Jaylynn Savage cheerfully patrols the city’s skyways and is happy living with Dez, the love of her life. But a colleague is murdered and before Dez and Jaylynn are even able to process the loss, a witness is killed, Dez is targeted by a dangerous man, and nobody they love is safe. Can Dez protect those she loves and also stop a nameless, face-less murderer?
Jump the Gun
Quest Books by Regal Crest (July 10, 2013)
Dez Reilly tightened her grip on the stock of a sawed-off shotgun. She scanned the area outside the bank through thick, plate-glass windows while concentrating her peripheral vision on the hostages. As she shifted out of sight to the side of the window, the loaded handgun in the pocket of her long, gray duster bumped against the wall. She carried replacement magazines in the other pocket of her coat.
She stood above a man who lay lifeless on the floor, the sticky fluid on his chest a clear testament to his recent death. Glimpsing movement through the window of the brightly lit bank, she backed away from line of sight and shouted, “Hurry up, Bobby! It’s time to get the hell out of here!”
A siren sounded in the distance. Dez saw the vehicles barreling their way. “That’s it, boys,” she yelled. “We’re out. Now!” She dropped to one knee next to the bank guard and pulled at the keys hooked on his belt. They came away attached to a long, metal wire. Hastily she unclipped the ring and slid it across the floor.
Two men clad in black clothing and black ski masks vaulted the chest-level counter and scurried across the open lobby area. One clutched two heavy satchels. The other scooped up the keys, stopped at a side door labeled Employees Only, and looked back to Dez. He fumbled until he found the correct key, unlocked the door, and hollered, “C’mon, Dez!”
With one last glance toward the bank parking lot and approaching vehicles, Dez catapulted up from one knee and followed. In four running steps she came to a trio of customers lying silent and facedown near the teller window, fingers threaded behind their heads. With a powerful spring, she leapt over them, barreled through the doorway, and chased down a long hallway after her companions.
She skidded around a turn that was so sharp, she hit the wall and felt it give a little. Cheap, crappy construction, she thought. She pushed off and hurtled down the hall feeling elation bubble up. Bobby and Frederick were already out of the bank, and she was hard on their heels. They ran for a beat-up Chevy junker twenty yards away, wrenched open the doors, and fell into it. Dez slouched in the backseat, panting, jubilant, the weapons in her pockets pressing against her hip and back. She laughed aloud. “One-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three—”
Bobby let out a whoop as
Dez peered out the window, scanning the area, waiting. She examined her watch. As close as she could tell, more than twenty seconds had passed since they’d vacated the building. She stared at the back of the bank until she finally saw what she expected. A black-clad figure crept low around the crumbling block foundation. She exited the car and leaned back against the junker with arms crossed over her chest. “Hey!” she said. “We are so gone, Zellar.”
The SWAT team member stripped off one of his gloves and threw it to the ground. His dark helmet and protective glasses obscured his angry features, but even with all the gear, Dez could tell it was Zellar by the way he stood.
“Shit!” he spat out. “How the hell did you do that?”
Dez just grinned.
Bobby and Frederick emerged from the Chevy Malibu as the entire SWAT team, two commanders, and six tactical trainers converged on the area behind the faux bank. One by one, the three bank “customers” filed out of the bank followed by the “guard” with paint spattered all over his chest.
Lieutenant Mortensen clicked a stopwatch. “Exercise complete. Bank robbers, one. SWAT, zero. Want to tell me what happened here?”
Zellar banged the stock of his red, dummy assault rifle on the ground. One of the other members of the team said, “There’s no way they could’ve got out that quick. Not with the goods, anyway.”
Bobby pointed to the black satchels on the Chevy’s passenger seat. He grabbed one and threw it at the feet of Willie Thorpe, the team leader.
Thorpe squatted, unzipped the bag, and rummaged around inside. “This isn’t all of it!”
Bobby grinned. “Yeah? So?”
“You didn’t get all of it, so you failed.”
“You didn’t get any of us, Thorpe, so I’d have to say you’re the bigger failure here.” He glanced toward Dez, then Frederick.
“You guys,” Dez said, “have got to get over the idea that all crooks are greedy and stupid. Some aren’t.”
Zellar pointed at Steve Hart, the bank guard. “You didn’t follow protocol, Reilly. Since when was shooting him in the plan?”
“Yeah.” Hart brushed at the drying paint on his chest. “Damn, you messed this up!”
