Detective Paul Friedman awakes to a disturbing phone call from his former partner. Officer Glenn Kelley has been abducted. Or, has he? Kelley's mistake during an arrest may have guaranteed the release of child molester and murderer Jasper Davis. Friedman races against time to prove that his friend and partner did not take the law into his own hands. Doug Lipton is the defense attorney who aids in getting Jasper Davis acquitted and finds himself at the mercy of a madman calling himself Justice.
Fair Play is set in the city of Orlando, Florida and is a fast paced mystery thriller that will force the reader to ask, "Who is the real villain?"
Prologue: 8 months ago
Judge Bob Maxwell pulled into his garage more than a little pissed off. It had been a lousy day. He slammed on the brakes bringing his sedan to a halt with a squeal on the concrete pad. His blood sugar was dropping and he felt the need for a meal. For just a moment, he sat in the driver’s seat, engine running. Retirement and several solid years of deep-sea fishing was a week or so away. He had wanted to retire with a conviction and ‘go out on top’ but that was not to be. He swore to himself, turned off the ignition, exited the vehicle and shut the door. Suddenly, the overhead garage light clicked off leaving him in complete darkness.
“Damn.” Maxwell said. The light usually gave him enough time to get to his door and in the house. He opened the car door and reached into the dash to click on his headlights. Navigating his way through his darkened garage was more than a little dangerous. The gleam from the headlights inside the confined space of his garage made the shadows dance eerily on the walls. Had these movements of shadow and light not disoriented him, he may have seen the dark figure step out from behind him. He did not.
Maxwell heard the step behind him and felt the needle slide into his neck before he could react. Cold fluid flowed into his blood stream quickly as he turned to see the intruder. He fell to his knees and glanced up at the face of his attacker.
“What have you done?” the figure asked him coldly. Maxwell gasped once and fell into unconsciousness.
The figure stood for a moment over his victim. The white-hot rage that led him to this garage, this night, evolved into the sobering realization that he had no choice. He bent over, dragged the frail Maxwell to the car and took the head of his victim in his hands. With the slightest bit of hesitation, he contemplated Maxwell’s fate, tightened his grip and slammed the skull into the floor. The hollow crunch of bone meeting concrete sounded oddly like a melon smacked against a kitchen counter. Blood flowed from Maxwell’s wound and began to pool around his head.
He had killed before but this was different. In war, you fire your weapon, sometimes at random into the area where the enemy is. When your bullet found its mark in the enemy, sometimes you would see the man stumble backwards and fall dead. At other times you would never know.
Up close, he was able to see the life flow out of his victim, able to see his last breath. He opened his victims eyelids and watched as the pupils expanded for the last time pulling in the last light he would ever see. He could see his reflection in those dying eyes. This war he was in now was a different kind of war. And he was a different kind of soldier. He was fighting a war for justice, what more noble pursuit was there?
He scooped up Maxwell’s keys, slid behind the wheel and started the ignition. He turned to stare intently into the face of this man who had failed. He had failed and had to pay the price. Justice must be done. He left the garage as silently as he had slipped in. The war had begun and he had much planning to do.
Detective Paul Friedman was jarred out of his dream by the obnoxiously loud buzzing of the cell phone on his bedside table. He reached over halfway expecting his dream Beyonce to still be there, she wasn’t. He grabbed the phone, hit the button with his thumb, “Friedman.”
“Paul Friedman, who’s this please?”
Paul sat up pressing his ear to the phone, straining to hear.
A gasp and nothing more.
He flipped the receiver around to look at the caller ID. It was a call from Glenn Kelley’s cell phone. Kelley was his good friend and former partner. The veteran cop who trained him how to work the streets of Orlando, Florida for the four years before his promotion to Detective. Kelley wasn’t the type to play pranks.
Something was wrong.
Paul bolted from his bed and hit redial.
Straight to voice-mail.
He dressed in five minutes and was out the door on his way to Glenn’s house, trying to convince himself that all was okay, but his instincts told him otherwise.
Doug Lipton’s mornings had slipped into a comfortable routine since starting at the firm. He was up by 5:30, spent thirty minutes on one of his exercise machines, showered and shaved by 6:30. He would wake his wife Sarah and 8 year old daughter Annie moments later and start fixing breakfast for all of them, and then out the door by 8:00 for his drive to work. Sarah was much less of a morning person than he and needed a little caffeine stimulation to get started. She took a seat and nursed her double espresso slowly.
