The 100th Meridian Murders
In the fifth CJ Hand Novel, a wave of intrigue and deception moves from China to the Pacific Northwest and penetrates the new contractual challenge that CJ begins. Tom Thies, a criminal investigator, rejoins CJ and both are thrown into a case that unravels with the first body found in the Niobrara River valley. What follows leaves both Tom and CJ with a cutting grief that hardens them and the man they admire.
Excerpt from Chapter 3
CJ sat on the edge of the bed, sheets soaked in sweat, waiting for the mental agony to subside. The nightmare had not been frequent, but when it occurred his energy dropped so low it took hours to recover. The incident three years before in northwest Iowa still lingered in sweat-drenched dreams. Two young deer hunters had found him beaten and close to death in an abandoned farm cellar. The assailants had left him to die in a chair to which they had securely tied him. Broken bones. Broken spirit. Broken confidence.
The nighttime ordeals came piecemeal, painfully clawed from his deep subconscious. One night the horrifying images might come as the powerful blows to his head. The next time it came as brutal punches to the chest. Other times the nightmare came as powerfully delivered wallops to his legs with old, cellar wood. CJ hoped all this would disappear, but it lingered, triggered by unknown stimuli.
His Iowa psychologist urged him to continue counseling. She suggested a friend in Lincoln, and her last words: see him before you start your doctoral studies. The first nightmare in Lincoln happened four months into his graduate work. The screams, which echoed in that cold, abandoned cellar three years past, forced themselves out in his Lincoln apartment. He would find himself sitting upright with sheets wound around his legs, hearing moaning echoes.
He now held his pounding head and stared at the document on the small nightstand. Last evening, he and Perci reviewed the neatly printed contract and attached plan of work. Perhaps the nightmare recurred because of the extra Dewar’s and soda he consumed.
After he signed the contract, Perci held out her hand to seal the deal. The electricity from her handshake caused an unexpected response. His guard went down. Outside the cozy bar she gave him a hug, looked up at him, and said she wanted to meet again, soon.
His cell phone buzzed, he checked the caller, and haltingly answered, “Hi.”
“Do you have a headache?” she asked.
He groaned. “I do, and you?”
“Yes. How about I buy breakfast with gallons of coffee?” Silence. She started to wonder if he disconnected. “CJ?”
The nightmare effect ebbed. Strange. “I’m still on … uh … thinking about a good place.”
“Call me when you decide and leave a message. I’m going to shower and take a few aspirin. Okay?”
“Sounds good. You want me to bring anything that’s work related?”
“Please. May I look at the graduate students’ vitae?”
“You may,” he said.
CJ sat for a moment, analyzed his feelings, and then removed the soaked bed sheets, tossed them in the clothes washer, and hustled to the shower. Fifteen minutes later he dialed her number and left the message where to meet him. He made the bed while whistling a song he had heard last night in the bar. It took him a minute to realize his headache had disappeared. As he locked up, he found himself in a fix. How should he deal with strong feelings for a woman other than his wife?
Perci had arrived ahead of him and sat at a corner table. She wore a light-blue sweater over a white blouse. Her black hair cascaded out the back of a Bronco’s cap. She leaned over and pulled out the chair next to her.
CJ removed the small shoulder bag and hung it on the chair to his right. A large thermos sat table center and an empty mug next to it.
Perci pointed to the mug. On his nod, she poured a brim-full amount. “You’re not shy to sit at my side again?”
“No.” He looked down at her neatly pressed khaki slacks before he pulled close to the table.
“There you are, Dr. Hand.”
“Thanks. No more of the doctor bit.”
She smiled and nodded.
“I thought you and Jeff had to fly out this morning.”
Perci sipped the coffee and peered at him over the mug rim. “We were, but a new client popped up with a profitable deal.” She playfully bumped her knee against his. “Jeff had a fire to piss on in Denver. I’ll fly back after I meet with the new prospect.” Over the white, ceramic mug, she studied the light scars that marred his face. Perci sat the mug in front of her.
CJ pointed to the thermos and she nodded. As he poured the strong, black coffee, her knee came back and remained.
She caught his reaction when the thermos jiggled in his hand. “Mighty jumpy this morning. Are you always this way?”
“Nope, only when I’ve had too much booze the night before followed by high-test black coffee in the morning.”
Her near-black irises reflected the overhead lights. She thoughtfully pursed her lips. “You nervous being with a woman of different color?”
“What … you are?”
Perci broke into a loud laugh and drew her shoulders back so the sweater fell away. “You’ve noticed that I’m a woman?”
“How could I not … with that pose?”
She looked at his left hand, scrunched up her nose, and asked, “Married?”
“No.” He sat back, sober-faced.
“Really?” Her knee again moved against his leg. “Divorced?”
“Nope.” He caught her questioning look. “Not married, but remarried.”
She blew a soft stream of air across her lips. Her knee remained in place. “How about we order and discuss your availability?”
“Available for what?”
“We can explore that after we eat.”