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Book 6 in the Fatal Series
When Willie Vasquez, the Washington Federals’ star center fielder, makes a critical error in game seven of the National League Championship Series, he ends the team’s World Series bid and its Cinderella season. An angry city descends into riots, and when the flames are extinguished, Vasquez is found murdered. Lt. Sam Holland and her team are left to unravel a twisted web of motive. Was it a disgruntled fan, a spurned lover or a furious teammate? At home, she must deal with her heartbroken adopted son Scotty, one of Vasquez’s biggest fans.
As Sam’s investigation takes her in unexpected directions, her husband, U.S. Senator Nick Cappuano, is fighting for his political life in the final days of his re-election campaign after financial irregularities are exposed that could threaten his relationship with his mentor, retired Senator Graham O’Connor.
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This, Nick Cappuano thought, is as good as it gets—a cool, crisp autumn night at the ballpark with all his favorite people and the hometown D.C. Federals cruising toward a spot in their first-ever World Series. Going into the top of the ninth inning, the Feds were up two to one with three outs standing between them and the big show.
“I can’t believe this is really happening,” Scotty said. The twelve-year-old vibrated with excitement.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself.” As a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, Nick had learned to be realistic about these things. “We don’t want to jinx them.”
“All they need is three outs, and it’s a done deal.”
“Shhh,” Nick said, cuffing the boy’s chin and making him smile. He’d been living with them for two months now, the best two months of Nick’s life. He and his wife Sam had filed formal adoption papers to make the boy an official member of the Cappuano family.
Speaking of the devil. His gorgeous wife made her way across the luxury skybox he’d collaborated with his close friend, retired Senator Graham O’Connor, to secure for the big game. With a water bottle in hand, Sam plopped down on Nick’s lap, looping her arm around his shoulders.
“Having fun, babe?” Nick asked.
“So much fun. Freddie and Gonzo are already taking bets on the World Series.”
“They shouldn’t do that,” Scotty said gravely. “Nick says they’ll jinx the Feds.”
“Can you even stand this?” Graham asked, grinning widely as he joined the Cappuanos. “It only took three seasons to make the World Series! And to think, last year, they were giving away tickets to fill seats.”
“Tell him, Scotty,” Nick said.
“You’re going to jinx them.”
Graham ruffled the boy’s hair. “I’m liking our chances with Lind on the mound to close this thing out.”
The Feds’ lights-out closer, Rick Lind, was a big reason the team was sitting pretty in the top of the ninth inning in the seventh game of the National League Championship Series. The six-foot-six-inch pitcher’s hundred-mile-an-hour fastball was a thing of pure beauty.
“If only the Sox had made it too, this would be even more exciting,” Scotty said.
The Sox had flamed out of the pennant race in late September. “We have to take what we can get,” Nick said.
Lind struck out the first two batters in the Giants’ order with six sizzling fastballs the hitters never saw coming. Sam and Nick joined the rest of the ballpark by standing to cheer the home team.
“Holy cow,” Scotty said, on his feet now that only three strikes stood between the Feds and the World Series. “This is the most exciting night of my entire life!” He paused, glanced at Nick and frowned.
“What?” Nick asked. The roar of the ballpark made it hard to hear, so he tipped his head closer to the boy.
“Your convention speech was way cooler and so was what happened afterward.” That was the night Scotty told them that he’d like to live with them permanently, which ranked as one of the best moments in Nick’s life—and Sam’s.
Smiling, Nick slung an arm around Scotty. “This is pretty darned cool too. It’s okay to push it into first place.”
Scotty shook his head. “It’s a close second to that night.”
“I’ll give you that.”
Scotty looked up at him with a loving smile that nearly stopped Nick’s heart. He’d had no idea it was possible to love so deeply until Sam and Scotty had come into his life. He kept his arm around his son as the third Giants hitter stepped into the batter’s box and Lind went into his famously contorted windup. How he ever managed to throw strikes out of that windup was a mystery to every baseball fan in America.
“He looks like Big Bird on acid,” Sam said dryly, cracking up everyone in the box.
The fans stood as one, roaring as the game came down to two more pitches from the best closer in baseball.
The snap of the second strike hitting the catcher’s mitt could be heard seven levels up in the skybox. Nick glanced at the scoreboard in center field where the pitch speed had been posted at 103 miles per hour. Holy shit. Lind was pulling out the biggest of the big guns for this final inning.
The volume in the park was earsplitting by the time Lind threw the second strike of the at bat.
To Nick’s left were Sam, her partner Detective Freddie Cruz and his girlfriend Elin, Detective Tommy “Gonzo” Gonzales holding his son Alex, Gonzo’s fiancée—and Nick’s chief of staff—Christina Billings, Sam’s dad, Skip, and his wife Celia, Graham and his wife Laine, Terry O’Connor and his girlfriend, D.C. Medical Examiner Dr. Lindsey McNamara, the O’Connors’ daughter Lizbeth and her family, and Sam’s sister Tracy and her family.
