Beauty & the beast some.., p.21
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       Beauty & the Beast: Some Gave All, p.21
 

           Nancy Holder
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  “Hey, is your dad okay?” he said.

  Before Cat could reply, shadows of figures blossomed on the tile wall. Too many people were clattering into the station. Cat guided Mr. Riley to a pillar. He was so bedraggled that he obediently staggered over and leaned against it, nearly collapsing. The memory of intense, debilitating fear seized her and she shook it off, hard. That was not happening, not now.

  “Oh, my God!” the man in the hat yelled.

  The shadows became armed soldiers in ski masks. One group raced in, followed by another. Two factions. Submachine guns were raised; pistols aimed.

  Cat shouted to the man, “Get down now, sir! Get down, get down! Fall down!”

  The adversaries opened fire on each other, and someone was aiming at her. She returned fire at the first target she made. She might have clipped his shoulder; she didn’t know, so she kept firing at him; and more figures swarmed, guns exploding like cannons as sound and cartridges ricocheted wildly. Then fear did spark up her spine, but it was that special kind of fear that cops felt: Protect the civilians, assess the odds, the odds are terrible, improve them.

  Improve them by taking out more bad guys or evacuating the civilians or acquiring more weapons. She could only shoot one gun at a time and the other one was with Mr. Riley. One cop, thirty soldiers…

  She’d been shot before, and she’d lived.

  Her mind filled with an image of Vincent. She forced it away and concentrated on surviving. Bullets zinged around her, pitting the tile, the metal, the concrete. They sent showers of sparks up from the third rail.

  One of the assailants crumpled. But only one. An incoming bullet struck Cat’s gun and tore it out of her grasp, nearly breaking her fingers. She pushed herself backward toward the pillar, to find Mr. Riley lying on the ground.

  No no no no no

  She stuck her hand in her coat pocket and was just about to withdraw the .45 when the pillar exploded. She covered Mr. Riley with her body.

  Footfalls and gunfire and a fusillade of bullets; if she stayed like this she’d take a dozen bullets to the brain. If she didn’t, Mr. Riley might. She extended her gun and squeezed off rounds.

  And then through the chaos she heard the most wonderful sound in the world: Vincent’s bestial roar. It echoed through the tunnel; then he was rocketing into the station from below the platform, rushing up behind her like an avenging angel. She only heard him; she dared not raise her head. She heard more bullets and shouts and shrieking. The echo of falling bodies. She smelled blood.

  “Catherine.”

  He was around her, holding her, easing her up off Mr. Riley. She immediately got to her feet to check on Hunter’s Cap; he had passed out but appeared otherwise unhurt.

  As she lifted her head to look back at Vincent and Mr. Riley, movement among the bodies caught her eye. She raised her gun, and found herself locking gazes with a man with a bloody face.

  “Don’t shoot,” he said. “Please.”

  She kept him firmly in her sights. “Take out your weapons and hold them over your head.” She didn’t want him to throw them to someone who was playing possum—pretending to be dead. He did as she asked.

  “Now walk very slowly toward me. Why were you after us?”

  His steps took him past fallen comrades but he didn’t look down at them. He knew that one false move would lead to his own death.

  “Orders,” he replied stiffly.

  “More,” Cat warned him, raising her gun an inch to make her point.

  “The flag at the Riley house. There was something in the case. We were told to get it by any means necessary. My superior sent a squad, figured it would be easy, but there was already a group from…” He trailed off.

  “From?” she urged.

  “Thornton. Freedom Foundation.”

  “And you are?”

  He lifted his chin. “I’ve been ordered to die rather than reveal that information.”

  “I have no problem with that,” Vincent said.

  The man paled. “Delgado Industries.”

  So two groups want the antidote in addition to the FBI. And us.

  “What did the flag case contain?” she asked.

  “I don’t know, ma’am. I’m just a merc.”

  As I suspected, she thought. “The case you were sent to retrieve was never delivered to Mr. Riley’s home.”

  If he was shocked, she couldn’t tell because of all the blood on his face. But he went silent and she could see the wheels turning. Those wheels could be fatal.

