Dead on Arrival

Katie Scarlett O’Malley (don’t call me Katie) was raised by her father after her mother walked out when Scarlett was just three. Now thirty years later, Scarlett learns that her mother was killed when she lost control of her car less than 50 miles from Scarlett’s home town. The news is unnerving, especially since Scarlett had no idea her mother was anywhere around.

Frankly, Scarlett doesn’t give a damn. She’d be happy to ignore her mother’s accident completely, but that proves to be impossible once her egg donor’s ghost shows up in Scarlett’s bedroom Not only has Kat failed to go toward the light, she’s become attached to Scarlett for some reason neither of them can understand. When Scarlett’s aunt asks her to prove that Kat’s death was no accident, Scarlett agrees, but only so she can send her ghostly visitor on to her great reward.

Together, Scarlett and her amnesiac ghost of a mother look into the accident that claimed Kat’s life. It doesn’t take long for things to get worse and soon they’re caught up in a web of secrets and lies that turn Scarlett’s whole world upside-down.

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Chapter 1 

I heard the ominous chk-chk of the shotgun a split second before a blast ripped through the door in front of me. Instinctively, I ducked and covered to protect my face from the shower of splinters that flew into the frozen night. My heart kicked the walls of my chest as I jerked the radio from my shoulder. Just two weeks into the New Year, this wasn’t how I wanted to spend my Sunday evening.

“This is O’Malley,” I said into the radio as I pulled my service revolver from its holster and flattening myself against the wall of the small frame house. “Shots fired at the Bryants’ house. Tell Monty to get over here. Andy has Roni trapped inside.”

The officer on dispatch responded, and I turned my attention back to the asshole in the house, shouting, “What in the hell do you think you’re doing, Andy? Put the shotgun down and let your wife come outside so I can make sure she’s all right.”

Cheerful lights leftover from Christmas blinked on and off from the eaves of the house. I wondered how they’d gotten there in the first place. Either Andy had been sober for an hour or two during the holiday season or Roni’s dad had stopped by to put up her lights. To my knowledge, Andy hadn’t been sober during the holidays in at least a decade, so I’d put my money on the latter.

Every breath of frigid Montana air burned my lungs on the way in and turned to steam as I exhaled. I rotated my face away from the door, knowing that if I could see my breath, Andy would be able to see it too. This wasn’t my first time responding to a domestic disturbance at the Bryant house. In fact, every member of the force had been here multiple times. But this was the first time Andy had been this aggressive with any of us, so I had no idea what he’d do next.

As I crouched on the porch waiting for him to respond, a movement on the edge of the yard caught my eye. I turned my head quickly, half-expecting to see one of the Bryants’ neighbors moving in for a better look. All I could see were empty beer bottles on top of fresh powder and the uneven footprints Andy had left in the snow as he’d staggered to the front door.

A snowmobile—Andy’s vehicle of choice since getting his third DWI and losing his license—lay abandoned next to a dilapidated wooden fence. Behind that, towering Lodgepole pine cast long shadows in the moonlight.

Convinced that I’d just been distracted by snowflakes blowing in the wind, I turned back to the house just as another blast tore through the door. Another shower of splinters exploded into the crisp night air of the usually quiet town of Silverton, Montana, and another curse escaped my lips.

What the hell was wrong with Andy? Had he completely lost his mind? Was he trying to hit me? We weren’t friends, exactly, but we were friendly enough that he’d never taken a shot at me before.

I was feeling exposed after the shots he’d taken. Just in case he was thinking about blowing a hole through me, I decided to change position. I hurtled past the door and landed on the other side of the porch. As my feet touched the ground, my right foot hit a chunk of uneven ice buried beneath the snow. My ankle twisted sharply, and I fell with a thud.

Pain shot up my leg and into my back. With a groan, I rolled onto my stomach and trained my Glock on the devastated front door. The injury had destroyed what was left of my patience. I was thoroughly pissed now and furious that Andy had chosen to go crazy on my shift—not to mention frustrated that Monty Lebowski hadn’t yet managed to drive across town to give me backup. Silverton wasn’t that big.

