by Erica Abbott
The page-turning follow-up to the sizzling Fragmentary Blue…
When off-duty officer Chris Andersen interrupts an assault and uses deadly force, Internal Affairs Inspector CJ St. Clair is assigned to the case. Her first point of contact is Captain Alex Ryan, Andersen’s boss… and CJ’s new girlfriend.
Candidates for District Attorney would love to use the case to bolster their platforms, and both sides pressure CJ to find in favor of their version of events. Alex fears that Chris, an open lesbian, will be hung out to dry by Colorado politics, regardless.
As the media and political tensions escalate, Alex offers moral support to Chris while friction between her and CJ rises as well. Though they both knew their relationship would be tested by their work, neither of them thought it would be this hard.
Lieutenant CJ St. Clair pulled her car to the curb at the entrance to the park. She could count five Colfax Police Department patrol cars, including a supervisor, two ambulances, a crime scene truck and two other unmarked police cars.
She took a breath of cold morning air and pulled her leather jacket closer. The sun wasn’t completely present yet. Fall would be giving way to Colorado winter before long.
CJ was not a morning person, and she wished fervently that she’d had time to get coffee before she’d had to drag herself away from the warm body in her bed to get to the scene of a police-involved shooting. When she’d taken the job as the Inspector of Internal Affairs for the Colfax PD, she had been sorry to leave her friends in Investigations at the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office, but she hadn’t missed the early morning calls. IA was almost a nine-to-five job. Almost.
The harsh red and blue lights on the patrol units looked garish against the soft color of gold leaves still clinging to the trees. CJ draped the lanyard with her badge over her neck, and found the patrol supervisor on the scene.
“Sergeant Gonzalez,” she greeted him. She knew him as a solid patrol supervisor, an officer who could follow instructions, but not a cop who took a lot of initiative.
He turned to her. They were almost exactly the same height, and she saw his eyes widening a little, with just a touch of apprehension. She was used to that, after more than a year on Internal Affairs. Cops were never glad to see her.
“Um, Inspector. Thanks for coming,” he managed.
“Of course. You all did a good job remembering the Internal Affairs protocol on an officer-involved shooting. It’s so much easier when you call us right away. I appreciate it.” Her soft Southern drawl evoked magnolias and steamy nights instead of a cold autumn morning.
“Sure,” he said, still uncertain in the face of her friendly greeting.
“Did you call the Officer Support Team?” The team consisted of volunteer police officers who acted as moral support for cops who were involved in traumatic incidents. CJ herself had served with them until she was assigned to IA—two shootings in her career had made her deeply empathetic.
“Uh, no. I suggested it, but the officer declined,” he said stiffly. CJ thought he spoke as though he were writing his report in his head. “You’re gonna talk to the officer now?”
“Why don’t you tell me what happened first?”
“Okay. Off-duty officer on a morning run, sees a guy assaulting a woman jogger. She yells at the guy, he takes off, she takes off after him, runs him down. He pulls a knife and she draws her weapon, tells him to drop it.”
“Wait,” CJ interrupted, confused by the pronouns. “Female officer?”
“I see,” she said. There weren’t that many women in Colfax PD, and CJ wondered if she knew her. Of course, there were at least a dozen women in uniform she’d never met. “Go on.”
“He keeps coming, and she shoots him.”
“Oh, yeah. They didn’t even bother to transport him. Body’s still there. The guy was DRT.”
Dead right there, CJ translated in her head. She blew out a long breath. “Okay. How’s the victim?”
He looked puzzled for a minute. CJ realized why and clarified, “The assault victim, I mean. Not the shooting victim.”
“Oh,” he said. “Problem there.”
“No. She’s gone.”
CJ was shocked. She combed a manicured hand through her red hair, which fell perfectly back into place, the benefit of a very expensive haircut.
“She’s dead, too?”
“No, Lieut…I mean, Inspector. She took off, left the scene. We don’t know where she is.”
Damn it. CJ allowed herself another few curses. “Is our officer hurt?” she asked.
“No, she’s fine,” he answered, seemingly happy to be able to give her one piece of good news.
“All right,” CJ said briskly. “Then priority one is finding the assault victim. I assume you’re canvassing for her.”
“Well, no,” he admitted, his tone a little defensive. “We were securing the scene.”
CJ tried not to frown at him. “I see. I’m not in charge of you, Sergeant, but I’d strongly recommend starting a search for her before Captain Robards gets here. The assault victim might be hurt. And the officer definitely needs for us to find the only other witness.”
His surprise was obvious. “You’re worried about the witness coming up with a different story?”
CJ sighed. “No, I want to find her to confirm the officer’s story. Believe it or not, Sergeant, I’m one of the good guys. I love protecting good cops. I like it a lot better than finding bad ones. So how about you get some people on the canvass? Have you called Captain Robards yet?”
