Night shield, p.1
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       Night Shield, p.1

         Part #5 of Night Tales series by Nora Roberts  
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  Chapter 1

  He didn’t like cops.

  His attitude had deep roots, and stemmed from spending his formative years dodging them, outrunning them—usually—or being hassled by them when his feet weren’t fast enough.

  He’d picked his share of pockets by the time he’d turned twelve and he knew the best and most lucrative channels for turning a hot watch into cold cash.

  He’d learned back then that knowing what time it was couldn’t buy happiness, but the twenty bucks the watch brought in paid for a nice slice of the happiness pie. And twenty bucks cannily wagered swelled into sixty at three-to-one.

  The same year he’d turned twelve, he’d invested his carefully hoarded takes and winnings in a small gambling enterprise that centered around point spreads and indulged his interest in sports.

  He was a businessman at heart.

  He hadn’t run with gangs. First of all he’d never had the urge to join groups, and more important he didn’t care for the pecking order such organizations required. Someone had to be in charge—and he preferred it to be himself.

  Some people might say Jonah Blackhawk had a problem with authority.

  They would be right.

  He supposed the tide had turned right after he’d turned thirteen. His gambling interests had grown nicely—a little too nicely to suit certain more established syndicates.

  He’d been warned off in the accepted way—he’d had the hell beat out of him. Jonah acknowledged the bruised kidneys, split lip and blackened eyes as a business risk. But before he could make his decision to move territories or dig in, he’d been busted. And busted solid.

  Cops were a great deal more of an annoyance than business rivals.

  But the cop who’d hauled his arrogant butt in had been different. Jonah had never pinned down what exactly separated this cop from the others in the line of shields and rule books. So, instead of being tossed into juvie—to which he was no stranger—he’d found himself yanked into programs, youth centers, counseling.

  Oh, he’d squirmed and snapped in his own cold-blooded way, but this cop had a grip like a bear trap and hadn’t let go. The sheer tenacity had been a shock. No one had held on to him before. Jonah had found himself rehabilitated almost despite himself, at least enough to see there were certain advantages to, if not working in the system, at least working the system.

  Now, at thirty, no one would call him a pillar of Denver’s community, but he was a legitimate businessman whose enterprises turned a solid profit and allowed him a lifestyle the hustling street kid couldn’t have dreamed of.

  He owed the cop, and he always paid his debts.

  Otherwise, he’d have chosen to be chained naked and honey-smeared to a hill of fire ants rather than sit tamely in the outer office of the commissioner of police of Denver.

  Even if the commissioner was Boyd Fletcher.

  Jonah didn’t pace. Nervous motion was wasted motion and gave too much away. The woman manning the station outside the commissioner’s double doors was young, attractive with a very interesting and wanton mass of curling red hair. But he didn’t flirt. It wasn’t the wedding ring on her finger that stopped him as much as her proximity to Boyd and, through him, the long blue line.

  He sat, patient and still, in one of the hunter-green chairs in the waiting area, a tall man with a long-legged, tough build, wearing a three-thousand-dollar jacket over a twenty-dollar T-shirt. His hair was raven-black, straight and thick. That and the pale gold of his skin, the whiplash of cheekbones, were gifts from his great-grandfather, an Apache.

  The cool, clear green eyes might have been a legacy from his Irish great-grandmother, who’d been stolen from her family by the Apache and had given the brave who’d claimed her three sons.

  Jonah knew little of his family history. His own parents had been more interested in fighting with each other over the last beer in the six-pack than in tucking their only son in with bedtime stories. Occasionally Jonah’s father had boasted about his lineage, but Jonah had never been sure what was fact and what was convenient fiction.

  And didn’t really give a damn.

  You were what you made yourself.

  That was a lesson Boyd Fletcher had taught him. For that alone, Jonah would have walked on hot coals for him.

  “Mr. Blackhawk? The commissioner will see you now.”

  She offered a polite smile as she rose to get the door. And she’d taken a good long look at the commissioner’s ten o’clock appointment—a wedding ring didn’t strike a woman blind, after all. Something about him made her tongue want to hang out, and at the same time made her want to run for cover.

