"Go along for the twists and turns on this wild, scary ride!"
Reviewed by Lynn Cunningham
Posted May 21, 2011
Mystery Police Procedural | Thriller Crime
Detective Wade Jackson has solved many homicides in his
career on the police force, but the one that he's never been
able to solve is the one that is the most important to him.
Eleven years ago, his parents were gunned down in the middle
of their living room. At the time, a handyman was arrested
and convicted of the crime. Now, all these years later, this
handyman, Hector Vargas, contacts Jackson, asking to see
him. Vargas is dying and wants to clear up something very
important with Jackson-- He isn't the man that murdered
Jackson's parents. Vargas contends that he was abused into
confessing and wants Jackson to know that the real murderer
is still on the loose.
In the meantime, detective-in-training, Lara Evans, catches
a case of a woman, Gina Stahl, who has just awakened from a
2 year coma claiming that someone tried to kill her. At the
time of Gina's incident, everyone believed that she had
tried to commit suicide by overdosing. Gina now claims that
wasn't the case and that someone had attacked her and given
her the medication. She was never supposed to wake up but
she's beaten a lot of odds to do so. When it turns out that
her ex-husband is a cop and she's accusing him of trying to
kill her, things get really interesting.
Jackson is pulled into Evans' case while simultaneously
digging into a past that he hopes will help him finally put
his parents' murders to rest. The evidence keeps pointing in
all sorts of directions so no one can possibly suspect
what's coming with regard to both cases.
DYING FOR JUSTICE is an amazing book! You're caught up in
the story that Ms. Sellers wants to tell you from the very
first sentence. The characters are so real that it's like
you know them. Every page brings something new and
unexpected to the reader. Also, watch for some slight, but
interesting, interaction between Jackson and Evans. Don't
miss this one!
When Gina wakes up from a two-year coma, she realizes
someone tried to kill her and make it look like suicide.
Detective-in-training Lara Evans is assigned the case, but
when she discovers who the main suspect is, she fears sheâ€™s
in way over her head. Meanwhile Detective Jackson learns the
man in prison for murdering his parents is innocent of the
crime and another officer coerced the detainee into a
As the two investigators work the cold files,
members of their own department come under suspicion and
their cases begin to overlap. Can they find the killers
before the crimes of the past explode in the present?
Sunday, September 5, 8:05 a.m.
the letter again, then let it fall. What the hell was this?
It had to be some kind ofscam. The convict was trying to
manipulate him for some gain he didn't understandyet. Vargas
had confessed to the murders and entered a plea bargain
toavoid the death penalty. His guilt was never in question.
Jackson pushed up from the table and took his coffee out
to the back deck. The sky was blue andwarm, he had the day
off, and he'd planned to take his gorgeous girlfriend on
along trike ride. Life was good, he reminded himself. He
sipped his coffeeand tried to remember how he'd felt before
he opened the stack of mail. But hispeace of mind had been
Reluctantly, he went back in the house and called the
state prison. After a short, tenseconversation, the warden
agreed to let him visit that afternoon.
Jackson'sconversation with Kera was longer and friendlier,
and she made him promise to comeover for dinner later, with
Katie. Jackson was grateful for his girlfriend'spatience
with his job. Police work could be a relationship killer.
An hour later, he was cruising along I-5 on his newly
built three-wheeled motorcycle, deep inthought.
Jackson waited in a small windowless room containing only
a wooden table and three chairs. Themetal chair was already
bothering his surgery site and he'd only beensitting for
twelve minutes. Still, it was better than waiting in the
mainvisitors' area with the beaten-down wives and surly
children. He felt sorry for thekids whose fathers were
locked up, but he had less empathy for the women whoclung to
a relationship long after the man had proved
Jackson's law enforcement status gave him a special pass
to visit Hector Vargas, so a deputy hadescorted him past the
other visitors, through three electronically controlledsteel
doors, and down a maze of hallways to this little closet
room. Hewould be allowed a private conversation with the
inmate, and Jackson was bothgrateful and worried. He wasn't
sure he trusted himself to be alone withthe man who'd
murdered his parents. Jackson didn't know how he wouldreact.
So many years had passed, and he wanted to believe he could
remain cool anddetached. Just another conversation with
another scumbag. He'd beenthrough so much lately—a
stunning health diagnosis and surgery, followed by
theshooting of a young suspect and nearly quitting his
job—so his emotions feltclose to the surface.