Also enjoying the box seats were Sam and Nick’s assistant, Shelby Faircloth, and Nick’s friend Derek Kavanaugh, who’d brought his baby daughter Maeve. Nick was glad to see Derek getting out again after the devastating loss of his wife Victoria. Derek was talking to Shelby, who held Maeve and laughed with Derek at the baby’s antics. Derek seemed more relaxed than Nick had seen him since his life imploded, which was a welcome relief.
The entire group was laughing and cheering, and Scotty had gone from vibrating to bouncing up and down. While he, too, was a lifelong Red Sox fan, something he and Nick had bonded over from the beginning of their friendship, Scotty had become a big fan of the Feds this season. This was especially true since the baseball camp he attended in the District over the summer, at which he’d met the team’s all-star center fielder Willie Vasquez.
Willie was now bent at the waist, staring intently at the action unfolding on the mound as Lind wound up and delivered another pitch that was fouled off. The frenzied energy in the stadium deflated a bit as the ball sailed into the seats near left field. But the roar began anew as Lind wound up, delivering a breaking ball that was again fouled off.
Nick glanced down to find Scotty biting his nails as he stared at the diamond below where the catcher, first baseman and shortstop were conferencing with Lind on the mound.
When he caught Nick watching him, Scotty dropped the hand from his mouth. “This is so stressful.”
“Imagine how the players must feel.”
“I may not be cut out for professional sports.”
The kid was endlessly amusing, which was one of many reasons he and Sam loved him so much. “Well, luckily you have plenty of time to make career decisions, buddy.”
When the conference on the mound broke up, Scotty joined the rest of the crowd in clapping and calling out encouragement to Lind.
As the pitcher stared down the batter, Sam’s hand clutched Nick’s arm—tightly.
He glanced over to find her riveted by the action on the field as Lind delivered. The crack of the bat had thousands of people gasping as the batter raced toward first base, beating the shortstop’s throw to the bag.
“It’s okay,” Nick said, resting a hand on Scotty’s shoulder. “It’s only one man on.” He didn’t say that a home run would give the lead to the Giants, because Scotty didn’t need to hear that—and he already knew. To Sam, Nick said, “Um, that’s starting to hurt.”
“Oh, sorry.” She released her grip on his arm, but only slightly.
Scotty was biting nails on both hands as Lind walked the next batter in four pitches, indication that his legendary control had been broken by the unexpected hit. Once again, the catcher, first baseman and shortstop approached the mound, this time with the team’s pitching coach and manager, Bob Minor, in tow.
“I can’t even stand to look,” Scotty said, turning his face into Nick’s chest.
Nick patted Scotty’s back, hoping to provide comfort. “Stay strong, my man. We only need one out.”
With adrenaline and anxiety duking it out in his own bloodstream, Nick had to remind himself this was only a game, a thought he refrained from sharing with Scotty.
“Time to look again,” Nick said as the next batter approached the plate.
Scotty returned his attention to the game, clapping and shouting his encouragement to the team.
Sam’s grip again tightened on Nick’s arm, but since he loved being her main squeeze, he didn’t complain.
Two fouls and three balls later, Nick was looking for something to squeeze. The tension in the ballpark was palpable, especially after the runner on second stole third, landing in a diving slide that took the Feds completely by surprise.
“Crap,” Scotty uttered, echoing the sentiments of Feds fans everywhere.
With runners at the corners and one out standing between the Feds and the World Series, every player was on full alert, and every fan was on their feet.
“Come on, come on, come on,” Scotty chanted as Lind went into the windup.
Another foul into the seats behind home plate.
“I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” Scotty said.
“Spoken by a Red Sox fan who has only lived through the decade of success,” Skip said from the other side of Sam.
“That’s not my fault,” Scotty said, making the others laugh.
“Hang in there, pal,” Sam said, leaning in front of Nick to address Scotty. “You want to hold hands or something?”
“Nah, my hands are too sweaty.”
“I don’t mind.” Sam extended her hand to Scotty, who grabbed it gratefully.
She and Nick shared a smile, and then she let out a whistle that nearly deafened him. Who knew she could do that?
“Come on, Lind!” she screamed. “Get it done!”
“I think we’ve made a fan out of her,” Nick said to Scotty.
“That’s what we get for dragging her to games all summer.”
“I can hear you two talking about me.”
Nick’s retort was swallowed when Lind let loose with another fastball. The crack of the bat silenced the screaming crowd as the ball arced to center field where Willie Vasquez waited patiently. Only because Nick had switched his focus to the giant TV screen in the box, did he see Vasquez take his eye off the ball for a fraction of a second to check the runner on third base.
