Early in my writing career, I was asked to write a short story in an anthology with debut thriller writers, edited by Lee Child. Of course I said yes! But writing short isn’t easy … especially for someone like me who finds it hard to keep my novellas under 25,000 words and my books under 100,000 words. (DEAD HEAT, the book I just revised and turned in, clocked in at 107,000 words.)
But I did it, because I love a challenge. “Killing Justice” was originally published in Killer Year in 2008, and again in a 3-story anthology by the same title that’s currently available in ebook for Kindle, Nook and Kobo.
For this story, I wanted to take a slice of my life. I went back to my past, when I worked in the California State Capitol, and used a variation of real child predator legislation as the backdrop of the story. A similar bill was really killed in the public safety committee, and shenanigans like swapping out committee members to ensure specific vote results has long been practiced in the California Legislature. It’s things like this that made me politically very cynical.
So I created State Senator Matt Elliott to be someone I’d want fighting for what’s right and just.
I liked Matt so much, I wrote him into several of my books. Though he’s a State Senator here, he later became the Sacramento County District Attorney and appears in Playing Dead and Sudden Death; he’s the brother of FBI Agent Megan Elliott who’s married to the Jack Kincaid. Matt has had a very interesting life, and I have a story idea for him. In fact, I’ve already started writing it …
Senate Pro Tem Simon Beck sat in his high-back leather chair signing letters, the tall, narrow window behind him framing the Tower Bridge at the far end of Sacramento’s Capitol Mall, the morning sun making the elevator bridge appear golden. His secretary Janice escorted Senator Matt Elliott into the office, offered him coffee—which he refused—then quietly retreated.
Simon had been expecting the confrontation since Elliott called him at six in the morning and said nothing, allowing the tension to build.
It didn’t take long. Elliott slammed his fist on the antique desk and leaned forward, his knuckles white. “You bastard. You stacked the committee!”
Simon placed the pen precisely on the blotter, sat up straight, and clasped his hands in front of him.
“Sit down, Senator Elliott.”
The pulse in Elliott’s neck throbbed. He pushed away from the desk and paced, running both hands through his dark hair. “You promised you wouldn’t fuck with my bill package.”
That was true. Simon had always planned to quash the so-called “children’s safety” legislation on the Senate floor at the end of session when it would be too late for Elliott to raise the money and qualify an initiative. Simon hated the fact that in California, when the legislature—which had been given the power to pass or defeat legislation—didn’t cater to the cause of the year, the rich and powerful would raise a few million dollars to put their pet project on the ballot.
He hated it except when it benefited his interests.
The truth was, if Senator Matt Elliott had the time, he could have qualified an initiative in time for the November ballot, the worst time for their party to be forced to take a position on so-called “tough on crime” legislation. Didn’t Elliott see that? Wasn’t the future strength of their party more important than one bill?
Kill the bill now, Simon.
Jamie Tan’s words came back to him. The head of the Juvenile Justice Alliance, which operated nearly two hundred group homes for juveniles in the criminal justice system, had made it perfectly clear that if Elliott’s bill passed, they’d pull all support. It was an election year and they wanted to take no chances on a vote by the full Senate. The bill had to die in committee.
Worse, Tan had brought the head of a prison reform group and one of the two major trial lawyer organizations into the meeting. The warning was clear: screw them, his election well would run dry.
That was the biggest problem with term limits, Simon realized. Before the electorate put in limits, the leader had real power. Now, special interests had the power. Jamie Tan would be around longer than Simon Beck, and Tan knew it.
Simon had no choice but to back down. If he lost even one seat this election cycle, he’d be unceremoniously dumped as leader.
“Put Paula back on the committee,” Elliott demanded, stopping in front of his desk.
“Forget it, Elliott. My decision is final.”
“I’ll bury you, Beck.”
“You? You’re the outcast of our party. A maverick. Ha! No one trusts you. You’re just as likely to vote with the Republicans as vote with us. So you won Paula over to this issue, but you know damn well she’ll never agree with you on your other pet projects.”