After another five minutes, an overweight deputy with a
nasal wheeze escorted Vargas intothe room. The inmate had
been a small man even before the cancer consumed mostof his
muscle, but now Vargas was as emaciated as an anorexic
teenage girl.His mustache and knuckle tattoos seemed out of
place on his fragile body.
"I'm Deputy Hutchins," the wheezer said, as he pushed
Vargas into a chair. "How much time do youneed?"
"Thirty minutes at most." Jackson didn't expect to hear
anything new or truthful. He was annoyedwith himself for
making the trip. Yet how could he not come?
"Behave yourself, Vargas," Hutchins said with a nasty
The door slammed shut and Jackson's pulse quickened. He
dreaded the emotions that were about tosurface. "I'm going
to document our conversation," he announced, setting
hisdigital recorder on the table. Vargas didn't object.
"This is Detective Jacksonwith the Eugene Police Department.
I'm in the Oregon State Penitentiary inSalem at the request
of an inmate. Please state your name."
"Hector Vargas. I make this statement willingly."
Jackson got right to the point. "You confessed to killing
Clark and Evelyn Jackson, then entereda plea bargain. Why
should I believe anything you say?"
"I have cancer and I'm dying. I have no reason to lie."
Vargas' dark eyes were watery but they heldno deceit. "I
didn't kill your parents. They were good to me, and
I'mashamed that I took their money, but I never hurt them.
Never!" Vargas' speechhad a Hispanic accent, and Jackson
suspected English was not his firstlanguage.
"Why did you confess to their murders?" This was the part
that made no sense.
Hector hunched forward, his voice intense. "The police
kept me in a little room for threedays. They screamed and
threatened my family. They held a gun to my head. For
threedays, I had little food and water. They left my hands
cuffed and wouldn't letme use the toilet." Fear and
bitterness transformed the inmate's face. "I wetmyself and
became so hungry I was dizzy. If I fell asleep they would
wake me. Atthe end, I didn't know what I was saying. I just
wanted it to stop."
Jackson didn't want to believe it could have happened in
his department, but much had changed inthe last decade.
Eleven years earlier, he'd still been a patrol officer but
he'dheard rumors. The sergeant who'd run the violent crimes
division back thenwas old school and not exactly respectful
of anyone who wasn't white andmale. "Why should I believe
Vargas rolled up his sleeve to display two small round
purplish scars. "Detective Bekker burned mewith a
Jackson stayed silent. He was starting to believe Vargas,
and rage made his chest tighten. Hehated officers who abused
their power and made the rest of the department lookbad.
Even more, he was outraged they had not searched for and
caught the realkiller. "What was the other detective's
"Santori. He seemed to be following the older cop's
Jackson wrote down the names, but he would never forget
them. Rick Santori was now working ininternal affairs, and
the irony of that was hard to take. Gary Bekker
hadtransferred out of the detective unit a few years back
for a promotion to patrolsergeant. Jackson knew both men,
but not well enough to say what they werecapable of. "Why
did you wait so long to tell someone about this? Why
didn'tyour family hire a lawyer?"
"We had no money. My wife and kids moved to New Mexico to
stay with her brother. And I knew God waspunishing me, so I
accepted it." Vargas let out a small noise, like a mantrying
to hide his pain. "I took your parents' money and I'm
ashamed of that." Hehung his head for a moment, then looked
up with pleading eyes. "My family washungry and we were
about to be evicted. I was desperate and I knew the moneywas
just sitting there. I planned to put it back when I could."
He paused, but Jackson didn't offer any empathy, so
Vargas continued. "When they found the money inmy house,
they called me a killer and slammed my head into a wall. I
wasshocked to hear the Jacksons were dead. I told the police
I didn't do it, butthey wouldn't listen. They said I had
killed a cop's parents and I would pay, oneway or another."
Guilt fueled Jackson's anger and he didn't trust himself
to speak. Vargas had spent elevenyears in prison for a crime
he didn't commit. For the theft alone, he would havebeen
released in less than a year. Finally Jackson said, "Tell me
about theday my parents died. I want to know everything."
Relief washed over Vargas' face as he sensed that Jackson
believed him. "I came to the house tofinish building the
little rock wall in the front yard. I had done a lot ofjobs
for your parents and they liked my work. No one was there
when I arrived,but I thought they would be home soon so I
got started." Vargas winced in painand held his stomach.
