her head at McCready, the familiar tug of face and name eluding her.
"She carved a heart on her brother's chest and castrated him before finally stabbing him thirteen times in the neck, lungs and stomach." McCready gazed at her hopefully.
"I remember now." In her mind's eye, she saw a petite woman with limp blonde hair, pale blue eyes and a smile so sweet even Jess had trouble believing Doris had committed murder. But the facts revealed told a gruesome story of years of molestation and abuse by the brother -- a legacy inherited from the father after he'd abandoned the family. "And the third suspect?"
"Terrence Liang was accused of raping a Santa Ana woman. He claimed innocence even though the woman identified him in a line-up. Even I'll admit the evidence was pretty circumstantial. We didn't have the DNA testing and other advances then that we do today in rape cases. He was pretty angry about the accusation and conviction. He, also, has ties to a San Francisco based Triad that's heavily involved in a Colombian drug cartel."
Jess nodded. "And psychological warfare is his style. The victim almost didn't testify because of anonymous death threats to her family and herself." She remembered a hard-faced Chinese-American male who'd sat next to his attorney staring at Jess the whole time. Behind him had sat a group of dark-suited Asian men. They had looked like respectable businessmen despite the anonymity of their mirrored sunglasses. They, too, had watched Jess, their faces pointed at her, as though their shared anger would make her stumble. The evidence hadn't been that circumstantial, fibers taken from the woman's clothes had matched a jacket belonging to Liang.
Mac tossed photos of the suspects onto the desk. "Threats that Liang used to scare the witness were similar in content to the letters you've been receiving."
She gazed at the photos, two men and a woman. Doris DeVille looked sweet and innocent, her eyes half-closed, a dreamy smile on her lips. Except for the ID number across the bottom of the photo, she could have been posing for her high-school graduation portrait.
Alphonse looked tired and drawn, but the arrogant smile on his lips hinted at things better left unknown. Liang looked like a slick and sleazy snake despite an expensive business suit and a half-smile on full, sensual lips.
These then were the three -- an unholy trio -- one of whom may want Jess dead, or at least, terrorized out of her mind. "I hope these people don't know where I live."
"Have you received any mail directly to your home?" Mac looked tired.
"Then this person," He held up the letter encased in the plastic bag, "probably doesn't know where you live ... yet." He rubbed the side of his face. "But all of them know where you work and following you home would be easy to do."
"I can't move." Jess had spent two years remodeling her home for her particular requirements. She couldn't leave no matter how frightened she was.
Mac shook his head. "The Department doesn't expect you to move. We do recognize your special needs." He looked pained as he spoke, as though admitting her handicapped status upset him.
She had that effect on people. Mostly they tried to ignore her disability, acting as though she were normal. But Jess wasn't normal. A mangled spinal cord and partially paralyzed legs were the results of her encounter with the drunk driver. She should have died with Peter. Peter haunted her, a reminder of unkept promises and a derailed future.
She thought of Peter, his ashes residing in an urn, the remains of a once, vital man, lover and friend. An acute wave of loneliness swept over her.
Jess swiveled her chair around to stare out the window. On the street, traffic moved sluggishly. A Federal Express delivery van parked in a No Parking zone. A Santa Ana cop stood next to the van writing out a ticket while trying not to admire the trim legs of a woman walking toward the bus stop. A ragged woman pushing a shopping car, picked up an aluminum can from the gutter.
Jess ran her hands down the outside of her thighs. Once her legs had been admired for their shapely slenderness. Now they simply looked skinny. No matter how much time she spent at physical therapy working with weights, or swimming in her pool forcing them into limited movement, she had been unable to retain the muscle structure.
She'd never be the same again. What man would be interested enough in her to see beyond her physical limitations? Who would be willing to take a chance on a relationship that would be difficult at best? Because she had no answer to these questions, she had begun to avoid men, refusing to become involved. Even the possibility of a relationship sent her scurrying for the privacy of her home.
A long, lonely future stretched ahead of her. She was thirty-two years old, and if the statistics could be believed, she had lived approximately two-fifths of her life. The remaining three-fifths appeared to be an endless sequence of pointless days and empty nights.
"Why you?" She glanced at him over the crown of her shoulder. He sat neatly framed between a bookcase and a pile of storage boxes, all clearly labeled and precisely aligned.
He shrugged. "I'm available." He offered no other explanation.
Something in the way he looked at her, then away, prompted Jess to say, "If we're going to work together, I need a better answer than that." She turned back to her desk.
He masked a startled look, a hint of wary vulnerability moving across his face and then vanishing. "I'm on medical leave from the Department. I can be spared. My primary assignment is to keep you safe and alive."
"I don't need a bodyguard."
"Maybe not, but your physical condition leaves you open to attack. And my bosses think the danger to you is real."
Outside the office, the din of clicking keyboards, talking secretaries and law clerks, slamming drawers and laughter reached out to her. She felt isolated from the usual merriment that lightened the grim reality of the District Attorney's office.
Since her accident, people avoided her as though she were somehow contagious, a social pariah made offensive by the fact that the level of her eyesight went no higher than their belt buckle. She made people feel uncomfortable and guilty because they were normal.
"Okay," Jess said with a long, drawn out breath, "If you're going to be my bodyguard, you're going to be a working one."
For a second, he looked surprised. "You don't expect me to file, do you?" He glanced quickly around the room. "It looks too much like my own office. Though I'll admit, this is a lot neater."
Jess laughed. "I wouldn't ask anyone to do something I couldn't do myself. I don't like clutter, but I've had other things on my mind." She rifled through a pile of files, pulling out three and flipping the top one open. "I'm a lawyer. You're a cop. What better combination?" She held the folder out to him. "I want to talk to this woman."
He glanced over the file. "You want me to go get her?"
"No, we'll go to her home." Jess gave Mac a sweet smile. "You can drive, can't you?"
"There's a catch, isn't there?" He looked cautiously at her as though expecting her to bite.
"You mean you don't know how to drive?" She gave him an innocent look. A smile tugged at her lips and for the first time in a month she felt the smallest ray of hope that he would be the person who would help her solve the identity of the stalker.
"I know how to drive."
Jess grinned. She led the way out of her office, skirting the cubicles. He opened the door to the hall and she skimmed through it, the motor on her chair whirring as she raced toward the elevator. Let him think what he wanted. He'd know soon enough that driving her van was not easily accomplished.
Copyright © 1999 by Miriam Pace