An anthology of mystery, suspense and horror that takes the reader from Southern California to the Caribbean, from Tennessee to Mexico and points in between.
Justice can have many faces.
A Hard Shell Word Factory Release
Judith R. Parker is a former teacher and corporate CFO. She is the author of several novels and numerous short stories. Before turning to fiction, she wrote for professional journals on "boring subjects such as accounting procedures." She currently makes her home in the Cascade Mountains of central Washington State with her husband, two dogs and six cats.
"A Kind of Justice had a remarkable flavor. Very much like the Alfred Hitchcock veneer. Judith R. Parker's short stories are clever and pretty much pure genius in their inventiveness. She has a colorful way of setting the scene and you'll find them very vivid and life like. And the final turn, at the end of each story, just makes you shake your head in wonder."Stacey Bucholz -- All About Murder and Carol's Book
"A KIND OF JUSTICE is a short book, but it is packed with examples of people and animals that suffered injustices able to get their own kind of justice. The main characters of each story are well developed and the plots are laid out in such a way that I had no trouble following the plot nor the punishment that ended in justice. I don't usually read anthologies that have more than four stories, but this is an unusual kind of book."Hattie Boyd -- Scribes World Reviews
"A KIND OF JUSTICE is an anthology of nine very well written, well thought out stories. Although the theme is the same, justice, here are nine diverse plots on how justice can be meted out. Be sure this anthology is on your 'to be read' list. It won't disappoint you."Shirley Truax -- All About Murder
Simon Threadneedle stared down at the body oblivious to the activity around him. The old woman was crumpled on the floor beside the overturned wheelchair, the back of her head smashed like a ripe cantaloupe. The skirt of her brown cotton dress ruched up to display pathetically swollen knees and grotesquely deformed ankles.
He knelt and pulled the skirt down. He picked one of her hands and studied it. The hand was thin, almost skeletal but the nails had been shaped and buffed. His glance traveled over her dress. It was old and beginning to fade, but clean and carefully mended. His gaze settled on the torn threads at the throat. He bent for a closer look. Old pin holes were clearly visible above the tear.
From behind him, one of the tech boys said, "Sarge, the Medical Examiner's boys are ready to take her away."
Threadneedle stood up and moved away, scrutinizing the room. Like the woman, it had a neat, scrubbed look despite its obvious age and the vandalism.
Vandalism. The word made him pause. He studied the pile of books on the floor, then the cheap, painted bookcase. The books hadn't been searched. Someone had simply tipped the bookcase over, then straightened it. His gaze swept the room again. The daybed had been stripped, drawers dumped out of the bureau. Not searched, just dumped.
He squatted down and began to sort through the piles. The articles of clothing were few, mostly worn but were clean and had been neatly mended. Under the clothes, he found a few papers, mostly rent and utilities receipts. Near the bottom of the heap was a bank savings book showing a balance of one hundred thirty two dollars and sixty-seven cents accumulated over the years by monthly deposits ranging from five to ten dollars. The only other interesting items were a large box of envelopes, three pads of inexpensive stationary, a roll of stamps, an address book and a brochure from an investment firm.
Threadneedle carried the address book to the couch, sat down and began to leaf through it. It contained eleven names and addresses. All but four had been lined out and various dates ranging over the last ten years neatly written across the lines. He pocketed the book, then prowled around the room again. His attention settled on the overturned wheelchair and the black and white afghan crumpled beneath it. The afghan caught in the wheel lock lever as he righted the chair revealing an empty brown leather binocular case. He searched the room again until he was sure he hadn't overlooked the binoculars.
Jason Stone turned from packing up his fingerprint kit as Threadneedle moved into the tiny kitchen and asked, "You through in here?"
"It's all yours, Sarge."
Only the residue of fingerprint powder marred the immaculate counter top. He opened a cabinet and frowned at the three cans of pork and beans, a can of tuna and a can of Spam that were carefully aligned on the otherwise empty shelves. He moved to the other cabinet. An open box of crackers, four tea bags, part of a box of corn meal and a can of baking powder were neatly arranged. He closed the door and opened the refrigerator. A hunk of surplus cheese, a tub of margarine and an open can of condensed milk sat in lonely splendor.
