Here’s another sneak peek at Soul Survivor, my new book featuring Connie Simescu, the UT Austin student caught up in a crazy war between good and evil. You can get the ebook for a limited time for 99 cents right here.
After Ruth and Josh left in the ambulance, the U.S. marshals continued to search for the sniper, but there were no more shots fired. In the meantime, an agent came up to Connie and touched her on the shoulder.
“You’re wanted inside, Miss Simesçu,” the agent said.
“Me?” Connie said. “What for?” First, the marshal led her to the washroom, where she took a few minutes to wash the blood from her hands, sleeves, and even her face. It took longer than she thought it would, mainly because she was still shaking. Then she followed the agent into City Hall, where one of the council chambers had been set aside for a special meeting. Connie entered the room to see several people she identified, and several more she didn’t. In front was an elderly man who looked like he was ready to wrestle a bear. He was big, grizzly, and old, and had a big handlebar mustache, but he was also dressed in a suit and looked out through steely grey eyes.
“If you will all take a seat, we’ll get started,” the man said. “For those who don’t know me, I am His Honor, Anais Hartley, Federal Judge in District 8. I’ve been brought in here to ride herd on this circus of monkeys that’s happened in the last week or so, and to make sure that all parties involved have their constitutional rights protected.
“Now, I don’t know if you’re used to being in charge, or think you’re in charge, or just wish you were in charge, but as of today, I am in charge. If you don’t think so, I have an army of U.S. marshals here to enforce my ruling. And if that’s not enough, I can call in the National Guard. So, don’t push me. Is that clear?”
He looked around the room and frowned.
“Let the record state that with us today is Austin Mayor Robert Lauterbach, Municipal Judge Evangeline Sinclair, Austin City Councilman Michael Wallace, and Austin City Police Chief Everett Wilford. I also have Pastor Ramon Kowalsky from the Crystal Discovery Center—ye gods, you people had really need to look into changing that name. In addition, I have called in as witnesses Austin Times editor, Harold Innsmuir, and his reporter, Connie Simesçu.”
“Uh, that’s intern,” Connie corrected him.
“Don’t interrupt,” he barked. “Reporter Connie Simesçu.
“This is not a court of law. This is just a preliminary inquiry to try to stop all this crap from happening. Too many people have been hurt in the past few days, and it’s time to put an end to it. Now, a bunch of you are going to jail, and some of you are eventually going to be spending some prison time. It’s up to you to decide who and for how long. So, start talking.”
He sat back and stared at the group of people who were brought in. Finally, Evangeline Sinclair spoke up.
“I don’t know what you think you’re going to accomplish here,” she said. “You’re completely out of your jurisdiction—.”
“That’s a load of bull and you know it,” Judge Hartley said, interrupting her. “You and I both know that I have total say in matters like this. Title 28 gives me the right to use U.S. marshals and deputies just like local sheriffs any way I please. And if you keep on like this, Miss Evangeline, I am going to take great pleasure in making sure your cellmate is the toughest, meanest hard timer you would ever want to meet. You savvy?” He stared the municipal judge down, and she was quiet. “Anyone else have a hankering to share?” he finally said.
“I really don’t know why I am here,” Michael Wallace said. “After all, I was just looking out for the best interests of the people of Austin.”
Judge Hartley sighed. “Looks like this is going to be a long afternoon. I don’t have time for this. Lock them all up, I guess. I thought we could resolve some of these issues peaceably, but it appears not.”
“Okay, I’ll speak.” The words came from Police Chief Everett Wilford. “The plan was conceived by Sinclair, but the three of us are all involved with it. We approached the late Pastor John Haraday with a deal. We paid the pastor twenty million dollars in exchange for him persuading his congregation to stop supporting community efforts to help the homeless.”
“More like kill off the homeless,” Judge Hartley grunted. “Go on.”
“It was all bankrolled by Ian Target.”
“The billionaire? How do you know him?”
“Wallace knew him. Or knew the family.”
Connie raised her hand. “May I ask a question?” she said meekly.
“Sure, little lady,” Judge Hartley said, his voice a lot softer. “What is it?”
“Why did they want to get rid of the homeless? What were they trying to accomplish?”
“I can answer that,” Pastor K said, speaking up.
“Go ahead,” Judge Hartley said.
“They were trying to kill our souls.”
The words dropped like a heavy stone in the room, and silence followed them. The judge spoke up.
“Can you clarify that, Pastor Kowalsky?”
“Selfishness is the foundation of all evil. If you get rid of those who are needy, you get rid of all need to think of anyone but yourself. Ian Target wants people thinking only about themselves.”
Judge Hartley frowned. “I’m not much of a theologian, but I’ll take your word on that, Preacher. It sounds like the making of a good sermon. Now, if we can move on, we need to talk about where we go from here.”
He pursed his lips and looked at the judge, the city councilman, and the police chief. He gazed at them silently for a long moment before speaking.
“I’m of a mind to throw the three of you in the slammer right now and throw away the key,” he said. “But I ’spect we need you. There’s too much confusion in this city. So I’m going to give you an opportunity to prove yourselves.
“You have a week to help get this cat fight under control. We work together and try to help people feel more like this is a city worth living in. There are still some killers on the loose, so we need to work together to find them, too. And at the end of all this, we’ll talk again.”
Michael Wallace spoke up. “Does this mean we’re not going to jail?”
Judge Hartley scoffed. “Oh, you’re going to jail. The difference is there’s ‘country club jail’ and there’s ‘breaking rocks with a hammer’ jail. Which one you end up in is up to me, and up to you. Now, you going to play nice, or what?”
Connie smiled to herself as the meeting ended. Finally, she was seeing some progress.