When a homeless war veteran is beaten to death by the police, stormy protests ensue, engulfing a small New Jersey town. Soon after, three cops are gunned down. A multi-state manhunt is underway for a cop killer on the loose. And Dr. Tessa Thorpe, a veteran’s counselor, is caught up in the chase. Donald Darfield, an African-American Iraqi war vet, war-time buddy of the beaten man, and one of Tessa’s patients, is holed up in a mountain cabin. Tessa, acting on instinct, sets off to find him, but the swarm of law enforcement officers get there first, leading to Darfield’s dramatic capture. Now, the only people separating him from the lethal needle of state justice are Tessa and ageing blind lawyer, Nathaniel Bodine. Can they untangle the web tightening around Darfield in time, when the press and the justice system are baying for revenge? Justice Gone is the first in a series of psychological thrillers involving Dr Tessa Thorpe, wrapped in the divisive issues of modern American society including police brutality and disenfranchised returning war veterans.
Read an Excerpt:
“I don’t need to tell you how imperative it is to make contact with Donald.”
Tessa was behind her desk, addressing the three people in front of her: Ed with his long sad face; Casey, looking like a brow-beaten youth; and Penny, her angular features and square glasses contradicting her elfish pixie hair.
Tessa’s eyes were glistening. That was how Casey knew she was emotionally distressed. She was a very emotional woman, one of the first things about her that he had grasped from the start, perhaps too emotional. But in his book, that was more of a positive attribute of her character, rather than a flaw.
He knew as well as she did that Donald Darfield was one of the worse damaged of the vets, and now, having just reached the critical point where he was on the verge of confronting his demons, was extremely fragile.
Tessa leaned forward. “We’ve each tried on our cell phones, multiple times, but he won’t answer, so we’ll need the help of others…the ones in his group, those closest to him. We need to know where he would go. Since he basically lives here in our shelter, I wouldn’t waste time in homeless shelters. It’s been twenty-four hours now, and he may have gone out of town. We need to know where.”
“Yes, we’ll get on it,” Casey assured her.
“As for me, I need to see Jay’s father. His landline’s been disconnected. Anyone know the cell phone number…did Jay leave it with us?”
The despondent shaking of heads and shoulder shrugs gave the answer. Abruptly, Penny popped her head up. “Oh wait. How about his aunt?”
“Marshal’s sister? Good. Get it to me.”
Penny jumped up and exited.
“I’m taking a taxi as soon as we’re through here, which I think is right now.”
When Ed and Casey departed, Tessa called one of New York’s many private taxi services. A cab picked her up within fifteen minutes and she was on her way, across the George Washington Bridge and into New Jersey. When they got off the turnpike, Tessa gave meticulous directions to the home of Colonel Marshal Felson, Retired.
There were several vans and a small crowd of people outside the chain link fence enclosing the house. Now was the time for Tessa to try the number Penny gave her, counting on the possibility that Aunt Mae was in the house shielding her brother from the press.
A woman, by the gravelly nature of her voice an elderly woman, picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“Hi, is this Aunt Mae?” Tessa did not give her time to reply. “This is Dr. Thorpe; I was Jay’s counselor, and I need to speak to the Colonel. If you’re in the house, come to the gate and let me in.”
A brief silence. Apparently she was cupping the phone while conferring with Jay’s father. “Okay, I’m coming to let you in.”
When Aunt Mae, capped with a helmet of gray hair and dressed in a black frock with a discordant flower print, came out to let her in, the predictable surging of reporters commenced and was only quelled after Tessa promised them a comment on her way out. In the company of the elderly woman, she entered the two-story colonial and came face to face with Marshal Felson, standing in the sitting room with a drink of clear liquid in his hand. At six feet and three inches, broad at the shoulders, he imparted a formidable presence despite his weathered face. Silver hair chopped into the nubs of a buzz cut, bushy gray eyebrows, piercing light-blue eyes, and a prominently square jaw demanded accountability, despite his general appearance of an aged vet.
“Hello, Dr. Thorpe. Would you like a drink?”
“Yes, thank you. I’ll have whatever you’re having.”
The Colonel retreated to the kitchen in the back. His long- sleeved sky-blue shirt and pressed khakis displayed a subtle formality suggesting a relaxed respectability.
Aunt Mae, clasping her hands in front of her, fidgeted fretfully. “Sit down, dear,” she told Tessa, politeness always an expedient way to dispel the awkwardness.