“This isn’t a pet project. My bill will save lives.”
Beck waved his hand in the air. “Don’t believe your own press releases.”
“Damn you, we can make a difference!”
“Do you realize what’s at stake? Do you know how many people will lose their jobs if your bill passes? Do you understand that the state is under court order to decrease the prison population? All your bill would do is make the crisis worse.”
“Tell that to Timothy Stewart! Wait, you can’t. He’s dead.”
“That’s what this has all been about. You want to destroy an entire industry because of one mistake.”
“One? The Stewart case is only one example of the problems with the current system.”
Simon’s phone beeped. On cue. He’d told his secretary to never leave Matt Elliott alone in his office for more than five minutes.
“Yes, Janice? Right, I’ll take it.”
He covered the mouthpiece. “Get out, shut up, or your career is over.”
Senator Matt Elliott hung up with the fiery Paula Ramirez who was as livid as he was that Beck had replaced her on the Public Safety Committee. Matt had spent the entire three years of his legislative term working on Paula, earning her trust and respect. It all came to a head when he asked for her support of this bill, against their party line. Matt was the maverick, the others expected him to vote however he damn well pleased, but Paula was one of theirs: a dyed-in-the-wool, intellectual, steadfast liberal.
And he’d won her over on this issue. He’d also grown to like her, though they still didn’t see eye-to-eye on criminal justice reform.
It was Hannah Stewart, the slain boy’s mother for which “Timothy’s Law” had been named, who’d swayed Paula. Her raw, honest testimony that Matt, a former prosecutor, could only attest to, not recreate. She’d been to hell and back in the five years since her son had been murdered. Matt had been the assistant district attorney when her son’s killer had gone to trial; he’d been with Hannah since the very beginning. It was that case that had prompted him to run for office to change the laws that he had vowed to uphold as a prosecutor.
And now he had to tell her that not only was the bill dead as the result of political posturing and corruption, but he didn’t think they had the time or resources to qualify an initiative for this year’s ballot. It would be put on the back burner until the next election.
His chief of staff, Greg Harper, knocked on the door. “Mrs. Stewart and her sister are here.”
“Send them in.”
He stood and walked to the door to greet them. Matt felt like a prosecutor again, giving bad news to surviving family. He’d always hated that part of the job, and this was worse because he knew Hannah.
“What’s wrong?” she asked as soon as they sat down on the couch facing his desk.
She’d always been perceptive. Even when she was going through the emotional ringer during Rickie Coleman’s trial, she’d picked up on the subtleties of the court testimony.
“Paula was removed from the Public Safety Committee,” Matt said. “She was replaced by someone who opposes Timothy’s Law.”
“I told you this was going to be a tough sell.”
“But after Senator Ramirez agreed to support Timothy’s Law, we had the votes, correct?
He nodded. Hannah sounded calm, but her eyes were glassy. She knew what this setback meant.
“And she was removed why? Because someone didn’t want the bill to pass?”
“You mean the Senate Leader.”
“I’m not going to lie to you, Hannah. Politics reigns supreme in this building. We knew what we were up against—the group home industry is worth tens of millions of dollars and growing. All they are doing is slowing down the tide against them. We will change the system. But I learned this isn’t the way.”
Hannah said, “Since Timmy, more kids have been hurt. It’ll happen again. Are human lives a justifiable cost for these people?”
Matt had nothing to say. He agreed with Hannah. “I’m truly sorry. Paula is sorry, too. We did everything we could.”
Hannah turned away from Senator Elliott and looked at her niece in the stroller. Rachel was a beautiful child, perfect in every way, round and plump with chubby hands and deep dimples. The dimples ran in their family—both Hannah and her sister, Meg, had them.
Unlike Rachel’s twin indentions, Timmy had had a solitary dimple on his left cheek.
