Click here for an excerpt of WAKE UP DEAD, the first C.B. Jonnes suspense novel, now in its second printing.
When Seth woke, he was still on his back in the grubby hallway. A big-boned black woman he recognized later as his neighbor Charlene was leaning over him, pressing a towel to his face. Suddenly recalling the struggle a minute earlier, he flailed out in panic. The surprisingly strong woman held him down firmly.
"Whoa there, Mister. I might be ugly, but I ain't Mike Tyson and you ain't the Great White Hope. You proved that well enough. Just lie there and relax. Help is on the way."
Seth stopped thrashing around, but went ahead and sat up despite the neighbor's protests. He leaned his back against the wall his head had tried to move a few minutes earlier. He took control of the towel, pulling it away from his face long enough to see that it was blood-soaked.
"That nose is broke for sure," Charlene said, kneeling next to him.
Seth grunted in assent, taking mental inventory of his various injuries. The bloody nose was most obvious. His free hand located a good-sized lump atop his head where it struck the wall. The skin had held; his fingers came back dry. His heavy wool shirt prevented abrasions on his elbows during the fall, but they hurt anyway. Bruises would appear later. The worst pain centered in his chest and abdomen where the mysterious intruder had tackled him. It hurt to breathe or move; both of which were hard to avoid for long. He looked at Charlene and saw her wincing in unison with him.
A man who'd quietly climbed the stairs, presumably curious about the commotion above, peeked up the hallway at them, then quickly retreated. Charlene yelled after him: "I've got it under control here, Dexter. No reason for you to get involved. Thanks for your help." Then, to Seth she added, "The worthless scumbag."
Seth recognized him as another neighbor, but wasn't as bothered as Charlene seemed to be. It was a cold city with plenty of crime; many were reluctant to get involved.
"I'm your neighbor," the woman offered.
"I've seen you," Seth said. He realized he wasn't being generous with words, considering she was only trying to help, but he wished none of this had happened. He'd managed to live there a year without having to meet anyone. And now this. Then he remembered the name on her mailbox downstairs. "You're Jackson," he said.
"That's right. Charlene Jackson. I'm flattered you took notice of my name. And you're Peterson in Number 4. Glad to finally meet you."
He raised two fingers in a weak wave and decided it was time to get inside the apartment and out of the limelight. He started to rise.
"Oh no you don't, Peterson," she said, gently applying a hand to each of his shoulders, but holding him in place like a concrete wall. "I called the police when I heard the thumping out here. They'll be arriving within the hour, I guess. Let's wait for them."
Seth didn't like that. "I don't need any cops."
No sooner had he spoken than he heard a siren wailing up the street, stopping out in front of the building.
Charlene Jackson shrugged at him. "Too late now, honey. Hope I didn't cause you more trouble than you've already got."
Seth grunted and shook his head.
A minute later two cops marched up the staircase, not in any particular hurry. The first to appear was a well-built white man in his late twenties. He had a hand on his gun holster, at the ready, and moved quickly yet stealthily along the opposite wall toward them.
"The bad guy got away," Charlene said. "If you'd actually come when I called, you might have caught him."
The all-business officer sneaked a careful peek into Seth's open doorway, as though wishing to prove to his own satisfaction that the threat had passed. He slipped inside the apartment and disappeared without saying anything to them.
The second cop, a mid-fortyish black man with a potbelly and standard-issue cop mustache had reached the second floor and responded to Charlene: "We were doing undercover work on a gang of serial jaywalkers, or we'd have been here sooner."
He stopped at Seth's feet and looked over the scene. "You two have a domestic here?"
His neighbor laughed. "I don't go much for white guys," she said, "although I'm willing to make an exception with Mr. Peterson here. If this were my man, there'd be no time for disputes. He's cute--at least he used to be."
Seth's face turned red beneath the towel and smeared blood.
"I live next door here," she said, pointing down the hall. "I called in a burglary. I assume you already know that."
Cop One reappeared from the apartment. "Clear," he said. Dropping to one knee, he looked closely at Seth's injuries. "He'll live," he said after finishing his cursory examination, "but you'd better call in a 10-52, George. The nose could be broke, and he could have a rib."
"What's a 10-52?" Seth asked.
Now George did all the talking. "We'll call an ambulance for you." He reached for his collar-mounted radio and mumbled "10-52" and something else unintelligible.
"I don't need an ambulance."
"Just for your safety, sir."
"I won't go with them."
The cops looked at him strangely, and then at each other. "Let's see what the EMTs say first," George said. "Do you live here?" He tossed his head toward Seth's open door as he took out a pencil and notepad.
"What's your name?"
George looked up from his notepad. "Is that like Liberace, or do you have a last name too?"
"How long have you lived here?"
"You say you were coming home from work. Where's that?"
