FORGOTTEN WITNESS: A Josie Bates Thriller
Release date: December 4, 2019
Publisher: Rebecca Forster
Print pages: 380
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Behind the book
Each character is movtivated by something that made them what they are when The Witness Series opened. Archer's background came to light in Silent Witness, Hannah's in Hostile Witness, Billy in Eyewitness. Josie's adult life was formed by the abandonment of her mother when Josie was a teen. I knew there would have to be a book to confront this powerful hurt and allow her to come to grips with her past. This book resolves them but not in the way you might thing. Like Josie, the story of her mother is one of a single person up against a system that has the power of life, death, and something even more horrible in between. Forgotten Witness is that story.
FORGOTTEN WITNESS: A Josie Bates Thriller
In his State of the Union address, President Obama cited brain research as an example of how the government should "invest in the best ideas," one of which was brain mapping. The details are not final, and it is not clear how much federal money would be proposed or approved for the project in a time of fiscal constraint or how far the research would be able to get without significant federal financing. – Los Angeles Times
* * *
Can't get you off my mind. Wish I was there. Give 'em hell today. Stay warm. – Voice message from Archer to Josie
"I see that we are coming upon the three o'clock hour. I would like to thank the new members of the Foreign Relations Committee – Senators Johnson, Klupec, Garner and Abel – for sitting in before their confirmation to this esteemed body.
"I would also like to thank those who have come so far to testify here today. A rise in factional tensions in Eastern Europe has been the focus of this committee for some time now. While our State Department has kept us apprised of their diplomatic efforts, we are cognizant of the fact that our citizens can also be affected adversely in their everyday lives by world events. To that end, it is the charge of this committee to be aware and proactive. . ."
With that, Josie Bates zoned out.
Senator Ambrose 'Pat' Patriota, lion of the senate, White House bound unless the electorate suddenly turned fickle, and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate was doing exactly what everyone in a position of power did when they wanted to reaffirm their importance: they pandered for the cameras, the record, and the public. For the most part, Ambrose Patriota had a rapt audience. Anyone who bothered to glance Josie's way would assume she was also spellbound by his rhetoric.
Those people would be wrong.
Josie was doing what every good lawyer did when cross-examinations, opening statements, and testimony dragged on: filtering and compartmentalizing information and tagging buzzwords. It was a skill that allowed her to react appropriately on a moment's notice and appear as if she had hung on every word opposing counsel uttered. At this point she doubted she would be called upon to respond to anything, but old habits die hard.
She had spent two days in this marble-floored room staring at the carved, curved, gleaming walnut bench that could accommodate fifteen senators. That bench sat on a dais wide enough and long enough for three times as many aides. Before she was invited to Washington, Josie assumed a chamber like this would be cavernous. In reality it was cramped and utilitarian, the human equivalent of an ant farm. The only difference was that not all these humans were engaged in work of any discernable value whereas ants labored selflessly for the good of the colony.
She, however, had done what she had come to do: testify about her experience with Eastern European cultural justice and the terror it had wreaked upon Hannah Sheraton and Billy Zuni, Archer and her. Sitting on a hard chair at a long table, Josie spoke into the microphone in front of her and tried to ignore the phalanx of photographers crouched on the floor between her and the committee. She had been the last of three witnesses and the least interesting. The Albanian girl who had been trafficked at the age of fourteen and rescued by the pastor of a local church was the star of the day. She spoke about her ordeal in halting English that made her tale even more poignant. Now twenty, she was a poised, brave, and exotically beautiful young woman who was in college and studying to become a psychologist. Taking second place was a Serbian immigrant who had built a solid business in the U.S. only to suffer economically and personally at the hands of Eastern European organized crime. The photographers had salivated when he held up a fingerless hand and told of the nightmarish extortion and torture committed against him. His adult son sat behind his father, wiping away tears as the older man spoke.
Josie pulled up the rear, telling the senators about Gjergy Isai and the ancient code of justice that cost three people their lives in Hermosa Beach and put her ward, Hannah, and Hannah's friend, Billy, on the run. Josie had told the senators of the one phone call she received, a message from Hannah reassuring her that they were alive. She was a smart girl and had called in the dead of night, leaving a message on the office machine, unwilling to hear Josie's voice for fear it would draw her home before it was truly safe to come back. Josie told the committee of the very real threat that others from the Isai clan would come for Billy and that the cycle of retribution would be never ending unless they intervened. Sadly, without Hannah and Billy, without pictures, without wounds, Josie's urging of reconciliation of ancient laws with modern justice made little impact.
