- READ AN EXCERPT
Book 9 in the Fatal Series
Inauguration day is almost here…
Lieutenant Sam Holland is on medical leave, recovering from an attack that shook her to the core. With no case to distract her, she’s trying to stay busy—even voluntarily meeting with her new White House staff. But it’s not enough to keep the horrific memories at bay, and her family is worried…especially her husband, Vice President Nick Cappuano.
Nick is dealing with his own demons where his wife’s safety is concerned, losing night after night of sleep as he takes steps to ensure what happened that day will never happen again. The pressure is building inside the Cappuanos’ marriage, and something’s got to give before Nick takes the oath of office.
A series of knife attacks in the midst of inauguration madness has the District on edge, and when the case strikes shockingly close to home, Sam returns to help hunt down a heartless killer. In a case full of ugly twists and turns, Sam will have to confront her past and find her strength again…before it’s too late.
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E-book ISBN: 978-1426899980
“I don’t want to be here.” Surrounded by familiar buff-colored cinder block walls, Sam felt claustrophobic and panicky. Even the burnt-coffee smell of the place nauseated her. She needed to get out of there. Now.
She glanced at Dr. Trulo, who gazed intently at her, his gray eyes never wavering. His hair had gotten thinner since the last time she was forced to spend time with him, after young Quentin Johnson died at the hands of her officers in his father’s crack house.
“I can’t clear you to go back to work until you talk about it.”
“What’s there to talk about? I did a stupid thing, and I paid the price. Should I have gone in there alone? No. I know that. I knew it then, but I had no reason to suspect that Marissa Springer was going to turn into a murdering lunatic or that she’d partnered up with Stahl. As far as I knew she was a grieving mother, a disgruntled wife and a source of information.” Sam shrugged. “There. I talked about it. Can I go now?”
He continued to stare at her without blinking. How did he do that? Everyone needed to blink once in a while, didn’t they? Perhaps one of the job requirements for being a police department shrink was a freakish staring ability.
She shifted in her seat, crossed her legs and then her arms. “What else do you want me to say?”
“I want to hear about what happened with Stahl. How you coped during the assault. What you’re thinking about now. How you’re sleeping. You could start by telling me what it was like to be wrapped in razor wire by a man you once reported to.”
“It was sharp.”
Trulo finally blinked—and sighed deeply. “Maybe we should reschedule for next week.”
“Next week is kind of busy. The inauguration and all that.”
“Are you aware that your squad is frantically trying to find the person responsible for a series of knife attacks?”
For the first time she felt a twinge of guilt at letting down her closest colleagues. “I’m aware of that.” The city was on edge after a series of brazen and seemingly random attacks that had left two people dead and two others gravely injured. Sam was sorry she wasn’t able to help this time, but she couldn’t single-handedly catch every killer who roamed the city’s streets.
“Do you want to come back to work, Sam?”
“Yes! Of course I do. What kind of question is that?” Her heart began to race at how close he’d come to uncovering her recent anxiety about work and safety and the loss of her famous mojo. It would come back. Eventually. It had to come back. Didn’t it? Who was she without it?
“It’s an honest question. You’ve been in this game long enough to know that if you don’t play the game, you remain on the sidelines. I can’t clear you to come back until I’m certain you’ve dealt with the trauma of what happened and are in the right place mentally, physically and emotionally to resume your duties.”
Sam was never more mulish than when pushed into a corner, and now was no different. “How am I supposed to prove to you that I’m fine?”
“You have to talk about it.”
“What if I don’t want to talk about it? What if talking about it makes it worse?”
“Have you talked to anyone? Your husband? Your friends, colleagues, your dad, sisters? Anyone?”
“Yeah, I’ve talked to them,” she said, squirming again. She hated the feeling that he saw right through her bullshit the way Nick did too. He’d been watching her like a hawk recently—to the point that she’d been actively avoiding her overly devoted husband for the first time ever.
Sam knew she wouldn’t get away with that for much longer, and Trulo wasn’t about to buckle either. “I’d like to leave now.”
“No one is forcing you to be here.”
She gave him her best “yeah right” look. Did he actually think any cop saw him voluntarily? “Hello, Command Referral. Like I have a choice.”
“You know what I mean. This process is on your schedule. When you’re ready, make an appointment. I’m here for you whenever you need me.”
With the lure of freedom in her reach, Sam began to stand.
“Before you go, though…”
Foiled, she sagged back into the uncomfortable hardback chair.
“I want to say one thing.” Trulo cleared his throat and seemed to force himself to look at her. What was that about? “I read the report on what happened that day at the Springers’ house, and I just want to say… I’ve been doing this for a long time, and what happened to you, well, it was bad, Sam. Really bad. And there’s no shame in admitting that you’re traumatized by it, that maybe you’ve lost your taste for the job, that—”
“No.” Sam leapt to her feet. “Whatever you’re going to say, just save it. I’m fine. I haven’t lost my taste for anything except this meeting. Some people don’t feel the need to air out all their shit in some touchy-feely room where it’s supposedly safe to spill their guts. We aren’t safe anywhere. That’s the lesson learned here.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” he said with a small, satisfied grin that infuriated her. “Call me when you’re ready to talk about why you don’t feel safe anywhere.”
Pissed with herself and with him, Sam stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind her. She was on her way to a clean escape when Captain Malone waylaid her, taking her by the arm and escorting her into his office where she shook him off. “You need a refresher in sensitivity training if you think you can manhandle your female officers that way.”
“So report me.”
“What do you want?”
“Nice to see you too, Lieutenant. We’ve missed your charming self around here.”
Sam rolled her eyes. Charming. Whatever. “Is there something you need?”
“Have a seat.”
“I prefer to stand.”
“I wasn’t asking.”
Since he so rarely pulled rank on her, she dropped into the chair he pointed to and crossed her arms again, keeping with the mulish theme of the day.
“How’ve you been?”
“I’m down one of my best officers, so things have been a little hectic, especially since someone is going around killing people with a hunting knife. But we’re coping.”
She refused to feel guilty about sitting this one out. Her team was highly trained, and they’d figure it out. They always did. “Glad to hear it.”
“How’s it going with Trulo?”
“You’re not allowed to ask me that.”
“Add it to the report you’re going to submit on my bad behavior.”
“I have been attending the appointments as required. Would you like me to tell you what we talk about in there? It would only take a minute. Probably less than a minute.”
Malone sat back in his chair, exhaling loudly. “So you’re not cooperating.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Don’t you want to get back to work?”
Sam shrugged. “I’m kinda enjoying the time off. I like taking my kid to school—even if the Secret Service has to butt into our time together—and taking my dad to his appointments and hanging out with my husband and cleaning my house.”
