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Read the Excerpt: Nothing to Lose by J.A. Jance

Nothing to Lose Excerpt_A J.P. Beaumont NovelPROLOGUE

“HEY, BABE,” MEL CALLED TO ME FROM THE BATHROOM DOORWAY, “the shower isn’t draining, and neither is the toilet.”

At six thirty on a cold, dark winter morning, those were ominous words indeed, and for more than one reason. In some relationships being addressed as “babe” might be regarded as a term of endearment. Coming from Mel Soames, however, the word landed with the same impact as when, without ever raising her voice, my mother used to address me as Jonas Piedmont Beaumont. In those instances, and in this one as well, it was time for me to wake up and smell the coffee.

I didn’t make the strategic mistake of getting out of bed to go see for myself or of asking, “Are you sure?” If Mel said that was the situation, that was the situation. Nor did I caution her to avoid flushing again. My wife happens to be a very smart woman, and my offering her unneeded advice is never a good idea.

Her words were worrisome for another reason, and that’s this: I am not now nor have I ever been a handyman. Yes, I’ve seen all those America’s Funniest Home Videos clips where the kids yell, “Hey, Dad, there’s water coming out of the bathroom!” The panicked father races to the scene only to discover that his rug rats have set out a long line of plastic water bottles marching in single file from an open bathroom door and out into a hallway. The disgruntled father is left muttering a series of bleeped-out words while the happy pranksters double over with laughter. That joke might be funny on TV but not in my own bedroom and certainly not at that ungodly hour of the morning.

With Mel still occupying the bathroom, I crawled out of bed and headed for the kitchen. When Mel and I purchased and remodeled our sixty-five-year-old Mid-Century Modern home, I had no idea that the house came with radiant heat throughout. As I padded from the bedroom to the kitchen, I was grateful for the comforting warmth of the heated flooring on my bare feet. A check of the kitchen sink showed no sign of a backup there, and so, with a thankful heart, I turned on the coffee machine.

While our DeLonghi Magnifica put itself through its morning warm-up exercises, I turned around expecting to find Sarah, our recently adopted Irish wolfhound, at my side and ready to go do her morning necessaries. She was nowhere in sight. When I went looking, I found her still in the bedroom, curled up in a ball and snoozing away in her toasty nest next to my side of the bed.

Before I go any further, a word about dogs. I’m not a lifetime dog lover. The dog that had dragged me into this new and relatively unfamiliar territory was another Irish wolfhound named Lucy. Mel serves as the chief of police in Bellingham, Washington, north of Seattle. She’s still gainfully employed while I am a not-so-happily-retired househusband. Lucy came into our lives in the aftermath of a domestic-violence incident in Mel’s jurisdiction. When the battered wife took her children and fled to a shelter situation, they were unable to take Lucy with them, so Mel ended up bringing her home.

After years of chasing bad guys first for Seattle PD and later for the attorney general’s Special Homicide Investigation Team, aka SHIT, I have now become the person tasked with keeping hearth and home in order. As a consequence Lucy became my responsibility, a job I grudgingly accepted but only with a good deal of griping and a singular lack of grace. All that changed, of course, when the abusive husband from the domestic-violence incident got out of jail on bail and came gunning for Mel—knifing for her, actually, rather than gunning. When the chips were down, Lucy had come racing to Mel’s defense at considerable harm to herself. If that isn’t enough to turn a guy into a dog lover, I don’t know what is.

I would have been happy to keep Lucy permanently, but that wasn’t in the cards. Mel and I might have fallen for her, but once Lucy met our new granddaughter, Athena, Lucy voted with her paws and made her preferences clear. We might have loved Lucy, but Lucy loved Athena, and that’s where she is now, living with Athena and her other grandfather in Jasper, Texas. But by the time we gave up Lucy, Mel and I both knew there was bound to be another dog in our lives sooner or later. When “sooner” arrived, we took pains to locate another wolfie.

Sarah is a former mommy-dog rescued from a now-shuttered puppy mill outside Palm Springs. Lucy was coal black. Sarah is a whitish gray—white when she’s dry, gray when she’s wet. The first time I saw her, I thought I was seeing Lucy’s ghost.

We had adopted Sarah in early October, but since she’d spent most of her life living in a metal shed giving birth to one litter of puppies after another, she had no social skills and almost no muscle control in her hindquarters, leaving her rear end so weak that she could barely stand. After arriving in Washington, Sarah had spent six weeks at the Academy for Canine Behavior in Woodinville, regaining her physical strength and learning how to be a family dog with some basic command training thrown in on the side. She finally came home to live with us only a couple of weeks earlier on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

As with Lucy, since I’m Sarah’s primary caregiver, she’s now clearly my dog as opposed to our dog—and her side of the bed happens to be my side of the bed, so that’s exactly where she was when I went looking for her. Lucy always bounded up and out the moment my feet hit the floor. Sarah is your basic slugabed and has to be coaxed into rising and shining, especially on cold winter mornings.