Annie was in the shower as soon as she was up, her shower was always twice as long as Doug's for a body less than half his size. It was a mystery he never could understand.
“Omelet?” Doug inquired.
Sarah nodded sipping more of her 'energy' drink. He folded the omelet mixture in the pan and flipped them over gently. Moments later he artfully slid the omelet out onto Sarah's plate and she dug into the meal with a little more energy than she had earlier.
“So today's the day then?” she asked not looking up from her plate.
Doug nodded, “Yesterday the jury wanted to look at some final pieces of evidence which don't amount to a whole lot but we are pretty confident that the verdict would be reached early today, not guilty, of course.”
She winced. Her mouth opened as if to speak and then shut quickly, the thought she had was on its way out and she stopped it. She set down the espresso and looked at the man she loved with a pained expression. “You know he did it, right?”
Doug sighed lowering his head, “Sarah, . . . I . .I’m not doing this for him, this is my job. I do it because we can’t decide who is going to have a fair trial and who isn’t. If I start making decisions like that, then I can’t do my job.”
“I know it’s your job, I just . . Doug, the girls were 8 years old. I feel. . .” She shook her head and paused, “I feel filthy for wanting you to win this case, and I’m sorry.”
A big part of Doug wanted to agree with her. Doug had two sides to him, he found it necessary in order to cope with some of the more distasteful aspects of his work. His human side was made up of his compassion, his love and what was right. This was the side of him that wanted to put a gun to the head of people like Jasper Davis and pull the trigger, twice for good measure.
Then there was his attorney side, the side that had to repress all those images of victims, of the families' lives that were torn apart and left with missing pieces. This was the side that got the bills paid, got them a new pool and provided a comfortable life. This was his “soul-less” side as he fought sometimes on the side of evil. The side he had to shed as he walked through his front door at the end of the day. He had to, just to preserve his sanity and at times, he thought, his humanity.
Doug reached out and grasped her hand, “Sarah, I don't get the choice to defend only innocent people. I take what is given me and I do the best I can for each of my clients, even the guilty ones.” Silence came as his soul-less side fought against the human side. This was a conversation they had had before and more likely than not, would have again.
“Remember when you started at the firm, you wanted to be a Perry Mason, defending the falsely accused, finding that missing evidence that freed the innocent client. I know you don’t have the choice as to who to defend, but this one is different, you know it is. You’re going to win because a cop did the right thing morally, even if not legally. I can’t help you celebrate that, I won’t and again . . .” her voice dropped to a whisper, “I’m sorry.” The tears were forming in her eyes as she turned back to her espresso.
As the anger welled to the surface, Doug felt his human side give way as he released her hand quickly. He pounded the kitchen table with his fists. She looked up at him with more sadness than surprise and that served only to fuel his soul-less anger.
“Look around you. What I do, what I have to do, is what has gotten us the house we wanted, with the life we wanted. I don't like everything I have to do, but you are my wife and you are supposed to support me. If I'm going to make an impression on the partners of the firm, to become a partner at the firm, so that one day I can choose which cases to take, it's going to be through cases like this one. I can't start interjecting feelings into this, I can't start doubting what I do, because if I do, it's over. No house, no car, no pool, nothing! It's my job, Sarah! If you had a job, you would understand. . .”
He stared into her usually sparkling green eyes, now dulled with tears now wide open and hurt. They pierced through his anger, stripping away all the arguments he had built up around the reason for defending people like Jasper Davis. He turned away, he had to, otherwise he would melt and his human side would take over.
She was right. He knew it, but he couldn't, no, he wouldn't acknowledge it. She just didn't understand, he had to keep his feelings, and for all intents and purposes, his conscience dulled to do his job effectively.
Trembling, she turned from him and returned to eating as Annie bounded into the kitchen ready for her routine breakfast. She grinned widely and greeted her mother warmly with a hug from which she made a beeline grab for her fathers’ knees, Doug stumbled and patted her head, “Whoa, Punky. Here’s your usual.” He said, piling a mound of scrambled eggs on the plate and setting it on the table. Annie saw the half-hearted smile and the reddened eyes on her mother’s face and her smile faded.