Jackson waited him out. He still had twinges of pain from
his own surgery that spring, butcancer was in a class by
itself. "Do they give you medication for the pain?"
"Some," Vargas said through clenched teeth. In a moment,
he continued his story. "I had to usethe bathroom, so I went
around to the back of the house. Your mother alwaysleft the
back door open for me when I was working so I could use the
toilet bythe laundry room. I checked to see if it was open
and it was. She knew I wouldbe there that afternoon."
Jackson's heart ached with the memory of his mother's
kindness. For people who worked hard and livedhonestly, she
would do almost anything. His father had been kind as well,
but alittle more cautious. Jackson could imagine him
disagreeing with hiswife's decision to leave the back door
open for Vargas. "You went into thehouse?"
"I did. I regret that." Another flash of guilt, or maybe
just cancer pain. "When I left thebathroom, I heard a radio
playing in the back of the house. I thought maybe someonewas
home, so I called out. No one answered so I went down the
hall. Their bedroomdoor was open and the room looked messy,
like someone had been searching forsomething. It was odd. I
had never seen your parents' house look like that.Everything
was always perfect."
Oh yes, Jackson thought. Clean as a whistle. He'd had his
ears twisted as a young boy for wearing muddyshoes in the
"I saw the closet was open and the locked grey box was
sitting there. I knew it had money so Igrabbed it and left.
I went out the back like I came in, then I got in mytruck
and drove home. I broke the box with a sledge hammer and
found athousand dollars in it." Vargas moved his cuffed
hands from his lap to the smalltable. "It was enough money
to take my family and leave Eugene. I called mycousin in
Redding and told him we were coming. My wife wasn't happy
with me, butshe wanted to leave Eugene too. We weren't doing
that well here. We packedeverything and waited for the kids
to come home from school, but the police gotthere first. I
was stunned when they said your parents were dead. I never
sawthem that day."
Jackson thought parts of his story didn't add up. "You
said the cash box was just sitting onthe closet shelf in
"It was on the floor, but yes, in plain sight."
Why would his parents get their cash box out and leave
the house with the back door unlocked? Andwhy had their
bedroom looked messy? "You searched the room, looking for
themoney, didn't you?"
"How did you know the box had money in it?"
Vargas shrugged. "I knew your parents. They were old and
careful and they always had cash."
Old and careful. He had thought of them that way
toowhen he was a kid. Yet they were alsosweet. His father
had been stern at times, but he'd hugged his boys everynight
before bed for as long as they put up with it. Jackson tried
to fill the holein his heart with details from the case. He
had to think like aninvestigator, not a grieving son. His
parents had been found dead in the living room.Both shot
with an unregistered gun that had never been located. A
coffeetable had been knocked on its side and his father's
body had bruises that wereconsistent with a fight.
"Did you tell any of your friends or relatives that my
parents kept money in their house?"
"No." Vargas was emphatic. "I didn't think about the
money until that day when I saw the cashbox."
"Did any of your acquaintances own a handgun?"
"I hardly knew anyone in Eugene. We'd only been there for
a year. Their deaths had nothing to dowith me, I swear."
Vargas made the sign of the cross on his chest. "I willsoon
meet God and I'm trying to make everything right. I'm
telling you this nowso you can find the real killer."
Jackson believed him. "Did you see or hear anything that
seemed out of place that day?"
"You said you came to finish a brick wall. Did you work
the day before?"
"Yes, for about five hours. Why?"
"How did my parents seem that week? Were they worried?
Did they argue about anything?" Vargas wasprobably not the
right person to ask, but he had to start somewhere.
"Everything seemed fine." Vargas grimaced and held his
stomach again. "I have no idea whowould hurt your parents.
They were very kind. The had no enemies.
Except the bastard who shot them. Despair washed
over Jackson. His chance of finding the killer—or
killers— after all this time seemed hopeless. He had
no crime sceneto analyze, no witnesses to interrogate. Even
if the samepeople still lived next door to hisparents'
house, what were the odds they would remember anything
useful after elevenyears?
He had to try, but he worried he would make himself crazy
in the process. He tended to becomeobsessive about working a
case, even when the dead were strangers to him. "Whatelse
can you tell me about that day? Any little detail could
"I didn't see Clark and Evelyn. They weren't home and the
truck was gone."
