Texas Ranger JUSTIN GRAVES is a tenacious homicide detective and an outspoken advocate of victims’ rights. Respected by his peers and feared by criminals, they simply call him “Justice.” When he and his rebellious daughter are gunned down by her gangster boyfriend, Justin makes a deal with the devil to save her soul: one hundred bad guys for her pardon from hell. Now, in his rotting body, he rises from the grave to collect the souls of killers who got away with murder. If only a deal with the devil were that simple.
Targeted Age Group:: adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Injustices in the legal system and unsolved crimes gave life to my idea for Justin Graves. Though a deal with the devil is somewhat clichéd, the twists and obstacles presented to Justin give the cliché a fresh bent. Justin's targets are based on real crimes and unsolved mysteries, but the names have been changed to protect the guilty.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I needed a homicide detective the reader can sympathize with, but he had to be damaged emotionally, in this case his guilt for being a better cop than a father to his daughter. She had to be flawed but redeemable, and her predicament had to be dire. The antagonist, her gang-banger boyfriend, had to be equally powerful as Justin, and Justin's obsession with killing him had to be Justin's downfall. Justin's mentor, Captain Holland of the Texas Rangers, has to be stuck in an unenviable position that endangers the lives of his wife and children. All in the name of justice.
The Gates of Hell
Justin Graves recoiled against the smell of alcohol and disinfected air, but his guilt-ridden soul compelled him to visit his daughter at Deckers City Hospital where the thump and hiss of machines kept her on the precarious edge of life. Midnight had long passed as he stood at the door to her room and watched her lying there, the rise and fall of her chest, all the tubes and wires…
The sight of her helpless condition threatened to rip his rotting heart from his bullet-riddled chest. If tears could have flowed from hollow eye sockets, he’d have been bawling.
A step into the room felt like stepping off a tall building. Dirt drizzled from his long coat but disappeared before reaching the floor. Standing at her bedside, he leaned over and examined her bruised face, one black eye and lips that were gray, cracked, and swollen. Her black hair was cropped short and mussed. She didn’t even look like the same beautiful sixteen-year-old girl.
He removed his dusty cowboy hat and sat in a chair close to her bedside. “Christy,” he muttered. “I’m sorry.” He touched her doughy hand and choked on guilt. “If only there was another way to save you.”
However, it was too late now. The mistakes had all been made. He looked down at the gleaming circle-star badge pinned to his dusty coat. His job had kept him on the move, chasing bad guys for the Texas Rangers. He didn’t have time to stay home and raise a child. So this was the price she had to pay for him being a lousy father.
Christy never knew her mother. Eleanor died during the delivery. Nanny Jean had taken care of Christy until a truck driver out of Irvine drove away with the only mother she’d ever known. After that, Aunt Clara took her in.
Justin had sent her to boarding schools and summer camps, but he managed to make it home for holidays and birthdays…well, most of them. He hadn’t even tried to give her a normal family life, but sitting in this hard chair, the bitter truth churned in his guts like maggots on rotting meat. Even as a part-time father, he’d failed miserably.
However, their life hadn’t been all bad. He could remember her laughter, her songbird voice, and the way candlelight sparkled in her hair. She wore a blue flower-print dress, bobby socks, and shiny black shoes with big buckles. “I love you, Daddy.” She blew out five candles on her birthday cake.
Justin kissed her glowing cheek and handed her a present wrapped with a red bow. “This is for my best girl.”
“Oh, Daddy.” She ripped off the wrapping. “Barbie.” She hugged the doll close to her heart. “Was my mommy this beautiful?”
Justin’s bones creaked as he leaned back in the hospital room chair. Carrousel music drifted in his skull. Deckers County Fair. He could still smell the stockyards and cotton candy. Christy wore cowboy boots, blue jeans, and a flannel shirt. “I want to ride a pony. Please, Dad.”
The sign on the corral gate read: You must be 9 years old to ride. $2.
“Looks like you’re in luck.” Fishing two bucks from his wallet, he thought he would’ve paid ten times as much if a pony ride made her happy. “Be careful.”
One day he came home from work and found Aunt Clara in a tizzy. “I told her to clean her room.” Clara jammed her hands on her hips. “She snuck out her window instead.”
“That’s not like her,” Justin said in his daughter’s defense.
“What do you know about her?” Clara stood in the dining room with a spiteful scowl on her brow. “You don’t know about those boys she’s mixin’ with. You’re never around.”
“I’m still her father.”
“Any sperm donor can be a father. It takes a real man to be a dad.” Aunt Clara stormed out.
It was going on two a.m. when Christy returned, stinking of whiskey. Justin figured it was time for some tough love. “Where did you go, young lady?”
Christy glared at him. “None of your business.”
