Lieutenant Kerry O’Malley glanced at the projected map in the crime lab. “This is the place,” she said immediately, using her finger as a stylus as she tapped the screen to enlarge the GPS-generated image. It showed a house in a run-down neighborhood. A downstairs window was boarded after being shattered by a stray bullet, and the stairs were in need of painting, as was the rest of the house. New geraniums hung in baskets from hooks on the porch, and the numbers 561 were nailed to what looked like the single post supporting the porch roof. Except the ‘6’ was in a position to look like a ‘9’, because the nail had come loose and no one had taken the time to repair the house number.
“Are you sure, Kerry?” Crime Scene Investigator Justin Finch asked, pronouncing her name correctly. He had called her ‘carry’ a few times before she told him it was not ‘carry’ but ‘keary’. Justin wasn’t great with names, but was an astute CSI. “A lot of homes have new geraniums.”
“In this neighborhood, with this house number?” Kerry asked doubtfully in her charming Irish accent. Besides, the geraniums weren’t the only thing that led her to this house. Justin knew that, but after so extensive a search, it needed vetting. “Let’s send a team. I want a SWAT team, a bomb squad, and you, Banning, McAllister, and Li with me. Come on, people, let’s move.”
The CSIs and detectives in the room departed, ready to assemble the bomb squad and SWAT team they needed to back them up. Kerry turned to the CSIs she had listed. “We’re taking three cars. I’m going to brief the SWAT team and bomb squad later, but I want this place surrounded. So Mr. Banning, Ms. Li, you two drive. I’ll drive the third car.” She wanted to give her younger team members the driving practice.
They nodded in response.
She turned back to her projected map. Using her finger, she swiveled her view of the house around, getting the latest downloaded pictures from the drone. “You see this road right here, Mr. Banning?”
“I see it,” Greg Banning answered. “Would you like me to take the car up there, and Niki and I will cover your backs?”
“Good man,” Kerry affirmed with a nod. “Take Justin with you, too. Two of you can’t cover that much area if these guys are as armed as we think they are.”
Greg nodded, as did Justin. He realized it was his and Niki McAllister’s duty to protect Greg. They both had been paired with him at least once on every case for the past year, while the young man got some field practice. He had gone through the Chicago Police Academy and was an excellent shot, but he was still young. Regardless of how good he was, Kerry wasn’t about to stick him in danger without backup.
“Arsenal, Ma’am?” Li asked.
“Y-40’s and X9’s,” Kerry answered immediately. “Keep ’em close. You’ll probably need at least the X9.”
They nodded. It was a heavy arsenal, but if Kerry was right, they were going to need it all.
“Everyone go suit up, and meet me outside the garage with SWAT and Bomb, okay?”
They all headed for the door, adrenaline starting to rush through their bodies. How Kerry stayed so calm was beyond all of them.
Kerry turned the projector off and the map disappeared, revealing a section of the wall that was really a touch-screen. She went to exit the room and get ready herself, but when she was about to turn off the lights, she read the atomic clock on the wall. “Oh, no,” she said. She sighed…there was no way she’d have time to call home…she had to find a bullet-proof vest, a Y-40, an X9, and a car. She also had to brief the bomb squad and the SWAT team she had called. Connor would just have to assume she was coming home late, and stick her dinner in the Pod.
With another sigh, she turned off the lights and shut the door, heading to the weapons locker.
The SWAT team moved first. The bomb squad hung back in case they were needed, and the CSIs surrounded the area.
“I’m not seeing any activity inside,” Greg said over his radio.
“Mr. Banning, you’re going to have to be patient,” Kerry said as nicely as she could manage as she pointed her Y-40 past the geraniums and directly at the door of the home. She was using the car as cover.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Greg answered, and was quiet. He shifted himself back into the position he was in, training the small scope of an X9 at the back door, and then moving it around to look for activity.
Niki and Justin were about fifteen meters away in opposite directions, covering the same area and ready to run after the suspects if necessary.
“SWAT has the house surrounded, Ma’am,” the leader said into the radio.