That fraction of a second was all it took for the stiff breeze to intervene, sending the ball sailing over Willie’s head. It took another fraction of a second for Willie to realize what’d happened. By then, right fielder Cecil Mulroney had grabbed the ball and returned it to the infield. But the damage was done. Both runs had scored, and the Giants had taken the lead.
The same fans who’d been cheering so loudly a few minutes ago were now booing even louder, and trash rained down on the outfield from the bleachers.
“I don’t understand,” Scotty said, his eyes swimming with tears. “How could he miss that? It was an easy fly.”
“He took his eye off the ball,” Nick said, shocked by the turn of events. “That’s all it takes.”
As the grounds crew scrambled around the outfield, cleaning up trash that continued to come from the seats above, security wrestled with enraged fans in the bleachers. Nick was glad to be in a skybox, away from the frenzy erupting around the stadium.
Vazquez stood alone in center field, seeming dazed by what had happened.
A tap on Nick’s shoulder had him turning to Eric Douglas, one of the Secret Service agents assigned to his detail. They’d been tailing him in the waning days of his reelection campaign, ever since Sam pinned Victoria Kavanaugh’s murder on former presidential candidate Arnie Patterson and he’d vowed revenge on her family.
“Senator, we’d like to get you and your family out of here,” Eric said.
“Not until the game is over,” Nick said.
“We’d like to go now. Just in case the situation escalates.”
“I can’t take Scotty out of here now, Eric.”
Sam’s pager went off, as did those belonging to Gonzo and Cruz. She checked hers. “Wow, the entire MPD is being put on tactical alert.”
“What for?” Nick asked, as a feeling of unease came over him.
“The expectation of rioting.” She pointed to the field. “Look.”
As he glanced at the action below, uniformed police officers stepped onto the field, armed with serious-looking weapons.
“Special response team,” Sam said with a note of pride in her voice.
“They were already here?”
“Hell, yeah. Anymore we’ve got to be ready for what happens if the team wins—or if it loses. People go batshit crazy either way. They must be expecting big trouble if they recalled everyone.”
His stomach plummeted at the thought of the city erupting in violence and his wife being smack in the middle of it.
“I’m going to drop Christina and Alex at home,” Gonzo said to Sam as he hustled his family from the skybox. “I’ll see you at HQ.”
“Me too,” Cruz said, holding Elin’s hand as they headed for the exit. “Thanks for the great seats, Nick.”
“Gotta go,” Sam said with a kiss for Nick and a hug for Scotty. “Try not to take it too hard, buddy. No matter what happens, there’s always next year.”
“Yeah, I know. Thanks for bringing me to the game. It was exciting to be here, no matter how it ends.”
“That’s the way to be,” she said. “I’ll see you guys at home.”
“Um, Mrs. Cappuano,” Eric said. “We’d prefer that you remain with us.”
“I’m sure you would,” Sam said with her trademark cheeky grin. “But I’ve got a job to do, and so do you. You take care of my guys. I’ll take care of myself.”
Nick tried very hard not to get in the way of her job, but he had a bad feeling about what might happen in the city if the Feds lost. “Sam—” The steely stare she directed his way killed the thought before he voiced it. “Be careful out there, babe.”
“I always am.” Nick’s eyes were glued to her as she said goodnight to her dad and Celia and hugged her sister. He wanted to go after her and find a way to make her stay. But when duty called, as it often did, Sam always went.
“Senator?” Eric’s second inquiry was more urgent than the first.
Nick glanced at the field to find the outfield covered in trash and team security surrounding Willie Vasquez as they led him to the dugout, presumably to get him out of harm’s way. Didn’t the fans know the Feds had three more outs and only needed one run to tie and two to win? It could still be done.
He glanced at Scotty, who watched the scene on the field with a mix of confusion and anger. “I don’t understand. Why are they doing this? The Feds still have three more outs. The game isn’t over.”
“I don’t get it either, buddy. Listen, Eric wants to get us out of here in case there’s trouble.”
“Before the game is over?”
“Yeah, he wants to go now.”
“Will they get to finish the game?”
“As soon as they get the fans settled. We can watch the end on TV at home.” All at once, Nick was anxious to get the hell out of there, and more important, to get Scotty the hell out of there.
“Okay.” Scotty took a last look at the field before he let Nick guide him toward the exit.
The rest of their party followed them to the elevator, which the Secret Service had secured for their descent. How they did that—and the many other things they did with seemingly effortless authority—was a source of constant fascination to Nick.
“I’ll make sure Shelby gets home,” Derek said in a low voice that only Nick could hear over the conversation in the elevator.
“Oh, thanks. That’d be great. You seemed to have a good time tonight.”
