“We have a problem.”
The two cops shared a cup of coffee outside as the older man smoked. “You’re a master of understatement.”
“No.” Blowing out a heavy breath, he looked around, kept the action casual. “This is more than just the clusterfuck with that problem.”
That problem being the explosion at Deverall’s house—one that hadn’t killed him. Hard to kill a man when he wasn’t even in the damn house.
Should have gone and looked.
Now they had a victim tied to Russell, one who’d busted in the back door of the house. What had Crowder been doing there?
Only one logical explanation, which meant another loose end.
“We’ve had nothing but problems ever since Deverall started looking too closely,” he said, lifting his coffee to his lips while the other cop—older than him by twenty years—blew out a smoke ring. “Then that Russell bitch had to get involved. At least she’s out of the way.”
“We might have another bitch to take her place.”
For a moment, he didn’t dare breathe. Then, calmly, he put his coffee cup down. “Explain.”
“This woman—she’s the reason why Deverall didn’t show up in the garage the way we’d expected him to.” There was a pause, followed by, “Which is why Russell shouldn’t have been taken out until we had all the pieces we needed.”
“I agree.” He folded his arms over his chest. “It was a stupid decision and I’ll make sure it’s rectified—in a way that it can never be repeated.” It would take time, but he’d make it happen. “Now, tell me about this new problem. This woman who interfered with our plans for Russell?”
“She was in the ER for a workup. Having trouble getting anybody to talk about her, but my source says she put on quite the show—looked sick out of her head then started having fits, seizure-like. Our good Samaritan”—fury leaked through the otherwise calm voice—“Deverall was on his way out when it started and went to help when it looked like she might get combative. Oddly enough, he was able to smooth things over and she calmed down. Left a few hours later.”
“So she got in the way.” He shrugged.
The edge made him look back, studying the man across from him closely.
“It’s more complicated. I heard it from the tail I put on Deverall. He was seen at her house last night.”
“Who…the woman?” he asked. Disgusted, he turned away and braced his hands on the concrete table in front of him. “If that stupid fuck had waited—”
“He didn’t. Now we have to handle her.”
He watched as the other cop reached up and rubbed the scar that ran from the corner of his left eye all the way to his jaw. “We got a name?”
The only response was a smile. Nodding, he watched as a couple of uniforms came outside. The mood was grim. Everybody was talking about Deverall, the fire.
“Gas explosion,” the youngest of the uniforms said. “So far, that’s what people are talking about. I know it’s early yet, but a gas explosion?”
As the men lit up a few feet down, he pretended to chat with his friend—the two of them were detectives, had been on the force for years, and while they were friendly enough with the uniforms they never bothered to strike up conversations.
He listened for a few more minutes as he pretended to enjoy the rest of his coffee break.
Then the two of them went in. As they parted ways, his friend clapped a hand on his back. “Don’t let that young partner of yours drive you too crazy today, man.”
They shared a grim look.
“He’s not that bad. You get back to me if anything pops on that case, or the new female suspect.”
The words were vague, but they both received the messages loud and clear.
“You look better than you did yesterday.”
Nyrene glanced at Michelle over her cup of coffee as she stared at the morning news.
She’d only told herself that twenty times since she’d seen the report. It wasn’t having any more effect now than it had the first twenty times.
“I feel better,” she said vaguely, aware Michelle was still watching her.
She did. Physically. Except for the nausea that gripped her now as she watched the news unfolding on the TV. There was less noise in her head now, but if she let her focus drop, that window would inch open and noise and images would overtake her thoughts.
“Terrible, isn’t it? That guy was a war hero,” Michelle said softly. “I read about him. His unit was under attack. Like eight or nine men were injured and they were cornered. He held the attackers off until more help came. And now this…”
Nyrene closed her eyes, turning away from the skeletal remains of the wall. That was all that was left.
“At this time, we have no new information…” The sober-eyed brunet stared grimly into the camera for a moment before looking back at the devastation of the house behind him. “The Clary Police Department asks that anybody with information contact them.”
He read off the number as it was displayed on the screen.
Nyrene resisted the urge to laugh hysterically. Hi. I tried to tell him not to go inside…
“The jerk is here,” Michelle said.
Nyrene glanced over as the bright red convertible pulled into the parking lot. Dr. Evered—Dr. Evil—climbed out a moment later, talking on his phone, his perpetually grouchy face looking grouchier than ever.
“Did he give you much grief yesterday?” she asked as they left the break room. The rest of the staff was up front. There were only two nurses in the back, although one of the front office works had medical assistant training and could help in a pinch.