“Thank you,” Kerry said, placing her Y-40 on the ground gently behind the car. She drew her service weapon. “Ms. Li, we’re moving,” she said softly to the young woman not far away. It was doubtful Sarah Li could hear her, but she definitely saw her hand signs. Sarah nodded, and, as trained, moved carefully over to where Kerry was. She drew her service weapon as well. “We go in quickly, Ms. Li, and scout out the house,” Kerry instructed. “You cover me. I’ll go in first. SWAT,” she said into her radio.
“Yes, Ma’am,” the SWAT leader said quietly.
“I need backup. Ms. Li and I are going in the front door. I need knock-down and then cover us.”
“We got ya, Ma’am.”
“Acknowledged,” Kerry said. She nodded to Sarah, and they both slowly got up, cocking their service weapons and approaching the front porch carefully. They passed the geraniums and stood aside as one SWAT team member came with the ‘noise-maker’ as they nicknamed it. The man swung the heavy battering ram into the door, and the door obediently caved with a loud ‘bang!’.
“Move!” Kerry said, and with her arms fully extended in front of her, gripping her service weapon, she moved inside. “Chicago PD!” She yelled, expecting some response. Nothing.
She took the nearest cover she could find and said to the SWAT team member and Sarah, “Okay, begin scouting out the house.”
They split up, Kerry taking the upstairs. She climbed the stairs with silence that only comes from years of practice. She then began scouting out the rooms. She smelled something odd…waffles. Downstairs, she thought, someone must have been cooking waffles for dinner. Ignoring it, she made sure no one was in the dark upstairs hallway, and then went to the open rooms first. No one was around. Could I have made a mistake? She asked herself for just a moment, before she heard a door behind her creak open slowly.
She spun with lightning-fast reflexes and pointed her gun directly at whoever had opened the door…and then looked down, not seeing anyone in the 1.5-1.8 meter range. A little child…maybe seven or eight years old, was now staring at her with wide eyes. He wore a blue and white striped shirt, with an alligator on his breast pocket, faded jeans, and tennis shoes that looked like they had been through a war and back. His black curly hair was neatly trimmed, and he clutched something in his little, dark hand. “What do you have there?” She asked him kindly, moving stealthily over to where he was but keeping the gun raised in case someone was hiding in the room behind him.
The boy was silent.
“Is anyone at home with you?”
He still didn’t speak.
“It’s okay to talk to me,” she said kindly, smiling at him as a mother would to a child, as she put down the weapon, realizing no one was in this room but the two of them. “I’m a police officer, see?” She showed him the badge on her belt. “My name is Kerry. What’s yours?”
He backed away, as if desperately afraid of her. He went straight to the window, and placed his shaky hand on the sill.
Her face changed from a kind expression to a concerned one. But she didn’t have time to deal with this right now. “Stay here, honey. Don’t leave your room,” she said kindly to him, and then raised her service weapon to scout out the rest of the upstairs. But she doubted anyone else was here. Once she had begun talking to the boy, most criminals would have tried to make a run for it. She opened each of the three remaining rooms successively, before sighing and yelling, “Upstairs clear!”
She heard “Clear!” from Sarah downstairs, but didn’t hear anything from the SWAT team member. She shouted down to Sarah, “Sarah, come up here.”
As soon as Sarah was there, Kerry said to her, “Watch the child in there,” and pointed to the little boy’s room. Sarah nodded and Kerry ran downstairs, looking for the SWAT team member, wherever he was.
She skipped the left side of the house, knowing that Sarah had covered that. She moved into what looked like a very run-down entertainment room, with an old CRT television and a stereo system that had to be from the 1990s. She knew that room was clear after a few moments, but then noticed the door, with the light under it…
She opened it carefully, and began silently walking down the stairs. Once down, she spotted the SWAT member. He was holding his gun in a sort of face-off with a tall man, probably about 1.8 meters, armed with a .20 gage shotgun. The man didn’t acknowledge her, so she quickly took cover behind some piled boxes and was able to move around to a position where she could aim at the back of his head.
“Who’s there?” He asked frantically.
Yes, this was him, all right, Kerry thought. She could smell the geraniums down here…and see the bomb. The question was, was it counting down?
“Derrick Warren, I need to you to drop the shotgun,” she said slowly. He spun around, trying to place her voice with a location, but then turned back to the SWAT member when he wasn’t able to find her immediately.
“I’ve got a bomb!” He said nervously.
“I know you do, Derrick. But using it is not going to solve your problem. I understand your position. And if you blow up your house, you’ll lose your son.”
