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Authors: Michelle McGriff

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Chapter 5

In the meantime somewhere over the Atlantic.

The largest of the three men spoke little English. His native tongue was Arabic. He was Egyptian. The other two were from Cairo and their English was clearly understood. The airport lines were less complicated for English-speaking foreigners.

They each carried bags that gave them the appearance of traveling businessmen who also wanted to enjoy a little California fun. Floral shirts and sunscreen also set the stage for their American vacation.

Settling into the seats, they smiled at the flight attendant. She was tall and blond.

“You gentlemen want champagne?” she asked, making her way through first class.

“Yes, I believe we do,” one of the men answered for all three. The woman smiled. It was obvious her eyes caught sight of the ring on the Egyptian's finger. The large ring clustered with diamonds in an odd shape on his middle finger had to have dazzled her.

“Your ring is lovely. Fraternity?” she asked. Another of the English-speaking men looked at the ring and then smiled at her, lifting the Egyptian's hand so she could get a closer look.

“It's a phoenix. Do you know what that is?”

Her face scrunched up a little in a cute way. “Um, a mythological bird that, um, rises from the ashes, right?”

“You're close. It is a beautiful woman born to rule. She's elusive and seductive and unaware of her power. With just a glance, she can set a world on fire and walk away unburned,” the man answered her. “Yet, she's far from mythical. She's standing right in front of everyone,” he added. The flight attendant smiled and blushed as if having just received a compliment. She had no idea what the man was talking about.

Chapter 6

“So you were there? Tell me what happened,” the officer from internal affairs barked. He'd been questioning Keliegh for the past hour about what he'd seen and not seen, and then, as if Keliegh hadn't heard the questions, he asked them again—backward. It was bad enough that it was late and he was tired and not thinking clearly, but then they had further confused him by taking him to an interrogation center outside of his precinct.

“I told you everything. By the time I got outside, Romia was kneeling over some dead guy, or whatever, and it was all circumstantial. The woman was screaming that Romia had shot the guy. But, no, I didn't see her shoot anybody.”

“But you say she was all bloody.”

“No, I didn't say she was all bloody. I said her lip was busted, she bleeds easily from the mouth, and—”

“How do you know that?”

Keliegh grimaced at the question. “We were partners. You learn stuff like that about your partner.”

“Did she fight a lot? Get smacked in the chops a lot? What?”

“She never fought in the street. But like in competition, if she took a hit to the face, she bled…a lot. It would usually take her out of a match.”

“I heard she knew the guy she killed.”

That was it. Keliegh stood. “Can I go now? I mean, you've accused her of murder enough for one night. Don't you think you should be out there looking for the person who shot that guy?”

“Who else coulda done it?”

“The woman maybe? Who was she? Nobody seems to know!”

“What woman?” the Internal Affairs officer asked.

Just then, two more IA agents burst into the interrogation room. Keliegh didn't know them, either. Strangely enough, Keliegh had never met any of the men he'd seen here tonight. He didn't know these cats from Adam. He was ready to bust one of them in the mouth and get the hell outta there. He'd never been at the office of internal affairs before and he had to admit, they were serving him up every dish from the intimidation café—but he wasn't shaken. Keliegh wanted nothing more than to get out of there so he could find Romia. She was scared. He'd seen it in her eyes. It was a look he'd never seen before and so it had to be fear…
what else?
Surely it wasn't malice.
She didn't kill that guy…there was no way. For what? Feeling her up and causing her to get alcohol spilled on her jacket?
Shooting him would have been rather extreme—even for her. Keliegh wasn't buying it as easily as Aston and Hank were. He'd seen them come from another room while he waited to be called. They avoided eye contact with him, which let him know they'd sold her out.
Pricks.

“We're gonna be watching you, Detective Jack. You have a problem with the directional signal on your loyalty gauge. She killed a cop tonight.”

“What?” Keliegh exploded, standing straight up. The men who came into the room stood as if guarding the door. Keliegh had to wonder if this clown was about to take him on a few rounds. Unconsciously, he puffed up just a little, flexing and breathing a little harder.

“Now calm your ass down. What I'm saying is, you are all ready to hang up your badge for your ex-partner, who is clearly as guilty as sin, and—”

“And you're crazy.” Keliegh fanned his hand toward Maxwell as if to say, “Bah humbug.” “I don't know what Hank and that punk Aston told you but, excuse me, Romia is a loyal cop. A good cop.”

“A cop who snapped tonight and killed a fellow officer because he touched her.”

“Oh, my ga…” Keliegh swagged his head in a negative argument. “That is so off base. You are so off base. What, did Aston and Hank tell you that too?”