“Uh, no,” he asked, puzzled again. “Why?”
“Don’t you think you should inform the patrol captain that one of his officers was involved in a shooting?”
His face cleared. “Oh, no. Inspector, she’s not Patrol. She’s in Investigations. She got promoted to detective a couple months ago.”
Hell’s bells. CJ knew who the detective had to be. She turned and saw the woman standing a few yards away. She had her arms wrapped around her own athletic-looking body for warmth. She was wearing track pants, running shoes and T-shirt. Standing alone, the blonde looked younger than she had the only time CJ had met her, shortly after her promotion.
To Gonzalez, CJ said mildly, “I see. Go ahead and get started on finding the witness. I’ll call the investigations captain myself.”
He looked relieved. He knew the captain in charge of Investigations was tough, and he didn’t want to make a call at six thirty in the morning to provide the unhappy news that an off-duty detective had put several holes in some guy in a park. “Thanks, Inspector,” he said gratefully to CJ.
She nodded at him, and walked away, pulling out her cell phone. Sighing, she punched in her own home phone number. When she got only voice mail, she disconnected and hit the speed dial for a cell number.
“Ryan.” The contralto voice was still husky—she hadn’t been awake long.
“Hey. It’s me.” CJ kept her voice low. “What are you wearing?” she asked playfully.
“Is this an obscene phone call?” Alex’s voice was dry.
“Yes,” CJ said, wanting to have fun for a few seconds before she had to break the news.
“Sweatshirt and running tights. Black sports bra. Very sexy. Under the tights, I’m wearing French-cut bikini briefs. Also black.”
CJ shut her eyes, just for a moment, against the picture that formed in her mind. “Stop it.”
“Hey, you started it.”
“Did I interrupt your run?”
“Still doing the pre-run stretch. I tried to go back to sleep after you left, but for some reason it’s hard to do after you’ve left the bed.”
“Miss me?” CJ asked softly, so no one could overhear.
“Just to say ‘Yes’ is an understatement, but it’ll work. What’s up? I thought you had an officer-involved.” That was her Alex, always focused, always getting back to business.
“I do. I’m sorry, Alex. One of your detectives shot a possible would-be rapist in the park while on a morning run. I thought you should be here.”
CJ could hear Alex jogging back upstairs to their condo, caught the sound of jangling keys.
“God damn it to hell! Is the guy dead?”
“He’s dead. And I’m sorry, darlin’. It gets worse.”
“My detective’s hurt?”
“The officer is fine, as far as I can see. The problem is that the assault victim has disappeared.”
“Damn it! We’re looking, I assume.” CJ could hear Alex grunting as she pulled off her running shoes, preparing to change and come to the scene.
“We are now. Apparently it took an Internal Affairs Inspector to figure out that clever strategy.”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” she said, exasperated, and CJ knew what she was thinking. Alex really hated sloppy police work. Sometimes when you screwed up at the scene, you could never get the case back on track. “Look, I’ll be there in twenty or so. Which of my guys is it?”
CJ suppressed a sigh and just told her. “Not a guy. It’s Chris Andersen.”
There was silence. In her mind, CJ could see Alex sitting down heavily on their bed. “I’m sorry, Alex. I know you were a little worried about her…”
“Tell me this is a good shooting,” Alex pleaded.
“I hope so. I can’t tell. I haven’t talked to her yet.”
“Yeah. Okay.” The potential disaster of the case hung suspended, unspoken between them. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
CJ ended the call and let a long sigh loose. Her life had changed forever when she took the job as the Internal Affairs officer in Colfax, a suburb just south of Denver. She loved her job, but more importantly, she’d fallen in love with the captain in charge of the Detective Bureau. She reported directly to the police chief, so Alex wasn’t in her chain of command.
They’d had a rocky start. CJ had been on an open investigation of Alex’s involvement in a murder soon after they met, and she’d been afraid that they would lose each other before they’d barely begun. But they were together, and CJ had never been happier.
Alex stayed meticulously out of her way, since IA cases were all confidential. But they still had the comfort of being able to talk about their work in generalities with someone who really understood. CJ could trust Alex, who could offer insight, information and sympathy. Alex could grouse about her detectives, or brag on them, with someone who really cared.
So most days the choices were easy. But not today.
CJ walked over to Chris Andersen, thinking about what Alex had told her. The woman was young for the promotion to detective, not quite thirty yet. Alex had been worried about her from the day she showed up. CJ remembered asking, “You don’t think she’s ready?”
“Yes and no. She’s very smart, has good instincts and works like a sled dog team.”
“Sounds like someone else I know.” CJ had grinned at her.
“You’re referring to yourself?” Alex asked, dryly.
