Chapter 14: Likely suspects
People started showing up as I sat in the room, waiting for an update on my Gunny. Craig was the first to arrive, he had turned over everything at the crime scene to the evidence technicians, but he wasn’t hopeful. “While Gunny is out of commission, I’m taking over his spot as your partner,” he said. “The other Alphas have agreed, and Justice is on board.” I nodded, I knew they would need someone high up in the investigation. “Here’s what you missed. She set up between a dumpster and the wall of an office building, in a short alley. The security cameras in that alley and around the building were disabled,” he told me. “She must have had a car there and running, we didn’t miss her by much. The good news was that she didn’t have time to destroy her scent. She threw a bottle of ammonia down, but I shifted quickly and tossed it away.”
“But a woman? How….”
“I know, I was shocked too. Female, childbearing age, no perfume. I’m hoping for DNA, maybe a hair fell out or something. We didn’t get a look at her or the vehicle.”
Something didn’t feel right. “How long was the shot?”
“387 yards.” OK, not a really long shot, something well within her capabilities, and similar to the shot on our land. “She left a scrabble piece behind, Forensics has it. The letter ‘S’, one point.”
I wrote that down on my notebook: T T T H H R M S. “What the hell is she trying to tell us?”
“I don’t know, but we’ve got a team on it. We have a NSA representative, we’re getting them to run possibilities.”
SAIC Hernandez, Linda and Nadine walked in; they were carrying a flat of coffees and some food, setting it on the table. I grabbed one of the cups, taking a long pull. “So how does this change the search?”
Nadine hesitated for a moment. “Well, before this we were planning to only screen male shooters. Now we have to look at females as well, and that’s a much smaller population. We talked briefly, we’re going to include competitive rifle shooters, instructors and Canadians.”
“Yes, their military has been integrated longer than ours and has trained female snipers. So have countries in Europe and Israel. The population isn’t that large, and most should screen out quickly, so we may as well cast a wide net. We’re also looking at known contract killers.”
I looked around. “That doesn’t make sense, these are random killings, right? Have we found any link between the victims?”
Luis Hernandez spoke instead. “No, so far we haven’t identified any common link except being a werewolf. Based on what Gunny gave us on the psychological makeup of the shooter, it’s worth looking at those people with the known capacity to kill. There are only a handful of female assassins out there, the CIA and FBI are working on the list. Top of the list is Black Ker.”
Craig’s eyes got wide. “I know Ker, I know her scent. That wasn’t Black Ker.” I filed the information away, wondering how the Belden Alpha had been close enough to the wanted international thief and assassin to know her scent.
“So we are focusing just on the women?”
“No, because the getaways are so quick, Gunny suspected it was a team. We only know the female shooter took THIS shot, and it would make more sense if a female was the one who stabbed the victim in the hotel room. This was a long shot, but any decent rifle shooter could make it. The woman may be working with a sniper, she may be trained by him. In any case, we’re going to cast a wide net and start working down from there,” Nadine said. “When we get the report back from FBI Profiling, we’ll adjust again.”
The door opened and Charlotte rushed in, running into my arms. She had been crying. “Mom, are you all right?”
“I’m fine, baby. Gunny pushed me out of the way, other than some bruises I’m good.”
“And Gunny?” Her eyes were full of tears, I could see she had come to love the big Marine.
“He’s too damn stubborn to die,” I said. “He’s in surgery.” I gave her another hug, then opened my arms so Josh could join. After she pulled back, she allowed Josh to move her to an empty chair and pulled her into his lap.
Ella gave me a big hug after she had greeted her mate. I could see the two bags over by the door. “Your stuff,” she said. “Charlotte wanted to stay but I told her no, she has school. I’ll bring them back tonight.”
“Thank you for everything,” I said. It was such a relief after raising her alone or with little help to have a Pack to be there for us.
Our reunion was interrupted when the surgeon and Doc Terry came in. Everyone sat and turned their attention to them, but the surgeon came to me first. “Agent Conspiell, I’m Doctor Parker, I was his surgeon,” he said looking around at the group. “Do you want all these people to hear details of Mr. Rodriguez’s condition?”
I nodded. “They’re all family.”
He sat in the chair next to me, Terry stood behind him, and his mate Wendy had walked in to join him. “He gave us quite a scare, but he is stable now. He was lucky; if treatment had been delayed another five minutes it would have been a different outcome.” My heart was pained at the thought. “The bullet collapsed his lung and shattered his shoulder blade, but it missed major arteries. We were able to remove the bone fragments and repair the damage from the bullet. He’s in recovery right now, it will be another three hours or so before he wakes up.”
“Will he have any permanent damage?”
“I don’t know, there is the possibility of nerve damage and the shoulder is a nasty place to be shot. It’s not like the movies where it’s no big deal; the area is a choke point for the nervous and circulatory systems, not to mention the muscle groups. If he was human, I’d say he was looking at a three-month recovery with the potential for permanent damage.”
“But he’s not human,” Doctor Terry said, “And werepanthers have better healing ability. We will know more in a week or so whether there will be any permanent disability.”
“Can I see him?”
The surgeon looked over at Dr. Terry. “You can see him when he’s loaded for transport, in an hour or so.”
“Wait a minute, he just got out of the operating room and you’re kicking him out?”
“It’s policy,” he responded, looking at Dr. Terry for help. “When the werewolf panic occurred five years ago, hospitals changed their policy. We couldn’t refuse treatment, but we aren’t set up to deal with a forced change or a werewolf that is in a rage. We can only allow them here as long as they remain sedated to the point of being unconscious.”
“And the Packs, as part of the peace talks, agreed to take responsibility for injured werewolves and forced turns. Our Pack has an ambulance equipped for this kind of transport, and he will recover in our clinic. We’ll have him there before he wakes up.” I just nodded, it was yet another thing about my new world I’d just have to accept.