Malone sat up straight, his eyes wide with alarm. “You’re cleaning your house? What the hell is wrong with you, Holland? You’d rather be cleaning your house than chasing down murderers? Things are worse than we thought.”
“We? We who?”
“All of us! We’re wondering what the hell is going on with you and why you don’t seem to have any desire to come back to work. Every other time something crazy has happened, we’ve had to practically lock you to your sofa. But not this time. This time something’s different.”
Sam made a conscious effort not to squirm as he stared her down, looking for answers she simply didn’t have. She didn’t know why she had no desire to go back to work. She didn’t know why she felt dead inside or why she wondered if she would ever again be able to trust her own judgment when it had failed her so dramatically. She didn’t have the answers they all wanted so badly, and until she did, they weren’t going to let her come back. So she’d decided to enjoy the unexpected time off. What else could she do?
“Sam, this is me.” He’d been her mentor and friend since the day she made detective. “Talk to me, will you? Tell me what you’re thinking.”
His concern touched off another wave of guilt at knowing she had caused him—and others—such dismay.
When she remained silent, he said, “I want you to know… We, all of us, from the chief on down, we failed you in this situation with Stahl. It never occurred to us that he would take it as far as he did, and that’s on us.”
Sam rose to her feet. “I gotta go, Cap. It was good to see you.”
Before he could make it around his desk, she was out the door and headed for the morgue and the closest exit. She burst into the frigid January day and took deep breaths of the cold air. Her eyes darted around the parking lot, on the lookout for enemies. After fourteen years on the job, she’d made more than her share of them. Now she knew they weren’t afraid to come after her, to try to take everything from her. She’d learned to be wary and more afraid than she’d ever been before.
When Nick accepted the president’s offer to become his new vice president, he’d declined Secret Service protection for her so she could continue to do the job she loved. That she was actually thinking about requesting a detail was indicative of how screwed up everything had gotten since Stahl attacked her.
She got into her car and drove home, the one place she felt safe these days, surrounded as they were by Nick’s detail and Scotty’s. The house was like a fortress, and she liked it that way. No one could get to her there.
* * *
Sam pulled onto Ninth Street and was waved through the checkpoint by a Secret Service officer. She parked in front of the house and was surprised to see Nick’s black BMW parked at the curb. What was that doing here? He’d told her he’d sold it since he could no longer drive himself.
Grabbing her purse, she got out of the car and went up the ramp to the home she shared with Nick and Scotty. An agent greeted her at the door and opened it for her. “Thank you,” she said.
“My pleasure, Mrs. Cappuano.”
Not that long ago, Sam would’ve told the agent to call her Lieutenant Holland, but lately she’d grown used to hearing her married name from the agents that surrounded her family. It didn’t rankle the way it once would have. In the ten months they’d been married, some of Lieutenant Holland had given way to make room for Mrs. Cappuano.
Speaking of the devil who’d made her his missus, Nick came out of the kitchen wearing a gorgeous dark gray suit with a cranberry-colored tie that was one of her favorites. As he had from the moment she first met him years ago, he took her breath away just by walking into the room.
“Hey, babe. How was the appointment with Trulo?”
“More of the same.” She dropped her coat and purse on the sofa, earning a frown from her neat-freak husband. In a mocking tone, she said, “‘Tell us how you feel, talk about what happened, blah, blah, blah.’ I don’t know what they want me to say. It happened, I survived, it’s over and he’s locked up.”
Nick kissed her forehead and gazed down at her, taking in every detail with gorgeous hazel eyes that saw right through her—and her bullshit. “You know what they want from you, Samantha, and the sooner you give it to them, the sooner you’ll be back on the job.”
The Secret Service had given them the room, so she ran her fingertip down the silk tie and dipped it under his belt, pleased to realize he’d delayed the start of his day to be here when she got home. “Maybe I don’t want to go back to work. Maybe I’d rather be the second lady for a while and tend to my vice president anytime he needs tending to.”
His Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat. “Um, who are you and what’ve you done with my wife?”
For the first time in hours, Sam laughed.
“No, seriously. You want to be the second lady rather than a cop?” He pressed his hand to her forehead. “No fever, but maybe we should call Harry just to be safe.”
“Knock it off.” She batted his hand away. “Is there anything wrong with enjoying a little break from the rat race?”
“If you were anyone else, I’d say of course not. But because you’re you, I see reason for concern. Perhaps even alarm. You love the rat race. You live for it. Or you did until Stahl lost his mind. Since then, you haven’t been quite yourself, babe. We’ve all noticed it.”
Sam wasn’t surprised that he was tuned in to her as always and wouldn’t settle for the platitudes she’d given Trulo. “I’m working through some things having to do with the attack and the job and where I go from here.” It was the most she’d said to anyone since that awful day. “I just need some time. As long as I’m on leave, I may as well enjoy it, right?”
“I suppose. But the cleaning and all that… You’re kind of freaking us out.”
Smiling, she put her arms around him and leaned into the comfort of his embrace, breathing in the familiar scent of home. “I’ll knock off the cleaning.”
He held her tight against him. “Thank God.”
“How come your car is outside? I thought you sold it.”
“Yeah, about that, I lied.”
She lifted her head off his chest to give him the wifely evil eye. “You lied? Start talking.”
“When we declined Secret Service protection for you, I didn’t exactly do that without some significant fears—and that was before everything happened with Stahl. So I decided… Well, come with me. Let me show you.” He held her coat for her while she put it back on and then took her by the hand to lead her to the door.
The agent on duty stopped them. “Are you leaving, sir?”
“Just going outside for a minute.”
The agent spoke into the microphone attached to a wire that hung from his ear. “Hotshot and Fuzz are on the move.”
“Fuzz?” Sam said, looking up at Nick. “That had better not be a reference to my hair.”
“Did I forget to mention we’ve been assigned code names? And I believe yours is more about your job than your hair.”
“It had better be. Fuzz? Really? How come you get to be Hotshot and I’mFuzz? Is there an appeal process?”
Hand over his mouth, the agent laughed silently.
“It’s not funny! I have a reputation to uphold here. Fuzz is a puppy or a kitten. It’s not a badass cop.”
“I’ll take it up with those in charge,” the agent said solemnly, obviously trying not to laugh out loud.
Sam scowled at him. “You do that.”
“You may proceed, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Cappuano.”
Sam left the agent with a final glare as she let Nick lead her out the door.
“I can’t tell you how much I hate having to get permission to walk out my own door,” he said.
“You knew it would be like that.”
“Still, it sucks balls.”
