When Adriana Chambers observes a stranded motorist struggling to change his tire, she sees in his distress an opportunity to be a good Samaritan. Pulling over, she offers her help—but she gets much more than the satisfaction of serving. As the beautiful young college student finds herself the only witness to the man’s whereabouts that morning, she is unwittingly drawn into a criminal investigation that tests her powers of deduction. The stranded motorist, Jerzy Grabowski, has been charged with murder. The complication: he’s innocent.
Alongside handsome detective Brad Osborne, her only ally, Adriana embarks on a treacherous journey through the maze of organized crime in an effort to prove Jerzy’s innocence. But when Adriana discovers a connection between this mob hit and the legacy of lies left by her estranged father, her determination to uncover the truth jeopardizes all she holds dear. With time running out, she must untangle the tightly woven tapestry of conspiracy—if she wants to live.
- Size: 6" x 9"
- Pages: 223
- Book on CD: Unabridged
About the Author
Clair M. Poulson retired after twenty years in law enforcement. During his career he served in the U.S. Military Police Corps, the Utah Highway Patrol, and the Duchesne County Sheriff’s Department, where he was first a deputy and the the county sheriff. He currently serves as a justice court judge for Duchesne County, a position he has held for nineteen years. His nearly forty-year career working in the criminal justice system has provided a wealth of material from which he draws in writing his books.
Clair has served on numerous boards and committees over the years. Among them are the Utah Judicial Council, and FBI advisory board, the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, the Utah Justice Court Board of Directors, and the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
Other interests include activity in the LDS Church, assisting his oldest son in operating their grocery store, ranching with his oldest son and other family members, and raising registered Missouri Fox Trotter horses.
Clair and his wife, Ruth, live in Duchesne and are the parents of five married children. They have twenty-two grandchildren.
A bee was buzzing around Jerzy’s head. The car swerved as he swatted at the bee, prompting the driver of an oncoming car to honk and shake a fist as he passed by. Jerzy muttered under his breath and drove on. The bee buzzed behind him for a moment, and then suddenly it attacked, stinging him right on the top of his bald head. The car hit the curb, and the front right tire exploded. He angrily pulled to a stop near the curb.
Gingerly rubbing his sore head, Jerzy looked around for the bee. He spotted it on the floor mat and angrily used his heel to merge the bee with the mat. With the bee dead, he got out of the car, walked around to the front, and surveyed the damage through his thick, gold-rimmed glasses. It looked to him like the curb had not only broken the seal between the tire and the rim, causing the tire to lose its air, but it had also bent the rim. It left him unable to drive anywhere until the spare was installed. He stared at it a moment longer and concluded that he was too close to the curb to change it, so he got back in the car, moved it forward a few feet, shifted into park, and got out. The sun was shining brightly and it was quite warm already. He glanced at his watch. It was almost ten o’clock in the morning.
Once again, he peered down at the damaged wheel over the end of his large, crooked nose and shook his shiny head. With the car now far enough removed from the offending curb to jack it up and change the tire, he unhappily set about that disagreeable activity.
Jerzy Grabowski was not fond of physical labor, and it had been many years since he’d changed a tire. Way too heavy for his five-foot-eight height, he was pudgy and soft. He prided himself on using his brains rather than his muscles for a living. Those brains, however, were not a lot of help right now. He wasn’t even sure where to find the jack and lug wrench and no amount of thinking helped. He had to resort to looking. He finally succeeded in finding them.
His car, a light blue Buick, was of almost antique vintage, but it ran well and served his purposes just fine. He dragged out his jack. He was still trying to figure out where to put it in order to lift the front right end of the car when a snappy-looking red sports car, of some make he couldn’t immediately identify, stopped across the street from him.
A pretty young woman in blue jeans and a light green blouse got out and started across the street toward him. “Hi,” she greeted him with a bright smile. “Do you need some help?”
Was his blundering attempt at changing a tire that obvious? he wondered as he stared at the vision of loveliness that had stopped next to him. It was embarrassing to have a young lady offer to help him but not enough to cause him to turn down the offer. “I’m Adriana Chambers,” she said with an air of confidence as she took the jack from Jerzy and expertly placed it beneath the frame.
“I’m Jerzy Grabowski,” he said. “I appreciate the help.”
