Static crackled over the line.
“Are you there, Kay?” Sarge asked.
“Yeah.” She lowered herself to the bed again. “What’ve you got?”
“A murder down here in Canton. Twelve hundred block of Luther. Body’s burned up pretty bad. Found it in an abandoned warehouse. We don’t have a positive on the body yet, but …” More static, only this time it sounded like Sarge fumbling with the cell phone. “Thing is, we could get some heat on this. From the media. And the brass. A real red ball.”
Kay took another sip of warm beer, enough to wet her throat. “What is it?”
There was a burst of interference, then voices in the background. And finally Sarge whispered, “I think it’s your girl, Kay. Your witness.”
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Copyright © 2005 by Illona Haus
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(Det. Sgt. [retired] Steve “Sparky” Lehmann,
and my work would be impossible.
And for Chris Brett-Perring,
inspiration and supporter extraordinaire.
In the course of researching and writing this work, I have relied on the expertise, wisdom, and experience of many. These are the major players to whom I am indebted:
Vickie L. Wash, Chief, Circuit Court Operations, State’s Attorney’s Office for Baltimore City;
Mary G. Ripple, MD, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner, State of Maryland;
Det. Joseph Dugan, BPD Homicide;
Det. Mike Hammel, BPD Homicide;
Det. Robert F. Cherry Jr., BPD Homicide;
Det. Lynette Nevins, BPD Homicide;
Bruce Tannahill, Tannahill Funeral Home, Owen Sound.
Any mistakes are my own.
Also, much thanks goes to my readers—Terri Rowe, Jerry “Chopomatic” Hatchett, Patricia Lewin, Jo Gillan, Jackie Gibbons, as well as Pam Myette and Manina Jones—for their time and eye for detail.
Huge thanks to Annelise Robbey and Meg Ruley, who saw the potential, cradled it, and let it be what it was, for their trust and their encouragement. And last, but not least, to Amy Pierpont for her guidance and infinite patience.
SHE KNEW THIS PLACE.
Wet asphalt glistened under sodium-vapor lights. Soaked trash clogged storm drains and gutters swelled. For ten minutes they’d waited in the unmarked car, watching the corner row house as the blue flicker of a television pulsed behind a sheet tacked over the first-floor window.
They didn’t need backup, she told Spencer. Her case. Her call.
As she crossed the dead-end street, the rain against her skin was a relief from the hot July night. A dog barked, high-pitched and frenetic. She imagined its eyes, bulging from behind one of the darkened windows next door. Spence offered a wordless nod, then jogged around the east side of the house. As the silence swelled, she gave him time to go up the alley, get to the back door and into position.
She followed the walkway to the porch. Took the three steps. Brushed back the edge of her jacket and unbuttoned the safety strap of her holster. Exhaled. Steadied herself, and lifted her fist to the door.
“Hey, Bernard! Baltimore police.”
She waited. Nothing.
“Come on, Bernard. Open up! Police.”
The night took another silent breath.
Then it erupted. And he was there—Bernard Eales. All six-foot-four of him, flinging open the front door. He filled the opening. Barging onto the dark porch. Massive. Smelling of booze.
In his eyes, she saw something flare. Wild and primal. Meaty lips parted in a malignant smile, revealing overlapped teeth.
She drew her Glock, the nine clearing leather fast even as the rubber grip slipped once in her wet hand. “Just back up, Bernard.”
But her voice faltered.
And Eales grinned. In a million dreams she would never forget that evil smile. Or the lightning-speed jab that cracked her wrist.
She swore at him. His next strike smashed the words back into her mouth, instantly filling it with hot blood. She swung hard, her closed fist connecting with the soft cavity of his temple.
His startled cry came out in a belch of fetid breath.
And then the beating started. One blow after the next. In the cramped and shadowed porch, there was no telling what was fist and what was Eales’s heavy, leather boot. She lost count after a half dozen, after her throat gagged against the blood, and her lungs clutched for air.
The world around her lurched out of focus. She thrashed at him, desperate to find a weakness. Another punch took her square in the stomach and she buckled, a burst of air and blood rushing out of her as she tumbled off the porch.
Disoriented, she searched the dark lawn for Spence.
But Eales wasn’t finished. Lumbering down the steps, he came after her. She braced herself. Dredging a final burst of energy, she rolled and hooked her leg around his.
Eales teetered. For a second she envisioned two-hundred-plus pounds of Baltimore billy-boy dropping on her. But he caught himself. One beefy hand skidded across the sidewalk inches from her face. He cursed, righted himself, and this time she heard the deep crack of bone when his boot tore into her side.
Against her cheek, the cement was cold. Her own
blood warmed it as she felt her body go weak. And here, on this filthy piece of pavement, in a grime-slicked puddle, she was ready to give up. Close her eyes. Surrender.
time when she reached for the holster at her hip, the Glock was there. She drew it. Fast and fluid.
Eales never knew what hit him. There was the white-orange flash at the nine’s muzzle. The satisfying kick of the weapon in her hands. The plume of burned gunpowder. And the hollow-point spiraled from the barrel, twisting through the air in slow motion and driving into solid flesh. In the pallid light, a mist of blood sprayed from the exit wound.
The second shot followed the path of the first. A dark stain bloomed across Eales’s chest even before his knees caved beneath him.
when Spencer charged around the corner of the house, Eales was at her feet.
It wasn’t the nightmare gunshot that woke Kay Delaney lately, but instead a quiet gasp. From sweat-soaked sheets, she stared at the dark ceiling. The light from the streetlamp below her third-story bedroom fractured through the rain-smeared window and danced overhead.
She drew in several long breaths, trying to calm the drumming of her heart. If only that night had gone down the way it did in her dreams now. If only it were Eales who’d bled out on his front lawn fourteen months ago instead of Spence.
Pushing back the sheet, she dragged herself to the bed’s edge, looked at the clock. One a.m. A low pain throbbed at her temples. Kay found the bottle of aspirin in her night-stand drawer and shook out three. A mouthful of warm beer from the bottle she’d brought to bed earlier helped wash them down.