“I’m protecting him…”
“We can offer you both police protection. We got here first, Derrick. If you let us disarm the bomb, we can offer you both police protection.”
“I…I…” The man didn’t know what to do, obviously.
“Teresa would have wanted you to protect her son, and she would have wanted you to keep him alive. You can do both if you cooperate.”
The man closed his eyes, his face betraying the pain he was feeling.
“Do what Teresa would have wanted, Derrick. Put the gun down slowly. We promise we won’t harm you if you do.”
He nodded, slowly at first and then quickly. “Okay…” he said, slowly putting the gun down. Kerry stood up from her squatting position and said, “All right, now put your hands up, and slowly stand straight up. Hands were we can see ’em. There you go.”
She took out her handcuffs from her belt and handcuffed the man as the SWAT team member took his arm.
“Now tell me, Derrick, is the bomb armed?”
“N…no. Yes…I mean…”
“Derrick, is the bomb counting down?”
“Bomb squad, move in. It’s in the basement,” she said quickly into her radio. “Derrick, where is it on the count down?”
“One minute, thirty seconds,” Derrick said, looking over to the lights that read a code only he could understand.
A few seconds later, the bomb squad came downstairs with a container to place the bomb in, if necessary, and all tools they might need. They quickly spotted the bomb and rushed over to it, beginning their work.
Kerry, following protocol despite her confidence in the bomb squad, said, “All right, everyone but the bomb squad upstairs. SWAT,” she said into her radio, “retreat from the house. Ms. Li, grab the boy and get out. All CSIs, regroup at the front.”
They exited the house as quickly as they had come in. Sarah was already behind the perimeter with the little boy, whom paramedics were examining. Patrol officers had pulled up in their cars, and there was a fire truck standing by. The news cameras were rolling, but Kerry didn’t have time to humor them. “Take Mr. Warren to Detective Spencer,” she said to the SWAT member. “He’s going to ask you some questions, Derrick, and then we’ll take you and your son safely to the station.”
Derrick nodded, and was led away. Kerry holstered her service weapon and walked over to where Sarah was standing with the boy. He looked even more scared than he did when she first saw him. As Kerry approached, she noticed a little girl in the next yard with skin almost as fair as Kerry’s and Connor’s, with dark brown hair and a shirt that was probably once white. She was about the boy’s age.
Kerry turned to the boy…what was his name? She tried to picture the file she had read, thinking about the line that read ‘Immediate family’. Right next to ‘Teresa Warren, spouse, deceased’ was…
“Kyle,” she said finally, smiling at the boy. “You don’t have to be scared of me. Police officers are here to help you.”
The boy didn’t speak at first, but then stuttered, “D…Daddy told me not to talk to you.”
“He doesn’t mind if you talk to us now,” she said with a smile. She pointed to where his father was. “See, he’s talking to one of my friends. His name is Detective Spencer, and he’s a police officer too.” Well, they weren’t technically ‘police officers’ but she wanted to use terms the boy could understand. He was scared and didn’t need a vocabulary lesson.
“Really?” He asked.
Kerry nodded, and put her hand gently on the boy’s shoulder. He recoiled, and she withdrew her hand.
“Kyle,” she said, getting down onto one knee. She was now shorter than he was. “I just want to ask you a few questions. I promise I won’t hurt you. I’d never hurt you.”
He believed her, and nodded slowly.
“Okay. First of all, are you hurt?”
He shook his head.
“Okay, that’s good. I’m glad.” She glanced at the little girl, who was staying back but watching intently. She must be friends with Kyle, Kerry thought. She looked very concerned for him, but also intrigued that police officers had come to her neighborhood. And she was completely unsupervised--something Kerry planned to check out soon.
“Next question,” she said, “what do you have in your hand?”
Kyle clutched it tighter, before remembering that Kerry wasn’t going to hurt him. His grip loosened, and he opened it up, revealing not one thing but two things. The first was a rubber lizard, with its rubber tongue sticking out. Kerry smiled at that. Then she noticed the other thing. It was a hard drive, with the numbers 300, and the letter G written on the front. The ‘B’ was smeared off, and Kerry noticed that it was USB compatible. “Kyle, may I have that computer drive, please? I’ll let you keep your lizard.”
