Shelter in place, p.18
Shelter in Place,
“She said Renee was delayed, and asked her to show me through the house. I didn’t make her straight off, but her voice … I watched some interviews, and I recognized her voice. Took too long to put it together.”
“Partner, if you hadn’t put it together, you’d be really most sincerely dead.”
“And yet another movie classic. She got the drop on me, Essie, and let me just add: Getting shot hurts like a motherfucker. She came around the bar, the kitchen island deal, to finish me off. I couldn’t use my right arm, but I got my weapon out with the left. I think I got three rounds off. I know I hit her. I fucking know I hit her.”
“You did. Blood trail led out the front door.”
“We just missed her, Reed. She had to have an escape plan worked out. She killed her grandparents before she walked out the door.”
“The bitch dropped her grandmother off her walker, took her grandfather out in his goddamn Barcalounger. We froze their accounts—they all had her name on them—but she’d been systematically clearing them out for what looks like years, and must have millions.”
She rubbed his hand between hers. “I owe you a big, giant apology.”
“She’s the one. She’s been killing people her brother and his buddies missed.”
“We found her war room, her kill lists, photos, data she’s accumulated. Weapons she left behind, more wigs and disguises, maps. No computer. We have to figure she worked on a laptop and took it with her. The car she drove to the house was stolen that morning, and she left it at her grandparents’. We’ve got an APB out on the car registered to her, and since she’s now the prime suspect on unsolved cases across state lines, that’s national.”
“The feds pushed in.”
“I’ll take them. She’s smart, Reed. She’s canny and she’s crazy. It’s our case, but we’ll take the help. You have to get back on your feet, partner. That means rest and meds and PT, and whatever the docs say it means, and no bullshit from you.”
“In my apartment, bedroom. I’ve got a case board going, comp files. Don’t let the feds confiscate it. I’ll share, but don’t let them confiscate the work. Go get it.”
“You got it. Look, I’m going to go get a nurse, since you’re staying awake longer than you have. And your mom and dad, who’ve been here pretty much round-the-clock, even with your sibs taking rotation.”
Needing to touch, she rubbed her hand over the four-day scruff on his face. “You look rough, Reed, but you’re pulling it out. That button there? It’s your personal-decision morphine drip.”
“Yeah. I’ll think about that. There’s one nurse—I think nurse—unless I was hallucinating. Really pretty, brown eyes, great smile, skin the color of the caramel my mom used to melt to coat apples on Halloween.”
“Trust you. That’s Tinette. I’ll see if she’s on.” Then she leaned over, laid her lips lightly on his. “Scared the shit out of me, Reed. Try not to do that again.”
He went in and out for another twenty-four, but as much in as out. They wanted him up, taking short walks—and the lovely (unfortunately for him, married) Tinette cracked a velvet whip. She added, if he wanted the catheter removed—oh yes, please—he had to be mobile.
He shuffled, pulling his IV along, usually with one of his family or another cop beside him.
It touched him that Bull Stockwell didn’t miss a day, even if Bull harangued him about getting his skinny, malingering ass moving.
In the ten days since steel met flesh, he had lost eight pounds and could all but feel his muscle tone dissolving.
His mother brought him meatloaf, his father snuck him pizza. His sister baked him cookies. His brother slipped him a beer.
His first PT session left him covered in cold sweat and exhausted.
His hospital room, full of flowers, plants, books, and a ridiculous teddy bear outfitted with a detective’s shield and a nine mil, began to feel like prison.
The only plus there was that getting in was as hard as breaking out. The one time Seleena McMullen slipped through, Tinette—now Reed’s hero—kicked her right out again.
She managed to get a shot of him with her cell phone. When he saw it posted on the Internet, he decided maybe everyone lied to him, and he had died.
He sure as hell looked like a zombie.
Bull lived up to his name and bullied him into getting up and moving after the second round of PT when all Reed wanted to do was sleep off the misery.
“Quit your bellyaching.”
“It’s not my belly that aches.”
“Bitch, moan, whine. You want to be a cop again?”
“I never stopped being a cop.” Reed gritted his teeth as they walked. At least they allowed him cotton pants and a T-shirt now, instead of the humiliating hospital gown.
“They’ll put you on a desk, and keep you there if you can’t draw and fire your weapon like a man.”
“Essie’d kick your ass for the ‘like a man.’”
“She ain’t here.”
He walked Reed out to a small garden area where at least the air smelled like air.
“She ain’t giving it to you straight, either. Doesn’t want to put stress on your poor little feelings.”
“What’re you talking about?”
“The feds. They’re pushing us back, taking over.”
“I knew it.” Disgusted, Reed punched out at the air. His vision went gray when his shoulder exploded.
“Okay, okay, take it easy, killer.” Bull gripped Reed’s good arm, pushed him down on a bench. “She fought the good fight, you oughta know. You’ve been ahead of the pack on this for years, and nobody got on board. That includes yours truly. Thing is, it’s not just a hot case, it’s hot press. They can put on their stern fed faces and claim the press doesn’t have dick to do with it, but that’s a crock of shit. But, the other thing is, you were part of the DownEast Mall, and now you’ve been a target of the sister of one of the shooters.”
