“I’m pulling into the scene now. There are four dead, but Jackie wasn’t hurt. I’ll be back in touch, Dad, as soon as I know more.” FBI Special Agent Paul Falcon parked behind a Chicago squad car within sight of the blue and white restaurant awning with Falcon’s scrolling across the fabric. He shoved the phone back in his pocket. It was just after eleven p.m., and the dark street was bathed in the flashing lights of squad cars. FBI Agent Sam Truebone met him as he cut between the medical examiner’s van and the crime-scene van.
“I’ve seen Jackie, talked to her,” Sam said immediately. “Your sister is furious, but fine.”
Paul felt the sharp edge of his tension ease off. Being on the other side of town when the shooting occurred had made the drive a slice of private abyss. “Who’s got the scene?”
Chicago PD had sent one of their top homicide cops. The woman wasn’t hard to spot, as she controlled the scene, people flowing to and away from her. Paul headed her direction.
“Your sister’s fine.”
“I’ve heard that.”
“One of your father’s places,” she added.
“When is it not?” His father’s empire ran to so many corners of the nation, pockets of family business showed up everywhere he turned. “Need some help?”
She smiled at him. Not the one she normally gave him—warm, welcoming, and often amused—this was her cop’s smile, cool and assessing, but willing to play nice. “I don’t mind working with the Feds when it suits me, and in this case it does. This shooter is one of yours.”
“That fits the night this is becoming. Which one?”
“Andrew Waters. We’ve got him on tape. Rick Ulaw, undercover narcotics cop with the sixteenth precinct, was having dinner with his wife. Waters walked up to the table and shot him twice in the back and once in the head. He then killed three civilians who got in his way. He left the scene in a dark blue sedan. His photo is out to every cop in the state, and newscasts have just put it up. If he’s in Chicago, he’s ours. If he’s slipped out, you can help haul him back so I can bust him.”
“You’ll have everything we have on him within the hour. And I’ll personally take any assignment you want to give me. You want flyers plastered on telephone poles in Mexico, I’m your guy.”
“I’ve already called Marcus and told him I want Quinn on it tonight coordinating the manhunt. Leave Sam with me, and give me Christopher Zun. I like him.”
“You’ll have them.”
She was married to an FBI agent, had the head of the U.S. Marshals as a close friend, and called the Chicago Police her territory. Kate would get whatever she needed to run the case. And he was wise enough to let her have a clear field to do it. If Waters could be run to ground tonight, Kate would get it done. Paul could delegate the work, but he couldn’t delegate family. And right now he had family to deal with.
Kate must have been thinking along the same lines. She nodded toward the restaurant. “Go convince your sister to go home. We’ve got the scene handled. As ugly as this case is, it is also simple. I backtrack to figure out who hired someone to kill a cop, and I chase the shooter into a rat hole somewhere.”
“Waters has no known family or friends in Chicago, but he’s got a connection to the Lacomb crime syndicate, and they work this far north.”
Paul nodded and headed into the restaurant. He knew whom he could trust, and he could trust Sam and Kate. The case and the chase were in good hands.
Waters. The name had actually crossed his mind as a possible suspect when word of the shootings first hit. Paul knew the man’s work, and the original report had sounded like his MO. Waters had been hired for nine murders and managed to chalk up a body count of sixteen. Now he was at ten and nineteen. Cops had clipped Waters’ car in Virginia, cornered him in Boston, and shot him once in Philadelphia, and no one had ever been able to get a good enough hold on him to snap on cuffs. He’d disappeared into Mexico three years ago, and they had been working a cold case trying to stir him out of the muck. This time cops were on the trail within the hour. They might have him tonight.
The restaurant main dining area showed the chaos of events—chairs overturned, meals abandoned, the violence at table twenty-two. Officer Ulaw’s body had been removed as well as two of the civilians. The medical examiner was still working over the waitress who had been shot. Paul could smell the blood and lingering gunpowder, overlaid with the burned smell of overcooked food.