“Daddy, I can’t eat these, I need the volcano.” Doug grimaced and pulled out the ketchup bottle and inserting the tip into the heart of the top of the mound filled up the ‘volcano’ to overflowing. “Yay!” Annie screamed and began digging into her food. “I still think that’s gross, Annie.” He said. She replied in typical 8 year old girl fashion by opening her full mouth and moving the odd food mixture around.
“Annie!” Sarah scolded, “Don’t gross your father out.” Doug shook his head, removed his apron and put his tie on. Sarah stood and stared at him, he wouldn’t look at her, not right now and he knew that she knew that. She cleared her throat and started, “Are you going to be late tonight or will there be a. . . party?” He paused in the middle of readjusting his tie, his back to his wife. The internal war between the desire to yell at her again and the desire to apologize and hold her closely ended in a draw as he found himself incapable of either.
“No, I'm getting too old for that kind of thing. I'll be home around 6:00.” He turned to head to the door and as he did so, caught her expression. Now it was shame that caused him to turn away, not anger. He turned to his daughter, hardly able to look her in the eye either.
“You!” he said pointing to Annie, “you be good today and learn something in school!” Annie smiled and waved good-bye, opening her full mouth again for effect. Doug walked out the front door with the stinging remorse of allowing his lawyer side into the home to hurt his wife. As he punched the unlock key to enter his car, he paused wanting to return to her.
No, this was something he needed to wait on, this day was going to be hard enough, she just didn’t understand the daily self-doubt he struggled with, he made a promise to himself to make it up to her for his acting like an ass. He climbed into his car and with the jazz CD firmly in place, started the vehicle and backed out of his long driveway.
Paul sped the short distance to Glenn’s house, in the back of his mind he had already decided that the call was an accidental one and that everything was ok. He and Glenn had spent four years together at the Orlando police department. They had become close friends regularly getting together during off-hours to watch Glenn’s Notre Dame football and Bostin Celtics basketball teams. This last year had been tough on Glenn.
They were together when they got the call about Jasper Davis being spotted near the scene of the little girl’s kidnapping. LeAnn Baker was the second child abducted that month and had been missing for a matter of a few hours. The first was Brae Bowden, she was found two days after her abduction raped and strangled to death. Brae had been killed within hours of being raped, there was still a chance that LeAnn was still alive, slim though it was.
An anonymous tip led to Jasper Davis as a chief suspect. He was seen in LeAnn’s neighborhood just before she vanished. With even the slightest chance that she was still alive, Glenn knocked on Davis’ door forcefully and announced their presence.
Whether the muffled sound of a child Glenn heard came from upstairs or from another apartment, Paul did not know, but he watched his partner reel back and kick the door in. Davis was inside filling a duffle bag. Evidence would later show that LeAnn’s blood was on that bag. The one seized before the warrant was issued. Apparently, a veteran cop’s gut instinct was not enough for probable cause.
Glenn blamed himself for Davis’ success in getting a second trial. In some ways, it seemed that he even blamed himself for the death of LeAnn Baker. In the months since the trial ended in a hung jury, Paul was promoted to Detective and Glenn remained a patrolman, and had become more distant.
Paul turned his sedan into his friend’s driveway, slammed the car into park and jerked the door open. Glenn’s car was gone, but his wife Becky’s blue Toyota truck was still there. He punched the doorbell, hoping that she was working a morning shift today. The door opened and Becky greeted him with a half smile.
“Paul? What’s. . .”
He watched her smile wither as quickly as it formed. “Oh my God, did something happen to Glenn?”
Paul shook his head, “I don’t know, I’m hoping this was just a mistake but I got a call from Glenn’s cell thirty minutes ago. It’s probably nothing, but I wanted to be sure. When did he leave?”
Becky’s hands quivered, “He left two hours ago. Let me call him.” She left the door open and Paul entered. Minutes later, she emerged from the kitchen with the phone still on her ear. “He’s not answering.”
Paul reached for his cell, “I’ll call dispatch.” She nodded. He turned his back to her as he spoke with the dispatch office. He kept telling himself that everything was going to be okay, that this would be something that they would all laugh about later, but he couldn’t shake the feeling, the instinct, that something was wrong.
Dispatch confirmed that Glenn had missed his shift that began at 6:00 a.m. and that they couldn’t reach him on his cell. Paul thanked them and turned to face his friends’ wife. Though he tried to convey calmness, his facial expression betrayed his worry.
Becky began shaking her head as the first tear formed in her eye.