Kyle shook his head and clutched it to his chest. “Daddy said to keep it. In case I needed to run away.”
“Ah,” Kerry said, knowing she’d get it sooner or later. No point in upsetting the boy. Sarah seemed to be taking mental notes as she watched the exchange. “Where did your Daddy say to run, if you needed to?”
“I’m not ’apposed to tell anyone,” Kyle said.
“You can tell me, and I promise nothing bad will happen,” Kerry told him. She noticed his eyes traveling to the little girl’s house. It was equally as run-down as his house, but this one had no geraniums on the front porch. “Were you supposed to go to your friend’s house?”
Kyle stared at her for a moment, and then nodded.
“Okay, buddy. Is that your friend?”
Kyle turned to the little girl, and then nodded.
“Thank you, Kyle.” She saw that the bomb squad had exited the house, carrying the bomb in their case. She was glad they had resolved that, but not surprised. Very rarely did a bomb go off when she called them in, and she had seen them disarm one with less than thirty seconds left.
She stood up, and said to Sarah, “Keep track of him, and make sure he’s comfortable. He can ride with you back to the station.”
Kyle looked at Sarah, and then ran up to Kerry. “No,” he said, running into her, and looking up. “I wanna ride with you.”
“Sarah will take care of you, Kyle,” Kerry said softly.
“I wanna ride with you.”
Kerry sighed, and nodded. “All right. Stay with Sarah until I’m ready to leave, okay?”
The little boy nodded, and she walked away, toward the little girl whose eyes were widening as she approached. “Hi there,” Kerry said.
The little girl turned and was ready to run, when Kerry said, “No, no, don’t run, it’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you—you’re not in trouble. I just wanted to talk to you.”
She turned back around, and faced Kerry. “Are you a police officer?” She asked, as though she had never seen one before.
“I am,” Kerry said with a smile, showing the little girl the badge. “My name’s Kerry. What’s yours?”
“Amber,” the little girl answered. “I wanna be a police officer when I grow up,” she said.
Kerry beamed. “That’s a very good goal, Amber.” She stopped about a meter away from the little girl, and invited her, “Why don’t we go sit down on your front steps and have a talk?” The girl didn’t seem to mind following her around the corner, and they covered the short distance to her front steps. Once they sat, in full view of everyone at the crime scene, Kerry asked, “Is Kyle your friend?”
“Was he planning on staying with you if he needed to?”
Amber didn’t nod, but didn’t shake her head. She just stared.
“You can tell me, Amber. It’s okay.”
“Mom and Dad’ll get mad at me,” Amber said.
“Okay—I won’t tell them you told me. Promise.”
Amber thought for a moment. “Yeah,” she answered.
Kerry nodded. “Are your Mum and Dad home?”
“Uh-uh. They went out,” Amber answered.
“How old are you, Amber? You can tell me, it’s okay.”
“Eight,” Amber said after a moment’s hesitation.
Kerry nodded. “All right. How old is Kyle?”
“Seven,” Amber answered. “His birthday was last week.”
“Ah, okay. So you’re a bit older than him…I’ll bet you look out for him, huh?”
“I guess,” Amber said.
“Have you been over to his house?”
“Yeah, tons of times.”
Kerry nodded. “Did you ever notice anyone over there other than him and his dad?”
Amber nodded. “But I wasn’t supposed to be there.”
“Did they know you were there?”
“Uh-uh,” she said. “Me and Kyle hid.”
“Did you hear anything they said?”
“Uh-huh. We were at the top of the stairs, but then we hid in his room. Do I get to go to the police station?”
Kerry smiled. “I think so,” she said. She wasn’t supposed to be left home alone, anyway, and she could have heard what was said about the project. “We’ll give your parents a call and let them know where you are. Do they go out often, and leave you alone?”
“I guess. But they have to,” Amber said.
“Why’s that?” Kerry asked casually.
“’Cause they got stuff to do,” Amber said as though that was the most obvious explanation on Earth.
Kerry smiled. That was no excuse, but this little girl didn’t know that. “Okay. Want to follow me, and I’ll show you and Kyle the police station?”