He pulled open the vegetable crisper and his interest quickened. Behind a used tea bag wrapped in foil and a dab of tuna in a container, he spotted the head of lettuce. He pulled it out. Plastic. He emptied the contents onto the counter.
Della Wakefield's little hoard of treasures winked up at him. A silver pin set with turquoise and pearls, an old fashioned wide gold wedding band, a dainty engagement ring with a single diamond of perhaps a quarter carat weight and a 1917 penny. He put them back in their hiding place and returned the fake lettuce to the refrigerator.
Leaving the kitchen, he made a quick survey of the equally tiny bathroom and found nothing of interest. The big front room was empty when he returned. He stood staring thoughtfully out the big bay window. There were no trees, no birds within sight of the window. What had Wakefield watched through the missing glasses? Across the street, the whole block was lined with three and four story buildings. Shops, ranging from an oriental grocery to a pornographic bookstore, occupied the street level. There appeared to be a variety of offices on second floor of several of the buildings, and the rest seemed to be apartments. He watched a young woman in one apartment, clad only in bikini panties, doing exercises.
He turned as the door opened and his partner, Brian Cully, strode in. "What have we got, Simon? Another dope-head looking to support his habit?"
"Not this time."
Cully looked around the room. "That's what it looks like to me. An old lady living alone. Easy pickings. Probably thought she had her life savings stuffed in a sock someplace. Tore the place apart looking for it."
Threadneedle shook his head. "Look in the kitchen. She didn't have money enough to eat. Must have taken her whole income just to keep a roof over her head." He began to stroke his lantern jaw with a stubby finger.
Cully's shoulders straightened out of their usual slouch and his interest quickened. He'd seen that mannerism before. He waited for Threadneedle to tell him what was on his mind.
Simon dropped his hand and said, "This place wasn't searched but somebody wants us to think it was. Let's go talk to the neighbors."
Back at the station, Cully hefted a meaty hip onto the edge of the desk as Threadneedle settled himself in his chair and began to stroke his jaw.
"You're doing it again, Simon."
Threadneedle raised a bushy eyebrow.
"For Pete's sake, you heard the neighbors. She was so crippled with arthritis she almost never went out. Shopping once a month. Never had any visitors."
"Oh, yes, she had visitors."
"An old man once a month and the young woman two or three times a year."
Threadneedle pulled out the address book and thumbed through it. He listed the names and addresses on a sheet of paper, making a check mark by those that had been crossed out. He wrote a separate list and handed it to Cully. "Check out the Rev. Thomas Beldan and Elizabeth Moore. I'll take the other two. We'll worry about those that were crossed out later."
When Cully was gone, Threadneedle dialed the number of Marcia Sonnenburg in El Centro. As he waited for the call to go through, he wondered where the hell El Centro was, from the area code he guessed it was some little town out in the desert. He let the number ring a dozen times before giving up and headed out to interview the last name in the book.
The address listed was an office building on the verge running down. Alvin Weiman turned out to be Dr. Weiman. There were half a dozen elderly people in the waiting room and beside the receptionist's window a hand letter sign proclaimed that Medicare and Medicaid Payments were accepted.
Threadneedle flashed his badge and a few minutes later was escorted into the doctor's office. He barely had time to seat himself in the one chair not piled with medical journals before a harassed-looking young man charged into the room, tossed several files on the all ready cluttered desk and fell into the swivel chair. "Police? So, what do you want?"
Threadneedle's eyebrows rose. "You're Dr. Weiman?" He didn't look old enough to be out of high school, let alone medical school.
Weiman was obviously used to this reaction, for he grimaced and said, "I assure you, I'm a licensed physician." He ran his hand through close-cropped blond hair and snapped, "I'm damned busy today, so how about telling me what you want?"
"Was Della Wakefield your patient?"