“She had a part in that. I’m telling you she knew what her brother was up to.”
“Not saying otherwise. I’m saying the feds see that as two strikes against you staying on the investigation, and the brass on our blue line agrees.”
“That’s a crock of shit.”
“It’s a big, stinking crock of shit, but that’s what they’re serving. They’re going to lock you to a desk when you come back, and give you grunt work until you pass the physical. And even then, they’re going to block you out of the Hobart case.”
“Son of a bitch.”
“Get your sad, skinny ass back in tune, kid. There are plenty of us who’ll work this on the side, but you need to shake off getting shot. And don’t tell me it doesn’t give you some cold sweats in the dark.”
“I see that gun coming up. Slow motion. Like I’ve got all the time in the world to take cover, return fire. But I’m in slower motion, and the damn gun’s as big as a cannon.”
“Shake it off. Get back to work.”
“Your compassion and sympathy are so heartfelt.”
Bull snorted, as bulls do. “You get enough of the soft stuff and forehead kisses. You need a kick in the ass.”
“And for shit’s sake, eat something. You look like a zombie scarecrow. Now get up and walk.”
Reed waited to speak to Essie about it because, at long last, they opened his cage door.
He was going home.
Not home to the shitcan, as he couldn’t yet handle three flights of stairs, but home to his old bedroom, his mother’s cooking, his father’s wonderfully bad jokes.
He’d asked, specifically, that Essie pick him up, deliver him, so he had waited to talk to her.
“Why do I have to get in a wheelchair to leave when all I’ve heard for two and a half freaking weeks is get up and walk?”
Tinette of the beautiful smile patted the chair. “Rules are rules, my darling. Now put that sweet butt in the chair.”
“My man would crush you like a bug, skinny boy. It’s too bad my sister’s only eighteen.”
“You go near my baby sis, I’ll put you back in this hospital.” But she rubbed his shoulder. “I’m glad to see you go, Reed, and sorry at the same time.”
“I’ll be coming in for the torture.”
“And I’ll go down and see you don’t cry too hard. Here, hold your teddy bear.”
He took it, and took a last look at the room. Essie had already hauled down the books, his tablet, and other accumulated stuff.
“I won’t miss this place,” he said as she wheeled him out, “but I’ll miss you. You’re the only woman I love, besides my mother, who’s seen me naked without me having the same privilege.”
“You’re going to put some meat back on those bones.” She steered him into the elevator. “And you take some advice.”
“From you I will.”
“Don’t go back into it too fast, darling. Give yourself some time. Walk in the sun, pet some puppies, eat ice cream cones, fly a kite. I know enough about you now to know you’re a good cop and a good man. Take some time to remember why you’re both.”
He reached back—left hand—for hers. “I’m really going to miss you.”
Essie greeted them with a smile. “You’re sprung, partner. Tinette, you’re a treasure.”
“Oh, I am every bit of that. Come on now, darling, let’s get you in the car.” She settled him and strapped him in herself. “You take care of my favorite patient.”
“One hour in a cheap motel. It’ll change your life.”
With a laugh, she kissed him on the mouth. “I like my life. Go live yours now.”
“What if she’d said yes?” Essie wondered aloud as they drove away.
“Never happen. She’s crazy about her husband. You know, she was twenty when the DownEast Mall happened and doing community service as part of her college credits. Nurse’s aide, so she ended up being on the front lines at the hospital that night. Small, small world.”
He waited a beat. “Bull told me the feds have taken over, pushed us back. Pushed me out.”
She let out a hiss of breath. “I was going to talk to you about it once you got out, got home, got settled in. I’m sorry, Reed, they brought down the hammer in the house. You’re too close, so I’m too close. I went to the wall on it, and the wall won.”
“It’s not going to stop me.”
She blew out a breath, fluttering the bangs she’d recently tried out. “Look, I didn’t support your theory, and that theory’s now proven as fact. The feds are scooping that right up from under you. They’ll give you a handshake and a brush back. On our end, the same decision goes right to the top.”
“It’s not going to stop me,” he repeated.
“They’ll make it an order. Believe me. Whatever you do, you’ll have to do it in the dark, on the side. If they find out, they’ll write you up and slap you down. It’s not right, but that’s the line.”
“What’s your line?”
“I’m with you. We’ll do what we can on our off time. I’m going to add, Hank’s with us on it.”
“He is. He’s not going back to full-time teaching. He’s going to finish the book he’s been writing. Literary cop fiction, he calls it. It’s damn good so far—what he’s let me read. But part of why he’s not going back is to give me more time to work this. With you, when I can.”
“I need to think it through, take some time. I need to get back in shape. Apparently getting shot’s turned me into a zombie scarecrow.”
“You’ve looked better. But Jesus, Reed, trust me, you looked worse.”
He knew it, just like he knew he had a ways to go. “I need to take her down, Essie. I need to be a part of it. But I’m going to think it through. No word on her since they found her car?”
“She’s in the wind.”