“No, smart mouth, that would be you.”
Alex shook her head. “I just don’t think she’s mature enough. She drove her patrol unit through a plate glass window once going after a suspect.”
“You think she’s a cowboy.”
“I’m afraid she might be. Now that Stan is retired, I’m partnering her with Frank, hoping that will help.”
“That makes sense. He’s the most experienced guy you’ve got, and you know you can trust him. Frank will help settle her down.”
“I hope so,” Alex had said.
Apparently Frank hadn’t had enough time to be a good influence, CJ thought wryly as she walked toward Detective Andersen.
She offered her hand to Chris. “I’m Inspector St. Clair,” she said. “We met once, just after you were promoted.”
Chris shook the hand warily. “I remember.”
“How are you all doing?” CJ asked, the Southern drawl in her voice strong.
The question surprised her, CJ could see. Everybody expects me to be the Wicked Witch of the West, she thought in exasperation.
“I’m okay,” Chris replied tautly.
“You look cold.”
“A little. I expected to be running, not standing around.”
CJ signaled one of the uniformed officers and asked him to get a blanket from one of the patrol units. Chris took the blanket, but said tersely to CJ, “You don’t have to play good cop with me.”
CJ said easily, “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Chris was trying not to snap her head off, CJ could see that. The tension was rolling off her in waves. Her mouth was held in a firm, straight line.
Clearing her throat, CJ said, “If it helps, I do understand a little. You had a lot of adrenaline going, and it takes a long time to come down from something that intense.”
Chris snorted. “Nice speech. Did you learn that in IA school?”
“No,” CJ responded, her voice still mild. “Experience.”
Chris said, surprise in her voice, “You’ve been in a shooting?”
CJ nodded. Maybe this would get the woman to relax a little, if she thought she wasn’t the only cop in the world who’d had to shoot somebody. “Twice, actually,” CJ admitted.
“Fire your weapon?”
A little disdainfully, Chris said, “Hit anything?”
CJ tried not to lose patience with her. “I did, actually.” CJ wasn’t proud of it, exactly, but she was far from ashamed. “He didn’t make it.”
Chris turned to her, frankly surprised.
“You killed a suspect?”
Chris seemed to digest this a moment.
Suddenly, without planning it, CJ unbuttoned the top two buttons of her blouse. Chris could see the faded ribbon of raised skin, the top of a scar on her chest.
“Jesus,” Chris breathed in. “He shot you?”
“Not that time. The second time I didn’t have time to return fire. He was coming after my partner.” She knew Chris would assume that she meant a partner on the job.
“I was off-duty. Part of the bullet lodged near my heart.”
“You should be dead,” Chris said flatly.
“I imagine so,” CJ answered cheerfully. It was getting shot, and almost dying, that had finally resolved the case and brought Alex permanently into her life. Far from hating the faint scar, CJ felt grateful for it. It had been worth it.
“Partner make it?” Chris asked.
“Oh, yes.” CJ smiled. “She’s still on the force.”
Chris froze. CJ realized her tone had hinted at more. “She?” Chris asked.
“Yes, I’m pretty sure you’ve met her,” CJ said brightly, trying to lighten Chris’s mood with the joke. “That would be your boss, Captain Ryan.”
* * *
Fuck me. This woman used to be the captain’s partner?
Chris looked CJ over. She was, in her wide and varied experience of women, gorgeous. Not her type, exactly, but one gorgeous redhead.
The problem was the mild manner and Southern accent were undoubtedly just clever disguises for a barracuda. Every cop knew how vicious Internal Affairs inspectors were.
CJ re-buttoned her blouse, and Chris took one last glance at the full breasts in the ivory satin bra beneath. Very nice, she thought. She wondered, as she did with almost every woman she met, if CJ might just be gay.
Not my type, Chris mused again, but I certainly wouldn’t kick her out of bed.
Chris glanced down and saw a gold wedding band on CJ’s left ring finger, under a pretty impressive diamond solitaire engagement ring. Her partner, Frank Morelli, had told her that CJ had money, and from the car she’d driven up in, and the jewelry, Chris could believe it. She was probably married to some vacuous rich guy, commuted in from Cherry Hills, and had two point three kids. Too bad.
CJ asked, “You gave a description of the victim, the woman, to the uniforms?”
“Yeah. I can’t believe she just took off.”
“People do that sometimes. They’re afraid, not thinking clearly. She’ll be back, or we’ll find her,” CJ said reassuringly. “Don’t worry.”
Chris felt a crushing in her chest. She’d managed, for just a few minutes, not to think about what had happened, that she’d…she’d killed someone. She thrust her hand through her short, white-blond hair. “I didn’t want to shoot him. He just kept coming…”
“I know. Sometimes it’s the bad guys or us. We have to pick us. Do you usually go jogging with your gun?”
