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Guilty By Innocence

By Deirdre O’Dare

Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

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Copyright 2017 Deirdre O’Dare

ISBN 9781634864930

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Cover Design: Written Ink Designs |

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

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To fond memories of the Falcon, Colorado, volunteer fire department as it was in the 1973–77 period. Several of the fire fighters inspired some of the secondary characters in this story. It was an honor to know and sometimes work with you!

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Guilty By Innocence

By Deirdre O’Dare


El Paso, TX

Late Fall

Cold. Pain. Floating and yet so heavy. Sensory details flooded his mind, but they only confused him.

Where am I? What’s happened?

He realized then that odors were the most insistent cue. Hot, metallic—the raw, thick scents of fresh blood and terror.

Holy Mother, what’s happened?

Sticky moisture seemed to coat his skin, growing crustier by the minute. The fingers of his right hand clenched around something hard, solid. His hand hurt, but he could not let go. He clutched it with unremitting urgency. Next, he heard a low, anguished moan followed by the building scream of sirens.

Then the scariest question of all entered his mind: Who am I?

He could not come up with a name or even a single trace of an identity. Before utter terror overcame him, he let the dark weight of silence close over him like water.

* * * *

Chapter 1

A Few Minutes Later

Jackson Byrne “Jax” McDermott pulled his unmarked car to the curb, cut the ignition, and stepped out. 3150 Rincon Street was ablaze with lights and starting to swarm with action. The first responders had begun to arrive. He watched four EMTs led by their sergeant, Delia Maldonado, unload from their ambulance, which had pulled in behind his car.

Before they went to work, he needed to view the scene. From the sound of the call, they’d probably just be picking up pieces anyway. Two uniforms were already stretching yellow crime scene tape around the simple, boxy, typical tract house on the sprawling city’s northeast side. Jax stepped across one tape band and headed for the open front door, which hung off a single hinge.

Mickey Finnegan, one of the newest rookies on the EPPD, came charging out. He skidded to a stop and then puked into the arbor vitae to the left of the cement stoop.

Jax looked at the young cop with a trace of sympathy. He’d been there once. “Bad, huh?”

Micky coughed and gagged before he replied. “Yeah. Real bad.”

Edging past the green-faced rookie, Jax went inside the house. With ten years as a cop behind him—six on the street and four as a detective—broken by a tour in the Middle East with the National Guard, there wasn’t much he hadn’t seen. He’d deal with it. He stopped two steps inside, blinked, and began to breathe in shallow pants through his mouth. You could cut the stench with a knife—blood, puke, piss, fear and death. There might have been a place somewhere when he’d seen that much blood, but he couldn’t recall it. The whole room seemed to have been painted red. He counted six bodies.

Delia came up behind him. He held out a hand, halting her for a moment. “They look like coroner cases,” he said. “Give me a minute and then you can do your thing.”

He did a quick mental count—an older man against the far wall, a middle-aged woman two steps to the man’s right, a young woman with her arms extended toward a kid, apparently a boy maybe four or five. Gaping throats slashed open, still-seeping gashes on limbs and torsos. They all must have struggled, resisting to no avail. An infant, just beyond the boy. Whoa. Unbelievably, the kid moved and made a faint mew like an injured kitten.

Delia shoved past him. He let her. He managed to draw a fast sketch of the scene in his notebook to show the small form’s spot on the sticky floor as the EMTs worked. When his gaze skidded to the last body, he went dead still. From the blood-crusted face of an apparent corpse, two eyes stared at him, eyes holding a clear and unmistakable shine of life and awareness. No gashed throat on that one, either. He was definitely still alive. The eyes blinked shut, as if the man knew he’d been made. Jax grabbed his camera and snapped a couple of fast shots.

Delia and her team bundled up the infant to evacuate it. As she started past him, following one of her crew with the baby, Jax halted her.

“Del, that one’s alive, too.” He pointed.

She stopped. Her glance whipped around to the last body, apparently a young man.

Sixth victim? But wait, in one blood-painted hand, he clenched the rough wooden handle of a two-foot long machete, the wide blade streaked black with blood.

“You can take him as soon as I mark the placement of the body, but tell the ER crew he doesn’t go anywhere until they hear from me. He could be the perp, and I’m not taking any chances. Save his clothes, too, and anything else you or the ER staff find on him. I’ll get hold of Nat at the ME’s office and see if she can meet you at the hospital to get blood samples and anything else she can while it’s fresh.”

