Authors: J.D. Rhoades
Tags: #Romance, #Thriller, #Mystery, #north carolina, #bounty hunter, #hard boiled, #redneck noir
Your Honor,” McCaskill intoned in a
voice so deep that it almost rattled the water glasses, “my client
has no prior record. He is a bail bondsman licensed by the State of
North Carolina. He served his country with distinction in the armed
forces and was decorated for bravery in the Persian Gulf. In
addition, we are confident that these charges are the result of a
misunderstanding and will be resolved in his favor at
The judge picked up a sheet of computer
printout and studied it. “Your client,” the judge observed, “has
been remarkably lucky to have no record of convictions. The PIN
check provided by officers Jones and Wesson shows a remarkable
string of charges that were either dismissed by the local
prosecutor or resulted in ‘not guilty’ verdicts at trial. Can you
McCaskill shrugged and smiled. “The nature of
Mr. Keller’s business is such that the people he returns to custody
are often, shall we say, less than happy with their situation.”
Two of them apparently ended up dead,”
the judge said.
For which incident a jury returned a
verdict of not guilty by reason of self-defense,” his lawyer
Tharrington put the printout down and looked
at Keller again. Keller was beginning to feel like a piece of
livestock being haggled over at the market, but he kept his face
I’m concerned here, counselor,” he
said, “that your client is a violent man. He was apprehended with a
shotgun in his car. He was carrying a weapon concealed on his
For which--” McCaskill began, but fell
silent when Tharrington raised a hand. “I realize he claims to have
a carry permit for that weapon. He has not been able to produce
That’s because Officer Wesson took it.
Sir.” Keller said.
Which brings us to my greatest
concern,” Tharrington said. “The contempt and disrespect shown to
law enforcement. It’s bad enough that Mr. Keller apparently fancies
himself some sort of bounty hunter, despite having no official
standing as a sworn law enforcement officer. But for him to assault
a real officer and threaten him with further violence--”
Sir,” Keller said. “Officer Wesson
.” He ignored the
lawyer’s hand on his shoulder urging him to keep quiet. “He struck
me with his baton while I had my hands on the car. Officer Jones
can confirm that.”
Tharrington looked behind Keller. “Officer
Wesson,” he said. “Is Officer Jones present in the courtroom with
Keller didn’t trust himself to turn around
and look, but he could hear the smooth confidence in Wesson’s
voice. “No sir,” he said. “She had, ah, other duties to attend to.
And your honor, I was forced to use my baton to subdue Mr. Keller
when he attempted to reach for the firearm I was taking from
And is it not true, Mr. Keller, that
you threatened to take Officer Wesson’s baton away from him and
beat him with it?”
No sir,” Keller said through clenched
teeth. “I told him I was going to take it away from him and shove
it up his ass.”
Tharrington reddened. He picked up his gavel.
“Bail is set at fifteen thousand dollars. Cash.” He nodded to the
deputy Sheriff standing at one end of the bench. “Take him back to
the holding cell.”
Your Honor,” a soft female voice said.
“I’ll be supplying Mr. Keller’s bail bond. But may I request that
the court change it to a secured bond rather than cash?”
Keller looked around for the first time. She
was standing at the back of the courtroom, dressed in a floor
length black trench coat that contrasted starkly with her
white-blonde hair. Her jeans were black as well and she wore a
white blouse buttoned up to the neck, despite the outside heat. Her
hands were covered with black gloves. One hand rested on the silver
handle of a dark cherrywood cane.
And you are...?” the judge
She walked down the center aisle of the
courtroom with a pronounced limp, leaning on the cane for support.
“Angela Hager, your honor,” she said. “H & H Bail Bonds. I’m
Mister Keller’s employer.”
The judge tapped his chin with his pencil.
“Hager, Hager...” he said thoughtfully. “You look familiar...”
She arrived at the bar and looked up at the
judge. She brushed her hair from her eyes with her free hand. “My
husband was Jeffery Hager.”