“Speaking of sucking balls—”
“Not here. Not now.”
“How do you know what I was going to say?”
His side-eyed glance said it all. Removing a key fob from his pocket, he unlocked the BMW. “Hop in,” he said, holding the passenger door for her.
“Um, okay. I thought you weren’t allowed to drive yourself anywhere?”
“We’re not leaving.”
“I’m not making out with you in broad daylight with your entire detail looking on.”
“Good to know,” he said, laughing. “Now get your sweet ass in the car.”
Sam slid into the soft leather seat and breathed in the familiar scent of leather and cologne that would always remind her of their first days together. They’d spent a lot of time in this car since then, and she’d been sad to see it go after he became vice president.
He got into the driver’s side and pulled the door closed.
She leaned across the center console. “You’ve got me all to yourself,Hotshot. Whatever will you do with me?”
Flashing the irrepressible grin that made her panties damp every damn time, he said, “I’ll show you around your new armor-plated, specially outfitted bulletproof security vehicle.”
Nick’s concern about Sam’s safety had led to some of the worst insomnia he had ever experienced, which was saying something since he’d been plagued by insomnia for much of his adult life. And that was before Stahl attacked her. Since then, he hadn’t slept much in the last few weeks as he watched her toss and turn, tormented by dreams she said she didn’t remember the next day.
But he knew she remembered. She remembered the dreams and every minute she spent in that hellhole basement with Stahl and Marissa Springer. That day had changed something in her, something they were both still coming to terms with weeks later.
Sam took a close look at the familiar vehicle, where the differences were subtle but significant.
“The car has been outfitted with many of the same features that my limo and Nelson’s have—bulletproof glass and tires, armor-plated metal and a panic button that feeds to the Metro PD, Secret Service and FBI,” Nick said. “Under the backseat, you’ll find enough food for three days, emergency medical supplies, a biohazard kit, oxygen, sanitary supplies and everything you’d need to hide out.”
“When did you do this?”
“I began looking into our options after we declined Secret Service protection for you.”
“So before Stahl.”
“Yes.” He stared out the windshield, battling the rage that gripped him every time he thought about what she’d endured in that basement. He’d read the police report, and in the rare instances when he did sleep, it gave him nightmares. “I should’ve done it sooner. I should’ve—”
Sam grasped his forearm. “Nick, not even you with all your superpowers could’ve seen that coming.”
He tried to shake off the rage because it wasn’t what she needed. “But wait, there’s more.” At the press of a button on the center console, a tablet screen popped up, complete with an attached keyboard. “Freddie helped with this part. This is the new tablet the department is mandating for field use, so yours is now built into the car with a Bluetooth keyboard since Freddie and I agreed the keyboard on the tablet would make you ragey.”
“You and Freddie agreed, did you?”
“Uh huh. He doesn’t know about this part, though.” Nick turned on the sound system, and Sam’s favorite Bon Jovi song, “Living on a Prayer,” roared to life. “All Bon Jovi, all the time.”
“Seriously? Oh my God! Freddie will hate that!”
“I love it,” she said with a sigh and the soft smile he loved so much, especially when she directed it at him. “This… It’s amazing, Nick. Thank you so much for doing this.”
“In addition to a charger for that dinosaur cell phone of yours, the car is also fully tricked out with all the latest in GPS technology. You’ll never go missing again. I’ll always be able to find you.” He produced his smartphone and held it up so she could see the screen. “This app tells me exactly where the car is at any given time.” Glancing at her, he forced himself to be truthful with her when he’d prefer to keep this part to himself. “I know it’ll make you mad to have me keeping tabs on you, but I can’t bear the thought of ever again not knowing where you are for even one minute.”
“A month ago, I would’ve demanded you rip that shit out of the car. Now, I’m glad you’ll be able to find me if need be.”
He hadn’t expected her to say that, and the statement demonstrated how deeply the trauma had touched her. “Really?”
“Yeah, really.” Sighing, she sat back in the seat, resting her head on the leather. “I keep going over it and over it in my mind, you know? Like how could I have been so stupid to walk into an ambush? I like to think I can see these things coming, but this one…”
“Why would you have seen it coming? You’d been there before, met Marissa, talked to her about the case. What would clue you in that she was in cahoots with that bastard Stahl?”
“Nothing, I guess, but still, I feel like I should’ve sensed something was up. But I didn’t. I walked right in there like I would any home of any witness. Remember when Freddie got shot at Reese’s place and how pissed I was that he went in there alone? I did the same thing.”
“Totally different situation. For one thing, Reese had killed his family and Freddie was watching the place, hoping he’d come back. He went in there knowing he could be confronting a desperate killer, which was stupid. You went into the Springers’ house to talk to a woman you’d just had a civilized conversation with an hour earlier. How is that the same thing?”
“We were shorthanded. I went in there alone. No one knew where I was. Checking in and calling for backup is police one-oh-one. I know better.”
“You’re second-guessing yourself from the perspective of hindsight. You know what happened after you walked in there. But going in? With the info you had available to you at that time? You had no reason to believe there was any reason for concern.”
The song on the radio changed to “Make a Memory,” one of Nick’s personal favorites of the steady diet of Bon Jovi he’d been fed since she came back into his life. “I love this song. It makes me think of when we were first together, and I came home to find you reading Congress for Dummies with this song blasting in the house. I think of that and ‘fill her buster’ every time I hear it.”
She smiled at him, but he could still see the disquiet in her clear blue eyes. That she was deeply troubled and trying to hide it from everyone was readily apparent to him.
Taking hold of her hand, he said, “You need to talk to someone about this, Sam.”
“I’m talking to you.”
“And I’m thrilled you’re talking to me. But you also need someone qualified to guide you through the PTSD stuff. Harry told me to tell you to call him when you get tired of stonewalling the department shrink.”
“How does he know I’m stonewalling the department guy?”
Nick sent her a withering look. “We all know you’re doing that.”
“Could I ask you something and do you promise to take it seriously and tell me the truth?”
“Sam… Of course you can, and of course I will. What do you want to ask me?”
“What would you think if I took an indefinite leave from work to focus on being the second lady? Tell me the truth.”
For a brief moment, Nick’s mind went completely blank with shock that she was actually asking him such a thing. He’d been concerned about her before, but now he was downright petrified. Something was seriously wrong if she was thinking that way. “Samantha, you’re freaking me out right now.”
“Why? Because I’m considering some changes?”
“Because this is so not you. You’d hate being a full-time second lady. You’re a homicide cop. It’s not just what you do. It’s who you are.”
“What if I want to be someone different? Am I not allowed to be anything but a cop?”
