“Gus, slow down!” Juliet was saying. “I can’t understand you. What happened?”
Henry got to his feet. Juliet was already up, pacing around the small cafeteria table they’d claimed in a corner, pressing the phone to her ear trying to hear better over the dull drone of the public space. Her eyebrows climbed higher the more she listened, and her free hand clenched into a fist.
“What you mean he—?”
She stopped pacing. She looked at him, and Henry stopped breathing.
“You’re sure?” Juliet asked quietly.
Henry could hear the faint sound of Gus still talking, rapid-fire, but he couldn’t make out the words. Juliet didn’t seem to be listening anymore.
He wanted to reach for the phone. When it started to slip from her hand he had an excuse to take it.
“Gus? Gus, what happened?” Henry asked.
“I...what? Y-you didn’t hear?”
Juliet was frozen in place. He guided her back into a chair, trying to force his own panic back. “She didn’t have it on speaker, Gus. We’re in the middle of the hospital. Tell me what happened.”
Guster was in panic mode, not taking enough pauses for breath and on the verge of tears. “I-I tried to stop him, I swear I did. I ran after them and he shot at me and everything. I had to dive behind a dumpster and he took off.”
“Salamatchia! We got here, and he wasn’t here, and then he was, and he ran and Shawn took off after him and I told him not to. I told him this was a bad idea, but he wouldn’t listen! Now Salamatchia has him! H-he-he knocked him out. I’m pretty sure he just knocked him out. Had to be. I only heard one gunshot before I got out there and Shawn was still yelling at him after that.”
“Gus, breathe!” Henry ordered.
It was more to give himself a break than anything. His brain had seized up somewhere around Salamatchia has him. Salamatchia had Shawn.
“What are we gonna do?” Gus questioned. “He’s crazy! His ex-wife is dead here! He killed her! She just lying there; we hadn’t even had a chance to call the police here yet.”
A killer had Henry’s son.
He swallowed hard and sunk into the chair opposite Juliet. “Gus, do you hear sirens?”
“What? I don’t know! I….” He paused for a moment, and Henry heard them himself in the background. “Yeah.”
“They’re coming because Brannigan called them. They know you’re there, and they know who you are. They know you didn’t do any of this. I need you to go with them; you’ll be safe with them. All right?”
“We’ll find Shawn.”
Henry stayed on the phone with Gus until the LAPD found him. Until he was sure everything was under control there. By then Juliet was squeezing his free hand across the table. She was staring into space, far too still for his comfort.
She blinked once and pulled in an unsteady breath, but she didn’t look at him or at anything, really. “He’s already killed twice in less than twenty-four hours, Henry. One less direct than the other, but…”
He knew what she meant.
How do we know he won’t just kill Shawn? What if this only gets worse?
Carlton watched his daughter sleep, painfully still awake himself.
He thought he’d be swimming in questions by now. He was a man of order, and there would be so much to deal with. So much to do. Arrangements to be made. He should be generating answers, but he couldn’t make it past the part of the future where Lily had no mother.
It was so strange. Only months ago he wouldn’t have gotten any farther than a blind need to know Salamatchia was off the streets—even if he had to make it happen himself. Especially if he could make it happen himself. It wasn’t as important as it would have been then.
O’Hara...she’d brought him down, made him focus. With the rage stuffed in a corner now, all he could think about was Lily.
The smaller things, like who would he get to look after her during the day, once the summer was over and Henry Spencer began teaching again on weekdays? Who else could he trust to protect her? Bigger things, like what would her life be like now? Who would she look to? What was he supposed to tell her when she was old enough to ask why her mother was gone?
Could he even do this on his own?
Those were the only questions he could ask.
Part of him didn’t mind. It kept him from thinking about what all of this meant for himself.
He didn’t realize it was nearly eight until his phone rang, and he saw the time. He also saw that the call was from Spencer, and he nearly didn’t answer it.
But he supposed even Shawn, as juvenile as he was, wouldn’t call at a time like this if it weren’t important.
“What do you want, Spencer?”
“Your friend is in the trunk of my car. If you want him to stay alive you’ll meet me at the Petrovich place in two hours.”
Salamatchia. Carlton was on his feet in an instant, even though it wouldn’t do any good. He swayed a bit and cursed the fact he still wasn’t at his best. “If you’ve hurt him—”
All he could see was O’Hara’s face. All he could feel was how badly he didn’t want her to be where he was now. In this hole he was sliding into, with this acid eating at his chest cavity.