"The car was there and the truck was gone?"
Jackson didn't know how it could be connected, but if
they had taken the truck, they expectedto buy something big
or haul something dirty. He felt jumpy now, anxious to
getout of the cramped windowless room. He stood. "Thank you
for telling me this."He wouldn't apologize to Vargas for the
way the detectives had treatedhim. Someone should, but it
was not his responsibility. If the handyman hadn'ttaken the
money, he wouldn't be here.
"Thank you for believing me." A strange look passed over
Vargas' face. He started to say something,then stopped.
"What is it?"
"Tell me anyway."
"You asked about the day before. Late in the afternoon,
right before I left, your brother Derrickcame to see your
parents. He had a duffle bag and a suitcase with him, likehe
planned to stay for a while."
"Did he say anything to you?" Jackson didn't think the
information was relevant. Derrick hadmoved in and out of his
parents' house a few times.
"We didn't talk. He rushed into the house and I left soon
"If you think of anything else, please contact me."
Jackson pressed the red buzzer to summon theguard.
On the drive home, he rehearsed telling his boss,
Sergeant Denise Lammers, that he wanted to work anold case
that had been successfully adjudicated. No matter how he
presented it,Lammers didn't approve, even in his visualized
She wouldn't like that he was personally connected to the
case,and she would hate
hearing that two Eugene law enforcement personnel hadabused
a suspect until he confessed, even if it had happened a
decade ago.Typically, if an officer violated department
rules, the case would be turnedover to internal affairs. But
one of the accused, Santori, was now working in IA, sowhat
was the protocol? The district attorney would also have to
benotified as the one to files new charges...if Jackson
found the real perpetrator.
It was screwed up at least six ways.
Two young guys in a sports car passed and gave him a
thumbs-up. His three-wheeled motorcycleoften affected people
that way, and it gave Jackson a jolt of pride every time.The
memory of building it from a pile of VW and motorcycle parts
helped him clearhis mind and enjoy the rush of wind on his
face. He didn't get manyopportunities to experience the open
By the time he reached Eugene, he'd decided to keep the
case to himself and work it on his ownfor a while. He would
focus on finding a new suspect and not bring up theabuse of
Vargas just yet. They were separate circumstances, and
bringing justiceto his parents was more important than
punishing two cops who'd thought theywere doing Jackson a
favor at the time, however misguided it was. He would notlet
the abuse go forever though.
Jackson pulled into his driveway on Harris Street,
relieved to be home. Before putting thetrike in the garage,
he took a moment to gaze at the canopy of trees over the
cozybungalow he'd lived in for fourteen years. The For
Sale sign in thefront yard disturbed him every time he
saw it. He didn't really want to move, buthis ex-wife owned
half of the house, and she was pressuring him for her
equity.Other than sell, his only option was to refinance on
his own, then take outanother loan to buy out the thirty
grand she figured she had coming. His banker hadsaid he'd
never qualify for both.
After a long talk with Katie, Jackson had put the house
on the market and they'd talked about movingin with
Kera—and her entourage—when it sold. He was
still trying to come togrips with all the changes in store
While he waited for Katie to come home, Jackson sat at
his kitchen table and made a list of thingshe could do to
get the investigation rolling: 1) find the old case file
andread through the paperwork, 2) talk to old neighbors, 3)
The last entry would be the hardest. He hadn't spoken to
his brother since the month after theirparents' funeral.
They'd argued about what to do with the house and
personalitems. Their parents' will had instructed that the
house be sold and the profitssplit. Derrick, who had just
moved back in, wanted to stay in the home and buyout
Jackson's half of the inheritance. Jackson knew his brother
would probablynever pay him, but in the end, he'd given in
rather than be an ass about it.Derrick had made only two
payments, but he was still living in the house. Afteran
argument about the equity, ten years of silence had
followed. Jackson nevermeant for the rift to go on that
long, but somehow it had.
He didn't care about the money, even though he needed it
now more than ever. It was theprinciple. Derrick had caused
his parents a lot of grief as a young man. He'd beenin one
mess after another. Even after he settled down and found
steady work,he never quite paid his own way. Jackson
resented the burden Derrick had beento his parents when they
were alive, and he resented Derrick's presence intheir real
But he had to put all that aside because he needed
Derrick's cooperation. Some of their parents'personal items
were likely still in storage in the house and Jackson wanted
toexamine everything. He didn't know what he expected to
find, but it was a placeto start. Someone had come to the
house and shot Clark and Evelyn Jackson.Now that robbery was
not the motive, there had to be another reason.