“Surprisingly, no.” Michelle grinned. “Of course, I started it off by saying ‘she pretty much passed out in the office.’ I think he’d just as soon you not do anything that could mess up his plans to get out of here and move to Puerto Vallarta or wherever he wants to go. Suing his ass would probably do it.”
Nyrene didn’t respond.
She couldn’t stop thinking about the news report.
And the way Bennett Deverall had looked.
He’d terrified her, yes.
She still had the card he’d given her. She hadn’t called his supervisor. Even if she hadn’t heard the news today, she wouldn’t have.
Another image of the house’s husk flashed through her memory and she ducked into a room, rested her head against the glass.
When she opened her eyes, she started to scream.
* * * * *
“I am telling you—I saw somebody.”
Nyrene sat in the back of the office, two cops towering over her. One of them sighed and sat in the chair in front of her. “Ma’am.” Then he smiled, a charming smile that set off the dimple in his chin. “May I call you Nyrene? It’s a lovely name.”
She just stared at him. His name was Detective Morehead. He was a few years older than she was and the more talkative of the two partners. The older cop, Morehead’s partner, introduced himself as Lieutenant Larry Oman, but he let the younger cop take control.
And that was exactly what Morehead did, guiding the conversation, asking questions, being a pushy bastard, but he hid it behind a mask of faux concern.
“I believe you think you saw something,” he said, and he leaned forward. His eyes were compassionate. His body language nonthreatening.
But everything in Nyrene told her to run. Or maybe that was just the fear screaming inside her. She didn’t think so, though. Something about Morehead creeped her the hell out.
It bubbled up into her voice. “You don’t understand,” she said, her voice breaking. “This is like the th-third time in just a couple of days this has happened to me. I see somebody…”
She stopped, swallowing the words back. They’d think she was crazy, if they didn’t already.
“Look, I saw somebody,” she said. “Bodies—two men standing over a woman. One of them…”
The image coalesced, then solidified in her mind, and she reached up, trailed one finger down her cheek. “One of them had a scar. She was…”
Oman flipped open a little notebook, drawing her eyes to him. He was a middle-aged man, average height, with brown hair that was quickly going to gray. His eyes were pure cop and he didn’t bother to hide his skepticism as he commented, “That’s impressive that you could see that from so far away.”
“It was like I was right there,” she murmured, but now she had to doubt.
How had she seen that scar?
It was a couple dozen yards down from the office where she worked and what she’d seen. They’d been between the cars, staring down at the woman.
“What did she look like?” Oman asked.
“I don’t know.” Nyrene swallowed. “I didn’t see her face. Just her clothes—scrubs.”
She plucked at her black pants. “Like these. Hers were dark. A red top, like mine.”
The image swam before her eyes—became clearer. And that vicious pain started in the back of her head. Oh, no…oh, no…
“I…um.” She licked her lips. “I think I need to sit down. I’m not feeling well.”
“Ma’am…you are sitting down.”
She lurched up out of the seat. “I have to go.”
Oman reached the door before she did. “Are you all right, Ms. Goldman?”
No. Yes. Hysterical laughter bubbled in the back of her throat, because that image was right there now—in living color and clear as day. In her mind, and only in her mind.
She’d seen somebody all right. Only what she’d seen hadn’t happened yet.
Just like she’d been doing for days.
“I’m fine,” she said with a weak smile. “I’ve just had a rough couple of days. A car wreck, then…this. Can we…can we do this later? I mean, you all didn’t see anybody…”
“Of course.” Morehead moved to join them. “Here’s my card. Call when you’re ready to go over this.” He paused and then added, “We’ll take a look around, though. Make sure we don’t see anything suspicious.”
“I’m so sorry.”
It was well after five when they’d cleared their crazy, full schedule of patients. Point to him—it was also Friday, so he’d managed to ruin her weekend, too.
She had to give Dr. Evil credit. He’d worked her ass off for more than nine hours. Well, more like six and a half since she’d had to deal with the mess from the cops. That had added to the insanity of the day.
She was now jobless. Evered had fired her only minutes ago.
Gathering up her things, Nyrene tried to smile at Michelle. “We know how he is. We could be bleeding from the eyes and he’d want to know why there was red on his charts.”
So he’d fired her.
She’d find another job.
Walk out there in the parking lot…
Abruptly, a weight fell off her shoulders. She’d seen it happen here. If she wasn’t here, then it couldn’t happen. “And I’m not wearing red today,” she added.
