Falcon’s Bend Series, Book 3: The Fifteenth Letter by Karen Wiesner and Chris Spindler

Falcon’s Bend is a small, sleepy town in Wisconsin that owns more taverns than churches, but fills both on the appropriate days. Teenagers talk of escape from the one-horse town because nothing ever seems to happen. But, even here in the Heartland, police investigators Pete Shasta, Danny Vincent and Amber Carfi fight a never-ending battle to keep their beloved families and hometown safe and sound.

 

Falcon’s Bend Series, Book 3: The Fifteenth Letter

For the past fifteen years, on the anniversary of his arrest for armed robbery, Zeke Carfi has received a threatening letter signed by the wife of his deceased partner in crime.

Zeke’s daughter Amber, Falcon’s Bend Police Department’s newest patrol officer, has spent fifteen years holding onto a secret that could further condemn the father she’d worshiped as a child. When Zeke is released on parole, Amber finds herself questioning everything she’s ever believed. Is Zeke the good man she once knew? How could the father who’d made her the center of his world for the first seven years of her life be a criminal? Is it possible to turn from a life a crime, or is it true that once a criminal always a criminal?

Their reconciliation is cut short when Amber discovers the fifteenth letter…and the key to a fifteen-year mystery that could lead to murder.

  

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ISBN: 978-1-922066-57-2      ASIN: B00AUVNRZY     Word Count: 78, 498

His sights were always fixed on unmade discoveries, unfinished initiatives, imperfect gains, and frustrated crusades.

~from Columbus by Filipe Fernández-Armesto

 

A professional thief is a man who wakes up every morning thinking about committing a crime the same way any other man gets up and goes to his job.

~Willie Sutton in Where the Money Was: The Memoirs of a Bank Robber written by Willie Sutton with Edward Linn

 

Prologue

 

November 23, 1989

 

Serena Salim barely noticed when a third nail tore under her anxious gnawing.

“How much longer?” young Roman whispered.

Though her mothering instincts kicked in infrequently, she recognized the fear in her boy’s voice. She could say or do nothing beyond reach for his hand. Without hesitation, he pulled away and put his face against the passenger window.

Nels and Zeke had been inside for so long now. Had something gone wrong? Or had Nels gotten greedy again? He was a man who would go back for just one more penny–the proverbial cherry atop a mountain of decadent cake.

This one couldn’t go wrong, not with all Zeke’s planning. On and on, Nels had raved about how brilliant Zeke Carfi was; he’d thought of everything. Nothing could possibly go awry.

But they should have been back a long time ago.

Serena swore under her breath in Korean. This would have solved all their problems. No more hand-to-mouth. No more of Nelson’s crazy schemes to “make ends meet”, most involving his shop of rare books, Antique Books, Ltd., that was never profitable on its own. When Nels met Zeke a year ago, Zeke’d taught him how to make money the easy way. This one final heist would set them all up for life.

Where are they?

She leaned forward near her son and looked down the block to the front of the bank across the street set far back from the road. Eisner Bank & Trust looked calm and peaceful this day, though people no longer milled in and out.

She shook her head. Something had happened.

“We should get out of here,” she murmured.

Roman turned to her, his dark gaze confused. “But Dad’s not out yet. We can’t leave him.”

“They should have been out–” she started when the sound of sirens broke through the menacingly still autumn air.

Roman dove out the door of the van just as fast. Serena swore again, plunging out after him down the street. She caught him only inches from the sidewalk in front of the bank. With every bit of her strength, she dragged him kicking and screaming to the van. At fifteen, the boy was no longer as small and weak as he’d been, but her desperation allowed her to do what she had to.

“We can’t leave him!” he cried as they reached the sliding van door.

“We won’t.” She knew she had to give him the promise to make him calm. “But we must watch from here.”

He allowed her to hold him. Behind him, Serena forgot how to breathe while police cars and an ambulance surrounded the bank. She and Roman waited. Minutes ticked by, minutes that felt like hours. Like vultures, reporters descended on the place in helicopters and trucks.

She and Roman were too close, but she knew Roman would fight her and call attention to them if she insisted they get back in the van or leave. Until he’d seen his father, he wouldn’t budge.

Her mind raced as she tried to imagine what had taken place, what had gone wrong. She barely noticed how ragged her son’s breathing had become.