Derek focused on Maeve, who had a spit-soaked fist jammed in her mouth. “What’s a good time anymore?”
Nick ached for his heartbroken friend. “It’s nice to see you out.”
“Thanks for asking me. I don’t mean to be a downer.”
“You’re not. You know we all want to help. Any way we can.”
“And I appreciate that. I don’t know what I would’ve done without my friends and family the last couple of months.”
“Any thoughts about going back to work?” Derek was deputy chief of staff to President Nelson, who, like Nick, was up for reelection next month.
“After the election, if he wins and if he wants me back. I can’t even think about wading back into the action at this point.”
Nick patted his friend’s back. “He’ll win, and he wants you back. He’s already told you that.”
Derek shrugged. “Not sure my heart’s in it anymore.”
“Give it some time. Don’t make any big decisions.”
“That’s what everyone says.”
Over Derek’s shoulder, Nick watched Shelby play peekaboo with Maeve, making the little girl laugh.
Her laughter drew a small smile from her dad. “Life goes on, right?”
“You’re going to be okay, Derek.”
“Keep telling me that. Maybe one day I’ll believe it.”
“You got it.”
The Secret Service agents moved swiftly to usher Nick and his friends to their vehicles. Nick and Scotty were escorted to the large black SUV that had been getting them around for the last two months. Watching Scotty buckle in, Nick was amused by how well the boy had adapted to not only a new family but also the nuisance of around-the-clock protection.
“Sorry about all this, pal.”
“Having to leave the game before it’s over, the Secret Service, all the hassle.”
“Seriously? It’s awesome. My new friends at school think I’m someone important because the agents follow me around.”
“Is that right?”
“Uh-huh. Don’t worry, it’s cool.”
“Would you tell me if it wasn’t?”
Scotty took a moment, thought about that. “If I thought there was something you could do about it. It’s not like you’re thrilled with the Secret Service hanging around.”
Nick had been quite vocal about his dislike of being shadowed everywhere he went. “It’s annoying as all hell. I didn’t appreciate my freedom until it was gone.”
“Imagine what it’d be like to be president.”
“Yeah.” He’d thought about that quite a lot since the convention and the subsequent buzz about him running for president in four years.
“Do you ever wonder… Nah, never mind.”
“Wonder about what?”
“People talk, ya know?”
Nick eyed him warily. “And? What do these people say?”
“That my new dad might be president someday and what would that be like. You know, for me.”
Scotty was so sweet and considerate, not unlike the twelve-year-old Nick had once been. Nick had lived in constant fear that his grandmother would get tired of having him around and send him to a foster home, so he’d been on best behavior at all times. “What do you tell them when they ask you?”
“That I have no idea. How could I know what that’s like until it happens?”
“Good point. Would you want to find out?”
Scotty’s big brown eyes got even bigger. “Are you going to do it?”
“I don’t know yet. But like you said, there’s a lot of talk. It has me thinking about what ifs.”
“What does Sam say?”
Nick’s laugh was a low rumble. “Mostly she sticks her fingers in her ears and says ‘Lalalala, can’t hear you.’”
Scotty cracked up. “I can so see her doing that. It’s because of her job, right?”
“In part. If anyone would chafe against the restrictions, it’d be her. She’d go nuts being followed around all day. I can’t, for the life of me, picture her living like that.”
“And since I can’t live without her…all the talk might be a moot point.”
“What’s a moot point? What does that mean?”
“It means there’s probably no point in talking about it when it can’t really happen without Sam being on board.”
The divider window opened and Eric turned in the passenger seat to face them. “Sorry for the delay, Senator. We’re stuck in traffic.”
“Any word on the game?”
“It’s over. The Feds went down swinging in the bottom of the ninth.”
Scotty let out a tortured groan. “We were so close.”
“They’ll be talking about this one for years to come,” Eric said with a sympathetic smile for Scotty.
“Poor Willie,” Scotty said. “He must be so upset.”
“I’m sure he is,” Nick agreed.
“I’m going to write him a letter. When we get home, I’m going to write to him and tell him I don’t blame him. Accidents happen, even to Major League ballplayers.”
Nick’s heart swelled with love. “I think that’s a brilliant idea, buddy.”
They shared a smile that made him so very grateful for the boy who was now his son. Soon enough the adoption would be official. Nick couldn’t wait for that day.
Sam arrived at HQ pissed off about being called into work on a night she’d planned to spend with her guys. They got so few free nights together, especially during Nick’s campaign, that she tended to be greedy about every one. She sauntered into the situation room where Chief Farnsworth, Deputy Chief Conklin and Detective Captain Malone were consulting with the lieutenants who ran the Special Response Team and Patrol Division.
She took a seat next to Detectives Dani Carlucci and Giselle “Gigi” Dominguez, the two third-shift officers under her command. “Well, this blows, huh?” Sam said.