Del nodded. She knew the drill. These days, crime scene pickups were a regular part of her team’s routine. El Paso had become a war zone. Like Jax and a number of others on the force and in the first responders, she’d been in the military in the Middle East. None of them had seen anything worse while they were over there.

It only took a couple of minutes before the EMTs were back with a gurney. Eight careful hands lifted the young man’s body from the floor. If he was still conscious, he played possum like a champ, but the slow rise and fall of the bloody, tattered T-shirt across his chest proved he still lived.

Once the ambulance shrieked away, Jax took out his camera once more and began to snap pictures. There wasn’t much in the way of physical evidence to collect—except for the savaged bodies and blood. There was plenty of that. Jax knew two crime lab techs would be there any minute to go to work on the wet evidence.

When he finished at the house, Jax drove over to St. Martin’s Hospital. Not that he didn’t trust both Delia and Nat to do their jobs, but he’d learned better than to leave anything to chance. Over the years, he’d seen too many guilty fucking bastards get off on technicalities and sloppy police work. He’d be damned if one would skate because of his failures.

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Jax ran into Natalie Portman, the deputy ME, right away as he strode into the ER area. She stood maybe five-foot-two in her plain two-inch heeled pumps. She looked like a tween-age girl masquerading in some of mom or big sister’s adult styles, but Jax knew her credentials. An MD and a PhD in organic chemistry were the main ones. She had the bagged clothes they’d taken off the young man—mostly with surgical scissors she told him later—and a case bulging with vials, baggies and other samples.

She flashed a crooked smile at Jax as he approached. “Got everything I could,” she said. “I’ll be up most of the night in the lab. Check first thing tomorrow and I’ll let you know what we’ve got so far.”

If he’d been into girls, he might have found her attractive, although Del would have been more his type. Despite her size, Nat could be intimidating when she trotted out her Latin and formulas. Del, on the other hand, was as down to earth as the ubiquitous west Texas dust. But again, Jax was not into girls.

Actually, he didn’t date or socialize much with anyone. There wasn’t time and after a couple of ugly splits, he’d given up on the idea that “love” would ever come his way. Even lust was often damned scarce. He told himself he didn’t care, didn’t need, want or miss it. For the most part, it was true.

“Del still here?”

Nat shrugged. “I don’t know. Haven’t seen her for a bit. She was hoping to find out if the baby would make it. Apparently, it wasn’t cut, probably just thrown or dropped on the floor pretty hard. No one seemed to know the prognosis.”

“How about the guy?”

“This is really weird,” Nat admitted. “After they washed off all the gore, there was hardly a mark on him. Only injury the ER crew could find was blunt force trauma on the right side of his head. No breaks in the skull according to the x-rays, but a nasty concussion. He’s still out, last I heard, and in the ICU for now, locked up safe for you.”

Jax shook his head. “It doesn’t seem reasonable he could’ve wreaked such carnage. I mean, he can’t be more than about five-six and maybe a hundred and ten or fifteen pounds. Looks young, too. I guess he shaves, but barely.”

He exhaled sharply. “Still, looks can deceive. Like those kids in the sand box that carried bombs and from what I’ve heard they had in ‘Nam, same kind of thing. Most countries don’t coddle their youth like we do. Right now, he’s all we have—have to wait and see what the evidence says.”

Nat nodded, clearly already caught up in the scientific puzzle she faced to unravel all the hidden information in her samples. Jax didn’t envy her the job. He didn’t have the patience and concentration for it. People problems were ugly, painful and never the same twice, but he knew how to deal with them. Science, especially this new DNA and other medical stuff, intimidated him.

Suddenly feeling every one of his thirty-two years doubled, he went in search of the EMTs. With any luck, after that he could go home and get a few hours of sleep. His eyes felt like two over-hard eggs with too much salt. He blinked to try to moisten them.

God, this is such a fuckin’ rotten line of work, but what else could I do? Or would I do if I could? Somehow I need to keep on with the work Pop didn’t get to finish, take over the years he wasn’t allowed to give. Me and Jeff both, doing penance for the fact a lousy, cheap-ass petty criminal took a good man out, one who was the ultimate super-hero to both of us. Shit. Fucking dirty-rotten shit. Life sucks.