Nels screwed up. He always does. Roman may worship his father and believe he can do no wrong, but I know better. I know exactly what he is: a thief from start to finish. But I didn’t care; I would have done anything to escape my father. Anything. And I won’t go back. What a fool I was to trust Nels.

Finally, the police swarmed out amid the reporters. For a moment, Serena noticed nothing in the throng. Then wheels appeared. Atop the gurney was a long and narrow black bag.

“Dad…” Roman began, lurching suddenly out of her shocked embrace.

A crowd of interested citizens had gathered. Serena knew they were safe within it, but she caught her son once more, holding him back. “Where’s Dad? Where’s my dad?” he murmured, his tone frantic.

Serena felt Roman go rigid. She glanced at him, then followed the direction of his gaze. Zeke emerged, hands bound, surrounded with police officers on all sides. His eyes lifted for only a moment as if he sensed her presence. Regret and sadness overwhelmed his expression. Serena knew. In that moment, she knew. Nels was dead. Zeke had betrayed her husband. The heist had gone bad because Zeke turned on Nelson. What else could explain a death they’d never figured into their careful plans?

“We have to find my dad!”

Serena shook her head. “We must go. Now. Don’t fight me. We must be at the shop when the police come.”

The urgency in her voice must have convinced him. He allowed her to rush him back across the street and into the van.

By the time they arrived at their apartment over the small bookstore, Serena’s heart had turned to stone within her. She sat while Roman turned on the television, looking for news. Mutely, she watched the reporter talk about the robbery at Eisner.

Nelson had been about to shoot the bank manager for refusing to cooperate, and Zeke had stopped him. Zeke had killed his own partner to prevent the death of an innocent. She watched Zeke defend himself, meek as a mouse, his handsome face lined with regret. “I tried to talk to Nelson, tried to get him to reconsider. I only meant to stop him by putting a bullet in his shooting arm…but he shifted.” The shot had caught Nelson right in the heart. He’d died before they wheeled him out of the bank.

Serena’s eyes narrowed as the reporter went on to interview the bank manager who praised Zeke for “coming to his senses” and standing up against a murderous, greedy thug.

I have nothing. The [email protected]#d left me with nothing. How will I take care of myself?

The sound of her father’s hated voice filled her memory, as did the feeling of his fist slamming into the small of her back. Serena choked on a sob, not daring to close her eyes to dark memories she’d spent so many years hiding from.

Can’t go back there…rather die. No one can make me.

“He killed my dad,” Roman spat, interrupting her thoughts, “and the public decides he’s a hero for it. A damn hero.”

Serena glanced at her boy, recognizing the rage building in him. She couldn’t move as he picked up a baseball bat and sank it into the TV screen with all his strength. He screamed in fury at the injustice of losing the father he’d idolized.

Cringing, Serena covered her head when he flew around the room, destroying everything in his path. Tears leaked from her eyes in terror. Once more, she was the little girl huddling in fear, willing herself to become invisible to the tirade around her.

“Stop. Stop, Roman, please,” she whimpered.

For a long time he seemed not to hear her pleas. Then silence came, and she still didn’t move, especially when she felt him standing before her. Sobs overwhelmed her. Protective gentle arms came around her, and she lifted her head. Her gaze met her son’s unexpectedly tender one.

“We have nothing. He’s left us with nothing,” she told him bitterly. “I can’t take care of you, Roman. I can’t go back home.”

“I’ll take care of you, Mom. I promise. We have the maps. Dad told me about the maps he and Zeke stole–the ones Dad kept in the safe, away from Zeke. They’re worth a fortune. You won’t have to go back home, Mom. We’ll make this right.”

Zeke had betrayed them all. He would pay. How could anything ever be right again?

It wouldn’t, not until she had her revenge.

 

Chapter One

 

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Fifteen years later…

 

Falcon’s Bend Patrol officer Amber Carfi let out a rich luxurious belch followed by a sigh of relief. She was about to mutter, “Yeesh, another boring shift. ‘Least it’s almost over,” when her partner turned to her, scowling. “That was real nice, Carfi. You got a man inside there tryin’ to get out or what?”

Why did he always surprise her when he chose to get on her about her decided lack of manners and feminine sensibilities? She shook her head at him. Sitting up in the passenger’s seat of the patrol car, she pushed the bottle of Diet Coke she’d downed in three long gulps into the holder. Warren Jensen could do disgust better than anyone. His face looked specially designed for it. “You got a Miss Manners in there trying to get out, Jensen?” she countered. She looked away to pedestrians going about their business.