“You said it, LT,” Gigi said. “All over a stupid baseball game.”
“Too bad people don’t go nuts over homelessness or something that matters,” Dani added.
“I was just saying that same thing to Christina,” Gonzo said as he took a seat behind them.
Freddie came in with Detectives Arnold, McBride and Tyrone.
“The gang’s all here,” Sam said, nodding to each of her detectives.
“The Feds have lost the game,” Farnsworth announced to groans. “The Special Response Team is handling crowd control in and around the stadium along with the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies who were already on standby in case we needed them. It’s my belief that we’re going to need them tonight. Everyone listen up as Deputy Chief Conklin hands out assignments.”
Conklin gave out the special radio channel the Operations team would monitor during the night and mentioned the cameras the Special Response Team had trained on the stadium were showing increasing unrest in the area. He went through the roster, doling out orders. Everyone became a patrol officer on a night like this, when the city was overtaken by the unruly masses working out their frustrations over a game gone wrong.
“That’s it, people,” Conklin concluded, after he’d given other tactical instructions. “Let’s hit the streets and be careful out there.”
Sam waited until the others filed out of the room to approach the brass. Her partner, Freddie Cruz, had been sent out with McBride and Tyrone, leaving with a quizzical look for Sam.
“You forgot someone,” Sam said to Conklin.
“No, I didn’t.” He glanced at Farnsworth. “I’ll let you handle this one, sir.”
Farnsworth waited until Conklin and Malone left the room before he met Sam’s intent gaze.
“What gives?” she asked.
“I need you here, helping with command and dispatch.”
“With all due respect, sir, that’s a bunch of happy horseshit. Tell me what’s really going on.”
His steel gray eyes hardened. “I could point out that you’re being insubordinate, Lieutenant Holland. Again.”
“You could but you won’t. What’s the real story? Why am I being wrapped in swaddling clothing all of a sudden?”
“You know why.”
“Arnie Patterson is in jail! This is getting ridiculous! My husband and son have Secret Service agents following them around everywhere they go. I’m being kept off the street.”
“Because you refuse to take the threats seriously. Whether you choose to believe it or not, Patterson has a ton of supporters. Your investigation squashed their dream of seeing him in the White House. They blame you.”
“Um, hello, he’s a murdering, scheming scumbag, and he squashed their dreams.”
“You know that, and I know that, but try and tell them that.”
Arnie’s disciples had taken to the internet and social media since his arrest to denounce the detective who’d tied the murder of Victoria Kavanaugh to Arnie Patterson and his sons. Most of their vitriol had focused on Sam as the detective who’d uncovered the scheme, even though the FBI had made the actual arrests.
“Until the furor dies down,” Farnsworth said, “you’re off the streets.”
“Even if there’s a homicide?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“I need a nice juicy murder to sink my teeth into. It’s been weeks and weeks with nothing good to work on.”
“You’re sick, Holland, you know that?”
“That hurts my feelings.”
“What feelings?” he asked with a laugh. “Help with dispatch, help with command, help with the reports and don’t step foot outside this building without my knowledge, you got me?”
The man she’d once called Uncle Joe rarely pulled rank on her. In fact, he let her get away with everything except murder itself in running her investigations and her division. Because he was often so accommodating, she decided to accommodate him. For now. But this coddling shit couldn’t continue much longer without her losing her mind.
“Fine,” she said to his back as he left the room. “But after tonight, we’re having a conversation about my clipped wings.”
He waved to indicate he’d heard her, and Sam kicked the trash can out of frustration. She hated being sidelined due to worries about her safety. Why didn’t anyone think she was capable of taking care of herself? She’d been a cop almost thirteen years! And here she was relegated to desk duty on one of the most intense nights the department had seen in years. It wasn’t fair.
And while it might not be fair, it was happening, so she put aside her frustration to go figure out where she was needed. In the dispatch area, she was drawn to the bank of televisions repeatedly broadcasting the ball sailing over Willie Vasquez’s head as the commentators talked about a moment that would land in the baseball history books, right next to Bill Buckner’s famous bobble that cost the Boston Red Sox a World Series victory in 1986. “This might even be worse than Buckner,” one of the broadcasters said grimly.
Her gaze shifted to the next television where Metro Special Response officers were in crowd control formations outside the stadium. Other images included a car on fire, another lying on its side, a shattered storefront and angry mobs of people in the streets.
All over a freaking baseball game.
Choking back her dismay over what was happening to her city as well as her inability to do anything about it, she buckled down to help out in central processing, which was overwhelmed with people being dragged in off the streets by increasingly irritated police officers.
Wanting to drown out the roar of the voices in the station as well as the disturbing images coming from the TVs, she put in her earbuds and let Bon Jovi take her away from it all as she typed reports and tried to stay focused on the menial tasks involved with processing hundreds of arrests.