Maxwell Huntington just looked at Keliegh with an expression that read,

“You can go, Detective Jack,” Maxwell Huntington, the head of IA, barked, dismissing Keliegh without further discussion. “You're suspended until further notice.”

Keliegh stood his ground for a moment before shaking his head in disgust at this whole matter and walking out. He wasn't sure what to feel but he knew he had to find Romia.

Chapter 7

The block was quiet, but that was somewhat normal for Romia's neighborhood. She lived on the “good” end of the Palemos, if you wanted to call it that. But then again, Romia had little fear, so Keliegh never really worried about where she lived as much as he worried about her, as a whole. Like now, he was worried sick. His stomach was even starting to cramp up. Fighting the growing emotions, blaming it on the late-night street activities, thoughts about his career and the strong feeling he was being tailed, Keliegh didn't give into the fact that his only focus was on Romia's safety. Keliegh didn't give into the fact that his concern over her was clouding his reason. Why would she have come home?

Idiot!
Keliegh thought, mentally bashing himself. He just realized then, too, that he'd not even given Shashoni a second thought as he whipped into Romia's complex.

Locking the door of his car, he looked around for stalkers. It wasn't as if he was hard to spot. Standing an easy six three or four in flat bare feet, if he was on the run he'd be caught in a moment. Maybe that was what was bothering him about Romia. She was not the kind of person who blended in well either. Maybe that was what he found so fascinating about her. She was so…different.

Keliegh reached her door and slid his spare key in the lock. He'd had a spare since they were partners. She reluctantly gave him one after having accepted his—for emergencies, of course. One day, not long after he was promoted to detective, he found his spare on his desk; she'd returned it. He wasn't about to do the same and return the key to her place. He had his pride, and…

“…And good thing, too,” he mumbled, turning the lock and easing the door open. Not sure if his prints were still on anything in her place, considering how long it'd been since he'd visited, he made note of all he touched: the light, the door, the chair. The chair was thrown over. “Daaaamn!” he exclaimed, noticing that more than the chair was out of place. The apartment was a mess. He could see this as soon as his eyes focused to the dim light.

The living room had been professionally, albeit ruthlessly, tossed.
Looking for what? Who knows!
Keliegh stepped lightly as he moved through the apartment, noting all the damage. “Cops? Why would they trash her place? This wasn't cops. Who did this?” he asked himself, closing her refrigerator door that lay open. Romia's bedroom was in no better condition than the living room: toiletries all over the floor, mirror on the medicine cabinet busted as if by a fist. He noticed her papers scattered all about her bed. He noticed her pictures torn off her walls; all the frames were broken. It was hard to tell if anything had been actually stolen with all the damage.
Her stereo is still here, her television set…

Her answering machine was blinking. Looking around, knowing he could be tampering with possible evidence that may be be important, Keliegh pushed the play button. The caller spoke in a foreign language that Keliegh did not initially pick up.

“Wrong number, I guess,” he reasoned, continuing to look around the room. He noticed a picture Romia had of the two of them in uniform. They'd been friends a long time. He picked it up and closely examined it before tucking it in his shirt pocket. He then saw a picture of a woman holding a baby. He looked at the woman. She had Romia's rarely shared smile. “Is this your mom?” he asked aloud. Sighing heavily, he tucked that picture in his pocket as well. “Where are you, Rome? Who did this?” he asked himself again before leaving.

Chapter 8

What a day it had been. It seemed as though whatever could go wrong went wrong. She had tried with all her might to make it to the wedding, or maybe she didn't try all that hard. Seeing Shashoni in pink taffeta wasn't what she felt the need to break her neck to do.

But surely that scene would have been better than this one. Files lost, cap'n all crazy, and cramps like you wouldn't believe. Tommy wanted to laugh, cry, and maybe kick somebody's ass all at the same time. But instead she cleaned up reports. She was crazy about Keliegh but the boy couldn't write a report if it meant his life.

“You hitting The spot?” Aston and Hank had asked her on their way out hours ago. Her eyes must have said it all as they held up their hands in surrender. He heard Aston call her a bitch but she didn't even care enough to call him on it. At that moment in time, she was, and she knew it. It was around one now, nearly time for those who had gone home earlier to be on their way back in. She glanced at her watch.

“I'ma go home and soak in a hot—”

“Turner! I need to talk to you for a minute,” the captain had called to her.

“Shit,” she grumbled. It was a whistle and she caught it. “Alls I know is they better not run,” she grumbled, heading into his office to get the assignment.

“Got a big one. It's a shooting out in the view. Looks domestic,” he said, handing her the address. “Take Bishop with you.”