Dez chuckled. “Perfect example of the best laid plans going awry. Any good criminal is going to adapt. You know the old saying that no battle plan survives first contact. Same thing goes with any organized crime. Get used to it.”
Zellar’s face was so red Dez thought he was going to pop a vein. He kicked his gear and turned away.
Bobby laughed out loud. “Sore loser.”
“Screw you,” Thorpe said under his breath, his lips curled up in a look of disdain. He glared at the three “criminals” like he wanted to kill them on the spot.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Commander Mortensen stepped between Bobby and Thorpe. “Everybody over to the shack, and let’s do a postmortem on this.”
The failed Special Weapons and Tactics team grabbed their gear and moved as one, double-time, toward their destination. Dez watched the dejected crew’s boots moving swiftly, left-right, left-right, in harmony like a pack of black ants. She felt sympathy for them, but on the other hand, they’d been too slow. This wasn’t like a baseball catcher donning equipment for a tough inning in the field. The stakes were life and death. She knew how much gear they had to get into: Kevlar vests, thigh and forearm protectors, elbow and knee pads, shin guards, the outer uniform, heavy boots, and their new handy-dandy, cut-resistant Neoprene Damascus gloves. And that was just the apparel. Flashlight, baton, radio and headpiece, cuffs, eye-wear, knives, tactical lights, periscope-on-a-stick, ammo packs...the list went on and on. If Dez were ever selected for SWAT, the number one thing she would practice on her own would be dressing and arming with absolute efficiency. Things moved fast in SWAT situations, and this brand-new team had just learned it the hard way.
Some fellow officers thought Dez Reilly, at thirty-five, was a little old to be volunteering for SWAT training, but her experience and fitness belied her age. She stood six feet tall in stocking feet and was broad-shouldered and muscular. With her long, black hair French-braided and the braid tucked up tight against her head, it was easy to confuse her with the men of the unit—that is, until you got close and saw the high cheekbones, dark brows and bright blue eyes. Those eyes scanned the area constantly and took in everything around her.
Dez fell in next to Bobby and elbowed him in the side. “You’re going to get yourself killed. They’ll be out for blood now.”
“So? A little splatball paint never hurt anybody even if the bank guard took it with a lot of extra whining.”
The shack was a good three hundred yards away, past a fake supermarket, a three-story concrete structure, and several towers from which the SWAT trainers could survey the area. The mass of officers moved beyond all that and entered the shack, a command post in the center of the eighty-acre training facility. Bobby and Frederick cut over toward the men’s room while Dez proceeded through a door at the right. The SWAT team and trainers filed into a classroom through a door to the left. The cops who’d played the three customers and the bank guard would describe the course of the action to the assault team, just as if it happened in real life. The robbers would keep their secrets to themselves as they readied for another situation.
Dez’s coordinator, Nick Boulet, one of the SWAT team’s longtime trainers, said, “Good job today, Reilly.” He glanced beyond her, then in a low voice asked, “Everything going okay? You having any, uh, issues coming up?”
Dez looked at him coolly. “Commander Malcolm tell you to keep an eye on me?”
“Yep. Good supervisors look out for their best officers.”
She bristled and wanted to say a few angry words, but she couldn’t deny that her Commander had looked after her in the past. In the aftermath of her partner’s death several years earlier, Dez had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Malcolm dealt with her problems with real grace, but since then, she’d done the therapeutic work to master the situation, and she was no longer troubled. She wished the topic would stop coming up. Forcing a grin, she said, “I’m having a helluva good time, Nick. Don’t worry about me.”
“I’m on your side. Just remember that.”
“Thanks. It means a lot coming from you.”
“I’d like to see you advance, Dez. I’ve always respected your work, and if it were up to me, you ought to get a SWAT assignment. I don’t know what’ll happen though. You deserve this.”
She felt her face heat up. She agreed with him, but instead said, “The brass seem to think I’m a hothead, that I can’t be trusted in a really tough situation.”
“If I was in a tough spot, you’d be the go-to gal for me.”
“That’s not how some of the guys feel.”
“Well, that makes them idiots in my book.”
Before she got a chance to answer, her teammates hustled into the room and shut the door. Nick took a deep breath, and only then did he share a moment of laughter. “You guys did good. Even better than I expected.” He clapped Bobby Rauski on the shoulder. “Okay, let’s get to work. Any minute now, we’ll be getting a new team member for your despicable little exploits.”