An hour later, a nearby flurry of activity caught her attention as a man wearing a navy blue jacket with bold yellow FBI letters on the back scuffled with an unruly prisoner who continued to resist arrest right up to the last minute. Sam tugged out her earbuds and went to offer assistance in subduing the man.
The agent caught her gaze, and Sam gasped at the sight of Special Agent Avery Hill’s golden brown eyes.
“Agent Hill,” she said, haltingly after they succeeded wrestling the man into central booking. “We meet again.”
“Are there any other kind in our line of work?”
That drew a slow, sexy smile from the man who’d been less than circumspect about his crush on her. Sam cleared her throat as a flurry of nerves made her feel stupid and dismayed. She hated the effect he had on her as she had absolutely no interest in him. “What’re you doing here? I thought you were relocating to the West Coast or Outer Mongolia or some such place after we closed the Kavanaugh case.”
“That was the plan,” he said in the honeyed Southern accent that made the toughest of women want to swoon. Not Sam, though. She liked to think she was immune. “Director Hamilton had other plans for me.” His self-deprecating smile exposed an adorable dimple on his left cheek. “Meet the new agent in charge of the Criminal Investigation Division at headquarters.”
“Oh,” Sam said, thunderstruck by the news. “So you’re staying in town?” And closer now than he’d been when he worked out of Quantico. Awesome. Wait until Nick heard this news. He’d tuned into Hill’s interest in Sam the first time he met the agent and was none too happy about it.
“Appears that way.” He gestured to the guy he’d brought in. “I offered to transport for Officers Beckett and Dempsey. They had a full car. They should be right behind me with the paperwork.”
“Lots of that to do tonight.”
“I’m surprised to find you here and not on the streets.”
“You and me both,” she said with a snarl. “Freaking Arnie Patterson and his freaking threats have gotten me a pair of severely clipped wings.”
“Oh, that sucks.”
“No kidding. You helped to nail him too. I don’t see him threatening you.”
“You’re much more famous than I am,” he said with a teasing grin.
He raised a brow and seemed to be considering the offer. “Well, I’d better get back out there. Word is the president is calling in the National Guard to help with crowd control. Never seen anything like it in my life.”
“All over a baseball game.”
“I know. It’s insane.”
“Congrats on the promotion.”
“Thanks.” He headed for the main door, but stopped and turned to find her watching him go. That was embarrassing.
“Could I ask you something?” he said, zeroing in on her in that intense way he did so well.
“Your assistant, Shelby.”
“What about her?”
“A while back, she asked me to have coffee with her. Since I’ll be sticking around, I was thinking I might take her up on the invite.”
Sam had no idea what to say to that. “Oh.”
“Would that a problem for you?”
“I, um… I don’t see why it would be.” As long as Shelby kept him far, faraway from Sam and Nick’s house, that would be fine, right? Sam made a mental note to address that with their assistant pronto.
He nodded. “See you around, Sam.”
“Right,” she said as he went out the door and into the night. “See you.” As she went back to her workstation to continue processing arrest reports, she also tried to process the latest info on pesky Agent Hill. She’d thought him long gone to assignments out West, but instead he was not only staying in town but also thinking about going out with their assistant.
Far too close for comfort, she decided.
A few minutes later, Hill came back into the station, seeming a bit shaken. He came right over to the bull pen where she was working. “Lieutenant, I need a word in private, please.”
They walked in silence to the detectives’ pit where Sam gestured for him to go into her office. She shut the door behind them. “What’s up?”
“I just got a call from my friend Ray Jestings, the owner of the Feds.”
“You’re friends with the guy who owns the Feds?”
“We grew up together in Charleston. He married Elle Kopelsman.”
Sam blew out a low whistle at the mention of one of Washington’s most illustrious families. The Kopelsman family was the closest thing Washington had to royalty. As the owner of the Washington Star newspaper, Harlan Kopelsman had campaigned tirelessly for years to bring Major League Baseball to the nation’s capital and then died of a massive stroke midway through the team’s first season.
Elle was Harlan’s daughter, a blonde-about-town who’d made a name for herself as a socialite and philanthropist. When her father died, she took over the Star and her husband took control of the team.
“Anyway, Ray told me that Vasquez’s wife is frantic because she can’t reach him, and according to the team, he left the stadium quite some time ago.”
“They let him leave without security? Are they for real?”
“Apparently, he refused the offer of security, and Ray didn’t argue with him in light of what they’re dealing with in and around the stadium.”
“Can you get me the make and model of his car and the plate number? I’ll put our people on the lookout for him.”
“That’s what I was hoping you’d say. I’ll get the info for you.”
While he called Jestings, Sam tried to formulate a plan for how to go about looking for the missing ballplayer without adding to the unrest in the city.