She squeezed her eyes shut as the wave of pain hit her, palatable. Unconsciously, her hand fiercely rubbed her forehead.
“Hannah, are you okay?”
It was the senator speaking. He’d tried. He’d been so kind, so steadfast, he’d worked so hard. But it wasn’t enough.
She lied. “I’m fine.”
“I know you’re disappointed. I’m furious about this, and I promise you I’ll take it to the voters. I’m not going to sit back and let this power play go unnoticed. My chief of staff is crafting a press release, and I’m having a press conference—with Paula—immediately after the committee hearing.”
Hannah nodded, though she only heard part of what he said. She’d known this could happen. And, really, why had she come to testify in the first place? It wouldn’t bring Timothy back. It wouldn’t piece together her destroyed marriage.
You did it to save other children.
And now other children were still at risk because of politics. Politics that allowed juvenile sex offenders to move quietly into neighborhoods without anyone knowing. Politics that allowed those perverts to live across the street from an elementary school, to watch the little boys and little girls walking to and from school every day.
They could slip out of the poorly secured houses because people who had no idea how to care for these criminals were put in positions of authority. Did they even understand that their young charges hurt other children? That it was only a matter of time before they escalated from sex crimes to murder?
What was the difference between a seventeen-year-old convicted rapist and an eighteen-year-old rapist? The public was allowed to know when the older predator moved into their neighborhood, but not the younger.
It was her sister Meg, in her motherly tone. A sign that she was worried.
Rachel started fussing in her stroller and Meg reached for her. Hannah interrupted.
“Let me take care of her,” she said.
Meg agreed, her eyes following Hannah as she left with the baby.
Meg said to Matt, “She needs to do something. Rachel helps, I think.”
Matt would never forget the pain in her eyes when he first met her, even though he’d always thought of Hannah as a quietly strong woman. Yet five years later, the agony was still there, a permanent reminder of the uncaring bureaucrats and a callous system that made it more profitable to house sex offenders in middle-class neighborhoods than in prison.
Of course, the group homes were officially “non-profit,” but the people who ran the facilities also owned the food supply, laundry services, and transportation companies. Investors quietly bought up houses in middle-class neighborhoods and leased them out to the “non-profits” at inflated rates. Then there was court-ordered counseling, attorney fees, private security companies—Matt had only just begun to trace the money trail of those connected with these facilities.
“How’s she holding up?” Matt asked.
“Hannah’s strong. She’s gotten through the worst of it, and now that the divorce is final, I think she’ll be okay. It’s just—”
“Every time Hannah speaks in public, like in front of the committee, she relives Timmy’s murder.”
Matt hated thinking he was partly to blame for Hannah’s pain. He’d sympathized with her, he took care of her needs, but he’d never failed to use Timmy’s murder to advance his goals. And while his goals were for the protection of all children, he’d lost sight of his own humanity in the process. That maybe everything he’d asked Hannah to do had kept the wounds open and festering, instead of healing.
He wished he could help Hannah move forward, reclaim her lost life. Five years was a long time to grieve.
But he’d never lost a child to violence.
Hannah pushed her index fingers into her temple, pushing back the dull, constant ache that she’d learned to live with for the last five years.
She’d lost her only child. Then she’d lost her husband. Eric wasn’t dead, but he was dead to her.
“Why weren’t you watching him? How could you let this happen?”
He’d apologized, but the damage was done. Eric thought she was responsible. That her actions and inactions had resulted in Timmy being stabbed six times after enduring a rape.
Rickie Coleman said he didn’t mean to kill Timmy—that he was scared of going to jail if he was caught. The judge only gave him nine years. For manslaughter, not murder.
The sixteen-year-old Coleman lived right down the street from Timmy’s school in a group home for juvenile sex offenders. Timmy had passed by that house every day, unaware of the depravity that hid behind the door.
If she’d only known, she’d never have let Timmy walk home alone. Or even with friends. She would have picked him up. Or arranged a neighborhood carpool.
