I’m excited to share the entire first chapter of ALL GOOD DEEDS. Thanks to everyone who tweeted about the book’s release and has taken the time to review. The response to the book has been amazing and so much more than I expected. Enjoy the first chapter, and if you aren’t signed up for my mailing list, make sure you sign up. I’m going to give away a $25 gift card every month starting on October 30th. Happy reading!
I’m not a killer. Or a savior. I’m just one person trying to repair the broken scales of justice one jagged crack at a time.
The crack I planned to eliminate tonight sat ten feet away eating nachos. His short, pink tongue darted out to slurp the gooey cheese off the chip before shoving the tortilla into his mouth. He smacked his lips when he ate. Licked his fingers and started over again, like a pig fighting for its mama’s teat. This coward wouldn’t be the dominant piglet. He’s the sort who would be shoved to the end of the hierarchy. The only way for him to feel powerful is to prey on the weak.
I flagged down my favorite waitress. Another drink was essential to the evening’s success. She grinned and started navigating her way between crowded tables.
Famous for its microbrews and restored tin ceiling with golden tiles that cast a warm glow over the entire restaurant, Chetter’s Bar and Grill was a hallmark of the historic Old Kensington area of Philadelphia. If I were in my twenties and still naïve, I’d probably love the place. But it’s too noisy, too full of people who can’t see what’s right in front of them.
A few tables to my left, a pair of middle-aged women tried to corral two hyper boys who were old enough to know that shaking salt on the wood floors was unacceptable. In between telling the boys to quit, the two women competed for shittiest day and sucked down strawberry margaritas. The bigger of the two boys had a red bouncy ball, one of those cheap things bought in any gas station. He took great delight in how the ball sprang back up from the hard floor. I waited for him to toss it at Chetter’s prized ceiling. Instead, he miscalculated his bounce and slammed the ball off his foot. It rolled three booths down and into the foot of the man positioned in the corner.
Nursing his beer, the man picked up the ball and examined it as if it were a rare gem.
One of the women–I could only assume it was the kid’s mother–snapped at the boy and ordered him to fetch the ball. Chin against his chest, he trod down the aisle and muttered something before sticking out a chubby hand.
The man, who looked like any other Joe Schmo off the street, smiled obligingly and gave the ball back. The middle-aged woman waved appreciatively and fluffed her hair. Brat boy shuffled back to his own table. Supposedly kids are more attuned to the things adults don’t want to see. Did the boy sense the evil he’d just encountered? Perhaps not, since the child was the wrong gender. He and his margarita-loving mother would go on about their lives, peacefully oblivious to what might have been.
The waitress finally reached my table. She wore stone washed denim shorts with carefully constructed rips in them–the kind I wore in my youth because we were too poor to buy new ones. She had the Betty Page vibe right down to her jet-black hair and the pin curl in her bangs. The men loved her too. Their eyes glazed over whenever she walked by, and I didn’t blame them. She never messed up a drink order, and her tables constantly smiled, even if the women who watched her strut away did so with wistful jealousy in their eyes. I liked her because she didn’t ask me how I was doing every four minutes. “What can I get you?”
“Martini, dry, please.”
“Your fingers cold?” She squinted at my hands.
“Circulation problems.” I flexed my fingers. Beneath the wool, the latex clung to my sweating hand. “Plus I’m a bit of a germaphobe. Gloves solve both issues.” Not to mention they were an essential part of my toolkit.
Tipping the glass made the liquid swirl beneath the bar lights. It sparkled. Dry. Two olives. Boisterous laughter came from several tables down. Twenty-somethings on a date, chowing down on potato skins chased with one of Chetter’s microbrews. I envied their youthful ignorance as much as I detested them for it. I wondered what they would do if they knew a monster was sitting just a few red booths down from them.
If they were like most people, the young couple wouldn’t believe it. Neither would the middle-aged women with the rowdy boys. A mistake, they would say. Wrong identity. Because surely that sort of person wouldn’t slither among them without their taking notice.
Living in the dark is a lot easier than facing the truth.
