Whisper softly or you're dead

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Chapter nineteen.

A woman knows a man’s mettle only when it is tested.

Kate felt comfortable most of the time walking to the car. It was only three minutes’ walk although it was badly lit. It was in full view of the precinct and pedestrians often walked down the road. She felt capable of taking care of herself if she was attacked. A day after their Chinese meal she left slightly later than usual. It was raining and quiet, no one on the street.

Damn the woman. She could have asked me but is too proud. He watched as she walked down the road. Two shadows came from behind one of the buildings and followed her silently toward the car. Defoe jumped up and ran out of his office. He didn’t wait for the lift but used the stairs, taking them three at a time. He ran out of the office slamming the door so hard behind him the noise echoed through the building and across the road.

Kate heard the noise and turning saw the first assailant closing in on her. To Defoe’s surprise she turned to face him and as he tried to grab her she blocked him and moved out of his way pulling him to the ground. She then kicked him in the groin and the throat leaving him supine on the tarmac.

‘‘Christ, the little minx knows martial arts,’’ said Defoe to himself. ‘‘No wonder she was so confident walking to the car on her own.’’

Kate moved toward the second man ready to land a kick on him as well, but she didn’t see a third coming behind her from behind the parked cars. Defoe ran across the road and vaulted over the gate and at a run he jumped in front of him.

‘‘Try someone your own size scum,’’ he threatened the man. The scum jumped back on his heels waiting for his mates to help him, but the second man turned around while Kate was distracted and landed a back hand across her face. Her head spun and she saw stars. The guy punched her shoulder and she hit the ground with a thud, landing on her side. The creep knelt on her holding her down. Defoe was sure if he had not been there the creep would have violated her. She punched her assailant in the face and he hit her again.

Defoe moved forward as quick as a flash and with a spin he kicked the third assailant against a car watching the unconscious man slide down it to the floor. He then turned on the bastard that had hit Kate. He pulled him off her and said, ‘‘Move out of the way. I don’t want you hurt.’’ Not liking the look on his face, she pulled herself up and leant against a car for support, her head still spinning and vomit rising in her throat.

He turned to the man who had regained his balance. ‘‘You just made the worse mistake of your life,’’ he said softly, menace in his voice as he moved slowly to him, watching for the next move which would tell him where to place his feet and hands. The thug, a teenager, took fright when he saw the real anger in Defoe’s eyes.

Kate focused her attention on Defoe at work. No longer was he the sensitive intellectual. In his place was a machine, watching his assailant with cold blue eyes, no feeling registering in his orbs. Stoney faced, he was totally focused on disabling the man. Next, he moved so fast the man did not know which direction he was hitting him from. A slice at the neck with the side of his hand and a kick in the guts laid the fellow at his feet. He followed it up with a kick in the groin. The man lay screaming at his feet.

Defoe pulled Kate to him. He hugged her close while she trembled with the after-shock.

‘‘Cry! Let it out,’’ he said pulling her even closer and stroking her hair. When she stopped trembling he put her aside for a moment and pulled his cell out. He rang the precinct and four minutes later some uniforms arrived and cuffed the men.

‘‘To the precinct,’’ he said, ‘‘and make a quick statement and then you go home.’’ She tried to walk but her knees collapsed under her. Defoe picked her up in his arms and carried her to the precinct. Cursing, he laid her on a bench in front of the inquiry desk and asked for a doctor to be called.

‘‘She looks as if she could need to stay in hospital overnight,’’ said the duty sergeant.

‘‘I’ll take her straight there,’’ said Defoe not liking the vacant look in her eyes. She had a cut lip; a black eye and a bruise was starting to cause her left cheek to swell up. He carried her to his car and they sped to the hospital breaking all speed limits. The duty doctor said she needed a scan as she had hit her head hard on the tarmac and the man’s fist had hit her close to her eye and ear, vulnerable places.

‘‘I want her admitted for observation.’’ Kate, mutinous, started to protest she was perfectly all right but she saw the look in Defoe’s eyes.

‘‘He would tie her up if need be,’’ said the look. He intended her to stay in for observation.

‘‘I’ll come tomorrow morning and bring you some clothes. No arguments!’’ He stroked her cheek and left the room before she could argue. Presented with a fait accompli, her clothes vanished, she gave up, cursing and yet silently thanked Defoe. She could just about handle two men but three was impossible. Without Defoe’s intervention, she would have been raped or badly hurt. He was right. She would have to use an escort if she walked to the car park when it was dark and lonely.