"Sergeant. Detective Sergeant Simon Threadneedle." He flipped open his identification wallet and held it out.
Weiman barely glanced at it. "Sergeant, medical records are confidential. I suggest you get a court order before you waste my time."
"Mrs. Wakefield is hardly in a position to object to anything you can tell me. She was murdered last night. Was she your patient?"
Weiman nodded. "It's Miss Wakefield. She'd never married." He sighed, then leaned forward and used the intercom to tell someone to bring him Della Wakefield's chart.
If she was unmarried, why did she have a wedding ring? Simon wondered. A family heirloom? While they waited, Threadneedle asked, "How long have you been treating her?"
"Only since I bought the practice from Dr. Fenwick, about seven months."
The nurse brought in the file and Threadneedle waited patiently while Weiman perused it. When the doctor finally looked up, he asked, "What was wrong with her? Did she list a next of kin?"
"Only a great-niece, Marcia Sonnenburg," Weiman said, answering the last question first. "She was suffering from advanced rheumatoid arthritis in both ankles, knees, hips and in her lower spine. Also, she was in the early stages of congestive heart failure. I tried to convince her to go into a nursing home but she refused."
"What else can you tell me about her?"
"Not much. I've only seen her a couple of times." He smiled. "She was a talker. Chattered the whole time I was examining her."
"What did she talk about?"
"Nothing, everything. Just gossip, mostly about her neighbors." He shrugged. "I never paid any attention."
After leaving the doctor's office, Threadneedle picked up a Big Mac and Coke at McDonald's and ate in the parking lot, mulling over what he'd learned while he chewed. He's try the niece again when he got back to the office but first he'd check out some of the crossed out names from the address book. Eloise Hartshorn's address was only a few blocks away. He'd try there first.
The house was a small bungalow, its stucco faded and cracked, the tiny lawn patchy and brown. Threadneedle climbed the cracked cement steps and knocked on the peeling door frame. A quavering voice asked, "Who's there?" and Threadneedle identified himself. The door opened the length of a security chain and faded blue eye peered at him. "What you want?"
"I'm looking for Eloise Hartshorn."
The door closed, there was the sound of the chain being released, then the door re-opened. The voice belonged to an stooped, elderly man who peered up at Threadneedle with myopic eyes. "You're five months to late. My wife's buried up at Cypress Grove. What did you want to see her about?"
"Della?" His eyes narrowed. "Della didn't send you here. She was at Ellie's funeral."
"Miss Wakefield is dead. We found your wife's name in her address book. We were hoping she could tell us something about Della Wakefield."
Hartshorn stepped back and turned around. "Don't know how much help I can be, but I guess you can come in."
Threadneedle closed the door and followed the old man into the living room. Except for a new leather recliner positioned in front of a television set and an old fashioned secretary, the furnishings were straight out of the fifties.
Taking a seat on the plastic-covered couch, Threadneedle pulled out a pen and notebook. "How well did you know Miss Wakefield?"
"I didn't know her at all. Met her maybe half a dozen times in the last thirty years. To tell you the truth, I couldn't stand her. All she ever did was gossip. Yakity-yak. At the funeral was the first time I'd seen her in, I guess, ten years. She was crippled up and didn't get around much."
"But she kept in touch with your wife?"
"Yep. They went to school together. For a while, they met for lunch most every week, but the last few years they kept in touch by mail. Della was quite a letter-writer. They both were. They wrote every week."
Threadneedle's heartbeat quickened. "I don't suppose you'd still have any of those letters?"
The old man gestured toward the secretary. "Ellie kept all her correspondence there. I ain't got around to cleaning it out. You're welcome to look."
The front of the secretary let down to form a writing surface and inside were pigeon holes filled with neatly tied bundles of envelopes. The envelopes in the largest bundle bore Della Wakefield's return address.
"Do you mind if I take these?" Threadneedle asked. "I'll give you a receipt and they'll be returned as soon as we go through them."
Back at the station, Threadneedle tossed the letters on his desk and tied again to reach Marcia Sonnenburg. There was still no answer. With a sigh, he untied the bundle of letters, selected the oldest one, dated ten months earlier, and began to read.
