Madison should turn around and forget all about the meeting she’d arranged. Only she couldn’t.
That’s how Shades of Justice begins. Detective Madison Knight sets out on a personal mission to rid the Stiles police department of corrupt cops—even though she knows that she could be putting herself in danger again. But the people of Stiles put their lives in the hands of the police, and she’s not about to turn her back on the oath she made to protect and serve. She has a plan and she’s setting things in motion, but you’ve got to know that all hell is about to break loose.
You can read chapter one of Shades of Justice below or listen to me read the entire thing by clicking on the YouTube video below.
Chapter 1 from Shades of Justice:
Madison should turn around and forget all about the meeting she’d arranged. Only she couldn’t. Her feet were frozen to the sidewalk, her body facing the hole-in-the-wall diner where her contact would be waiting inside.
Her breath fogged in the chilly morning air and tiny snowflakes clung to her lashes. The weathermen were calling for heavy snow squalls today, and given the threatening gray February sky, they might be right.
She burrowed deeper into her coat and tucked her hands into its pockets as a gust of cold air whipped around her—yet she still hesitated to go inside the warm diner. Once she did, once she laid out her plan to her contact, there’d be no turning back. She had to be crazy to even consider setting into motion what she intended. After all, it had only been a couple of months since Madison’s poking around where she shouldn’t have resulted in her and her sister being targeted by a Russian Mafia hit man. Her sister had been kidnapped, and when Madison went to save her, they’d barely escaped with their lives, but here she was again, putting herself and loved ones at risk. She should just walk away, focus instead on the upcoming Saturday—four days away and counting. It would be Valentine’s Day, but more importantly, her friend Cynthia’s wedding, and Madison looked forward to being her maid of honor.
Madison pulled her phone from a coat pocket and turned it to silent. She didn’t want any distractions or for her partner, Terry Grant, to call about some case. Whatever it was, it could wait until she was finished here.
She looked over a shoulder to the parking lot and her Mazda 3. A mere thirty steps and she’d be in her car and able to drive the hell away from here, but she found herself moving toward the diner.
A bell rang when she opened the door, and heat embraced her, making her face and hands tingle.
A waitress behind the counter smiled at her and said, “Sit where you like, honey.”
Madison nodded. Patrons filled the window booths, and some sat on stools at the counter. She let her gaze travel over all of them, until she found the person she was looking for.
Leland King was tucked into an interior corner booth. He looked up, and their eyes met, but he never made any move toward a friendly gesture. No smile, no waving hand. It would only draw attention to them.
Madison slipped onto the bench opposite Leland. He was nursing a coffee, while a closed menu rested on the table. There was also one in front of her, which she pushed aside. Her stomach wouldn’t accept food right now. It was clenched tighter than a fist.
“I was starting to wonder if you were coming,” Leland said.
“I was too,” she admitted.
“It’s not too late to call this off.”
While she hadn’t provided him much information about today’s meeting, she had told him that it could have grave consequences. She’d selected him based on his knack for investigating and for his connections.
The waitress who had greeted her came up to the table with a notepad and a pencil poised over the page ready to record her order. “What can I get ya, honey?”
Madison glanced at Leland’s coffee.
“It’s good stuff.” Leland smiled, plastering on the charm for the waitress, who flushed. Leland may have been in his fifties, average in most ways—except for his distinct wide, flat nose—but he had a way with the ladies.
“Sure, I’ll take one,” Madison said. Even if she never took a sip, she’d have something to hold on to, to use as a slight distraction.
The waitress pointed with her pencil to the closed menus. “Anything to eat?”
Leland glanced at Madison and answered on her behalf. “Nothing right now, darling.” With that, the waitress left. “She’s quick,” Leland told her. “We’ll wait for your coffee before we start talking.”
Madison took a deep breath and nodded. She still had time to forget all about this, to cut and run. She was bouncing her legs under the table and wringing her hands in her lap.
The waitress returned and set a brown porcelain mug in front of Madison, then filled it from a coffee carafe.
“Cream, milk, sugar, and sweetener are on the table.” The waitress bobbed her head toward the holder that also housed napkins and condiments. “Just holler when you’re ready to order food. Keep in mind we serve the best Western sandwich in ten counties.” She winked at Leland before walking away.
