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Sneak Preview: The Dragonslayers vol. 2: The Hand of Justice, Chapter 1

Coming this Spring in Kindle, Nook, and paperback formats.

Chapter 1 The Road Ahead

Scott felt the rifle dig into his hand as he settled into his shooting position, 316 yards from the state highway. I’m way too old for this shit, he thought to himself. He looked to his right towards Manuel, who looked back at him with a mix of fear and apprehension, and Scott couldn’t tell which emotion dominated. Did I really look that scared twenty years ago when I killed Cavanaugh? he thought to himself. Yeah, he probably did.

He cast a look towards Eric on his left, who wore a look of determination that seemed fitting for a man of sixty three who was going to war for the second time in his life. It looked like the faces he remembered on television from when he was seven. He hadn’t understood then why those buildings had fallen down or why there were so many people who were scared and so many who were angry. Eric looked like those people he remembered in the lines for the military recruiters, who knew they were signing up for war. He gave Scott a thumbs-up and went back to looking through his rifle scope.

What does my face look like right now? he thought as he looked at the road through his Trijicon. His fortieth birthday had been yesterday, and the militia had thrown a small get-together for him. The Trijicon was his present, an exorbitant gift these days, but he had to admit he needed one. Scopes don’t help you shoot better, they help you see better, and Scott had need of seeing better after four decades. None of them had spilled the beans on where it had come from, but Scott suspected there was a federalized local police officer who had been torn a new asshole in the past week. He had appreciated the gesture, and it made him feel comfortable and loved by the men and woman he commanded in the field this day.

He remembered back to when his path to freedom fighter began, two decades and hundreds of lost opportunities ago. He remembered the losses he had suffered, both those he deserved and those he didn’t. He remembered his parents and how they had looked in their caskets – paid for by the federal government to cover their complicity in the deaths of Adam and Anne Philipson. He remembered the week he had suffered in a Colorado jail, waiting for the government to decide what to do with him after the mall shooting. He remembered the years he’d spent watching his freedoms be eaten away, one by one, until he realized they were, for all practical purposes, as irretrievably lost as his parents.

And with each remembrance his face became a bit harder, his expression a bit colder. Father, he prayed, in your hands I leave my safety this day. You commanded us to rescue the weak and needy and deliver them from the hands of their oppressors, who will shortly travel the road before me. Let my aim be true, and let me not endanger my troops unnecessarily. The lead vehicle of the expected convoy turned the bend in the road and he clicked the radio button on his vest once. Let confusion reign amongst my enemies. The radio clicked twice in his ear; team two had the convoy in sight and was ready. Let fear drive them before us, and let them turn on each other as they did in the days of Gideon. The radio clicked three times; everyone on his side was prepared to kill. And above all, Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’ve started. His aim settled ahead of a man foolishly exposed in the turret of the last vehicle of the convoy. The M1A bucked in his shoulder, and the bullet that struck home a third of a second later ended the third life Scott Philipson had taken in his forty years on Earth.

Twenty years earlier

In any other situation, a blonde nurse in handcuffs on the couch would be a rather sexy affair, but the medical examiner standing over a dead body in the hallway put a rather harsh damper on things. Not that Ronald Royce was into handcuffs outside his profession as a sheriff’s deputy, but he had to admit she was rather attractive. But tonight he had bigger problems to worry about, namely the location of Scott Philipson and why there was a body in the hallway of his house – and why it was this body in particular.

William Cavanaugh had been found dead by the nurse, Carley Hill, when she had arrived home after shopping at the Victoria’s Secret in the Charlottesville shopping mall. She had been expecting her roommate and lover, Scott Philipson, but found the corpse and called 911. Cavanaugh had been dispatched with one shot from a .40 Smith & Wesson semiautomatic to the back of the head at close range, dying instantly. His wallet had been removed from his back pocket, but it was unclear if any cash had been taken. All the cards and his Charlottesville Police Department badge seemed to be in place, and the wallet had been found next to the body. Philipson had shot him and fled the scene when he realized who the dead man was, or so Royce surmised.