  To him.

  By then he was out of range of the bodies on the floor, so she said, “Put your weapon down and kick it toward me.”

  Instead, he aimed straight at her. He was dead before he had time to pull the trigger.

  Vincent saw to that.

  Vincent quickly checked the vitals of the man in the hunting cap. “He just fainted,” he told Cat. “We’ll take him in for medical care. Which is exactly what we’re going to do for Mr. Riley.”

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  There never was an Emergency Snow Declaration, so Heather celebrated by ordering a pizza. She doubled the order when Cat called on their ancient landline and told her that she and Vincent were on their way. Vincent had been tracking a kidnap victim but he’d lost the trail in the storm, and once J.T. told him that Cat was in trouble, he’d gone in search of her instead. Good thing, too, because there had been another massive firefight and Vincent had saved her.

  Vincent and Cat tumbled into the apartment and they looked terrible. With barely two words to Heather, which, okay, she did understand because they were exhausted, they went off to take a shower together. They were discussing the beast case, and Heather got the distinct impression that things had gone off the rails again tonight. This time, frankly, she was glad they’d left her out of it.

  They were still in the shower when the pizza guy came.

  “I don’t have enough money,” Heather yelled through the bathroom door. “And my credit card is… tired.”

  “Use the emergency stash,” Cat said. “In my top dresser drawer. Five twenties in Dad’s cheesy money clip.”

  “Got it,” Heather said, as she sailed into Cat’s bedroom and pulled the drawer open. She looked in and didn’t see it. Rooting around, she grinned when she found a photo booth filmstrip of Cat and Tess as well as a gift certificate for a facial she’d given Cat last Christmas and she still hadn’t used—but no money clip.

  “Huh,” she said, stumped.

  And then she remembered the night when Walker had come over. After she had awakened alone, she had noticed not only that one of her garments was ripped but that this drawer was open.

  He stole from us.

  Her heart thudding, she shut the drawer and leaned against the dresser. He stole Cat’s money, and our dad’s money clip. And then he left Silverado.

  She couldn’t tell Cat. It was too awful and humiliating. Cat would never take her seriously if she told her about this. She thought about how judgmental she herself had been back when she thought Cat was dating a semi-fictional guy named Vincent Zelansky (semi-fictional because he was actually Vincent, only with fake details about his life). So sure Cat was making a mistake that she had talked Tess into helping her stage an intervention at the precinct. So what happens? Vincent is a hero and Walker is a thief.

  I can just replace the five twenties, she thought. But she couldn’t do anything about the money clip. Her father had won it in a golf tournament and her mom had had it engraved with the date and the words Pro Husband. It was one of her and Cat’s most treasured mementoes.

  “Heath?” Cat called. “Did you find it?”

  Heather saw Vincent’s pants draped over a chair. She shut her eyes tightly, dove her hand into his pocket, and found his wallet. Feeling sick, she grabbed forty bucks and put the wallet back.

  She paid for the pizza and set it on the table, by then Cat and Vincent were out of the shower. As she sat down to eat Cat looked to be in a lot of pain and Vincent
was hovering, very concerned.

  “I’m okay. Sort of,” Cat said. Then she held out a hand to Heather. “Heather, I’m sorry I came down so hard on you for getting involved. You saved Vincent and Tess. And all I did was yell at you.”

  “Oh, no big,” Heather murmured. About to lose it over the money she had stolen, she went in the kitchen and opened a bottle of Cab. One of the perks about her job as an event planner was lots of free samples of food and drink. She could afford to have a nice brimming glass of wine in the kitchen without letting it breathe. So she chugged it down and then she poured glasses for Catherine and Vincent and another for herself.

  “So, Mazursky,” Cat said to Vincent. “I wonder what his agenda is.”

  “As soon as I’ve had some rest, I’m going after him,” Vincent declared. “I’m going to get Aliyah back—” he looked at Cat “—we are.”

