A priest is in the midst of a personal crisis when a killer lures him into a twisted world of moral corruption, cover-ups and revenge.
Detective Jana Burke waits for news of the outcome of her grandmother's surgery. Her cousin and Tribal Policeman, Ty Longacre, was called to the woman's home when she fell from a step stool, fracturing her arm.
Before going into the procedure, Agnes Longacre reported to Ty that she was pushed to the floor by an unseen force. He related these circumstances to Jana as well as the fact that Jana's Uncle Tony was not home when Ty stopped by to check on him.
Jana insists that Ty needs to return to the Reservation and locate her Uncle. In the meantime, she has called her partner, Detective Rick Morales for moral support.
Jana huddled in the plastic chair beside her grandmother's hospital bed. Her hands lay palms up in a gesture of supplication. She stared, unblinking, at the rumpled sheets and cast-aside blanket. It was past the time her grandmother was to have been out of surgery, and no one could give her a reason for the delay. A jolt of fear surged through her, and she bent her head to pray: "Wankan Tanka, please don't take Unci from me."
Her gaze moved across to where an old gent lay with his eyes closed and mouth open. His breath came out in soft puffs.
Jana breathed a sigh. She'd endured the man's groans and demands for stronger pain medication after his return from surgery. The nurses had come and gone, trying to reassure him, but the best she could glean was that he'd experienced an adverse reaction to Morphine.
Guess he finally wore himself out.
Her partner, Detective Rick Morales, came through the doorway with two cups of coffee. When he'd arrived earlier in response to her call, she'd followed her first instinct and stepped into his arms. The tension between her ribs loosened inside the comfort of his embrace. She felt no hesitation in his response, and his breath was warm against her neck.
Now, his eyes searched hers. She read in them concerns that mirrored her own: Was this a move forward in their relationship? Would either of them be willing to risk their careers... the inevitable fall-out of their becoming lovers?
Jana looked away. She cared for Rick, but she wasn't in love with him. At least, not the way she sensed he was with her. Passion was not enough. Admiration was not enough. There had to be something more. What it was, she wasn't really sure. After all, her only 'real' love had been with Dred, a two-timing alcoholic. But there was the memory of the stirrings of her soul in the early months of their relationship, and the way the world was almost too bright for her eyes.
Where'd that get me? Months with a shrink, and persistent relationship phobia," she chided herself. Maybe a guy that's safe... hell, someone who'd put you on a pedestal... is the key. A man who makes his life fit yours and not the other way around.
She took the cup from Rick's hand. A pleasant tingle warmed her skin where her fingers brushed against his knuckles. For the moment, she felt safe.
"I collared one of the nurses to get an update on your grandmother's status," he said. "She tried to blow me off, but I flashed my badge for effect. Must have impressed her because she promised to get someone in here right away."
Jana inclined her head. "Thanks, Rick. Being a male cop, you'll probably get somewhere with them." Suddenly there was tension in the air between them. Her walls had gone up without thought or intention.
Rick stiffened upright, and Jana felt an immediate remorse. Her utter failure to verbalize how tenuous a line she walked between gratuitous respect and the real deal was a big, ugly slash across their partnership. Though Rick offered empathy, she chafed at his efforts. He didn't understand the Native Peoples' resolve to overcome prejudice by sheer endurance. None of her fellow cops did. Her people had lost too many outright wars and, with their dwindling numbers, they were more concerned about saving their customs and beliefs than earning the respect of the wasicuns.
"Rick... I appreciate your help, I really do." She gave him a wan smile. "It's been a long day, and I'm just anxious to see for myself that my grandmother is safe."
A blue-garbed man bustled into the room with a similarly-clad young woman following in his wake. Jana stood up, offering no greeting. A muscle twitched at his right temple, and bold brown eyes assessed her. "I'm Doctor Palmer, Agnes Longacre's surgeon," he said. "I looked for relatives in the surgery waiting-room suite after the procedure was finished." The statement hung in the air as Jana refused to let the man off the hook for his half-assed service.
"She'd been taken for surgery before I arrived. No one informed me of where I was supposed to wait," Jana replied.
"The charge nurse will be informed of the oversight," he said. "In any case, your grandmother came through surgery in good shape. We're keeping her in post-op Intensive Care for a few hours and then she'll be transferred back here."
Jana's stomach lurched. "Intensive care?! Is that normal procedure?"
Doctor Palmer turned towards the young woman standing quietly at his back. He pulled her forward. "Roberta, here, is a nurse anesthetist. She can fill you in on the details of your grandmother's reaction to the anesthetic and the need to monitor her blood pressure. I'm between cases, so I need to get back to the OR. I'm sure I'll be speaking with you again, Miss Longacre."
Jana blocked his retreat. "My name is Burke, not Longacre. And we'll certainly be talking again, Doctor Palmer. I'd appreciate having your cell number in case of emergency."
The surgeon's eyes narrowed. "That won't be necessary. I check with my answering service on a regular basis. Other than the blood pressure situation, which I assure you we have under control, Mrs. Longacre came through surgery fine. Now if you'll excuse me?"
He bustled from the room, and Jana turned her attention to Roberta. Though young, she exuded quiet confidence. Jana suspected Dr. Palmer recognized his flawed bedside manner and left people like Roberta behind to clean up the messes.