“Okay,” Hill said when he ended the call. “It’s a black Lincoln MKZ.” He rattled off the D.C. plate number.
Sam relayed the info to dispatch and asked for an all-points bulletin for the car.
“No APB for him?” Hill asked when she put down the phone.
“You know the rules about ‘missing’ adults. Until they’re missing at least twenty-four hours, there’s not much we can do, unless we’re dealing with a mental health condition or something like that. He might’ve gone underground until the furor dies down. I wouldn’t blame him if he did.”
“Without telling his wife or team where he’d be?”
“Maybe he doesn’t want them to know. He’s probably embarrassed as all hell and going off to lick his wounds.”
“Do you really believe that?”
Exasperated with the cat-and-mouse game, Sam propped her hands on her hips. “Why don’t you tell me what you believe, Agent Hill?”
“I believe this guy is single-handedly responsible for the Feds losing the game and their first trip to the World Series. I believe there’re a lot of people in this city who’d love to get their hands on him. I believe the fact that he’s missing and not answering calls from his wife is a sign that he’s in some sort of trouble.”
“If we put out the word he’s missing, it might make things worse.”
“You don’t trust your people to keep a lid on it?”
“I wish I trusted all of them to keep a lid on it, but the temptation would be tremendous. I’m afraid to even do an attempt-to-locate bulletin with the city going ballistic at the moment. All it would take is one patrolman telling his girlfriend, and the next thing we know it’s all over Twitter and Facebook that Willie is missing. I have to weigh what’s best for the entire city over what’s best for Willie.”
“Will you be okay with that decision if something happens to him?”
Sam thought about that for a moment. “Yes, I suppose I’ll have to be. I’ll put my detectives on the lookout for him, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go.”
“I’m going to look for him too.”
“You can’t tell me not to, Lieutenant. You’re not the boss of me.”
Smiling, she shook her head. “You sound like my nephew Jack. That’s his favorite thing to tell his mother.”
“How old is he?”
Sam instantly regretted sharing something personal with him. “Almost six.”
He winced. “It’s been a while since I was compared to a six-year-old.”
“I was just going to say be careful, and don’t take any chances. Things are crazy enough out there.”
“Why, Lieutenant, it almost sounds as if you care.”
“I’ve got enough paperwork to do without adding your bloody carcass to the pile.”
He grinned and shook his head. “I’m touched by your concern. I’ll let you know if I find anything. You’ll do the same?”
She gave a short nod of agreement, even though sharing info with the FBI usually went against her entire belief system. In this case, however, it seemed only fair since Hill had notified her of Vasquez’s potential disappearance.
They walked out to the lobby together and went their separate ways without another word. But as always, being around Hill left her feeling off balance and out of sorts. After she’d confronted him about his propensity to stare at her, he hadn’t denied being attracted to her.
While the attraction was definitely one-sided, knowing he had a thing for her was weird. Maybe she’d give Shelby a push—or even a shove—in his direction. Whatever it took to get his eyes off her and on to someone else before his staring issue caused her more trouble with Nick.
She sent a text message to all her detectives, letting them know that Willie Vasquez had left the stadium without security and was out of touch with his family and the team. She asked them to keep a lookout for the ballplayer, but to keep his potential disappearance to themselves. It wasn’t necessary to explain the need for discretion to any of them. They carried gold shields because they “got it” without having to be led to it.
Determined to shake off the encounter with Hill and her concerns about where Willie Vasquez might be, she put her earbuds back in and turned up the volume on Bon Jovi to drown out her disturbing thoughts. She pounded away on the computer all night until she was so stiff from sitting in one position for hours that she had to stand up and stretch. Through the main door she could see the first hint of pink and orange lighting the sky, signaling the end to what had felt like an endless night of chaos, violence, arrests and paperwork.
One of the dispatchers called her over.
“What’s up?” she asked.
“Possible homicide.” He handed her a slip of paper with an address on Independence and 7th. “Body in a Dumpster.”
“Got it.” Sam took a quick look around and saw no sign of the brass. If she couldn’t find Chief Farnsworth, she couldn’t ask Chief Farnsworth, right? “Give me ten minutes to get out of here before you tell anyone else about this, got me?”
They might be able to sideline her for a riot, Sam thought as she went to her office to retrieve her jacket, keys and radio, but murder was her business. No one was keeping her from that. On the way out of the building through the morgue entrance—where there was minimal chance of being stopped by the endlessly observant chief of police—Sam called Freddie.
“What a night,” he said without preamble. “I’ve never been so tired in my life.”
“Better find some caffeine because we just caught a possible murder.”
His groan was so loud that Sam held the phone away from her ear. “Meet me at Independence and 7th, behind Air and Space.”
“Be there in fifteen. I thought you weren’t allowed out to play.”