“Just wondering,” CJ said, her tone casual.
Chris glared at her. “Yes. I take it to the grocery store, and to restaurants, and to bars. Last time I checked, we’re always on duty.”
“That’s true,” CJ agreed cheerfully. “I just have enough trouble running a couple of miles as it is, without a pound or two of semiautomatic weapon weighing me down.”
Chris looked at the woman beside her more carefully. She was tall, even taller than herself, and a real redhead, with creamy, perfect skin. Chris tried to guess her age. She looked really young for a lieutenant, maybe mid-thirties at most. She had generous curves, not slender, but well put together. Nice cleavage, long legs. Definitely would not kick her out of bed.
“What do you carry?” Chris asked her suddenly, trying to think of a safe subject to talk about. One that would not let her think about the man she’d shot dead.
CJ unholstered her gun and showed it to her. “Sig Sauer P229. This one is a .357. A Secret Service agent I met a few years ago recommended it, it’s what they use, only they might use the nine millimeter. I don’t remember.”
Chris looked at the weapon. She didn’t really care, and said only, “Very nice.”
CJ didn’t ask any more questions, and they stood quietly together, an island in the river of people in uniforms flowing around them.
* * *
A sleek black SUV pulled up as close to the scene as possible, and CJ knew Alex had arrived. The vehicle had been Alex’s present from CJ for her fortieth birthday. CJ had endured several minutes of protest over the extravagant gift.
“For God’s sake, CJ, I can’t drive something this expensive,” Alex had complained. “It must cost as much as I make in a year. Everyone will think I’m on the take.”
CJ had playfully tugged at her blouse. “Then, as the officially appointed Inspector for Internal Affairs, I’ll just have to investigate you. Let’s start with a strip search.”
“Stop it. I’m serious. It’s beautiful, but…I am a public servant, you know.”
“Come on, Alex. I drive a new sports car every other year, and nobody says boo to me.”
“Yeah, well, you’re rich.”
“And you married money. Just say ‘thank you’ and enjoy it, will you?”
Alex had finally accepted the SUV with ill-grace, but CJ knew how much Alex loved the gift.
CJ watched as Alex got out and started to wind her way through the emergency vehicles, stopping to talk briefly with several of the officers on the way.
CJ watched her partner approach. It wasn’t that Alex was so striking in appearance. She was average height, trim, with a face that was interesting more than classically beautiful. She was wearing black denim jeans, a white shirt and a black leather jacket, cut like a blazer. The only color from her was a flash of silver earrings and her blue-gray eyes.
CJ loved watching Alex walk. It was the way she moved. Not a swagger, but confident, poised, ready for anything. Anyone could see that Alex was secure, comfortable with herself, a woman who knew who she was, what she could do. Alex’s calm self-confidence, CJ thought, was one of the sexiest things about her.
And Alex was so…intense. She cared deeply about only a few things, but what she loved, she loved with her whole being. Alex loved her family, and she loved her work.
She watched as Alex talked to Gonzalez, nodded to a crime scene tech, and then lift her head and search for CJ. When Alex spotted her, she smiled, just a little.
And me, thought CJ, happiness flooding her body. She loves me.
When Alex reached them, the smile was gone, her face set into her Captain of Investigations mode. “Inspector St. Clair,” she greeted CJ.
“Captain,” CJ responded, keeping her amusement at this formal exchange of titles well-hidden. Alex was all business when they were working. It was with an effort that CJ pushed another picture away from her mind: Alex lying beside her last night, dark hair tangled, the lids over the blue smoke eyes heavy with satisfaction.
“Captain, I…” Chris began, but Alex lifted a hand, still looking only at CJ.
“Have you given Detective Andersen a Garrity advisement?” Alex asked.
CJ shook her head. “We haven’t really talked yet about what happened. We were just chatting.”
Alex gave her a sharp look, and CJ tried to look innocent. She knew very well that Alex was aware that she typically got more information while chatting than most investigators got during a comprehensive interrogation, but Alex let it slide. CJ continued, “I’ll just leave you two to talk. Detective, I’ll see you later, at headquarters.”
Chris muttered, “Yeah, I’m sure you will.”
Alex turned away from Chris and walked with CJ a few steps toward their cars. She said in a low voice, “I drove through on the way and got you a latte. It’s in my car. I didn’t know how long we’d be here. I left my doors unlocked for you.”
“Thank God,” CJ said fervently. “And thank you. I’m crazy about you, Captain Ryan, you know that?”
Alex flushed, but her expression didn’t change. “You can thank me later, Inspector. Did we call Officer Support?”
“Chris turned it down. She’s wound pretty tight, Alex. Don’t be too tough on her.”