The front door flew open and Katie rushed in, finding him
at the kitchen table, his favoriteplace to think and talk.
"Hey, Dad. I discovered a great band today. Have you
everheard of Rebel Jar?"
"They're local, right?"
"Yes, and they're awesome." She dropped her backpack on
the floor. "What are you thinking about?You look sad."
"My brother Derrick."
"Are you going to call him?"
"I plan to stop by and see him."
"Woohoo!" Katie gave him a high five. "About freaking
Later at Kera's house, he rang the doorbell but no one
answered. They heard voices and a babycrying.
"Let's just go in," Katie said. "Kera told me to treat
her house like my home." His daughteropened the door and
called out, "We're here." Jackson followed her in.
Kera, her daughter-in-law Danette, and little Micah were
in her bright spacious kitchen. Danetteheld the red-faced
baby over her shoulder while Kera tried to rub hisgums. "Oh
hi," she said, giving Jackson a kiss as he stepped close.
"Red licorice works wonders for that," Jackson teased.
Kera gave him an indulgent smile, and Jackson felt happy
for the first time that day. Tall andmuscular, with long
copper hair and wide cheekbones, Kera was a striking
womanwho made people of both genders stare. He'd met her
during a homicide case theyear before, and they'd started
dating soon after. At that point, she was livingalone in the
house, still grieving for her son who'd died in Iraq.
"If we get desperate, we'll try the licorice," Kera
responded. "For now, a little of thisnumbing gel should
"What are we having for dinner?" Katie asked, peeking in
"Chicken enchiladas and corn salad."
"Yum. Can I hold Micah?" Katie held out her arms. Jackson
was surprised by how bonded his daughterhad become to Kera's
"Sure." Danette, who looked much like Kera even though
they weren't genetically related, handedMicah to Katie and
the baby squealed with joy. The young mother had datedKera's
son before he shipped out to Iraq and Kera had taken her in
after thebaby was born. Jackson loved Kera for her
generosity, but Danette's presence hadaltered the course of
During dinner, Kera asked both young women about the
classes they'd signed up for. Danette wouldsoon start at
Lane Community College to take prerequisites for nursing
school.Jackson didn't think she seemed like the nurturing
type, but he kept it tohimself. He listened to the women
talk about school, careers, andclothes—between
interruptions for feeding and wiping the baby—and
wonderedwhat it would be like to experience this every
night. Was he ready to movein here when his house sold?
"You're pretty quiet, Wade," Kera said later, as they
cleaned up in the kitchen.
"I keep thinking about my parents and how to investigate
their case." He'd called and told herabout the letter before
visiting the prison.
"Is there a file from the original investigation?"
"I'll find out tomorrow."
The concern on her beautiful face made his heart swell.
Jackson reached for Kera, pressing hislips to hers in a
lingering kiss. "When are we going to be alone next?"
"I'll have to come to your place. Danette never goes
anywhere." Kera whispered and kissed his ear atthe same
time. Jackson filled with lust and had to step back. The
kidscould burst in at any moment.
"I think Katie has plans to be out of the house this
Kera gave him a wicked smile. "I hope I can wait that
His daughter stepped in and announced. "Micah won't stop
hiccupping. What should I do?"
"Make him laugh," Kera said. "If that doesn't work, bring
him to me."
When Katie left, his girlfriend asked, "Have you had any
buyers interested in your house?"
"An older couple looked at it last week, but I haven't
heard back from them." Jackson loaded dishesas they talked.
"My agent thinks I should lower the price."
"Are you going to?"
"It seems too soon."
"It's been on the market all summer."
Jackson was quiet.
"Are you having second thoughts about moving in here?"
He'd had second and third thoughts by now. "I admit, it
makes me a little nervous, but nothinghas changed. I want to
get out of my mortgage with Renee and I want to wake upevery
day with you."
"Then let's get your house sold. Maybe you need a new
"We'll drop the price a little first and see what
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Just be patient with me. Especially while I investigate
my parents' murders."
"I'm worried that you'll lose yourself in this one."
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