The judge dropped his pencil. “Yes, of
course,” he said. “I--I remember the case. You--ah--you seem to be
Thank you,” she said. “Now, about the
bond. I can supply a cash bond, but it’s less paperwork if I don’t
have to transfer that much cash. The IRS, you know.” She smiled
slightly. “I assume H & H’s credit is still good with this
The judge didn’t answer at first. He was
staring in fascination at the narrow band of puckered scar tissue
that peeked above the high collar of the blouse. She waited
patiently, still smiling. Finally the judge realized that he was
staring and his gaze broke away he began randomly shuffling papers
on the bench.
Yes, yes,” he said. “Certainly.
Fifteen thousand,” he said to the clerk. “Secured by H &
Thank you, your honor,” Angela said.
She approached the low desk to the side of the bench where the
court clerk was organizing the forms she would have to sign. She
didn’t look at Keller until she finished signing. Then she stood up
and smiled at him. “I’ve got to get back,” she said. “There’s no
one in the office. I had to lock up to come down here and get you.
Will you be okay?”
Yeah,” Keller said. “I’ll pick up my
car from impound. I’ve got some more leads to run down. I’ll keep
She patted his shoulder. “Back to work,
cowboy,” she said, then walked out.
The judge picked up his gavel, prepared to
adjourn court “Your Honor,” Keller’s lawyer spoke up. “There is
still the matter of Mr. Keller’s vehicle and ah, its contents,
which were impounded.”
The judge seemed to have recovered his
composure. “He can have the vehicle back,” he said. ”Not the
weapons or the restraints.”
The lawyer tried again. “Those are the tools
Mister Keller needs to conduct his business, if your honor--”
Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it?”
the judge snapped. He stood up. “Adjourn court, Mr. Bailiff,” he
This court stands adjourned,” the
bailiff called out. “God save the State and this honorable
Mister Keller,” a voice
Keller turned. Officer Marie Jones was
sitting in a red Honda Accord in a parking space in front of the
courthouse. The driver’s side window was down. Her uniform blouse
had been replaced by a white T-shirt with a Gold’s Gym logo on it.
Her police cap was gone but her light-brown hair was still pinned
up. She still wore the mirrored shades.
You need a ride?” she said.
Keller approached the vehicle. “My car’s in
the impound lot,” he said.
I know,” she said. She leaned over and
opened the passenger side door. “Get in. I’ll take you over there.”
Keller got in. She pulled away from the curb without speaking. She
was dressed in a pair of black workout shorts and tennis shoes.
Keller looked her over. Her body was lean and muscular, the body of
a swimmer or long-distance runner.
After a few moments, she spoke up. “I’m sorry
about Eddie,” she said. “Officer Wesson, I mean.”
That would have meant a lot more if
you’d been there to tell what really happened.”
She sighed. “No one told me about it. I went
off-duty and went to the gym.”
Would you have told the truth if you’d
Of course I would have,” she snapped.
Keller looked at her for a long moment. She thought for a moment,
then shook her head. “I don’t know. I mean, yeah, I guess. “ She
sighed. “Fuck, I don’t know.” She sounded weary.
What is he, your
Jones yanked the wheel suddenly, steering the
car over to the side of the street and slamming on the brakes. She
turned to Keller. “Get out,” she said. Her voice was absolutely
Whoa, whoa.” Keller said. “I’m sorry,
I am so SICK of that bullshit!” she
slammed her open palm on the steering wheel. “From Eddie’s wife.
From my ex. From every asshole in the station. The ones that don’t
assume I’m fucking Eddie assume I’m some sort of dyke because
fucking him. Well,
fuck them, and fuck you too.” She grabbed the wheel with both
hands. She rested her head on the steering wheel for a moment,
getting herself under control. Her knuckles were white.
You’re right,” Keller said softly. “I
was out of line. It was a stupid thing to say. I’m
She took a deep breath and straightened up.
She looked straight ahead for a moment, took another breath, blew
it out. She turned to Keller.