Alex said grimly, “We’ll see.”
CJ brushed her fingers very lightly against Alex’s arm and moved toward her latte.
* * *
Standing alone, Chris pushed both hands through her hair in frustration. She had just been doing her job, for God’s sake, and instead her days to come would be eaten up with interviews and more interviews.
She was not looking forward to the formal meeting with Internal Affairs, but it was nothing compared to her apprehension about the conversation she was about to have. Captain Ryan did not suffer fools at all, and after a couple of months of working in Investigations, Chris was still waiting to hear her laugh, or make a joke, or even crack a serious smile.
And it’s too bad she’s my boss, Chris thought. Because the dark, serious, brooding ones really are my type.
Alex approached her and said, “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine,” Chris said, trying to sound casual. “He’s the one going home in a body bag.”
Alex gave her a sharp look and said, “In that case, let’s walk through exactly what happened.” She meant it literally.
They went over to the jogging trail, strewn with golden leaves, and began to walk.
“What time did you leave your home?” Alex began.
Chris answered, “I got back to my apartment about five forty a.m. I figured there was no point in going to bed, so I changed into my running clothes, and drove over. I got here a little before six.”
“Got back,” Alex repeated. “You were out all night?”
Chris almost laughed. “No, Captain. Do you need the details?”
“It’s probably not relevant, but you never know. I think you should tell me, yes.”
“All right,” Chris answered. She realized that part of her wanted to tell Captain Ryan about herself. Her sexual orientation hadn’t really come up in conversation with her boss, and she wanted to see Alex’s reaction.
“About nine last night, I went to a bar in LoDo called Regina,” Chris continued. “I was there until around one o’clock, and left with someone. I was at her place until a little after five this morning.” She carefully emphasized “her” in the sentence.
She watched Alex carefully, but the captain’s face didn’t change. Alex said only, “How much did you have to drink? Tell me the truth.”
Chris knew what Alex was probing for, and she didn’t like it. “I wasn’t going to tell you anything except the truth,” she bristled. “I had three beers in four hours. I’d eaten something before I went to the bar, and I was not impaired when I left. I was also not hung over when I left her apartment.”
“And you left at five in the morning. I assume you weren’t playing backgammon all night.”
Chris laughed. Apparently Captain Ryan liked precision. “No,” Chris told her. “I picked her up, I’d never met her before last night. Her name was Sherry. I don’t recall that I ever heard her last name, but I can give you her address. She has an apartment, a place up in Northminster.” She stopped and added, with emphasis, “Just to be clear. We were having sex. I trust that’s not an issue for you.”
“That you slept with a woman, or that you had a one- night stand?” Alex asked evenly.
“Either one,” Chris said flippantly, wondering how judgmental Alex was going to be about the situation.
“Your off-duty activities are none of my business, Detective, assuming they’re legal. Tell me what happened after you got to the park.”
Chris pushed her mind away from her speculation about Alex’s reaction and brought her mind back to the morning. “I stretched, then started out, going this direction. I wasn’t going very fast, still warming up, when I came around here.”
They went to a curve in the path, where it wound through trees.
“I saw two people,” Chris continued, “about here. Her back was to me, he was facing me. He was yelling, and so was she. I thought it was just an argument, so I was going to go back the other way, but then she screamed at him, and he punched her. She stumbled, and he hit her again. She fell down, and he drew back a leg to kick her, so I yelled at him.”
“Did you identify yourself as police?”
“Yes. I called out that I was a police officer and ordered him to stop. I’m not sure he even heard me. But he saw me coming toward them, so he took off. And I yelled at him to stop, said again that I was a police officer.”
“What was she yelling at him?”
Chris stopped for a moment, trying to remember. “Just ‘you stupid bastard,’ I think. And she called him something else, a selfish son-of-a-bitch or something like that.”
“She knew him,” Alex concluded.
“Yeah, I thought so,” Chris said. “But he’d already hit her twice, and it looked like it was going to get worse, so I didn’t have a choice.”
“I agree,” Alex replied. “Did you see a weapon?”
“No. I didn’t pull mine, either.”
“Okay. He sees you, takes off. Then what?”
“I ran by her, glanced at her. Her shirt was torn open a little, but she seemed pretty much okay, so I chased him. He ran down the path for a while, but he wasn’t in good shape, and he couldn’t keep up the pace. I ran fast enough to keep him in sight, and when he started to slow down, I closed on him. He didn’t like that, so he started off the path, down among the trees, trying to lose me, I guess.”
“Did you follow him?”
“Yeah. I called out again that I was police officer, just as he started off the path. He fell, over a branch or something on the ground, and when he got up, he turned around to face me. That’s when I saw he had a knife in his right hand. I don’t know where he had it, in his jacket or pants pocket.”