She bit back the nasty retort that burned the end of her tongue. After all, it wasn’t his fault she’d been pulled off the streets, even if she was usually more than happy to take out her aggravations on her partner. “I’m not.”
“Yet you’re going anyway?”
“Yep.” The single word dared him to challenge her.
Fortunately, he knew better. “See you there.”
As she ended the call with him, her phone dinged with a text message from Nick. Are they letting you out of there anytime soon?
Just caught a murder.
Oh crap. I guess we’ll see you when we see you.
Sorry. How’s the boy?
Glum, but looking forward to next season.
Tell him I love him, and I’ll see him tonight. You too.
Love you too, babe. Be careful out there.
She said what she usually did, but she had even more reason to be careful now that she had a son to consider. Months after Scotty had agreed to come live with them, Sam was still getting used to the fact that he was now a permanent member of their family. She’d wondered if the responsibility of it all would weigh on her, but it didn’t. Rather, it filled her with elation and a sense of purpose she’d craved for years.
Maybe she’d never get to have a child of her own. Since Scotty had come into their lives, the ache of that possibility didn’t seem quite so acute. She only wished they’d met him when he was much younger than twelve, so they could’ve had more time together. Regardless, she and Nick would take what they could get where he was concerned.
Driving from HQ to Independence Avenue, Sam got a firsthand view of the carnage that had been left in the wake of the riot. Trash and broken glass littered the streets, and a smoky haze hung over the city. She’d heard that the fire department had received a record number of calls overnight.
It was heartbreaking to see the damage and the wary residents venturing on to the streets to start the big cleanup job.
Something was fundamentally wrong with a society that put so much importance on the outcome of a game, Sam thought as she became increasingly infuriated by what she saw. Smoking hulks of cars, some turned on their sides, blocked her way, forcing her to take a roundabout course to her destination.
Thirty minutes after she left HQ she arrived at Independence Avenue and parked as close as she could get to the back of the National Air and Space Museum, part of the Smithsonian complex. She flashed her badge to the patrol officers guarding the scene and was waved through.
“What’ve we got?” she asked the patrol sergeant.
“A couple of my guys were dragging some crap that was blocking the street to the Dumpsters and found this.” He signaled for her to follow him to a set of garbage bins behind the hulking frame of the museum.
Sam shooed away several seagulls as she approached the most fragrant of the four bins and glanced inside to find a man, facedown. “Did you guys touch him at all?”
“Only to check for a pulse.”
Since they hadn’t identified him, Sam realized she would have to. The vic was well dressed, Sam deduced, based on the quality fabric of the gray suit he wore. From her back pocket, she tugged out a pair of latex gloves. “Did you call the M.E.?” she asked, as she looked for blood on the pavement and found none.
“On her way.”
“Good. Give me a boost.”
His brows furrowed. “Excuse me?”
“Into the Dumpster,” she said, aggravated that she had to explain herself. With her people she never had to explain. They knew. That’s why they were detectives, and this guy was still pounding the pavement in patrol. “You go like this,” she said, lacing her hands together. “Then I put my foot in, and you hoist me over. Weren’t you ever a kid, Sarge?”
“Very funny,” he grumbled. “Pardon me if I’ve never had an LT ask me to hoist her into a Dumpster before.”
“First time for everything,” she said with a big grin. “Fun never ends on this job.”
“You got a crazy idea of fun, lady.”
“I hear that a lot. Ready?”
Frowning, he laced his fingers together and bent at the waist to get low enough for Sam to put her foot into his hands. He propelled her up with more velocity than Sam was expecting, sending her flying into the Dumpster, thankfully clear of the body. She couldn’t help but wonder if the sergeant had enjoyed tossing her into the giant trash can. And they said rank had its privileges. Sure it did.
Speaking of rank…
The stench of rotten garbage hit her immediately, sucking the air from her lungs. If she’d eaten anything recently, it would’ve come right back up as she gingerly reached into the victim’s back pocket to retrieve his wallet. Since it was still there and still full of cash, she concluded that robbery hadn’t been a motive. Placing her fingers on his neck she found him cold to the touch. He’d been there a while.
She flipped open the leather billfold and drew in a deep breath that she instantly regretted due to the stink.
“Who is he?” the sergeant asked.
With a sinking feeling in her stomach, Sam stared at the District driver’s license, unable to believe what she was seeing.
She looked up and met his gaze. “I want everyone out of here. Seal off this alley to even our people and get the M.E. in here the second she arrives.”
“You got it.” He walked away to see to her orders.
Left alone with the remains of Willie Vasquez, Sam’s heart broke for the ballplayer, his family and all the fans who’d loved him, especially her own son, who would take this hard.
“Ah, Willie,” she whispered. “Why’d you take your eye off the ball?”