“Bishop? Why don't I just call Jack? He's due in about an hour…”

“Take Bishop,” the captain barked.

Tommy felt her eyes roll but tried to fight it. She couldn't stand Canasta Bishop. Maybe it was because Keliegh had slept with her. “Come on,” was all Tommy said to her, slapping her hand on Canasta's desk. Canasta looked up at her with surprise showing.

“Me?”

“You.”

They walked out the front of the station just as Hank was making his way back in. “Wow!” was all he said. “Wow what?” Tommy responded, half bored, half interested.

“Man, is Jack in deep.”

“What?” Canasta asked. Tommy consciously glared at her.

“Romia shot somebody tonight and then kicked Aston's ass and then pulled a gun on me and Jack. Tried to kill us—”

“Romia?” both Tommy and Canasta said at the same time.

“Yeah, it was crazy. She was all wild-eyed. I think she's doing crack or something for sure. She just snapped,” he said, holding out his hands and bending them quickly as if breaking an invisible stick.

“Where is Keliegh now?”

“Well, he got all in the way of the arrest. I mean, he let her get away, so you know his ass is on the chopping block. Last I saw him he was under the light with IA.”

“Oh my God! Canasta, go tell Cap'n you and Hank took this whistle—”

“But—”

“Just go tell him…Shit. I'll take the heat. He can fire me or whatever tomorrow, but I gotta go,” Tommy said, leaping off the steps of the precinct and jogging to her car. She was done for the night and no further plans for Calgon to take her away.

Chapter 9

Reaching his house, he noticed the unmarked car across the street. “Wow, that's discretion. I'm sure she'll walk right into this trap.” Keliegh chuckled sarcastically, loosening his door key from among the mess of keys on his ring. Keliegh thought about Tamika “Tommy” Turner, his current partner. She'd not called all evening, which was a surprise. Normally she was the first to hear a whistle in the station house—especially with his having been suspended. Surely she was shocked to get the news. Surely his suspension was all over the place by now.
Those IA guys were tough.

And where the hell is Shashoni?
He'd not heard a peep from her either, now that he thought about her.

He glanced at his watch. He needed to call his uncle. It was late, but his uncle was probably still on duty.

Keliegh's uncle, Lawrence Miller, was a homicide detective in the Palemos district. Surely he'd gotten wind of this case and was probably on it, or pretty close to it at least. The body fell pretty close to his beat. Keliegh could get some untainted information from him. If nothing else, he could get some advice on what to do about his former partner being accused of a murder that there was no way she could commit, and even more advice on what to do if she did. The number rang as he jingled his keys at the door.

“Miller.”

“Hey, Unk.”

“Yeah.”

“What's the news?”

“Same ol'.”

“So you didn't hear?”

“I hear well.”

“Shooting at The Spot. Did it fall on you?”

“Hey!” he called out. “Anybody catch a whistle at The Spot?”

Keliegh waited for his uncle to get an answer.

“Nah, nobody here got nothing. Why?”

“My partner—well, former partner, you know, I told you about her—Romia.” Keliegh opened his door of his apartment and stood in the threshold, but didn't reach in to turn on the light. “Um, there was a little trouble…a little misunderstanding.”

“Spit it out.”

“She might be in some trouble. There was a shooting about three hours ago and, well, she didn't wait for questions. Guy was supposed to be a cop.”

“What the hell! She killed a fellow officer?”

“Look, don't get all crazy! She didn't do it. I know she didn't. I had never seen that guy before in my life. IA said he was a cop, though. I mean, who knows, right? Nobody knew the guy, right?”

“You don't know anything. And if she's on the run for shooting a brother then she's trouble. If we get this call and we find her, we ain't gonna play nice with her. If she's a sw—”

“She's not! God, I hate that word. She's not crazy. It was an accident or something. I was there, but damned if I know what happened. One minute we were having a drink, the next she's outside over a body and Hank and Aston got guns on her. She freaked—I would have too. I thought you guys were on it because somebody's already been at her place. Did a bang up job.”

“We wouldn'a got a search warrant that quick. Hell, three hours, we'd still be at the scene. You saying IA is already on it?”

“Yeah, already hauled my ass in. You know anybody named Maxwell something?”

“Maxwell something? Can you be a bit more vague for me here?”

“Hell, maybe he was CIA, who knows?” Keliegh was digging for answers, hoping one would just fall into his lap by accident. Nothing. His uncle wasn't being helpful at all.