This has been a very boring week, nothing much happening on the block. The only interesting thing is that Miss Librarian bumped into that nice-looking young architect I told you about. Literally bumped into him on the street and they talked for a few minutes. At least he talked, she just stood there with her head down. It's too bad they're both so shy. They made such a good-looking couple, standing there on the street.
Mr. Meany came home drunk again and slapped his wife around. Really, that man should be arrested. I don't know how she puts up with him. I'm afraid for her. Someday he may kill her in one of his rages.
Oh, there is a new tenant in the Yuppie apartment. She's a pretty blonde in her early thirties. I think I'll call her Blondie. I do wish I knew their real names, I'm running out of new ones.
Hope both you and Horace are well.
Threadneedle replaced the letter in the envelope, and went one to the next one.
Well, Ellie, lots of news this week. Blondie isn't a real blonde and I'm very suspicious of her. She goes out about ten every night and is never home at two in the morning when I go to bed. And the clothes she wears! Little bitty skirts and those black fishnet stockings.
Architect has a kitten! He plays with it every morning and again in the evening and slips out of his office several times during the day to check on it. Such a nice man!! I do wish he and Miss librarian could get together.
And, surprise, surprise! Miss Snooty is a secret drinker! Always so hoity-toity, not speaking to anybody and Mrs. Ho at the grocery says she's terribly rude. Well, she keeps a bottle in her knitting bag. She rearranged her apartment when she got that new television and now she sits in front of the window. She drinks nearly a half a bottle every night.
I think there's something fishy about that accountant, too. I'm going to keep my eye on him.
My arthritis has been bothering the last few days but other than that I'm doing fine. Tell Horace to try some Fisherman's Friend drops for his cough.
The next few letters were in the same vein and he began skimming them until the third paragraph of a letter written just a month before Eloise Hartshorn's death. He read it twice and set it aside.
He was down to the last three letters when Cully returned. Cully dropped into a chair and pulled out a notebook. "I saw Reverend Beldan first. Wakefield was a member of his congregation, but she hadn't been to services in a couple of years. Once a year, she mailed a donation of twelve dollars, always one dollar bills. He visited her once a month and delivered a food basket. Never stayed long, he says."
Threadneedle's left eyebrow rose and he stroked his chin. "They didn't gossip?"
"Apparently not. He said she was uncommunicative, but he assumed it was because she was ashamed of taking what she termed 'charity'."
He flipped a page in his notebook. "Elizabeth Moore. She's a nurse. Wakefield was hospitalized a few years ago with pneumonia. Moore took care of her and they've exchanged cards. Moore used to drop by occasionally, but hasn't visited in almost a year."
Threadneedle tossed photocopies of the address book across the desk. "I've had better luck. Marcia Sonnenburg is a great-niece. Haven't been able to contact her yet. Alvin Weiman was her doctor. Eloise Hartshorn was an old school friend and correspondent." He tapped the letters on his desk.
"Wakefield was a gossip, but she did her gossiping by mail." He picked up the letter he had set aside. "Listen to this."
Ellie, you won't believe what a shocking week this has been. You know I can't breathe very well lying down anymore so I've been spending most of the night in my chair. Well, three nights this week, Blondie has brought a man home! Not only that, but a different man each time!
Then on Thursday evening I saw Dr. Kildare kissing that new nurse of his. And not just kissing, either. He had his hands all over her. Disgusting. And he has such a sweet looking wife. All I can say is, I'm glad he's not my doctor.
But that's not the worst. Old Bow Tie is a child molester. All this time, I thought those little girls he took up to his room were his granddaughters but now I'm not so sure. He took a little girl up yesterday and didn't pull his shade all the way down like he usually does. At first, I thought it might be her birthday or something because he brought out a cake and a bowl of something. Ice cream, I guess. After she ate, he took her on his lap and seemed to be reading to her, but then she went to sleep. He put her on the couch, took off her clothes and did the most unspeakable, unnatural things to her. I tell you, Ellie, it made me sick. I had to wheel myself into the bathroom and heave. If I had a phone, I'd have called the police.