But there was no reason for Cavanaugh to be there in the first place. Cavanaugh had been the arresting officer in Philipson’s drug arrest in December and the trial had concluded today – a verdict of not guilty being returned by the jury. The defense had called Cavanaugh’s honesty as a cop into question, a strategy that hadn’t surprised Royce, given his own previous experience with the deceased. But the evidence seemed pretty cut and dried to him. Regardless, Cavanaugh had last been seen leaving the courthouse square at about the same time as Philipson and the two had not exchanged any words or anything more than glances from a distance, according to police and press eyewitnesses. So why and how had Cavanaugh ended up in Philipson’s home?

“Just spoke with the manager at the Victoria’s Secret,” Deputy Schottke said to Royce. “The nurse’s alibi seems to check out. Her receipt matches the time the manager remembers seeing a blonde in medical scrubs in the store, and I’ve sent a C-ville cruiser over to pick up the surveillance video, just to be sure.”

“Good. Any ideas why Cavanaugh would be here though?”

“Nah, I’m more concerned with the fact that there’s a cop killer on the loose,” Schottke said. “Don’t get many of those in this part of the state,” Schottke said.

“Never heard of a cop killer who kills in his own house, though,” Royce said and walked over to the couch. “Hands,” he said to Carley, who offered hers up with a scowl. “You’re alibi checks out, at least so far,” he said as he unlocked the handcuffs.

“Yeah, I know,” she said. “Now hand me my purse, I need to call my lawyer.” Royce did, but only after looking through it.

“What? I have a duty to look for the gun,” he said in answer to the glare. She yanked the purse from his hands and grabbed her phone from it. She called the lawyer who had represented Scott in the drug trial, Martin Shanston, and told him the news. He walked in the door thirty minutes later.

“Any word from Scott?” he asked without preamble of Carley.

She shook her head. “No answer on his cell phone, goes straight to voice mail.”

“Same for me. You’d think he would pick up for me, at least.”

“Unless-” Carley began, but Shanston cut her off with the wave of a hand.

“Later,” he said. “Needs to be confidential.”

“I do not believe, for a moment, that a police officer with Cavanaugh’s record would willingly go to the house of a suspect and let his guard down to the point where he could be shot in the back of the head,” said James Brodine, Chief of the Charlottesville Police Department. “There is no reason for him to be there at all, let alone for him to give opportunity to a man with motive and means to kill him,” he railed.

“Sir, there are no signs of forced entry, and no signs of a struggle,” Royce had argued. “Either Cavanaugh was let into the house or he broke in, and I can’t imagine why Philipson would let him into the house. Sir.” He added after the briefest pause.

“Then you need to expand the range of your imagination, Deputy Royce,” the Chief said with a glare.

Forty six hours later that same glare faced him as he offered the casket flag to the Chief. Ronald Royce had been chosen by bureaucratic protocol to present the flag to the Chief, since Cavanaugh had been unmarried and had no other family to receive it. Royce was glad the script called for him to step back, salute, and retreat to his assigned position to stand at attention.

Chief Brodine was a dour old man, close to retirement but didn’t look like it. The only betrayal of his age was his wrinkled eyes and gray hair, which contrasted with his tight physique and quick mind. He had spent his entire professional career in Charlottesville, except for a six-year enlistment in the Air Force where he had served in the Security Force. His Defender badge hung on the wall over his chair, and when standing at attention before him it was exactly at eye level.

The rifles barked, the bugle called, the priest closed, and the crowd of mostly police and politicians was dismissed. Royce found himself milling about, making polite conversation, and wondering if it was too early in the day to get a beer and ponder what he’d discovered so far. His gaze drifted to a blonde woman standing at the edge of the crowd, watching him intently. She wore a black, knee-length leather skirt and a purple sweater to keep away the early Spring chill, and he realized she’d been there since the ceremony ended. He thought about introducing himself but was interrupted.

“Deputy Royce, nice to see you here,” he said.

“Hello Officer …” Royce asked, shaking the offered hand.

“Peter Metoskowicz, CPD,” he replied. He was short but carried himself well, and a scar on his chin gave him the air of a man who had some experience with roughness. “I understand you’re heading Albemarle’s investigation into the death of Officer Cavanaugh,” he said.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Any luck?”

Royce hesitated, not wanting to reveal that he had essentially nothing at the moment. “Some. Less than I’d like, but it isn’t like the murderer’s going to just walk into police headquarters.”