My gaze strayed back to the man in the corner–the man I’d come here for. Steve Simon sat alone. Facing the crowd, he casually tipped back his beer. Like me, his clothes were understated. He probably chose them as carefully as I did. For all I knew, he justified his behaviors. Perhaps he felt he was born this way, or that he was entitled. But I doubted he spent hours agonizing over his choices. That’s not how his mind was geared. There is no cure for the sickness he harbors.
A group of laughing young women strode into Chetter’s, and for a moment, I was painfully aware I was becoming invisible. At thirty-three, I’m nowhere near old, but the sight of them reminded me how quickly time races forward. Tan and toned, every one of them still had the glorious firmness of their early twenties instead of the creeping softness of the thirties. The women commanded the attention of all the straight men in the bar. Except for Steve. He never noticed the hot women.
Why would he? He has a fetish for adolescent females. The younger the better. Anything over the age of fourteen is too old for his particular kind of sick.
His file was burned into my brain. Molested his kid sister when he was fifteen, released at eighteen. A bid for possessing child pornography a year later, and then our well-oiled system sent him back to the streets. That’s when he got smart and started trolling online with the other cyber creeps. The Internet is the biggest double-edged sword in our technological history, but it’s not going anywhere. The sickos get sicker and more numerous. The Internet gives them a hidden playground, and privacy laws actually protect them.
Behind the group of beautiful women and waiting to be seated were a mother and her pre-teen daughter. Her hair pulled back in a messy ponytail and clutching her daughter’s hand, the women had the slightly frazzled look I associated with motherhood. Working mom or stay-at-home-mom, the results were the same: never enough time in the day accompanied by random bouts of sheer exhaustion.
The little girl was probably around ten, all legs and impatience. Shifting from foot to foot, her gaze never strayed from the pink phone clutched in her hand. She’d already taken off her coat and given it to her mom. The girl’s almost too tight shirt revealed budding breasts and the smallest curve of the hips.
My Betty Page server greeted the mother and daughter and began to escort them to their table. The nerves I’d managed to contain for the past twenty minutes rippled through me. The bottle hidden deep in my bag felt as heavy as a brick. They were going to walk right by Steve.
I knew his trick. I’d seen him do it repeatedly over the past two weeks.
Just as the mother and daughter passed, Steve started to cough. He quickly shoved his head into his right elbow, discreetly twisting so that he could watch the girl pass by. He didn’t blink, didn’t move. Just watched until the girl sat down. Then Slimy Steve returned to his beer.
The first time I saw him do it, I almost attacked him.
But all good things come to those who wait. My computer specialist–who is the main reason my turn as a private investigator paid the bills–spent the last few weeks trolling online to make sure Steve was still molesting girls. That’s my number one rule. I won’t touch them unless they’re active. That probably made me a hypocrite since I believed sex offenders couldn’t be cured, but I figured I should have some sort of code in this operation. My girl found him in an online chat room recently soliciting a meeting with a twelve-year-old. Normally I took more time to act, but Steve’s living with a girlfriend who’s got a ten-year-old daughter, so he was escalated to Enemy Number One. His sentence came when I had a former colleague check the system at Child Protective Services and found out someone at the daughter’s school had reported her sudden behavioral change. The revolting drawings from art class depicting an older man and young girl in positions they should never be in is what did the trick. While my CPS friend started her investigation, I began my own.
Family members of a pedophile pray for change. The truth is, it won’t happen. The experts argue whether it’s brought on by nature or nurture. I really don’t care what they think. I know what I’ve seen in a decade of working at Child Protective Services, and as far as I was concerned, the only thing that mattered is this indisputable fact: pedophiles can’t be cured.
So I’ve come for Steve.
Steve finished his drink. I needed to get ready. I liked a good routine, so I quickly ran through my mental checklist. Fifteen years ago when I was a nervous yet hopeful college freshman, I attended a seminar about success. The professor resembled the Gandalf of my imagination, and much of what he said was lost on me because I’d been busy dreaming about my freshman formal and of hopefully losing my virginity. But three sentences caught my attention.
“See yourself creating goals. Think of what you need to do to achieve those goals. And then, imagine the reward of hitting those goals.”
I still lived by those words.
