~ excerpt ~
by Cindy Davis

Book 5 in the Angie Deacon Series

Chapter One
Friday, December 21

Snow wafted from the darkening sky in delicate, airy whispers. Holiday lights twinkled off the Winnipesaukee River. A perfectly shaped balsam tree, glittering with white lights, filled the gazebo in Laconia's Rotary Park at the end of the snow-covered walkway. The only sound was the occasional shush of cars, like skiers, up on the main road. Angie Deacon could almost forget the reason she and Jarvis were here. She linked her arm tighter through his. A snowflake landed on her nose and she sneezed.

Colby Jarvis unlinked their arms and turned her to face him. "You coming down with something?"

"Snow tickles."

He planted a feather light kiss on the tip of her nose then laid an arm around her shoulders and they began walking again. She nestled deep into the crook of his arm, difficult because they were close to the same height.

"Darn, got a loose thread." She plucked at the cuff of her sleeve.

"Wait, there's a pair of scissors on my jackknife." He snatched it from his pocket and opened the blade of the little red knife. Angie made the fix. "Thanks. Does this thing have a blade to get rid of pesky snowflakes, Detective?"

"I think so. Lemme check." He made a show of digging through the multitude of attached tools.

"If you don't have something that'll help, then I order you to arrest the little buggers." She snatched at a flake with an ungloved hand. "Here, start with this one."

His ringing cell phone cut off the laughter, making it come out like the bark of a small dog. She didn't laugh. She and Jarvis, like dozens of others, had been praying the call would come tonight so the Putnam family wouldn't have to wait through the holidays for news of Abraham Gleason Jefferson's conviction.

He flipped open the cell phone cover and snapped, "Jarvis here." He listened for two seconds, his face morphing through at least a half-dozen emotions in that short time, clicked the cover shut and crammed the phone back in place. Wordless, he started walking.

Though she had long legs, Angie had to run to keep up as he raced toward Main Street. Thankfully the snow hadn't yet made things slippery because the only way it would have slowed him down was if he fell.

A gaggle of reporters crowded the sidewalk out front of the Belknap County Superior Courthouse. Jarvis gripped Angie's hand and muscled his way through, giving a curt nod when asked if the jury had returned.

Halfway up the granite steps, out of earshot of the clamoring paparazzi, Angie asked, "What if they let him off?"

"They won't."

"A while ago, you were worried your testimony hadn't been strong enough, to—"

His brusque, "He will not go free," was followed by an almost prayer-like, "I hope," that she knew she wasn't supposed to hear.

Angie passed through the metal detector without hardly stopping. Jarvis handed off his gun, keychain and the snowflake-busting red jackknife. He pocketed the keys and they headed upstairs to the courtroom.

The hallway outside the courtroom was a madhouse. Jarvis wrestled between tense shoulders and into the room. Things here weren't any calmer here. The noise level rivaled that of a World Series game. Jarvis squeezed himself and Angie onto the hard bench behind the bar—the barrier dividing the public from the court participants. None of the court staff had returned yet. The only people in the well were the defendant, his two-man defense team, and a pair of uniformed guards. The guards leaned against the wall looking serious. The defense team stood to one side heads bent together and backs to the crowd. The defendant, Abraham Gleason Jefferson sat at the center of the defense table. Single and thirty-years old, he presented an image of middle class respectability with his short Afro and neatly trimmed mustache. Until two months ago, he had been a hard-working member of the road crew for the town of Meredith. He had lived in the town for almost ten years. He had no record, not even a speeding ticket.

So, what suddenly made this man want to kill an eighteen-year old girl that, as far as anyone knew, he didn't even know?

As if feeling Angie's attention, Jefferson turned. Their eyes met. He raised his right hand, folded it into a fist, extended his index finger, took aim and fired at her. Angie jumped as if a real bullet had exploded from the tip of that flesh and blood gun.

Angie groped for Jarvis' hand on the seat beside her. And found nothing. Which made Jefferson laugh out loud. No mistaking the sound of it over the buzz of the crowd.

She located Jarvis in deep conversation at the end of the row with the prosecuting attorney Lillian Imada, a dwarf beside Jarvis's brawny frame. Jarvis had once described Lillian as a pit bull in a Chihuahua's body. This was Angie's first real trial. She'd attended a half-dozen of the very boring proceedings. Throughout the ordeal, Lillian had handled herself as professionally as Perry Mason. Her closing argument yesterday consisted of a rapid-fire narrative of what sounded like an open and shut case, though, all afternoon, Jarvis had voiced his doubts. That worry showed now in deep lines in his handsome face. It was there in Lillian too, not so much on her face, but in her stance. The petite lawyer, in a red pay-attention-to-me business suit leaned a hip on the railing that separated her from Jarvis.

To the left of the judge's bench, a door opened. The sober-faced bailiff walked in and stopped in front of the bench. When he raised both hands to the crowd, Angie's heart took on a rat-a-tat snare drum beat.

"Everyone. Take your seats, please."

As one, spectators competed for the best seats. Lillian eased into her chair behind the prosecutor's table. The parents and brother of Crystal Putnam—the girl Jefferson had killed, there was no doubt in Angie's mind—entered from the aisle and took their places in the front row behind Lillian. How they sat stoic while the defense badgered every witness Lillian brought to the stand, Angie couldn't imagine. The father, wearing a black suit with tiny gray pinstripes, leaned over the mahogany bar and said something to Lillian, who shook her head. He slid back on the seat and linked arms with his wife. Angie assumed he'd asked Lillian if she had any idea as to the jury's verdict, and received a negative reply.

Justin Putnam, at seventeen, was a year younger than Crystal. He'd attended the hearings every day with his parents, though it was clear he'd rather be elsewhere. Most of the time, the boy sat with his head down, his longish red hair covering his face. He sniffled every now and then and swiped the back of a hand across his face. She'd wanted to run over and hug him. The parents were so wrapped in their own grief, that outside of handing the boy a big red handkerchief, they barely seemed to notice his sorrow. Except for one time when Lillian handed him a yellow lined pad and a pencil—a toy to keep him occupied. At one point he'd turned to gaze at the assemblage. Angie had smiled into the most beautiful but sad blue eyes.

The bailiff's words brought her attention to the front. In the room, the already high tension peaked in a way that made the atmosphere seem solid—like on a humid day when the air felt thick enough to cut with a knife. "All rise."

With a rustle and shuffle, the assemblage rose.

The door opened again and Judge Stackhouse entered. Angie liked the redheaded man; he'd presided over a fair trial, allowing neither side to squeeze in unwarranted information, and making sure all remained on an even keel emotionally. He fluffed his robes and sat. Angie tried to read his expression and couldn't help thinking what a great poker player he'd make.

Another door discharged the jury: seven men, five women. Ten had children. Four were single. Two were retired. Six were professionals from several walks of life. Like the judge, all wore unreadable faces.

The words, "You may be seated," brought another rearrangement of bodies.

"Jury, have you made your decision?"

The jury foreman, a tall, painfully thin man with white hair and wire-rimmed glasses, stood. "We have, your honor."

"Would you read it please?"

With much to-do, the man drew a folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket, unfolded it and read, "We find the defendant, Abraham Gleason Jefferson…" A three-second hesitation had the audience leaning forward on the seats. "Not guilty."