“He’s fine. A bump on the head. If you don’t want it to be worse—”
“I heard you the first time,” Carlton snapped. “What do you want?”
A pause. “You know what I want, Lassiter.”
Him, dead. Assuming nothing had changed.
Carlton leaned into the small bed. He wished Lily would open her little eyes and tell him what to do.
“Lassiter? If you don’t show he won’t be the only one to die. I‘ll find your daughter. I don’t care how long it takes.”
The decision was made, then.
“Give me three.”
“Hours, you idiot. I may need more time. I’m being watched.” Only by overprotective friends, but that was more than enough to keep him from making it there. When it came to his, anyway.
Though he supposed—especially considering how his life had gone before these people—that he shouldn’t complain about having overprotective friends. Or any, really.
Another pause. “Fine,” Salamatchia answered finally. “Three hours. No later than eleven.”
“Fine,” Carlton huffed.
With any luck Brannigan already knew Spencer had gotten himself into trouble and was tracing the phone. With any luck this would be over before anything went down.
But he had to be ready if that wasn’t the case.
“Come alone, Lassiter.”
He snorted. “This isn’t my first rodeo. What, no demand I come unarmed?”
“I know guys like you well enough to know you’d never do that no matter what threats I made,” Salamatchia answered.
“Points for you.” Was it wrong to be relieved to have something to focus on now?
“But if you’re not alone, I’ll kill him. I don’t think that pretty little partner of yours would be very happy about that.”
How did he know these things?
The silence must have asked the question for him. “I’ve done my homework,” Salamatchia told him.
“Whatever. Get your kicks now; you’ll be back in prison soon enough.”
“Hold it,” Carlton said, before the other man could hang up. “Did you think I’d do this without proof Spencer was alive? Put him on. Now.”
“You’re not in much of a position to make demands,” Salamatchia answered testily.
There was a growling sigh on the other end of the line. A gun cocking, and the click, creak and groan of a trunk opening.
“Lassie! It’s a trap!”
Gee, Spencer, you think? He’d been awake the whole time, listening.
At least now Carlton knew for sure Shawn was all right.
Wherever they were, the trunk slammed again. Spencer was still shouting, muffled by the metal and pounding on it.
“Three hours,” Salamatchia reminded him. Then the line went dead.
Shawn had woken up when the road became rougher. A particularly sharp jolt sent his forehead into the trunk’s metal lid, and he cried out and opened his eyes to the darkness and the rumbling of the car. His first thought was, Great. Not again.
It didn’t take long for the car to come to a stop. He heard Salamatchia get out, his shoes crunching through gravel, and Shawn knew they’d pulled off on a backroad somewhere.
He stayed quiet enough to catch most of the phone conversation. He wondered how Salamatchia had gotten Lassie’s number until he patted down his pockets and realized his own phone was gone. Crap. All he could do was listen.
Don’t do it, Lassie.
When Salamatchia opened the trunk he clearly hadn’t expected Shawn to be awake already. Shawn hadn’t expected to get a chance to say anything Lassiter could hear, and all he could think to say in the moment he had before a startled Salamatchia slammed the top down again was, “Lassie! It’s a trap!”
Then the guy knew he was awake, and there was no point in being quiet anymore. Shawn pounded on the underside of the trunk lid as what could happen if Lassiter showed up sunk in.
Salamatchia would be found long before he could make any attempt on Lily’s life. Especially now. Lassie had to know that. He wouldn’t be that stupid. The only person at risk right now was Shawn himself, and that only because he’d been stupid.
And if Lassiter showed up Salamatchia would do his best to kill him.
“Lassie, not for me!”
“I assumed you were a boy, you know. Right up until you were born. Never even thought about the possibility of anything else. We wouldn’t even let them tell us anything at the ultrasound.”
Lily was still asleep, but when Carlton reached for her hand it opened and closed again around one of his fingers. She shifted in her sleep to pull his captive finger closer to her chest, like she wanted to curl around it, and he didn’t know how he was going to walk out that door.
But he had to.
Carlton scrubbed a hand over his face and lowered himself back into the chair by the bed, just for a moment. He ran his fingers over the wispy light-colored hair on his daughter’s head, and he smiled.
“I wouldn’t trade you for a dozen boys,” he whispered.