“No, I suppose not. Well, it was nice to meet you, and if you need any help with the investigation, please, let me know.” He took a business card from his pocket and passed it over, then walked away quickly and quietly.

Royce almost called out to him in surprise, but checked himself. He felt a small data chip taped to the back and wondered what Officer Metoskowicz might know that would force him to resort to clandestine tactics such as this. He was still wondering when another man came up to him, this one dressed in a suit and tie.

“Deputy Royce? I’m Agent Edgar Ward, DEA. I’m told you’re in charge of the investigation of Officer Cavanaugh’s murder.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Royce repeated.

“How’s it going?” the agent asked, and Royce gave the brief rundown. “Well, it seems we’re after the same man. Have you heard about the Executive Order the President issued last week?” Royce had. The President had issued an order directing all federal law enforcement agencies to ‘take all measures necessary to pursue the maximum penalty under the law’ for any crime involving the death of a police officer. It was part of a political push to shore up his law-and-order base before the election next year. The President wanted to appear tough on crime and tough on drugs, and the executive order had come along with others that dealt with marijuana prosecutions in states that had legalized it and offenses involving guns. Inside the course of a single week, the nation’s federal bureaucracy had been turned against the rising tide of states who felt marijuana prohibition was a bad policy to follow.

“The DEA is pursuing federal charges against Mister Philipson. I’m your federal liaison on the case, and the Sheriff of Albemarle said I could have your full cooperation on the matter. I’d like a complete review of the available evidence on my desk by Tuesday.” He offered his business card, which Royce was obligated to accept.

“I’ll be in touch, Agent Ward,” he said.

“Good to hear,” Ward said, shaking Royce’s hand with a tight-lipped smile. Curiouser and curiouser, Royce thought to himself. Royce looked up and saw that the crowd had dwindled but the blonde was still there. He looked around, noticing no one else seemed interested in her, not even the reporters that were making small talk with law enforcement. He walked over to her.

“Normally I don’t try to pick up women at funerals,” he said, trying to be light hearted, “but you seem too interested.” She smirked and glanced away, the mirth less effective than Royce had hoped.

“You’re Deputy Royce, right?” she asked. “I saw you on TV a few days ago.”

“Yes, that’s me. What’s your name?”

“Friends call me Paige,” she said, fidgeting. “Too bad about Cavanaugh,” she said.

“Yeah, worse for the killer though,” Royce said. “You know how cops are when they lose one of their own.”

“Look, I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead,” she began.

“But …” Royce said, annoyed at the developing trend, “that’s exactly what you’re going to do?”

She huffed. “Look, not every cop is a good guy, and I happen to know that this one wasn’t.”

“Oh? And how do you know that?” Royce said.

“I have a friend who is, shall we say, paid to be friendly? Cavanaugh stole from her when they met one time.”

“Well, in terms of vague accusations, that’s pretty impressive,” Royce said, then hesitated. “And it may or may not fit with what I may or may not have been told about him from sources that may or may not be reliable. What are you getting at?” Royce asked.

She scowled, annoyed at Royce’s disbelief. “I know I don’t have anything but the accusation – it was a cash deal, like always, so there’s no receipt – just don’t believe everything you hear about him in your investigation.”

“When you say your friend is paid to be-”

“Come on, Deputy, you’re a smart man,” Paige said, cutting him off.  “And I’m a loyal friend. Let’s just leave it at that, alright?”

“Alright,” Royce said, not wanting to drive her away. “Anything else you wanted to say?”

“It was nice meeting you,” she said flatly, turning on her heel and walking away. Royce thought about calling to her, but decided against it. Best not to draw attention to her, especially when what she was saying fit with what he’d discovered about Cavanaugh.

The man had come from Baltimore, and there had been trouble there before there was trouble in Charlottesville. A few discreet calls had turned up a highly polished badge – a police record not tainted by anything so much as a bad word, officially, but lots of rumor and innuendo, hearsay and secondhand stories. Cavanaugh had joined the Baltimore force and been assigned as partner with an old beat cop named Nathan Drake, who had the misfortune to be shot during the pursuit of a suspect. He’d lived initially, but died a few days later of a pulmonary embolism. The suspect, Shawan Thames, had died of a gunshot from an unknown assailant, coincidentally on the same night. Royce couldn’t help but notice the coincidence and wondered at it, but knew there was no way he could tie the two together. The gun recovered at the scene of the crime had belonged to Thames at one point but was clean of fingerprints. The murderer had never been captured.

