Hacker [Deb Ralston Series Book 8]
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by Lee Martin
Description: Deb Ralston must cope with two murders that must be, but cannot be, connected, at the same time that her son's girlfriend is comatose in the hospital. The denouement is a killer.
eBook Publisher: Live Oak House,
eBookwise Release Date: January 2006
24 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [237 KB]
Reading time: 164-230 min.
"A cunningly plotted, cozily written, offbeat spin on the standard procedural--and a welcome addition to an engaging series."--Kirkus Reviews
"[P]olicewoman Deb Ralston remains a credible, entertaining heroine, a recognizable Everywoman trying to do her job and hold her family together ... Martin's surprise resolution wraps up this mystery neatly."--Publisher's Weekly
"I can never resist a Deb Ralston story ... When it's finally sorted out, things are abundantly clear--almost inevitable--yet still come as a surprise. When it comes to likable characters, offbeat, believable Deb Ralston is my choice."--Lois M. Collins, Deseret News
"If the reader hasn't paid attention, the ending will surprise him or her. Martin artfully conceals the killer while following Deb on her daily rounds as a detective and a working mother. Deb ... knows how to do her job and does it, in spite of everything that gets in her way."--Anna Ashwood Collins,Jekyll's Golden Islander
PROLOGUE * * * *
IF I REALLY want to make myself miserable, I can start adding up all the money we have put out on Harry's hobbies, money that--in my opinion at least--could have been spent on better things, like maybe some decent furniture. Let's see, there's the private airplane he now flies about twelve hours a year. Not only was the initial expense mind-boggling at a time when we could least afford it--though I can't think of a time when I would have felt we could afford it--but on top of that we still have to pay hanger rent for it twelve months a year.
There's that camping gear stored in the camper in the back of Harry's pickup truck. Our son Hal does use some of it now and then, but Harry never goes camping anymore. All the same, we had to replace every piece of it after what we had wound up as evidence in a murder trial in New Mexico.
There was the expensive model railroad set, complete with extra track and handmade scenery, that he got tired of and gave to Hal for Christmas. As Hal never wanted it to start with, it is now gathering dust on a shelf in the garage.
There are his guns, kept, Harry says, for hunting season. Last time he went hunting Vicky wasn't in school yet, and she's now finished high school and secretarial school and has been married long enough to be expecting her second child.
There's all the ham radio equipment, including over a thousand dollars' worth of fancy antenna towering over the house, its mast sunk in a concrete slab in the front yard. The equipment itself is now stacked in crates in the garage, because its place is now occupied by the computer.
Ah, the computer! Harry says the college where he is now working on his MBA told him to get the computer. He may well be telling the truth; he usually tells the truth as he sees it. But the college did not tell him to spend twenty hours a day playing with the computer. Sometimes I am not certain whether I want to sue the computer for alienation of affection, or simply bash Harry in the head some dark night.
At a glance, I guessed that Eric Huffman had been somewhat the same kind of man. At least I could see, in his garage and this bedroom that he was using as just about everything except a bedroom, considerable evidence of expensive hobbies abandoned and replaced. But I didn't really want to bash Harry in the head, and I didn't figure Clara Huffman had done the bashing in this case. Her shock and grief seemed far more than just conventional.
One thing was certain: Whoever bashed Eric Huffman had done a very thorough job of it, and I didn't expect to get home early today.
And this really wasn't a good day to be late. Not that any day in the last two weeks had been good. In any way. Not since Hal's girlfriend, Lori Hankins, had stepped off the curb behind the downtown library in Fort Worth about three steps before her mother, Policewoman Donna Hankins. Only three steps ahead, but the car that hit her--and kept on going--had knocked her forty feet. As Donna hadn't been able to get the license plate number, it appeared that our chances of locating the driver were nil.
Meanwhile Lori remained at Methodist Hospital, comatose.
Only half an hour earlier I'd sat down at my desk for what I intended to be about five minutes, just long enough to look through my in-basket and see how much of its contents I could safely sneak into somebody else's in-basket before heading for home and a three-day weekend I'd probably spend spelling Donna at Lori's bedside and at home trying to talk Hal into getting some rest. * * * *
"SO WHAT'S GOING on?" Dutch Van Flagg asked me, as I industriously rearranged papers.
