LAPD detective Jamie Del Rey has a problem.
He’s just walked straight into the ugliest, most confusing case of his twenty-year career.
Carlotta and her husband William both have reason to want the nineteen-year-old Candy Xavier victim dead.
The question is: was it the angry, jilted wife, or the arrogant, philandering husband?
He has two suspects, one of whom must be innocent, both of whom seem to be guilty as hell.
Both claim to have no memory of that night.
But the truth is far more sinister and deadly.
Can Del Rey unravel the truth before the real killer strikes again?
A thrilling psychological thriller that you won't be able to put down!
Release date: April 26, 2020
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 446
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What Happened Last Night
As the plane touched down on the tarmac, I couldn't help but feel the stress of being back in LA land promptly upon my shoulders. Eight weeks in Amsterdam had been an answer to a prayer, but, it was nearly time to get back to the grindstone. I already missed the cool, easy pace of life I'd had while I was there. However, family was here in LA, not to mention my job, but I didn't want to think about that.
Instead, I focused on my family. My mom had already called to say she’d be meeting me at the airport to drive me over to my abuela’s house. I was looking forward to the feast I knew my abuela would be cooking in anticipation of my arrival, but that was as far forward as I dared to look for the moment.
I wasn't ready to start thinking about returning to work. And yet I was due to do just that tomorrow morning. I had worked for the LAPD for ten years, and I loved my job as a detective. Or at least I did until my last case. That shit still haunted me even after my two months of leave. Whenever I closed my eyes, I could still see what that monster did to that sweet little girl’s body. Child murder was never pretty, but that case was by far the roughest case I had ever worked, and for a while there, I’d seriously considered walking away from the LAPD altogether.
That’s why my boss insisted I take the leave. He didn’t want me to leave permanently, and deep down, I guess I didn’t want to go, either. Despite the nightmares, despite the shit I saw every day, I still loved my job. I wasn’t ready to hand in my badge and flip burgers or something equally mundane. I wanted to make a difference.
I stepped inside the airport, grateful to be somewhere air-conditioned. I hurried to the baggage carousel and spent a harrowing fifteen minutes there, during which I managed to convince myself that my bag was lost. It wasn’t, and relieved, I grabbed it and made my way through the crowds to the exit.
I was barely through customs when I heard my name being called, and I laughed out loud, shaking my head when I saw my welcoming party. I felt my cheeks getting hot as I blushed slightly at the fanfare. My mom was waiting for me as promised, but she had neglected to mention that Sasha, my sister, and her kids would also be there. The kids waved handmade signs with my name on them.
I took a moment to study my mom. It had been too long since I had seen her pretty eyes, so dark brown they were almost black. Her gray hair was neatly pulled back and twisted into a clip at the back of her head. Most women couldn’t pull off gray hair. My mom wasn’t one of them. It made her brown skin look more radiant, and rather than wanting to hide it, my mom wore it like a badge of honor.
Seeing my family there waiting to welcome me made me happy, yet at the same time, it sent a message, one I couldn’t ignore. You’re home, Jamie. And that means you’re even closer to being Detective Del Rey again. Is that really what you want?
I was relieved when my mom threw herself at me, causing me to stagger slightly before I regained my footing. Her laughter and shouts of welcome home down my ear silenced my doubts. At least for now.
I hugged my mom tightly.
“I missed you, Jamie!”
“I missed you too, Mom.”
I had missed her. I missed all of my family. We had always been close, although Sasha and I had our moments growing up. Ever since my dad died when I was five and Sasha was three and we moved in with my abuela, we had become a solid unit. We had very little money growing up. My mom worked three jobs to keep a roof over our heads and put food on the table, but it was a struggle. We didn’t know it then, though. My mom made sure that Sasha and I were never short of anything we needed.
I disentangled myself from my mom and gave Sasha a quick hug. Looking at Sasha was like looking at a female version of myself. She had my olive skin and my thick, wavy black hair, although I had to admit that the waves looked much better on her.
“It’s good to see you, Bro.” She laughed as I hugged her.
“You too,” I said, meaning it.
Finally, I crouched down so that Lucy and Mason, my niece and nephew, could hug me.
“Have you missed your favorite uncle?” I said.
Mason nodded solemnly, his big brown eyes locked on mine.
“Yes.” Lucy nodded.
It came out as ‘yeth’ and I instantly saw why. Her two top front teeth were gone. I smiled to myself.
“You lost some teeth, huh?”
She nodded, beaming at me, her eyes shining with delight.
“The tooth fairy came, and she gave me two dollars for each tooth,” she announced.
“Wow,” I said. “She must have wanted your teeth pretty badly to leave you that much.”
I stood up and ruffled Lucy’s hair and then we headed out to Sasha’s car, laughing and joking and catching up on everything I had missed at home. By the time the car pulled up outside of my abuela’s house, I felt like I had never been away.
I stepped into the house and was instantly enveloped in the delicious smells wafting out of the kitchen. I could smell meat and spices and something sweet. It smelled like my childhood, and for a moment, I was back to being a kid again, running into the house to tell my abuela rambling stories about my adventures.
