Stopping at the mall to pick up a cut-glass vase for his sister’s birthday, a mystery novel for his day off, and a few items needed for the house had seemed like a good idea an hour ago, but Luke Granger was still short two items on his shopping list, and he had no desire to try another store.
The lady clutching two Bergner’s shopping bags and the hand of a three-year-old girl looked worried. “There’s a woman in the restroom who needs help. She asked me to find mall security.”
He was city police and off duty, still in uniform after a day in court; she was close enough. “Anyone else in there?”
He nodded and crossed the corridor into the hallway with pay phones and restrooms. A cleaning-service cart sat outside a door marked Utilities. He pulled it over to block the entryway to the women’s restroom. “Police officer coming in,” he called in warning. He walked through the sitting area with four chairs and a stroller station and into the lavatory area.
He saw the lady: early forties, sick, her face alabaster white, the counter doing more to hold her upright than her legs. He turned, set down his purchases, and returned with a curved-back and cushioned chair. “Sit down, ma’am.”
He shut off the water streaming over her hands in the basin and eased her back into the chair. She wore a white tailored blouse and black dress slacks, the retailer version of a uniform, and they were no longer neat or straight. He wondered at sexual assault even as he stripped off his jacket and bundled it around her to deal with the chill he could feel. He was a big man, broad shouldered and tall, and the jacket swallowed her slim frame.
“His eyes were caramel, cold.” A shudder rippled through her body.
“Okay.” He swept hands down her midsection looking for the source of the smeared blood on the front of the sink counter. Blood darkened her slacks at the right thigh, but it hadn’t soaked through the fabric from a wound.
“Bressman’s Jewelry, the storeroom.”
His gaze shot to hers.
“They’re all dead. I checked.”
He briskly closed his jacket snaps up to her neck. “Stay right here.”
She gave a jerky nod.
He left her there.
Luke walked into Bressman’s Jewelry. The sign turning above the front display counter advertised 30 percent off diamond pendants this week only. No salesclerks were in sight. He walked around the counters and into a small back office, then turned down the narrow hallway that paralleled the public restrooms. A door moved back and forth in the breeze of the overhead air-conditioning, and a radio tuned to a country station began a new song; nothing else spoke of life.
And because he was a cop, he stood. The horror took a good minute to wash through his system as he cataloged the killings. Four store staff herded back here and shot as a group, the blood splatter staining the storage shelves. The youngest looked to be barely out of high school with her makeup perfect and her nails painted a soft pink. A lady his mother’s age had been shot in the head. The store manager and a third sales associate, both middle-aged men, had died in front of a holder for gift boxes. The blood hadn’t attracted more than a couple flies yet: ten minutes? twenty?
The fact it had been done in his town, within his reach, and as deputy chief of police he hadn’t been able to prevent it, chilled his anger to a hard, sharp edge. Luke reached for his radio. “55-14.”
He recognized the dispatcher’s voice in the brief answer. “Janice, there’s a multiple 187 at Ellerton Mall, Bressman’s Jewelry.” He mentally ran through the list of detectives on duty. “I need Connor, Marsh, Mayfield, and St. James. Tell them minutes matter.”
“Yes, sir. Priority calls are going out.”
“Assign a band for this case.”
He switched over his radio frequency.
“Emergency Services?” Janice asked.
“Dispatch forensics code orange to the scene and alert the coroner. I’ll need forty officers pulled in. Locate as many as you can in-house, tap the Westford district, and then start calling men back to duty. Marsh will be handling assignments on scene. Where’s Paul Riker right now?”
“His schedule shows a Q&A with print journalists.”
“Have someone pass him a message. I need him on scene.”
“I can handle it, sir.”
“Good. I’m code four.”
Footsteps had him turning. Two mall security officers, both hurrying.
“Stay up front.” Luke left the door swinging in the air-conditioned breeze and walked back to the showroom. “There’s been a shooting. How many security officers does the mall have on duty?”
“Okay. I want the two of you to close this storefront. Parker, once the gate is locked, I want you to sit at the side entrance to this store. No one but Brentwood or Westford officers enter or you won’t be employed tomorrow, you understand?”
“Richards, I want you to get the other two mall guards and start working the parking lot starting at this entrance. I want a list of license-plate numbers for every vehicle on the lot.”
They stood there.
They rushed to bring down the security gate, pulling the first panel from the ceiling to cover the main section of the store entryway.
Luke walked over to the east wall of the display area and took down the sixth framed picture. His witness looked better in her official photo. Kelly Brown. It didn’t sound like a fortysomething’s name. Her hair had changed—it was now a couple inches longer and a shade darker auburn—but the blue eyes were the same.
He kept the photo and walked the display cases. Nothing appeared disturbed. A robbery with multiple murders and no jewelry taken? How much would be here in inventory? A hundred thousand? More? Do you have a special sales area, Kelly Brown? Rings, watches, the necklaces that would cost a year of my salary? You were wearing no jewelry today, not even a ring. That surprised me. The cash register also appeared untouched.
Luke looked up as the first officers he had requested began to stream in. Connor was in the lead with his partner, Marsh, towering over him a step behind. Connor was all of five nine, wearing the black jeans and sweatshirt he favored for days working the streets. Marsh, at six four, still looked like a hungover drunk after too many days staking out alleys, and the dark shadows under his eyes were more pronounced than normal. Luke considered them to be among the best officers in the department, even though neither would like to hear that commendation repeated in public for fear they would end up in management one day.
“What do we have, Boss?”
Luke pointed to the back hallway. “I’m leaving the scene to you, Connor. Marsh, you’re coordinating the officers coming in to assist. I’ve got a witness to deal with. I need names and addresses of the victims fast, because I’m not seeing robbery as the motive. We’re still in the first hour, so light a fire under everyone.”
“Keep the traffic on channel four. As soon as Riker arrives, page me. The press is going to be a problem with this one.”
Trying to clear the mall of all shoppers wasn’t a workable option, and sending a SWAT team searching for the shooter in a crowded mall would only end up with public panic and injuries. The shooter had come in, herded store staff to a back storage room, and shot them there. The scene presented said the shooter had left without trying to attract attention, and the timing of the shootings said he was already gone. For now they would work it outward from the shooting scene and try not to amplify the problem they faced.
Already a crowd of shoppers was slowing, stopping, and asking questions of each other. Luke walked through them and around the corridor to the restrooms. The cleaning cart remained where he had left it. Luke stepped around it and into the ladies’ restroom.
The chair sat in the lavatory section, empty but for his folded jacket. “Ma’am? Kelly Brown?”
He left the lavatory and walked through the stalls. The restroom was empty. She’d left. As shaky as she had been, she’d still managed to leave.
He walked out of the restroom and looked around the corridor. She wasn’t watching the officers at the store, propelled there by the awfulness of what she had seen. There wasn’t a need to run, Kelly. You were safe now.
“I need an address and a vehicle make for Kelly Brown, early forties. Give me any DMV records close to the name and age registered in the city.” He started the trace and then flipped through the phone book to locate the main Bressman store. He tore out the page. Five branches. Why this one?
Luke reentered the jewelry store and moved into the small office area; the hallway had begun to fill with forensics people.
Connor looked up from a file. “Your witness?”
“Skipped. And from the sound of it, she saw the shooter.”
THANK YOU FOR READING THE OPENING OF CHAPTER ONE