This was absolutely senseless violence. Waters could have shot the detective in the parking lot, or walking into the precinct, or in his car at a stop light. Waters had chosen to shoot his victim in a crowded restaurant. He liked others to see his violence; he enjoyed killing bystanders who got in his way. They would have to catch him to end this. Waters reveled in killing too much to ever stop. If Kate didn’t get him tonight, Paul would on one of the tomorrows. It was a small corner of family truth that a Falcon didn’t stop hunting.
Observing the scene, Paul found himself wishing his lady shooter had been hired for this hit instead of Waters—at least then there would have been no bystanders killed. She’d never shot other than her target. She had never killed her victim where the family would see the death or where a child was present. She’d shot thirty people in the head, but treated it as business to be done carefully and precisely. She’d been quiet for nine years. He’d never come close to catching her, but she remained on his mind. And he was still quietly hunting her.
He was the FBI’s top murder cop, and hired shooters stayed at the top of his priority list. Tonight he regretted more than ever that he hadn’t caught Waters in time. Paul stepped carefully around the room and moved toward the voices in the kitchen.
His father would be here by first light, to do what could be done to help the victims’ families, to do what could be done to help those who had seen this violence. The Falcon restaurant would reopen, after it had been gutted, after the image of this tragedy had been erased.
It would reopen with his father at the doors and welcoming the first guests. Paul knew his dad.
And he knew his sister. “Don’t throw that, Jackie.”
He ducked as a white mixing bowl came sailing toward him. It hit the door and then the floor and cracked into pieces.
“You’ve been hunting this guy for years and you haven’t caught him yet? You let him stay out there and do this to my guests, my place?”
He ducked another bowl. He’d taught her to throw as a kid and done a good job. He held up a hand and pointed a finger at her. She wavered on the third bowl and set it back on the counter.
“Rough night. Sorry about that.”
He was near enough now to simply wrap his arm around her shoulders and hug her.
“Four dead, Paul. Four.” Her voice was muffled against his shirt.
He rubbed his hand across her hair and let out a harsh breathe. “Glad you weren’t one of them.”
“Trish worked for me for a year. She’s a sweet kid.”
“No one is going to rest until this guy’s caught. It’s what is left that we can do, and we’ll get it done.”
“He killed a cop.” Her voice trembled. “That’s your table when you come for a meal. It could have been you.”
He could feel the energy and passion burning out of her. The crime-scene tape marked the area she couldn’t enter, but what was within her reach had been scrubbed down and set back to order. The grills and the stoves were glistening clean, the food in process packed away. At least she wasn’t running away from it; she was reclaiming the place. The Falcon family would help.
“Let’s go home, Jackie. Let me take you home, and tomorrow we’ll deal with the rest of this.”
She picked up a satchel holding her recipes and personal chef knifes, along with the cluttered pad of paper she liked to think of as her business plan. “Can you drive with sirens so we’re not crawling home an hour from now?”
“Lights, but not sirens. You were the one who wanted to live out in the suburbs.”
“You’re on the fourth floor of a building that has no grass. I want better for myself.”
He smiled, relieved to hear the normal complaints. He took her out the back way, through the alley and around to his car, managing to bypass the media hunting for a photo and a story. He took his sister home.
Paul walked into Chicago PD headquarters at four seventeen a.m., cleared through security, and found Lieutenant Kate Sinclair in the third-floor command center. The darkened room was crowded with people watching a live video feed on the wall shot from a police helicopter.
Sam walked over and handed him a coffee. “He’s on Interstate 74 heading west. Two cops identified Waters and the car at a light just outside Peoria, gave chase. He took a few wild shots, then tried to drive down an embankment to cut away from them and busted up his car. He’s running ahead of them now, leaking oil, and they are bringing in cars and boxing him in. State police are going to stop him at Sanders Point.”
A flash of bright light tore through the room, turning it into instant daylight.
The helicopter’s camera adjusted and a burning wreck filled the screen—stationary, crumbled, and tossing off flames.
Cop cars that had tracked in behind the fleeing car began pulling into the frame, stopping well back. The pilot in the air had jerked away at the explosion and now panned around an oddly dark area and moved to hover back from the crash site.
“What happened? Back the tape up and toss it on the second screen,” Kate ordered.