“So what now? What about the Cascade trip?”
“I’ll go in place of Gunny, and Linda and Nadine can handle your part,” Craig said. “There wasn’t much we had to do there, we’re bringing investigators, but mostly it’s a media event to try and get people to call in tips. We can handle It, Gunny needs you here.”
“I would like to see you answer a few questions for the press if you are up for it,” Linda said. “We’ve been feeding them information, but you were the target of the attack, you’re the face of the investigation. We need the people’s help here too, and you’re human. This is the first attack not on a werewolf, the first on law enforcement. People who might not have helped when it was just werewolves might listen to you.”
I closed my eyes and pinched my nose, I didn’t know if I could go out there right now. I felt Charlotte kneel by my chair, holding my hand. “You can do this, Mom. We need to catch this person before someone else gets hurt. It will only take a few minutes, and Gunny’s safe.”
I pulled her into a hug. “You’re right, it just hurts,” I said.
“Like Gunny says, sometimes you just have to suck it up and go with it, because that’s the way it’s gonna be,” she said with a laugh.
She pulled me to my feet and hugged me again. I let her go and looked at Craig and Linda. “So, what do we want to release?”
“As much as we can,” Linda said.
“Right now we don’t have much to go on,” Luis said, “And the trail is rapidly going closed. We’re pulling data from traffic cams and security cameras in a ten-block radius, hopefully we can get a photo of this woman and a description of the vehicle soon. Once we do, we’ll have a manhunt on a scale this state hasn’t seen before.”
“What is coverage in the media right now?”
“Wall to wall. Nothing gets them going like having the crime happen on camera. You’ll be live coast to coast, my phone has been blowing up with requests for more information.” Linda looked down at her phone. “Fifteen minutes? That will give you time to talk before he’s ready for the ambulance.”
“Fine. I need to change, though.” Charlotte walked out with me, she grabbed my overnight bag and I took the garment bag as we ducked into the open room I’d used earlier. I put on some light makeup and dressed in my good office clothes. “How do I look?”
“Good, Mom. Go on, I’ll stay with Gunny.” We walked out, Linda, Luis and Craig were waiting for me already. The Deputy Director had to return to Washington, so Luis was taking his place. We agreed that he could cover the latest information from the investigation, and I would talk about Gunny’s condition and the previous attacks I had planned to cover originally.
Linda was right, there were a lot more crews there than before. We had a much more visible FBI presence; I could see agents in full assault gear around the front of the building, and snipers on the rooftops. We were taking no chances this time. Even the lectern was different, it was more substantial, probably armored. Linda walked to the front and stood before the bank of microphones. “Now, as we were saying before we were so rudely interrupted,” she started to nervous laughter. “I would like to again introduce Senior Agent Rose Conspiell, who is in charge of Task Force Alpha.”
I stepped to the same place I had been hours earlier, placing my notes in the same place. “Good morning. I am happy to report that Beta Rico ‘Gunny’ Rodriguez, my partner in this investigation and my mate, is recovering from a successful surgery to repair the damage from the sniper bullet this morning. He will be recovering in a Pack clinic, surrounded by his friends and family.” I stopped and wiped a tear away. “He wasn’t the target of this shooting, though. I was. The shooter was trying to kill not just me, but the peace between humans and werewolves that we all sacrificed so much to attain.” I looked down at my notes. “Before this latest shooting, there were five random killings at five different Packs, resulting in seven deaths. The latest, in Santa Fe at the Belden Pack house, was a sixteen-year-old boy who was running around with his family on their own land. I had met him just the day before; his family, our whole Pack was devastated by his senseless murder. In the Gila Pack near here, a young married couple were killed. The press release contains the details of all the killings, but there are only two known ties between them. One is that until today, all those targeted were werewolves. The second is that the killer is leaving behind Scrabble pieces. So far, we have three T’s, two H’s, a R, a M and a S. With that, I’ll turn it over to Special Agent-In-Charge Luis Hernandez of the Albuquerque Field Office for an update on this morning’s shooting.”
I listened to Luis cover what I had already been briefed on as I checked my phone messages. Alpha Robert sent a note letting me know the Gila clinic would be ready for Gunny, and that I and other members of our Pack were welcome to stay as long as we needed. I smiled, they were good people and allies.
“And now it is time for questions.” Luis motioned me up as the shouting started. We took questions for another ten minutes before Linda pulled me aside to tell me it was time to go back to the hospital. I left Luis there and we walked back inside, going straight down to the garage so she could take me back.
We met the ambulance in the loading dock, and I went right from the car to it. Wendy was already inside, an extra driver had come with the ambulance to drive their car back. “They’re on their way down now,” she told me. “He’s doing fine, he’s strong.”
Charlotte was the first one out, she had my bags and tossed them in the passenger seat. “Mom, Ella is driving me to their Pack, we’ll meet you there,” she said as she ran off.
The doors open and his gurney is being wheeled out. I sat out of the way as Wendy and Doc helped pull it in; I noticed that heavy-duty cuffs and straps were in place, probably hospital policy again. The doors closed and the hospital guys slapped the door twice, and just like that we were off.
I reached down and cupped Gunny’s face, taking care not to disturb the oxygen mask. “Hold him, it will help,” Doc said. The two were busy hooking up instruments and a new IV was hung, this time with Panther blood. “Al donated some of his, it’s better for him than human blood,” he said.
Gunny felt cold, normally he was warmer than me. Wendy took off the wrist restraint and I moved his arm into my lap, my hands holding tight to his. “You can’t leave me, Gunny,” I said as tears ran down my face. “I can’t face life without you.”