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Private Justice

(Paperback)
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Overview

Staying together had seemed impossible. Now it s their only hope. A dark shadow of fear has fallen over Newpointe, Louisiana. First one, then another of the town firemen s wives has been murdered, and a third has barely escaped an attempt on her life. Incredible as it seems, a serial killer is stalking this sleepy little southern community. And Mark Branning s wife may be next on the list. Mark is determined to protect her. But keeping Allie alive won t be easy---not with their marriage already dying a bitter death. Unless they renew their commitment to each other and to God, someone else may settle their problems permanently. And time to decide is running out. This tense and exciting thriller is more than a fabulous read; it has an underlying message about the place of religion within a marriage. Highly recommended. ---Library Journal Private Justice is book one in the Newpointe 911 series by award-winning novelist Terri Blackstock. Newpointe 911 offers taut, superbly crafted novels of faith, fear, and close-knit small-town relationships, seasoned with romance and tempered by insights into the nature of relationships, redemption, and the human heart. Look also for Shadow of Doubt, Line of Duty, Word of Honor, and Trial by Fire."

Details

  • SKU: 9780310217572
  • UPC: 025986217570
  • SKU10: 0310217571
  • Title: Private Justice
  • Series: Newpointe 911
  • Qty Remaining Online: 14
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Date Published: Apr 1998
  • Pages: 384
  • Weight lbs: 0.80
  • Dimensions: 8.47" L x 5.43" W x 1.02" H
  • Features: Price on Product
  • Themes: Theometrics | Evangelical;
  • Category: FICTION, CHRISTIAN
  • Subject: Christian - General
NOTE: Related content on this page may not be applicable to all formats of this product.

Chapter Excerpt


Chapter One

The competing sounds of brass bands, jazz ensembles, and zydeco musicians gave Newpointe, Louisiana, an irresistibly festive atmosphere, but Mark Branning tried not to feel festive. It was a struggle, since he stood in a clown suit with an orange wig on his head, preparing to make the long walk down the Mardi Gras parade route. Already, Jacquard Street was packed with tourists and townspeople here to chase beads and candy being thrown by drunken heroes. In moments, he and his fellow firefighters, also dressed as clowns, would fall into their sloppy formation on the town's main drag, followed by the fire truck that carried even more painted firemen.

It was what promoters advertised as a "family friendly" parade-unlike the decadent bacchanalian celebrations in New Orleans, only forty minutes away. But Fat Tuesday was still Fat Tuesday, no matter where it was celebrated, and it always got out of hand. It was the time of year when the protective services in Newpointe had to be on the alert. Last year, during the same "family friendly" parade, a man had been stabbed, two women had been raped, and they'd been called to the scene of four drunk-driving accidents. It seemed to get worse every year.

Just days ago, Jim Shoemaker, police chief of the small town, and Craig Barnes, fire chief, had appealed to the mayor that the town was better served if their forces remained on duty on Fat Tuesday. Mayor Patricia Castor insisted that the community needed to see their emergency personnel having fun with everyone else. It fostered trust, she said, and made the men and women who protected the town look more human. At her insistence, and to Shoemaker's and Barnes's dismay, only skeleton crews were to remain on duty, while the rest of the firemen, police officers, and paramedics were to dress like clowns and act like idiots. "It's a religious holiday," she drawled, as if that sealed her decision.

Mark slung the shoulder strap of his bag of beads and candies over his head, and snickered at the idea that they would call Fat Tuesday a religious anything. The fact that it preceded Lent-a time for fasting and reflection as Easter approached-seemed to him a lame excuse for drunken revelry.

A police squad car pulled up beside the group of wayward firefighters, and Stan Shepherd, the town's only detective-still unadorned and unpainted-grinned out at him. "Lookin' good, Mark," he said with a chuckle.

"So how'd you get out of this?" Mark asked him, ambling toward the car. "I thought Newpointe's finest were supposed to dress like demonic bikers."

"Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?" Stan asked with a grin. "Pat Castor wants us to show the town how human and accessible we are, so she makes us wear makeup that could give nightmares to a Marine."