My abuela came out of the kitchen as she heard us come into the house. The whole block probably heard us coming into the house with my mom and Sasha talking at once and the kids laughing and shouting, feeding on our excitement.
My abuela smiled when she saw me, her face instantly softening. She wiped her hands on a stained apron and came to give me a fierce hug. She was a smaller, older version of my mom, but despite her age, she was still razor sharp and saw everything that went on in her family, no matter how much any of us tried to shield her from things.
She released me from her tight embrace and took a step back to look at me. She frowned at me and wagged her finger at me.
“You’ve been gone too long, boy.”
I’d needed the break, but now, being back at the heart of family, I saw that maybe I needed them more.
“You’re a Del Rey, Jamie, but don’t be fooled into thinking that means you’re not still half Santos. And the Santos family don’t run away from their problems. We face them, we fix them, and we move on.”
“Mom...” my mom warned her, but my abuela ignored my mom and went on.
“You should have come to us, not flitted off to Europe. Do you hear me?”
I nodded. I heard her loud and clear. “I know, Abuela,” I said. “But trust me. There’s some things that you just don’t share with your family. Some things are too ... disturbing to bring home with me.”
“Nonsense. You can tell us anything,” my abuela insisted.
I knew it was pointless to argue with her, but I also knew I was right on this one. There was no way I could tell her and the others how every time I closed my eyes through my last case, I saw that little girl’s neck bent at an angle no neck should ever be. I couldn’t tell her about the burn marks all over the girl’s body. And I certainly couldn’t tell her that the little girl had died in the most horrendous fashion. I knew they would listen to me and try to help me, but there were some things you just couldn’t pass on to other people, no matter how much they might help you.
“Anyway, it’s good to have you home.” My abuela smiled.
She frowned for a moment, looking me up and down. She shook her head.
“You’re too skinny, Jamie. Do they not have food in Amsterdam?” she demanded.
I laughed and we followed my abuela through to the dining room. She had made it her mission to fatten me up when I was about twelve, and she was still trying to do it now that I was almost thirty. It wasn’t that I didn’t eat enough. I ate enough for two people most days, and on days when I came here, I ate enough for three or four people. I was just naturally skinny. Sasha hated that she only had to look at a calorie and it attached itself to her waistline, and she regularly wound me up, telling me that when I hit forty, my metabolism would go to shit, and I’d be four hundred pounds within a month or two. She was always such a little ray of sunshine.
We took our seats around the table, and I couldn’t help but gawk at the sheer amount of food that weighed down the table. My abuela had really outdone herself with the feast this time. My stomach growled as I looked at it all, and the whole family laughed.
“Welcome home, boy.” My abuela laughed as I reached for an empanada.
We ate, drank, and talked. I told them all about my adventures in Amsterdam, about the people I had met out there and the things I had seen. They listened in rapt fascination and asked me a ton of questions. None of them had been to Europe, and they wanted to know everything that was different from our way of life, which was pretty much all of it. I tried to make it sound interesting, but I missed several of what were, in my opinion, the best parts, because they were the parts you just don’t tell your family.
“Are you glad to be home?” my mom asked.
My abuela snorted. “Tell your face.”
I looked at her, shocked to hear such an expression from her. My mom and Sasha laughed at my reaction.
“She heard it on the TV, and she uses it all the time now,” Sasha explained.
“It just has a certain ring to it.” My abuela grinned. “But seriously, Jamie, you don’t look happy to be home.”
“I’m happy to be back here with all of you,” I said, smiling around at everyone. “But honestly, I’m kind of dreading going back to work tomorrow.”
“And that’s why we face our problems rather than running away from them. You run away from your problems, they’re always right there waiting for you. You fix them, and they go away,” my abuela said a little smugly.
My mom threw her a warning look and put her hand over mine.
“You’ll be fine, honey,” she said, giving my hand a squeeze.
“I know,” I replied. “I feel much better than I did before I went away. But whether or not I can put up with the ugly side of this job until retirement age and still be something close to sane is another matter.”
“You’re a Del Rey, Jamie—” my mom started.
“And half Santos,” my abuela put in.
“That means you can do anything. You’re strong enough and smart enough to do this,” my mom said.
I felt myself nodding in agreement. Of course I could do this. All cops have that one case that haunts them, and they still get the job done. Maybe it’s just that I had finally become one of them.
My mom gave my hand a last squeeze and then sat back in her chair and looked at me, her eyes narrowed. “Now, when are you going to find a nice girl and settle down, Jamie? I want grandkids while I’m still young enough to enjoy them,” she said.
I felt my cheeks turning hot as I blushed with embarrassment. I shook my head firmly. “We are not having this conversation,” I said. I stood up and grinned at the kids. “Lucy, Mason, want to go play in the back garden with me?”
“Yay,” they chorused, jumping up from the table and running for the door.
“Sorry, Mom. Favorite uncle duty calls.” I grinned, hurrying away, leaving my mom grinning and shaking her head behind me.
“Don’t think this means we’re never going to talk about this,” she shouted after me.
I pretended I couldn’t hear her as I ran after Lucy and Mason and back into the warmth of the outdoors.
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