* * * *

Morning came too soon. Shifts weren’t changed just because you didn’t get to bed until almost daybreak. After downing a quart of terrible coffee, Jax felt awake enough to get behind the wheel. The first place he went was the hospital. If that Latino kid had gotten away…

But the youth hadn’t. The head nurse told Jax the patient was ready to be released. “Not a thing wrong with him,” she said. “Well, the concussion, but he’s cleared to check out. Don’t worry. Your orders were obeyed—he wasn’t to go anywhere until the cops came for him, so he’s waiting for you. I’ll have an aide bring him down. We always wheel ‘em out, you know, dead or alive.”

Jax gave her a crooked grin. “Yeah, I know. Policy. About as insane as some of ours.”

Moments later, the aide appeared with the slender youth in a wheelchair. He was not restrained, but Jax didn’t figure that constituted a major infraction. The boy still looked pale, shocked, and glassy-eyed. Fear painted his thin, sharp-featured face and aged it beyond his obviously limited years.

Jax scrawled his name on the papers and caught the young man’s arm. “Come on,” he said. “Next stop’s the station. You’re going to be booked, you know. I’ll read you your rights when we get there.”

The boy’s ebony eyes met his for a split-second, but he did not speak. A single jerky nod was his only sign the words meant anything to him at all.

“You do speak English, don’t you? ¿Hables tu el Ingles?”

That got another nod. Jax shrugged. Okay, if he doesn’t want to talk, it makes no difference to me.

He put the kid into the back seat of his car. Although it wasn’t an official police cruiser with the dog screen behind the front seat, his sedan had no inside handles on the rear doors. They locked automatically upon closing and had to be electronically keyed to open. Unless the lad leaped over the seat back and overpowered him, Jax figured he was not going to escape. Wearing a pair of striped pajamas about two sizes too large and clearly hospital stuff, he surely didn’t have a weapon.

The three-quarter mile drive to the station didn’t take long and passed in total silence. Holding the boy’s arm again, Jax led him into the receiving area and stopped at the booking desk.

The woman behind the desk looked up with a question in her expression.

“Person of interest in last night’s gang-style slaughter,” Jax said. “Seems to have no voice and maybe no memory. Let’s call him Juan Venado.”

“That is not correct.” The young man’s objection came so suddenly Jax jumped, as did the booking clerk. “That would be like the tractors. Venado is deer, but not the female deer or doe, which would be venada or cierva.

Jax snapped his head around to look squarely at the boy. No, not boy, but man. In the daylight, compounded by the harsh overheads in the booking area, Jax saw he was older than he first appeared. Young, but not a kid…probably early twenties. Cleaned up he was almost too beautiful, like some of those angels painted by the old masters. Delicate features and liquid eyes a person could damn near drown in. Something stirred within him, but Jax tamped it down without mercy.

“So you can talk.”

Another short nod. “My name is Gabriel Suarez and I didn’t kill anyone. I’ve probably done shit I shouldn’t have, but I swear by all the saints, I didn’t do that.”

“You’re sure?” Jax’s question held a greater weight of sarcastic doubt than he intended to, but he couldn’t help it. “What were you doing there?”

The Latino looked down, his shoulders sagging. “I don’t know. I can’t remember. I just now remembered I have a name. When I woke up last night, nothing was there at all. It was like I’d just been born. But I know I didn’t kill them.”

“Them, huh? So you do remember that much—how many?” He stopped. He was verging into a danger zone. “Well, those facts are yet to be determined. Before I forget, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law…” He rattled off the warning, first in English and then in Spanish for good measure.

The paperwork went quickly. Jax always felt it took too long, but really it didn’t. It was a necessary part of the process anyway. Get the info, take prints, take charge of any personal property—nothing in this case until he got the orange jump suit in place of the PJs, which were not his anyway.

When they were done, one of the jailers came out and led Gabriel Suarez away. Jax stood and watched until they disappeared behind the layers of doors designed to keep inside those who should be and the rest of humanity out. How could a person so outwardly beautiful be involved in something so gut-wrenchingly ugly?

A nagging inner sense tempted him to accept Suarez’s brief statement. Jax’s hunch insisted the young man hadn’t killed anyone. But if he hadn’t, who had? Why was he clutching that big-ass bloody machete in a death grip? Why was he covered in blood, apparently not his own, when the cops arrived? That was part of what Jax and the CSI crew needed to find out. Until then, young Gabriel had to be confined.

At best, he was a potential witness. At worst, he was the perp. Either way, he needed to stay off the streets for a while.

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