“Out,” I ordered, pointing at the door. Sarah delivered a series of sleepy-eyed blinks before slowly unfurling her very long legs. Once upright, she gave me a floppy-eared shake of her head as if to voice a personal objection on being rudely awakened before sauntering reluctantly out of the bedroom. Due to her Southern California roots, Sarah does not like the cold, so I followed along to make sure she didn’t take an unexpected detour somewhere along the way. After all, at that very minute it was cold indeed in our corner of western Washington, even for people who are relatively acclimated to winter weather.

Two days earlier what meteorologists refer to as a polar vortex had plunged a long knife of frigid weather down through British Columbia and into the United States, with Bellingham right on its westernmost edge. At the same time, what our weather gal calls a “Pineapple Express” was rolling in off the Pacific, bringing with it drenching rains all up and down the West Coast. The two opposing weather patterns had merged somewhere north of Seattle, resulting in blizzard conditions that had brought our small city to a complete standstill.

Mel’s and my house on Bayside Road in the city’s Fairhaven neighborhood sits on a bluff overlooking Bellingham Bay. Because we’re so close to the water, we’re usually in a banana-belt situation as far as snow is concerned—usually, but not this time around. If it hadn’t been for the all-wheel drive on Mel’s Interceptor, she wouldn’t have been able to make it up and down our driveway. My S-Class Mercedes is an older model 4Matic, but when it comes to driving on snow and ice, I’m not especially proficient, and as much as possible I try to avoid driving and walking in that kind of weather.

The previous morning, before the snowstorm hit, it had already been icy cold outside. When I sent Sarah out into our frigid back- yard to do her thing, I assumed she’d completed the job. That was an error on my part. Sarah evidently likes walking on icy-cold ground as much as I do. A lot later in the day, I learned she had avoided freezing her huge but dainty paws by leaving an Irish- wolfhound-size gift for me under the roofline of the front porch. Rather than walk around the house to the proper receptacle, I had resorted to the lazy man’s shortcut of flushing the by-then-frozen pile of doodoo down the guest-room toilet. Standing in the kitchen the next morning and waiting for the coffee to brew, I should have been smart enough to put two and two together and figure out what had happened with the plumbing, but as I mentioned earlier, I’m no handyman.

After filling Mel’s and my thermal mugs with coffee, I made a pit stop of my own in the powder room without attempting to flush. Then I picked up my iPad and found the number for Roto-Rooter in the home-vendors section of my contacts list. That’s another side issue of owning a home that dates from the middle of a previous century. It’s a good idea to have a talented plumbing guy and an electrician or two on speed dial.

By the time I’d managed to get an ETA on the plumber, Mel was dressed and having her typical on-the-go breakfast, which generally consists of a piece of buttered toast accompanied by a couple slices of pepper-jack cheese.

“What’s on your agenda for the day?” I asked, joining her on an adjacent stool at the kitchen island.

“A working lunch with the mayor at noon,” she replied, “and a city-council meeting this evening, unless they call it off due to weather. The trucks are out plowing and spreading sand, but the streets are impassable again almost as soon as the plows are gone. You probably didn’t hear them,” she added, “but they already did our street and driveway.”

“Rank hath its privileges,” I observed.

She gave me a beaming smile. “It certainly does,” she agreed. “When’s the cold streak supposed to end?” I asked. “Tomorrow,” she answered, “but don’t hold your breath. It’s going to warm up tomorrow or the next day, but before that happens, they’re predicting another record snowstorm.”

“Great,” I grumbled. “Alternating layers of snow and ice. Looks like I’ll be settling in for a long winter’s nap.”

Mel gathered her coat, purse, and coffee and then on her way out stopped by where I was sitting.

“As long as you’re stuck at home,” she suggested, giving me a wifely good-bye peck on my cheek, “why don’t you think about putting up the Christmas decorations?”

She said it with a smile and a kiss. It was more of a hint than an order, but once again, just as with the water problem in the bathroom, I knew I needed to pay attention.


LARS JENSSEN, WHO STARTED OUT AS MY AA SPONSOR AND ended up becoming my stepgrandfather after marrying my widowed grandmother, used to tell me, “We get too soon old and too late smart.” I like to think I wised up before it was too late. That’s why, once I finished my morning coffee and my daily roster of crossword puzzles, I got my rear in gear and set about dealing with the Christmas decorations, starting by hauling a dozen or so boxes in from the garage.

Supposedly we have a three-car garage. That’s what the real-estate agent told us. The reality is somewhat different. Once we came to Bellingham and Mel had the use of a company car, she had unloaded the Porsche I’d given her years earlier. So now one of the three bays holds my S-Class Mercedes and one holds Mel’s Police Interceptor, while the third bay is devoted solely to Christmas— Mel’s doing rather than mine.