"And lastly, we want to thank Ms. Bates for coming all the way from California to enlighten us about the very real threat stemming from Albanian cultural justice known as blood feud, a practice that both the Catholic Church and Albanian government have denounced. . ."
Josie acknowledged the recognition with a slight inclination of her head. In turn, Senator Patriota graced her with the kind of smile one might give an old friend. That was a good trick since they had never met. Minions had orchestrated this event and lavished attention on the witnesses in an effort to make them forget that the man in charge hadn't even so much as shaken their hands. Now he owned a piece of them. Their stories, their pictures, and their sworn statements were in the public record. Josie had no doubt that all of it would be used in Patriota's upcoming campaign. Washington was a well-ordered machine when it wanted to be.
Then Josie's attention was caught by something other than Senator Patriota's acknowledgement, and it wasn't the first time it had happened during the proceedings. For the last hour she had been the object of someone's scrutiny. Now, as the hearing came to a close, her sense of unease intensified.
She cut her eyes left and scanned the people standing against the wall. She looked right and did the same. No one showed any particular interest in her. She resisted the urge to look behind her, to look people in the eye and see if they suddenly averted theirs. Instead, she rubbed the nape of her neck, working out a kink as she tried to convince herself that she was simply tired. Away from the beach, the sun, and the surf she was the proverbial fish out of water. As beautiful as fall was in the nation's capitol the chill in the air, the weight of her coat, the gloves in her pocket made her itch for Hermosa Beach. She was also aware that the memories of her kidnapping and imprisonment in a cement hut could blindside her and paralyze her when she least expected it.
"PTSD", the doctor had said.
"I'll deal with it," Josie assured him.
Sometimes that was easier said than done. Now was one of those times. Josie looked back at Ambrose Patriota in the hope that focusing on him would quell her anxiety. The strategy was no hardship since the senator was an exceptionally good- looking man for his age. His jaw was still square and strong despite the softening that came with age. His eyes were sharp, bright, green, and spoke a language all their own. He wore his thick hair fashionably long and the waves were marbled with shades of steel grey and glinting silver. Patriota's People, as his constituency was known, adored him and their ranks had swelled to include voters across the country. The man usually said what he meant and stood by his principles when push came to shove. Josie didn't always agree with his politics, but that's not what this was about. This hearing was about Hannah. If anyone could help Josie bring her home it would be this man.
Yet her interest in him was more personal than she liked to admit. Seeing Ambrose Patriota in the flesh had a strange affect on her. She was bothered by the notion that she knew him, or, at the very least, that they had met before. But details about where and when that might have been were elusive. She had run in some high-powered circles early in her career but never with Washington elite. And wouldn't he have remembered her and mentioned it in his correspondence if, indeed, they had crossed paths? She almost laughed at that last bit of arrogance. A politician met thousands of women; there had to be more than a few who stood as tall as she did. Still, in profile, viewed from a lower vantage point, his bearing militarily precise, Josie could swear that she had been this close to him before. . .
Suddenly, Josie's daydreaming came to an end. Patriota was wrapping things up. For the witnesses this exercise in politics was excruciatingly personal, but for the senators it was simply an item to mark off their calendars. Everyone started to move at once. Aides picked up their bosses' files and whispered about the next appointments on their calendar. Staff received their marching orders in return. A few of the senators socialized but most fled the room. Reporters leapt from their seats, photographers pushed off the floor. Half of them turned their lenses on the retreating politicians and the other half converged on the witnesses. One in particular wanted to chat with Josie.
"Ms. Bates! Hannah Sheraton was tried for murder in California. Could you address her legal problems? Do they have any bearing on her current situation?"
Josie picked up her coat, eyeing the man as she put it on. Her first instinct was to tell him to take a flying leap. Hannah had been acquitted of murder and there was no reason to discuss that history. Her second thought was to keep it simple and direct the conversation in the hopes her message would reach a larger audience.
"Hannah is a hero. Billy Zuni is alive because of her . . ."
Josie lost her train of thought, distracted momentarily by a disturbance in the back of the room. She smiled slightly, thinking that the people smashed together near the exit looked like a school of fish panicked by a predator swimming among them. But Josie was the only one who seemed to notice. The blond girl who was her guide for the day touched her elbow and whispered her name.
"Sorry," Josie apologized to the reporter. "You were asking?"
"Hannah's mother is in prison. Have you kept her apprised of this situation?" he asked.