In an all-around bad mood, I shouted, “That’s it Andy! I’m through playing games. Get your ass out here. Now!”

I got no answer but silence, and that worried me. Andy’s an idiot when he’s drunk, but he’s usually intelligent enough to know that shooting at a cop is a bad idea. He seemed to have dropped to a new low tonight.

“I’m giving you to the count of three,” I warned. “Let Roni go and toss out your gun or I’m coming inside. If I have to do that, I won’t be joking around.”

A muffled yelp from inside the house filled the sudden eerie silence, followed by excited voices in the street behind me as curious neighbors gathered to watch the spectacle.

“You okay Scarlett?” A voice I recognized as Eli Redbird’s floated across the snow-covered yard. Eli lives in a cabin out of town, so I wasn’t sure what he was doing there. He’s a local artist and a good guy, a fact I’d first realized back when we were kids. He’s also strong and a natural leader, so I was glad he was there.

I wouldn’t dream of involving a civilian in anything dangerous, but I felt better knowing Eli was around to exhibit some common sense and keep the other civilians from getting too close, especially if the situation spiraled even further out of control.

“I’m fine,” I shouted back without taking my eye from the door. “Andy’s in a mood, that’s all.”

Being the only woman in our 12-person department, I know that some of the locals worry about me. But I also know what I’m doing. I’ve had plenty of training. I don’t like to brag, but I can outshoot most of the guys in the unit when we’re at the range, even those with hunting experience.

I’m good at what I do. Good enough that I was planning to put in for a promotion next time one came along. Gary Russell had been muttering about retiring—again—and I wanted his job desperately. It’s the only detective spot on our small force and highly coveted. I knew I’d be competing with Tony Ferraro for the promotion, but I’m the better cop. Ask almost anybody.

The job would be as good as mine once Gary retired, and I wasn’t going to let a punk like Andy Bryant keep me from getting it. I inched closer to the biggest hole in the door and called out, “Last chance, Andy. Backup’s on the way, so it’s only a matter of time. Why don’t you get out here before I have to do something we’ll all regret?”

Only Roni Bryant’s soft whimpers broke the silence inside the house.

“Are you okay, Roni?” I shouted.

“I’m fine,” she whimpered back.

Yeah. Right. I leaned forward a bit, trying to get a look inside without exposing myself to Andy’s drunken target practice. Anger with Roni mingled with the rage I felt toward Andy. Every few months dispatch sends a car to calm Andy down when he’s on a bender. The lucky responding officer drags him off Roni before he does serious damage and hauls his ass to jail, where he languishes for a few days.

Trouble is, Roni always forgets why she asked for help and bails him out again. Before a week is out, her bruises are fading and the two of them are lovey-dovey again…until the next time. If Roni had followed through on any of her threats to divorce him, none of us would be in this mess now.

But I wasn’t being paid to give marital advice, so I bit back everything I wanted to say and staggered up onto my feet, praying that my throbbing ankle would hold and that Andy was sober enough to surrender before I had to get serious. I tested my weight on the ankle in question, decided it would hold, and had just decided to risk moving when a third explosion shredded another section of the door. If the first two shots had left me uncertain, the third one made it very clear that Andy wasn’t going to back down.

I had every intention of waiting for Monty before I went in, but a blood-curdling scream from inside the house told me things weren’t getting better in there. I couldn’t wait any longer.

With my senses on high alert, I hit what was left of the door with one shoulder. The hollow wooden plank gave way, and I stumbled inside to find Andy—all five-seven of his scrawny self—with his back against the fireplace, where a string of lights hung lopsidedly and broken ceramic pieces littered the floor.

He held a double-barreled shotgun in one hand, its barrels pointing at the floor for the moment. His other arm was wrapped around the neck of his terrified wife. A dark stubble of beard shadowed his emaciated face and his eyes were red-rimmed from whatever he’d sniffed, smoked, or popped with the alcohol he’d been downing for most of the day.

Roni’s mousy brown hair hung in lifeless locks around her pale, pinched face and fear filled her eyes, but I’d lost sympathy for her a long time ago. She’d had a dozen chances or more to change her lifestyle, and she’d thrown them all away.