"Old Bow Tie? Who the hell is that?" Cully asked taking the letter from Threadneedle's hand.
"Apparently Wakefield didn't know any of their names, so she made up ones based on some characteristic. Make a photocopy of that and let's get it down to Vice."
Cully left and Threadneedle picked up another letter and began to skim it, then stopped to re-read it.
This neighborhood is really going down hill! There was even a shooting last night! I'd dozed off so didn't see how it started. It must have happened in that disgusting bookstore because two men came running out and jumped in a red car and drove away. I'm sure one of them had a gun in his hand. I saw their license plate and wrote down the number. 459 EMB. I do wish I could afford a phone. Today there are men, police I suppose, going up and down the street talking to people. I do hope they'll come here.
I think I'll tell them about the accountant, too. Some pretty shady looking characters visit him at night. Why at night? It isn't tax season.
Oh, yes, I almost forgot in all the excitement. There are new tenants in the office across the street. They moved some really swanky furniture and the woman in charge looks like one of those people in the fashion magazines. Very elegant. I think I'll call her Miss Swanky. One room is full of telephones and computers. I wonder what kind of business it is.
Threadneedle looked up as Cully returned. "Remember that robbery at the porn shop a few weeks ago? Wakefield got the license number of the car. How come we missed her when we were canvassing the neighborhood?"
Cully took the letter and read it. "I think Carmichael was handling that case. I'll make a copy and drop it off on my way out. It's after five and I'm calling it a day. You coming?"
"Not yet. Sonnenburg may work. I'll hang around and try her again."
After Cully left, Threadneedle tried Sonnenburg again without success, then turned back to the letters and began making notes. His gut told him Wakefield had been killed by someone mentioned in the letters. The old woman had seen something that posed a threat to someone. Threat enough to warrant killing her. Bow Tie, the pedophile? The doctor to hide his affair? Miss Snooty to protect her secret? Who were the accountant's 'shady' clients? The hooker or one of her johns, someone who didn't want to be recognized? The wife beater? Or the wife? Miss Librarian or the architect?
He left the office at eight without reaching Sonnenburg. The next morning, he and Cully began canvassing the neighborhood. They started with Mrs. Ho at the corner grocery. They learned nothing new about Mrs. Wakefield, but Mrs. Ho was able to put a name to Bow Tie. Clarence Dobbs. And Miss Swanky was Elizabeth Conners, an investment counsellor. Mrs. Ho had invested with her. A very nice lady, very smart, very sophisticated.
By the time they'd reached the end of the block, they'd met the architect, Dwight Summers; the hooker, Terry Dean; the abused wife (she was sporting a black eye and bruises on her wrists), Billy Sue Puckett and identified her husband, Mr. Meany, as George Allen Puckett; and the accountant, Ruben Greenberg. None admitted to knowing Della Wakefield. None had seen any unusual activity in Wakefield's building. Miss Librarian and Miss Snooty obviously worked during the day.
They made their last call on Miss Swanky, Elizabeth Conners. She was indeed an elegant woman, in her mid-thirties, with a pleasant, open manner, but Threadneedle wasn't impressed. Her eyes were too small and too close together.
"Della Wakefield. The name does ring a bell but I don't believe she's a client. Let me check my files."
She left the room and Threadneedle to the opportunity to pick up a brochures. He'd glanced through it while he waited. It was the same brochure he'd seen in Wakefield's apartment and seemed to be touting some kind of tax-exempt bonds. Something about public housing for the homeless. He stuffed it in his pocket when Conners returned with a file.
"I was right, she isn't a client. She was on our mailing list and received our initial letter. She responded by letter requesting more information. We sent her a packet three weeks ago but I haven't had time to follow up."
"You never met her?"
When they left, Threadneedle was rubbing his chin. He glanced at Cully and asked, "Why would an old woman who couldn't afford a telephone want investment information?"