Dammit! His school was only three blocks from home! He should have been safe.
She worked only ten minutes away and had adjusted her work schedule in order to meet Timmy when he came home from school every day.
But he never came home that day. She called every friend and ran from her house to the school, calling his name, her panic growing.
She ran right past the house where Timmy lay dead in the backyard, to be discovered three hours later when the owner came home from work.
The house next door to the group home.
Rachel let out a yelp and Hannah cleared her head. Remembered where she was . . . in a restroom in the California State Capitol.
“Sorry, sweetheart.” She changed the wet infant’s diaper. Rachel reached up and pulled Hannah’s long brown hair. Hannah was in the handicap stall, which she’d often used when Timmy had been in a stroller. Now, she needed it for privacy more than the room.
“Sorry, Rachel,” she murmured as she reached under the stroller. Her hand touched the cold metal.
Are you sure?
Of course she was sure. Her son was dead, her marriage was over, and she had nothing left but distant memories of happiness.
Rachel gurgled in her stroller, reached again for Hannah’s hair. She allowed the baby to grab a handful, a tear falling onto Rachel’s little pink dress.
“I love you, Rachel,” she whispered. “I hope your mommy forgives me.”
Hannah loosened the gun, which she had strapped down with duct tape under the stroller that morning when she volunteered to load Rachel’s stroller into the car.
She had watched people coming and going through security during her numerous trips to the capitol. The guards passed the strollers around the metal detector and only took a cursory glance at the contents. Diaper bags and backpacks were run through the X-ray, but not the stroller itself.
She and Meg had grown up on a farm in the Central Valley and their father taught them to shoot at a young age. Hannah never expected to use a gun on a human being.
Senator Beck was anything but human.
“Let’s tell your mommy you want a walk,” she told Rachel, securing the gun in the small of her back, under her loose-fitting blouse. “Auntie Hannah has a meeting.”
“I’m not going to sit here and pretend none of us know exactly what happened today. Senator Ramirez was unceremoniously removed from the Public Safety Committee after faithfully serving for seven years. Why? Because she supported Timothy’s Law.”
He stared at his fellow committee members one by one. They in turn looked disgusted, bored and angry. Angry at him, perhaps, because he was shining a high-wattage light on the dark dealings of the Capitol.
Good bills were killed because of special interests every day of the week. Matt’s bill was simply another casualty.
“We’ve heard enough,” the Chairman, Senator Thomas, said. “You’re getting very close to being censured.”
“Censured? You think I care about being censured when you sit there and abstain on a bill that would protect children and save lives?”
“Senator Elliott, that is enough.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Matt noticed Hannah Stewart enter the committee hearing room. She came in through the rear entrance and sat in the back row.
He couldn’t drag her through another hearing, not like this. Her face was ashen, and she was as skinny as he’d seen her during the trial when her sister told him she’d lost weight, going from one hundred forty pounds to less the one hundred ten.
“It may be enough for you, but I will continue to fight for child safety legislation even if some of the members of this committee believe in politics over human lives.”
Thomas stared at him icily as Matt took his seat. He stared back. He wasn’t going to let them get away with it. He knew what he would tell the press.
Without fanfare, the committee voted. Three ayes, four abstentions.
The next time he looked at the audience, Hannah was gone.
Though Hannah had grown up listening to her father’s tirades about the corruption of government, she’d always believed in the system. That good people ran for office—people like Matt Elliott, the man who’d prosecuted Timmy’s murderer. The man whose eyes teared up when he told her the judge was going to give Coleman a lenient sentence. That Rickie Coleman would be a free man at the same time Timmy should have been graduating from high school.
Senator Elliott was not to blame. He’d done what he could. It just wasn’t enough.
It was Beck’s fault. Simon Beck, the man who’d stacked the committee for the sole purpose of killing Timothy’s Law. A man who cared more about politics than a little boy who’d bled to death, alone, crying for his mommy . . .
