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       Jacked, p.46

           Tina Reber
 
I wanted him to quit looking. “She’s okay. Just shaken.”

  Marcus glanced around while more officers paraded through. “Any ideas who’d do this?”

  I didn’t want to state it out loud, but whoever did this was trying to kill her to hurt me, and that made the list of possible suspects quite long.

  I DROVE PAST my house slowly before circling the block and pulling into my garage. Erin had been quiet for the last few hours, withdrawing pretty hard while local PD processed the scene. She answered questions as best as she could but beyond describing hearing the gunshots and seeing things break, she had no valuable information to share.

  My captain had shown up shortly after we cleared the house, providing a great buffer between the leading questions posed by the investigator assigned and me. As if I’d want any harm to come to the woman I was in love with.

  I knew he was just doing his job but I didn’t like him implying that I was directly involved. I wanted to question her neighbors myself, but there was no way I could leave her side. I had to take the other officer’s word for it that they’d do a thorough job.

  “What makes you think we’ll be safe here?” she murmured. I let her doubt slide as I knew she’d been through the wringer and her voice was still shaky.

  “I have an alarm system and plenty of weapons. This is safer than a hotel.”

  She nodded; the life had been sucked out of her.

  “Erin, look at me.”

  She was on the verge of tears again. It killed me.

  “I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise. You trust me?”

  I didn’t like her pause before she nodded.

  I grabbed her suitcase and her duffle bags and set them outside the kitchen door. I punched in my alarm code and then reset it, moving Erin into the corner of my kitchen, away from windows.

  I had a Sig Saur loaded in the cabinet above the microwave. I made sure a round was chambered and handed it to her. “Don’t shoot me. Safety on, safety off. Red is dead. Remember?”

  I knew she was confused. I pulled my service weapon. “You stay here. I’m clearing the house to make sure you feel safe, and then we’re going to bed. Okay?”

  The fear was back in her eyes.

  “That’s just like the weapon you fired at the range. You know how to handle it. We’ve got this.” I touched her face. “You with me?”

  Erin nodded.

  “Words, Doc. You with me?”

  “I’m with you.”

  “Good. I’m going upstairs first. Try not to accidentally shoot me.”

  She frowned at me, but it had to be said.

  I checked doors and windows and then went room by room. She was mostly a zombie, reeling in shock when I got back to her. I relieved her of the weapon and grabbed her bags. “Come on. Let’s get some rest.”

  We moved around my bedroom in silence; gone was the comfortable familiarity and effortless ease. In its place was separation and mistrust. She took a shower by herself and then crawled under the covers, putting her back to me, spanning that distance even farther.

  I rested up on my hand and stared at the back of her wet head, aching to fix this.

  “Erin.”

  She made no effort to move so I moved her.

  I held her cheek so she wouldn’t be able to turn away and ignore me. I searched her eyes, praying I’d see some remaining love staring back at me. Her brow furrowed.

  “I love you.”

  Her frown deepened.

  “I’ve been in love with you for a very long time. I can’t even think about not having you in my life.” The images plaguing my mind were too vivid, too real. I couldn’t bear being without her; the thought was too painful, beyond anything I’d ever felt for another person. I’d almost lost her. Almost. Part of me felt dead just acknowledging that. “I can’t lose you.”

  My vision of her face blurred as the pain crushed into my chest. She’d become as necessary as breathing to me and losing that would take me out with it.

  Her thumb caught one of my tears.

  Her eyes were just as watery, making me say a silent prayer that she wasn’t going to tell me goodbye.

  “I love you too,” she broke. “So much, it hurts.”

  I leaned down to kiss her, feeling her cry into my mouth, crushing me inside. Our fears turned into need—need to feel alive, to reconnect, to drown out the internal agony that consumed us both. She let me make love to her, allowing me to show her how much I couldn’t live without her. Soft whimpers left her throat every time I told her I loved her, as though it physically hurt her to hear those words. I didn’t care; I’d tell her a thousand times a day just so she’d know.