“You can be anything you want, but the one thing you can’t do is make life decisions when you’re still recovering from what happened in that basement. This is not the time to be having this conversation. Talk to me in two or three months when the dust has settled and your first thought every morning isn’t about razor wire.”
She looked down at her hands, which were folded in her lap. “The car is amazing. I can’t believe you did all this. It goes a long way toward making me feel safe again.”
“I want you to feel safe. Whatever it takes. Whatever we have to do.”
“I’m thinking about requesting a detail.”
“Okay…” Wow, the hits kept on coming.
“You know, just in case.”
“Yeah, baby. I know. Nothing has to be decided today or tomorrow or anytime soon. I’m sure you’re feeling some pressure from HQ to get back to work, but there’s no rush. The job’s not going anywhere, and Gonzo has you covered in the meantime.” He produced a set of keys that he held up for her to see. “The red button on the key fob is the same as the one in the car. It notifies MPD, the Secret Service and the FBI that you’re in trouble and broadcasts your position to them immediately.”
She took the keys from him. “You thought of everything.”
“I hope so. If there’s anything I missed that would make you feel safer, just say the word, and we’ll see what we can do.”
“Where exactly do you go to get bulletproof tires and armor-plating?”
“I called in a few favors, made a phone call or two.” Unlike the president, Nick had come up through the ranks and had friends in every corner of government. He hadn’t been shy about calling on every resource he had to make this happen for her.
“It must’ve cost a fortune.”
“Best money I ever spent on anything. Ever.”
“So the windows… Is there a setting so I can see out but no one can see in?”
He gave her a “what do you take me for” look and pressed a button on the dash that sealed off the outside world.
“Excellent, now get over here and make out with your wife, Mr. Vice President.”
“With pleasure, Mrs. C.”
* * *
The summons to appear in the chief’s office came from his admin through Gonzo, acting head of the Homicide Division in Sam’s absence. They’d been working long hours, following leads on the slasher case, but were no closer to an arrest than they’d been at the outset.
“Chief wants to see you at four,” Gonzo had said, leaving Detective Freddie Cruz to wonder for three long hours what the chief wanted with him. In the back of his mind and in the pit of his gut, he knew exactly what this was about. He’d been waiting since the night he tuned up the guy who hurt Elin. It had been stupid and risky and every other word he could think of to describe the way he’d put his career on the line to defend the woman he loved.
He’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Freddie’s leg bounced uncontrollably as he sat outside the chief’s office waiting to be called in. Since Gonzo delivered the news, Freddie had wanted to call Sam to get her take, but he’d been trying not to bother her while she was on leave. However, he sure would’ve liked to talk to her before this meeting.
“Detective Cruz?” Helen said. “You can go in now.”
“Oh, um, thanks.” He’d rarely been to the chief’s office without Sam, so he couldn’t remember if he was supposed to knock or just walk in. As knocking was the safer of the two options, he raised his hand to the door.
Freddie opened the door and stepped into the chief’s inner sanctum. In addition to Chief Farnsworth, Deputy Chief Conklin, Captain Malone, the new Internal Affairs Lieutenant Wilson and the department counsel, Jessica Townsend, were there. Holy shit…
Farnsworth gestured to the one remaining chair in the half circle in front of his desk. “Have a seat, Detective.”
When he was seated, Freddie glanced at Malone, hoping for some insight into what was going on, but the captain was staring at something behind the chief.
“We’re here to discuss the events of January 1st, in which Detective Cruz entered the city jail to confront an Andre Elliott, who’d been arrested earlier that day after assaulting a woman at a gym on Sixteenth Street.”
Freddie had been waiting for this for weeks now while at the same time hoping it would go away without any additional fallout. No such luck.
Reading from a paper he held in his hand, Farnsworth continued. “Mr. Elliott alleges that while he was in MPD custody, that Detective Cruz entered his cell and assaulted him, leaving him with injuries to his groin and face.” Farnsworth looked up at Freddie. “Do you know anything about this?”
Freddie had no idea what to say. Did he tell the truth or did he deny it? It was his word versus Elliott’s. By placing his hoodie over the camera, he had made sure there would be no record of him entering or leaving the cell. The sergeant on duty in the jail that night, Sergeant Delany, had looked the other way after Freddie told him what Elliott had done to Elin.
“Before you reply, Detective,” Wilson said, “I should remind you that you have rights, including the right to request counsel, should you require it.”
“Am I being charged with something?” Freddie asked.
“Not at this time,” Wilson said. “But we reserve the right to pursue charges if we’re unable to resolve this matter internally.”
Fixated on the wall behind the chief, Freddie thought about the broken bones in Elin’s face, the violent bruises that were only now beginning to yellow, the weeks she’d been out of work and in pain. Yeah he’d done it, and he’d do it again. But somehow he didn’t think it would be wise to say that here.
“Let me make this simple for you, Detective,” Farnsworth said. “Elliott is demanding we take action internally or he will file suit.”
Freddie forced himself to meet the chief’s unflinching gaze. “What kind of internal action?”
“Nothing less than a suspension without pay of one week.”
Shit, Freddie thought, a week without pay will hurt, but a lawsuit would hurt more, especially with Melissa Woodmansee’s suit against us winding its way through the courts. In the second he took to weigh his options, he thought about Sam and how hard she’d worked to build their squad into one of the department’s elite teams. Another lawsuit could undermine both their careers.
“Elliott has no way to prove that I laid a finger on him,” Freddie said.
“Lieutenant Archelotta brought a gap in the security film from that night to our attention the week after the incident in question. It appeared to him that someone had intentionally placed something over the camera, and when it was removed, Elliott was lying on the floor holding his badly bruised testicles and bleeding from his nose and mouth.”
Okay, that looked bad and helped to cement what he needed to do. “I’ll take the suspension.” This was the worst possible time, with Sam on leave and a knife-wielding lunatic on the loose, but what choice did he have?
“It will include an entry on your personnel file that could impair future advancement opportunities,” Malone said.
“I understand.” If he was never anything other than a detective, he could live with that. As long as he got to do the job he loved, he’d be fine.
“I hope it goes without saying, Detective,” the chief said, “that we in no way condone officers taking matters such as this into their own hands. It goes against everything we believe in, as a department, for members of our team, especially officers at your rank and above, to be doling out vigilante justice.”
“I understand,” he said again—and he did. From the second he left Elin’s bedside at the hospital, he’d known what he was risking by confronting Elliott. But even facing a suspension, he couldn’t bring himself to be sorry for avenging the woman he loved. “Is there anything else?”
“I’ll need your weapon and badge,” Malone said, holding out his hand.