"Hey, what can you say? It's Mardi Gras. You still haven't told me why you're not made up."

"Because I refused," Stan stated flatly. "How's that for a reason?"

Mark leaned on the car door and stared down at his friend. "You mean that's all it took?"

"That's all. Plus I read some statute to her about how it was illegal for someone out of uniform to drive a squad car."

"You're not in uniform, Stan."

"Yes, I am. I'm a plainclothes cop. This is my uniform." Stan looked past Mark to the others milling around, waiting impatiently for their chance to ruin their reputations. "Speaking of nightmares, check out George's costume."

"You talkin' 'bout me?" George Broussard asked, coming toward the car. Mark grinned at the Cajun's gaudy three-colored foil wig and the yellow and purple-polka dot shirt he wore. It was too little for him, and the buttons strained over his protruding gut. His hairy belly peeked out from under the bottom hem of the ill-chosen blouse, and someone had drawn a smiling pair of lips under his navel and crossed eyes above it.

"Yep. The stuff that bad dreams are made of," Mark agreed.

"Yeah, and you got lotsa room to talk," George returned. "Just 'cause you don't got the canvas I got to work with ." He patted his bare belly again, and Mark turned away in mock disgust.

Mark was glad he had lost weight since he and Allie had split up. The wives gleefully wielding the face and body paint were particularly cruel to those midlife paunches. His costume did, at least, cover all of his torso without accenting any glaring flaws, though he could have done without the flapper fringe that some sadistic seamstress had applied in rows to the polyester shirt.

"Is Allie gonna be here today?" Stan asked Mark.

Mark glanced at George, wishing Stan hadn't asked that in front of him. He hadn't broadcast the news of his separation from his wife and figured there were still some in town who didn't know about it. That suited him just fine. George, who had only been in Newpointe for the past year, wasn't a close enough friend for Mark to air his dirty laundry with.

As if he sensed Mark's discomfort, George wandered off and blended back into the cluster of clowns.

"How would I know what Allie's gonna do?" Mark asked.

"Don't give me that garbage," Stan said. "You keep closer tabs on your wife now than you did before."

"Estranged wife. I don't know if she'll be here. I doubt it. It's not her thing." He straightened, unwrapped a Jolly Rancher, and popped it into his mouth. "Then again, I did kind of think she might swallow some of her self-righteousness today to come help the wives paint us up. It's a power thing, you know. They love to make us look ridiculous. Allie's devoted her life to it."

"At least you're not bitter."

The barb hit home. "Bitter? Why should I be bitter? Actually, I feel great. I love my new bachelor life. Did I tell you that I picked up some great furniture at Kay Neubig's garage sale? Mid-century relics complete with the original stuffing coming out from the tears in the authentic vinyl. And my apartment has ambiance. The building's foundation is going, so the whole place slants. It's hard to keep gravity from pulling the kitchen cabinets open, and I worry a little when the train that comes by at two A.M. every night makes the building sway and vibrate-but like I said, ambiance. You know how I live for ambiance."

"So you're ticked about the apartment. Do you miss your wife?"

Mark was glad his face was painted so the heat moving to his cheeks wasn't apparent. Stan was a good friend, but he was crossing the line. He decided to change the subject. "Let's just say I'm aware that she's not here. I'm also aware that your wife isn't here. Why isn't Celia wielding a paintbrush today with the other cop wives?"

"Because we're boycotting the whole makeup idea. She's here. I'll pick her up when the procession gets up to Bonaparte, and she'll ride the rest of the way with me."

"I thought only uniformed cops could ride in the squad cars."

"She's dressed just like I am-in plainclothes." Stan grinned and winked, then put the car into drive and skirted the band and the motorcycles up ahead.

Mark turned back toward the firemen and saw George dancing to the jazz band. That face painted on his stomach gave him a comical double-decker look that had the women among them doubling over in laughter.

"If Martha could see you now!" one of the wives yelled.