Hannah screamed, but no sound escaped her tight throat. She heard Timmy’s silent pleas every time she closed her eyes, every time she tried to sleep. But never in daylight, never like this.
She pretended to look through her purse as she watched the traffic in the corridor. It didn’t take long before she saw the group she needed. Six women of different ages, walking with briefcases and purpose. She quickly trailed after them, standing only a foot from the rear as they opened the door and piled into the Senator’s waiting room.
The short woman of the group announced them. “Betsy Franklin with the Nurses Coalition. We have a meeting with Senator Beck.”
The secretary checked the schedule, nodded, and told them to have a seat and she would let the senator know that they’d arrived.
If any of the women noticed her, they must have assumed she also had an appointment with the Senate leader. They didn’t comment. She didn’t offer an explanation.
She sat in a chair while Nurse Betsy Franklin spoke to Beck’s secretary. Hannah hadn’t been in this office before, but she was a good observer. She watched as the secretary vaguely nodded toward a door behind her and to the left. Was Beck’s office right on the other side of the door? Or down a hall?
Now that she’d made her decision, an eerie calm descended around her.
Killing Senator Beck wouldn’t bring Timmy back from the dead, but it would punish him for what he’d done to stop justice. It would make a statement: that people who had the lives of others in their hands could not callously disregard the dead, or the living.
“Janice, I’ll just be a sec.” A tall, lanky man with a boyish face and graying hair walked past the secretary with a half-smile at the nurses. He opened the door, then closed it. But Hannah saw what she needed to see. A short hall, then double doors.
Where that bastard worked.
Rickie Coleman was to blame for killing Timmy. But what about the system that put him in the neighborhood in the first place? Even though Coleman was now in prison and the staff fired, that house was still open and operational in her old neighborhood. Nearly every day she drove by, watched as the so-called “counselors,” who looked barely old enough to vote, escorted the six teenage boys from the house to an unmarked van. Followed as they drove across the county to “school.” Their school was housed in a recreation center that also held a preschool and several after-school programs. They put those sexual predators in the same building with innocent children.
When she’d gone to the Recreation Board, she was told that, “There have been no reported problems. And they pay their rent on time.”
She’d been in the Capitol building enough over the last six months to know that she couldn’t simply walk into the Pro Tem’s office. The secretary would ask if she had an appointment. And she doubted that Senator Beck would talk to her, even if she did ask for a meeting.
Are you sure you want to do this?
She wasn’t sure of anything. She couldn’t sleep; she could barely eat. She’d never wanted to move, but she couldn’t live in the same house where Timmy had lived. She was in limbo, going through the motions of living while having no real life.
Her soul had died the same day as Timmy.
The man left Beck’s office ten minutes later and Hannah jumped up.
“Ma’am, you can’t—”
Hannah closed the door and ran to the double doors, opening them at the same time as the secretary opened the outer door.
“Sergeants!” the woman called.
Hannah closed the door.
She’d noticed Matt Elliott had locks on his doors and was pleased to find that so did Senator Beck. She turned it.
“Ms. Franklin?” Senator Beck asked, confused, as he rose from his desk.
Recognition crossed his tanned face as he stared at her.
“Hannah Stewart,” she said, though it was unnecessary. “You killed Timothy’s Law.”
Fists pounded on the door behind Hannah. She drew the gun.
“Senator? Senator?” a muffled voice called through the door. Someone shouted, “Get the Sergeants!”
“Mrs. Stewart—” Beck put his hands up, slowly. He stared at the gun, not at her.
Her enemy cowered in front of her. Sweat formed along his receding hairline. She should kill him now. But her hand trembled, so she held the gun with both hands; her purse fell to the floor with a thud. She jumped, heart pounding.
“You sacrificed innocent children for politics,” she said, surprised that her voice sounded normal.
“Mrs. Stewart, put the gun down.”
He tried to sound tough, but his voice cracked at the end. He was scared. He feared for his life when the lives of the innocent meant nothing to him.