“No problem,” she replied, flashing him another bright smile. She knelt down to examine the tire and discovered that she had no way to get the old fashioned hubcap off. “Do you have a screwdriver?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Jerzy said, feeling quite helpless. Together they looked in the trunk, and then Jerzy checked both the back and front seat areas of the car while Adriana watched. “Sorry, I don’t,” he said, looking sheepishly at the young woman.
“I know I don’t have one in my car,” she said with a frown, “but I have one at home. I just live a few blocks from here. I’ll go get it and be right back.”
“Thanks,” he said as he watched her stride gracefully across the street to her sporty little car.
She hadn’t been gone but a minute or so when a tall, thin fellow walked up to him on the sidewalk. He was carrying a briefcase and was dressed in a sports jacket and slacks. “It looks like you need my help,” he said with a slight drawl. “What are you looking for?”
“I need something to get the hubcap off with,” Jerzy said.
“Will this do?” the other fellow asked, popping open his briefcase and shuffling about for a moment before pulling a large flathead screwdriver from it.
When Jerzy nodded, the man handed it over and Jerzy popped off the hubcap. Together, they had the tire changed and the flat one back in the trunk with the jack before Miss Chambers had returned.
After a brief conversation, the two men got in Jerzy’s old Buick. Jerzy rubbed his sore head and then said, “Where to?”
The brake lights of the old blue Buick came on briefly, then it turned right and disappeared down the street. It looked like there was someone in the passenger side of the car. Puzzled, Adriana shook her head. It had taken her a little while to find the screwdriver, then her mother had called and she’d had to run back in the house to find the address of a client her mother was supposed to be showing a house to at noon.
Adriana’s mother was a wonderful woman and a very successful real estate agent. In fact, she owned her own agency, but since the devastating divorce from her husband a few months ago, she was absentminded at times. The divorce had caught her mother by surprise, and her father’s unexpected and unexplained anger had taken an appalling emotional toll on mother and daughter. It had also hurt Adriana terribly, but she had moved home from her apartment at her mother’s request to give her support. Neither of them could figure out what had come over Adriana’s father. He had suddenly become a bitter stranger to both of them.
It had taken her three or four minutes to find the slip of paper her mother had written the address on. And it had taken another minute to call her back and give her the information. But it still hadn’t been that long since she’d left the man with the flat tire. Oh, well. She guessed that Mr. Grabowski must have gotten the hubcap off and finished the job by himself, or maybe whoever was in the car with him—it sure looked like someone was in it—had come along on foot and somehow helped him get the hubcap off.
She shrugged and drove on, thinking about the homely man she’d stopped to help. He had such a strange name that she remembered it quite well. Jerzy Grabowski had not been more than two inches taller than her, and he was sort of flabby. The hair that rimmed his shiny bald pate was brown and quite long. She wondered what had caused the painful-looking red spot on the top of his head. She also had been left with the feeling that without the thick, gold-rimmed glasses, ones that made his brown eyes appear abnormally large, he would be unable to see much beyond the end of that large, crooked nose.
Adriana smiled to herself and then promptly put the strange man from her mind. Three blocks later, a police car, moving very fast, lights flashing, passed her going the way she had just come from. She looked in her rearview mirror and then glanced once more before it disappeared. This was an affluent neighborhood, and cops didn’t often appear in it at such speeds with lights flashing like that. She hoped that there hadn’t been a bad accident of some kind.
She dismissed the thought and found herself thinking about someone she was trying very hard to forget. Drew had given her the hurtful word just a couple nights ago after dating her steadily for so long. He was the reason she could so easily change a tire and perform other basic mechanical tasks. He’d not only taught her, but he’d also talked her into taking an auto mechanics class with him. They had a lot of other interests in common as well. It had never occurred to her, after all they’d done together, that he would so abruptly break up with her.
She had fought back tears as he told her that he wasn’t going to be calling her again and he would appreciate it if she wouldn’t call him. They were not right for each other, he’d further explained, baffling her. But that had been that—the breakup announced without preamble or even any evident regret. She’d cried herself to sleep two nights in a row wondering what was wrong with her. Was she not pretty enough? What was it? But she’d awoken this morning determined to get on with her life without dark, handsome Drew Parker. After all, if her mother could continue to function without her husband of twenty-two years, she could make it without her boyfriend of a year or so.
“I need you two to roll on this,” Sergeant Lydia Tullock said urgently as she rushed up to a cubicle in the police department.
Brad Osborn looked up from his desk. “Do you mean me and Mike?” he asked.