“He wasn’t carrying it as he ran? You didn’t see him threaten the woman with it?”
Chris shut her eyes briefly, running the events over in her head again. When she opened her eyes again, she saw Alex looking at her very intensely. “No,” Chris said, after a moment. “I didn’t see any weapon until that moment.”
“How far away from him were you when you saw the knife?”
Chris considered. She was trying to detach herself from the way she’d felt when he’d turned on her. Her heart had already been pounding from the run, and when she’d seen the flash of the blade, it felt as though time had slowed to a crawl. “Thirty feet, maybe.”
“What did you do?”
“I pulled out my weapon, and identified myself one more time as a police officer. I told him to drop the knife.”
“What did he say?”
“He said something like, ‘Get away from me, bitch.’ He waved the knife at me, as if he wanted to scare me away.”
“And what did you do?”
Precise and methodical, Chris thought. Aloud she answered, “I pointed my gun at him and ordered him again to drop the knife. That’s when he started to move toward me.”
“Did you back up?”
Chris knew this was an important point, and she’d had a few minutes to think about how to explain what she’d done. “No,” she responded. “The ground was uneven, there were a lot of leaves. I was afraid I might slip, and I didn’t want to take the chance. I stood my ground and instructed him, again, to put down the knife.”
“What else did you say?”
Chris gave her a sideways glance. How did she know there was something else? “I told him,” she said, “that I would shoot him if he took another step.”
Alex nodded, as if she’d expected the answer. “What exactly did you say?” she pressed.
Chris took a deep breath of cold air and answered.
“I said, ‘Put the damn knife down right now or I’ll blow your fucking head off.’”
Alex nodded again, as if she were satisfied with the answer, and asked, “And then?”
“He…” Chris faltered a little for the first time, and then continued, angrily, “He sort of lunged at me, with the knife. So I pulled the trigger.”
“How many times?”
Chris could still feel the gun bucking in her hand. “Twice. He staggered, then he just fell down.”
For just an instant, Chris saw Alex’s face change, as if she remembered the sound of gunfire in her ears, not at the range where they wore protection, but the way it sounded when it was real, when the bullets had been aimed at her. And her partner. Chris caught the look and said abruptly, “Inspector St. Clair told me.”
“Told you what?” Alex was startled. Chris guessed Alex might be wondering what Inspector St. Clair might have disclosed.
“I think she was trying to make me feel better,” Chris said wryly. “Anyway, she told me about the time she got shot. She said she was shot by a suspect who was coming at you.”
“Did she?” Alex said, her voice neutral. Chris couldn’t read either her face or her tone of voice. After a moment, Alex said coolly, “I want you to come down and look at the body. Can you do that?”
Chris squared her shoulders and tried to look calm and collected. She didn’t want the captain to remember how young she was. “Of course, Captain.”
They went down the hill, sliding a little on the leaves. There were still two technicians there, one finishing taking pictures, the other taking a measurement. Alex said to the second tech, “Can you tell where she was standing?”
He showed her the cartridge cases from Chris’s 9mm, measuring out the usual arc from where they were ejected as she fired. Alex stood in the spot, and looked down to where the body lay in the leaves. Over him a green tarp had been erected to protect the body. Ten feet away, maybe, when she’d shot him.
Alex said, “I admire your self-control. If it had been me, I doubt I would have given him a third opportunity to surrender. He could always have thrown that knife at you.”
Her mind still on what St. Clair had told her, Chris asked abruptly, “What happened to the perp? The one who shot St. Clair, I mean, the one who was coming after you?”
“I shot him,” Alex replied evenly. “He died at the hospital.” Abruptly turning away from Chris, she asked the crime scene technician, “Have you bagged the knife?”
He showed it to her, displayed in the evidence bag. More than just a switchblade, it was a wicked looking Special Forces type of knife, with finger holes in a molded plastic handle, and a six-inch blade.
Chris stared at it a moment, then turned away. Alex led her to the body and they stood together under the tarp.
“Look closely,” Alex instructed her. “Know him? Be sure.”
Chris stared long and hard. An hour ago he was alive, and now he was dead. Because she killed him. He was just an ordinary looking man, early twenties, maybe, a couple days’ growth of beard. One of his eyes wasn’t quite closed all the way, and that bothered her.
Chris tried to figure out, just for a second, what she was feeling. She felt odd, not bad exactly, not good, just weird, uncomfortable. It was like a graduation ceremony, where she thought she should feel different afterward, but didn’t.
She shut down the emotion. “I’ve never seen him before this morning,” she said, her voice firm.
Alex said, “All right. Let me tell you what happens now. You go home, clean up and come in to work. When you get in, report to Inspector St. Clair. She’ll interview you, get you to sign a statement. We’ll farm out the criminal investigation to another agency, since you’re one of our officers.”