“That group home, the same one that Rickie Coleman slipped out of to kill my son, is still in operation. And because of you, it will not be shut down.”
“That’s not the role of state government—”
“Bullshit!” Swearing surprised her as much as her volume. “You stacked the committee! You killed my bill!”
“Mrs. Stewart, it’s only legislation—it can’t bring your son back.”
“Timmy! His name is Timmy! Do you know how many juvenile sex offenders escaped and hurt children? Do you?”
“We don’t know because they’re minors and their records are confidential! And because the people who run those homes make millions of dollars off the system, they’ll never be shut down. The group home in my own neighborhood? The owner makes three times the market value every month on an inflated lease. Is that the price of a child? Seven thousand dollars a month?”
Beck took a step toward her and Hannah pulled the trigger.
“Senator, they’re evacuating the building,” Greg exclaimed as he ran into Matt’s office, his lips in a tight, white line.
“What’s going on? Bomb threat?”
“There’s a gunman in the building.”
“They’d lockdown if there was a gunman loose, not evacuate,” Matt said. His instincts hummed.
“I’m just relaying what the Sergeants told me. He’s in the historic building; the annex has been locked down and is being evacuated. It’s mandatory.”
Matt waved his hand dismissively at Greg and turned on the television by remote.
“… Capitol building is being evacuated. Nothing more is known at this time.”
The picture switched from a reporter outside the east entrance of the capitol to the bureau chief. “Sources in the building tell NBC news that every office has been ordered to evacuate immediately. A gunman is in the building. Wait—”
The reporter listened to his earpiece. “A shot has been confirmed fired. Three separate sources report that a shot has been fired on the second floor of the historic building. Sources indicate the shot may have come from Senate Pro Tem Beck’s office, a Democrat from Los Angeles.”
“Simon,” Matt whispered.
He pictured the look on Hannah’s face when he told her about the committee.
Suddenly, the last five years became clear. For the first time Matt realized what he’d done. The last major case he tried before filing for office was the Timothy Stewart murder. It was the judge’s idiocy that had propelled him to seek the senate seat. He’d wanted to fix the system in a way that a prosecutor couldn’t—by changing the laws.
And then he brought Hannah Stewart in to help his cause. She’d seemed the perfect spokeswoman for reform: an eloquent, attractive mother, a person the press and the people could relate to. She joined his bandwagon to change the laws, to ensure that children were protected and violent predators—whatever their age—were locked up where they couldn’t hurt anyone.
It had been his cause because he’d lost in court when he hated to lose—and rarely did. Rickie Coleman had been convicted, but the judge threw out the first-degree murder charge—believing Coleman when he said he didn’t intend to kill the boy—and Coleman ended up with manslaughter and a nine-year sentence.
Matt had wanted to change the system, fix what was broken, and he used every means possible.
Including a woman so devastated by grief that she hadn’t truly lived in five years.
He suddenly knew who the “gunman” was.
He had unwittingly created her.
The Sergeant-At-Arms, Bob Bush, ran a hand over his mustache, a nervous habit he’d thought he’d broken. In charge of Capitol security for the past twenty years, he’d had his share of situations. But never had a shot been fired in the Capitol under his watch.
“CHP is on alert,” Jefferson said.
They stood outside Beck’s office, which had been immediately evacuated after the gunshot. He’d just debriefed the secretary, who didn’t know anything.
“Where’s the damn security tape?”
The security camera outside the senator’s office would have recorded who’d passed through the door.
“They’re viewing it downstairs right now,” Jefferson said, listening to his earpiece. “They have an I.D. Hannah Stewart, Caucasian female, forty-two.”
“Who the hell is she?”
A commotion outside the door had Bob turning. He saw Senator Elliott trying to bypass the shield they’d set up around the office.
“Senator, you need to evacuate,” Bob said, turning around to talk to Jefferson before he’d finished his sentence.
“I know Hannah.”
