J. A. Jance

Dead to Rights

The fourth book in the Joanna Brady series, 1996


Hal and Bonnie Morgan wended their way through the crowded, overheated movie-theater lobby into the cool air of a midwinter Phoenix night. Once outside the theater doors, the aroma of popcorn quickly gave way to a haze of smoke from a dozen hastily lit cigarettes. As they moved across the open-air patio, Bonnie reached out, took her husband’s hand, and squeezed it.

In response, Hal leaned toward her. “The name’s Bond,” he whispered, “James Bond.” Bonnie and Hal had just finished seeing Golden Eye for the third time. Hal’s imitation of Pierce Brosnan’s accent and delivery was so dead-on that Bonnie giggled aloud.

“You’re good enough that they should have made you the new James Bond,” she told him.

A passion for James Bond movies was something the two of them had shared in common when they met twenty years earlier. And now, after a celebratory dinner in honor of their nineteenth wedding anniversary, they were on their way hack to the Hyatt Regency two blocks away. They came to Phoenix each February to celebrate both Saint Valentine’s Day and their wedding anniversary. Once a year, they would splurge and pretend, for that one evening at least, that they, too, were a pair of carefree snowbirds.

On their anniversary trips they made a conscious effort to put aside all day-to-day concerns. Hal would do his best to forget whatever crisis might be brewing in the small trailer park he managed up in Wickenburg while Bonnie turned her back on the petty small-town grievances simmering in the Wickenburg Post Office where she worked as a part-time clerk. For that single day, they concentrated on each other and on the miracle that had brought them together in the first place, one that had given them the blessing of nineteen wonderful years.

Riding down on the outdoor escalator, Bonnie breathed deeply. As the pall of cigarette smoke dissipated, a sweet, delicate scent permeated the air. “Smell those orange blossoms,” she said. “It’s like every year God gives us my wed-ding bouquet all over again, except now it’s free. We don’t even have to pay for it.”

Bonnie had carried a bouquet of orange blossoms to their Valentine’s Day wedding ceremony in front of a curmudgeonly Justice of the Peace in Palm Springs. They had gone to Palm Springs to marry in hopes Bonnie’s recently divorced ex-husband wouldn’t get wind of the ceremony and try to screw things up.

“You were a very beautiful bride,” Hal said with a sudden catch in his throat. He was still as smitten with his wife as he had been the first day he laid eyes on her, as she had walked along the beach with her little niece and nephew in tow.

Before netting Bonnie, Hal Morgan had already had a disastrous first marriage blow up in his face. In the lonely aftermath of his divorce, he had thrown himself into his work as a police officer with single-minded dedication. He had been the one who always volunteered to take those unpopular Sunday-afternoon and holiday shifts. What little spare time was left to him he had spent prowling around dusty used-book stores.

From the moment he and Bonnie had struck up a casual conversation outside a snow-cone stand, all that had changed. Bonnie had come into his life bringing both her radiant smile and her sunny disposition, either of which would have been enough to melt Hal Morgan’s heart. Her spontaneous joy of living had caught him up and carried him along like the cur-rent in a swiftly moving babbling brook. Even now he some-times couldn’t help but marvel at his great good fortune.

“You were beautiful then,” he added, almost as an after-thought. “And nineteen years later, you still are.”

Bonnie looked up at him and smiled. As usual, Hal Morgan’s heart seemed to skip a beat.

They reached the intersection of Third and Van Buren just as the light changed from red to green. At nine o’clock at night, downtown traffic was almost nonexistent. Still, Hal checked in both directions before they stepped off the curb. There were a few headlights coming toward them in the right-hand, west-bound lanes, but they were a block away, stopped at the next light as Hal led Bonnie into the marked crosswalk. They were in the middle of the street when Hal heard the squeal of rubber as a car came careening around the corner, coming the wrong way on Third and then skidding into a wrenching right-hand turn onto Van Buren. The speeding vehicle, a late-model full- sized Chevy pickup of some kind, bounced over the edge of the sidewalk and then slid, spinning out of control, into the intersection.

Hal jumped back out of the way and tried to pull Bonnie with him, but he was too late. One moment Hal was holding Bonnie’s hand; the next she was yanked from his grasp. He stood there frozen in stunned silence as she flew away from him, up into the air, seeming to float above him like a rag doll someone had tossed out of the window of a moving vehicle. The pickup was still doing a 180 when Bonnie Morgan started back to earth. She crashed to the pavement just to the left of the spinning truck, hitting the ground back-first with an awful, bone- crushing impact and then disappearing completely beneath the body of the truck as it finally came to rest, landing on its side.

Almost at once there were horns honking. Within seconds a crowd gathered out of nowhere, but Hal Morgan heard nothing, saw no one. He vaulted forward, reaching the truck at almost the same time it stopped moving. Several passersby, most of them fellow moviegoers who had followed Hal and Bonnie down the escalator, joined him an instant later.

The engine was still running.

“Turn the damned thing off before it catches fire,” some-one shouted. “For God’s sake, turn it off!”

Knowing the danger, Hal did what years of police training had taught him. He scrambled in through the smashed passenger side window, into a fog of spilled booze and across a seat slick with whiskey-laced vomit. The driver, cushioned by the now deflated air bag, was still strapped inside.

“Whazza matter?” he was asking. “What the hell happened?”

Ignoring him, Hal managed to reach across the seat far enough to turn the key in the switch. ‘then he clambered hack outside.

The swelling crowd stood together in stricken silence. All that was visible of Bonnie Morgan were the graceful fingers of a single hand protruding from underneath the pickup’s crushed driver’s side. On one of those fingers the gold from Bonnie’s wedding band glinted in the glow of a streetlight.

It was then Hal noticed there was someone standing next to him-a young black man in torn jeans and a ragged shirt with a baseball cap perched on a thicket of dreadlocks.

“Help me,” Hal choked. “Maybe we can lift it off her.”

“Sure thing, man,” the kid said. “No problem.”

As the two of them set to work, several of the passersby joined in. They knelt together alongside the fallen pickup. Then, on the count of three, they lifted it, rolling it back up-right, pushing it onto its wheels. Uncovered, Bonnie Morgan lay inert. In the lamp-lit dusk, a thin dribble of blood, tinted purple by the mercury vapor lights, leaked out of the corner of her mouth and ran downward into her ear and hair.

Hal rushed to his wife’s side and threw himself down on the pavement beside her. As he took her wrist to check for a pulse, a hushed silence once again drifted over the crowd of onlookers. That was broken suddenly by a frantic pounding from inside the truck.

“Hey, somebody!” the trapped driver yelled. “Lemme out! The door’s stuck. I can’t get it open. Get me out of here.”

Gently, as if the bone might shatter, Hal Morgan placed his wife’s still wrist back where he had found it. Then, with a groan that was more rage than anything else, he sprang to his feet and headed for the truck once more. Of all the people gathered around at that moment, only the kid in the torn jeans read the murderous look on the other man’s face.

“Leave him he, man,” the kid said, taking hold of Hal’s shoulder, forcibly restraining him. “Let the cops take care

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