I leveled the Glock at Andy’s shoulder and snarled, “Drop the gun and let Roni go.”

Ignoring me, Andy lurched to one side and dragged his wife with him.

“Let her go,” I shouted.

Andy looked almost regretful as he focused his bloodshot eyes on me and gave his head a shake. “Can’t.”

Wrong answer, but at least he was talking. “Sure you can,” I said, keeping my voice even.

He gave his head another unsteady wag. “No, I can’t Scarlett. You don’t know wha’s happened.”

Oh sure. Now he wanted to talk. “Well then,” I said, “why don’t you tell me?”

Andy gave his wife a looked filled with drunken venom. “I found out, tha’s what ha—” hic “—happened. I know all about it.”

Keeping my weapon steady, I inched forward. “All about what, Andy?”

“Her and Hy Thornberg, tha’s what.” Andy wobbled a little, corrected himself and tightened his grip on Roni’s thin neck. “She’s been sleeping with him, Scarlett. Trottin’ over to his place like a damn dog in heat every time my back’s turned. She’s been makin’ a damn fool outta me.” He sniffed loudly and wiped his nose on his shoulder. “I’ll bet everybody knew about it but me, di’n’t they?”

Even if I knew the answer, the town doesn’t pay me enough to answer a question like that. Andy wouldn’t believe me anyway. Instead, I said, “Why don’t we go outside? We can sit in the Tahoe and you can tell me about it.”

Andy barked a laugh and backed a step away, knocking what looked like a ceramic baby Jesus to the floor with his shattered parents. “I’m pissed and I’m drunk, but I’m not stupid. She’s been makin’ a fool of me for months. Do you know wha’ that feels like?”

If he’d been sober, he would have remembered my failed engagement that had been the talk of the town last year. “As a matter of fact,” I said gently, “I do. It feels like hell, I know. But that doesn’t give you license to go around shooting at people, especially not at the police.”

“C’mon Scarlett. I never tried to hit you.” He stifled a belch and winked as if he and I were conspirators. “I just need you to leave me alone while I take care of a few things, that’s all.”

“You know I can’t do that. Now come on.” I jerked my head toward his shotgun. “Put that down and let’s get this over with. My shift’s almost over and the dart tournament at Pop’s place starts in twenty minutes. I don’t want to be late.”

Andy wagged his head again. “Can’t do that, Scarlett. A man’s got a right to defend his—” hic “—honor.”

That ship had sailed a long time ago, but I didn’t say so. “Not like this,” I said, with a glance toward the door. Where in the hell was Monty? Andy wasn’t usually so difficult. Then again, he usually went after Roni for things like putting too much cheese on his enchilada or letting a spot set on his favorite shirt. We’d never tangled with anything this serious, and I was starting to think that his wife’s suspected infidelity might be what finally pushed him over the edge.

“Did you know about her ‘n Hy?” he demanded of me.

“The only thing I know is that you’re going to be in serious trouble if you don’t put the rifle down and let Roni go.” I used my best cop voice. Firm. Authoritative. In charge. It should have convinced Andy to surrender.

But he wasn’t ready to go without a fight. With an unintelligible shout, he shoved Roni out of the way and leveled the shotgun at her, pulling both hammers back as he did. My heart stopped beating and my mind went deathly silent. Training took over and I responded on autopilot, dropping my aim from shoulder to thigh and squeezing off a round. Andy’s leg buckled and he went down like a sandbag, hitting Roni on the way and knocking her to the floor with him. Her foot hit the scrawny plastic Christmas tree still lolling in the corner. It came crashing down on top of them.

Shouts went up from outside but I ignored them and crossed the room in two steps. I kicked the tree aside and aimed my gun at Andy. “Move!” I ordered Roni. “Get out of the way.”

A spark of life flared in her dull eyes. With a whimper, she scrambled on hands and knees toward the couch and cowered there.

I stood over the fallen man and kicked his shotgun out of the way. “Dammit Andy, are you out of your mind?”

He wailed in pain and fixed me with an accusing glare. “You shot me!”

“Yeah. Now put your hands on your head—and don’t you dare argue with me. If you make me shoot you again, I’ll never forgive you.”

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