Amber nodded eagerly, and jumped up. She trotted alongside Kerry as the CSI Lieutenant collected Kyle and got the kids in the car. She turned to Justin, who was standing nearby. “I’m going to go ahead and take them to the station. You and Sarah follow behind me and get them situated. Niki,” she said to McAllister, who was also standing nearby, “You help Mr. Banning close up here, and rope this area off. Make sure Detective Spencer books Derrick as a 1st degree suspect,” she added quietly, so Kyle didn’t hear.
The two children were in the backseat of the car, belted in and talking quietly to each other. Amber was doing most of the talking.
Kerry got in the front and started the capacitor, looking behind her and asking, “Okay, everyone still buckled up? Good.”
She pulled away from the house, and drove to the station with the two children. Amber asked non-stop questions along the way, and Kerry patiently answered all of the eager child’s inquiries. Once at the station, Kerry led them into the waiting area, where she filled out a few forms and told the receptionist to contact Amber’s parents.
Then she put the two children in different questioning rooms, and began talking to Amber, then to Kyle, and finally to Derrick. She had ordered Choice tests for all three, as well. By the time she had finished, and had been assured that someone would take care of both children overnight, it was well after dinner time. In fact, it was now dark outside.
“Kerry, we’ve got this,” Justin told her.
“I know. We can do everything else in the morning. We’re all exhausted…I’ll go home, Justin, don’t worry.”
“The question’s when you’ll go home,” Justin said with a smile.
Kerry smirked. “Don’t push it,” she said. “Give me a few more minutes to secure things here and then I’ll leave. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you’re trying to get rid of me.”
Justin chuckled and shook his head.
In another few minutes, Kerry was convinced that the rest of the work could be done in the morning. She said, “Well done,” to her team as she exited through the CSI Lab, and then got in her car and drove back to her La Grange, IL home.
The well-maintained house was not a mansion but it was much bigger than Kyle’s, and most of the other houses in Chicagoland. It was situated on the corner of LaGrange Road and Goodman Street, on a plot of land that used to belong to three houses before LaGrange became an upscale neighborhood. The white pillars on the front made it look larger than it was, and the garden neatly surrounding the front stairs made it look much more peaceful than it ever could be with children living in it. The backyard was fenced, and the two-car garage was attached to the house. The driveway extended from the front to the side, making a convenient loop. A swing set in the back was shrouded by bushes along the side, making it safer for the children to run outside and play. And the electric fence allowed the puppy to roam freely, since the real fence was not enclosed. All in all, it was a beautiful home.
The second she got in the door, the security alarm went off and Quigley, her one-year-old beagle, came running up to her and jumped in the air, trying to lick her. She shut off the alarm, put her bag down, hung up her coat, and greeted Quigley. Not long after she had gotten in the door, Connor came down the front stairs. His golf shirt had a spaghetti stain on the front, his red hair was ruffled, and he didn’t look happy.
“Where have you been?” He asked, his Irish accent thicker than usual. Kerry automatically knew he was peeved. “I was worried…you didn’t call, you didn’t send any notice…I knew you were working, but I never know whether you’re safe or not when you block out communications for seven hours…”
“I’m sorry, I had to finish up this case; we got a lead we couldn’t pass up. And if we had gotten there one minute and thirty seconds later, a seven-year-old boy wouldn’t be here anymore. How was your day?”
He hugged her, and kissed her on the lips, the concern not quite vanishing from his face. “One minute and thirty seconds…that sounds like a bomb.”
She smiled. “Everything’s fine. The seven-year-old, my team, everyone’s absolutely fine. How was your day?” She asked again. “Where are the boys?”
He sighed. “It’s 2100, Kerry. The boys are in bed. I hardly got any work done today. Aedan didn’t want to go to school, and they were both late. I had to take Quigley to the vet—he’s got an ear infection.” Quigley barked at the sound of his name, and Connor had to smile at the dog. He reached down and petted him.
“Why didn’t Aedan want to go to school?”
“I didn’t know…he’s usually so excited about it. I drove them after I managed to drag Aedan out of bed. Patrick had a presentation he wanted to show you, if you got home in time. He spent hours on it. Got a 100% when he showed it to the class today. It’s on penguins.”
Kerry sighed. “I’m sorry I missed it. He can show me tomorrow. We’re almost done with this case. I’m sure I’ll be home for dinner tomorrow. So did you figure out why Aedan didn’t want to go to school?”