"Yes, I sent word to the prison where Linda Rayburn–"
Josie's eyes went back to the commotion by the door. A man was pushing through the crowd, bobbing and weaving. His head came up. His head went down. He bumped into people, careened off a chair, and froze like a prairie dog catching the scent of a coyote. Josie's alarm was immediate and debilitating. A sick, sinking feeling washed over her just before she grew cold and an instant later flushed hot. Her instinct was to run and hide, but she couldn't seem to move. She tried to make eye contact with other people, but no one looked back. Why didn't they see what she saw? Why-
She blinked and zeroed in on the reporter again. He had a gap between his front teeth and his teeth were clenched in irritation.
"Yes. Sorry. I've sent. . . ." Again she faltered. Again she couldn't remember her point. She laughed a little. "I forgot the question. It's been a long day."
Josie wiped her brow with the back of her hand. Her mouth was dry. The blond girl stepped in.
"Maybe we can give Ms. Bates some breathing room. Senator Patriota's office will have contact information on all the witnesses for your follow-up."
Expertly she started to ease Josie past the reporters. Just then the man who had been so intent upon getting into the room while everyone else was trying to get out raised his head, locked eyes with Josie, and went into high gear. Using his clasped hands like a wedge, he cut a path through the throng.
Josie turned into her escort just as the reporter shoved his microphone closer. She flinched. Her heart thundered. Her head pounded. She couldn't breathe. She couldn't speak, but the girl was still talking as if nothing were wrong; she was still guiding Josie into danger and the reporter was still spitting questions. Josie looked back at the man. He hadn't taken his eyes off her. He hadn't slowed his pace.
This was not her imagination.
She wasn't wrong.
The man in the blue suit was coming for her, she was the only one who knew it, and there wasn't a damn thing she could do about it.
* * *
Ian Francis had not been a man to be reckoned with for many years. He had never been of much consequence even before the dark time. He had not been wealthy or famous; he had not been a rake or a rebel. But all that was about to change because he had changed. Ian didn't know why or how this had happened, he only knew that one day he woke up in the light. When the light blessed him he knew he must run through it, making the most of the hours during which he could think rationally and act decisively. Thinking was good; acting on those thoughts was heroic.
That was success, was it not?
Even as he asked himself that question, his mind winked out. When it was back on line it was filled with terror. People were pushing him, turning their backs on him, looking at him as if he were vile.
Who were they?
What were they saying?
He couldn't make out words but he saw their angry faces bouncing on the meniscus of the dark that floated at the edge of his brain. He was frightened they would stop him before he did this one good thing, so Ian fought the only way he knew how. He recited the rules.
Rule one: eat, drink, sleep, and pray you wake up still in the light.
Rule two: write things down so if the dark comes you will know what happened when you were last in the light.
Rule three: When the light comes, run.
Now he was running toward the tall woman with the short hair. He saw her blue eyes widen with fright. That was bad. If she was scared she might not listen. Still, he couldn't wait any longer. He was lucky to have found her at all. She was the proverbial needle in a haystack, a ship in the night, a –
He began again.
He was lucky to have found her at all . . .
Eat. Drink. . .
Tears came to his eyes.
He was slipping away.
He sniffled in sorrow. He panted with determination. Ian Francis clasped his hands ever tighter around the treasure he brought for her. He threw himself at the two men in front of him. One had a microphone. It clattered to the floor when Ian pushed him aside. The man cursed as he toppled into an older woman. She fell sideways.
Ian did not stop.
He ran for the tall woman. He was so sorry, but it had to be done. Just as she made a sound that seemed to deny the inevitable, Ian threw himself at her, his clasped hands hit her breastbone, and he fell upon her.
His face was so close to hers that he could see her long lashes, the golden tan of her skin, and the flecks of dark in her blue eyes. Josie looked into Ian Francis' flat brown eyes, felt the heat of his breath, and noted the fine structure of his face. His wide mouth moved so quickly he didn't seem to breathe. The veins at his temple pulsed as if they were struggling to push his thoughts forward.
Josie had braced herself for an assault but when the man went limp, she couldn't stand her ground. She grasped his hands in both of hers as they fell: Josie landing on her hip, the man dead weight on top of her. The blond girl screamed. Journalists scattered. Spectators fled. A photographer snapped a picture and, in the second before the security guards hauled Ian Francis off Josie Bates, he put something in her hands, his lips touched the edge of her ear and he whispered:
"I know where she is.
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