The crash replayed.
“Doesn’t look like he lost control. That was a hundred miles an hour right into a power pole,” the cop beside her said.
The tape looped and replayed again. The cop nodded and used his pointer to trace part of the image before and after the crash. “Transformer blew up and took out power to the homes around it. Look at all the lights no longer on.”
Sam shifted where he stood to better see the video. “I did not expect this ending,” he said.
“I’ll take this outcome over a shootout with cops,” Paul decided. It was done. Waters died without taking out more cops, and that was its own relief.
Kate, standing in front of the screen, hands shoved into her pockets, watched the cops on the ground now using fire extinguishers to control the blaze. Paul moved forward to join her. “Sorry, Kate. You won’t be able to ask who hired him.”
“I’ll still figure it out.” She turned to look at him. “This side of the case is over but for the paperwork. Mind if I keep your guys a few more hours working on the why?”
“No problem. Thanks for doing my job.”
She gave a small smile. “You could have rightfully made a fuss about taking over the case. You didn’t, so I’d say we’re even. Sorry it was your family’s place where this happened.”
“You can come over and be my guest when it reopens next month. Anything you need to help find out who paid to have your cop killed, don’t hesitate to ask. Wiretaps, warrants, extra coffee for your guys—let me know.”
“I’ll do that.”
He nodded and headed to the door.
He turned back.
“When they offer you the top job, take it.”
He grinned. “Now why are you squeezing me like that, beautiful Kate?”
“It’s the first time in my memory local cops and FBI haven’t wanted to push each other into the Chicago River. I’m getting used to you.”
“Have to say I’m beginning to feel the same.” She’d married a good friend of his, and he was coming to like this Chicago cop more with each passing year. “Oh, and, Kate?” He held up the cup. “FBI has still got the better coffee.”
He left with her laughter following him. The day ahead would be run on two hours of sleep, for he had meetings beginning at seven a.m., but it would be a good day all the same.
The Chicago FBI office had blast barriers at curbside, and layers of check-in and security to reach the elevators. Having waded through the process a few times in the past, Ann ran an experienced eye around the lobby and chose one of the more seasoned officers working the check-in desk. She offered her badge. “Officer Ann Silver. I’m here to see Agent Paul Falcon.”
“Do you have an appointment, Ma’am?”
He didn’t recognize the police department on her badge but was polite enough not to say so. “I’ll need to check your credentials, Ma’am. Do you have a business card with department phone numbers?”
She offered one from her pocket. “Ask for the acting Sheriff.”
He picked up the phone and made the call.
Her office transferred the call. The phone in her pocket rang.
She pulled her phone out and answered. “Hi, again.” She closed the phone with a small smile. “Sorry, couldn’t resist.”
He leaned against the counter to share the smile. “Small department?”
“You just talked to the entire staff.”
“This does present a quandary.”
“How about we try this. I came to Chicago to see the Cubs-Cardinals game tonight—I scored third row seats behind first base. Make a call and ask Agent Falcon to come down to the lobby. Let me show him two photos. If it turns out it’s not worth his time, you can keep the tickets to the game.”
“You’re that sure?”
“Which case should I reference?”
“I have no idea what he calls it. Tell him it’s regarding the lady shooter he’s been hunting for several years.”
The desk officer made the call. “He’ll come down,” he told her, “but it may be a few minutes. You’ll find the bench is more comfortable than the chairs.”
“Thanks.” She settled in to wait, out of habit pulling out a paperback she was reading. She didn’t mind the wait. Today was as close to a vacation day she’d had this year, and if she could pass one more case off her desk, all the better. She planned to head home after the game without much of a voice left and half sick on hot dogs and popcorn, and if she timed it right she’d be at the ballpark early enough to watch batting practice and get an autograph or two.
“Officer Silver.” The check-in officer nodded toward the man getting off the south elevator. “There he is.”