“He wouldn’t tell me at first, but eventually he admitted he was having trouble with a group of bullies. When Patrick left the car.”
“Did you tell the headmaster?” Kerry asked as they walked into the kitchen together.
“I spoke to her. She says she’ll look into it…I’m thinking we should pull Aedan and Patrick out of there. The administration isn’t doing anything productive about their abilities. They should both be moved up. If they get As on everything they do, you’d think they’d catch on that there’s a placement error.”
“We’ve been through this. The Choices didn’t show them to be behaviorally ready. And anyway, where are they going to go? Any other private school is too expensive, and they’ve got a scholarship here--we’d never requalify for another scholarship if we applied now…maybe once they’re out of Lower School, they’ll move up.”
Connor sighed. “I don’t think it’s going to happen. I’m going to start looking into other private schools. And I’d like your help.”
“I’ll try, Connor, but if I’m in the middle of a case…”
“I know, I know,” he resigned. “Insurance company called. They said they fixed the error, and we should be okay now. I was on the phone for two hours trying to figure that one out. I made you dinner—it’s in the Pod.”
“Spaghetti?” She asked with a smile.
“How’d you—oh,” he said, looking down at his shirt.
She chuckled and walked into the kitchen. “How’s the book coming?”
“Oh, I’m still on page eighty. I can’t decide whether to kill off Janet or not…”
“It’d make it more interesting. Make Henry’s character more complex, if he’s dealing with a death.”
“I guess, but I’m not sure if I want to put him in shock so early in the story.”
“So kill Janet off later on, when Henry’s already discovered the secret to the tomb.”
“I thought of that too, but then he probably wouldn’t go in. Not if Janet’s dead.”
She smiled. “Well you have a predicament.”
“I do,” he said. “I’ll figure it out.” He sighed “In between everything else.” He sat down at the table as she heated up dinner in the Micro. “Have you seen that video of the priest’s wife?” He adjusted his voice and practically sang soprano as he imitated the woman’s rapid-fire Internet comedy, “Looking for a Sunday school to get the kids to follow rules no texting at the table or I’ll hit you with a ladle when I’m waiting on the parkway for a freakin’ truck to pave the way I’ll be talkin’ to insurance guys who (for some reason) think I’m not alive and you dare to ask me why I scoff; it’s a wonder my ears don’t fall off.”
“Your mouth’s going to fall off too if you keep talking so quickly,” she joked.
He rolled his eyes and smirked playfully. “That’s only the first stanza.”
“Spare me the rest. When are Aedan and Patrick’s next Choices? Maybe they’ll test as behaviorally ready to move up this time.”
“Two weeks,” Connor answered. “Patrick’s nervous. He’s got a bigger Choice coming up than Aedan…he’s got to decide what he’s doing next year for classes.”
Changing from the first semester of third grade to the second semester of third grade subjects was one of the biggest Choices one made. It was the first Choice where one had to decide if one was more inclined toward certain subjects, and the first Choice that had any real consequences. One could always go back and change their answer, but the change wouldn’t be instated until their first holiday break, unless the children were in danger of failing.
“I’ll have to talk to Patrick. What’s Aedan going to do for his first sport?”
“That’s something he isn’t sure of. He’s thinking about soccer, but Patrick didn’t help that endeavor at all by telling him he sucked at it.”
“Patrick said that to him?”
“Yesterday,” Connor said. “I told you that yesterday, too.”
Kerry sighed. “I’m sorry…I should have talked to him about that.”
“It’s okay, he’s already corrected.”
They continued talking about their two boys as Kerry ate her dinner, and once she was done, they walked quietly upstairs, and looked into their boys’ rooms. Kerry started with Aedan, since his room was closest to the stairs. She smiled at her sleeping little six-year-old, and thought about Kyle. The poor little boy wasn’t going to get to sleep in his own bed tonight…and he wasn’t going to get to see his father tonight, either. He’d get a bed to sleep in, but it would be strange, and he would no doubt be scared.
She closed Aedan’s door softly and turned to Connor, giving him a hug. Connor, somewhat puzzled, embraced his wife and surmised her display of affection was due to something that had happened today at work. It was especially reasonable if he was correct about the bomb. His previous frustration and anger had abated enough that he resolved to comfort his wife tonight. He knew she needed it.