  “But rest first,” Cat insisted, and he nodded and sat with her. Heather could see that he was about to fall over from tiredness. “Who do you think intercepted the original flag? Because if whatever was in the case was a component in the cure, it’s going to be the most difficult part of the antidote to find, obviously.” She scowled. “Now we know why the Rileys never received the flag.”

  “It was sent through the regular mail?” Heather topped off her glass. She poured some more for Cat and Vincent too.

  “Yes. And Lafferty died over a decade ago,” Vincent said, sipping. “It’ll be impossible to trace.”

  “Only difficult, not impossible,” Cat retorted, and she smiled a little. Vincent smiled faintly back.

  “Now that’s the wine talking,” Heather said.

  A little later, her wine was talking: She clutched a full glass in one hand and Walker’s business card—her only reminder of their last night together—in the other as she worked up the nerve to call him. She dialed his number, leaving a very slurred, pissed-off message. She also called the number written on the back—whoever “L” was—for good measure and got no answer. There wasn’t even a way to leave a voicemail message.

  So she hung up the phone and burst into tears. She was drunk and sad and she had stolen money from Vincent.

  I am getting our stuff back from Walker, she swore. Me. No matter what it takes.

  She cried a whole river of tears.

  And then she passed out.

  * * *

  Like many police officers, Tess had done her share of witness protection and that usually meant sleeping on the couch of a motel room or a small safe house, in order to be close to the witness. But Sky Wilson had insisted on giving her the bed and taking… the floor. He was lying down on it with his arms down at his sides, chin raised. It was the way you slept when you wanted to give your chakras room to breathe. She couldn’t help a grin.

  Meanwhile, she had discovered some amazing things while staying alert and awake, using the laptop she had borrowed from J.T.’s place. He had so many of them that he passed the extras out like some people give away subway cards.

  She left the room, went into the bathroom, and dialed Cat. She didn’t look at the clock but she knew it was sometime during the middle of the night. It didn’t really matter. They were cops on a case. You did what you had to do and that meant calling when you had something to share with your partner.

  I miss being your partner so much, she thought, as the phone rang.

  “Yes, Tess,” Cat said, muffling a yawn.

  “Aliyah’s mom Gheeta was murdered by Aliyah’s dad. She was home at the time and may have seen or heard it. His name is Shyam Badal. He’s doing twenty to life so I decided to see how he’s doing and guess what. His prison file is sealed.” She waited a couple of seconds for Cat to process that. After all, it was late at night and that was weird information.

  “Sealed,” Cat repeated, and Tess chuckled. Dangling interesting leads in front of a detective was like pointing one of those little French pigs at truffles. “But he’s serving his sentence now,” Cat mused. “How can it be sealed? Oh. Perhaps with a little help from some friends?”

  “Yes. My first guess? The FBI.”

  Cat drew a breath. “Vincent, wake up,” she said. There was muffled noise in the background. In the phone, she asked, “What prison is Badal in?”

  “Our favorite. Rikers.”

  “Tess… what if…”

  “With you,” Tess assured her. “Homicide number seven: Indira Patel was abusing Badal’s daughter. Number eight: Julia Hogan did nothing about it. Two deaths. And the family was close to Lafferty, who gets a beast makeover.”

  “Right. We were thinking Lafferty could be our beast, but it could be Shyam Badal. Remember how I told you that Aliyah started screaming ‘Mommy’ when Wilson was trying to communicate with her? Maybe she has trauma from that as well, Tess. And that was what he reached, not beast memories.”

  “That poor kid,” Tess muttered, blowing air out of her cheeks and shaking her head. “She’s what, eight years old? If the universe was fair she’d win the lottery every single week for a year. The heck with ice cream cones.”

  “Let’s get J.T. on the sealed file,” Cat suggested. “That’s a higher priority than tracing Lafferty’s missing flag. I think. I wish we could clone J.T.”

  Tess grinned wolfishly even though Cat couldn’t see her. Double J.T. meant double so many great things. “I’m thinking the flag wound up in the hands of Muirfield, or maybe the scientists who have been protecting the antidote. And? Just because there were six homicides doesn’t mean there were only six ingredients.”