Cully shrugged and left to check more of the names from the address book. Threadneedle returned to the grocery store. He had to wait until Mrs. Ho finished waiting on a wizened little man, then asked, "Did you ever notice Mrs. Wakefield wearing a brooch of any kind?"
Mrs. Ho nodded. "Beautiful. A bar pin. One large ruby in the center and rose cut diamonds in the bar. Very old, very valuable. She never without it. Wore it always."
Threadneedle frowned. "Are you sure it wasn't costume jewelry?"
Mrs. Ho's eyes glittered. "Oh, no. It was a Burmese ruby. Very fine stone." At Threadneedle's skeptical look, she continued, "My father dealt in precious gems before the war, before we leave China. I learn early to know gems. Also, one time she tell me it was gift from fiance. He send it to her from India, just before he killed."
He left the store with a line drawing and a full description of the pin. Back at the station, he had photocopies of the drawing sent to all of pawnbrokers in the city. He tried Sonnenburg again without success.
Two drive-by shootings, an armed robbery, a suspicious suicide, the rape and murder of a real estate agent and the finding of a decomposed body of a man in an abandoned building took most of Threadneedle's attention during the next week. He did find time to run a check on Ruben Greenberg and the accountant came up clean. Vice busted the hooker, Terry Dean, and were keeping an eye on Clarence Dobbs. On the following Monday, Sonnenburg finally answered her phone and sounded genuinely shocked when Threadneedle told her of her great-aunt's murder. She agreed to stop by the station when she came up to arrange for the funeral and to bring any letters from Wakefield.
Threadneedle leafed through the Wakefield file, studying his notes. Something nudged the back of his brain but he couldn't bring it into focus. He pulled out the packet of letters and began re-reading them. One paragraph in the last letter that caught his attention.
You know I've never known what to do with Papa's ill-gotten gains, but I think I've finally found a way to make good use of it and provide for Marcia as well.
Threadneedle closed the file and folded his hands on top of it, racking his brain for an elusive memory. Then it came to him. He pulled the phone book from his desk drawer, looked up a number and dialed.
It was Wednesday afternoon when Marcia Sonnenburg entered Threadneedle's office. She was a tall woman in her forties with short-cropped brown hair and cold blue eyes. She was wearing a brown pant-suit and a yellow blouse with a lace jabot.
When she was seated, Threadneedle took a card from his pocket and began to read. "You have the right to remain silent..."
Threadneedle and Cully were having a beer in the back booth at Jaspar's when Carmichael joined them. "Thank's for the tip on that porno hold-up. We traced the car, brought the guy and a couple of his buddies in for a line-up and the clerk id'd them.
"I hear you got the niece for whacking the Wakefield woman. Thought she was from out of town. How'd you tie her in?"
"First, I asked myself why someone with so little obvious income would be interested in investments. Sonnenburg was her only relative so I did a little checking. Sonnenburg left for a vacation in Mexico the day Wakefield was killed. According to airline records, she was in town four hours between flights. Plenty of time to get out to her aunt's apartment.
"Wakefield liked to gossip. I figured if she gossiped to an old friend, she probably gossiped to her niece. In one of her letters to Hartshorn, she mentioned her father's ill-gotten gains. I remembered the savings account."
Cully interrupted, "But it had only a little over a hundred dollars."
"True. I called the bank. Wakefield had a safe deposit box with Marcia Sonnenberg. I got a court order to look in the box. There was over a million dollars in cash and bearer bonds.
"Then I did a background check on Wakefield. Her father was Anson Wakefield, one of the biggest bootleggers in the city back during prohibition. He was reputed to be worth millions when he died back in '69."
"Yeah, but Wakefield was dying. Sonnenberg only had to wait a few months and whatever the old man left would have been hers."
"She denies it, but I think Wakefield wrote about her plans to invest the money with Elizabeth Conners. Sonnenburg was afraid the old woman was about to throw the money away in some get-rich-quick scheme and panicked."
"But you arrested her the minute she walked in!"
"She was wearing Wakefield's ruby brooch."