If anything happened, he wanted her to know.
Stupid, stupid, stupid…
Shawn didn’t really wonder how he could have been so stupid. It was kind of his MO. Usually he ignored the problems because his brand of stupid got results. His stupid solved cases. It caught criminals. It helped people.
Today all it seemed good for was making the worst day of Lassie’s life worse.
He had to get out of here on his own. He’d done it before. It shouldn’t be hard; he wasn’t even shot this time, and thank goodness for that. His head was kind of spinning, but he could deal with that once he was out of this trunk. He had to get out, and find a phone, and call Lassiter to make sure he didn’t go to the Petrovich place anyway. He could do this.
Shawn kicked the lid of the trunk again, just for good measure.
“Ow! Son of a—”
He stopped when he realized the car should have started moving again by now. He couldn’t work on his escape if they weren’t moving, if Salamatchia wasn’t distracted.
He heard the crunching of gravel again outside the car. The trunk opened again, and then Salamatchia was over him holding a gun pointed straight at his head in one hand, and a tire iron in the other.
“Really, man? You could kill me with that thing.”
The message was clear: if he moved, he’d be shot. Which he now knew from experience was worse than being clobbered again. Salamatchia wasn’t going to take any chances of him being conscious enough to escape from the trunk.
“I know what I’m doing,” the older man told him.
“Thanks, that makes me feel so much better.”
They stared at each other for a moment. The longer Salamatchia just stood there the faster Shawn’s pulse decided to ratchet up.
Then he thought maybe he’d make a move anyway. It was worth it. Maybe he’d be fast enough this time. Or maybe he’d make it away with just a flesh wound. He’d done that before. Sure, it’d hurt a lot, but it’d be worth it to keep Lassie from putting himself in any more danger...especially since he was all Lily had now. Crap. Reality was just...really sucking, today.Ok. I can do this. I can—
Or Salamatchia could just kill him.
Shawn was out of time to debate himself. Salamatchia seemed to think better of the tire iron, dropped it, and this time it was a fist aimed at his jaw.
“They found the ex-wife’s body. They say she’d only been dead two or three hours. Either he took a while to get there, or they tried to work it out first,” Henry told her, with a look on his face like he had a bad taste in his mouth.
Juliet’s arms were crossed. She didn’t like having no real access to the case. Then again, at this point even Brannigan was only reporting when it came to anything going on in L.A. right now.
They’d moved out into a small courtyard in the middle of the hospital, to a bench under a tree that she couldn’t sit down on for more than thirty seconds without jumping up again to pace. There was some light outside as the morning grew later and she’d thought maybe the fresh air would help.
“She probably had a problem with the fact that he’s killed people,” Juliet said bitterly. “What about Shawn?”
Henry shook his head. “They had a signal on his phone for a while, but they just lost it a few miles from the house. Salamatchia probably dumped it.”
“And Salamatchia hasn’t made any demands?” she questioned again.
“If he had, Brannigan would have called, Juliet. Maybe he will. It’s only been half an hour.”
“Feels like an eternity…”
She trailed off when the sliding door behind them opened. They had company. Since being out here wasn’t helping anyway maybe they should find somewhere else to be…
Juliet glanced over her shoulder, and it wasn’t just anyone. Lassiter had found them.
“Oh! Hey…” she said. “How...s Lily?” She stopped short of asking how he was and changed the question. It was such a Shawn thing to do, and the knot in her stomach twisted.
“She’s fine,” Carlton answered. He pushed his hands into his pockets and cleared his throat. “I um...I just came to see if maybe I could get that ride home now?”
“Yeah. Yeah, of course.”
She remembered she had no car. When she looked around Henry was holding out his keys. He knew she’d come right back anyway, now. She wouldn’t be falling asleep with Shawn out there in trouble somewhere.
“Here,” he said. “Unless you want me to take him?”
Juliet took the keys. “I’ve got it, thanks.”
“You’re good to drive?”
“It’s just to the house.”
The last bit came out more annoyed than she would have liked. She gave Henry an apologetic glance and followed Lassiter from the courtyard.
He was looking at her as they walked out to find Henry’s truck. Studying her. As if he knew something else was wrong.
He always knew.
O’Hara didn’t tell him the whole truth. Carlton gave her the chance.
He asked if she was all right, if there was something else going on, and she told him she was fine. She brushed him off.