  I wrapped her into my chest when we’d finished, forming a protective cocoon around her so she’d feel safe enough to sleep.

  I woke up several hours later to an empty bed.

  An empty house.

  Erin and her bags were gone.

  MY CALLS WENT unanswered.

  My texts to her—ignored.

  I drove by her house; her car was gone. The bullet holes through her large front window were easy to see in the light of day.

  I cruised through the hospital’s parking lot but there was no sign of her car there either.

  Over the next few days I rolled through every emotion: from anger and aggravating betrayal to remorse and resentment. I managed to accomplish the very thing I had tried to prevent. I’d fucked up her life. Her house getting shot up had made the news. Pictures of her and her house were broadcasted on all of the television news channels, in the local section of the newspaper, and spread throughout every crevice on the Internet.

  Erin had obviously shut her phone off; her voice greeting picked up immediately. Call it resourceful—I put my detective skills to work and eventually found her car at her parents’. I just needed to know she was somewhere safe with people looking out for her—not that she was incapable of doing that on her own, but it gave me some peace of mind to know she wasn’t alone.

  Local investigators managed to pull fifteen slugs out of Erin’s walls and retrieved most of the spent shell casings outside, but without a weapon and a suspect, the case was cold. None of her neighbors had seen anything either, only reporting that they’d heard the gunshots. No one had even seen a suspicious car driving through the neighborhood. The elderly woman who lived directly across the street told me she’d heard loud cracks quite a few times over the last few weeks but never saw where they came from. The shots reportedly happened in the cloak of night, which led me to this new level of desperate insanity.

  Someone had been firing a nine-millimeter at Erin and I needed to know who.

  My hand squeezed harder on his throat, choking the dirtbag I’d snatched from the street. “I’m losing my patience, Felix.”

  “Get the fuck off me, pig,” Felix groaned.

  I crammed his face into the chain-link fence, pressing my advantage. The sun had already come up, revealing our position. DEA had recently seized this property, locking it down from local gang radar. There was nothing around us but an empty lot and abandoned buildings. “Yell all you want. Ain’t no one gonna hear you.”

  Marcus was on point, being my backup, looking the other way while I bent the law. I tried to keep him out of this but he insisted he had my back. We were off duty when I snagged Felix; if anything happened now, we’d both be in trouble.

  “I don’t know nothing,” Felix spat, trying to wiggle his scrawny body loose.

  “They executed your brother, Felix.” I put my next words right into his ear. “Two bullets to the head, not just one. Apparently one wasn’t enough. Your cousin was on the slab next to Benny. Who’s next, Felix? You? Your mom? Your sister? My woman?”

  Felix rolled his face on the chain-link.

  I was tired of him stalling. “Who put the hit out on my woman?”

  “Man, I don’t know nothing about a hit.”

  I shook him hard. “Do not fucking lie to me!”

  “I’m not! No one is talking ab
out taking out a cop or anything. I swear.”

  I twisted his arm higher, adding to his misery. “Who the fuck unloaded a magazine on my girlfriend?”

  “I don’t know,” he snapped. “No crew even give a flying fuck about pig pussy.”

  I wanted to snap his neck. “You know they’re coming after you next. If I found you, you think Mancuso’s crew can’t fish you out?” I could feel the small pipe in his front pocket. “You end up in gen-pop, you’ll be shived before lunch.”

  “Man, fuck you.”

  “Sorry, not into skinny white dudes.”

  Marcus cleared his throat, telling me to speed this up.

  “Why did they take your brother out, Felix? I already know who did it; help me understand why.”

  His resolve was wavering.

  “Give me something. Help me get them off the streets. Your mom, your sister, all safe.”

  “I talk to you, I end up like them.”

  “Not if I get to them first.”

  Felix scoffed. “Like mofos are worried about ATTF, ‘n sure as hell ain’t worried about Mister Hollywood. Boys have been playin’ you for months. Ain’t even breakin’ a sweat over it.”