Her face was all painted up with lipstick and rouge and eyeliner. He pointed to the bathroom. “Get in there and wash that junk off your face.”
“My mother would’ve let me wear makeup.”
“Don’t argue with me.”
“I’m thirteen, Dad. Almost a grown woman.”
“That’s no excuse to go around looking like a tramp.”
“I hate you.” She ran out.
So much for tough love. His daughter was slipping away, and he felt powerless to help her, to reel her back in, to keep her safe from the evils of the world; evils he knew so well. Crime and punishment ruled his life, but grounding her would make her rebel even further…
A noise down the hall interrupted his thoughts. He sat upright in the hospital chair, senses on alert for danger. A nurse walked in, strode right past him without so much as a nod, checked a monitor, and left. He felt invisible—because he was.
Settling back, he remembered the last time he’d seen Christy…before this tragedy struck. Wearing a plaid skirt, white blouse, and saddle shoes, she threw her books down on the breakfast table. “I’m not going to school.” She stomped out of the kitchen.
Justin tried to be calm but firm. “Get back in here, young lady.”
“You’re not my boss.”
“No, I’m not.” He got up and moved to intercept her in the living room. “I’m your father.”
“I wouldn’t be braggin’ about that, Dad.” She plopped on the couch.
He sat next to her. “What’s the problem?”
“What do you care? Go chase some bad guys.”
“It’s my job. You’ll understand one day.”
“You’re never home. That’s all I understand.”
“You have to go to school, Christy.”
“I can’t wait ‘til I’m old enough to get out of this stupid house.” She retrieved her books and stormed out.
Then the stealing began. His wallet was emptied sometime during the night.
“I didn’t take your money, Dad. You must’ve lost it.”
He noticed a rose tattoo over her left breast, and her ears were pierced from top to bottom. “What have you done to yourself?”
She stuck out her tongue, revealing a silver stud.
If he’d had a pair of pliers, that thing would have been history. “What would your mother think if she saw you now?”
“She’s dead. I killed her. Remember?”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“She died giving birth to me, how can it not be my fault?”
Billy appeared in the doorway. Her boyfriend. Billy Denton. Scraggly red hair flourished on his chin and he wore silver rings all down his earlobes. His neck was tattooed in barbed wire. “Crystal, let’s go.”
Justin flinched. “Crystal? Where did that come from?”
“It’s my new name, Dad.”
Billy strutted across the living room like a rooster in a barnyard. “You don’t approve?” He jutted out his hairy chin like he was daring Justin to do something about Christy’s name change.
Justin seethed inside. Billy Denton, punk of all punks with a rap sheet as long as his arm. “Get out of my house.”
“Let’s go, Billy.” Christy took his hand in hers.
Justin couldn’t believe this travesty was being perpetrated in his own home. “Christy, you’re not going anywhere with him. I forbid it.”
“He loves me, Dad.” She kissed Billy on the cheek. “And I love him too.”
Billy grinned wickedly.
Hot adrenaline surged through Justin. “You’re only sixteen. You don’t know anything about love.”
“Looks like we’re even. Until you become an expert, Dad, you can’t tell me who I can love.”
She left with Billy.
Tears stung Justin’s eyes.
That was the last time he saw her… Until one night at headquarters, Justin was on duty with his boss, Captain Holland, a chubby, round-faced detective who wore a ten-gallon Stetson, turquoise bolo tie, and alligator boots.
“There’s been a shooting on Deckers Boulevard.” Holland handed Justin the call sheet. “Better get down there right away.”
He threw on his long brown coat, cowboy hat, and grabbed his Winchester rifle from the gun rack. “What’s the M.O.?”
“A drive by.” Holland grunted. “Somebody fingered Billy Denton and his gang. He shot a kid.”
Heat bloomed in Justin’s chest. “I knew that punk would go too far one day.”
“Justice.” Everybody called him Justice. Holland put a hand on Justin’s shoulder. “Reports have it your daughter was with Billy.”
His stomach freefell. “There’s got to be some kind of mistake…mistaken identity—”
“She’s been hanging with that thug, selling his drugs, bangin’ his homeboys and anyone else for a dollar. She was there.”
Just thinking of her doing those things made Justin sick. Drugs: smoking pot, snorting cocaine, selling on street corners… No. Not my daughter. Prostitution: taking cash, seedy motel rooms, innocent young flesh writhing under fat, sweaty men, legs spread… No. Not my daughter.
“She’s up to her nipple rings in trouble now,” Holland said. “If patrol finds her, I’m counting on you to talk her down…give herself up, along with Billy.”
“I did everything I could to stop her from running with that punk.”
“You didn’t do enough.” Holland held open the door. “Now you’re going to have to fight to get her back.”
“Goddamned Billy Denton.”
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