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J.A. Jance

Dead Wrong

Book 12 in the Joanna Brady series, 2006

PROLOGUE

October 1978

A sharp rap next to his ear awakened Bradley Evans out of a troubled sleep and plunged him headlong into the worst hangover of his life. Or maybe it was a pre-hangover. Even before he managed to open his eyes, the world began spinning. He felt sick. He was so parched his tongue and lips seemed ready to splinter into pieces. Every bone in his body ached, and he was cold as hell.

The second sharp rap was accompanied by an authoritative voice. “Unlock the door, son. Then place both hands on your head and step out of the truck.”

Bradley groaned. Step out of the truck? he wondered. What truck? What the hell am I doing in a truck?

“I’m warning you,” the voice said again. “Unlock the door, hands on your head, and step out of the vehicle!”

Less than six months out of the army, Bradley was still accustomed to following orders from someone in authority, so he did his best to comply, but when he finally managed to open his eyes all he saw was blood-clots of blood everywhere: on the windshield, the dashboard, the rearview mirror. And on him, too-smeared on his hands, shirt, pants, and shoes. Somehow he managed to unlock the door, but he was incapable of stepping out of the vehicle on his own. Instead, he leaned out of the truck and retched onto the pavement, splashing bright yellow bile that still reeked of beer onto the deputy’s highly shined pair of boots.

Suspended over the mess, Bradley tried to grasp what had happened. He remembered going to the bar and playing a couple of games of pool, but that was it. After he’d been given a DWI a year ago, he had promised Lisa that if he ever again had too much to drink, he’d call her to come get him, no matter what. Obviously he hadn’t done that last night. Instead, he had wrecked his truck and now this huge cop was about to haul his ass off to jail. When Lisa found out, she’d kill him-or leave him.

Finally, he tried to straighten up. “Anybody else hurt?” he managed.

“You tell me,” the cop returned. “Are you finished? Come on out now. Stand up. Hands behind your back.”

Off in the distance, Bradley heard the siren of a second arriving cop car, but he had no intention of giving even this lone officer any trouble. He stumbled to his feet and then stood weaving unsteadily while the cop snapped a pair of metal cuffs onto his wrists. When he was able to look back at his old GMC, he was astonished to see that the pickup showed no visible damage.

Must be on the other side, he thought. Maybe I veered off the road and sideswiped a telephone pole or a fence post.

The problem with that line of thinking was that he didn’t seem to be hurt, certainly not injured enough to explain that awful amount of blood.

“Who was with you?” the cop was asking. “Who else was in the vehicle?”

“I don’t know,” Bradley mumbled. “I don’t remember. I thought I was alone.”

He looked at the cop for reassurance. He was a balding, middle-aged, slightly portly man in a spotless stiffly starched khaki uniform and with a very large pistol strapped to a holster on his hip. The name tag over his shirt pocket identified him as Deputy Lathrop-Deputy D. H. Lathrop.

“I’d have to say you’re mistaken about that,” Deputy Lathrop returned with what Bradley recognized as a trace of an East Texas drawl. “And whoever was with you is hurt real bad or else he’s dead.”

Leaving Bradley standing alone, cuffed, and struggling to maintain his balance, the deputy returned to the pickup. Reaching in through the open driver’s-side door, he brought something out. When he held it up, Bradley could only stare in stricken silence. It was Lisa’s purse, the fringed dark leather one he had bought from a booth at the Cochise County Fair. He had given it to her on the spot even though her birthday was still weeks away.

“What’s this?” Lathrop asked.

For a moment Bradley was too stunned to reply. What’s Lisa’s purse doing here? he wondered. She wasn’t with me at the bar, or was she?

The deputy reached into the purse and pulled out a wallet- Lisa’s wallet. As he opened it, Bradley dissolved into tears, muttering, “Oh, God, what’s happened? What have I done?”

Chapter 1

Ken Galloway sauntered up to the lectern and wrenched the neck of the microphone to its full height. Then, smiling, he gazed out at the “Candidate’s Night” audience assembled in the spacious meeting room of the Sierra Vista Public Library.

“First off,” he said with an engaging grin, “let me say that I’m in favor of motherhood and apple pie. After all, if it weren’t for my mother, where would I be?”

The anticipated ripple of polite laughter drifted through the crowd. This was Ken’s favorite way of opening his stump speeches. It always served him well in getting things off to a good start. Beginning with a familiar joke was a way of putting his whole political agenda front and center.

Seated off to Ken Galloway’s right, Sheriff Joanna Brady steeled herself for what she knew would come next. She folded her hands in her lap, plastered a faint and entirely fake smile on her face, and willed her ears not to turn red. This far into the campaign she should have been used to her opponent’s constant references to what he described as her “delicate condition.” Joanna should have been accustomed to it, but she wasn’t. The subject still rankled her every time Ken Jr. brought it up. She resented his constantly drawing attention to her growing belly and casually discussing her pregnancy again and again as though she were nothing more than an obliging live-action mannequin in some high school sex-ed classroom.

“The point is,” Ken continued, “when my brothers and I were little, our mother stayed home and took care of us.”

Yes, Joanna thought, because your father took off and left Lillyan Galloway penniless. She ended up living on welfare and raising her kids on Aid to Dependent Children. But Ken Galloway never mentioned that part of his wonderfully idealized family history, and neither did Joanna.

“Call me old-fashioned,” Ken went on, “but I think there’s a lot to be said for mothers being at home with their kids. Cochise County is a big place. There have been times in the last four years when Sheriff Brady hasn’t been as responsive to her duties as she might have been due to the very real conflict of having a child at home. How much more difficult will it be for her to attend to law enforcement needs when she has two children to contend with, including a newborn baby?”

In the back of the room a woman, applauding furiously, rose to her feet. “That’s right, Ken! Way to go!” Eleanor Lathrop Win-field shouted. “You tell her.”

Joanna’s mother’s enthusiastic outburst was enough to propel Joanna out of her dream. She awakened panting and sweating, but the dream stayed with her for several long minutes. Although those were likely Eleanor’s true feelings, to Joanna’s personal knowledge her mother had never made any such statement-at least not in public-not during the campaign or after it.

The election itself was now a full three months in the past. Joanna had managed to eke out a narrow 587-vote victory, so she should have been over the campaign nightmares, but she wasn’t. Night after night, in some variation of that same dream, she was perpetually running for office, and night after night her mother’s continuing disapproval was always with her.

She reached out, longing to cuddle up to Butch’s comforting presence, but he wasn’t there. He had left early the previous afternoon for El Paso and a weekend mystery conference, where he would be on what his editor called the “limbo” panel-made up of first-time writers whose books were sold but not yet published. Butch’s first novel, Serve and. Protect, wasn’t due out until September, but his editor, Carole Ann Hudson, had engineered his being placed on a panel at the conference so he could “start getting his name out there.”

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