“That’s exactly who I mean, Detective. There’s been a murder, and it’s a high profile one,” she said. “I’ll come as soon as I can, but you two get up there and get started. A couple of uniformed officers are already on the scene. They’ve been told not to touch the body or anything else—just to seal off the murder scene.”
Brad was already on his feet as the sergeant read out the address, but it was taking his partner a little longer. Everything always took Mike longer. Brad, the youngest detective on the force, felt the adrenaline flowing. This was the first homicide he’d been assigned to since being made a detective just a few weeks ago. “Come on, Mike,” he said anxiously as their supervisor disappeared across the room.
“Calm down, kid,” Mike said as he hoisted his bulk from his chair. “It’s a murder. That means that the guy’s already dead. He’s not going anywhere.” Mike then took a moment to pull his slacks up a little closer to his bulging belly, adjust his pistol in the shoulder holster beneath his right armpit, and shrug into a badly wrinkled and ill-fitting sports jacket.
Brad couldn’t help but wonder why Mike didn’t take better care of his body and of his general appearance. He believed that a police officer should be like his father, always spit shined, trim, and fit. From the time Brad came on the force, he’d tried to emulate that image, one he’d grown up with.
Mike finally followed him from the station, and with Brad behind the wheel, they headed for the scene of a murder. Brad knew the area, one where the rich and well-connected lived. Whoever had died in that part of the city had probably not died due to a drug deal gone bad or something similar. His gut twisted uncomfortably as he drove. He was determined not to mess up this high profile case in some way and in doing so tarnish the name of his retired father and the reputation of the department.
A second set of uniformed officers pulled up just ahead of Mike and Brad. A small crowd had already formed along the walk in front of the house, a sprawling two-story affair with a huge, perfectly manicured yard. Tan brick and brownstone framed the large front door. Brad got out of the car and waited while his partner did the same. Then together, they started up the walk, instructing the crowd to stand back.
At the door, Mike said to one of the officers standing there, “Would you mind taking the names, phone numbers, and addresses of anyone in that bunch back there who might have witnessed something? You never know. Someone might have observed something that would be helpful to us.”
The officer nodded and moved toward the crowd as Brad and Mike stepped inside a large lobby with a gleaming hardwood floor. Brad glanced at the walls. The paintings hanging there were not copies, he saw at a glance; they were very good originals. A uniformed officer stepped outside of a room about twenty feet from the door. “The body is in here,” he announced. “The victim is definitely dead.”
Brad recognized the officer as Sergeant Deon Golen, a veteran officer that he’d worked with some as a rookie patrolman. Deon was about fifty, of medium height and build. He was well respected in the department, but unlike Mike, he had never desired to move from the ranks of the patrol division. Brad and Mike followed him into the room he’d indicated. The deceased lay on his back; blood pooled around him on the thick white carpet. His chest was also saturated with blood. At first blush, Brad thought the victim had been shot, as there was a single wound right over the area of the heart.
The detectives stood just inside the doorway for a moment. Brad surveyed the room. It was clearly a home office; a large oak desk was positioned toward the back of the room beyond the body. Behind the desk was a wall filled with books, many of them recognizable as law books. There were also a couple of file cabinets, not the normal metal variety but large oak ones, matching the desk. There were more original paintings on the walls. The desk had some papers scattered about the surface. A book lay open on one side, and beside it was a legal pad and pen. A pair of glasses lay on the pad.
“Who found him?” Mike asked.
“His wife and a neighbor lady,” Sergeant Golen said. “They’re upstairs in the bedroom. The wife is very distraught, as you can understand.”
“Was she here when this happened?” Mike asked, swinging one hand in the direction of the dead man.
“No, she was at the neighbor’s house, the same woman who is with her now,” Deon responded. “But I think she must have come home shortly after it happened.”
“Has anyone touched anything?” Mike asked.
“I checked for a pulse when I first got here,” the sergeant responded. “There was none. His wife and the neighbor, who came in with her, also touched him. His wife says his wallet is missing.”
“How does she know that?” Mike asked, a puzzled look on his face. “Did she check his pockets?”
“No, but she says he usually has it sitting on the edge of his desk where he can slip it into his pocket when he leaves the office. It’s not there, as you can see.”
“But it could already be in his pocket,” Mike reasoned. “He may have been leaving when the killer came in.”
“I don’t think so,” Deon said. “His wife told me that he wasn’t going out today at all, that he was working here in his office.”