Shortly after the deaths of Drake and Thames, Cavanaugh had moved to Charlottesville, where Royce met him about five years later. He was with the Charlottesville Police Department at the time and hadn’t liked Cavanaugh from the start. They had gotten into a row over how a suspect was being treated and it had boiled over into Cavanaugh punching Royce. There was a reprimand and an apology and Royce had taken it like a man, but there was no official punishment. Things had cooled between them over time, but Royce had always looked at Cavanaugh with suspicion.

His phone rang in his pocket. He didn’t recognize the number but answered it anyway.

“Deputy Royce,” he answered.

“Deputy Royce, my name is Deputy Andrew Wethernock, of Bath County Sheriff. I was told you were the one to contact about the Cavanaugh murder. Is that correct?”

“Yes, I’m the lead investigator on that case,” Royce said.

“We’ve picked up a suspect that you’re looking for, Scott Michael Philipson. He was driving a 2003 Honda Accord west on state route 39 this morning when he encountered a safety check. We were going to cite him for just the headphone rule, but the check of his license turned up your BOLO. We’ve got him in custody, how would you like him delivered?”

 

The Chief, Chapter 4

(Previously: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3)

“You promised this would be an easy job, no mistakes. You drew up the plan, picked the crew, laid out everything. And you failed, you fuckwit.”

“The Chief Justice was in just in the same place, at the same time. It was an unavoidable coincidence tha-”

“That what? That he had the same height and build as the mark? That he just happened to take the same path to work every day? That he tended to be in the same place at the same time EVERY FUCKING WORKDAY?”

“I told you, I would get the job done, and I will. So who are you to complain, huh? I thought you said the Chief Justice was ‘that self-confident ass who couldn’t put together the intellect to blow his own nose’. Wasn’t he on one of your lists? Didn’t you want him out of the way as well? The way I see it, I did you a favor.”

“The only favor you did was to fuck up our entire operation. And for that, you won’t be getting your payment.” [beep]


“Did Robin just flip me off?” Newsome asked his secretary, Rachel Robinson.

“Yes, and I encouraged him to do so. Here, sign these, initial these, and review these, then send them over to Andrew for review before his press conference,” she said as she dumped pile after pile of papers into his hands.

“You know, I like you better when you’re not doing crap like this. I’ve got agendas and speeches and … other stuff to review, so unless it’s illegal for you to forge my signature on papers no one else is ever going to see again, I’m going to hand this back to you and tell you to hold off for a couple hours, okay?” Travis gave the stacks back to Rachel, turned and entered his office. The TV was still on, and still running nonstop incoherence interference. He reached for the remote, but paused with his thumb over the power button.

“… militia types, who haven’t lost any love for this justice? Aren’t the militias and freemen and those types prime suspects in this assassination?”

“Well, yes, they are, and I would -”

“Do you think they were responsible for this murder? Because that’s what we’re talking about, isn’t it? A political murder in broad daylight?” Travis had never been impressed with the right-wing political news station, but at least they brought in interesting guests, even if their hosts were interrupting morons.

“I can’t speculate on what or who the government has under suspicion at this point,” said the first guest, who sported a beard and whose title card said he was ‘EX-SF OFFICER’. “But I can tell you that I would put the militias very near the top of my own list, if I were investigating.”

“Brian, lemme interject here for a minute,” said another guest, giving the host a taste of his own medicine. “I think you’re both way off base with this line of thought, I think-”

“Way off base? Off base how? We know that militias are all about state sovereignty, and states rights, down with authority, anything Federal equals bad, right?” Brian Tudder, the show host, responded. He was fiercely territorial with his opinions, and had a reputation for defending them no matter what the cost to his dignity.

“Remember, this justice was the one who ruled last year, by himself, that the states had a right to ignore federal laws that directly violated the Constitution.””

“No no no, that doesn’t matter because one, he was wrong, and two, even if he was right, he was still in the minority, all by himself, so his opinion didn’t matter anyway.” Brian and the unidentified opposition guest droned on, talking over and alongside each other without hardly taking a pause to breathe.

