Shades of Truth, page 1
SHADES OF TRUTH
A Matt Jamison Novel
James A. Ardaiz
Shades of Truth
Copyright © 2019 by James A. Ardaiz. All rights reserved.
Published by Pace Press
An imprint of Linden Publishing
2006 South Mary Street, Fresno, California 93721
(559) 233-6633 / (800) 345-4447
Pace Press and Colophon are trademarks of
Linden Publishing, Inc.
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data on file.
A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time. When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, “The one I feed the most.”
—George Bernard Shaw
About the Author
The blazing sun of summer fills the great Central Valley of California with heat until even shade provides little respite. It’s not uncommon for late afternoon July days to reach 105 degrees. Nothing moves, not even the leaves on the rows of vines that stretch out along endless country roads, their wooden canes curling around wire that holds up the summer’s end crop of green and red grapes. There is no wind. No breeze. Just heat. Like the leaves of the vines, nothing moves unless it has to.
Until the evening. That’s when the ground begins to release the warmth it has absorbed and the onset of evening becomes a balm to the people of the Valley. The dusk sun sets orange against the rise of the Coastal Range and the horizon folds streams of crimson and yellow into the slowly darkening sky. It is a time when older people remember that as children they played in their front yards while neighbors sat in chairs watching and visiting. Even now, when in many cities across America people don’t know the names of their neighbors, the evening time is when people of the towns of the Great Valley walk and wave and stop for a moment to say hello. It’s one of those places that remind people from other places of how they want to think it used to be.
But memories of the past cannot push back the slowly rising tide of change. The violence that no longer leads the news in major cities is still a headline here. Like the violence elsewhere that seems to find new and different ways to crash through the sensibility of people, shocking them with what before they could not even imagine, it sometimes happens here also. And people are reminded that the life they once held on to so casually they must now hold on to tenaciously because there are more and more who would take away from the peace of others. It is the way of a changing world and even that change has come to the Valley. What once stunned its inhabitants by its uncommon violence now assaults slowly calloused sensibilities. With that progress of civilization, the revulsion that once endured in memory is now frequently only a moment’s repulse. But on this warm July night, there would be one more moment, and even those who thought of themselves as no longer surprised at what predators could do, would awaken this time to horrific images conjured by the words of reporters, reporters who themselves were recoiling from what they had before not even imagined.
Tenaya County, California
July 5, 1980
Christine stirred fitfully in her bed, opening her eyes to the darkness. Moonlight seeped into the small bedroom, outlining the few items of furniture that provided familiarity in the daylight and became fearful shadowed objects of imagination at night. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, pulling at the T-shirt that rode up over her belly, sticking to her small body. It was too warm even for a sheet. But it wasn’t the stifling trapped heat of her room that kept her awake. It was the sounds. She’d heard them before. They were part of the three short years of her life. She pulled her knees up to make herself small, hiding in the folds of the sheet, and buried her face in the pillow.
The sounds of her life were not the noises that should be part of childhood. But Christine didn’t know that because it was what she’d always known. These were the sounds of her home. Soon her mother would come and comfort her. Her mother always came, and then they would both cry, from the child the frightened tears of an innocent who needed reassurance, and from her mother the resigned tears of a woman who couldn’t find her way out of despair. But tonight, her mother didn’t come. Only the sounds.
The body of Christine’s mother slammed against the thin wall of the kitchen, the shuddering vibration carrying throughout the long-dried wooden frame of the house. It carried even into the bed where the child lay, pulling her small body against herself. She kept her eyes closed, scrunching them, trying to keep out the resonating sound. She curled into a tighter ball, drawing the pillow up against her face, reaching for the softness of her stuffed rabbit. The worn fur of the over-loved toy yielded to the child’s tight embrace, but it was unable to block out the reverberating noise which came—again and again and again.
The light in the kitchen was unshielded. Any glass shade that once softened the harsh glare of the light bulbs had long ago disappeared, probably broken, certainly misplaced in time and memory. The eight-by-ten room was cramped by the small kitchen table in the center and three chairs, their plastic seat coverings splitting as age took away whatever suppleness they once had. The sink and counter were littered with half-empty glasses and plates with remnants of food drying hard on them.