“The wind’s going to change,” he murmured.
* * *
He spent a month with his parents, white-knuckled his way through the PT, managed to put back on a couple of the pounds he’d lost during his hospital incarceration.
He’d dropped twelve before he’d leveled off.
He went back to work—desk duty. And when he got the word from his captain on the Hobart investigation, he didn’t argue. No point.
Still, desk duty had its advantages, and gave him plenty of time to access files. He might not have the brass behind him, but he had the blue line.
Traces of Hobart’s blood had been found on the driver’s seat of the car she’d dumped at the airport. The car reported stolen by a family of four after they returned from a three-week vacation in Hawaii had yet to be recovered.
Reed placed his bets on Hobart dumping it in a lake, torching it in the woods, or otherwise erasing it. She had cash, most likely fake IDs and credit cards. No way she’d stick with a stolen car.
She’d buy one under a fake name, with cash. A solid, nondescript, used car, he calculated. She’d change her hair, her appearance, so she looked little to nothing like the photos on the newscasts and the Internet.
She would watch those newscasts, the blogs, the newspapers, and lie low, at a distance. Until she hit again.
If she had a bullet in her, she’d found a way to get medical treatment.
He tried a check for break-ins, clinics, veterinary hospitals, pharmacies, but found nothing to fit.
He tried a search for deaths, medical profession. Doctors, nurses, aides, vets, ran down a couple, but again, none fit.
He thought about what he’d do, where he’d go in her place. His mind wandered north. Canada. Fake ID—fake passport. Cross the border, settle in, take a breather.
That’s just what he’d have done.
No need to risk air travel, no need to learn a new language. Rent a freaking cabin in the woods, keep a low profile.
But she wouldn’t be able to cut her losses, he knew. She’d need to finish what she started. Sooner or later, he’d get an alert that someone else who’d shared that nightmare with him had died.
So he shuffled papers, did the PT, ate his mother’s cooking.
And one day he woke up realizing he didn’t feel like a good cop anymore. He barely felt like a cop at all.
He could rotate his shoulder without agony, and could lift a ten-pound weight for a handful of reps, but he didn’t feel like much of a man, either.
He was, well, the zombie scarecrow with a vulture on his shoulder just waiting for somebody to die.
Time to pull it out, he decided, and take Tinette’s advice. He needed to walk in the sun, and remember what he’d been and why.
For the second day while she enjoyed her morning coffee on her patio, CiCi watched the man on the narrow strip of sand below.
He’d jog a little, walk, jog, back and forth for about a half hour before he’d climb—slowly—onto the rocks to sit and watch the water.
Then, like a man who’d been fit and strong and was recovering from a long illness, he’d do it all again before walking back along the beach to the bike path toward the village.
After day one, she’d gotten his name from the rental agent who’d booked him into a bungalow. A three-week booking in October, heading into November, wasn’t without precedent for the island, but it was unusual.
Plus, before she had his name, she’d used her binoculars to get a good look at his face.
Good-looking, but thin and too pale, with a lot of scruff.
Personally, she liked a man with some scruff.
She’d recognized him—she kept up with current events—but she’d wanted to be sure.
So she knew who he was, what had happened, and wondered what went through his mind as he jogged, walked, sat.
Since she wanted to find out, on day three of the morning
And after filling two lidded cups with mocha lattes, CiCi walked down while he sat on the rocks.
He glanced over as she started to climb up to join him, earned points for immediately getting up to take her hand.
With his left, she noted, and not without a flicker of pain on his face.
“Good morning,” she said, offering him one of the cups.
“It’s a perfect morning to sit on the rocks and have a latte. I’m CiCi Lennon.”
“Reed Quartermaine. I’ve admired your work.”
“Then you’re a man of taste as well as looking tasty. Full disclosure? I recognized you. I know who you are and what happened to you. But we don’t have to talk about it.”
“I appreciate it.”
Gorgeous eyes, CiCi thought. A quiet green with the intensity behind them adding a little magic.
“So what brings you to our island, Reed?”
“Some R and R.”
“A good place for just that, especially in the quiet season.”
“I’ve been here a few times in the summer. With my family as a kid, with some pals when I got old enough to drive. But I haven’t been in, jeez, I guess about ten years.”
“It hasn’t changed very much.”
“No, and that’s nice.” Slowly, carefully, he angled around to look back. “I remember your house, and thinking how cool it would be to live there, all those windows—see the water all the time, be able to walk right down to this little beach.”
“It is cool. The only place for me, as it turns out. Where’s yours?”
“Still looking. Actually got shot looking in the wrong place.” He smiled, quick and easy. “That’ll teach me. There was another house here I remembered, and it’s still there. I walked over from the village to see if it was. Two story, with a widow’s walk. What you’d call rambling, like yours. I guess I like rambling. Not as much glass, but enough. Sealed cedar shakes that have weathered. Big double porches on the front. Decks on the back. It’s sort of straddling some woods and the water. A little sand beach—not as much as here—then the rocks.”
Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love / History & Fiction / Thrillers & Crime / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.7 out of 5 / Based on33 votes