She got up from the bench and waited while Agent Falcon came through the security barriers. He was a tall man with authority in his stride, wearing a business suit that didn’t come off the rack. She had done enough digging to know his reputation and what was on his desk. Despite his rank and seniority, he stayed working cases rather than lead a bureau office. He was as far from the politics of the bureau as a murder cop could get, and that made him the guy who could do something with what she had. He was presently working on too much caffeine and not much sleep, she thought, noting the coffee mug in his hand and the grim tightness around his eyes. She would wonder at why, but she’d spent too many days working without sleep herself to find it unusual.
“Agent Falcon, this is Officer Ann Silver.”
She stepped away from others in the lobby, opened her flight bag and removed two photos. She didn’t bother to explain, she simply offered them. He took the photos. His watch looked expensive and the ring was FBI academy. She had assumed he was married, but his left hand was bare.
She saw the flare of heat in his eyes as he recognized the murders. Since the photos were copies of ones in his own files, she had assumed they would hit a chord. His gaze shot to hers. She took the punch of annoyance in his gaze because she deserved it, because she had set him up for it. She had chosen those two murders out of the thirty the lady had done for a reason, but the photos themselves were merely cover for her visit. The news she had come to share wasn’t something she planned to write down anywhere. “I’ve got the guy who arranged her services in my morgue,” she said quietly, simply, and let the words hang in the silence between them. She knew their implications.
He did too. He studied her face, weighing the way she had said it, scanned the badge displayed on her belt, and nodded toward the elevators. “Come up with me.”
The check-in officer smiled as he handed her a visitor pass. She clipped it onto her jacket, followed Agent Falcon to the security scanners, and emptied her pockets into the basket.
“You’ll need to check your weapon, Ma’am, and pick it up when your business is done,” the security officer said.
“No. You can issue me a weapon clearance. Please do so.”
“I can’t issue a clearance without–”
“I’ll vouch for her.” The Bureau’s Midwest Counterterrorism Chief coming around behind them interrupted. “Give her the weapon clearance. How you doing, Ann?”
“Catching the game tonight.”
He was now at the elevator, but he held the door before stepping in. “Yeah? Want company?”
“Lisa beat you out.”
“My loss. Call me before you head home. I got your wiretaps approved.”
“You couldn’t keep that news to yourself until after the game?”
He grinned. “Take good care of her, Falcon. I still owe her for two speeding tickets.”
She clipped on the weapon clearance and re-stuffed her belongings into her pockets. She waited until they were alone in the elevator. “His mom is my next door neighbor,” she said, not needing to explain but figuring it didn’t hurt to cut politics out of the equation.
Agent Falcon half smiled. “I didn’t ask.”
“Didn’t have to.”
She followed him onto the sixth floor and down a long hallway. Paul worked in a decent-sized office, but both chairs across from his desk looked uncomfortable. She chose the one near the wall and dumped her flight bag on the other one. She set her recorder on his desk and clicked it on.
“Four weeks ago there was a wreck on Interstate 72. The driver died. Something was off about the scene, and the patrol officer called me in. Think heavy rain, absent quarter moon, and truckers hauling grain in a steady parade as the barges on the river got jammed up by a damaged lock gate. Not an ideal situation for working a car crash. The car rolled, flipped, smashed, and ended upside down in a bean field. It took out a small metal storage bin, six fence posts, and twenty feet of electric fencing and barbwire. The Angus bull in the field with the downed barbwire was not happy with the flashing cop lights and constant truck traffic, and since he was worth six figures, the bull for a time got as much attention as the wreck, once it was confirmed the driver was dead and that it would take the fire department to cut him out.”
She watched Agent Falcon as she talked and gave a half smile as she reached for the Pause on the recorder. “Get a drink, pace, make faces at your window, whatever, because I tell long stories, enjoy the telling, and don’t plan to repeat myself to whomever else you want to hand this case to later. So I’ll tell it my way, record it, and you’ll have what I’ve got. I’m not inclined to fly north again just because I missed a detail you might one day need.”
She was enjoying herself, Paul thought, and she was going somewhere interesting with her narrative. She’d delivered her statement in the lobby with exquisite timing. She had the tempo of a good story teller. She liked telling stories. And he had a feeling she would back up that initial statement with just as exquisite timing.
THANKS FOR READING.
I HOPE YOU ENJOY THE BOOK.