"It's not uncommon for older patients to have difficulty with an anesthetic," she began. "In general, they recuperate a bit more slowly than someone younger. Mrs. Longacre weathered the surgery without any other complications. She's got a long road back, though, due to osteoporosis and the compound fracture. You may have to consider placement in a nursing facility until she can regain her strength."
"What's the saying? When hell freezes over?" Jana quipped.
Roberta grinned. "I understand, believe me. I've got a granny like that myself."
Taking a pen from her pocket, the nurse scribbled a telephone number on a slip of paper and handed it to Jana. "Here's my cell phone number, Detective. If you run into any more problems, give me a call."
Jana offered her hand, and the nurse shook it. "I appreciate your assistance, Roberta."
"Dr. Palmer is our top orthopedic surgeon. Your grandmother is in capable hands, Detective."
"Have to trust you on that one," Jana quipped.
The phone in her pocket vibrated. She recognized Detective Epstein's number.
"Jana, get over to 1014 Spruce Street. Come in through the unattached garage. They're pulling a body from the freezer in there, and Derek wants to talk with you pronto."
"Affirmative. Gertrude Pearce's her name. Son occupies the apartment over the garage. There's enough in there to make us think he's our Perp. Do you want me to call Morales?"
"Long story," she answered, "but he's here with me. We're on our way."
Jana opted to ride with Rick who was driving an official vehicle and could use the siren. When they arrived at the Spruce Street address, there was a small group of people standing outside the crime scene tape despite the late hour and dip in the outside temperature.
"We need to get these people screened and back in their houses," she said. "Wonder if anyone's been assigned the job?"
"I see your FBI buddy is here," Rick fumed. "How'd he get here before us?"
She shrugged. "Makes sense he's here."
Exiting the car, she headed straight for a figure she recognized -- Officer Tom Langston of the Tactical Response Team. The well-muscled, former Army Ranger was in the process of storing vest and helmet in the rear of the TRT van.
She wasted no time getting to the point. "Tom, who ordered the raid? Morales and I had no prior knowledge of it."
"Detective Epstein got a tip from a priest at the church across the alley," Tom said. "He called for back-up because a man, matching the suspect sketch, lives here with his disabled mother. Sheriff Oleson wanted us on site in case of a hostage situation." Grabbing a jacket from atop a pile of clothing, he turned away, in part to diffuse the vibe of anger coming from both detectives.
"Do they think the body in the freezer belongs to the mother?" Rick demanded.
"I'd lay odds it is. They're in the process of removing the corpse from the freezer now that Bloomquist's here."
Tom shifted to face the garage."The Fed's Profiler showed up after we'd secured the property." He pointed to the lighted room on its second level. "He's up there gathering evidence, and having seen what's in there, I'm sure he's coming to the same conclusion I did -- we're dealing with one twisted fuck."
"Sounds like our man," Jana said. "Wish you'd gotten him in your cross hairs, Tom."
"That's the weird part. Detective Epstein swears he saw the silhouette of two people in that room. We've searched the house and apartment and found no one... ah... no one alive, that is. It's not like Epstein to make that kind of mistake."
"Any escape routes?" Rick asked.
"None. The front door is the only way out of that apartment," Tom said. "Epstein was standing there, and would have apprehended anyone leaving the premises."
"Thanks, Tom," Jana said over her shoulder. Her stride was long and determined, and Rick hustled to catch up with her. The scene inside the garage was subdued. Bright lights hit Jana first, and then came the smell -- a mixture of freezer burn and corrupted flesh.
Derek looked up from his position alongside the corpse. His face was pale and his chin showed signs of stubble. He cocked his head in the direction of a quiet corner, and she joined him there.
"Other than the body, anything solid for this being our guy?"
"There's some strong indicators in the upstairs apartment. Agent Stredwick is there now... doing whatever it is he does."
Derek laid a hand on her arm and said, "I need you to prepare yourself for what you're going to see, Jana."
"I saw plenty of crazy shit when I was with the FBI, Derek. You don't need to worry about me losing my cookies." She made a move to walk away, but Derek pulled her back to face him.
"Under the circumstances, I feel it's important to have this conversation with you. I don't doubt your professionalism, Jana. You know me better than that."
A shiver spasmed through her. "What do you mean by 'under the circumstances?"
"There's pornographic objects and photographs that tie Edward Pearce, the man who lives at this address, to your Uncle."
"Uncle Tony knows this man?"
Derek lowered his voice and edged closer. "Not your Uncle Tony. I believe the subject of the pictures is your dead uncle. The one who killed himself rather than testify against Monsignor Flaherty."
Jana shoved her hands in her jacket and looked at the floor. Several moments passed before she looked up. "I appreciate the warning," she said. "Can we keep this information confidential for now? I'd like to break the news to my grandmother before the press gets wind of the fact an Indian is linked to these crimes."
"Of course. You have my word on that, Jana."
"You moron! I said to be careful removing the tape over the mouth," Bloomquist's bellowing drew Derek's attention. He hurried to diffuse the situation, leaving Jana to watch from a distance while working up her courage for the unwelcome meeting with her kit'A.
~~~ To Be Continued ~~~