It hurt a lot more than he’d expected to turn over his gun and his prized gold shield to the captain.
“Is there anything else you’d like to say, Detective?” Farnsworth asked.
“What will Elliott be told, and will the suspension be made public?”
“He will be told that you’ve been disciplined internally, but no further details will be made available to him or the media. It will be treated as an internal personnel matter. Assistant U.S. Attorney Faith Miller has agreed to drop the conspiracy charges against Elliott in exchange for his silence. He’ll only be charged for the assault on Ms. Svendsen.”
Freddie’s mind whirled with implications. Stahl had hired Elliott to beat up Elin so Freddie would be out of the way dealing with a personal matter when Stahl went after Sam. It killed him to hear that Elliott wouldn’t be charged for partnering up with Stahl.
“That doesn’t mean the media won’t ever catch wind of it,” Malone added. “They just won’t hear it from us.”
“You understand that viable charges are being dropped in the case against Elliott because of a choice you made, Detective,” Farnsworth said, visibly displeased.
“Yes, sir.” He wasn’t proud of what he’d done, nor did he like being the subject of the chief’s displeasure, but he was not going to apologize—ever. The deal was the best he could hope for under the circumstances. Hopefully, Elliott was smart enough to know better than to defy the terms of his agreement with the U.S. Attorney. The assault charges were enough on their own to make sure he would be locked up for a while. At least he’d better be.
Freddie stood on watery legs. “Thank you.”
“Detective,” Malone said. “You’re a rising star in this department. Be careful letting your emotions get the better of you. I’d hate to see such a promising career derailed by self-inflicted wounds.”
“Yes,” Freddie said, swallowing, “sir. Thank you.” He made his escape and kept his head down on the way back to the detectives’ pit. At his cubicle, he shut down his computer and grabbed his keys.
“Oh, hey,” Gonzo said. “You’re back. What’s the deal?”
Freddie zeroed in on the still-healing gunshot wound on Gonzo’s neck, a reminder that things could always be worse. “I’ve been suspended without pay.”
Gonzo’s mouth fell open in shock. “What. The. Fuck.”
Freddie remained stubbornly silent.
“The thing with Elliott. The thing you won’t talk about. It’s come back to bite you in the ass.”
“Something like that.”
“Goddamn it, Cruz. This is the last fucking thing I need with Sam already on leave.”
“I know. I’m sorry to cause you added stress.”
“But you’re not sorry about what you did to land in this situation.”
“I hope it was worth it.”
Freddie thought of the way Elin’s gorgeous face had been bruised and broken by Elliott’s fist. What Freddie had done to him was the least of what that guy deserved. “It absolutely was.”
“I don’t know that I care for this new edgy side of Freddie Cruz. It’s not like you to behave this way.”
“I’m not expecting it to become a habit, Sarge,” Freddie said, in a rare use of his close friend’s rank.
“See that it doesn’t. How long is the suspension?”
“Son of a bitch.”
“I’ll be a phone call away if you need me, and all my notes are up to date. If I can help with the investigation, call me.”
“Yeah, I will. Have you talked to Sam at all?” Gonzo asked.
“Here and there. You?”
“Same. Does she seem weird to you?”
Freddie nodded. “Suppose it’s normal after what happened.”
What remained unsaid between them was that it was anything but normal for their lieutenant and close friend to stay away from work for any reason other than debilitating physical injury—especially when they had a hot new investigation going on. Even when she’d been badly injured, they’d had to fight with her to stay home until she recovered.
“She’ll be back,” Freddie said with more confidence than he felt. “When she’s ready.”
“I hope so. You’d better get out of here before the word gets out about the suspension. You don’t want to be around for that.”
“No, I don’t. I’ll call you.”
Freddie left the pit and headed for the morgue exit, hoping to make a clean getaway. If there was any upside to the suspension, it was a week alone with Elin, since she was still on medical leave from the gym. As he drove home to their apartment in the Woodley Park neighborhood, it occurred to him that they should go somewhere, get out of town while they had the chance.
Before he did anything, though, he needed to talk to Sam. He placed the call and hoped she’d pick up. The last couple of times he’d called, she hadn’t answered or replied to his voicemail messages or texts.
“Hey,” she said, sounding breathless. “What’s up?”
“Oh, hey.” He’d been prepared to leave yet another voicemail message.
“You’re just the man I wanted to talk to.”
Damn! Had she already heard about the suspension? Had the brass consulted her before they dropped the hammer? “How come?”
“Nick showed me the new car today and told me you were a big help in getting the dreaded tablet in there. Thanks for that.”
“No problem. I’ll be happy to get you trained on how to use it as soon as you come back to work.”
“Oh, joy,” she said with predictable sarcasm. “Can’t wait.”
“The reason I called is I wanted to tell you that I got suspended for a week.”
“What? What the hell for? Oh damn, Elliott, right?”
“Yeah. They’re dropping the conspiracy charges against him in exchange for his silence about what I did.”
She was silent for a long moment, long enough that he began to squirm.
“No, you listen. What you did to him was beneath you. You played right into their hands.”
“How was I supposed to know it was all an orchestrated plan? All I knew is my girlfriend’s face was broken. He broke bones in her face, Sam.”
“I know, and you had every right to be furious. But you had no right to go into his cell and do what you did. No right at all.”
“What would you do if someone did to Nick what was done to Elin? Would you sit idly by and let them get away with it?”
She sighed loudly. “I get why you did it, but you’ve used up your one ticket. Farnsworth has a very low tolerance for police brutality, and he won’t let you get away with this twice.”
“I’m hardly getting away with it. They’re docking me a week’s pay.” Thinking of that had him reconsidering his get-out-of-town plan.
“You could’ve been busted back to Patrol. You are getting away with it. Count your blessings that it wasn’t worse.”
“I’m not sorry,” he said. “I’d do it again.”
“If you do it again, I’ll personally pack your bags for the trip to Patrol.”
As he expected nothing less from her, he smiled at her saucy reply. “Speaking of trips, I’m thinking about taking advantage of my unexpected time off to get away with Elin. Unless you can think of any reason why I shouldn’t.”
“I don’t see why not as long as you refrain from posting pictures on Instagram of yourself holding an umbrella drink.”
“I’m surprised you’ve heard of Instagram.”
“As appealing as that offer is, I’m going to go home and bite my own girl.”
“People are worried about you, Sam. Wondering when you’ll be back and all that.”
“They’re waiting for me to kiss Trulo’s ass, and that’s not about to happen anytime soon. I’m kind of enjoying the break.”
“You are? Seriously?”
“Why does everyone find that so hard to believe?”