I sit for the Sergeant’s exam next
month,” she said. “I’ve got a kid that my ex keeps threatening to
take away every time I make a fuss about the back child support.
You think I need that kind of problem?”
Not meaning to add to your load, but
you’ve got another problem. Wesson’s a psycho,” Keller said. “He’s
apt to turn on you.”
Jones shook her head. She pulled the car back
into traffic. “He’s really an okay guy,” she said. “He’s just been
having some problems at home. He’s wound a little too tight these
days, I guess.”
Officer Jones,” Keller said. “Your
partner’s more than wound too tight. I’ve seen that look in
people’s eyes before. He’s getting ready to cut loose. And when he
does, he’s going to kill somebody. And maybe get himself killed as
well. Or you.”
She shook her head again. “He’s my partner,”
he said. “I’m supposed to look after him.”
You’re supposed to look after each
other,” Keller said. She didn’t answer. Keller could see he was
getting nowhere, so he changed the subject. “How’d you find out
about the hearing?” he asked.
Your boss got me on my cell phone,”
Jones said. “I tried to get here, but I ran into her in the parking
lot and she told me it was all over, that you’d been turned loose.”
She looked at Keller. “Do you mind if I say something?”
Keller shrugged. “Depends on what it is, I
Marie laughed. “Fair enough. It’s just that
your boss-- Angela, is it?”
Yeah, Angela Hager.”
She’s pretty, but she’s kind of
spooky-looking. What’s the deal with the gloves?”
Keller leaned back in the seat and looked out
the window. “She’s got some pretty bad scars. Burns. She doesn’t
like people staring at them.”
How’d she get burned?”
Keller looked at her. “Her husband founded H
& H bail bonds. He was a big shot, knew everybody, liked to
throw his money around. He also used to beat her up. Finally, she
had enough and took out a warrant on him. He went into court and
denied everything. He had been a major supporter of the D.A. in the
last election, so they dismissed all charges without even a trial.”
Keller looked out the front window. “Jeff Hager went home, kicked
in the front door and broke both her legs with a baseball bat so
she couldn’t run. Then he set the house on fire.”
Damn,” Jones whispered. “He do any
time for it?”
No,” Keller said. “But only because he
shot himself in front of her.”
How’d she get out?”
Dragged herself out of the house on
Jones gave a low whistle. “That
is one tough lady.”
Yeah,” Keller said. They were
pulling up to the chain-link fence that surrounded the impound lot.
As Keller moved to get out, Jones took off her sunglasses and
turned to him.
Mister Keller,” she said. “When
this comes to court, I’ll tell what happened. All of
That’s not going to help your career
much,” Keller said.
I know,” she said.
Keller looked at her. She obviously meant it.
Her jaw was set and she stared at him defiantly, as if daring him
to question her resolve. He noticed that her eyes were blue, the
sharp, hard blue of the sky on a clear winter day. Finally, he
It’ll be a moot point anyway,” he
said. “The D.A.’ll make a lot of noise about jail time, then when
it gets close to trial, they’ll offer to dismiss everything in
exchange for me agreeing in writing not to sue the department for
And you’ll agree.” Her voice was
He looked away. After the idealism she showed
in her offer to testify, he hated what he was about to say. “It’s
not like I’m giving up much. With your help, I may win the
resisting, but they’re scared shitless of the publicity that they’d
get from a civil suit. So they’ll make damn sure I go down on
something. Even if they have to make something up.”
Pretty cynical,” she said.
He shrugged. “Yeah, it is,” he said, “But
I’ve seen it happen. If it happens to me, I lose my bondsman’s
license. I weigh that against the possibility of winning a civil
suit against the Fayetteville police. Even if I take it to a jury,
who do you think they’ll believe?” He thought for a moment about
the judge’s description of him as a violent man. “I’ve got better
things to do with my time than take on lost causes. Even my own.”
He closed the car door. He was walking towards the small guardhouse
at the entrance to the impound lot when he heard her voice. “Mister