Small town Canadian wife and mother, Valerie McCormick, witnesses the murder of two FBI agents in Seattle, identifies the killer as the head of a drug cartel, and ends up redefining herself to discover an inner strength she never knew she possessed. For when the FBI fails her, it's up to Valerie to reclaim her shattered life.
Dead Witness is the story of one woman's strength and courage.
Valerie agrees to testify never guessing that Mario DeOlmos will not only discover her identity, but will send men to Prince George to kill her. FBI agent Michael Canaday is assigned to protect Valerie. But in trying to save her life, he also destroys it. Separated from the family that defines her, she spirals into hopelessness. When everything she can sacrifice isn't enough to guarantee her children's safety, she takes matters into her own hands and hunts the hunter.
Camera in hand, Valerie McCormick stepped from the bus into intense daylight. She put on her sunglasses and crossed the grass to the edge of the hill. Seattle's skyline loomed in the distance like a giant sandcastle. Closer in, waves rocked elegant yachts, sailboats, and cruisers docked at brown scribbled wharves, jutting along the waterfront. Fifty feet below her, a chain linked fence enclosed acres of quiet warehouses, buildings, and small sheds in both directions. Just inside the gate was the marina office.
Glancing over her shoulder to the air-conditioned bus disappearing into traffic, Valerie took off her wind-breaker, zipped up the pocket with her wallet in it, and tied the jacket around her waist. The driver had warned that if she missed the bus at the stop across the street at ten to three, fifteen minutes from now, she'd have to wait an hour for the next one. No problem. She'd find the boat, snap several photographs--there was only one on this roll of film of her standing in front of the hotel--and be back at the bus stop in plenty of time.
Valerie slid sideways down the hill on the soles of her running shoes, walked through the gate, and stepped inside the marina office. The only person present, the man behind the counter, wore heavy green coveralls. Was he nuts?
He took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his neck and forehead. "You're the Canadian wanting to buy the 35' Bayliner?"
"Oh, no. It's way too expensive for our tastes. We own a very small logging company. I'm just here to take some photographs for one of my husband's clients."
He frowned. "You came all the way to Seattle to do that?"
Valerie laughed. "No. I won the trip. I'm just taking time out--" Noting his disinterest, she stopped trying to explain, pulled the clipping Ed had given her from her pants pocket, and recited the item number.
The man flipped through his ledger. "It's berthed at Pier 7."
"And that would be ...?"
He pointed in the opposite direction from her bus stop.
"How far is that exactly?"
"Halfway to the end. About 400 yards."
Valerie's whole body slouched. "That's ... lovely," she said, wishing she'd brought her hat. "Perfect day for a stroll."
The man refrained from agreeing. "This heat wave is freaky. Look, Labour Day weekend's not 'til tomorrow, business is dead, so I'm closing up early. This gate will be locked, but when you get to the end, you'll see a small pathway leading up to the street. Where are you parked?"
"I took the bus."
"Well, you'll have to follow the street back to here because the next bus stop's quite a walk."
She followed him outside. He locked the door to his office and pointed to the north end of the marina where it disappeared around a bend. "You can't miss the pier," he said over his shoulder. Valerie looked toward Pier 7. Because she was a serious runner without an ounce of fat anywhere, she was sure she could make it there and back in fifteen minutes, easy.
The first building she passed had a 'Back from Holidays Labor Day Weekend' sign on the door. Valerie stepped over discarded oil cans and trampled cardboard boxes. She thought of jogging past the next building, but the sun's heat left her feeling sluggish. In central B.C., the temperature had barely reached 27 degrees Celsius all summer. This was quite the contrast.
The air smelled of diesel, sea salt, and lavender, a nauseas mixture. She passed two empty buildings, the street above no longer visible. Clutching her camera, its strap around her wrist, she looked at the long line of warehouses and felt like somebody had taken a spoon and scooped out her insides. It was that hot. And she'd dressed for cool, rainy weather. She wet her dry lips and wiped the sweat from her forehead. Squawking seagulls circled the sky above.
Somewhere, a tugboat blasted its horn, while the hum of traffic seemed to drift further away.
Focus, she told herself. Focus on getting this over with so she'd be back in time for her bus. The splash of a jumping fish made her glance at the water, then up at the chain linked fence stretching across the base of the hill.
An open dumpster was positioned against the side of a building just ahead to her right. She batted at the circling flies and tossed the crumpled clipping into it as she passed. Her toe nudged a scrap of wood lying in front of her; she kicked it and followed its path as it twirled a few feet away. The whacking sound disrupted the stillness.
The length of one large warehouse ahead, a man in dark clothes appeared, then disappeared behind a small hut skirted with castaway motors and fishing boat parts. He'd tell her how much further to Pier 7. She pushed her sunglasses to the bridge of her nose and jogged toward where the man had disappeared.
