I don’t know what, but something is under way. I’d tailed her by cab through a labyrinth of streets to the edge of downtown where she’d meter-parked her car before continuing on foot. At an open-air café, she’d picked up a coffee to go. She was on her way out the door when a phone call found her scanning the patio for an empty table. Meanwhile, across the street and bent up against a newsstand, I was pretending to read that morning’s paper, wishing I’d brought the new bionic ear and booster set Cassie had bought me for my birthday. Lucky for me, though, I’d once taken a lip-reading course, two of them actually, and she was just within the range of vision for me to observe the movements of her mouth.
I picked out several words that, when strung together, appeared work related, something about cameras, digital enhancers, a budget, and product codes.
That was when a text from Cassie, reminding me that she was scheduled for a chiropractic appointment that morning at ten thirty and wouldn’t be back to the office until after one, took my eyes away from the table for less than fifteen seconds. When they’d returned, a black Toyota Corolla had saddled the curb just up the street. I’d have ignored the car except, two minutes later, as Natalie stepped onto the sidewalk, so too did its driver. Nothing in the man’s face or demeanor gave any indication of sinister intentions, but I’d seen enough concealed weapons to recognize that the bulge in his jacket was no heart of gold. As he falls in step behind her, I knew, somewhere, an invisible clock has just begun ticking.
Like I said, something was underway.
As my stomach goes into one of those warning signals, I rush into oncoming traffic, sidestepping cars as a series of horn blasts garners no reaction from either the woman or her pursuer. I reach the other side of the street just as she disappears down the mouth of the subway tunnel through a sea of exiting passengers. Fighting against the countercurrent of pedestrians, I race to catch up with them, elbowing and shoving my through the moving wall of people. I’m maybe a quarter of the way down the stairs when I hear the first of successive gun blasts.
Amidst screams of terror, men and women stampede for the exit. A pregnant woman is knocked to the floor. Someone’s bag of fresh market groceries is trampled. A young girl who has lost sight of her mother screams. As the crowd surges forward, someone loses their footing. Behind them, someone tries to pull back but is thrust forward by the frantic horde. One after another, bodies pile on top of each other. Arms and legs stick out everywhere. Unable to get around them, I leap the pile, toppling into a mass of people. Twisted bodies spill out across the ground. I clamber to my feet, reach the landing where, thirty feet ahead of me, the gunman sits, knelt over the woman who, with her arms free, wrestles with him for control of the weapon.
I pull out my own gun, wrap my hand so hard around the hilt the skin around my fist glows white.
“Freeze!” I yell, sounding as clichéd as a television cop. The man whips his head around followed by his right arm and the gun. It’s only a millisecond before his finger flexes and a piece of copper encased lead explodes behind the charge of gun powder.
Lucky for me, it only takes half that time for the bullet that began spinning even before I slapped an exclamation point on the end of my ‘Freeze!’ to reach his hand. The bullet explodes against the top of his middle knuckle as his own slug goes searing past my cheek. Blood and small bone fragments plaster his face and shirt. Stunned, the man just sits there, staring at the bloody stump of his hand as I race to close the gap between us. I’m maybe ten feet away when a former linebacker for the University of Purdue spear tackles me from the side, taking me to the ground and sending my gun scattering across the dirty subway floor.
Police caution tape sections off the entrance to the subway tunnel as half a dozen police cars bar access to the street above. Senior homicide detective Lou Cavanaugh, a friend and hard talking, heavyset man in a suit coat and slacks, comes stomping down the stairs.
He sees me.
“This your work, Mulroney?” he asks, nodding to the more than half a dozen medics attending to the more than two dozen people trampled in the earlier pandemonium.
“I got here just after the shooting started.”
“Is that so?” he says, probing me with eyes of skepticism. “What happened to your face? Were you hit?
“The gunman managed to tamp the trigger just before he lost half his hand. The bullet grazed my cheek. It’s just a crease, nothing that won’t heal on its own.”
Cavanaugh nods. “Come this way,” he says, leading me toward an isolated corner. When we’re all alone, he asks, “So, what’s really going on here?”
I clear my throat. “I was working a cheating spouse case, tailing the suspect when I got pulled in here by the sound of gun blasts.”
“Then what happened?”
“I saw a man on top of a woman. They were struggling for control of a gun. I yelled for the man to surrender his weapon at which point he directed the gun at me. I discharged one round. The bullet tore a hole right through his fist. Afterwards, I was tackled by a member of the Praetorian Guard as both the suspect and the victim fled the scene.”
“Both of them?” he clarifies.
“He took off down the tunnel while she opted for the stairs.”
“And the initial gunshots you heard?”
I shrug. “They don’t appear to have hit the victim.”
“How the hell does that happen?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Could be that exiting passengers got in the way or maybe the guy’s a lousy shot. I suppose we should petition to requisition the security footage.”
“We?” he sniffs as if clearing his nose. “That’s cute, but I don’t think so. Though, yes, I’ve already put in a call to the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Now what about the incident in your office last night?”
“What about it?”
Cavanaugh straightens his posture. “That’s two shootings you’ve been mixed up in in less than twenty-four hours, not to mention that episode at the strip club.”
“Dumb Irish luck,” I say
“So they’re unrelated?”
“As far as I can tell.”
“Unfortunately, the captain doesn’t see it that way. He told me to bring you in.”
“The captain?” I challenge.
“A little word to the wise,” he adds, “you might want to align that nonsense about the cheating spouse a little closer to the truth.”