In a matter of a few moments, Doug would be on Interstate 4 headed for the downtown Orlando Courthouse. He spent the time on his drive trying to forget about the argument with Sarah, to get excited about a potential win today, setting aside the part of him that was completely repulsed by Jasper Davis. Davis was a twice accused child rapist and murderer who, if it hadn't been for the eagerness of a veteran cop, who should have known better, may very well have been twice convicted instead.
He tried to remain confident and assuring in all of these conversations with Sarah, and tried to put the thoughts of Annie out of his mind as he read the reports and viewed the pictures of what this monster did, allegedly, to these two very young girls. He had to long ago, put the burden where it should be, if just for the sake of his conscience, on the prosecution to convince the jury of the guilt of his clients. His handling on the stand of even the most veteran police officer had made him plenty of well positioned enemies in the legal system of those who were supposed to protect and serve.
Thanks in large part to his work, his law firm was being retained by some of the wealthiest criminals and politicians (was there a difference?) in Central Florida. The firm had established a reputation of being able to present the basest of individuals as if they were deserving of sainthood. He fought hard for his clients, even if he felt that most of them belonged behind bars, or worse.
The scenery of downtown Orlando whizzed by as he exited I-4 and headed to the courthouse. The familiar site of 'Waldo' on the corner with his 'will work for food' sign met him at the corner. 'Waldo' was the name given by the locals to the eccentric homeless man who dressed almost like the elusive character in the children's books. He could usually be overheard singing to himself loudly a song no one knew the words or melody to. Doug gave a gentle nod in Waldo's direction as he turned the corner and into the courthouse parking lot. The EZ pass beeped as he entered and followed behind two very slow drivers who apparently weren't that familiar with the parking garage. 'They have to be new jurors.' He thought to himself.
Once he was able, he zipped passed the vehicles delaying him and sped on up to the top floor of the garage. At this time of the morning very few people were parked up here as they attempted to fill in the garage one empty space at a time filling up one section at a time and then moving up. The last two floors wouldn't fill up until about 9:30 and he had his pick of spaces, which he chose to be as close to the elevators as possible. If he parked close enough to the wall, at least he was assured that that one side of his car wouldn't get dinged or scratched by an inept driver, if there was one thing that the city of Orlando had in abundance, it was inept drivers.
He cut the engine, checked his tie, grabbed his briefcase and opened the door. The familiar sounds of idling engines and honking horns wafted up from the lower levels as he smiled and locked his doors. He turned the corner of the wall into the area where the elevators were, one on either side of the window overlooking the sparse courtyard. Checking his blackberry for messages, he punched the elevator button for down and waited. As he waited for the messages to pop up on screen, the reflection of a towering figure moved behind him.
Before he could react, a black bag encased his head and he was shoved face first into the elevator doors. He dropped his phone and briefcase in an effort to grab at the wall to prevent himself from going down to the ground.. The attacker spun him around, slamming Doug’s back into the steel doors. Doug fought to catch his breath as a single massive hand wrapped around his throat.
A rough voice with an electronic tone asked, “Does it bother you, Mr. Lipton that you are helping to let a monster back onto the streets of Orlando?” Doug tried retreating a step, but had no where to go.
He replied, “Get off of me! Leave me alone!”
As he turned and twisted away the hand released him and a loud bang echoed in his ears. For a moment, Doug thought it may have been a gunshot and he stumbled away feeling himself for wounds. Through the opening in the bottom of the bag he saw the ceramic ashtray shattered against the elevator doors. The raspy voice resounded in his ears, “Leave . . . me . . . alone! Isn’t that what LeAnn said before she was raped and murdered? Isn’t that what little Brae said before she was strangled to death? Leave me alone! What about them, do they get justice?”
The figure advanced quickly causing Doug to swing wildly in self-defense and stumble backward onto the pavement. His back slammed hard against the immovable concrete and the impact knocked his breath from him. His gasp for air ended abruptly when a large knee landed forcibly on his chest. A warm distorted whisper came, “Mr. Lipton, I am giving you a chance to do the right thing today. Do not let them release that murderer to kill any more children. I will hold you responsible.” And as quickly as the attack started, it was over.
Doug lay there bruised, gasping for air and in shock. He struggled to rise, gather his briefcase and be on his way when he thought he heard his attackers' footsteps returning. He tried to find his briefcase to shield himself but could not, and with a last attempt to breathe, passed out.