"She will, darlin'," George said. "She's bringin' the baby. They're probably in the crowd as we speak."

"Poor kid," Mark muttered with a grin. "Only six months old, and he has to see a thing like this."

* * *

The noise of the sirens, revving motorcycles, and brass bands playing three streets over almost drowned out the screams of the six-month-old baby in the Broussard house, but Reese Carter, the old man who lived next door, pulled himself up from his little rolling stool in his garden and wondered why the baby's mother hadn't quieted him yet. The parents-George Broussard, a local fireman, and his pretty wife, Martha-were attentive, and he rarely heard the baby crying for more than a few minutes. But this had gone on since the parade had started-probably more than half an hour now.

Not one to intrude where he wasn't invited, he tried to mind his own business and concentrate on the weeds he pulled from his garden. He wished the parade would end, so that he could have peace again. The conflicting sounds of jazz and marching bands, drum corps from the high school, tapes playing on floats, and sirens blaring were making him wish he'd picked today to visit a relative out of town. But most of his people lived here in Louisiana, and he doubted there was a place in the state that was immune to Fat Tuesday.

Despite the parade noise, he could still hear the baby screaming. He pulled his gloves off with a disgusted sigh, trying to decide whether to go inside where he couldn't hear the baby's cries, or check to see if things were all right next door. His first instinct was to go inside, but then he remembered that last Christmas, after his wife died, when he'd expected to spend the day alone mired in self-pity, Martha Broussard had knocked on his door and invited him over to share Christmas dinner. He hadn't wanted to go-hadn't been in a festive mood and didn't want to pretend he was-but she had insisted. So he had gone, and several hours later he realized that the day was mostly over and he hadn't had time to feel sorry for himself.

If something was wrong next door now, he owed it to them to see if there was anything he could do. Maybe the baby was sick, and he could go to the drugstore for some medicine. Or maybe Tommy just had colic and couldn't be comforted, in which case Reese could show Martha some of the tricks that his wife had used on their children and grandchildren.

He dusted off his hands, then rinsed them under the faucet on the side of his house and dried them on his pants. He caught a faint whiff of smoke in the air. Someone must be breaking the city ordinance about burning limbs in their yard. Fat Tuesday seemed to give people license to do whatever they wanted, he thought with disdain as he headed down his driveway, cut across the Broussard yard, and trudged up the porch steps to the door. He rang the bell and waited. No answer.

Now that he was closer, he could hear that the baby wasn't just crying-he was screaming wildly. Reese leaned closer to the door and called, "Martha? Are you there?"

He knocked hard, hurting his arthritic knuckles, then raised his voice. "Martha! It's Reese Carter, next door. Martha, are you there?"

But all he heard in reply was the baby's gasping wails against the background of jazz music three blocks away.

* * *

The jazz band in front of Mark and the other firemen changed tunes, and some accordions launched into a zydeco tune. Trying to keep himself and the rest of the firemen in the spirit as they waited for their turn to march out onto the parade route, Mark led some of the others in an absurd chorus-line kick dance that fit perfectly with their attire. As he clowned, he scanned the other firemen and wondered how much beer they-and the rest of the parade participants-had already guzzled in the spirit of the festivities. It was only ten o'clock in the morning, yet trays and trays of drafts in plastic cups had been doled out to those waiting to participate.

Some of the wives still milled among the firemen, finishing up the outlandish makeup jobs. Jamie Larkins, with a cup of beer in one hand and an eyeliner pencil in the other, was swaying to the beat as she painted Marty Bledsoe's face. Susan Ford, a pretty black woman who wouldn't touch alcohol even if she were dying of thirst, finished Slater Finch's bare back-on which she'd drawn Betty Boop eyes and lips and applied a fake nose. She saw Mark horsing around and said, "You better stop that sweating, Mark Branning, you hear me?" The sweet demand cut through the laughing voices as Susan approached him with her makeup tray. "Look at you. Your smile is dripping. Our king of choreography is losing his looks."

"Me? Never," Mark deadpanned. "You may note that I have the least amount of face paint on. They knew not to mess with a good thing."