  His eyes warned a woman he’d be dangerous. He had a dangerous way of moving as well, she mused. Graceful and sleek as a cat. A woman could weave some very interesting fantasies about a man like that—and fantasies were probably the safest way to be involved with him.

  Then he flicked her a smile, so full of power and charm she wanted to sigh like a teenager.

  “Thanks.”

  She rolled her eyes as she shut the door behind him. “Oh boy, are you welcome.”

  “Jonah.” Boyd was already up and coming around his desk. One hand gripped Jonah’s while the other gave Jonah’s shoulder a hard squeeze in a kind of male hug. “Thanks for coming.”

  “Hard to refuse a request from the commissioner.”

  The first time Jonah had met Boyd, Boyd had been a lieutenant. His hair had been a dark, streaked gold, and his office small, cramped and glass walled.

  Now Boyd’s hair was deep, solid silver, and his office spacious. The glass wall was a wide window that looked out on Denver and the mountains that ringed it.

  Some things change, Jonah thought, then looked into Boyd’s steady bottle-green eyes. And some don’t.

  “Black coffee suit you?”

  “Always did.”

  “Have a seat.” Boyd gestured to a chair, then walked over to his coffee machine. He’d insisted on one of his own to save himself the annoyance of buzzing an assistant every time he wanted a hit. “Sorry I kept you waiting. I had a call to finish up. Politics,” he muttered as he poured two mugs with rich black coffee. “Can’t stand them.”

  Jonah said nothing, but the corner of his lips quirked.

  “And no smart remarks about me being a damn politician at this stage of my game.”

  “Never crossed my mind.” Jonah accepted the coffee. “To say it.”

  “You always were a sharp kid.” Boyd sat on a chair beside Jonah’s rather than behind the desk. He let out a long sigh. “Never used to think I’d ride a desk.”

  “Miss the streets?”

  “Every day. But you do what you do, then you do the next thing. How’s the new club?”

  “It’s good. We draw a respectable crowd. Lots of gold cards. They need them,” Jonah added as he sipped his coffee. “We hose them on the designer drinks.”

  “That so? And here I was thinking of bringing Cilla by for an evening out.”

  “You bring your wife, you get drinks and dinner on the house—is that allowed?”

  Boyd hesitated, tapped his finger against his mug. “We’ll see. I have a little problem, Jonah, I think you might be able to help me with.”

  “If I can.”

  “We’ve had a series of burglaries the last couple of months. Mostly high-dollar, easily liquidated stuff. Jewelry, small electronics, cash.”

  “Same area?”

  “No, across the board. Single family homes out in the burbs, downtown apartments, condos. We’ve had six hits in just under eight weeks. Very slick, very clean.”

  “Well, what can I do for you?” Jonah rested his mug on his knee. “B and E was never my thing.” His smile flashed. “According to my record.”

  “I always wondered about that.” But Boyd lifted a hand, waved it away. “The marks are as varied as the locations of the hits. Young couples, older couples, singles. But they all have one thing in common. They were all at a club on the night of the burglary.”

  Jonah’s eyes narrowed, the only change of expression. “One of mine?”

  “In five out of the six, yours.”

  Jonah drank his coffee, looked out the wide window at the hard blue sky. The tone of his voice remained pleasant, casual. But his eyes had gone cold. “Are you asking me if I’m involved?”

  “No, Jonah, I’m not asking you if you’re involved. We’ve been beyond that for a long time.” Boyd waited a beat. The boy was—always had been—touchy. “Or I have.”

  With a nod, Jonah rose. He walked back to the coffeemaker, set down his cup. There weren’t many people who mattered enough to him that he cared what they thought of him. Boyd mattered.

  “Someone’s using my place to scope marks,” he said with his back to Boyd. “I don’t like it.”

  “I didn’t think you would.”

  “Which place?”

  “The new one. Blackhawk’s.”

  He nodded again. “Higher-end clientele. Likely a bigger disposable income than the crowd at a sports bar like Fast Break.” He turned back. “What do you want from me, Fletch?”

  “I’d like your cooperation. And I’d like you to agree to work with the investigating team. Most specifically with the detective in charge.”

  Jonah swore and, in a rare show of agitation, raked his fingers through his hair. “You want me to rub shoulders with cops, set them loose in my place?”