Dez smiled. Despicable exploits. The day wasn’t even half over, and she was already having fun.
Once upon a time, when she’d achieved the requisite experience out on the street, Dez applied for membership in SWAT. She’d been young and impressionable. Without a word of explanation, her application was rejected. She tried twice more; same thing. She suspected it was because she was a woman. But then two years earlier, two women had been tapped for the squad and one made it through the training to become a full-fledged member. Dez hid her jealousy. She was twice as strong as the other woman and at least as experienced. The unfairness rankled for some time.
But that was before Jaylynn, whom she’d met when rescuing her and her friend Sara from a pair of rapists. Jaylynn ended up joining the police force, and she and Dez went through a series of missteps in the odyssey of their friendship. Over time, their relationship had grown to mean so much more. Dez loved Jaylynn with all her heart, and now, in retrospect, she was glad she hadn’t previously made the SWAT team. If she had, she wouldn’t have met Jaylynn Savage, and Dez found it impossible to believe her life could be the slightest bit fulfilling without Jaylynn as her partner.
Still, Dez didn’t decline when her superior, Commander Malcolm, asked her to participate in a special assignment. A couple years earlier,
And if that didn’t work out, well, she could always go to Investigations for a long assignment.
The first day went well. By the end, the trainers called it one for the criminals, one for SWAT, and one tie. All she and her merry band of henchman had to do was escape, and just like with real crooks, it didn’t much matter to her team if hostages died. SWAT, on the other hand, was dedicated to saving the lives of bystanders, so their second exercise had to be considered a tie. SWAT had taken down all of Dez’s crew, but their five hostages also died. In the third exercise, the SWAT team had finally gotten their act together, and Dez, Frederick, Bobby, Dave, and Kyle were pinned down in the faux supermarket. She thought Pete Zellar took special delight in shooting her point-blank in the chest, and she couldn’t blame him, even if she thought he was a little bit too over-zealous.
Now lying on a cot in her tiny quarters, Dez waited for her dinner to settle. She checked her watch. They would all reconvene at the shack at for the first of their night exercises, and she looked forward to the next cops-and-robbers caper with glee.
She heard a gurgling sound and felt next to the cot until she located her duffel. As she pulled it out, her cell phone rang again. She flipped it open and said, “Reilly.”
Dez relaxed and her face flushed with warmth. “I’m no sweetie, Jay.”
“You are to me.”
“Yeah, yeah. What’s up?”
“Nothing. Got home from work and had a lonely dinner without you. How’s the training going?”
“Excellent. It’s a lot more fun than I thought it would be.” She took a couple minutes to outline the scenarios they had run.
“Geez. You’re merciless. Guess it’s lucky you didn’t turn out to be a criminal.”
“I’m surprised you answered the phone. I was just planning to leave a good-night message for you.”
“We’re on a long dinner break, and then we do some night maneuvers. This is going to be one long-ass day. I’ve been going since and we don’t quit until sometime after .”
“Just keep the perks in mind: three days there, and you get credit for a week’s work. And we’re off next month for the trip to the lodge with Shayna and Crystal. I can’t wait.”
“Neither can I. I’m looking forward to the R& R in a big way. I’ll be home on schedule Thursday night. No rest for the weary, though. Remember, I’ve got that court date for the RICO case Monday morning.”
“Oh, yeah,” Jaylynn said. “I wouldn’t forget that. Wish I could be there—then again, I won’t miss having to see Bostwick’s ugly face.”
“Ugh...I’m sorry I have to. Well, I’ll let you go now.”
“I’m missing you, sweetie. I’ll call you again tomorrow.”
Dez grinned into the phone. “Okay.”
“Me, too.” Dez rang off and dropped the phone into her duffel. She settled back on the cot with her fingers laced behind her head and let out a sigh. One leg was sore from falling into some debris earlier, and her left shoulder hurt from being tackled by one of the SWAT guys. The exercises and confrontations could get rough, that was for sure, but she felt a deep sense of satisfaction and looked forward to the next three days. One of the trainees had broken his thumb earlier in the afternoon, and she hoped she wouldn’t get hurt like that. With luck, she would escape any serious injury.
In the twilight of the room, she looked once more at her watch. Only ten minutes and she would rise like a vampire and prepare for the next exercise. Dirty deeds under the cover of darkness, she thought. Ooh, I like it.