For some inexplicable reason, at that moment Lisa Farrow took in the meagerness of her life as her back slammed into the kitchen wall. She felt the air leave her body. The coppery taste of blood filled her mouth where her teeth clamped together against her tongue as she tried to brace herself against the blow. Her vision closed in as her left eye began to swell. She didn’t reach up to see whether the skin was broken. She needed both hands to protect herself. Experience had been a brutal teacher.
Her words came out thickly. “Rick, don’t. No more. What do you want? I’ll do what you want, anything you want.” It didn’t matter. She was long past
He stood there, his eyes darting around the room, the rage coming in waves, ebbing and flowing. This is her fault. She made me do this. It’s her fault, not mine. The thought refueled his anger, focusing his eyes on the woman, her back against the wall, coughing and shaking. This is all her fault. The more he looked at Lisa’s swollen face the angrier he was that she made him do this. He felt the rage rising up inside him like a tornado blacking out the light of day. His hand slid to his side, the fingers curling around the smooth dark wood of the Buck knife he carried sheathed on his belt. He didn’t even sense the automatic gesture of his other hand easily pulling out the blade, the stiffness of a new knife being opened long past.
Lisa kept her face turned to the left, the swelling eye closing rapidly, forcing her to focus her right eye as she heard the dull click of the blade locking into place. Rick held it up, hesitating before he laid it on the counter, the silver metal of the blade glinting as it rattled against the cracked and aging tile. He lunged forward, drawing his hand back into a fist, shoving it into her stomach. Lisa felt her knees buckle as she gasped for air, fighting the urge to simply be still but unable to stop the slow slide to the floor. There was nothing left for her except to cover her head as Rick kicked at her. “Bitch! Bitch! What makes you think I would even want you? What makes you think anybody wants you?”
Lisa felt him standing over her, his sweat dripping down, mingling with her own fear-driven sweat and the blood from her split lips. Then he began to kick again. He kicked until she couldn’t feel it anymore, and then he kicked again. She heard him shouting, but his words were a garble of sound and spit. Finally, he stopped.
She should have lay still but there was Christine. That was all that went through her mind as she struggled up from the floor, trying to raise her upper body, her side burning, every breath a racking pain, her body choosing between the need to breathe and the inevitable agony that shot through each breath. Lisa looked for Rick. She could only see his black boots. They were moving toward her again.
She felt the tugging on her pants. She pulled her legs up, trying to squeeze them against her body. One more plea for him to stop came gasping from her throat. She wouldn’t resist. Her slurred words came out with effort, trying to close her swelling lips to form the sounds. Even Lisa wasn’t sure what she said. It didn’t matter. Begging carried its own plaintive sound.
The heavy blow only carried an instant of pain. If Lisa had any feeling at that moment it was gratitude that perhaps unconsciousness would free her from the agony.
There was vague awareness of light penetrating through the slits of her swollen eyelids. Slowly what was around her emerged from the dark images as her eyesight adjusted. He was still there and so was the throb of pain threatening the slightest movement, including every breath. Lisa raised her head, bracing against the anguish. Then she saw the glint of silver.
The blade burned through the air, its passage making the hissing sound of a striking snake. She felt it moving across her neck like a scratching nail catching skin, pulling, slicing. She felt the warm stickiness running down her chest. She was surprised. It didn’t hurt as much as the kicks. A moment of clarity focused her. What will happen to Christine? She watched as her vision collapsed into a narrow pinpoint of light. Then she saw nothing at all.
Christine stopped squeezing her eyes shut. There was only silence. She waited. But tonight, when the sounds stopped her mother did not come.
But the man came. She could sense him over her bed as he spoke to her in a rasping whisper. She pulled her pillow and her rabbit against her ears, shutting out his voice until his footsteps receded in the darkness of her room. He came back. His breath hot and slurred. It would be all right. He told her to go to sleep. “It will be all right, Christine.” As he left the room she heard him say, “It will be all right.” She sank her head deeply into her pillow. It would be all right. Her mother would come. She always did.
A new sound came. The sensation was soft at first, almost imperceptible. Christine could smell something different. Something that even her young mind knew was not good. Wisps of smoke wafted into the bedroom, curling through the moonlit room. Christine pulled her stuffed rabbit closer to her, waiting and watching as yellow-orange light flickered against the shadows on the hallway. Her mother would come. She always did.