Bob stopped, turned to him. “She won’t pick up the phone. We’ve been trying to call into the office for the last five minutes.”
“She’ll talk to me. Please, let me go in.”
“I can’t do that, we don’t even know if Senator Beck is alive. SWAT is getting into position.”
“Don’t shoot her.”
“He’s been ordered to assess the situation and report.”
“Please, Bob. I can defuse this.”
“What’s her story?”
“She testified on one of my bills in Public Safety. It was defeated today.”
“She’s holding Beck hostage because a bill got killed?”
“No. She’s holding Beck hostage because her son got killed and she doesn’t think anyone cares.”
The Sergeants would not let him go in, but that didn’t faze Matt. He had an idea.
He ran upstairs to the third floor to the Republican leader’s office. The floor was oddly deserted. The windows in the gallery were sealed shut, but those in the Member’s offices could be opened. Matt walked in through the leader’s “escape” door—an unmarked entrance directly into his office from the side hallway. Few legislators kept their private door locked.
Matt crossed to the window behind the desk, directly above Beck’s office. He opened the window. A portico traversed the west steps of the Capitol building, but stopped before reaching the office windows.
Matt looked down, swallowed heavily. A three-foot ledge ran under the windows, but if he slipped . . . the drop was already precarious because of the seventeen-foot ceilings. But broken ankles were the least of his concern now. To his left was a spindly palm tree, to his right the top of a tree with long, narrow leaves. It didn’t look sturdy enough to climb down, but if he fell from the ledge, the tree would prevent him from hitting ground.
He knew Beck’s little secret. After hours, he often opened that window and leaned out to smoke cigars. Not once had Matt seen him lock it.
Without hesitating, Matt flung open the far window and climbed out, holding onto the ledge, his legs dangling over, and assessing the drop. He hung there only a moment before falling . . .
Slam. Right on the ledge. His knees protested, but nothing broke. He teetered a moment, grabbed a thin branch to steady himself. He shook off the pain, shimmied along the ledge to Beck’s unlocked window and pushed it open.
Hannah stood over Beck’s desk, a gun aimed at his chest. Beck’s face was ashen and he lay awkwardly across his chair.
He was too late.
“What the hell was that?” Bob Bush exclaimed at the faint thump coming from outside the building.
Jefferson listened, then said, “SWAT reports that a man jumped from the third floor onto the balcony and has entered Beck’s office.”
Bob bit back expletives. “Who?”
“No confirmation yet. He was wearing gray slacks and white button-down, rolled up at the sleeves. Dark hair, approximately six foot one inch—”
“Matt Elliott. Ring the office.” Dammit, did the Senator want to get both him and Beck killed?
Bob held the phone to his ear as it rang and rang.
“Let me answer the phone,” Matt told Hannah.
“Why are you here?”
She didn’t respond, and Matt slowly reached over to Beck’s desk, watching Hannah’s eyes the entire time. He pressed line one, picked up the phone. “It’s Matt Elliott.”
“Senator, what are you doing?” Bob Bush exclaimed.
“Beck is alive. Give me five minutes.”
He hung up over Bob’s protests. “Hannah,” he said, “you don’t want to do this.”
He glanced at the Senate leader. There was no blood; she hadn’t shot him. Something was still wrong. Beck’s mouth moved rapidly, but no words came out. He was pale and his left eye seemed to look in a different direction than his right. Heart attack? Didn’t matter, Beck needed medical attention immediately.
“You don’t want to kill him.”
Hannah looked at him with blue eyes filled with anguish so tangible Matt’s own heart broke.
“No one cares about Timmy,” she whispered.
“You care, Hannah. You’ve done everything you can. I’m not going to let anyone forget about your son.”
Tears welled in her eyes. “Today—today he would have been fifteen.”
Matt had forgotten. He’d breathed nothing but the Timothy Stewart homicide for five and a half years, but he hadn’t remembered the child’s birthday.