Time ticked by. I needed to act now, or I’d have to wait another night, and I was ready to be done with this filthy business. Every night like this drained a part of my spirit, and the recovery time got longer. But I believed in my decision. At this point in my life, nights like these were the only way I could make any kind of a difference in this world. I tipped my glass, making sure to drain it to the last drop. I stood and swayed just enough to look tipsy, like my night was just getting started. Making my way to the restroom, I made sure to keep my eyes hooded and my smile inviting. Several men smiled back. Steve ignored me.
The ladies’ room had two stalls and both were empty, but a woman wearing too much makeup stood at the counter freshening up her lipstick.
I slipped into the first stall and waited. If the woman even noticed me, she probably thought I was either sick or doing what every woman does in a public restroom: waiting until the place was empty so I could relieve my bowels in peace.
Heels clicked across the floor. The bathroom door swung shut. I took a deep breath and steadied my hands. I didn’t enjoy any of this process, but the next few minutes were the most dangerous. Since I’m not a livin’ on the edge kind of girl, sometimes it was all I could do not to pee my pants when I started.
I checked to make sure the latex gloves hidden beneath the thin cloth ones were still in place and then put on the sweater I’d wrapped around my waist. Making sure my wrists were covered and all the buttons on the sweater fastened except for the top one–I didn’t want to look like an uptight drunk–I pulled the clean martini glass and the black vial from my purse.
I carefully poured the contents of the vial into the glass and then put the empty container in a Ziploc bag and into my purse. My pulse beat at my temples, and the sweater felt hot. Or maybe that was just the adrenaline. I took a moment to collect my spinning thoughts. Steve sat two tables to the right of the restroom, against the wall. He’d been sitting hunched over his beer just like he does every other night. Almost recoiled, as if he were ready to run from a beating. Probably a habit picked up in prison.
Now was the time for the inevitable doubts. What if I miss my mark? What if the reaction starts before I’m out of here? What if I get caught this time? I simply couldn’t allow them to creep in. Too many children hurt, too many kids lost, my own sister, gone. Because of men like Steve.
I left the stall, took a deep breath, and sauntered out of the restroom. My gait was again tipsy, head down far enough not to make eye contact while still allowing me to see the room.
Steve’s table was empty.
Experience was the only thing that kept me from stopping in my tracks. Getting bumped into wouldn’t be good for my health.
Damnit. He always finished his beers, and he’d just ordered another. Why had he left?
I couldn’t stand there looking confused. A cough, a slight stumble to the left, and I quickly hurried to the bathroom. The place remained blessedly empty. I slowly poured the glass’s contents down the toilet, making sure the liquid only trickled and left no splash on the seat. Just in case, I wiped it off with a cleansing wipe. I ran the martini glass under the hot water and then stuck it back into the plastic zipper bag in my purse.
So much for wrapping up this case tonight.
The crowd seemed to have doubled in the last few minutes. Steve’s table was already taken. I chalked up my bitter defeat and headed for the door. The waitress would probably remember me after tonight, which meant I needed a new approach to Steve.
“Excuse me, miss.” The man now sitting at Steve’s table spoke to me. “Can I buy you a drink?”
I sized him up. Nice clothes, the casually preppy type, with strong cheekbones matching his full lips. An attractive man looking for a bar hookup. “No, thanks. I’ve got to call it a night.”
He grinned, his smile listing somewhere between charming and arrogant. He stood to his full height–at least six feet, with broad shoulders and lean muscles beneath his long-sleeved shirt. Certainly easy on the eyes, and apparently not willing to take no for an answer. I was in no mood for a hookup, but my skin warmed with egocentric pride. It felt good to be noticed.
I moved toward the crowd, but he was faster, closing the small distance between us. Standing less than an inch away from him, I smelled the pleasant scent of his cologne and caught a glimpse of bright blue eyes.
“Please.” He stood close enough he didn’t have to shout. “I’d really love to talk to you about something.”
Anxiety licked at my veins. I plastered a sweet smile on my face and twisted to meet his eyes. They were really blue. And calculating. “About what?”
He leaned down until I thought he might try to kiss me. “About that cyanide you just got rid of.”