“Who is the victim?” Mike asked.
Brad had been studying the pasty face on the floor in front of him. He knew the guy.
“Do you recognize him?” Sergeant Golan asked.
“Garrick Lenhardt,” Brad said softly.
“Counsel for the defense,” Mike added with a touch of bitterness as he too recognized the decedent. Garrick Lenhardt was not much loved by police officers. He was one of the most successful and ruthless defense attorneys in the entire state. Brad had only been cross-examined by him one time. Lenhardt had been very hard on him. But it had been a learning experience for Brad. After Lenhardt had torn him apart and humiliated him on the stand, Brad had come away from the experience determined to never be anything less than fully prepared when he was called to testify.
“I guess I won’t have to endure any more cross-examinations by him,” Mike said. He stared a moment longer at the victim, and then, all business, he turned to Brad. “Let’s make sure that everyone knows that his wallet is missing. The killer, whoever it is, probably has it.”
Brad pulled out his phone and made a call. The cops in the city didn’t care for Lenhardt, but Brad knew that wouldn’t stop him or anyone else from doing whatever they could to bring his killer to justice. At least that killer, whoever it turned out to be, wouldn’t be able to hire Garrick Lenhardt to defend him, he thought wryly.
As soon as he’d completed his call, Brad turned to help Mike begin the laborious, meticulous task of investigating the murder of one of the best known attorneys in the state. Elsewhere, officers were checking every car they stopped. It would be a huge accomplishment to be the officer that found the wallet of the infamous lawyer and even more of an accomplishment to arrest his killer.
“Pull in here,” the tall, thin man said, waving toward a 7-11 up ahead. “I need to go to the restroom.”
Jerzy shrugged. “Don’t be long, then,” he said after pulling into the parking area and coming to a stop.
“Don’t worry. I’ll hustle. Do you want a drink?” his passenger asked.
“Yeah, a cold Pepsi,” Jerzy said, closing his eyes and rubbing his head. The bee sting was hurting something awful. He wondered if he was allergic to the sting. He feared that he might get quite ill. He quietly cursed the bee.
The tall, thin man got out of the car, opened the back door for a moment, then it slammed, and Jerzy heard him walk away. Jerzy waited impatiently, wondering if he needed a doctor. After a few minutes, he began to squirm even though the sting didn’t seem quite as bad. Maybe he wouldn’t need a doctor after all. He was tired of sitting here in the hot car. His armpits were soaked, and sweat drained down his face. He couldn’t imagine what was taking his passenger so long. He didn’t want to just drive off and leave him, but he didn’t want to sit here in the hot afternoon sun much longer either. It was getting almost unbearable.
He waited five more minutes, and then he got out of his car and walked into the 7-11. Once inside, he glanced around, expecting to see the tall, thin man shopping for goodies. But he couldn’t see him at all. He cursed under his breath, then went over to one of the coolers, opened the door, and selected a large Pepsi. As he moved back toward the checkout stand, he stopped and picked up a bag of cookies. Feeling hungry, he decided to add a small pie and a bag of chips. When he came up to the check stand, his arms were full. He carefully put everything down and waited impatiently for the cashier to ring up his purchases.
He kept glancing in the direction of the restrooms, still expecting the tall, thin man to come out. After he’d pulled out his billfold and paid for his goodies and she was putting the stuff in a bag, he asked her, “Did you see the tall, skinny guy that came in here a few minutes ago?”
“Can’t remember,” the plump, middle-aged woman said.
He noticed a name tag on her shirt. “He’s with me, Sue,” he said, trying to sound friendly. “He’s been awhile. He’s tall and thin. Did I miss him when he went out?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember seeing him. He didn’t pay for nothing, I know that. I’ve been busy, and unless he bought something, I wouldn’t have paid any attention,” she said. Jerzy picked up his sack and turned away. But after taking only a single step toward the door, he turned back. “You’re sure?”
“I’m not lying to you, mister,” she said with a scowl.
“Okay,” he responded, very puzzled.
He stepped out of the door and nearly dropped his sack when he saw a police car parked behind the old blue Buick. He stood for a moment, watching the cops as they approached his car and glanced inside it. Jerzy looked back, still hoping to see the tall, thin man. But the guy still hadn’t reappeared. Finally, with his gut rolling—cops always made his gut roll—he strolled toward his car.