"Either that, or you already fit the bill without it."

Mark looked wounded. "Susan, you slay me. I believed you when you said I looked like George Clooney."

"Loony, Mark, not Clooney. And I never mentioned a George."

He grinned as she reached up with a tissue and wiped the smear from his mouth. "You're a mean woman, Susan Ford."

"You bet I am. And don't you forget it." Her smile faded as she touched up his face. "By the way, I saw Allie yesterday."

"Speaking of mean women?" he asked.

She wasn't amused. "She looked awful lonesome, Mark."

Again, he was glad that his face paint hid the heat rushing to his cheeks. He didn't know why every conversation these days seemed to lead directly to Allie. If Allie looked "lonesome," it was because she'd chosen to be alone. They'd been separated for over two months now, and although neither of them had made a move to file for divorce, there was no movement being made toward a reconciliation, either.

Susan seemed to realize she'd hit a nerve. Reaching up to press a kiss on his painted cheek, she whispered, "Sorry, honey. Didn't mean to bring you down."

"It's okay. No problem." A bone-thin majorette passed with a tray of beer, and he eyed it this time, wondering if he should drink just one to keep his mood from deflating completely. But Susan was there, as well as others from his church who would pass immediate judgment. He let the tray pass and wished the parade would hurry up and move so he could get the morning over with.

* * *

At Midtown Fire Station on Purchase Street, where all of Newpointe's protective services were located side by side, right across from city hall and the courthouse, Nick Foster paced the bunkroom and rehearsed his sermon for his little church's midweek service. It was tough being a bivocational pastor, juggling practical and spiritual duties. Sometimes it was impossible to separate his ministry from his profession. Today was one of those times. Whenever he dared to buck the mayor's authority and refuse to participate in something he believed to be immoral-as he had today-he risked losing his job as a fireman. Without it, he wouldn't make enough to pay his rent. Though Calvary Bible Church had its share of supporters, there weren't many families in the body who had much to give. Newpointe, as a whole, was not a wealthy town. Most of the tithes and offerings went to pay for the building they'd built two years ago, plus the missions projects he'd started. There wasn't much left over for him, which was fine as long as he had firefighting to keep his refrigerator stocked. He lived in a trailer across the street from the church. "The parsonage," his church called it, even though neither he nor the church owned it.

He got stuck on one of the points in his sermon, went back to his notes, made a quick change, then began pacing again. What did you tell a town whose residents had been brought up on voodoo and Mardi Gras? Even though he'd made it a point to preach a series of sermons on idolatry in the weeks preceding Mardi Gras, he was still astounded at the number of his church members who made themselves part of the infrastructure that upheld the holiday. Half of his congregation was in the parade, and the other half was watching.

He stumbled on the words again and sank onto a bunk, feeling more frustrated than usual. Did it really matter if he got the words right, if no one really listened?

Taking off his wire-rimmed glasses, he dropped his head and stared down between his feet for a moment, feeling the burden of all those souls weighing on his heart. Finally, he closed his eyes and began to pray that God would make him more effective, that he'd open their hearts and ears, that they would see things clearly .

He heard the door slam shut and looked up to see Dan Nichols, one of the other firefighters holding down the skeleton crew.

The tall blonde man was drenched in sweat and breathing hard, but to Nick's amusement, he went straight to the mirror and checked the receding hairline that seemed such a source of preoccupation to him.

"Has it moved any?" Nick teased.

Dan shot him an annoyed look. He slid the towel off of his neck and began wiping his face. "I wasn't looking at my hair."

Nick forced back his grin. Though he knew that he and Dan were considered two of the most eligible bachelors in town, Dan was by far the first choice of most of the single ladies. He was athletic and physically fit, something no one could say about Nick. And Dan had something else Nick didn't have. Money. Lots of it. He was one of the rare breed of firefighters who didn't have to work a second job to make ends meet. Dan had come from a wealthy family, had a geology degree, and could have been anything he wanted. But all he'd wanted was to be a fireman.

(Continues.)

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