  I gave him another hard jostle as a reminder that time was ticking and I wasn’t above beating his ass for answers. “Enjoy jail. Fuck if I care you become someone’s bitch.”

  “All right. All right,” he groaned. “You gonna let me walk?”

  “Up to you. It’s all just paperwork for us.”

  “Shew.” He glared over his shoulder. “I’m a dead man.”

  “Then do your brother a solid.”

  Felix bowed his head, slowly rolling it. “All I know was Benny was talking to this dude.”

  “Who?”

  “Name’s Akim.”

  “Akim?”

  “I don’t know what went down. Benny didn’t share.”

  “Where do I find this Akim?”

  Felix sneered. “Man, what do I look like? The muther-fucking phone book?”

  Marcus reached back, palmed Felix’s head, and shoved hard, bouncing his face off the fencing. That got the punk to change his answer.

  He spit blood onto the ground. “Try Savage Lexus, you fuckin’ fucks.”

  “I DON’T KNOW, brother,” Marcus drawled.

  I caught the sight of Felix walking in my side mirror as the tires kicked up stones and dust behind me.

  “If they wanted her dead, she’d be dead.” That realization had hit me soon after I had dragged Felix by the hair from the back of the truck. Criminals didn’t send “messages” —they made statements and drove them home painfully.

  Marcus nodded. “Harsh but true. And we sure as hell have been getting played at our own game.”

  I glanced at him quickly.

  “Yeah,” he said, reading me, “I thought about that too. Don’t want to think about one of our own but nothing surprises me anymore.”

  “Don’t know how else they could know our moves.”

  Marcus scoffed. “Shit. We’ve been broadcasting our deal every fucking Sunday. Even my eight-year-old nephew can call it.”

  I peeled out of the lot, heading north back into the city, retribution the only thing on my mind.

  “Adam, want you to know that I get ya. Someone tore up my house putting my family in danger, I’d be losing my fucking mind. Just got to play this smart, you follow? Can’t fire off half-cocked; that shit will get you hurt.”

  Hurt? I already felt dead inside; the rest was still blistering out, leaving a path of char and agony in its wake. “I lost her, Marcus. Wasn’t bad enough that Ramirez’s wife filled Erin’s head with shit. There were bullet holes in the pillow where she’d been resting on the couch. As much as I don’t want to admit it, someone tried to take me out, I’d probably leave, too.”

  Marcus nodded. “She back to work?”

  “Yeah. Last two nights. One of the security guards there has been giving me updates. He knows the deal and is keeping watch.”

  “Good. You ever think…?” He looked out the window. “Nah.”

  I hated open-ended comments. “Think what?”

  Marcus glanced over. “Shit like this makes for exciting TV.”

  I ground my teeth together. “Thought of that, too. But there’s no connection between someone firing up Erin’s place and the show, beyond Melissa, and as much as she’s another one to be leery of, she ain’t crazy enough to attempt murder.”

  “Dumb and Dumber were with us when we got that call, though. I don’t remember if they filmed the scene, do you?”

  My mind was a swirling vortex of rage. I’d been focused on one thing and one thing only that night—making sure Erin was alive. “Can’t say if they did or not.”

  “I hate to say it, bro, but this ain’t over.”

  Something inside my chest twisted.

  I knew it wasn’t my heart.

  Erin had taken that with her when she’d left.

  HOURS HAD TURNED into days, and days into another week.

  I trudged through each one, knowing that Erin would never come back to me while the threat to her life still existed.

  Ballistics came back empty on the slugs removed from Erin’s house, so matching bullets to a gun was another dead end.

  Yesterday I received a certified letter from a law firm representing Werner Communications, threatening to pursue damages since I’d been pulled off normal patrol duty while leading this investigation in Philly. Just one more thing I had to fucking worry about although Cap said lawyers for the department would handle it on my end.

  Melissa Werner could go fuck herself.

  Ritchie and Scott could go fuck themselves, too.

