Sweet Justice by Ken Malovos #Book Tour
Author: Ken Malovos
Genre: Legal Mystery
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“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” she said, as she crossed herself. She hadn’t been to church in ages, but some things you never forget, like the nuns’ teachings and the look of violent death. The door swung inward to the office, the same office she had cleaned five nights a week for the past four years. As soon as she turned the lights on, she saw the man on the floor, lying face down. His face was turned sideways and it rested on a glistening dark stain on the carpet. It was the judge. His arms were splayed over his head. Isabel put her hand to her mouth and looked around. Her heart was beating very fast. Who could have done this? Is the killer still here?
It was quiet. She listened very intently but didn’t hear a thing. Was she having a heart attack? She sat down on a chair and tried not to look at the body but she couldn’t help herself. It was the judge. She was certain. Then she knelt and felt for a pulse on his neck. Maybe she felt something, she wasn’t sure. Such a nice man. She made a sign of the cross and said a prayer.
It was a Tuesday evening in early October and Isabel Romero was working her usual shift on the second floor of the two-story office building on University Avenue in Sacramento. Most of the offices were law or accounting firms, although there was the occasional advertising or consulting firm, plus a couple of psychologists. They were all the same as far as she was concerned. There were waste baskets to empty, carpets to be vacuumed and desktops to be dusted.
Isabel was about mid-forties, a bit on the heavy side, married with two children. She wore khaki slacks and a blue uniform shirt with the name “C&M Janitorial” on the upper left front. Her black hair was held together with a silver clip on each side. She had pushed her cart filled with cleaning supplies and inserted her key into the lock. The sign on the wall outside of the door read “Judge Robert L. Tilson (ret.), Arbitrator and Mediator.” She had seen him often when he worked late. Nice man. She always called him “Judge.” He would always smile and ask how she was doing. He worked in an office in the rear of the suite.
After a minute or two, she stood up and left the office. She walked down the corridor looking up and down for her fellow night janitors. Could the killer still be here? She was very quiet as she walked. But she didn’t see any of her co-workers. Where were they?
“Help, help,” she yelled. “Delores. Johnny. Help.”
Nobody responded. It was very quiet. Then she heard the door to the women’s restroom open behind her. Isabel turned in that direction and saw Delores, who was taller than Isabel and a bit younger.
“There is a man in the office,” Isabel said. “It’s the judge. I think he’s dead. Come with me. Quick.”
Delores walked quickly in her direction. Johnny heard them as he left his assigned office on the other end of the floor. He yelled at them from a good thirty yards away.
“What’s up? What’s happening?”
“I don’t know. But I think the judge is dead,” Isabel said.
Johnny was not a big man but he was fast. Thin, with dark hair, and twenty-eight years of age, he ran down the hall. He wore the same blue uniform shirt and jeans. Isabel and Delores were ahead of him. They converged on the office and Isabel slowly opened the door. She held her hand to her head, mumbling something indistinct. Johnny walked around the body, looking for signs of life. He got down on his knees and put his ear close to the man’s mouth, careful not to touch the liquid on the carpet. Then he put his fingers on the man’s neck.
“I think he’s dead, I’m not feeling anything.”
The man on the floor was an older man, with rumpled white hair, dressed in a white long-sleeved shirt with a tie, sleeves rolled up and no jacket. The adjoining conference rooms and office were dark. His feet were closer to the door and his head was next to a chair on the other end of the reception area.
“It’s the judge,” Isabel said. “I’ve talked to him before. This is his office.”
Delores stepped into the suite. She had been looking down the hallway to see if anyone else was present. She saw nothing. Then she looked back at Johnny and the grisly scene.
“Shouldn’t we give him CPR, or something?”
“It won’t make any difference,” Johnny said. “He’s dead. No question about it. See, no pulse.”
He held his fingers to the man’s neck again. Delores and Isabel did not move.
“My heart is racing,” Isabel said. “Maybe I’m having a heart attack. I’m not feeling good.”
“Sit down,” Johnny said. “Take some deep breaths.”
“I’ll call the police,” Delores said.
“Yes,” Isabel said. “Call the police.” She was shaking.
Delores looked around the office for a phone.
“I don’t think we should touch anything here,” Johnny said. ”The police may look for fingerprints or evidence or something.”
Delores went to the next office down the hall, unlocked the door and dialed 911. She explained who she was and what she had seen.
“Are you in any danger, ma’am?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t know. We just got to the office.”
“Okay, stay put. Don’t go anywhere. If you can lock yourself in a room, that would be best. What is your address?”
Delores gave the address and the suite number where the body was found.
“The police are on their way, ma’am. Meanwhile, don’t touch anything and just sit tight. The police will find you. Whoever did this might still be in the building.”