Leland met Madison’s eyes and pulled out his phone. “I’d like to record—”
“No.” Madison reached her arm across the table and bumped her mug. Coffee sloshed over the rim, and she snatched a wad of napkins to clean up the mess. “No recording,” she said firmly.
“I got that.” He watched her wad up the used napkins and set them aside. “But it’s something I normally do.”
“Not this time.” She stared at him until he slipped his phone back into a coat pocket. “You promise me that it’s not recording?”
“I promise you.”
Madison cradled her mug and looked around. No one was to their left or right, or even in the booths behind or in front of them. Leland had chosen a good spot.
“Madison, you don’t have to—”
“There are corrupt cops in the Stiles PD,” she blurted out, keeping her voice low.
Leland’s eyes snapped to hers. “Why not just go to IA?”
“That’s a loaded question,” she said, not feeling much like elaborating. At the root of it, she didn’t know whom she could trust, even among the upper echelons at the Stiles PD—or within IA, for that matter. She wanted to obtain intel and discover all the players before making her move. She also wanted to make sure she had enough to make a solid case. She didn’t just want to flush out corrupt cops, she wanted them to pay.
Leland’s response was something people said when they didn’t understand, but Madison would simply accept his words at face value.
Leland took a sip of his coffee. “Does this have something to do with…” He left the rest unsaid, but his gaze told her he was thinking about the Russian Mafia. It wasn’t a leap on her part to make this assumption. Leland knew her history with them, and how it went back as far as her grandfather’s murder before Madison was born.
“If I’m reading your mind correctly, it does,” she stated sourly, still not verbalizing the Mafia.
“Maybe you’re just seeing ghosts? I’d heard they’d left Stiles.”
That was the word within the Stiles PD, and Madison would love to believe it, but she felt the streets had a different story to tell. Really, all the PD knew for sure was that some high-ranking associates had left town, but if you cut off the head of one serpent, more always rose in its place. She also couldn’t ignore that the don, Dimitre Petrov, was still serving a sentence in a Stiles prison. There was no way he’d be left without a support system of some kind—if history were a teacher. Dimitre had proved repeatedly he had a reach from behind bars, and she was more apt to believe the Mafia was simply running operations on the down-low.
“They’re still here.” A cool sweat prickled her skin. It was as if she could feel their eyes on her now, waiting to exact revenge for her incessant interference in their operations. Madison went on. “And these cops I’m about to give you need to get off the street yesterday, but this isn’t going to be a fast over-and-done-with-it job.”
“So the long haul?”
She nodded. “Months, maybe years.”
“I can handle that.”
She trusted that he could, or she’d never have come to him. She questioned whether she’d have enough courage and patience to see it all through. “I’m aware of evidence that has gone missing while in the care of certain officers, but I know there’s more to it than that.” A piece of that evidence factored into a Mafia-related hit, but she wasn’t telling Leland that just yet. She continued. “If they’re no longer working for the Mafia, I’d bet money they’re available at a price, and it won’t be long before they find themselves another payday.” She had no doubt in her words. Once a corrupt cop, always a corrupt cop. It was a sweep of a brush, but evil had a way of slithering out of the cracks of darkness into the light and seeking out others of similar persuasion.
“And what do you need from me?” Leland asked.
“I need you to do some digging on my behalf.”
Leland lifted his cup and took a slow draw on his coffee. “So I’d be doing you a favor?”
“We’ll be doing each other one,” she countered. “I can’t go poking around without being found out by the brass. I can’t infiltrate the lives of these officers because they know who I am. You have anonymity, some leeway. You know, without my saying so much in words, what’s in it for you.”
Leland’s skill set came from being an award-winning investigative journalist for the Stiles Times, and she was promising him the exclusive story at the end of all this.
Leland said nothing, just scanned her eyes. Eventually, he nodded.
“Before I give you names, I need to lay out the rules. There can’t be any recording of our conversations. No paper or electronic trail. There can’t be anything connecting us. Whatever notes you make or things you uncover, keep them under lock and key. Now you know who could potentially be behind the scenes, you can appreciate how, if any of this gets out—”
“We could be killed.” Leland didn’t so much as blink.
“How do we communicate?”