“Nothing. Gallows humor,” she said as she looked down at the box. It held so little, but Evered hadn’t been one to encourage any kind of attachments in the workplace.
“Call me,” Michelle said.
With a deep, shaky sigh, she headed out the back door of the office for the last time. The bank of elevators was empty and she jabbed at a button.
Today called for the ice cream session to end all ice cream sessions.
If he’d gotten there two minutes later, he would have missed them.
Now, as he crouched inside the van parked next to Oman and Morehead, Bennett Deverall held his breath and waited. He’d shown up to keep an eye on her, talk to her, ask her…something…when he’d caught some chatter over the scanner. He’d left his radio, but Dev knew a thing or two and had a way with computers.
Almost any idiot with a laptop could figure out how to listen to the police scanner these days, but it took a little more to listen in on conversations.
It was child’s play for him.
He didn’t know what he was looking for, or doing, but his gut told him he needed to get more information from Nyrene Goldman and when he’d heard her name go out on the scanner, he’d gone to the address listed.
He’d watched from the parking garage as two of the cops he’d worked with climbed out of their squad car and strode toward the building. They’d parked in the fire lane, right next to the parking for the disabled and when the elderly woman and her daughter had taken the parking space just a few feet away, Dev had told himself he wouldn’t do anything.
Then he heard the daughter complain about how long they’d be there, the mother’s apologetic murmur. They’d be inside for a while…
He’d jimmied the locks without a qualm.
It probably wouldn’t do him any good, but he had to take the chance.
Through the windshield, Dev watched as Oman and Morehead exited the building. Although nobody could have seen much of anything in this dark, worn old van, Dev slunk lower down and tugged on the brim of his ball cap.
And he listened.
“…bitch knows something, I’m telling you,” Morehead said.
“Leave it alone,” Oman said. “It’s already hot enough right now, with Russell gone, and the botched job from last night. We can’t risk getting close to another connection to him.”
“And if she can somehow pass on information?”
There was a pause and then Oman said softly, “You heard me.”
The words were mild.
The tone wasn’t.
Dev didn’t have a chance to hear anything else because the door slammed shut a minute later.
Through his teeth, he whistled and then eased forward, watching from the shrouded shadows of the van until the detective and lieutenant disappeared.
Now, just what had they been talking to Nyrene about?
Nyrene bumped into the big, rough-looking bastard on her way out the door.
“Excuse me,” she said.
He just smiled. “I’m trying to locate one of the offices here…Dr. Evered? You work here?”
“I did.” She nodded toward the elevator bank. “Up to the third floor, go right. But they’ve already closed for the day.”
“That’s fine.” He gave her a wide, easy smile. It was full of warmth—the kind that might have made her heart flutter if it hadn’t felt like it was breaking all day. “I’m just looking for a new doctor, was going to grab whatever paperwork. I’ll just come back tomorrow.”
With a vague smile, she went to go around him.
“Hey, is this yours?”
She glanced down.
Somebody bumped into the man in front of her and he steadied her with a hand on her arm.
Her brain seemed to gray out on her for just a second—
Then she jerked back.
No. She wasn’t taking any more chances with people touching her. No more. No more. She wanted to wrap herself in bubble wrap and never touch anything again.
“Ah…” She eyed the business card he held in front of him. “Mine?”
“Yeah. It just fell on the floor.” Brown eyes bore into hers. “Is it yours?”
Without thinking, she reached out and snatched it, shoving it in her purse. “Thanks. Good luck with the doctor.” Then she cut around him and headed through the automatic doors.
It wasn’t quite six, but the days were getting shorter and the cloudy day cast everything in a grim, dark light. Or maybe that was her. As she hurried to her car, she looked around. She wouldn’t be coming back. Automatically, her gaze moved to the spot where she’d seen the woman in her…dream? Vision?
Whatever it was that was going on. She didn’t know and part of her didn’t care. She wanted it to stop.
And right then, she just wanted to get in her car…
She slowed to a halt.
It was right by…
She swept her gaze to the light post on the passenger side. She’d always parked there because of the light. The big truck next to it seemed to take up two spaces and there was a van almost as big in the parking space in front. She could barely see her car, but that was where…
Stop freaking yourself out.
She hurried to her car, still clutching the box.
She stopped, startled as somebody moved out from behind the big truck.
“Oh…ah, Detective Morehead, right?” She gave him a tight smile.
The scuff of a shoe on pavement behind her had her glancing back.
She didn’t see the blow coming until it was too late.