Sergeant Lynette Mielo turned her squad car south and motored through the quiet
Her cell phone rang, and she saw the caller was Fenwick, one of her trainees. He was riding in a two-man car with Brendan Schaake, working the east side. Schaake wasn’t yet a field training officer, but he was a highly skilled cop and, above all, patient with new recruits, so she knew he would eventually be a very good
“Fenwick, what’s up?”
“Hi, Sarge. Schaake and I want to know if you’ll rendezvous with us for the meal break.”
“Sure. Any problems?”
“Nope. Dead as a doornail out here.”
She laughed. “Do you even know what a doornail is?”
“Small. Metal. Dead.”
“Um hmm. I’m on the way to check out a nuisance call—some guy behaving erratically—then I’ll head your way.”
“Need us to back you up?”
“Probably not. It’s just vagrants down in the warehouse area off 280.”
She made arrangements to meet them later at a coffee shop and hung up. As she took a sip of hot sludge, she caught a flash of flame down an alley. Before she could focus on it, she was past, so she turned the car around and angled it at the mouth of the passageway so the lights illuminated deep into the alley.
A man sat in the middle of the dark funnel of space, his long, rangy legs crossed Indian style and his head in his hands. He had a fire going in front of him, the flames flickering and waning. How bizarre, she thought. Who started a dinky fire like that and sat in the middle of an alley?
A few feet away, on both sides of the guy, trash bags spilled out of overflowing metal dumpsters. Brick warehouses loomed overhead on either side, and the other end of the alley was closed off by a chain-link fence. Despite the flicker of fire and the light from the cruiser, it was hard to see the man’s face clearly.
Mielo got out of the car and palmed her Maglite to focus it on the man’s face. Old. Scraggly. Ratty brown coat that looked too worn to provide much protection against the chill.
“Saint Paul Police,” she called out as she moved cautiously forward. “Do you need help, sir?”
“I’m fine.” His voice was weak and reedy. Even dappled in the orange glow of the fire, he didn’t look fine.
“Come on out of there now, sir. Let’s get you somewhere warm.”
He didn’t answer.
Mielo activated her shoulder mic and requested that dispatch send a bus for an MI, someone mentally ill. She gave the address, then stood looking at the man.
The alley smelled of rotting meat and urine. Any winos or vagrants in the area probably spent nights hidden here. Drug dealers might use the out-of-the-way location to hand off “product” to their sellers. Cops hated closed alleys like this one. Mielo advanced with trepidation, her heart beating fast. Instinctively, she cupped the grip of her service weapon. Something didn’t feel quite right. She unsnapped her holster.
The fire in front of the man stopped crackling and dwindled down to embers. The night was still, oddly silent, she thought. She didn’t hear so much as a cricket or a car passing.
“Have you been drinking, sir?”
He didn’t look up or make a sound.
“Get up, please, and come on out of there. Now, sir.”
A snuffle was his only response. She debated whether she should back out of the alley—or stomp over and haul his ass closer to the light. Impatient, she strode forward, close enough to see that his arms weren’t in the coat sleeves. The ratty brown coat was draped over his shoulders. Underneath, a formerly white T-shirt was splotched with something dark and slimy. She eyed his torn and filthy jeans. Gray, greasy hair ringed his face like curls of dirty ribbons. Was that blood on his face? She aimed the flashlight more carefully. Wincing, he closed his eyes and hunched over, head cradled in two big hands.
He moaned. “Go on, lady. Leave me alone.”
“Get up, Big Guy.” She lowered the flashlight. “I won’t hurt you.”
In the oblique light, he gazed up at her, eyes wide and terrified.
A scuffle from the right. She turned toward the dumpster. Her flashlight made an arc upward to illuminate a man in a dark canvas jacket. One hand was tucked inside his coat, the other behind his back. She squinted with recognition. “Hey, I know you. Starbucks, right?”
Something was very wrong. Why was this man here? Her Glock was halfway from the holster when the lights, the sounds, the smells stopped.
She fell where she stood. The Maglite clattered and rolled, light spinning.
The old man scuttled to the side, mewling. He heaved himself up and nearly tripped over his coat, which fell off his shoulders next to the fire’s burnt embers. He staggered down the alley, crossed the headlights of the squad car, and disappeared around the corner.
The killer stepped out into the light. He squeezed off another round into Mielo’s head, then a third into her abdomen, just below the bottom edge of her Kevlar vest.