I shrugged, not wanting to talk about it.
"You don't know what's going on?"
I wanted to scream at him to quit trying to cheer me up. But I didn't. None of it was his fault, and he was trying to cheer me up because he cared. So I managed to wave my right hand around languidly, as I would have done if I'd really felt like joking. "Danged if I know, Dutch. I've given up. Now I just sort of run around in circles and every now and then I scream a little bit."
"Right," Dutch chuckled. "So go and run around in a few more circles. Or is it time to scream right now?"
Gathering up a stack of papers and dumping them casually into Nathan Drucker's basket, I said, "Dutch, old buddy, old friend, old pal, I am going home. I've been stuck in that blasted witness room ten hours a day for a week and a half."
Which was true. Which had added to the displeasure of the week.
Dutch chuckled again. He had managed to miss out on the blackmail trial that had kept half the Major Case Squad tied up in court for a week and a half. We'd all been tired of it even before it began, the blackmailee being no more outstanding a citizen than the blackmailer, and between the trial and the hospital I had found myself doing laundry at midnight two nights earlier so that I wouldn't be reduced to wearing slacks and a sweatshirt to court. Now that it was over, with the anticipated guilty verdict, I had exactly one thing on my mind, and that was getting home in time to cook supper for my beloved family before dashing back out to the hospital.
Of course, not much of my beloved family would be at home. Or at least not at my home. Both daughters are now married and coping with their own offspring, and Hal, at seventeen, wasn't quite as crazy as he'd been at sixteen. In fact, before Lori's accident, he'd been downright normal--at least, normal for Hal. Now, of course, he was attempting to live at the hospital.
Over a year ago my youngest child, Cameron, then nine months old, had begun to steadfastly refuse to eat baby food, though I'd had to remove him from the dog's dish several times. Although the pediatrician assured me there really wasn't anything in dog food likely to harm a healthy baby, I found the idea aesthetically displeasing. We--the baby and I--had reached some sort of agreement that he would eat fruit yogurt, scrambled eggs, and mashed bananas, and meat and vegetables I put through the blender, and I would not offer him that kind of stuff that comes in jars with cute labels pasted on them. Fortunately by now, at twenty-one months, he was eating mostly from the table, so I no longer had to plan separate meals for him unless we were having something like steak, and who can afford that?
But this was Friday and I was out of court. I would be taking my day off for New Year's on Monday, over two weeks early--I couldn't take it on New Year's Day itself, as the murder rate tends to be awfully high just then--so I was off for what, in normal conditions, would have been three, count 'em, three glorious, beautiful days when I didn't even have to think about police work.
Even if a weekend at the hospital couldn't be considered "normal conditions," I still didn't plan on thinking about police work. I had quite enough to do.
But you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men?
The saying goes for women, too.
So here I stood, at four-thirty in the afternoon, on Friday, the thirteenth (wouldn't you just know it?) of December, looking at my very first ax murder.
I don't throw up at crime scenes, like some people I know, but I wasn't enjoying it. * * * * ONE * * * *
DUTCH HAD DRIVEN and I had sulked all the way to the victim's house.
As I sulked, I remembered asking a friend from another department why she'd suddenly decided to leave police work. She'd answered, "Because I realized I wasn't quite human anymore."
"What?" I said, grotesque visions of Robocop running through my head.
"I got a call," she said, "to the stupid, senseless suicide of a fifteen-year-old boy. He was lying on the sidewalk, the pistol still in his hand, and so much gray matter lying around that a traffic man thought the kid had been vomiting, and he asked me if I knew why the kid had been eating oatmeal at seven-thirty at night. I had to explain that was his brains, which he'd literally blown out."
"Yuck," I said.
"Yeah. Yuck, at least. And gross. And a few other expressions like that. But Deb, you know what I was thinking as I looked at him?"
I shook my head. "No. What?"
"I was thinking, 'Why'd the son of a bitch have to blow himself away on my shift?' That's what I was thinking. And then I realized that's not the way a human being thinks. And I realized I'd better get out of this business while I still had a chance to get back to being human."
I was perilously near that stage of burnout myself, now. I wasn't thinking about a real live man attacked and hacked to bits as he went about his own peaceful business. I wasn't thinking about the grief, shock, horror, of a real live woman arriving home to find her husband hacked to bits.