  Boyd didn’t bother to hide his amusement. “Jonah, they’ve already been in your place.”

  “Not while I was there.” Of that, he could be sure. He could sense cop at half a mile, while he was running in the other direction in the dark.

  And had.

  “No, apparently not. Some of us work during daylight hours.”

  “Why?”

  With a half laugh, Boyd stretched out his legs. “Did I ever tell you I met Cilla when we were both on night shift?”

  “No more than twenty or thirty times.”

  “Same smart mouth. I always liked that about you.”

  “That’s not what you said when you threatened to staple it shut.”

  “Nothing wrong with your memory, either. I could use your help, Jonah.” Boyd’s voice went soft, serious. “I’d appreciate it.”

  He’d avoided prisons all his life, Jonah thought. Until Boyd. The man had built a prison around him of loyalty and trust and affection. “You’ve got it—for what it’s worth.”

  “It’s worth a great deal to me.” He rose, offered his hand to Jonah again. “Right on time,” he said as his phone rang. “Get yourself some more coffee. I want you to meet the detective in charge of the case.”

  He rounded the desk, picked up the receiver. “Yes, Paula. Good. We’re ready.” This time he sat at the desk. “I have a lot of faith in this particular cop. The detective shield’s fairly new, but it was well earned.”

  “A rookie detective. Perfect.” Resigned, Jonah poured more coffee. He didn’t bobble the pot when the door opened, but his mind jumped. He supposed it was a pleasant thing to realize he could still be surprised.

  She was a long-legged, lanky blonde with eyes like prime whiskey. She wore her hair in a straight, sleek tail down the middle of her back, over a trim, well-cut jacket the color of steel.

  When she flicked those eyes over him, her wide, pretty mouth stayed serious and unsmiling.

  Jonah realized he’d have noticed the face first, so classy and fine-boned, then he’d have noticed the cop. The package might have been distracting, but he’d have made her.

  “Commissioner.” She had a voice like her eyes, deep and dark and potent.

  “Detective. You’re prompt. Jonah, this is—”

  “You don’t have to introduce her.” Casually Jonah sipped fresh coffee. “She has your wife’s eyes and your jaw. Nice to meet you, Detective Fletcher.”

  “Mr. Blackhawk.”

  She’d seen him before. Once, she recalled, when her father had gone to one of his high school baseball games and she’d tagged along. She remembered being impressed by his gutsy, nearly violent baserunning.

  She also knew his history and wasn’t quite as trusting of former delinquents as her father. And, though she hated to admit it, she was a little jealous of their relationship.

  “Do you want some coffee, Ally?”

  “No, sir.” He was her father, but she didn’t sit until the commissioner gestured to a chair.

  Boyd spread his hands. “I thought we’d be more comfortable having this meeting here. Ally, Jonah’s agreed to cooperate with the investigation. I’ve given him the overview. I leave it to you to fill in the necessary details.”

  “Six burglaries in a period of under eight weeks. Estimated cumulative loss in the ballpark of eight hundred thousand dollars. They go for easily fenced items, heavy on the jewelry. However, in one case a victim’s Porsche was stolen from the garage. Three of the homes had security systems. They were disengaged. There have been no signs of break-in. In each case the residence was empty at the time of the burglary.”

  Jonah crossed the room, sat. “I’ve already got that much—except for the Porsche. So, you’ve got someone who can boost cars as well as lift locks, and likely has a channel to turn over a variety of merchandise.”

  “None of the goods have turned up through any of the known channels in Denver. The operation’s well organized and efficient. We suspect there are at least two, probably three or more, people involved. Your club’s been the main source.”

  “And?”

  “Two of your employees at Blackhawk’s have criminal records. William Sloan and Frances Cummings.”

  Jonah’s eyes went cold, but didn’t flicker. “Will ran numbers, and did his time. He’s been out and clean for five years. Frannie worked the stroll, and it’s her business why. Now she tends bar instead of johns. Don’t you believe in rehabilitation, Detective Fletcher?”

  “I believe your club is being used as a pool to hook fish, and I intend to check all the lines. Logic indicates someone on the inside’s baiting the hook.”