The suppressor on the handgun muffled much of the noise, but the gunshots would be recognizable as an unusual sound in the night.
He tucked his gun in his waistband, clicked on a penlight, and noted with satisfaction the pool of blood around the cop’s head. In a soft voice, he said, “I’m sorry, but you’ve had your last cup of coffee.” He wrested her fingers from her gun and put it in his coat pocket. Her TASER holster snap was stiff, but he got it open and removed the firing unit.
In the distance a vehicle engine revved. Swaggering, he moved back into the darkness of the alley and stepped into a door that was slightly ajar. The click it made as he locked it echoed in the night. Mielo was the only person close enough to hear it, but no sound would ever register for her again.
Jaylynn met Dez at the front door of their home. Even after all the time they’d been together, she still felt a thrill of anticipation waiting for Dez, and an even bigger thrill of excitement when she could throw her arms around her and press her face into her neck.
“Can’t believe you’re still up.”
“Missed me, huh?”
Jaylynn laughed. “As usual. Suppose you didn’t miss me at all.” She stepped back and surveyed her partner.
Dez slipped out of her jacket and hung it on a hook behind the door. “It was hard to even think about missing anybody or anything. We were so damn busy. I was lucky to get five or six hours of sleep each night, and I’m beat.”
“Nah, Frederick and I went to Culver’s on the way. I’m stuffed. Probably gain five pounds from all the French fries.”
Jaylynn took Dez’s hand and led her to the couch. Dez sank down with a sigh and said, “I think every part of my body is sore. This is the first comfortable seat I’ve been in for three straight days.”
She lifted an arm, and Jaylynn nestled in and tucked her feet up under an afghan on the couch. “I’ve missed your warmth, Dez, that’s for sure.”
“Remind me to take my own truck next time.
“You know—wide strip of canvas somehow attached to cheap, shaky wooden legs crossed at top and bottom. A foot and a half off the floor until you lie on it, then it sinks down and your ass is dragging on the ground.”
“Sounds more like a hammock.”
“My experience with hammocks has only been pleasurable. The cot is a whole ’nother story. I can’t wait to get into our nice, soft bed.”
“What do you think? Will they accept you for the team?”
“If Nick Boulet has his way, I’m a lock. But who knows. In some ways it seems political. But if they offer it to me, I’ll definitely take it. The training was a blast, and I was good at it, if I do say so myself.”
“I bet you were. When will you find out?”
“Soon. Maybe next week.”
“What are you going to do if you get an Investigations offer first?”
Dez shrugged. “I really want SWAT. I’ll take some time to think about it and wait for the SWAT details. They want to get another group in for training real quick, so I suspect I’ll get word in a few days.”
“Very cool.” Jaylynn tipped her head back and met Dez’s gaze. “I’m so happy you’re home.”
With a smile, Dez leaned down and kissed her. Jaylynn closed her eyes and savored the kiss. Just like always, she felt warm and protected...and incredibly turned on. How did Dez do that to her with only one touch, one kiss, even just one look? She snuggled closer and stroked Dez’s side, her hip, her thigh, feeling the rough denim under her hands.
The National Anthem pulled her from her reverie. Before she’d even opened her eyes, Dez was up and across the room.
Jaylynn said, “I often see stars and hear music when we kiss, but this is the first time your phone has echoed my internal thoughts.”
Dez rooted through her coat pocket and snapped open her phone. “Reilly.” She turned toward Jaylynn, frowning.
All of the air went out of Dez, and she seemed to sink, as if she were suddenly bearing some great weight.
“Dez—what is it?” So caught up in the excitement of Dez being home, Jaylynn hadn’t registered that it was after Anybody calling had to be delivering bad news.
Dez said, “Yes, sir. I want to join the manhunt. I can be there—” She paused. “I have the skills to assist SWAT. I could—”
Dez’s face went from white concern to red fury.
“Yes, sir!” She smacked the phone shut. “Holy shit.”
“What?” Jaylynn crossed the room. She moved close and gripped Dez’s arm.
When Dez’s eyes met hers, they were full of tears. “Lynette Mielo’s been shot and killed.”
“Oh, my God. On duty?”
“He doesn’t know yet, but they’re notifying supervisors. I asked to help with the search, but the commander wants me to stay put.”
Before she could answer, a salsa tune started up on Dez’s phone.
Then Jaylynn’s phone signaled a text message. And the house phone started ringing.