Men's voices. She slowed to a walk.
Loud voices. She glanced along the row of vacant buildings and saw no detour. At the hut, she hesitated. Sweat trickled down her back.
This wasn’t how she’d pictured her afternoon.
More voices. Louder still. And angry.
A long, narrow building, beyond the small shed, blocked her view. Valerie inched past a rusty engine leaning against the hut and peeked around the corner. Two men in black tee shirts and black pants stood at the stern of the sleek cabin cruiser docked at the wharf. Three more men stood on the pier: One young, one old, one dangerously attractive. Facing her, she could see he was perfect, in fact. Except, why was he wearing a long, tan raincoat? Maybe she wasn’t the only unprepared foreigner.
No way would she interrupt their business.
Two of them walked away. Mr. Perfect, the handsome Latino in the tan raincoat, smiled after them. His sensuous, slightly accented voice broke the silence. "Gentlemen, please. It has been my experience that even in times of indecision, a solution exists." His arms spread wide as if to embrace them.
The two men stopped and turned back.
Still smiling, the Latino reached inside his raincoat and pulled out a gun.
Valerie gawked at him. She heard a pop.
The older man fell backward onto the wharf.
Pop. The young man's head exploded.
The man in the tan raincoat leaned down and fired a third bullet in the older man's head. The body twitched, then lay still.
Valerie's stomach lunged to her throat. She looked at the bodies, at the blood, at the man in the raincoat. Without looking about, he climbed aboard the cruiser.
The two men in black walked down the gangway carrying buckets. Valerie couldn't move. She couldn't blink. She stared with such focus, her eyes burned. She watched them tie something to the men's ankles. Watched as they rolled the bodies into the water and splashed the bucket contents across the wharf. Watched as they returned to the cruiser. One man disappeared under the fly bridge. The other climbed to the helm.
She inched backward, holding her breath. Her foot dislodged an empty oil can; her leg barely touched the motor--CRASH!
She jerked forward. The camera dropped to the ground.
The man at the helm turned. He yelled something in Spanish and pointed down at her.
The man from the helm slid down the ladder from the bridge, vaulted over the side of the cruiser, and landed with a thump on the wharf.
Her feet, obeying, scrambled backward; the toes of her running shoes dug into the grimy blacktop, and with a burst of adrenaline her body accelerated.
She heard a pop and felt a bullet zing past her head.
She ran, ran as hard as she could, passing the next vacant building, cornering left. Open water. A dead end!
Valerie spun around. Raced back to the warehouse. Footsteps pounded on the asphalt behind her, rapidly gaining ground, closer. Closer.
She ducked around the building. Spotted a broken two by four lying next to her. Grabbed it. Listened, gauging his steps. Heard his panting. And swung!
Before he hit the ground--she was gone, racing toward the next building, dodging behind another, crossing the yard.
She reached the path leading up to the highway. Gained the crest of the hill. Her legs throbbed; her lungs blazed. She dared a backward glance, heard him yelling, and saw him reach the last corner.
Another pop and a bullet whistled past her head.
She ran into the middle of the four-lane highway and waved frantically. "Stop!"
Two cars swerved around her, horns blaring.
The third screeched to a halt. She ran to the passenger side; the door was locked. She tugged at the door handle and gasped for air. "There's a man after me," she stammered. "Please!"
The middle-aged driver stared at her. She glanced back toward the hill. Then at the driver. Her eyes pleaded. He stomped on the gas and sped away; her fingers grazed the paint on his car. She felt the panic rising in her chest, swung around, and ran toward the skyscrapers of Seattle. She couldn't see the bus stop, couldn't risk running all the way back to find it. Traffic zoomed by. She zigzagged into the ongoing lane. Tires squealed.
A taxi pulled over. "Better jump in," he laughed. "Before you get yourself killed."
"Thank you, God," Valerie whispered and climbed into the back. "Please hurry."
The words police station stuck in her throat. Did she have a choice? "Uh--Downtown. Please."
The taxi rolled forward, waiting for an opening to join the traffic. She twisted around, peered out the back window, and saw her pursuer reach the sidewalk at the top of the hill. She couldn't see his gun.
He slumped forward and pressed his hands to his bent knees, his chest heaved. He scanned every direction until his eyes locked on her cab. Her heart leapt. A semi trailer moved between them.
The taxi darted in behind a car. The driver glanced over his shoulder at her.
Valerie trembled, thought of undoing the wind-breaker around her waist, but couldn't exert the effort. "Sure,” she said slouching in her seat, while images of the two dead men flashed before her. She nudged their images aside and folded her hands together on her lap. Then gagged.