"National Ice Center."
"You guys deliver?"
"We track icebergs."
"A lot of call for that here in D.C., is there?"
Seth ignored him.
"Why don't you tell me what happened then?"
Charlene started in. "Well, I heard some awful big thumps--"
George cut her off. "Let's hear from the victim first, ma'am."
Seth thought for a second. "I came home from work and found the door unlocked--or opened somehow. I walked in and surprised this guy robbing the place. He got anxious to leave and plowed me over on his way out. That's about it."
"You don't know him?"
"What's he look like?"
"You got in a few shots of your own?"
"One good elbow."
"Uh huh," George said, taking notes. "Would that have been to the thorax or the head?"
"Black guy?" Cop One asked.
"White guy," Seth said.
The ambulance arrived and the EMTs, a young male-female tandem team, approached them, ridiculously overloaded. They studied him as the interview continued.
"How old?" George said.
"Maybe thirty, thirty-five."
"How big was he?"
"About my size. I didn't get a good look at him."
"Anything memorable about him? Long hair? Beard? Tattoos? Scars? Piercings? Weird clothes?"
"No, just normal."
"That is normal around here."
"Then he was from out of town."
"Call in the description, Dwayne," George said to his partner.
"Did you see him?" he asked Charlene.
"No. He was gone by the time I got out here."
"So you heard a ruckus and called it in."
"Right. I knew he wasn't dropping groceries out here. Somebody hit my wall there." She pointed where Seth's head hit. "I thought they were coming right through."
The male EMT stood. "I'll get the stretcher."
"Wait," Seth said. "I won't go to the hospital. I already told these guys that."
The EMTs looked at the cops and then at Seth. The woman spoke up. "Look, sir. Your nose is broken and--"
"What are they going to do about that?" Seth asked.
"Tape it up with a splint."
"I can tape it up."
"Well, you've got a rib or two that may be fractured, but we can't be sure without x-rays."
"No bones are sticking out. They're cracked at best. All the doctor is going to do is tape those up too, and send me home with a huge bill."
"It's just to be safe," she said. "Besides, they'll give you painkillers. Ribs hurt."
"I've got tequila. Forget it. I'm not going. You can't make me, can you?"
The cops looked to the EMTs for a ruling on whether the severity of his injuries justified overriding his right to choose. The woman shook her head reluctantly.
George shrugged in response, and the EMTs packed up and left.
"Was the guy carrying anything?" he said after the EMTs had lumbered away.
"Not that I saw. Couldn't have been anything big if he was."
"Do you have any valuables he could have been after? Cash? Drugs? Weapons?"
"There isn't anything in there worth more than fifty bucks. Except maybe my computer, and he surely wasn't carrying that."
"If you're all healthy then, Mr. Peterson, why don't we look inside and see whether anything is missing."
Seth struggled to his feet with help from Charlene and Dwayne, noticing that the nosebleed had slowed to a trickle. His head throbbed and his torso ached when he stood, but he did it without complaint to avoid giving the cops second thoughts about the hospital.
They all stepped into Seth's apartment, including Charlene, who must have felt her involvement thus far allowed or required it. Dwayne wordlessly stopped her just inside the door. She called out, saying, "Seth, if you need me, I'm right across the hall, okay?" Then she turned in a huff and headed home.
While George did a quick visual inspection of the living room, Dwayne inspected the door for clues to the intruder's manner of entrance. The door handle was locked and the deadbolt still extended, but holes in the doorjamb and bits of splintered wood on the floor indicated that the locked door had been simply forced open. "Nothing fancy," he said.
George agreed. "These doors are awfully weak. Probably just laid a shoulder or boot to it."
They looked in the kitchen next. The drawers had all been pulled and left open. Otherwise, there was nothing unusual to see. The living room seemed untouched.
His bedroom was another matter. It was completely ransacked. To get in they had to climb over the pile of stuff the burglar had thrown into the hall. Giving the heap a wary eye, George said, "Looks like a process of elimination here. Are you sure you didn't have valuables in here? You see anything missing?"
"No, nothing," Seth said. "Probably just a random burglary. Broke in and figured I stashed my cash in the bedroom. That's all I can figure."
The cops headed for the exit. "You're probably right," George said, "but your description of the perp doesn't exactly fit the standard neighborhood profile, and from the looks here, he was after something more specific. We'll write up our report. If you think of anything else, give us a call."
They stepped into the hall and aimed for the stairs. Seth stepped out to watch them go.
Dwayne suddenly stopped and spoke. "It's him."
George looked at him.
"It's him," he said again, nodding his head toward Seth. "The Shy Samaritan. Seth Peterson. I recognize the name now."
They both looked at Seth, and he could feel the flush building.
As he stepped backward into his apartment, he heard George say "Well, I'll be damned" just before the door swung shut.