The past few shifts had been dead boring. The most action they’d had was a DUI and a welfare check on old man Curran, and she and Jensen had gotten the House Watch cards yesterday. An unexpected dog that guarded the house while the owners were on vacation almost chewed up Jensen.

They were heading back to the station now, and bored or not, Amber always preferred working to taking time off. When she was alone she got antsy, especially around the holidays. Like her, Jensen had no family so he usually agreed to fill some hours together doing whatever.

The radio crackled and Dispatch came through, “One-Baker-One, copy a 10-90 in progress.”

Jensen reached for the radio, but she pushed his hand aside insisting, “I’m primary, remember?” She’d been hoping for another chance to be primary officer, a very new perk after her two years on the force.

She brought the receiver up to her mouth and spoke into it. “Copy from Third and Main. Go ahead.”

From behind the wheel Jensen grimaced, knowing as well as she did that, technically, they were off-duty as of six minutes ago. “Silent alarm at Falcon’s Bend Bank & Trust was called in,” Tammy in Dispatch told them. “No confirmation from employees at this time. No confirmation on the number of perps or weapons.”

They were obviously in the area of responsibility closest to the bank. “Copy. Show us en route,” Amber responded.

Someone in the bank had tripped the alarm to alert the police without tipping off the robber. Jensen put on the lights without the siren.

A moment later Dispatch reported, “One-Baker-One, Two-Adam-Two, affirm on cover from Sixth.”

“Copy.”

“One-Baker-One, your CR is 2-4-3-3-3, that’s twenty-four thousand three-thirty-three, at sixteen-o-six hours.”

Amber wrote the case report number as it was given, followed by the time. All the while, she made her plans. Contact and cover procedure was indicated.

“You want me to take primary?” Jensen asked.

She snorted at him. “No way.” She’d only gotten a taste of the power in the last two weeks. Her first real action didn’t intimidate her. She couldn’t wait to get the party started.

After coordinating by radio with backup officers Rosch and Bradley as to where to set up when they arrived, she got to work securing the perimeter. Then she made the call to Dispatch to ascertain if the robbery was currently in progress or had already occurred at the scene, and if the suspect remained inside the bank.

“We’ve had confirmation from the bank president. The subject is on foot, fleeing through a back exit on the south side of the bank with an unreported amount of money.”

“Copy. Weapon confirmation?”

“A weapon has not been confirmed. Repeat–no weapon confirmed.”

Amber growled in frustration.

Jensen drew to a stop and she slid out of the car. From her crouch beside the open door, she relayed from her handheld where she and Jensen and their vehicle were positioned, then gave the team orders concerning their own positions. “Rosch, Jensen and I are coming in from the north on Second Street. You and Bradley come in from the south.”

Amber heard Jensen behind her as she rose and skirted around the bank, finding cover in thick bushes. When she peeked around the side of the building, she saw the perp clear as day–a mask over his face and a plastic shopping bag in his hand. He was running down Second Street, his back to her. Amber shoved her gun in the holster, broke cover, and shouted to Jensen that they had a rabbit.

She took off at a fast sprint. With adrenaline already flowing through her, she had no trouble catching up to the guy. “Police! Stop now and give yourself up!” she called from ten feet away.

The head in the mask swiveled back, giving her ample opportunity to launch herself forward in a football tackle. While they fell she simultaneously reached for handcuffs and confirmed that the perp was definitely male. Knee in his back to hold him down, she grabbed for his arms as he struggled beneath her. A second later, she had him cuffed.

From a behind, she heard the crackle of a handheld radio. Jensen was relating that the rabbit was in custody. She rose at her partner’s approach, picking up the plastic bag. Inside, she saw a short stack of twenties. For a minute she could hardly believe it. The wad couldn’t have amounted to more than a couple hundred bucks, if even that. He’d wasted his time for a single fix…or whatever the hell he needed the money for.

Rosch and Bradley arrived and hauled the perp to his feet.

“Didn’t anybody ever tell you crime doesn’t pay?” Amber said, reaching up to pull off the guy’s mask. “Especially for the few lemon drops you manage to steal.”

The perp chuckled. “How would you know, girly? You ever try it?”

Amber gave him a scolding prod in the gut with her nightstick. “Matter of fact, bank robbery runs in my family, smart-ass. Now move. You’re under arrest.”