Jesse Stone’s cruiser pulled up to the stop sign on Paradise Road, preparing to make a right turn onto Country Club Way.
A warm fall breeze blew gently through the cruiser’s open windows. The red and yellow leaves of the elms and maples fluttered haphazardly in the wind. Jesse raised his face to the early morning sun.
He noticed the car on his left, a late-model Audi A5 coupe,
come to a complete stop beside him. When the driver looked in his direction, Jesse nodded to him. The Audi pulled away and proceeded through the intersection. A Mercedes sedan barreled through the stop sign and broadsided the Audi. The Mercedes was doing at least fifty in a twenty-five-mile-per-hour zone.
The Audi collapsed into itself. The impact punched it off the road and into a ditch, where it bounced precariously a couple of times before sliding to an upright stop.
The alarm systems on both cars began to shriek. Front and side air bags deployed in a vicious rush of compressed air, pinning both drivers to their seats.
The Mercedes was driven by a young female. Jesse had seen her looking down as she ran the stop sign. She must have been texting.
He grabbed his cell phone and called the station.
Molly Crane answered.
“I’ve got a bad one at the corner of Paradise and Country Club. Send the entire sideshow. Ambulance. CSI unit. Hazmat team. Also Suitcase.”
“I’m on it, Jesse.”
“Oh, and call Carter Hansen, will you? Tell him I’ll be late.”
Jesse switched on the flashing light bar on top of his cruiser and inched closer to the accident. He stopped in front of the Audi, got out, and walked over to it.
The driver had been immobilized by the deployed air bags. He was sandwiched tightly between his seat and the bag.
He was middle- aged and overweight, wearing a navy blue sport jacket, a button- down white dress shirt, and a gray- and-pink polka-dot bow tie. A chevron-style mustache concealed his upper lip. He was unconscious.
Jesse called out to him.
“Can you hear me, sir?”
There was no response.
Jesse pulled open the door. He reached inside, disabled the alarm system, and used his Leatherman to deflate the air bags.
The man slumped back in his seat. Blood seeped from his nose.
Jesse checked for a pulse.
At least the guy was alive.
Jesse turned and stepped over to the Mercedes.
The teenage driver had also been pinned by the air bags. She wore a uniform bearing the insignia of one of Paradise’s best private schools. Unlike the other driver, she was awake and alert.
“Are you hurt,” Jesse said.
“I don’t think so,” she said.
“Just get me out of this fucking car,” she said.
Jesse looked at her. Satisfied that she wasn’t injured, he circled the Mercedes, checking for damage. Despite the intensity of the crash, the car was relatively intact. He opened the passenger-side door and spotted the item he was looking for.
He walked back to the cruiser, retrieved an evidence bag, then returned to the Mercedes. Slipping a rubber glove on his right hand, he reached beneath the still-inflated air bag and grabbed the iPhone from the car floor.
“What are you doing,” the girl said. “Why aren’t you getting me out of here?”
Jesse ignored her.
He bagged the phone and put it inside his cruiser.
When he returned to the Mercedes, the girl was attempting to wriggle her way out of it.
“Be easier if I deflate the air bags,” Jesse said.
“Then what are you waiting for,” she said.
Jesse poked the air bags with his Leatherman. He also disabled the alarm system. The quiet was a blessing.
Now freed, the young woman opened her door and started to get out.
Jesse pushed the door closed.
“Stay where you are until the medics arrive.”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” she said, struggling to open the door.
“I’m instructing you not to get out of the car until you’re seen by a medic.”
“I’m totally fine. Even a moron can see that.”
Jesse looked at her.
He removed a pair of handcuffs from his service belt. He grabbed the girl’s left wrist and cuffed it to the steering wheel.
He heard sirens in the distance.
“What do you think you’re doing,” she said.
“You do know it’s illegal to text while driving?”
The girl didn’t respond.
“There’s an injured man in the car that you hit.”
“It was an accident.”
“Caused by you.” “Have you any idea who I am?”
“Have you no concern for the other driver?”
“Yeah, sure. Of course. Courtney Cassidy.”
“I’m Courtney Cassidy.”
Jesse remained silent.
“My father is Richard Cassidy.”
The sirens grew closer.
“I want my phone,” she said.
“It’s been placed into evidence.”
“What do you mean it’s been placed into evidence?”
“I confiscated it.”
“I want to speak to my father.”
“You can make a phone call when you get to the police station.”
“I’m not going to the police station.”
Jesse looked at her for a few moments. Then he walked away.
“Hey,” she called after him.
He ignored her.
She called again.
“Hey, dickwad,” she said.
Another police cruiser and an ambulance appeared on Paradise Road, sirens blaring, lights flashing. They pulled to a stop near Courtney’s Mercedes.
Suitcase Simpson emerged from the cruiser. He spotted Jesse and walked toward him.
Two EMTs got out of the ambulance. Jesse pointed them to the Audi.
“What happened,” Suitcase said.
“Girl was texting. She ran the stop sign and hit the Audi.”
Suitcase looked over at her.
“Why is she cuffed to the steering wheel?”
“If the medics clear her, you can arrest her.”
“Reckless endangerment. Running a stop sign. Texting while driving. Resisting arrest. Arrogance.”
“I don’t think arrogance is a chargeable offense, Jesse,” Suitcase said.
“Okay. Forget arrogance. Make a big deal out of reading her rights, though. Do it slowly and deliberately.”
“Because I don’t like her,” Jesse said.
The medics were now at the Mercedes, evaluating Courtney. One of them stepped away and spoke to Jesse and Suitcase.
“Guy’s floating in and out of it,” he said. “Looks like he suffered some head trauma. We’ll take him to Paradise General.”
“The girl,” Jesse said.
“She seems okay,” the medic said. “If you’re going to have an accident, probably best it be in a Mercedes.”
“You taking her to the hospital, too,” Suitcase said.
“We’re not quite finished examining her, but it doesn’t appear necessary. Is there anyone who can remove the handcuff s, by the way?”
Jesse handed the key to Suitcase.
“Cell phones,” Jesse said with a snort. “Big-time dangerous. There need to be more serious consequences for using them while driving. The current laws are a joke.”
After her handcuffs were removed, Courtney got out of the damaged Mercedes and headed in Jesse’s direction.
She might one day be pretty, Jesse thought, but today wasn’t that day. Her flat-ironed yellow hair hung limply around her plain round face, still plump with the last vestiges of baby fat. Her makeup was heavy and inexpertly applied. Her green plaid uniform was as flattering as a prison jumpsuit. Her pale blue eyes, however, flashed defiance.
“Will one of you call my parents. I want to go home,” she said.
“No, ma’am,” Jesse said.
She moved closer to him.
“I said I want to go home.”
“You’re under arrest,” Jesse said. “You’re going to jail.”
“You can’t arrest me. I’m Courtney Cassidy.”
Jesse looked at her.
Then he turned to Suitcase and said, “Book her, Danno.”