“I have a life outside of that place, you know.”
“Yes, I believe the entire country knows about your life outside of work these days.”
“It’s just, you know, not like you to be making up reasons to extend a medical leave.”
“That’s not what I’m doing. Are people saying I’m taking advantage?”
“No one has said anything like that. And if they’re thinking it, they know better than to say it around me or any other member of your squad.”
“What do I care what they say? At least I’m still walking and talking and breathing and mostly functioning after what that dickwad did to me.”
Hearing her say she was “mostly” functioning didn’t exactly put his mind at ease. “We’re all thankful you’re walking and talking and breathing.”
“Awww, thanks, Cruz. I’m touched.”
He snorted out a laugh. “Right, on that note, I’m out. I’ll talk to you in a week. Try to stay out of trouble while I’m gone.”
“I’m not the one serving a suspension.”
“Try to have a good time, Freddie. You deserve a break, and this shit at work is a temporary setback. Nothing to get wound up about.”
“Thanks for that. I’ll talk to you soon.” He stashed the phone in his pocket and parallel parked outside the building where he lived with Elin. Taking the stairs two at a time, he arrived at the door to their third-floor apartment and pulled out his keys.
The door swung open before he could use his key. “What’re you doing home?”
Elin wore a bathrobe and her white-blond hair was gathered into a messy bun. Even with the bruises still prominent, she was gorgeous, and the sight of her stopped his heart the way it always did. He had things he needed to tell her, such as Elliott’s involvement in the mess with Stahl. She’d been so fragile since the assault that he had kept all but the most essential information from her, including his late-night visit to the jail.
He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her.
“What’re you doing? Why aren’t you at work?”
“I’ve got the week off.”
“Things are slow and they were looking for someone to take some time off. I have a lot of vacation accrued so I volunteered.” Thankfully, she’d been avoiding the news and hadn’t heard about the knife assaults or she’d never have bought his “things are slow” story.
“A whole week?” she asked with more enthusiasm than she’d shown for anything in a while.
“That’s right. What do you say we get out of town?”
“And go where?”
“Anywhere you want.”
Her hand came up to cover her face. “I don’t know… My face…”
“And still bruised.”
“So what? We’ll go somewhere that no one knows us and just relax and have fun. Come on. When will we ever get another chance like this to get out of here for a week?” With his hands on her face, he ran his thumb gently over the yellowing bruises. “Let’s get in the car and just drive. We’ll figure out where we’re going when we get there.”
“We’re not taking your car.”
Laughing, he kissed her. “My poor maligned Mustang. She’s so misunderstood.”
“She’s perfectly understood.”
“Fine, we’ll take your car. So is that a yes?” At some point during their time away, he’d have to find a way to tell her the things he’d been keeping from her. But the goal today was to get her to leave their apartment for the first time in two weeks.
“Yes, Freddie. Let’s go somewhere.”
After Sam sent Nick off to work with promises of a proper thank-you for the car later, she took a call from their assistant, Shelby, who’d been felled by severe morning sickness.
“I’m so sorry, Sam,” Shelby said tearfully. “Don’t pay me for this week.”
“Don’t be silly, Tinker Bell. You get sick time.”
“I’d feel guilty getting paid for doing nothing but puking and sleeping.”
“Is Avery with you?”
“Yes, it was so bad today that he called out of work to stay home.”
“I hope you feel better soon.”
“I do too. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Take the week off. I’m here and can handle anything that comes up. Rest up and feel better.”
“Are you sure?”
“Thanks so much, Sam. That’s a huge relief. I can barely move, so I wouldn’t be much good to you.”
“What’s the doctor saying?”
“Perfectly normal, but they’re keeping an eye on me so I don’t get dehydrated. Good times.”
To Sam, it sounded like the best of times, but she refused to dwell on the unreasonable jealousy she felt anytime someone around her got pregnant. “Hang in there, and let me know how you’re doing.”
“I will. How are you?”
“I’m fine. Doing better every day. I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”
“Sounds good. Bye, Sam.”
She put down the phone and poured herself a rare second cup of coffee. Sam wasn’t proud of the jealousy, but she couldn’t help it, especially when it would soon be a year since the last time she’d been pregnant. Minus a few months on birth control, she’d had a lot of months to conceive again, but it just hadn’t happened. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying.
The part she found so difficult to understand was that she and Nick had successfully conceived once before. Why wasn’t it happening again? She blew out a deep breath full of the frustration she’d experienced for years now when it came to her checkered fertility history. After her last miscarriage, the doctors had all agreed—if she’d gotten pregnant once, she could do so again.
Nick had wanted to pursue fertility treatments, but she didn’t have it in her to go through that again after having done it before with her ex-husband. The side effects of the treatments were just too much for her, especially with no guarantee of a baby at the end of it.
“You need to find something to do that doesn’t involve dwelling on this shit,” she said. On the counter was the handwritten card she’d received after Stahl’s attack, from her new chief of staff at the White House. She picked it up and re-read the kind message for at least the tenth time.
Mrs. Cappuano—please accept our heartfelt best wishes for a speedy recovery from your injuries. You are in our thoughts and prayers, and if I can be of any assistance to you whatsoever, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Lilia Van Nostrand.
She had included her direct line at the White House. Sam stared at the number for another minute before she picked up her phone again.
“This is Lilia,” she answered in the crisp, professional tone Sam remembered from the only other time she’d spoken to the woman.
“Um, yeah, this is Sam Hol… Um, Cappuano.”
“Oh! Mrs. Cappuano! How wonderful to hear from you.”
Sam cringed and held the phone away from her ear. “I, um, I wanted to thank you for your note and the flowers from the staff. That was very nice of you all.”
“It was our pleasure. I hope you’re on the road to recovery.”
“I’m delighted to hear that. Is there anything I can do to be of assistance to you?”
“Since I’m out of work on medical leave, I thought this might be a good time for that meeting you wanted to have with me.”
“How’s today at two?”
“Wow, you don’t mess around, do you?”
“No, I don’t.”
“This is embarrassing to admit, but how do I get in there? I’ve only ever been with Nick, er, Vice President Cappuano.” She still wanted to giggle when she called him that. Her husband, the vice president of the United States.
“I’ll send a car for you. You’ll be at home?”
“Excellent. The car will be there at one thirty, if that’s convenient.”
“That’s fine. I’ll see you soon.”
“We’ll look forward to it.”
Taking her phone with her, Sam ran upstairs to take a shower and figure out what to wear to meet her White House staff. The cuts to her arms and legs from the razor wire had mostly healed but remaining scabs on her legs had her choosing a black pair of pants and a red blazer that she matched with one of the silk blouses Tinker Bell’s personal shopper friend had bought for her.