“Yes, we will just stay here.”
Delores hung up and walked back to the judge’s office. She could feel the wetness under her arms. She closed and locked the door behind her and put her hands to her hair.
“They said the police are on the way. We should just stay here.”
Isabel was sitting on a chair and crying softly. She clutched a couple of tissues and dabbed her eyes.
“Are you feeling better, Isabel?”
“I can’t believe it’s him,” Isabel said. “He was such a nice man. I would always tell him that I would just take a few minutes but he would tell me to take my time. One time he gave me a box of See’s Candies and told me to share them with you. Remember that?”
“I do,” Delores said. “They were nuts and chews.”
“That must have been before I started here,” Johnny said.
Delores stood next to Isabel and put her arm around Isabel’s shoulders as she looked around the suite, which consisted of a large office with a desk and three conference rooms, one larger than the other two. The body was lying in the nicely-decorated reception area which contained four chairs and a desk. Color photographs of several people hung on the walls as well as various certificates. The same man was in all of the photographs, probably the judge, she thought. He was always smiling and holding some award. A large certificate said “Judge of the Year,” and another said “Twenty Years of Judicial Service.” A statue of a blindfolded woman dressed in a long flowing robe and holding the scales of justice rested comfortably on a brown table. The sign on the bottom said “Lady Justice.” There was a small lamp on another table which also had magazines on it. Delores was careful not to disturb anything. Johnny sat down in a nearby chair, just staring at the man.
“I can’t believe this,” Delores said. “I’ve never seen a dead body before.”
“Me neither,” Johnny said.
Isabel didn’t say a thing. She was staring at the wall and was still crying as she sat in another chair.
“I think you are going to be okay, Isabel,” Delores said. “You probably had a panic attack. You look a lot better now then you did a few minutes ago. I can see you are getting your color back.”
“You do look better,” Johnny said. “Is your heart still racing?”
“It’s not as bad,” Isabel said. “I’m feeling a little bit better.”
It took the police about fifteen minutes to get there. It felt longer to the three janitors. They mostly spent the time in silence, but Delores and Johnny each ventured out, taking turns looking down the hallway from the doorway of the office. Johnny spotted them first. The officers came down the hallway with guns drawn. He waived.
“Here, here,” he yelled. “Down here.”
The officers entered the suite and looked around. One of them put his gun in his holster and checked the body, looking for a pulse. In a few seconds he looked at his partner and shook his head. He got up from the floor and went into each room of the office. The other one asked the three to come into the corridor with him.
“You didn’t see or hear anyone, anything out of the ordinary?”
“No, sir,” Delores said. The others shook their heads.
“Do you know this man?”
“Yes,” Isabel said. “He’s the judge. This is his office.”
She nodded in the direction of the sign with Judge Tilson’s name on the wall next to the door.
“Can you open up these other offices?”
“Sure, we have a master key that works on all of the offices,” Johnny said.
“Good, go into that office over there, lock the door and wait for us to come back. We are going to search the building for suspects. Is there anyone else in any of these offices that you know of?”
“No,” Johnny said. “All my offices were empty.”
Delores and Isabel shook their heads.
“Okay, so, we shouldn’t expect to find anyone?”
“Right,” Johnny said. “But we haven’t cleaned all of the rooms yet, so there still could be someone in one of the offices, working late.”
“Okay, thanks. Now just stay put.”
This particular building was one of about six or seven in the business part of University Avenue. They were all two-story wooden structures and were separated by parking lots, green grass and the occasional water pond. The other part of the tree-line street hugged the American River and mostly contained apartment houses for the students who attended California State University at Sacramento, usually referred to as “Sac State.”
They didn’t wait long. “All clear,” one of the officers shouted.
“All clear on this end too.”
One of the officers knocked on the door to the office, where the three janitors had stayed, and escorted them to the first floor. They sat down and huddled together on the lone couch in the tiled lobby. The other officer said they did not find any suspects or any weapons. He walked toward the three who were looking up at the officers.
“You sure that none of you have seen anything out of the ordinary tonight? Anyone acting unusual?”
“Not me,” Johnny said. The others shook their heads.
“Let me ask you this. Did you touch anything inside the suite? We are going to dust for fingerprints and we just need to know.”
“We were pretty careful,” Delores said. “Isabel opened the door to go in and clean and she yelled for us. Johnny checked his body. I called you from another office. We were pretty much in the same place when you got there. We did sit in the chairs.”
“Yeah, I sat in a chair,” Johnny said. “But I didn’t touch anything else.”
Each of them gave their separate statements, but there really wasn’t much to say. By then another patrol car had arrived with two more officers. It wasn’t long before the newspaper and television reporters and a free-lance photographer arrived. More officers pulled their marked vehicles with flashing red lights into the area directly in front of the building and next to a large parking lot. The scene was cordoned off.