Oh, why not, there were plenty of good arguments out there, and plenty of reason to push the ball down the field, as the President had implied earlier.

“Rachel?” Travis called from his office. “Rachel, find Andrew, tell him I’ll have some new talking points for him in about fifteen minutes, and that he needs to incorporate them into the President’s remarks.”

The Chief, Chapter 3

(Chapter 1 Chapter 2)

“Hello?” William was getting tired of answering the phone.

“William, oh, thank goodness you’re alive. I saw the news on Fox and saw how it was so close to where you live so I just had to call and see if you were alright and if you heard anything or saw anything or -” For not the first time in his life, William wanted to hang up on his mother. She had a tendency to run on and not give an opportunity to respond to her many questions, which meant he found himself interrupting her quite often.

He had already fielded calls from most of his family and wanted to hang up on her, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. He knew she loved him, and just wanted to make sure he was alright, but the temptation was strong, so he chose the diplomatic way out. “Mom, I have to go. I’m alright, but I saw the whole thing and have to talk to the police. I love you,” and before she could respond he tapped the end call button. Immediately he turned the ringer off and looked over at the police officer taking statements.

Somehow he had found himself on the inside of the police tape, which meant that he was constantly being asked what he was doing, then told to stay where he was. It was as if the police didn’t know who he was or what to do with him until they got to the box on their checklist that said “talk to witnesses and take statements”. He felt like just another cog in the machine, waiting to be turned.

He turned his attention to the crowd, who was pointing at and photographing the outline where the Chief Justice had drawn his last breath. The regular press was there too, snapping away, and one of their photos had made it onto the Drudge Report half an hour earlier. You could see William’s foot in the lower right corner, easily identified by the Converse sneaker.

William’s gaze went back and forth over the crowd, taking it all in. Most were staring in some combination of shock, horror, disbelief, or incredulity. He stopped and watched one man in particular, dressed in a business suit, staring at the outline and the bloodstain. He could be anybody, but it occurred to William that he had been there for some time. He pulled up the photo on Drudge, and sure enough, the man hadn’t moved for at least half an hour. He even wore the same expression on his face as in the photo, shock at the spectacle before him.

He’s connected, William thought. Then he noticed the odd things – his hair was the same color as the Chief Justice, and had the same hairline, halfway back along the dome of the skull. He was about the same build and height. The eyes were deeper set, and the nose was sharper, but at a glance he could be mistaken for the deceased. William noted that his tie and lapels had been dampened, as if he had spilled something on them.

Like tears.

“Okay, bud, I’m Officer Maddox, and this is Special Agent Atkinson of the Secret Service. You saw all this?”

William decided to keep an eye on the man in the suit, just in case the police didn’t get to him. He watched the weeping man as he answered the questions from the two government investigators, keeping him in sight as much as possible.

The Chief Chapter 2

(Previously)

Travis H. Newsome and Julia Starnes waited outside the President’s office while the Secret Service briefed the President on the morning’s events. It was not an uneventful wait, just quiet. Lily, the President’s secretary, was managing to keep the mayhem outside the Oval Office anteroom, and thus away from the President. She did, however, bend her own “no media” rule a little this morning, and allow a TV to be turned on so as to keep abreast of the situation – though muted.

Travis was switching his attention between the TV, his smartphone, and the speech notes he was reviewing for the President’s statement later this afternoon. Julia was doing the same, but her statement notes were on her phone instead of printed out. The network was running commercial-free (and to Travis’ mind, coherence-free) commentary on the assassination, bringing in every “expert” they could to contribute whatever they could to the story. So far, he had counted four ex-Special Forces operators (one of which was the obligatory sniper), two former Supreme Court clerks, and a medical examiner from somewhere in flyover country. The local one had been too busy for an interview, apparently.

The door to the Oval opened and the Secret Service detail walked out. Travis and Julia stood and waited for the President to sign some files Lily had for him, then waved for the duo to follow him back into his office.

“Okay, where do we stand with whatever else is going to hell in this town?” The Connecticut Democrat was known for his blunt manner of speaking, but only in private. In public he was still the well-mannered, grandfatherly man that, as of last week’s poll, was sitting four points above his election percentage, a good place to be with a year left before the campaign.