Replacing an entire wardrobe took some time, and after her ex-friend Melissa took a machete to her closet, Sam had half of what she’d had before. She put on the diamond key necklace Nick had given her for a wedding gift as well as her rings, which she only wore when she wasn’t working. A pair of silver hoop earrings and a bangle bracelet finished off the outfit. As she put on black high-heeled ankle boots and took a critical look in the mirror, she decided she wouldn’t embarrass herself or Nick.
With thirty minutes to kill before the car arrived, she went downstairs, sat on the sofa and practiced the deep breathing techniques her sister Tracy had taught her in the days after the attack. She’d found the breathing and meditation helped to calm her mind and ease her anxiety.
People were saying she wasn’t herself. She could understand the concern, but she wasn’t sure how to be anyone other than who she was now, after the fact. Something had changed in the Springers’ basement, and it might take a while to figure out who she was now. In the meantime, she continued to breathe.
* * *
Gonzo sat at Sam’s desk and sifted through the reports submitted by the third-shift detectives working the knife assault case. He read through the statement taken from one of the victims who’d been lucky enough to survive the attack.
William Enright been walking on a quiet side street in the Gallaudet neighborhood, on his way home from a night out with colleagues when the assailant approached him from behind, grabbed his arm, swung him around and stabbed him in the abdomen. Luckily, the victim had remained coherent enough to fight off the attacker and call for help, but in addition to the life-threatening abdominal wound, he’d suffered significant lacerations to his hands and arms in the battle.
The description of a tall, muscular man wearing a hat pulled down over his face and a black coat fit the description they’d been given by another victim who’d been attacked on the other side of the city in the Glover Park area under similar circumstances.
“Knock knock,” Captain Malone said from the doorway.
“Hey, Cap, come on in.”
“Settling in here?”
“Not even kinda. She can come back anytime now.”
“That’s why I’m here. I saw her this morning, and I don’t think she’s coming back soon.”
“Where did you see her?”
“She was here for her appointment with Trulo.”
“And she didn’t even stop by the pit to see what’s going on? That’s not like her.”
“None of this is like her. I was hoping you might be able to shed some light.”
“I got nothing. She doesn’t return my calls and when she texts, it’s cryptic, one-word stuff.”
“We may have to prepare ourselves for the possibility that she won’t be back.”
“No,” Gonzo said, shocked and amazed that the captain would say such a thing out loud. “I refuse to prepare myself for that. She’ll be back. She’s too invested in the job to not come back.”
“I don’t know… She’s got a lot of other stuff going on now with Nick’s new job. Maybe this thing with Stahl was some sort of wake-up call that she doesn’t actually have nine lives and she needs to be more careful with the one she has.”
“You can’t honestly believe that.”
“You read the report. You heard what it was like for her in there. She lived for hours preparing for him to kill her while he beat and tortured her. Who’d want to come back to this bullshit after that?”
“Sam Holland. That’s who. She’s not a quitter.”
“No, she isn’t, but she’s as human as the rest of us underneath it all, and she took a bad, bad hit on this one.”
“I took a bad hit not that long ago.” He gestured to the still nasty-looking wound on his neck that served as a daily reminder of how close he’d come to losing everything. “I came back. Hell, I came back before I was allowed to.”
“I’m not, in any way, diminishing the impact of what you went through. But this was different, Gonzo. He tortured her. That messes with people’s heads.”
“And nearly bleeding out during a gunfight with a murdering psychopath while thinking about the fiancée, son and family I expected to never see again doesn’t?”
“Fair enough,” Malone said with a deep sigh. “I didn’t come in here to debate who had it worse. I hope you know that.”
“I do, and I get what you’re saying about her. What he did… I think we’d all like to get our hands on him for what he put her through.”
“Indeed. But for the time being, you’re in charge here, and I’m available for anything you might need. We appreciate you stepping up the way you have, but don’t hesitate to call on me if need be.”
“I won’t. Thanks, Cap.”
“So where are we with the knife guy?”
“Same place we were this time yesterday. We’re working the case, following up on leads and tips. Got a new interview from a vic that I was just going over.” Gonzo handed the page to the captain who read it carefully.
“The guy’s got a bit of an M.O. Attack from behind and go for the jugular or the gut if the vic puts up a fight.”
“Right. The ones who live get ‘lucky’ that he doesn’t connect with any major arteries or organs. Dr. McNamara reported that the two who died bled out very quickly. Both were dead before EMS arrived.”
“Any connections among the victims?”
“Not that we’ve been able to establish—yet. We’re working on it, and now we’re working on it without two of our best detectives.”
“I know. We need to make some sort of statement to the media about what we have so far.”
“We have next to nothing.”
“Let’s give them the facts of the case and let them know we’re following every lead. Maybe a briefing will lead to some more tips.”
“I’m going to need you to authorize some OT for the squad since we’re shorthanded.”
“I’ll take care of that. You take care of getting me a suspect—after you brief the media.”
“Can you be ready in thirty minutes?”
“Very good. I’ll go out there with you.”
Malone took off, leaving Gonzo to contemplate what the hell he could say to the media about an investigation that was stalled. He went over his notes again, refreshing his memory about what they knew so far, and typed up some brief comments that included a plea for information.
He also made copies of the composite sketch that had been created with the help of one of the victims that showed the attacker’s general height and build as well as the coat he’d been wearing. With fifteen minutes to spare before the briefing, he took advantage of the opportunity to call home.
His fiancée, Christina, sounded breathless when she answered on the third ring. “Hey.”
“Hi there. What’re you up to?”
“Doing a yoga video while Alex naps.”
Gonzo groaned. “Don’t put those images in my head when I’ve got hours to go until I can see you.”
Laughing, she said, “Sorry. So hours to go, huh?”
“Yeah. They suspended Cruz, but that’s top secret.”
“They suspended him? What for?”
“I’ll tell you later, but that leaves me even more shorthanded than I already was. We feel like this knife guy is deliberately taunting us.”
“You sound frustrated and overwhelmed.”
“I’m both of those things. We’re going to have to postpone our plans—again. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s no problem, Tommy. I’m not going anywhere. The next time we have a free weekend, we’ll take off and get it done.”
“I don’t want to think of our wedding as just another thing on an endless to-do list.”
Her soft laughter made him wish he were home with her rather than stuck here for the foreseeable future. “Are you laughing at me?” he asked.
“Maybe just a little. Ease up on yourself, Tommy. Our wedding will happen as soon as we have a space of time in which we have nothing to think about but each other and Alex.”