Both officers looked toward him and watched alertly as he approached the Buick. “Good morning, gentlemen,” Jerzy said, trying to act nonchalant. “What’s happening?”
“Is this your car?” the older of the officers asked.
“Sure is,” he said. “It’s getting old but it still runs good.” He couldn’t imagine why they were interested in his car.
“Do you mind if we have a look in the car?” the officer asked.
Jerzy hesitated, bringing sharp looks from both of the officers. “Yeah, sure, go ahead,” he said. “I’ve not got much in there. What are you looking for?”
“You do it, Neal,” the older officer said to the younger one.
Without a word, Neal pulled some clear latex gloves from his pocket and pulled them on. Then he opened the back, driver’s-side door of the Buick and began rustling around. The first officer simply stood and watched Jerzy. Nervously, Jerzy rubbed his shiny head, wincing when his hand irritated the bee sting again. “Bump your head?” the officer asked. “It looks kind of sore.”
“A bee stung me,” Jerzy explained as he once again glanced back at the store. The tall, thin man seemed to have disappeared into thin air.
“Are you looking for someone?” the officer asked with narrowed eyes.
“No, just looking around,” Jerzy said, becoming increasingly nervous. He unconsciously began shifting from foot to foot.
“Is there something you’d like to show us in your car?” the officer asked, advancing a step toward Jerzy.
Jerzy certainly couldn’t think of anything. He just wanted to get in the car and leave—without the tall, thin man. But the officers seemed to be in no hurry at all. Neal, the younger officer, moved to the far side of the car. Again he stirred stuff around on the backseat. “Do you have some ID on you?” the older officer asked.
Jerzy pulled out his wallet and dug until he found his driver’s license. After handing it to the officer, he rubbed the sweat from his face. The officer studied the license for a moment, and then he said, “What’s your name?”
“It says it there,” Jerzy responded irritably.
The officer’s eyes narrowed. He said nothing. “Jerzy Grabowski,” Jerzy finally said as sweat again formed on his face.
“Here, put this back in your wallet,” the officer said as he held the license out to Jerzy.
As Jerzy took it, Neal called out to his partner, “Hey, Glen, you better come take a look here.”
“Stay where you are,” the officer named Glen said to Jerzy, and then he moved around the far side of the car. Jerzy began to feel slightly faint.
The officers spoke in hushed tones, and then Neal, the younger officer, moved back to the patrol car and slipped in behind the steering wheel. He spoke for a moment on his radio, and then he made a call on a cell phone. Glen, the older officer, moved back around the car and stepped over to Jerzy. “What were you using the screwdriver for?” he asked as he held it up with a gloved hand. Jerzy hadn’t seen him put gloves on, but he had them now. That increased his nervousness.
“I had a flat tire,” Jerzy said in a strained voice, his throat seeming to constrict. “I used it to get the hubcap off. I guess I forgot to put it in the trunk. Maybe I’ll do that now.”
He reached a fat hand for the screwdriver, but Glen pulled it back, shaking his head. “Was the hubcap bleeding?” the officer asked.
Jerzy shook his head. That was a stupid question. “’Course not,” he said, his voice getting raspier each time he spoke. “Here, let me have it and I’ll put it in the trunk.” As he spoke, he took another step forward.
The officer held up the hand that was not holding the screwdriver and said, “Stay where you are, Mr. Grabowski,” in a commanding voice.
Jerzy did what he was told. His stomach was really starting to roll now. He again glanced toward the convenience store entrance. “You said you weren’t looking for anyone,” Glen said mildly.
“I’m not,” he said. “But I need to be going. What are you guys after, anyway?”
Before he could answer, Neal called out to Glen, “Come here a minute.”
“Stay put, if you don’t mind,” Glen said and stepped back to the patrol car. The two of them conversed quietly for a moment, too softly for Jerzy to hear what they were saying. Finally, Glen stepped back to Jerzy and said, “Mr. Grabowski, you are under arrest.”
“For what?” Jerzy croaked.
“Murder,” the officer said and proceeded to read Jerzy his rights.
Jerzy found his voice again and protested loudly, “I didn’t kill nobody. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“We’ll take care of your car,” Glen said. “My partner is calling for a tow truck right now. As soon as it gets here, we’ll take you down to the station with us.”
It was all Jerzy could do to keep from throwing up. He couldn’t imagine why they would be accusing him of murder. He’d never killed anyone in his life. He wasn’t that kind of guy.