“We’ve come to an agreement with the House and Senate leaders that all legislative business will be postponed until Chief Justice Hatterly is buried,” Travis said. “But we had to let the Senate stay in session instead of adjourning. They don’t want you making a recess appointment.”

“Yeah, sucks that they have to be included in the process. How about the press conference later this afternoon?”

“We’re going over the remarks and will have the edits back to Andrew so you can have first draft within the hour, Mister President,” Julia said. “There are the standard parts about how he was a good man and a great justice, committed to the law, sorely missed.”

“Anything anecdotal? We’ll have to make him sound human, even if his jurisdictional framework was still stuck in the 1850s.”

“I’ve got Robin working on that,” Travis answered. “He’s calling Congressmen and asking for personal stories. I’ll owe him a drink for that assignment.”

“Just make sure it’s something good, you heartless jerk. Making a junior staff member talk to Congressmen might just turn him off from further public service. Anything else?”

“No, Mister President,” they both answered in unison.

“Okay, then put this on your back burners.” He leaned in closer, to make sure they got the sense of where he was going. “We’re not going to politicize the Chief Justice’s death, but we are going to start pushing an agenda about a month after the flags go back up the flagstaff, understand?” They both nodded. “Nothing heavy, nothing overpowering, but I want it known to the Senate Democrats, quietly, that we are not going to let this opportunity pass us by.”

“Are you talking gun control, Mr. President? Because if you are …”

“No, Julia, no specific policies yet. Just let them get a signal from the third-base coach, as it were, that we’re going to advance the White House agenda after a respectful period. We’ll come up with specific policy items in the intervening time, flesh them out, but only internally, understand?” Heads nodded again. “After next week I want you guys splitting your time between vetting potential replacements and drawing up policies that I can run on in a year.” President Richard Enson looked them both in the eye. “Now get to work, I’ve got an appointment across town I can’t miss.” He turned and walked out the side door as they replied in unison, “Yes, Mister President.”

Travis turned to Julia. “Appointment?”

“He’s going over to the Chief Justice’s house to talk with Mrs. Hatterly personally.”

Freebie: The Chief, Chapter 1

William looked up from his morning newsfeed at the commotion outside his window. A taxi had been hit by a delivery truck, and the ensuing jam had been further snarled by the arrival of the emergency vehicles. Firemen had blocked one of the two lanes on Upshur Street, and police were routing southbound cars around the commuter misfortune. It would not be a good start to the morning for many working on Capitol Hill.

Fortunately, William did not have to be anywhere besides his apartment for another two hours, possibly more. He rubbed his stubble as he sipped his coffee, contemplating the various networks that would have to adjust to the reset button that had been pushed outside his apartment. There was the obvious commuter network, the business network that would have to make up for missing workers, and the political network that would have to wait for God knows whatever it was the interns and staff delivered in the morning.

He tried to go back to his newsfeeds but they didn’t hold his interest anymore. His mind was fickle like that, flitting from one topic to another, revisiting each one in turn to process it a bit more and step closer to a conclusion or solution. He would often, in his daily work as an Internet investigator, appear to simply tap away at his laptop’s keyboard, making no apparent progress or discovery, but then suddenly make a series of calls and report that yes, Mister Smith had been having an affair with Miss Jones, or that Mrs. Wilkinson had been embezzling funds from her husband’s business to cover her gambling debts, or that Mister Young had indeed once been Mister McLane.

Unfortunately he hadn’t been doing any of that as of late. His last case had given her payment and received her report a week ago, and the well had been dry since. One appointment had been made for ten this morning, a woman in her mid thirties, concerned her husband of three years was having an affair. Her suspicions started when he started staying late at work, and were confirmed (at least in her mind) when she discovered a family necklace was missing. William was curious to help her, but the case was, technically speaking, dull. Affairs typically were broken because the cheater made a fool’s mistake of using his own cell phone to call the interloper, or some other such unforced error.

The phone rang, he picked it up. “Hello, William Bartlett speaking.”

“Mister Bartlett, it’s Stacy Stonebauer, your ten o’clock appointment.” She was sobbing over the phone. “I’m afraid I have to cancel, there’s been a – a development.”

“Is this a cancellation, or a reschedule?” he asked delicately, suspecting the answer before he asked.