Stepping all the way into the dark foyer of his small duplex apartment, he pondered his next words. Just then, he thought he heard something coming from inside his apartment. Glancing at the officer in the car across the street sitting mindlessly, staring into space, he wondered if he had another stakeout cop in his apartment. “I have to call you back,” he said to his uncle, hanging up quickly. He closed the door and drew his weapon. “I'm armed, I'm a cop, and I'm gonna blow your head off if you think you're in here robbing me. If you're a cop and you're here to babysit me, I'll kick your ass,” he called, pointing the gun upward while sliding along the walls deeper into the dark apartment, until he was standing in the living room.

“Keliegh,” Romia whispered.

“Romee, how the hell did you get in here, they have my place surrounded—sort of,” Keliegh whispered back, startled to hear her voice. He was not sure where she was in the apartment until his gun left his hands from over his head. Turning around, he saw that she stood behind him. He could see the shadow of the revolver in her hand, but heard her locking the safety on it. He had to admit he felt a sense of relief. “Romee, give me the gun back.”

“I wasn't going to take it,” she said after a moment of hesitation. He felt his gun laid in his hand and her hand pause on top of it. The silence between them lasted a moment longer before she dropped silently to the floor. “Turn on the lights,” she whispered.

“What?”

“What would you normally be doing? Walking around in the dark? No. You'd turn on the lights. Get a drink from the fridge or whatever you do, head to your room, maybe shower, I don't know what you do, but do it. If it stays dark in here…”

“Gotcha. I was talking to my uncle…” Thinking of the cops outside, he thought about what he would be doing if she weren't there and quickly turned on the table lamp by the sofa and flopped on the sofa, clicking on the TV. “Okay, well, I'd unwind a bit in front of the TV,” he mumbled. “They're looking all over for you. Why did you run?” he asked without looking at her.

She lay on her stomach on the floor. “I don't know, because it's all too freaky. Something just freaked me out…that woman, Hank and Aston. My God, Aston was gonna shoot me,” she whispered excitedly, no doubt thinking of her colleague and someone she remotely called friend on occasion.

“Did you know that guy was a cop?” Keliegh asked.

Rolling on her back, she rested her arm over her eyes. She was fighting agitation, Keliegh could tell. “I'd never seen him before. Are you sure?”

“I'm sure.” Keliegh replied.

“God…Well, what happened after I left?” she asked.

“At the scene, this big guy shows up and says, ‘Okay, fellas, I'm with IA, get in the car.' So we did. It was weird, but we went to this place and got questioned—I didn't even get to go back to the station. Just told me I was suspended and that was that. Been trying to call the captain, but I can't get through.”

“I thought for sure you would be in jail right now.”

“Me too. But no.”

“Some big guy at the scene…That seems funny, don't you think?”

“Yeah, sorta. He was some brotha I'd never heard of, Maxwell something. Have you ever heard of him?”

“No, he must be new. But then again, I don't keep up with IA.”

“I feel ya, but anyway he interrogated us for hours on end…But wanna hear something weird? I mean, I get suspended and Tommy hasn't even called me.”

“You think she doesn't know?”

“How could she not know? I got suspended. It's been, like, two hours and who knows about Aston and Hank. I mean, that place was crawling with cop cars within seconds after you left. They practically shut the place down. Cops I'd never seen before—everywhere. They just showed up and cleaned up.” Keliegh turned his head and looked at her. “It was like a movie…just weird. Oh, and I went by your place. It's trashed.”

“What? My place is trashed? What were they looking for?”

Keliegh hesitated. He no longer cared about the losers out in the car stalking his house, the ones waiting to nab a good cop like Romia for something she didn't do. He stood and headed to his bedroom, clicking on the small lap by his bed. He came back to the living room and shut off the light, but not the TV. “Come on,” he whispered, curling his finger for her to follow him into the dark hallway.

After reaching the hallway that had no windows, Romia stood, patting her pockets in order to feel her one prized possession taken earlier from her apartment. Earlier, Romia had made it to her apartment and snagged the tapestry from the frame that hung on her wall. Her apartment had been intact when she arrived. Surely she'd been tailed closely, but not closely enough. She'd spent about four minutes at her place. She'd changed her high-heeled boots to running shoes, pulled her hair under a beanie, and layered a black bodysuit under some loose black sweats and a white wifebeater.

The Shadow had inspired her outfit. She figured that if he could get into places covertly she'd better practice his technique, and so far it had worked. The dark clothing allowed her to pretty much just walk right past the officers staked out in the car, and on in through Keliegh's bedroom window. She thought about the small hole she'd made to unlatch the lock so she could crawl through. Perhaps it was her adrenaline pumping, but her actions and abilities had stunned even her a little bit.