The painkillers began to work and she drifted into an uneasy sleep. She woke up several times in the night with nightmares. The thugs who attacked her were holding her down and an unknown man was trying to scalp her. She rarely thought about the bodies she cut up after leaving work. She couldn’t do her job if they haunted her but this U.N.S.U.B. had unnerved her. It was the precise clinical way he had carved up his victims as if they were samples or specimens for the real thing.

The nurse heard her screams and gave her a warm soothing drink which helped her sleep again. Morning brought the normal activity of a busy ward, comforting noises from the patients and the nurses, bringing her slowly back to reality again from her dark unconscious world. A parcel was on the seat with a note and her purse. Inside her purse were her keys and wallet retrieved from the thugs.

‘’These have been submitted for evidence and I have made a statement already. You can make one when you feel up to it at the precinct or Cradley will send a cop to you here. The cat has been fed and here are some of your clothes. Will be back soon. Agency card is in your wallet. They will do any chores you need in the next few days if you are allowed home. Darrell.’’

She felt as if a lorry had run over her. Her arms were black and blue, and her legs had grazes where she had slid across the tarmac after being beaten. She was in no shape to do housework and welcomed the help of a domestic agency. Defoe was clearly an organised man who got things done in an emergency. Her respect for him was growing.

The morning went quickly. A scan and other tests showed no concussion and she was told she could go home. She went to shower and change into her fresh clothes. Just as she was about to call a cab he sauntered in, dressed for a change in grey cargo pants and a white tee which showed off his biceps.

‘‘No work?’’ she asked. Even he wouldn’t dress so casually for work.

‘‘I took the morning off. I have made the time up recently with late nights.’’ He looked at her, scrutinising her drawn face and bruises.

‘‘Headache?’’

‘‘Yes, but there is no concussion and I’m merely aching. I was lucky nothing was sprained or broken.’’ He could see she had not slept well but decided not to pry. She was the sort of woman who didn’t enjoy being interrogated and would spill the beans when she was ready.

‘‘I’ll take you home when you are ready. Your car is at your apartment. The same company who fed your cat and brought the clothes. My friend runs it and I use it frequently if I’m too rushed to do chores.’’

‘‘Thanks,’’ she said. She was still too wobbly to drive home and accepted his lift gratefully. He seemed to think he was responsible for her.

‘‘I now know I should use an escort if I work late. Cradley has offered one of his men and I’ll take advantage of his offer in future.’’

‘‘You handled yourself magnificently,’’ he said, admiration shining from his eyes, ‘‘but a man would struggle to ward off three thugs let alone a woman. One has to be more than careful these days. These thugs often work in packs to prey on vulnerable people.’’

She looked him over. He had one bruise on his jaw but apart from that he showed no evidence of being in a fight the night before. She was stiff as a poker, but he looked fresh and relaxed, carefree.

‘‘I supposed that was a walk in the park for you last night, after the Marines?’’

‘‘I’ve experienced a lot worse and I still instruct martial arts classes at the youth centre near me twice a week to keep in shape and pass my skills on.’’

She could imagine him taming rebellious youths and motivating and driving them in the right direction. This was another side of his personality he had kept hidden. He was not the narrow man his colleagues portrayed, focusing solely on his career and satisfying his selfish needs. He had a social conscience and wanted to help improve his community. He was a man one could admire.

He helped her into his jeep. The seats were wider and more comfortable than his Mustang. He drove with confidence and speed to her apartment. He waited at the door for her to open it but then to avoid embarrassment he said, ‘‘I must go. I have a court appearance at three and must change. Years ago, I turned up in casual gear and the judge hauled me over the coals.’’

So, he’d had a rebellious streak in his former years. He wasn’t perfect, thank God. She patted the cat who had felt deserted and read the paperwork he had brought for her. The U.N.S.U.B.s didn’t stop just because she was aching and feeling miserable. She intended to nail the bastard that was dismembering women and started to read the results from the latest tests again. She might not be able to cut anyone up for a few days, but she could watch and analyse the results if she felt well enough to visit the lab the next day.

Defoe had left disappointed. He had been hoping she might invite him in. Her icy mantle was melting slowly, uncovering the warm woman sheltering underneath. He was dying to see what her apartment was like. A person’s home showed what sort of person they were really like, obsessively clean, slobbish or merely busy and overlooking details, concentrating on the things that mattered in life. He had deliberately asked his friend to do the chores for her, unwilling to invade her privacy. He would enter her house when she invited him in and not before.

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