The Christmas-only space in our garage is a direct result of Mel’s lifelong conflict with her father. She grew up as an army brat and

always had a problematic relationship with her dad, who retired as a full-bird colonel. He’s gone now, and I’m more than happy to take her word for it that he wasn’t a pleasant person. For him Christmas was nothing but an annoying afterthought. Naturally Mel begs to differ.

When she divorced her first husband and moved to Seattle to go to work for SHIT, she drove cross-country towing a U-Haul trailer loaded with—you guessed it—her vast collection of Christmas decorations, which for years were stowed in a rented storage unit. After we married, whenever it came time to decorate our condo for Christmas, Mel would go to the storage facility and come traipsing home with a collection of boxes that turned our high-rise condo into a winter wonderland that the grandkids absolutely adored. The whole family loved it, yours truly included, but I couldn’t help but wonder how she did it, because each year the end result seemed to be totally different from the year before. The reality of the situation didn’t come into focus for me until after our move to Bellingham. That’s when she shut down the storage unit and transferred her amazing collection to our garage.

Mel is nothing if not organized. The boxes are loaded onto four heavy-duty rolling shelving units. The three boxes contain- ing the pre-lit tree are pretty much self-explanatory: top, middle, and bottom, with the tree skirt neatly folded in the one labeled “Bottom.” The rest of the otherwise identical moving boxes are labeled on every visible side: “Red Balls,” “Silver Balls,” “White Balls,” “Blue Balls,” “Poinsettias, one Red and one White,” “Holly Sprigs,” “Ribbons,” “Bows,” “Angels,” “Santas,” “Nutcrackers,” “Christmas Linens,” and “Wreaths.” As I surveyed the assortment of boxes, I realized this was like one of those gigantic Lego sets my grandson, Kyle, loves so much. Everything I needed was there— some assembly required.

Since I didn’t remember seeing blue ornaments on any previous tree display, and since blue is my favorite color, I chose the box labeled “Blue Balls.” It seemed to me that white poinsettias would be a good bet with blue balls, so I took down a box of those as well as ones labeled “Angels,” “Santas,” and “Nutcrackers.” I also set aside boxes marked “Christmas Linens” and “Ribbons.” After hauling all those inside, I went to work.

Before Karen and I divorced, I remember Christmas decorating mostly as an ordeal of organized chaos. I wasn’t exactly encouraged to participate, and for good reason. Because I’m over six feet and Karen was only five-five, it was usually my job to install the angel at the top of the tree, a task that was always accomplished after the tree was fully decorated. One year, having had a bit too much holiday spirit (I believe I already mentioned I’ve been in AA for years now), I came to grief with the ladder, and so did the tree, right along with a large number of decorations. Karen started speaking to me again sometime after New Year’s, and from then on my help with the angel was no longer required.

This year, doing the job on my own and determined not to repeat that disaster, I decided to put the angel on the top of the tree before I put the tree together. I unloaded the angels from their box, lined them up on the kitchen island, and picked out one with a blue skirt. Then, using a pair of zip-ties, I fastened that angel to the top in a fashion that I doubt even an earthquake could dislodge. Only then did I finish putting the tree together. Fortunately, all those little multicolored LED lights lit right up without the slightest hesitation. I was somewhat disappointed when I opened up the box labeled “Blue Balls.” What I’d had in mind was something truly blue— royal blue, I suppose you’d call it. These were more turquoise than deep blue—some shiny and some frosted. I didn’t use all the balls in the box, but I think I hung most of them. Then I filled in the blanks on the tree with dozens of white poinsettia blossoms and punctuated those with a flock of silver bows and ribbons.

I was standing there asking Sarah what she thought of my decorating job. (Yes, I do talk to my dog when no one else is around.) That’s when the doorbell rang. Sarah beat me to the door, but due to our security system’s monitor in the entryway hall, I knew without cracking the door that the person pressing the bell was Ken, our regular Roto-Rooter guy, come to present his bill.

After putting Sarah on a sit-and-stay command, I opened the door. “All done?” I asked.

“Yup,” Ken said.

“What was it,” I asked, “a tree root of some kind?”

Ken glanced at me and then sent a reproachful glare in Sarah’s direction. “I wish,” he said. “By the time I was able to scope it, it looked to me as though someone had tried to flush a gigantic dog turd down a toilet. The damned thing got hung up on an ice dam in the main sewer pipe and stopped everything cold—at this point very cold,” he added with a chuckle. “Fortunately, I finally managed to break it up. That’ll be three-fifty—card, cash, or check?”

I used my Amex and paid the $350 with a happy heart, grateful as all hell that Mel hadn’t been home to hear the cause and effect, both of which, as it turns out, were entirely my fault. Then I went back to decorating. I lined up the angels, Santas, and nutcrackers on the kitchen island in preparation to actually distributing them. Then I opened the linens box. The top layer of that was a selection of holiday-themed guest towels. I knew from past experience that those needed to be rolled up and put in the basket on the counter in the powder room. Then I sorted through the holiday tablecloths, runners, and doilies. Once I had those on various flat surfaces throughout the house, I deployed the angels, nutcrackers, and Santas, placing them in sad little groupings of three, like so many trios of mismatched carolers.

It wasn’t exactly the elegant effect Mel usually produces. My results were more ham-fisted than beautiful, but I figured Mel could do some embellishing once she got home. In the meantime, giving my- self a pat on the back, I settled with a newly made cup of coffee into my favorite chair by the gas-log fireplace to survey my handiwork.

The whole process had become more or less a meditation on Christmases past, first the memory of that Christmas-tree screwup with Karen and the kids and then going all the way back to Christmases when I was a kid. My mother was a World War II–era unwed mother. She was engaged to my father and pregnant with me when he died in a motorcycle accident. Rather than give me up for adoption, she had—against her father’s wishes—chosen to keep me and raise me on her own. We lived in a small two-bedroom apartment over a bakery in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. She supported us by working as a seamstress, making clothing on a treadle Singer sewing machine next to a worktable that took up a good third of her bedroom.

Naturally she was always busiest in November and December as clients wanted new duds for holiday events. On many of those cold winter nights, she was still up working long after I went to bed, but at some point she’d be done, and the next morning something magical would have happened. I’d come out of my bedroom and find that the living room and dining room had been transformed overnight into a Christmas wonderland. We always went to church on Christmas Eve and then hung our stockings on the mantel of our nonworking fireplace. Christmas morning both of our stockings would be filled, but it wasn’t until after I was old enough to get a job as an usher at the Bagdad Theatre that she finally opened her stocking on Christmas morning to find something she herself hadn’t put there.

I was sitting there, half drifting and half dozing, thinking about what an unsung hero my mother had been, when the doorbell rang again. Since I wasn’t expecting any visitors, I thought maybe Ken had come back to give me a revised bill of some kind, but the security screen in the hallway revealed the presence of a stranger wearing a long woolen coat—unusual in the Pacific Northwest— and carrying what appeared to be an old-fashioned satchel. He was a handsome-looking guy in his late twenties or early thirties. The distinctive white collar around his neck told me he was also most likely a priest. That made me wonder. Was the local Catholic parish dispatching priests out to pass collection plates door-to-door these days?

I sent Sarah back to the living room, ordering her to wait on the rug before I opened the door. Thanks to her academy training, she did exactly as she was told.

“May I help you?” I asked the stranger out front. “Detective Beaumont?” he said.

People who know me now don’t call me that, so obviously this was a voice out of my past.

“Yes,” I replied uncertainly.

“You probably don’t remember me. I’m Jared,” he said, “Jared Danielson—Father Danielson now. I hope you’ll forgive me for stopping by without calling first.”

The name “Jared Danielson” took my breath away and opened a window on one of the darkest days of my life. I needed a moment to gather myself after that. It had been close to twenty years since I’d last seen him.

“Why, of course, Jared, you’re more than welcome,” I said hastily, offering him my hand and ushering him into the house. “So good to see you. How are you, and what are you doing these days?”

He stepped inside and stood there on the entryway rug, stomping off the ice and snow that had clung to his boots. “I’m here because I need your help, Detective Beaumont,” he said.

The last time I’d seen Jared Danielson was years earlier when he’d been a lanky kid of thirteen who had just lost his mother. Now he was a well-built grown man, but a shadow of that long-ago tragedy still lingered in his eyes.

“Call me Beau,” I told him. “I stopped being Detective Beaumont a long time ago. Come have a seat and a cup of coffee while you tell me what you’ve been up to since I saw you last. Black or cream and sugar?”

“Black is fine,” he said.

As I walked Jared Danielson into the house, it seemed as though all my recently installed holiday cheer had instantly vanished. Suddenly I was traveling through time and space into a very dark place in my life, headed somewhere I definitely didn’t want to go—a hell I had visited in nightmares countless times through the intervening years.

First there is an explosion of gunfire from somewhere out of sight. When nothing more happens, I realize the bad guy is dead and turn back to check on my partner. Shot in the gut, a bloodied Sue Danielson sits leaning against a living-room wall. She is holding my backup Glock in one hand, with the weapon resting on her upper thigh. As I watch in horror, her fingers slowly go limp and the gun slips soundlessly to the floor.

In real life that’s when I knew for sure that Sue was gone. Her ex, Richard Danielson, had shot her dead.

From the book NOTHING TO LOSE: A J.P. Beaumont Novel by J.A. Jance. Copyright © 2022 by J.A. Jance. To be published on February 22, 2022 by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

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