The janitorial service supervisor arrived and he spoke to a couple of other janitors from a nearby building before he approached the building that was illuminated by all of the flashing police lights. He was about fifty, with dark hair and a mustache and black-framed glasses. He was wearing an untucked shirt with the janitorial service name and a blue windbreaker.
He walked directly towards the two officers who were standing nearby. He introduced himself and gave each of them his card. “You may want to talk to the janitors from the other building as well. They are standing over by those cars.” He nodded in their direction. “They said they saw someone outside getting into a pickup and leaving. They were out taking a break.”
One of the officers immediately headed in the direction of the three janitors from the other building. The three were standing in front of the main door. One was smoking and the other two were staring at the officers. They all wore the same uniform shirts.
The supervisor then spoke to the three janitors who were now sitting on the short brick wall along the entrance way outside of the building. There was a slight chill in the air.
“I know this is very disturbing to each of you,” the supervisor said. “Please cooperate completely with law enforcement. Answer all of their questions.”
“Right,” Isabel said. “We already gave our statements.”
“When you are through with the officers, you can go home. I will put away all of your cleaning stuff and will be in touch with you for tomorrow. And, thank you for your efforts tonight. You were all exemplary and I appreciate it. I know this was not easy for you.”
After a short while, the officers told Isabel, Delores and Johnny that they were free to go home.
That evening at about nine-fifty, Kathy Lamb was watching the end of the latest edition of “CSI” when a banner on the bottom of her screen flashed the breaking news in red, “Local Judge Killed. Stay Tuned For News At Ten.” She perked up at the word “judge” because her father was a judge, or a retired judge, to be more accurate. So, instead of turning off the television at ten, she stayed tuned. But first she grabbed a glass of water from the kitchen in her one-bedroom apartment in mid-town. Then she curled up on the sofa and waited for the news to begin. An older man and a younger woman soon appeared on her television screen. The male broadcaster spoke first.
“We have breaking news this hour. We have just learned that a local judge was murdered in his office on University Avenue this evening. The police have not yet released his name, pending notification of next of kin. We have very few details, but what we do know is that the janitorial staff that serves the office building of the deceased discovered his body during their regular cleaning rounds this evening. We will pass on more information as soon as we are informed. In other news…”
Kathy looked at the television, stunned. Her father had an office on University Avenue. It was a popular street for a lot of lawyers and her dad had obtained an office there eight years ago when he retired from the Superior Court after twenty years. It was late and she didn’t know whether to call her parents and confirm that her father was alive and well. The call itself could scare them as they often went to bed earlier than ten. But then she thought she wouldn’t be getting any sleep herself out of worry. She sipped her water and after five or ten minutes of indecision, she decided to call.
Her mother answered. Kathy knew her mother had caller identification.
“Hi Mom, just checking in. Is Dad home?”
“No, I’ve been waiting for him. But that’s not unusual. He called around six-thirty to say he was going to be late, said he wanted to work on an arbitration award that is due tomorrow.”
“Oh. When you talked to him, he was at his office, right?”
“Mom, I don’t know but I just saw something on television. It’s about a man who was hurt in his office tonight on University Avenue. I am wondering if it could be Dad.”
“Why would you say that, dear? There are lots of people on University Avenue. Besides I’m sure he just got caught up in his case and forgot to call. He does forget things, every now and then.”
“Okay. Let me check it out and I will call you back.”
“Just a minute, Kathy. Someone just rang my doorbell. Hang on. I will look through the window to see who it is at this hour.”
Kathy could tell that her mother put the phone down. She didn’t hear a thing. A few seconds passed.
“Oh, Kathy. There is a man and a woman at the front door. The woman is in a uniform. I don’t like the looks of this.”
“Okay, Mom, don’t hang up. Take the phone with you and go to the front door and ask who it is. Can you do that? I will be on the other end the whole time.”
“Yes, I can do that.”
“And I am going to call 911 on my other phone and alert them that there is someone outside of your home.”
Antoinette Tilson walked to the front door with the phone in her hand. She put on the front porch light and looked through the eyehole. She was dressed in her nightgown and a pink robe.
“Who is it?”
“Ma’am, I am from the Sacramento Police Department on official business,” the female officer said. “We have something we need to discuss with you. We are very sorry for the late hour, but this cannot wait. Here is my badge. There are two of us here.”
Antoinette could see a badge of sorts through the eyehole of her door. The man, standing behind her, was dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie. The woman was wearing the familiar-looking blue uniform of the Sacramento Police Department.
“Ma’am, we don’t mean to alarm you but we do have to discuss this matter with you,” the officer said again.
“Just a minute.”