  I ended yet another call from Scott asking me when we’d be getting back on regular patrol. His constant calls were getting annoying. It was a relief not to have cameras in my face.

  “Surveillance is boring,” Marcus grumbled, making a racket while emptying a small bag of potato chips into his mouth.

  I scanned back and forth again with my binoculars, waiting for movement outside Savage Lexus. We’d codenamed the case “Operation Trident” as we were working with units out of New York and New Jersey as part of a massive tri-state investigation.

  Another Lexus and two new Ford trucks had been stolen out of a suburb of Newark and two Lincolns disappeared out of the upper east side of Manhattan.

  Between the three teams working this case, we had amassed a list of twenty-nine suspects, including the possible “key master” working under the guise of an auto mechanic at this dealership.

  Either the end buyers were getting anxious or the ring was getting sloppy. It was just a matter of time before we pulled up nets and snagged them all.

  It was also time to get “Operation Recoup” underway as well.

  HOSPITAL EMERGENCY WAITING rooms had to be one of the worst places on Earth, especially going on ten-thirty at night. Marcus and I had been working odd hours depending on what we had going on, but there were a few people still holding strong on the night shift.

  And here I sat amid crying children and people who didn’t look all that sick, waiting patiently for a person I’d never met to come save me. I’d give her props though; she made me suffer just a bit, leaving me waiting out here for almost an hour.

  Finally a slender woman with wild hair came into the waiting area and stopped in front of me, none too happy, I might add.

  I looked up, taking in her no-bullshit stance. “You must be Sherry.”

  Yeah, obviously.

  She rested her hands on her hips. “She’d kill me if she knew I was out here talking to you.”

  Part of me didn’t feel guilty about that. “I know. I appreciate it.”

  One of Sherry’s eyebrows rose, waiting.

  “She doing okay?”

  “No. She’s completely miserable, actually. We’re blaming you, just so you know.”

  I guess I deserved that. “She’s not the only one who’s miserable.”

  Sh
erry didn’t need to say the word “good.” It was written all over her face. “I have to get back to work.”

  “Look, I know you don’t know me, and all her friends probably hate me, but I love her and I miss her and this, this messed-up bullshit—”

  Her arms crossed, taking a new stance. “Did you tell her this? That you love her?”

  I nodded. “Yes. But she won’t take any of my calls; she won’t talk to me. I honestly don’t know what to do.”

  “One question.” She held up her index finger. “This love that you speak of, does it come with a future? I mean, none of this ‘I love you’ crap now until something else comes along, wasting everyone’s time, because that would be a total dick move on your part and would hurt her even more than she’s hurting now.”

  I squinted at her. “Something else?”

  Sherry huffed. “You know what I mean. She deserves someone who is in it for the long haul, not some guy whose ego has been bruised and needs to prove something to himself.”

  “I’ve got nothing to prove.” Actually, I felt quite defeated. “She’s already made up her mind. Told me she didn’t want kids with me.” I started to question why I was even trying. I needed to quit this pity-party and accept the facts. I stood. “Sorry I wasted your time. Thanks for seeing me.”

  “Wait.”

  My legs stopped on a glimmer of hope.

  “You love her that much?”

  I nodded. “Long haul.”

  Sherry exhaled and then pulled her phone out of her pocket. “Give me your number. I’m not making any promises but we can try.”

  I didn’t know what came over me, but right there in the crowded waiting room, I gave this woman a hug.

  I’VE BEEN IN hand-to-hand combat with drugged-out criminals wielding weapons, been through countless court appearances and testimonies, and even endured thirty-two years of my mother’s disapproving gaze, but none of that really prepared me for the interrogation that was happening at this table.

  Erin’s two best friends, Sherry and Jen, sat across from me. I had convinced Cherise to be in my corner, but still… she had ovaries and an opinion, which made her loyalties questionable. And then just when I thought the team had been formed, in waddled a third for Erin’s side—the pregnant nurse, Sarah, who was looking ready to drop at any second.

 
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