My new mystery will be released in December by Five Star, so I thought I would post a few excerpts between now and then. Enjoy….
Sarah took a deep breath and faced Quinlin in the stuffy cubbyhole of an office. The room was hot and musty. Dust motes floated in the slivers of sunshine that had penetrated the haze of accumulated grime on the windows of the old building. The scent of his cologne hung heavily in the still air. Chaps. Rich, masculine, and too easily a distraction.
Dressed in a dark, somber suit, Quinlin didn’t speak. He watched her with the careful scrutiny of a snake considering a field mouse. A trickle of perspiration ran down Sarah’s back and dampened her white T-shirt. Shifting in the wooden chair, she contemplated the wisdom of taking off her jacket, then decided against it. He would interpret it as a sign of weakness.
She thought she was prepared for this. She’d rehearsed it a million times, remembering the images, nailing down the sequence, readying herself for his opener, “Detective Kingsly, tell me what happened that night.”
She recalled the moon playing tag with a few heavy clouds, casting weird, disorientating shadows on the crumbling buildings. She remembered wishing the clouds would give way to rain, anything to relieve the oppressive heat that had pounded the city relentlessly for weeks. She remembered thinking the heat made people do crazy things.
Maybe that’s why it had happened.
The rest of it flashed through her mind like a sequence of freeze frames.
Franco and the boy turn.
A glint of metal in the moonlight.
John pushes her away, reaching for the gun tucked in his waistband.
The clasp on her purse sticks.
A flash of gunfire.
The sharp report of return fire.
Struggling to get her gun.
Franco is down.
The kid swings his gun toward John.
She fires the same time the kid does.
The coppery smell of warm blood.
Goddam it, John, get up!
Why is everything so quiet?
Where is the kid?
There’s a big gaping hole in the cheap sequined evening bag.
Every time Sarah played the scene in her mind, she hoped for a different ending. It never came. Her purse always had the hole in it. John was always dead. And so was the kid.
“And you’re sure you had no choice?” Quinlin’s officious voice rankled with unspoken insinuations.
Sarah suppressed a surge of anger as he walked behind her chair. The son of a bitch is not going to trip me up. No way.
“Yes.” She didn’t trust herself with more words.
“That’s pretty easy to say since everyone else who was there is dead.”
The comment jolted her, and she clenched sweaty fists in her lap to keep herself in the chair. Don’t dignify that with a response.
Quinlin came up beside her and paused. Sarah didn’t look at him for a long moment, then turned and met his insolent gaze with steady gray eyes. Go ahead. Give it your best shot.
They maintained the visual standoff for a moment that seemed to drag into eternity, and Sarah breathed a silent sigh of relief when he broke contact first. It had been a minor skirmish in the overall war, but the small victory shifted the balance of power slightly in her favor.
Quinlin walked around his desk and sat down in his chair. “Have you scheduled your appointment with Doc Murray?”
The question was accompanied by a sincere smile she knew was calculated to disarm her. Fuck him and fuck his pseudo-compassion. “I thought it might be nice to bury my partner before I start putting my life back together.”
Quinlin pushed wire-framed glasses up and let his finger rest on the side of his nose. Sarah never knew if it was a pose designed to exude wisdom, but she recognized another familiar tactic. He could sit there like that forever, hoping the strain of the silence would open some verbal floodgates.
It wasn’t going to happen to her. Not here. Not now.
She clamped her lips tight and turned the nervous flutter of her hand into an acceptable gesture of tucking a strand of blonde hair behind her ear.
“The visit’s mandatory before you can be reinstated,” Quinlin said, his voice chilling her like a douse of ice water.
“I know. I’ll take care of it.”
Apparently satisfied with that response, he leaned back in his chair. “Did you have any suspicion the bust might go bad?”
Silence stretched between them like a guitar string tuned too high.
“You’re going to have to talk to me,” Quinlin said. “I have to know what went down that night.”
“Read the report.”
“Why the resistance, Detective? You know the drill.” Quinlin gently rocked in his swivel chair, creating a sound track of rhythmic squeaks. “I don’t make decisions based solely on reports.”
Sarah broke away from his intense scrutiny and clenched her jaw so hard her teeth hurt. Why couldn’t he back off? Just for a couple of days. He couldn’t be that much of a prick not to see she wasn’t ready to talk. Not until the words could come without the tears.
But then again, it was his job to be a prick. To catch people at their most vulnerable moments. Dig and probe and push until he was satisfied nothing was held back. He did this to every officer who used deadly force. Not just her. But the realization offered no consolation.
“Detective.” His voice called her to attention. “Did you know the kid was going to be there?”
“No.” She took a deep shuddering breath. “Can I have a drink of water?”
“Certainly.” Quinlin rose and went to the water cooler in the corner.
Sarah used the time to compose herself. She had to at least appear willing to comply. Answer some of the questions. Otherwise . . .
She didn’t want to think about otherwise.
She accepted the paper cup and took a soothing swallow of the cool water. Quinlin reclaimed his seat and she met his penetrating gaze again. “When we set up the meet, it was just supposed to be Franco. We’d been working him for a couple of months.”
“Why didn’t you abort the bust?”
“No chance.” Sarah balanced the empty cup on the edge of his desk. “The action started almost immediately.”
“You think they made you?”
She shook her head, remembering the meets to set up the buy. “Franco was a punk. He wasn’t smart enough to make us. He just thought he was smart enough to take out a rich guy and his broad.”
“That’s the way you figure it?”
“Yeah.” Sarah wiped a clammy hand on the smooth fabric of her jeans, hoping to still the tremble of muscle that could quickly become jerky spasms. If Quinlin noticed, he gave no sign.
She waited out another silence.
“That’s all for today.” Quinlin sat forward abruptly and picked up a file from his desk, effectively dismissing her.
Rising, Sarah fished her car keys out of her jacket pocket and headed toward the door.
In the quiet hallway, she leaned her forehead against the cool cement of the wall and took an angry swipe at the tear that had dared to trickle down her cheek.