Madison pulled a burner phone from her coat pocket and handed it to him. “I’ve got one, too. I programmed my number into yours. This is the only way we can communicate from here on out.”
Leland checked the phone over and then tucked it away into the inner pocket of his coat. Silence settled into the space between them.
The waitress came over. “Have you decided?”
Leland scooped the menus off the table and handed them to the waitress. “We’ll just stick with coffee.”
The waitress grimaced briefly, appearing insulted, but recovered with a pressed-lip smile before leaving again.
“Hopefully, she’s gone for a while this time,” Leland said, turning back to Madison. “Basically, you need me to dig up the dirt and be your eyes and ears.”
“Yeah, and see how far this corruption goes. When I go to IA, I want solid evidence to back up my claims against them. I want them to pay for their crimes.”
Leland squared eye contact with her. “Is there anything I can say to talk you out of this?”
“No.” The answer left her lips without thought, and she sat up taller, feeling confidence run through her. There was no way she could ignore what was going on. When she’d donned the badge, she’d vowed to protect and serve, and that’s exactly what she intended to do. No matter the personal stakes, no matter the cost. Serving in law enforcement was a post of self-sacrifice. The people of this city put their lives in her hands—in those of the Stiles PD—and she’d root out any cops who violated the very oath she held dear.
“Okay. How many are we talking about?” Leland leaned across the table.
“A couple I’m quite sure about. There’s probably more we’ll uncover as we go along. I’ll only be giving you one name today.” Withholding from Leland would ensure he didn’t just run off with the information he’d gathered. It would keep him tethered to her. It wasn’t a matter of trust, but rather minimizing the possibly he’d be tempted to pursue matters on his own.
“And that name would be?” Leland asked.
Madison pinched her eyes shut for a second. Once the name was out, the ball was in motion. “Dustin Phelps.”
Leland tapped a finger to his left temple. “It’s in the vault. Do you have anything you want to start me off with besides the name?”
“Well, he’s a few years younger than me and holds the rank of officer.”
Leland smiled subtly. “A few years younger. I should know what that is, but—”
Madison narrowed her eyes. “He’s thirty-two,” she said. “He’s married, has two young kids. Both of them in private school.”
“Private school on a cop’s salary?”
“Uh-huh, my feelings on the matter,” she said, thinking Phelps’s money source was where she’d be looking first. “I can’t exactly go pull his financials and see what’s going on there.”
“Leave that with me.”
“You could always speak with the people at the school and find out how much it costs. Again, I’d have done it, but I just can’t have it getting back to him somehow.” She hated giving something so relatively simple to someone else to take care of.
“Don’t you worry. I have my ways of getting everything I need.”
Madison smiled. “Why I came to you.”
Leland dipped his head.
“I also know that he has an aging mother who’s in a nursing home,” Madison continued. “A really nice one. Think Club Med of retirement communities.”
“Must be nice,” Leland said. “My mom’s in a home, and she gets excited when she gets Jell-O for dessert.”
“With your salary, I’d think you could afford someplace nice.”
“Oh, I’ve offered, but Mom’s stubborn.” Leland smiled with pride. “I can dig around the nursing home angle. You mentioned he’s married. Does his wife work?”
Madison shook her head. “She’s a stay-at-home mom. Oh, and they live in Deer Glen,” she tagged on. Deer Glen was located in the north end of the city, and one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in Stiles.
Leland’s mouth formed an O. “I’d say this guy’s certainly overextended, unless he won the lottery, or they came into a sizable inheritance.”
“Exactly. Something stinks.” Now that her suspicions were out, it felt good to share the burden with someone else, and to know that Leland saw validity in her concerns felt even better. She hadn’t told anyone else, not even Troy, and he was the man she loved and lived with and was “raising” a fur baby with. She’d especially kept Troy out of this loop. He was safer that way—so was Hershey, the chocolate lab—and she didn’t need Troy talking her out of doing this, reminding her of the dangers involved with poking around.
Her eyes went to a clock on the diner’s wall. Just before nine in the morning. She had to get to the station. She got up to leave and remembered the coffee. She reached into a pocket for some cash, but Leland stayed her hand.
“It’s on me,” he said, his brow furrowing. “Just watch your back.”
She left the diner. On one hand, it felt like a weight had been lifted. On the other, it felt like another had been added.
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