“I’m canceling. The bastard came home,” she sobbed heavily, then regained herself and continued. “He came home with, oh jeez, um, lets just say ‘evidence’ that he had been out with someone last night.”

“I’m terribly sorry to hear that, Mrs. Stonebauer. Is there anything I can do for you in the meantime? Track down the girlfriend, perhaps? I’m sure your lawyer would like to know where to send his subpoenas.”

“Oh no, there’s no need. The ‘girlfriend’ was passed out in my husband’s car, and – ” More sobbing. There was something about how she said “girlfriend” that struck him, almost as if he could see her make the quotation mark gesture as she spoke. “And HE had obviously been doing something with my husband I thought was my specialty alone.”

“Oh. OH. Well, oh dear, then, well, um…” he grasped for words, but they eluded him. “You have my sympathies, please don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything.”

“Nope, can’t think of anything.” She terminated the call abruptly, and William looked back out the window. The firemen were sitting around, waiting for something apparently. The taxi driver was on the phone, presumably with his dispatcher, while the truck driver was yelling at him vociferously. The taxi driver wore an expression of calm boredom, almost as if he had been through it all before.

He wasn’t going to get any more interested in the newsfeeds, and the accident was much more interesting. With nothing else to do, he threw on a pair of jeans and a polo shirt, grabbed his keys, wallet, tablet, and phone, and went out the door.

Down on the sidewalk he found it easy to navigate around the congestion to get a better look. The bumper of the taxi was crushed, but that appeared to be the extent of the damage, except for the deployed airbag. The truck looked relatively unscathed. Its bumper was not visibly crushed, but the license plate frame was definitely bent. That seemed odd. William figured that a crash strong enough to crush a sedan’s bumper would be bad enough to damage a truck’s bumper. He’d have to look into that. He turned to walk down the street to grab a coffee and doughnut, and scribbled some notes onto his tablet.

He didn’t notice the first shots as they cracked out, but definitely noticed the thwack as one of them impacted the tree he was passing. He jerked his head to the side, puzzled by what he heard and saw, then jerked it forward and saw the mayhem in front of him.

A van had pulled up to the red light at the intersection in front of him, about twenty yards away. The door had slid open and men appeared, guns drawn. They had opened fire on a man as he walked down the street. His briefcase had burst open when it hit the sidewalk, the papers splattered with his blood. William stood there in shock, taking it in as the cartridge cases tinkled on the sidewalk. The murderers finished their work, slid the van door shut, and drove off when the light turned green.

William stared, mouth open, notes about the crash forgotten. Policemen from the accident rushed past him, bumping him out of the way as they rushed by. He saw one of them on the radio, reporting the incident, while the other tried to give aid to the victim.

William found himself looking down at the dead man, not sure how he got there. The policeman who had tried to help the victim looked up at him, ordering him to back away.

William didn’t hear him. He was too busy studying the dead man’s face, trying to remember where –

“I’M TALKING TO YOU, BUD. You need to step back, this is a crime scene, if you couldn’t figure that out.” The officer finally drew William’s startled attention. “I have work to do here, you aren’t part of it.”

“I saw it. I saw the whole thing. Well, most of it, anyway. I saw it.”

“You saw this?” The policeman was incredulous. “Wait here, do not move. We need to get a statement from you.” William obeyed, leaning against the bus stop bench. He had never seen a real dead body before, only the ones on TV. Like on the show last night, some low-grade crime series that had been on the decline for years, but which no one had the guts to cancel. It had been followed by the evening news, which had glossed over some decision from the courts that had come out yesterday. It had been a typical news report, so light on facts it could have blown away in the wind, so William went to the Internet to read more about the decision –

Then it hit him who the poor man was. His shock numbed him as the blood of the Chief Justice of the United States cooled in the morning sun.

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The Dragonslayers, Volume One: The Righteous and the Lawless

The Dragonslayers, Vol. 1

CHAPTER 1

The last hour of life for Adam and Anne Philipson began at 3:04 in the afternoon on a Thursday in mid-December. Anne was in the kitchen, checking a roast in the slow cooker and Adam was asleep on his day off. Goldie was next to his master like a good dog always is, and the basil for the indoor garden was sprouting its first leaves next to the window in the kitchen. Continue reading