Antoinette turned away from the door and spoke into her phone.
“I don’t like this, Kathy. Maybe it’s about your father. They look like they are here on official business.”
“I am still on the line with the operator on the 911 call and they are checking on things. But if they have identification, it’s probably okay to open the door.”
She turned back to the still-closed front door.
“All right. I will tell you that I have my daughter on the phone and she is on the phone with the police right now.”
“That’s fine, ma’am. We understand.”
Antoinette opened the front door of her house just an inch or two. The two individuals were standing back from the door and just waited for her. She opened the door a little more and looked out. The two did not move. They had serious expressions on their faces. She could see the familiar-looking black and white patrol car with a blue shield parked on the street directly behind them.
“We are very sorry to be bothering you, ma’am, at this late hour,” the officer said. “We understand your concern. But we do need to talk with you.”
“Okay. You may come in.”
She opened the door fully and the two entered, slowly.
“Ma’am, you are Mrs. Robert Tilson, is that correct?”
“Yes, that is right. How did you know that?”
“Ma’am, it would be best if we could sit down for a moment,” the officer said. “Would that be okay?”
“Oh no. It’s Bob, isn’t it? Is he okay?”
Antoinette pulled the robe closer to her body and her eyes misted. The man in the dark suit sat down first on the sofa and the female officer sat next to him. Antoinette kept the phone in her hand and walked over to a chair but remained standing.
“Kathy, can you hear me.”
“Yes, Mom, I can hear you.”
“Ma’am, I am Deputy Coroner Jack Livingston,” the man said. “This is Officer Fran Stevens. I’m afraid we have some bad news. It’s about your husband.”
He paused for a moment and continued to look at Mrs. Tilson.
“I think it would be best if you sat down.” She did.
“Ma’am, your husband has died. I am so sorry to be telling you this.”
“Yes ma’am. Actually he was killed.”
“Yes ma’am. He was killed this evening in his office.”
“Oh no. That can’t be. That just can’t be. I spoke to him earlier this evening. He was at his office and was going to work late.”
Antoinette leaned her head on the side of the chair and wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her robe.
“Yes ma’am. I afraid that is the fact. He was found in his office. We verified that it was Judge Tilson by the identification in his wallet that we found on him, as well as the other identifying evidence in his office. In addition, one of the officers who was at the scene, made a positive identification. I think he knew your husband from some prior cases.”
Antoinette buried her head in the robe, her elbows on her thighs. Her crying starting slowly and then she was gasping for air. The female police officer came over to her and put her arm around Antoinette’s shoulder.
“We’ve been married for so long. I just can’t believe this. He was a good man. Do you know that?”
She wasn’t speaking to anybody in particular but was crying loudly while she spoke. Finally, all three could hear a woman’s voice on the other end of the phone. It was yelling.
“Mom, can you hear me? Are they saying Dad has been killed?”
Antoinette reached for the phone which had fallen on the floor. She put it to her ear.
“Yes dear, they say your father is dead.”
The deputy coroner spoke up.
“Ma’am, it might be helpful if we spoke with your daughter.”
Antoinette gave the phone to him.
“Ma’am, this is Deputy Coroner Jack Livingston, from the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office. I am here with your mother and with Officer Fran Stevens, from the Sacramento Police Department. I am very sorry to be telling you this, but we have just informed your mother that her husband was killed this evening. I am very sorry, ma’am, for you and your mother. But, if it is possible for you to come and be with your mother right now, that would be very good. I have no idea where you live, but it would be helpful for you to come right away.”
“My father was killed? He’s the one on television?”
“Yes ma’am. I am so sorry.”
“I don’t live that far away. I will come over right now. Can you stay there for a few minutes until I get there?”
“Yes, we will do that.”
“Good. Could you please put my mother back on the phone?”
“Yes, certainly,” the deputy coroner said. Kathy could hear some light rustling noise.
“Mom, I am coming right over. Just stay with the officers. It shouldn’t take me more than ten minutes.”
Antoinette didn’t say a word, as she dropped the phone into her lap.
“Maybe, I could get you a glass of water, ma’am?”
Antoinette didn’t respond. She just sat in her chair, her head to one side, and cried. Her robe absorbed her tears.
The deputy coroner looked around and went off in search of the kitchen and a glass of water. He returned in a couple of minutes and handed the glass to Antoinette. She waived him away.
years. He spent twelve years with the Public Defender’s Office and
twenty-five years as a business litigator.
He now serves full-time as a mediator and arbitrator. He has written three previous Mike Zorich novels and has been recognized by Chanticleer Book Reviews as a First Prize Category Winner in the legal genre of the Mystery and Mayhem competition and as a finalist in the Thriller and Suspense competition.
You can visit Ken’s website at https://kenmalovos.com/.