Tessa took a seat on the damask sofa just as Felson arrived with her drink. She took a sip, surprised at the sweetness.
He looked at her with a sardonic smile. “Seven-Up. The hard stuff. None of that diet shit in this house.” His decorous mannerisms and strained joviality struggled to conceal the pent- up emotional turmoil brewing inside him.
She accepted the glass, saying, “Doesn’t surprise me. Very cool-headed of you to avoid alcohol. I can also sense you’re not grieving yet.”
“Not yet. You know, Betsy’s death took me harder. I mean with Jay going off to war, well…I know the risks of war. But I never expected this.” He sat down in the matching chair opposite her, looking up at the ceiling. “I’m still trying to sort this out.”
Tessa remained quiet, ready to listen.
“But you’re a clever gal, tell me what I’m feeling?”
“Damn right!” He leaned forward from the depths of his armchair. “You know where I went today?” Felson did not wait for any reply. “I went to identify my son’s body. And the irony of it was…I really couldn’t…identify him. His face was so swollen, his eyes were just slits…his nose looked like a goddamned mushroom…his lips a bloody puffed up mess.” He took a gulp from his glass, then smacked his lips. “So…come to console me, Doctor?”
Tessa leaned forward, putting her glass on the coffee table. “Look, Colonel, I know we don’t see eye-to-eye on these matters—”
“No indeed! Your way is not my way. You just don’t understand. Marines are not ordinary people; they’re special. Going off to war, seeing terrible things, doing terrible things, that’s the goddamned job. If you can’t take it, join the goddamned Air Force, don’t become a Marine!” He took another slurp from his glass. “Going to see a doctor because you got bad memories is a sign of weakness, plain and simple.”
“And of course, you never have? Seen a doctor, I mean.”
“Damn right! So I guess your visit really isn’t necessary, is it?”
Tessa ignored his snotty rhetorical question. “Colonel, have you any idea at all of the whereabouts of Donny Darfield? He’s missing.”
“Donny, Jay’s friend, the colored boy?”
“Yes, of course…guess I’m old-fashioned. No, haven’t heard from him. Is that the only reason you came here?”
“No. What I really came to see you about is unity. We should bury the hatchet and work together.”
“Work together for what purpose? You know, I had to disconnect my phone…never mind the press…the Homeless Coalition, the VFW, Vietnam Veterans against the War, Iraqi Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, you name it…my son is dead and everyone sees this as a political opportunity. So, tell me, what do you, Dr. Tessa Thorpe, want us to work together on, huh, what, promotion of your clinic?”
“No.” She paused, being purposely dramatic. “Justice.”
He looked at her with his stone-blue eyes, eventually slackening enough to digest her words. He put down the 7-Up he had been holding in his hand for fifteen minutes. “Ah, now we’re talking. So, what kind of justice do you expect my son to get?”
“None at all. If we sit idle.”
He leaned forward and whispered contemptuously. “You know they’re going to try and get out of this?”
Tessa, despite the gravity of the topic, leaned over the coffee table to meet his face and smiled maliciously. “Damn right,” she told him, parroting the colonel’s favorite response. “But we’re not going to let them.”
Felson grinned back. “It’s a deal. Mae’s got your number on her cell phone. I’ll call you. As for now, I’m going to take a valium, my favorite nighttime snack these days, and then hit the sack. I’ll deal with life tomorrow.”
On her way to the taxi, Tessa gave out her promised comment to the journalists, which was that she and Marshal Felson would await the town of Bruntfield’s response before making any comment.
About the Author:
N. Lombardi Jr, the N for Nicholas, has spent over half his life in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, working as a groundwater geologist. Nick can speak five languages: Swahili, Thai, Lao, Chinese, and Khmer (Cambodian).
In 1997, while visiting Lao People’s Democratic Republic, he witnessed the remnants of a secret war that had been waged for nine years, among which were children wounded from leftover cluster bombs. Driven by what he saw, he worked on The Plain of Jars for the next eight years.
Nick maintains a website with content that spans most aspects of the novel: The Secret War, Laotian culture, Buddhism etc.
His second novel, Journey Towards a Falling Sun, is set in the wild frontier of northern Kenya.
His latest novel, Justice Gone was inspired by the fatal beating of a homeless man by police.
Nick now lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia