The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming. Psalm 37:12-13
Two hours crouched behind a reeking dumpster on a dead-end San Diego street must be the worst possible way to spend a balmy Saturday night. Private Investigator, Lela Ortiz, stretched and massaged her taut neck muscles.
Heavy-metal music pumped out of the open living room windows of the suspect’s house. When would the rowdy party end?
The raid they’d been working on for more than a week had to go down tonight, or the life of a nineteen-year-old girl with a severe medical condition could be lost forever. If they didn’t rescue her now, she would surely end up bruised and broken. Perhaps dead. The tight burn scars on Lela’s torso pinched as if they had a mind of their own. At a minimum, dead inside. Like Lela.
She stood and slowed her breathing, a martial arts technique she’d perfected in recent years. Patience was not one of her virtues, but the exercise lowered her stress level.
According to the last check of her watch, another half-hour crept by before the partygoers stumbled down the front steps of the aged house scheduled for demolition in the morning. In the darkness, Lela pressed her back against the warped clapboard siding of the residence. Peeling paint flaked off in her hand.
She counted the people as they staggered down the street or crawled into vehicles. Four. Five. Six.
Where was the last one? From the shadows, she peeked around the corner and almost collided with number seven. Flattening herself against the wall, she reached for her holster.
Drunk, or high, the burly man squinted at her. The streetlight strobed across his whiskered face. His brow wrinkled, and he stepped closer, sucking in a deep draw from his cigarette.
A gust of wind swirled smoke in Lela’s face. The pungent odor roiled her insides, raking up bitter memories. No! She refused to visit the past.
“Why you hiding here?” A puff of alcohol-laced air sprayed out with his slurred words.
Lela held her breath.
His presence at that precise moment could jeopardize the mission. She could silence him, but that would draw attention. Ignore him and—
“Hey. I’m talking to you.” The man flipped his cigarette butt into the dumpster.
“I…I’m waiting for Doug. He said he’d meet me here after the party.” Good enough to explain her lurking presence.
“Sly ol’ Dougie Polk.” A gruff laugh rumbled up from his beer belly. “Little blonde Chrissy inside and a cutie pie brunette out here. Good for him.” He wiggled his eyebrows. “Want me to keep you company while you wait?”
The music ceased abruptly.
Lela pointed toward the house. “I’m pretty sure Dougie wouldn’t like that. He’ll be coming out any minute.”
“Yeah. Too bad.” He turned away and waved over his shoulder. “Holler at me if you change your mind.” He stumbled down the street, laughter floating like a boozy cloud behind him.
She tapped her earpiece. “Hank, seven people left the house. That’s how many guests were inside, correct?”
From his station at the rear of the house, her teammate responded. “Yeah. But…”
Something in his faltering voice prickled her scalp. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Are you sure we don’t need backup?”
“Not if your recon was accurate. I’m relying on you.” Lela eyed a small dog across the street. Shoo, mutt. Please don’t bark. He sniffed the air before resuming his trek.
She blew out a sigh. “What’s your situation?”
Her partner’s voice crackled in her ear. “All’s quiet. Back door is still open. Doug and Chrissy are in the side bedroom. Are we going in?”
“Yes. Follow the plan. You enter the back while I take the front. We’ll meet in the bedroom. Remember, we want the girl unharmed.” Sliding her pistol out of its holster, she climbed the lopsided front steps. “On my count.” She drew in a breath. “One.” Exhaled. “Two.” Steadied her hand. “Three.” Another deep breath. “Go!” She turned the knob, nudged the door open. Gun raised, she scanned the hall.
A three-legged wooden chair was propped against the wall on uneven floorboards. In the living room a torn couch. Beer cans were strewn on the table. The kitchen held an overflowing trashcan. Dirty dishes were piled in the sink, spilling out onto the counter.
Agent Hank came into view as he crept along the other end of the hall. With a bob of his head, he indicated a door to his left.
Lela edged closer.
The low tones of the occupants’ conversation drifted out of the partially opened doorway. She strained to understand their words. Was either voice Chrissy’s? Clutching her weapon, Lela pointed it upward. They must succeed. No way would she let this alleged drug dealer leave with a sick young woman tonight, or stay with him and get hurt. Lela had worked for the International Retrieval Organization for five years and knew too much about what could happen when a vulnerable girl allowed a man like Doug into her life. Lela signaled Hank with a nod.
He opened the door, and she rushed in but halted immediately.
Chrissy was in a headlock with Doug holding a gun to her temple.
Drat. Lela and Hank had somehow advertised their presence.
“Stay back,” Doug said, maneuvering his pallid captive toward the window.
“There’s no way out.” Lela aimed at his head. “Let her go.”
He used Chrissy as a shield, holding her tight. She whimpered and clawed at Doug’s muscled forearm.
“I’m not leaving here without her.” Lela inched closer.
The unmade bed in one corner and the threadbare carpet faded into the background.
“She belongs to me.”
Lela narrowed her eyes. “Oh, no, she doesn’t.”
Short and stocky, this weasel stood mere inches taller than Chrissy.
His gaze shifted from Lela to Hank, and he broke into a sudden smirk. “You two better drop your weapons. My friend is behind you.”
Typical ploy. Pretend to have a companion. “Not gonna happen.”
But a deep voice intruded. “Do as Doug says.”
Lela froze. So much for Hank’s recon. Why’d she trust him? She willed her partner to use his training.
A grunt and thump.
The smile slithered off Doug’s face.
She tilted her head and fixed her gaze on him.
The unmistakable sounds of the fracas moved to the hall. Hank had engaged the surprise guest.
Her best option? A round house kick? One more step, and she’d be within reach. She swung her leg and connected with Doug’s elbow. The weapon discharged before he let go, the bullet whizzing over Chrissy’s head. His grip slackened, and the girl dropped to the bed.
The sound of Chrissy’s head thudding against the rough metal frame was followed by her shriek and a half dozen cuss words.
Doug staggered backward, off kilter. Lela kicked again, catching him in the chin this time. For a moment, he lay motionless. With a quick swipe of her foot, she booted his weapon away then secured his wrists with plasticuffs. Heaving a sigh, she turned to Chrissy, ready to offer comfort.
The wailing girl held a piece of clothing to her bleeding head.
A hand vise-gripped Lela’s arm. “Drop your weapon.” The same deep voice.
“Do it.” The muzzle of a gun prodded her back.
Lowering her arm in a pretense of releasing her pistol, she twisted around, but the guy countered with a punch to her face. Lela reeled backward, stumbling over the rumpled rug.
The pudgy man smirked, fists ready to pummel her again.
Bad move on his part. With a low growl, she lunged forward, landing a solid kick to his groin.
He doubled over.
Lela tightened her hand into a knife edge, and slammed it against the vagus nerve in his neck, rendering him disoriented long enough for her to secure his wrists.
A shadow crossed the doorway.
She raised her pistol.
Hank lurched in. “Sorry. He got away. You OK?”
“Yeah.” She holstered her weapon. “Call 911. Then meet me in the kitchen.”
Lela slid her arm around Chrissy. “You’re safe now. No one’s gonna hurt you. Come with me. Let’s check your injury.” She escorted the trembling young woman to the kitchen and gently set her in a chair. “I see a small scrape.” Lela packed a wad of paper towels over the wound. “It’ll bleed a bunch, but it’s not serious.”
Tall and wiry, Hank folded himself into another chair. “Ambulance and cops are on their way.”
“Good.” Lela pressed her lips together. With the threat neutralized, and Chrissy safe, she should be able to relax, but Hank’s mistake brought back too many memories. She buried her latent fear and struggled to keep her tone even. “You were responsible for the recon. I relied on your intel.” Chest rising and falling, she wiped sweat from her upper lip. Ouch. Her jaw would be swollen in no time.
Chrissy sucked in a deep, ragged breath, scowling at her rescuers. “Did my parents send you? Are they in San Diego?”
“Yes.” Lela swallowed. “Your folks are frantic. You need to take your meds.”
“How do they know I’m not?”
Puffing out his chest, Hank said, “IRO has resources—”
Lela thumped his shoulder. At that moment, she wished she could do way more. “Your prescription hasn’t been filled for several months. You might not feel bad now, but your condition will get worse.”
Discussion Questions for Day of Reckoning
1. Lela Ortiz has issues trusting other people, especially men. Why?
(A) Her husband’s abuse of her—mentally, emotionally, and finally physically—made her wary of all males.
2. What others ways, negative or positive, did her late husband’s treatment affect Lela’s present life?
(A) She turned her back on God, however, she learned Tae Kwando which increased her self confidence, and she helps other women who’ve been subjected to abuse.
3. Jay is confident in his faith, but his spiritual life evolves throughout the story. How?
(A) Jay has to learn to forgive himself for past actions.
4. Jay’s need to protect those he loves sometime backfires. How was this manifested?
(A) He blames himself when Sean is kidnapped, and has difficulty in allowing Lela to lead the investigation.
5. Spousal abuse in an ugly cancer in society and often goes unreported. Although not limited to women, why do you think the abuse goes unreported? Why don’t they just run away?
(A) Answers will vary. They are scared of retribution; don’t have access to money; worry about the children; have no place to go; have no skills to get a job.
6. Raising a child with special needs can cause tremendous strain on a marriage. Beth has already suffered a nervous breakdown. What support do Chuck and Beth rely on?
(A) Beth relies on Chuck, Jay, her mother, and the live-in teacher. Since Chuck is absent for most of the story, we are not privy to all his support, but we can assume he relies on Jay, the teacher, and his mother-in-law. Although not specifically mentioned, their church family probably offers support, too.
7. What traits does Lela bring to her IRO job that might have been forged in the fire of her relationship with her husband?
(A) She is dedicated, tenacious, self-reliant—which gets her into trouble with her boss—and sometimes has difficulty working with other agents.
8. What skills has Jay demonstrated that would aid his desire to become an IRO agent?
(A) His experience as a U. S. Marine means he can take orders, has been trained in self-defense, can analyze a situation. He is physically and emotionally strong. He wants to help and protect.
9. What helps Lela come to terms with her stalled relationship with Jesus?
(A) Jay’s unashamed acknowledgment of his faith spurs her on to reevaluate her past decisions. Jay is nonjudgmental, and only offers advise when asked. His revelation of a dark episode in his past allows Lela to see that he is not perfect, but he remains steadfast.
10. Lela and Jay are not together very long before they realize their mutual attraction. Does this work? Why or why not?
(A) Their relationship develops while they are involved in an intense investigation. Although there is a physical attraction, they don’t focus on this. There is too much at stake to be sidetracked.