They found the truck, and she fought with the stick shift.
She held up a hand. “You have a concussion. You’re not driving. I have done this before, ok? It’s just been a while.”
“All right…” He shut up. He let her figure it out on her own and soon enough they were on the road. “What is it, O’Hara?” he asked then.
She shook her head. “Nothing…”
He gave her a look that he knew she knew meant he wasn’t taking her crap, and she made a face and looked away at the road.
“Shawn ran off,” she said finally. “He’s just...upset. I mean, we’re all upset. He just sucks even more at...things, and he ran off with Gus, and he’s not answering his phone and I’m worried about him. That’s all. It’s stupid.”
“It’s not stupid.” It certainly wasn’t stupid knowing what Spencer had actually gotten himself into, and it wouldn’t have been stupid even if it really was nothing.
O’Hara’s grip tightened on the steering wheel. “I um...I think I’m gonna go look for him. I need to do something...”
The rest of the short trip was spent in silence. It wasn’t until they pulled up in front of the house that O’Hara banged on the wheel once. “Crap!”
Carlton started. “What? What?” He’d let his eyes close, and that had been a very bad idea. Now he only wanted to sleep.
“Someone’s supposed to stay with you!”
He relaxed. “What, that? I’m fine, O’Hara. If I was going to have a problem I think it’d have happened by now.”
“Look, I know it seems like forever but it’s only been about fourteen hours. Someone needs to be watching you…”
“I’m fine,” he repeated more forcefully. “Call me in a few hours if you want; if I don’t answer, you have my permission to barge over here. I’ll even leave the door unlocked if it’ll make you feel better.”
“O’Hara,” Carlton said more gently. “I’ll be fine. Do what you need to do.”
She held his gaze long enough that he thought they were communicating. He thought she might tell him the rest. But she didn’t.
He was too tired to decide whether he was angry she was hiding things from him, or if he appreciated the fact she was trying to protect him—trying not to make this day any worse. Maybe it was good he didn’t know. He didn’t want to be angry with her right now.
“You should stop at the station on the way back and get your car,” he said as they climbed from the truck. “Have Brannigan send a couple guys to bring the truck back to Henry.”
“She’d use police resources for that?”
He shrugged. “Just tell her I said it was fine.”
“Yeah, sure. Maybe…” She followed him to the porch, where he had to remind her that she had his keys. “Right. Sorry.”
She dug them out and handed them to him, but neither of them moved after that, standing awkwardly in front of the door.
“I...guess I’ll go,” O’Hara said finally. “Call me if you need anything, ok?”
She turned to go back to the truck. Carlton almost let her go. “O’Hara…” He was reaching for her arm when she turned back anyway and pushed up on her toes to wrap her arms around his neck. He returned the embrace. “O’Hara?”
“You’re not gonna go through this alone,” she said quietly.
He held on tighter. “I know.” He swallowed. “Thank you…”
McNab was the first to see Juliet when she made it to the station. He waved her past the new girl at the front desk and back into the bullpen.
“We don’t have anything new on Shawn,” he apologized. “At least, we didn’t ten minutes ago. But with Detective Brannigan a lot can change in ten minutes.”
“Where is she?”
“Right here.” A small woman no taller than Juliet herself hustled up to them. She stuck out a hand. “Detective Betsy Brannigan.”
Juliet blinked and took the woman’s hand. “Detective Juliet O’Hara.”
“Detective O’Hara! Great to meet you,” Brannigan said, shaking once and letting go. “I’m so glad you’re here. I have a very important question. I need to know the exact time Mr. Guster called you to ”
“Ok? Why?” Juliet pulled out her phone to pull up the call log, found the correct entry, and held it out. Brannigan glanced at the phone’s screen, glanced down at a printout in her hands, and cursed. “What is it?”
“I think we haven’t heard from Salamatchia because he already called the chief,” Brannigan answered grimly.
“What?” Juliet reached for the printout. “This is the call log on Carlton’s cell phone. Why do you even have this?”
“The chief signed off on having all of his phones monitored for suspicious activity right after the escape. And there’s a call to his cell from Shawn’s phone a good twenty-five minutes after we can confirm the perp had him.”
The paper crumpled in Juliet’s hand. “But...I just dropped him off at home!”
They all stared at each other—Juliet, Brannigan, and McNab—processing, but only for the briefest of seconds.The three of them bolted for the door all at once.