His mother would never forget.
“I’m so sorry, Hannah. I’ve done everything I could to make sure no other mother suffers like you have.”
She shook her head. “He—” She waved the gun at Beck and swallowed. “People like him don’t care. All they see are numbers and statistics. And money. Always the money. Like the life of a child has a price on it! All they had to do was give parents information. Give us a chance to protect our children. I’d have walked Timmy home myself every day if I’d known those sex offenders lived in that house. But no one can protect the children if we don’t even know what we’re up against!”
Matt was concerned about Beck. His breathing was shallow, his face clammy, and an odd sound emanated from his throat. Maybe it was a stroke, not a heart attack. Hannah seemed oblivious.
If Beck died, she’d be charged with second-degree murder. Matt didn’t know if he could live with that on his conscious.
“What about Rachel?”
Hannah blinked, really looked at him for the first time. “Rachel?”
“How can you protect your niece if you go to prison? What is Meg going to tell Timmy’s cousin? Rachel needs you. Meg needs you. She’s stood by you from the very beginning. She sat next to you during Coleman’s trial every single day. Think of how she will feel if you go to prison. Or if SWAT shoots you.”
Matt had spied the SWAT team member in the tree across the path, and blocked his direct line of fire. He couldn’t let Hannah die, especially not as a criminal.
He couldn’t let Beck die.
“I’m nothing,” she whispered.
“Hannah, you’re living in hell. Let me help bring you back. Please.”
She stared at him. “Promise me one thing.”
“You won’t stop until Timothy’s Law passes.”
“That I can promise you.” Arms outstretched, he took a step toward her. “Hand me the gun.”
His momentary relief that she was giving up the fight dissipated as Hannah brought the gun to her head.
He leaped toward her.
The gun went off.
Three Months Later
“Matt, Sandra Cullen is here to see you.”
Bonnie was the last of his staff. When he announced last month that he wasn’t seeking reelection, his entire staff found other jobs. He didn’t blame them, though there were still six months left in his term. He didn’t care that he was staffless. He had nothing he wanted to accomplish—at least in this building.
He’d already done all the damage he could.
Sandy closed the door behind her. She was a petite woman, skinny through excess energy. She’d been the District Attorney of Sacramento County for coming on twelve years, as well as his former boss. He had complete respect for her. It was Sandy who had tried to stop him from running for state senate. He’d accused her of playing politics—he was taking out a member of her party. But in hindsight, she’d wanted to spare him the pain of failure.
An idealist in government simply tilted at windmills, she’d said.
“I’m not going to try to change your mind,” she said, “because you’re going to make a damn fine D.A.”
When Sandy had announced her retirement, Matt had tossed his hat into the ring. She’d endorsed him immediately.
Already, he felt like the world that had crashed down three months ago was rising just enough to allow him to breathe.
“Thought you might like to know that my office just accepted a plea on Hannah Stewart’s case. She’ll remain at Napa State Hospital for twelve months.”
“No jail time?”
Sandy frowned. “I know you think I’m callous, but I couldn’t fight for jail time on this one. I would have got it. But in a trial, I think I would have ended with a hung jury. She wanted—and needed—to go to the mental hospital.”
“I read in the paper that Beck was released from the hospital yesterday. Is he coming back? It was unclear.”
“He’s still incapacitated from the stroke. He doesn’t have mobility on his left side at all, though he’s regaining his speech.”
“Have you seen him?”
He paused. “Once.” It had been awkward for both of them. He thought originally she’d been too embarrassed and grateful that he’d knocked her hand away before she killed herself. Instead, she’d blamed him for her failed suicide attempt.
“I just don’t want to live anymore.”
“Matt, I always said you were too good for this building.”
He shook his head. “Wouldn’t it be better if there were more people here like us? Then maybe we could make a difference.”
She smiled sadly. “When Hell freezes over.”
This story, along with A Capitol Obsession and Above Reproach, are available in KILLING JUSTICE.