  “I know the people who work for me.” He shot Boyd a furious look. “Damn it, Fletch.”

  “Jonah, hear us out.”

  “I don’t want my people hassled because they tripped over the law at some point in their lives.”

  “No one’s going to hassle your people. Or you,” Ally added. Though you did plenty of tripping of your own, she thought. “If we’d wanted to interview them, we would have. We don’t need your permission or your cooperation to question potential suspects.”

  “You move them from my people to suspects very smoothly.”

  “If you believe they’re innocent, why worry?”

  “Okay, simmer down.” Boyd stayed behind the desk, rubbed the back of his neck. “You’re in an awkward and difficult position, Jonah. We appreciate that,” he said pointedly with a subtle lift of his eyebrows for his daughter. “The goal is to root out whoever’s in charge of this organization and put an end to it. They’re using you.”

  “I don’t want Will and Frannie yanked down into interrogation.”

  “That’s not our intention.” So he had a hot button, Ally mused. Friendship? Loyalty? Or maybe he had a thing going with the ex-hooker. It would be part of the job to find out. “We don’t want to alert anyone on the inside to the investigation. We need to find out who’s targeting the marks, and how. We want you to put a cop on the inside.”

  “I’m on the inside,” he reminded her.

  “Then you should be able to make room for another waitress. I can start tonight.”

  Jonah let out a short laugh, turned to Boyd. “You want your daughter working tables in my club?”

  Ally got to her feet, slowly. “The commissioner wants one of his detectives undercover at your club. And this is my case.”

  Jonah rose, as well. “Let’s clear this up. I don’t give a damn whose case it is. Your father asked me to cooperate, so I will. Is this what you want me to do?” he asked Boyd.

  “It is, for now.”

  “Fine. She can start tonight. Five o’clock, my office at Blackhawk’s. We’ll go over what you need to know.”

  “I owe you for this, Jonah.”

  “You’ll never owe me for anything.” He walked to the door, stopped, shot a glance over his shoulder. “Oh, Detective? Waitresses at Blackhawk’s wear black. Black shirt or sweater, black skirt. Short black skirt,” he added, then let himself out.

  Ally pursed her lips and, for the first time since she’d come into the room, relaxed enough to slip her hands casually into her pockets. “I don’t think I like your friend, Dad.”

  “He’ll grow on you.”

  “What, like mold? No,” she corrected. “He’s too cool for that. I might end up with a little skin of ice, though. You’re sure of him?”

  “As sure as I am of you.”

  And that, she thought, said it all. “Whoever’s set up these B and E’s has brains, connections and guts. I’d say your pal there has all three.” She lifted her shoulders. “Still, if I can’t trust your judgment, whose can I trust?”

  Boyd grinned. “Your mother always liked him.”

  “Well then, I’m half in love already.” That wiped the grin off his face, she noted with amusement. “I’m still going to have a couple of men under as customers.”

  “That’s your call.”

  “It’s been five days since the last hit. They’re working too well not to want to move again soon.”

  She strode toward the coffeepot, changed her mind and strode away again. “They might not use his club next time, it’s not a given. We can’t cover every damn club in the city.”

  “So, you focus your energy on Blackhawk’s. That’s smart, and it’s logical. One step at a time, Allison.”

  “I know. I learned that from the best. I guess the first step is to go dig up a short black skirt.”

  Boyd winced as she walked to the door. “Not too short.”

  * * *

  Ally had the eight-to-four shift at the precinct, and even if she left on the dot and sprinted the four blocks from the station to her apartment, she couldn’t get home before 4:10 p.m.

  She knew. She’d timed it.

  And leaving at exactly four was as rare as finding diamonds in the mud. But damned if she wanted to be late for her next meeting with Blackhawk.

  It was a matter of pride and principle.

  She slammed into her apartment at 4:11 p.m.—thanks to the delay of a last-minute briefing by her lieutenant—and peeled off her jacket as she raced to the bedroom.

  Blackhawk’s was a good twenty minutes away at a brisk jog—and half again that much if she attempted to drive in rush-hour traffic.

  It was only her second undercover assignment behind her detective’s shield. She had no intention of screwing it up.

 
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