“Criminal investigation?” Chris tried not to sound alarmed. Stay cool, goddamn it. She’s your boss, you don’t want her to think you’re going to fall apart, do you?
“Yes. I don’t anticipate a problem, but it’s important that another agency review the incident. IA will review what happened for excessive use of force. While all this is happening, you’re on paid administrative leave.”
“I’m suspended.” For some reason, Chris hadn’t thought of that.
“Yes, until this is resolved. It will be several weeks, probably. You come up and see me when Inspector St. Clair is finished, and leave me your badge. We’ve already got your service weapon. Someone will contact you in a few days or so to make an appointment with the department consultant to talk to you.”
“A shrink?” Chris asked disdainfully. The last thing she wanted was some head doctor rummaging around in the dirty, cluttered maze that was her brain.
“Even if the criminal investigation is resolved without charges and IA clears you, you can’t come back to work without a fitness-for-duty report after a shooting incident of any kind,” Alex said, in a firm voice that left no room for argument. “I know you turned down the Officer Support Team, which is your choice, but this is not optional. Do you understand?”
“You’re very clear, Captain,” Chris said tersely. Great, just great. I get to sit around for a few weeks and think about this.
“Glad to hear it.”
Alex walked Chris back to her car, a shiny red Mustang, and watched her drive away.
* * *
Alex got into her SUV. CJ was still in her passenger seat, drinking coffee. She had run the engine for a bit, so the leather interior was comfortably warm.
Alex allowed herself the pleasure of gazing for a few moments at CJ. Alex loved the leather jacket, especially the way it was just short enough to give her an unobstructed view of CJ’s curves and long legs. It had been nearly a year since they had moved in together, become partners, and she still liked looking at CJ’s shape. It was almost unfair, she thought, that someone so beautiful should also possess a mind sharp as a new razor—and the biggest, most loving and open heart Alex had ever known. Alex felt fortunate beyond her imagination.
“How’d it go, darlin’?” CJ asked.
Instead of answering, Alex took the paper cup from CJ and drank the last of the latte.
“You could get my germs doing that,” CJ observed, smiling.
“Really? More than, say, when I was french-kissing you on the sofa last night?”
“That was a whole lot more fun than watching you drink my coffee.”
Alex put the empty cup in the holder and said, “She did okay, I think. You’ll have a shot at her later. If there’s more to it, I know you’ll have it out of her by lunchtime.” She glanced at CJ and then asked, “Did you know she’s gay?”
CJ lifted an eyebrow in surprise and said emphatically, “I most certainly did not. She told you that?”
“She told me she picked up a woman last night and, to use her words, they spent most of the night ‘having sex.’ One-night stand, she didn’t know her last name. Picked her up at some bar named Regina.”
“Ah. One of Vivian’s favorite new hangouts.” Vivian Wong was CJ’s friend, a mortgage banker and relentless serial dater of women. “And you’re pronouncing it incorrectly. It rhymes, perhaps not surprisingly, with ‘vagina’.”
“Why am I not surprised? So you didn’t know Andersen was a lesbian?”
“What, you think I’m still using my gaydar?”
“Gaydar? What the hell is that?”
“All this time, and you’re still such an uninformed excuse for a lesbian.”
Alex said primly, “I’m not really a lesbian.”
“You’re not?” CJ said, in amusement. They’d had this discussion before. “What are you then, other than in denial?”
“I never look at other women,” Alex said solemnly. “I would think that would be the prerequisite for being a lesbian. Now, what the hell is gaydar?”
“Well, fortunately for you, I am a lesbian.” CJ grinned at her. “Gaydar is what those of us who admit to being gay use to determine whether someone is similarly inclined, since it’s not always possible to take the easy route and just ask. It’s somewhat true, and somewhat a myth. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t usually tell just by glancing at someone whether they’re straight, gay or bi. But some people are very good at picking up signals. Vivian can spend two minutes watching a woman across a crowded room and tell, with about ninety percent accuracy. Although I’d like to point out that Viv had no idea of your woman-loving-woman potential.”
“It’s surprising you’re so witty this early in the morning.”
“Ha, ha. Wish I’d known about Andersen’s sexual orientation before I showed her my scar in an attempt to bond with her,” CJ added, a little ruefully.
“Yes, she mentioned… Wait, you showed her?”
“Two buttons only,” she said modestly.
“Damn it, CJ, I didn’t realize I had to institute a rule about you not taking off your clothes in front of my detectives. Especially my female detectives. Particularly and especially my one gay female detective. Don’t do that.”
“Love it when you are a little jealous, Irish.”
Alex growled, “I’m not kidding. Keep your clothes on, especially in front of Andersen, okay? She sounds like a player, and I don’t want her getting even the remotest idea you’re available.”