Twenty-six years later
Matt Jamison walked from the elevator to the double mahogany doors crested by the brass letters of the words DISTRICT ATTORNEY, TENAYA COUNTY. Thirty-four years old, a little over six feet tall, with dark brown hair and striking blue-green eyes, his dark features contrasted with his crisp white shirt and carefully knotted red silk tie. As he opened one of the heavy doors to enter the reception area, Jamison couldn’t help feeling that after nearly eight years so far pretty much everything in his legal career as a prosecutor had gone right. Passing Helen, the receptionist, he began to say good morning but could see she was answering a phone call. “District attorney’s office. May I help you?”
Matt started to move on but saw Helen raising her hand, waving it at him to catch his attention while at the same time she punched numbers into her phone and directed the call. He waited until she was finished. It was never a good idea to ignore Helen. You might find that your messages got misplaced just long enough to create a problem. Eventually you would get the message. Helen never would lose one. She might, however, hold one just long enough to make you rush around when it suddenly appeared. One of the first things he learned when he came to work as a young deputy district attorney was not to cross Helen.
Blonde and somewhere, according to her, near middle age, Helen had been the receptionist for as long as anybody in the office could remember. She was not a secretary, she would remind anybody who asked her to type a document or copy a brief. She was the gatekeeper. If there was somebody you needed to see or talk to she would let them through and if it was somebody you didn’t want to see or talk to, she would make sure that they didn’t get through. She knew the moods of everyone, including the district attorney himself, and Helen would let you know if you needed to watch your back in the perpetual roil of office politics. Behind her back the younger DAs referred to her as Mother Helen. And occasionally she would look at some officious young attorney and say, “Don’t mess with Mother Helen.” That was usually enough to keep people in their place, but if it wasn’t she would make sure that eventually it would be.
Helen leaned forward, closing the space between herself and Jamison. Her hair barely moved. Helen didn’t scrimp on hair spray. She wanted her hair to look the same way in the afternoon that it looked when she combed it in the morning. Jamison bent down to hear what she apparently did not want anyone else to hear. “District Attorney Gage wants to see you. He was in early and told me that as soon as you came in I was to make sure you saw him.”
“Good mood or bad mood?” Jamison asked.
“I couldn’t tell but whatever the reason is, he seemed anxious. I’m guessing, but I don’t think whatever it is that it’s your fault.” She gave a slight smile. “I could be wrong, though.”
“Yeah, thanks.” Jamison straightened up, returning the tight smile. “Any other messages?”
Helen handed him a small pile of paper with various names, phone numbers, and messages. “These just said to call back and left the number and a message. The rest didn’t want to tell me what they wanted to talk about.” It wasn’t just a business inquiry that caused Helen to ask if they had a message. Lawyers who wanted to get through immediately without explaining what they wanted learned quickly enough that Mother Helen liked to know what was going on and cooperation with her frequently wa
Jamison shuffled through the sheets of message paper, quickly evaluating what had any urgency to it and what he could parcel off to one of the newer deputy DAs or an investigator to deal with. He walked through the door to the hallway where offices of deputy DAs lined the hall. The higher the floors occupied by the district attorney’s office, and the closer the offices in the hallways came to the district attorney, the larger the offices were. Jamison’s office wasn’t very far from District Attorney William Gage’s office. As chief deputy in charge of Homicide and Major Crimes, he was the lawyer who caught the big cases that made headlines and that focused public attention on the district attorney’s office and on his boss, Bill Gage, as the district attorney.
Jamison kept his eye out for carpet edges curling up. It had been a while since new carpet had been put in, and here and there silver duct tape held down seams that had separated. The county supervisor didn’t seem sympathetic to yearly pleas for new carpet. Jamison didn’t imagine that the hallways in the county supervisor’s offices had duct tape but then again, they held the purse strings. He also imagined that somebody with taste picked the color of the supervisor’s carpet. It was the generally held opinion in the district attorney’s office that nobody with taste had picked their carpet, the orange color maybe having been in fashion before he was born.
As he walked down the hallway first toward his office and then to see what his boss wanted, Jamison could almost measure his advancement as a prosecutor as he moved by offices he once occupied. First it had been the lowest floor referred to by young deputy DAs as “the basement,” even though it was on the sixth floor of the eight-story county building that housed the offices of the district attorney. You started there and you worked your way up through the grunt assignments of juvenile and misdemeanors and preliminary felony hearings and then specialty assignments like narcotics and vice until those on the upper floors reached down and pulled you up the ladder into cases that the public actually paid attention to.