“Somebody musta followed me to my place. I went there right after I left the streets. Tonight I had the weirdest experience.” She paused and then shook her head as if suddenly not wanting to share any more with him. “Oh, yeah, I broke your window,” she now confessed. Keliegh smiled sadly at her and, out of what seemed to be reflex, he stroked her cheek.

She knew Keliegh wanted her to talk to him, but she knew that she wouldn't. Maybe she couldn't. Maybe it was because she didn't have a clue what was going on either.

“What did your uncle say?”

Thinking of Lawrence Miller's words, Keliegh decided not to share what he was told. “What we gonna do, Rome?” he asked, abbreviating her name.

She shrugged, pulling off the beanie.

“You gotta turn yourself in.”

“No, Keliegh, not until I know what's going on. Not until I find that woman and ask her why she lied. Not until—”

“Romia, I want to know all that too, but—”

Just then there was a knock at the door. Glancing at Romia standing in the windowless hallway now, wide-eyed and antsy, he held his hand up to assure her she would be safe. Dashing into the bathroom that too had no windows, he turned on the shower and pointed for her to go in, before quickly removing his shirt and heading to the door. Opening it, he saw Tommy standing there.

“Tommy, it's…” Keliegh looked at his watch.

“Two o'clock, I know,” she said, brushing past him into the living room. “Hey, is your place being watched? What's going on?”

“Who called you?”

“Hank. Said Romia went off—kicked Aston's ass and tried to kill you and him both. Then she shot some guy. What's going on? Romia shot somebody? He said she's snapped—went nuts. Said she killed a cop?” Tommy looked around casually. He could see she noticed his revolver lying out in the open. That wasn't like him to leave it out like that, especially with the chamber out. He knew it. She knew it.

“She hasn't snapped. Everybody is always saying stuff like that about her. She's a little different but she's not…snappable,” he said, hoping to keep his voice low enough for Tommy to hear but for Romia not to.

“Then why you got a bodyguard all of a sudden?” Tommy asked, partially sounding tongue-in-cheek. “You know she's gotta turn herself in. Hank said she's on the lam.”

Romia was viewed as a strange bird on the force. Her up-bringing in the foster home and “different” way of looking at life had her on the oddball list for sure. She was holistic and vegan. She only drank water, and although she carried a service revolver, she had never drawn it. Romia could kill in a matter of seconds with her bare hands in just one blow, and so had no need for a gun. She was pretty, wore high heels while on duty, and carried herself on the streets as if untouchable, yet mingling freely with the street life. Hardly ever smiling, no one could read her face and, therefore, she was a little intimidating and hated—maybe even feared. No one understood her except him, of that Keliegh was certain. He knew she had a soft side, a vulnerable side, and because of his feelings, he had decided a long time ago not to force it to the forefront. He never took their friendship any further than he felt the boundaries prevented. There were plenty of pigeons out there, there was no sense in trying to cage a—he thought about her helmet—a phoenix.

Tommy continued to wander around the living room. She was observant, and he knew she saw more than he wanted her to. “So where is she?” Tommy asked. She could hear the water running—Keliegh noticed her eyes dart in that direction.

“How would I know?” he asked coolly while sitting on the sofa.

“Weren't you about to shower?” she asked, noting his appearance and the sound of the wasting water. Tommy started for the hallway, and that's when she noticed Romia's black beanie on the floor.

“What the hell is this?” Tommy asked, picking it up, examining the long black hair that she pulled for it. “She's here!” Tommy started for the bathroom just as the water shut off.

“Tommy, stop!” Keliegh yelped, but it was too late. The door burst open and Romia came out swinging. Tommy blocked her first punch but was nailed by the second, slamming into the wall.

“Romia. No!” Tommy yelped, blocking the punches that came fast and furious. Tommy too had studied martial arts but was nowhere near Roma's skills set, as Tommy was more into kickboxing.

Suddenly, and with lightening speed, Romia had Tommy by the throat, pinned to the wall. Her hand rose, poised to strike a blow that could possibly kill. “Romia, no,” Tommy whispered, grimacing while closing one eye, as if readying herself. “I want to help you. Let's go together…turn yourself in.”

“I'm leaving, Tommy. I'm not turning myself in…not until I get some answers.” Romia's words were final, ending with a blow that stunned Tommy, rendering her instantly unconscious. She dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes.

Glancing once at Keliegh, who hesitated before stepping toward her, she grabbed her beanie while holding up her hand, indicating that he was in for a beat down too if he came any closer. Both of their eyes went to the crumbled heap of Tommy on the floor. “Tell her I'm sorry when she wakes up.”

BOOK: Swerve
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