“Here we go,” Jaylynn mumbled, feeling sick to her stomach.
Dez parked her F-150 as close to the warehouse district as she could get. The crime scene was blocked off for four square blocks with uniformed cops everywhere to stop the curious. She and Jaylynn got out in a hurry, flashed their badges, and were allowed to pass, but an officer Dez knew slightly from another division stepped back, one hand in the air.
“Hey, Sergeant, just to let you know—we’re not supposed to let anyone through, not even cops.”
Dez glared at him.
He put up both hands, palms facing out. “Just saying, Sarge. If they ask who let you through, please don’t get us in trouble.”
She gave him a grim nod and turned away. Please let this be a big mistake, she thought.
Silently, Jaylynn moved closer and gripped her forearm, but even Jaylynn’s presence didn’t help Dez feel calm. Every step she took, her legs felt heavier, her heart pounded more fiercely. For a moment she thought she might throw up. She closed her eyes and forced herself onward. When she looked up again, they had arrived at the corner of the street that led to the warehouse area. A block and a half down the slight incline she saw the coroner’s van, a dozen squad cars, an ambulance, and more people than she could count. A strange brilliant light shone from the alley. Everything was brightly illuminated in the opening between the two brick buildings.
“Breathe, Dez,” Jaylynn said.
“Yeah, I know.” She did feel light-headed, so she took some deep breaths. How could this have happened to Lynette? She couldn’t comprehend it. Mielo, dead? How could it be? They’d been pals all through training ages and ages ago even though Dez was several years younger. Lynette Mielo had worked every aspect of patrol in every division, just like Dez had. They’d become FTOs at the same time. Mielo managed an unblemished career and gained her sergeant’s stripe two years before Dez, but she never lorded it over her. Mielo was one of the officers who sought her out once Dez came back to work after the leave of absence she’d taken when the PTSD had gotten the best of her. Some cops had given Dez a wide berth, but Mielo never did.
Dez thought of the barbecues and training and shooting competitions and charity events she and Mielo had attended together. Lynette had been a constant presence, someone Dez depended upon as reliable and helpful. She had four sons, all teenagers now, and like any doting mother, she loved telling about her kids’ amusing antics. She’d been the kind of mom that Dez thought deserved Parent of the Year, always prepared, always on the ball, never thrown by the unexpected.
So how had this happened? How did someone get the drop on her? Dez felt cold inside, as though her heart were gradually freezing over. She shivered.
She and Jaylynn arrived at a cordoned area ringed by dozens of cops—some in uniform and some who had obviously rolled out of bed and raced to the scene. She saw few civilians and, shock of all shocks, no press. The guys four blocks out were doing their jobs well.
“Stay here, Jay.”
“Let me just do this alone, okay?” Dez ducked under the yellow tape and crossed the open area toward the ambulance, knowing in her heart that imagining Lynette in there, alive, being ministered to, was just a fantasy.
The medic bus was empty. She passed it and saw two paramedics near the passenger door, idle and leaning against the side.
She cut around a couple of cruisers and strode toward a knot of men who stood at the mouth of the alley, their heads together looking at something. On hearing her approach one of them glanced over his shoulder then spoke sharply to those near him. A figure clad in a tan wool overcoat separated from the group and stomped in her direction.
“Commander Malcolm, I—”
“No, Reilly. I told you to stay put.”
“But I could help with the crime scene. I could—”
“You’re not going back there.” He ran a hand over his bald head. If she didn’t know better, she’d think he’d been crying.
“No way in hell. Not now, not later.” He took her arm and led her toward the flashing lights of the ambulance. “It’s an active crime scene, and we’re not taking a chance that a single thing is missed. No admittance to anyone outside the homicide experts.”
“So it’s really Mielo?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“How did this happen?” She bit her lip to keep from crying. She tasted something metallic but couldn’t let up.
“I don’t know. Fenwick and Schaake were her backup. They did everything by the book, but by the time they arrived, she was gone.”
Dez tried to take in the facts. If she could make sense of them, maybe this wouldn’t be so hard. “Who caught the case?”
“Moran’s team. We’ll have an entire Task Force—you know that. SWAT is already searching. Uniforms are canvassing the area. We’ll catch whoever did this. But listen, Dez, you need to go home and settle down. You’ve got a critical court appearance tomorrow.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “Look at me. Listen up. I’m depending on you now. You’ve got to show up and give effective testimony, even though everything about this night will be ringing in your ears. You’ll do that, right?”