  “We need J.T.,” Cat said.

  “We need J.T.,” Tess replied. Then she thought in a rush, I need J.T., and suddenly she missed him so much she could barely stand it. Accompanying her heightened emotion was a huge sense of relief. She’d thought she’d lost her special bond with him, and that their relationship was waning. But he had become part of her world, and she couldn’t imagine that world without him in it.

  “I’m going to leave Sky here and go to J.T.’s,” Tess said. “Thank God it’s stopped snowing. Or maybe it’s just the calm before the storm.”

  * * *

  In the morning, Heather was grateful beyond belief that although New York was clogged with snow, the plows had cleared the roads for driving and the subways were running. It took a lot to mess up New Yorkers’ lives.

  More than one thieving charmer could dish out.

  Wearing green again, she swept through the front doors of the academy. There was Elaine, being all receptionista in a really badly designed outfit. Worse than yesterday. It was so bad that Heather actually stopped walking and stared in amazement.

  “Is something wrong?” Elaine asked.

  “Yes. Yes, there is,” Heather blurted, feeling a little guilty because she’d been thinking so harshly of Elaine’s outfit. But judging was part of the fashion biz. “I have to get in touch with Walker. It is very, very serious business.”

  Elaine’s perfectly arched brows lifted a thirty-second of an inch, as if she couldn’t quite be bothered to look surprised. She leaned back slightly in her desk chair.

  “Maybe if you tell me why I should violate school policy and get myself fired by handing out his personal information…” She trailed off and smiled at Heather.

  “It is personal.”

  “Sorry.” Elaine shrugged and picked up her cell phone. Heather narrowed her eyes.

  “He stole something from me and I want it back.”

  Elaine’s eyes grew huge. “What?”

  “Uh-huh, yeah,” Heather snapped. “Something irreplaceable. My parents are both dead and he stole something that was my dad’s.”

  “Are you sure? I mean, could it have been someone else?” She touched her shiny nail to her shiny lips. She seemed like an entirely different person. One who actually cared about what Heather had just told her. “An accusation like that…” She leaned forward. “It could harm the school’s reputation, know what I mean? Has anyone else been in your apartment who could have stolen it? Yo
ur super? A repair person?”

  Heather thought back. The super had come up because she and Cat had complained that the heater wasn’t working. They hadn’t been home, and of course he had a key.

  The drawer was open the night J.T. was kidnapped, she reminded herself. The last night we slept together. That didn’t mean that Walker had opened it. Cat could have easily left it open, or even the super or one of his assistants after they worked on the heater. But what about her garment?

  “No,” Heather insisted. “It was him. He stole from me. My sister is a cop—”

  “I didn’t know that,” Elaine said, swallowing hard. “Huh.”

  “A detective,” Heather added for emphasis. “And she’ll find him and she’ll bust his ass.”

  All I have to do is tell her about this.

  She knew that she should. The trail was hot right now. But it would grow cold fast. He might move out of his place; he might leave New York—but he was getting somewhere, right? Making a name for himself? So why leave?

  Her brain was a boiling cauldron of indecision as she went to Silks and Rudi reminded them all that they had one week left before the New Looks competition was closed.

  “And I’m getting some early entries, and let me say that they are ama-zing,” he cooed. “You are my most talented class ever.”

  Winning the competition took on new importance because she felt like such a loser. She called Walker and L a dozen times. Nothing. She thought about asking J.T. to track down the number, but what should she say if he asked her why?

  The truth. She should come clean so they could bust this guy and get back their stolen possessions. She should tell Cat.

  “Yes,” she said aloud, and a weight lifted. Given how upset she was, just that little kick of euphoria was enough to carry her through the day. Her last class finished, she was about to leave when Mr. Summers himself came out of his office and raised a hand in greeting.

  “Heather in green,” he said. “Elaine asked to go home early and I’m expecting a few end-of-day calls. Would you possibly mind playing receptionist for a few minutes? The system is a little complicated, but all you would need to do is wait for some calls. You can let the rest go to voicemail. I’ll show you how.”

 
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