J. Jance: Fatal Error

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J. Jance Fatal Error
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    Fatal Error
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J.A. Jance

Fatal Error


Peoria, Arizona August

Get on the ground,” Ali Reynolds ordered. “On the ground now!”

“Make me,” Jose Reyes said, glaring back at her with a withering sneer. “Try and make me, bitch.”

Jose Reyes was a stocky Hispanic guy in his early thirties, tough as nails, with the muscle tone of a serious weight lifter. A guy with attitude, one who could toss out schoolyard taunts and make them sound deadly.

“I gave you an order.”

“And I told you to go to hell.”

Ali moved in then, grabbing his arm and setting up for the hip toss. Only it didn’t work the way it was supposed to. Jose spun out of the way and suddenly Ali was the one flying through the air. She landed hard on the gym mat and with him right on top of her. The blow knocked the wind out of her and left her seeing stars. By the time Ali got her breath back, she was face down on the floor, with her wrists at her back, imprisoned in her own handcuffs. Lying there under Jose’s full weight, she felt a rage of impotent fury flood through her. She was still there, helpless but furious, when a pair of highly polished shoes appeared in her line of vision.

“My, my, little lady,” Sergeant Bill Pettit said. “I don’t believe that’s the way takedowns are supposed to work. He’s the one who’s supposed to be wearing your handcuffs.”

Ali Reynolds was in week four of a six-week-long course at the Arizona Police Academy. Of all the instructors there, Pettit was her hands-down least favorite. The class had started out on the fourth of August with an enrollment of one hundred seven recruits, five of whom had been women. Now they were down to a total of seventy-nine. Two of the original females had dropped out.

“Uncuff her,” Pettit told Jose. “Good job.”

The restraints came off. Jose tossed them to her, then he grabbed Ali by the elbow and helped her up.

“No hard feelings, Oma,” he said with a sly Cheshire grin that said he was lying. He had done it with malice and had hit her far harder than necessary, to prove a point and because he could.

To begin with, Ali’s fellow classmates had called her “Oma” behind her back. Originally the word came from one of the other young recruits, a blond-haired, ruddy-faced guy whose family hailed from South Africa. In Afrikaans oma evidently meant something like “old woman” or maybe even “grandma.” There it probably had an air of respect about it. Here in the academy, however, most of Ali’s classmates were fifteen to twenty years younger than she was. In context, the word was intended as an insult, meant to keep Ali in her place. To her knowledge, this was the first time she had been called that in front of one of the instructors.

“That’s why female officers end up having to resort to weapons so often,” Pettit said. “They don’t know how to use their bodies properly. By the way, what’s that he called you?”

Ali’s face flushed. “Old Lady,” she answered.


“Old Lady, sir!” she corrected.

“That’s better. Now get your butt over to first aid. You should probably have a Band-Aid on that cut over your eye. And have them give you an ice pack. Looks to me like you’re gonna have yourself a real shiner.”

It was a long walk through the sweaty, overheated gym. The Phoenix metropolitan area was roasting in triple-digit heat. Although the gym’s AC was running at full strength, it couldn’t do more than thirty degrees below the outside temp of 116.

Ali’s classmates stopped what they were doing and stood on their own mats to watch her walk of shame. Some of them were sympathetic, but more shared Jose’s opinion that no self-respecting fortysomething female had any business being there, and they wanted her to quit. Blood dribbled down the side of her cheek and onto the neck of her T-shirt. She made no effort to wipe it away. If her classmates were looking for blood, she’d give it to them.

She stepped out of the gym into glaring sunshine and brutal afternoon heat. The mountains in the distance were obscured by a haze of earth-brown smog. August was supposed to be the rainy season with monsoon rains drenching the thirsty Sonoran Desert, but so far the much-needed rains were absent although the rising humidity was not.

By the time Ali arrived at the administration office, she had made herself a promise: sometime in the next two weeks, Jose Reyes was looking at a takedown of his own.

BettyJo Hamilton, the academy’s office manager, was also in charge of first aid. “Oh, my,” she said, peering at Ali over a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles. “What do we have here?”

“Just a little bump,” Ali said.

After determining that no stitches were required, BettyJo applied a butterfly Band-Aid to the cut and then brought out an ice pack. “If I were you,” she said, “I’d take it pretty easy for the rest of the afternoon. Let me know if you feel faint or experience any nausea.”

Ali was glad to comply. She wasn’t used to losing, and she didn’t need to go back to the gym to revisit her ignominious defeat. Instead, she returned to the dorm, shut herself in her room, and lay down on the bed, with the ice pack over her eye.

Most of the academy attendees from the Phoenix area made the nightly trip home. The out-of-towners, recruits who lived too far away for a daily commute, made use of the dorm facilities. The three remaining women had rooms to themselves. Ali was especially grateful for that now. She needed some privacy to lick her wounds.

Months earlier Ali had been serving as an interim media relations consultant for the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Department when Sheriff Gordon Maxwell had broached the idea of sending her to the academy. Once a well-known TV news anchor in L.A., Ali had returned to her hometown of Sedona, Arizona, after both her career and marriage came to sudden ends. Paul Grayson, Ali’s philandering, late, and very much unlamented second husband, had been murdered the day before their divorce would have been final. As a divorcee, Ali would have been in somewhat straitened financial circumstances. As Paul’s widow, however, and through no fault of her own, she was now an extremely wealthy former anchor and aspiring cop.

After her life-changing pair of crises, Ali had spent a year or two back in her hometown, getting used to the idea of being on her own. Her parents, Bob and Edie Larson, owners of the Sugarloaf Cafe, lived there in Sedona, as did Ali’s son, Christopher, and his fairly new and now newly pregnant bride, Athena, both of whom taught at Sedona High School.

For a while it was okay to be Bob and Edie’s daughter and Chris’s mom, but Ali was used to working, used to being busy. Finding herself bored to distraction, she took on the project of purchasing and remodeling the house on Manzanita Hills Road, which she shared with Leland Brooks. Mr. Brooks was her aging but entirely capable personal assistant or, as she liked to call him, her majordomo, since both he and the word seemed to hail from a more gracious, bygone era. Ali had had a boyfriend, but at her age the word boyfriend rankled. She liked to think of B. Simpson as her “lover.” When speaking to others, she referred to him as her “significant other.”

Ali was lying on the bed, wondering what B. would think about her showing up for Labor Day weekend with a shiner, when her cell phone rang. She checked the caller ID.

“Hi, Mom,” Ali said to her mother, Edie Larson. “What’s up?”

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