“Yes, Captain, ma’am,” CJ said solemnly. Alex wasn’t really worried—she knew how important fidelity was to CJ.
Alex stared out the windshield, then said, “I told her to report to you when she gets in.”
“I’m sorry for her. I’m sorry the guy is dead. I’m sorry the woman was attacked, though I wish like hell she hadn’t run away. Mostly, though, I think I’m feeling sorry for us. The timing on this could not be worse.”
“Yes,” CJ agreed. “Police brutality and the election for DA.”
Alex sighed. “Tony will probably be calling me later today, demanding to know why I did this to him.”
“Two years of marriage to the man ten years ago, and he still thinks he has the right to call and yell at you,” CJ complained.
Alex gave her a sideways look, not quite hiding her smile at CJ’s protective tone. “Just don’t care for him much, do you?”
“He makes you unhappy. He’s a pain in the neck. I mean, he actually accused you of trying to ruin his chance at getting elected DA by choosing to be with me.”
Alex had to smile. “ ‘Alex, people will think being married to me was so terrible it turned you into a homosexual!’ Really, can you believe him?” She shot a sly grin at CJ and added, “Everybody knows you’re the one who persuaded me to bat for the other team.”
“You are so funny. But you’re probably right about what Tony thinks. That’s why he hates me.”
“He doesn’t hate you.”
CJ disagreed, but wasn’t going to argue about it. Instead she observed, “Well, he’s going to hate this a lot more.”
Tony Bradford had waited years for John Blumenthal to retire so he could have a shot at running for DA. To his dismay, criminal defense attorney Robert Carlson had decided to run against him, and Carlson was racking up headlines by accusing the Colfax Police Department of excessive use of force.
“Just lousy timing,” Alex conceded. “Carlson jumped all over the traffic stop shooting last summer, and now this. It looks clean, but…”
CJ promised, “I’ll try to wrap it up as quickly as I can. I don’t like Tony, but at least he’s been in the DA’s office for years. He’d be a much better prosecutor than some defense attorney. Who are you going to get to do the criminal investigation?”
“I was thinking Rod Chavez might agree to do it,” Alex said, naming CJ’s former colleague in the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office. “What do you think?”
“Great idea, if he can,” CJ said enthusiastically. “Unless you’re concerned our friendship would taint things, somehow.”
“I’ll think about it. See you later?”
“Yes. I’m going to check and see how the canvass is going. We really need to find our assault victim.”
“Good luck with that.”
* * *
As she returned to the scene, CJ carefully skirted the news camera and reporter getting ready to do a standup report. The cameraman was on the sidewalk, and the reporter was standing with a nice view of the park in the background, microphone in hand. CJ watched the reporter look at her, speculating whether she was someone important enough to try to interview. CJ walked briskly by, and the reporter dismissed her, turning back to the camera to begin with, “We’re here at the scene of this morning’s fatal police shooting at Ross Park in Colfax…”
CJ smiled to herself. She looked nothing like a cop, and that often worked to her advantage. The smile faded as she thought about the news reporter. The local station had gotten there quickly, and she wondered if they had been listening on a police scanner or gotten a tip. Either way, the political response to the news reports wouldn’t be long in coming.
Sergeant Gonzalez called out to her.
“What have we got, Sergeant?” she asked.
“We ran the plates of the cars parked in the lot,” he said. “We got a hit.”
“Stolen?” CJ asked.
“No, but one of the owners has a record. Looks like our guy. The dead guy, I mean.”
“How nice of him to drive his car here,” CJ remarked cheerfully. “I think it’s time for me to get a warrant and let’s just see what we can find.”
By the time the warrant arrived and the locks on the car were opened, the morning had begun to warm a little, the fall sun bright and shiny autumn brass. The sunlight warmed her shoulders through her jacket as CJ stood thoughtfully gazing into the trunk of the old Subaru sedan while a couple of uniformed officers searched the interior.
“No registration in here, Inspector,” one of them called to her.
“I’m not surprised,” CJ remarked. “Come on back here, will you?”
Both uniformed officers joined her at the back bumper. “Well, shit,” the first man said.
The trunk was filled with an assortment of devices: several cell phones, laptops and computer tablets, several with cords still attached like long, black tails.
“Maybe he was a used electronics salesman,” the second patrol officer joked.
“You think?” The first man laughed.
“Or,” CJ joined in the conversation, “he just might be a thief.”
“Hell, you could be onto something there, Inspector.” They were all laughing now.
“I’m starting to get an inkling about why the wife or girlfriend took off,” CJ mused.
“Maybe she was more of an accomplice,” the first officer suggested.
“I think you’re right,” CJ said. “Time for me to do some police work, I think.”