“Yes, sir, of course.” She worried that her words sounded hollow. She was hardly able to choke them out.
He patted her arm once. “Go home. Rest if you can. Get your notes together, and be on time to court. That’s critical, Reilly. That’s an order.”
“Yes, sir.” She walked away feeling like he’d kicked her in the stomach. What else could she do here anyway? She understood the necessity of a perfectly processed crime scene, and she didn’t actually want to see Mielo’s body. Then again, if she did see her, maybe it would take away the sense of total unreality.
On the other side of the crime scene tape, she scanned the crowd to see who else was there. With over six hundred sworn officers in the Saint Paul Police Department, she couldn’t know everyone, but since she worked Tours I and
How familiar this all was. How brutally familiar.
She found Jaylynn across the street standing over someone who sat with his back against the wall. Brendan “Shock” Schaake was down, elbows on his knees, and head in his hands. The new trainee paced several feet apart from them. From the recesses of her addled mind, Dez managed to remember his name was Fenwick.
She stood up straighter and marched over next to Jaylynn. “Schaake, get your ass up.”
He scrambled to his feet, his eyes wild. “Sarge, I—I—”
“Shut up and come with me.” She grabbed his elbow and led him up the hill, away from prying eyes, and around the corner. In a gentle voice, she said, “What happened, Shock?”
Eyes full of pain and misery, he shook his head. “I don’t know. We talked to her about meeting for our meal break, and then she called for backup. That’s the last I heard from her until we found her...like that.”
“Describe it to me. Like you were writing up a report.”
He took a deep breath and described how they’d found the squad car at the mouth of the alley and hurried in, guns drawn. “Mi-Mielo...uh, the vic-victim was white, female, early forties. Discovered on her back, shot twice in the head.” He gulped. “Another bullet wound had been delivered to the belly after death.”
“How do you know it was after death?”
“She bled a lot, Sarge. From her head only, though. Very little on her uniform, so her heart had stopped by then.”
“Good observation. What else?”
“Typical dark alley, lots of trash. Two garbage dumpsters. Also saw a folded-up bum box. Looked like someone had been living back there, but no sign of anyone when we arrived. No exit at the other end of the alley due to the fencing fifty or sixty feet down. Saw a brown garment on the ground, looked like a coat, and the remains of a small, still-smoking fire that had been set right in the middle of the alley. And just all that blood around her head.”
“How close did you get?”
“Not very. We could tell she was dead. The head wound was too—too traumatic.” His voice broke, and she thought he was going to cry.
“Did you tell Dispatch to have other units canvass the area?”
“Yeah. Command got right on this, and believe it or not, Fenwick kept his cool. I thought he might lose his lunch, but he didn’t.”
“Hell of a thing for a rookie to go through.”
Schaake said, “Hell of a thing for anyone to go through. At least Fenwick hardly knew her.”
Dez stepped closer and put an arm across his shoulder. He was taller than Dez but was standing so slumped that his face was even with hers. “You have to get hold of yourself, Shock. You’ll go through a terrible time for a few days. The detectives are going to talk to you over and over, and you won’t sleep, and you’ll feel like shit. I know. I’ve been through it. You have to man up and make it through that, and then very soon, you and I are taking a little trip.”
“A trip? What do you mean?”
“This is a lot to process. You have to talk about it. I’ll be there. So will a lot of others.” She clapped him on the shoulder, then pulled out her wallet and removed her business card. She wrote her cell phone number on the back, and handed it to him. “Call me whenever you need to talk. Or if you just need to touch base. Otherwise, I’ll hunt you down in a week or ten days.”
“I feel like I failed, Sarge. Like I completely fucked up and failed my sergeant.”
“You didn’t. This isn’t your fault.”
An hour later, it was Dez saying it was her fault. She lay in bed next to Jaylynn, choking on her tears. “I should have been there, Jay. If I hadn’t been at that damn training, I would’ve been on duty tonight.”
"And what would you have done? You’d be in the same shoes Schaake is in.”
“Maybe it would have been different. Maybe—”
“Stop, Dez! Just stop it. You have to decide right now that you won’t think that way. You’re not responsible. The murdering bastard who did this is responsible.”
“We’ve got to find out why. Why Mielo? Why her? I just don’t understand. Was this some kind of thrill kill? A gang initiation?”
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