“Thanks for being so awesome all the time. It takes a special person to be the spouse of a cop.”
“I just want to be your spouse. You could be a garbageman for all I care.”
“Garbage is starting to look awfully good to me right about now.”
“This is an amazing opportunity for you. If you all manage to catch this guy while you’re in charge, it’ll be so great for your career.”
“True, but catching him is a big if.”
“You can do it. I have no doubt.”
“I love you, Christina. I can’t wait to marry you.”
“I love you too, and I can’t wait either. But I’d wait forever, so don’t let our plans add to your stress when you have enough on your plate.”
“Turn the TV on in a few minutes. Your dashing fiancé has to brief the media.”
“We’ll be watching.”
“I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
“We’ll be here.”
Gonzo always felt better after he talked to her. He never could’ve gotten through the chaotic events of the last few months without her by his side. First being shot and then being suspected of murdering his son’s mother… Gonzo shuddered at the memory of that awful day when Lori’s body had been found in her car, and all eyes had turned to him.
Stahl had played them all like a maestro, exacting his revenge with deliberation and cold, calculated precision. Cruz had played right into his hands by attacking the man who hurt Elin. Sam had been lured in by the relative safety she felt at entering Marissa Springer’s house alone. The incident had rattled all of them, but no one more so than Sam.
Gonzo hadn’t told anyone that he was beginning to believe that she wouldn’t be back. Why should she subject herself to the shit they encountered on a daily basis on this job when she certainly didn’t have to? Her husband was the freaking vice president of the United States. What did either of them need with a job that put her in constant danger?
The thought of doing this job without her, however, was not one he was prepared to fully entertain. It would be a much different atmosphere in this squad without her leadership. He would be her logical successor unless one of the current lieutenants put in for it.
With everything happening in his personal life, Gonzo wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to take on more responsibility at work. But he might not have a choice if he was thrust into the role. That’s the way things happened in this line of work. Someone flamed out for whatever reason and the guy standing next in line got caught holding the baton, whether or not he was ready.
His partner, Detective Arnold, knocked on the door. “Malone says they’re ready for you to brief the media.”
Gonzo collected his notes and a bottle of water and headed for the main entrance to HQ, where the reporters gathered year-round to wait for information. It didn’t matter if it was freezing, like today, or sweltering hot in the summer, they were always there waiting to be tossed a bone.
Sam had gotten very adept at telling them a whole lot of nothing. He hoped he could do the same.
“Ready?” Malone asked when he met Gonzo at the main doors.
“No, but let’s get it over with.”
When they emerged into the biting cold, the reporters surged, quickly surrounding him and Malone.
“Back off and give us some room,” Malone barked.
They backed off by a few inches, but began shouting questions about the knife attacks, when Sam would be back, what was happening with Stahl and everything else they could think of.
Gonzo went through a rote recitation of what they knew so far about the knife attacks, including an update on the condition of the two victims who remained hospitalized. He distributed the copies he’d made and asked for their help in generating more tips from the public.
“Have you found any connections among the victims?” a reporter asked.
“Not yet. Until we know more, we’re operating under the assumption that these attacks are random. We’re asking the public to remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings at all times while walking around the city.”
“When will Lieutenant Holland return to work?” Darren Tabor asked.
Gonzo looked to Malone to take the question.
“We have no comment on internal personnel matters,” Malone said.
“But she will be back, right?” Tabor asked.
Malone glared at the pesky reporter. “We have no comment on internal personnel matters.”
“Can you speak to the status of Stahl’s case?” another asked.
“He’s been remanded for trial and is being held without bail at Jessup.”
“Why there and not here?”
“Due to the potential for conflicts of interest in this case,” Malone said, “we requested permission to move him out of our jurisdiction, and the court approved the move.”
“Captain, what is the mood within the department in light of the Stahl case?”
Gonzo could feel the captain’s tension in the way he stiffened. “What do you think it is? We’re still trying to get our heads around the fact that one of our own, a man we worked with as a close colleague for many years, was capable of what he did, not only to Lieutenant Holland but to the other victims of his senseless crimes.”
“It’s been a rough couple of months for the MPD,” one of the bottle blonde TV reporters said. “Is there any talk of the chief retiring or stepping down to make way for new leadership?”
“The leadership we have is more than capable of steering us through whatever comes our way. That’s it for today. Thanks for your time.” He grabbed Gonzo’s arm and nearly dragged him through the doors. “Fucking vultures. And they wonder why we have to force ourselves to meet with them in the first place.”
“The chief isn’t retiring, is he?” Gonzo asked.
“Not that I’ve heard, and I would’ve heard.”
“You ever think about…” Gonzo had no sooner said the words than he wanted to take them back.
Malone eyed him shrewdly. “Think about what?”
Gonzo sighed and looked up at the captain. “About when too much becomes just that. Too much.”
“How do you mean?”
“The thing with Sam and Stahl… What if it was enough to drive her out of here permanently? And the chief. He’s got to be about to the point where he’s thinking life’s too short for this shit.”
“Are you thinking that, Sergeant?”
“No! I’m thinking about them.”
“It’s been a rough couple of months around here. No one would deny that. It’s been a rough couple of months for you too. Not only did you have a nearly fatal gunshot wound but the mother of your child was murdered, and you were briefly caught in the crosshairs. And that doesn’t even take into consideration what happened to Sam and how we all feel about her and the animal who attacked her. Anyone would be having a crisis of faith after all of that.”
“I’m not having a crisis. It’s not that.”
“I don’t know. It’s nothing.”
Malone never blinked, letting him know he’d have to do better than that.
“Is she coming back?” Gonzo asked.
Malone propped his hands on his hips and shook his head. “I honestly don’t know. I thought she’d be back by now.”
“So did I.”
“She’s stonewalling Trulo, even though she knows she has to pacify him to get back to work. That tells me she’s in no rush to come back.”
“Or she’s not ready to air it out.”
“That’s also possible.”
“So I’m not the only one who’s concerned.”
“Certainly not. Came up this morning in a meeting with the brass and the other captains.”
Gonzo wasn’t sure if he was comforted to know the brass was worried too, or more concerned than he’d been before he asked.
“Look, just keep doing what you’re doing,” Malone said. “It’s not gone unnoticed that you’ve really stepped up when you’re barely back to full speed after your injury.”
“I’m here if you need me. Don’t hesitate to come to me if you need backup of any kind.”
“Thanks, Cap. I’ll let you get back to work.”
Malone nodded and took off toward his office while Gonzo headed back to the pit to check on the status of the investigation. The sooner they found the knife wielder, the sooner he could see about marrying the love of his life.