Candace Calvert

Excerpt from By Your Side (Crisis Team series #1)

Chapter One

“Officer, help!”

Deputy Fletcher Holt spotted a woman waving her arms overhead, a frantic flash of purple in the crush of idling cars. Sacramento’s afternoon rush hour had been brought to a  tire-squealing halt by an overturned gravel truck blocking all four southbound lanes. He’d seen it happen in his rearview mirror.

“We need you . . .” The woman’s voice strained over a continual, indignant barrage of car horns. “Over here!”

Fletcher signaled back, then broke into a jog, sucking in a breath made acrid by asphalt, car exhaust, and burnt rubber. Sweat trickled beneath his protective vest despite the mild, early June weather. He’d been headed to the Florin substation, end of watch, when the dump truck did its kamikaze dive across the freeway, causing at least a dozen vehicles to skid on gravel and bounce against each other like a Six Flags bumper car ride. It was Highway Patrol’s jurisdiction, but there was no way he’d drive on and not help. In the last ten minutes, he’d set out flares, offered his assistance to the arriving CHP officers, and  now—

A horn blared: vintage  M-class BMW, its driver wearing a business suit, sunglasses, and an openly belligerent look. “What’s the deal? When can we get out of here?”

“Hang on. . . . They’re working on it,” Fletcher huffed, the edge in his voice coming from more than physical exertion. You’re not the only one who’s got someplace else to be,

buddy. “Stay with your  car—be patient, okay?”

He pushed his stride and covered the last dozen yards, coming to a halt beside the vehicle of the woman who’d waved to him.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, noting that she appeared unharmed. “You called for help?”

“Not for me,” she explained, turning to point toward the far lane. “Over there, that van. I think someone’s hurt.”

Fletcher spotted a clutch of people, phone cameras held aloft. No surprise social media was getting a look before first responders.  Tweet-a-wreck.

“Thank you. Stay with your car,” Fletcher told the woman, relieved to hear sirens in the distance. Paramedics. Amazingly, the truck driver had climbed from the cab without a scratch. And as far as Fletcher knew, there had been no serious injuries. Hopefully that mercy would continue.

“Cop’s here!” someone announced as Fletcher approached the vehicle. Even from several yards away, he saw the shattered window and crumpled side panel. It was an older-model minivan with a faded business stencil.

Balloons, kites . . . kids?


Little faces pressed against the remaining windows. And another child was on the ground beside the van. A young woman knelt alongside, offering aid. A teacher? Probably not, the way she was dressed. Black hair, sort of pulled up in a loose knot, a short blue skirt . . . long stretch of bare leg, high heels. None of it meant for herding kids or crawling around on a gritty freeway. The young woman turned for a second to gaze across the lanes. Her white top was smeared with blood.