The Rookie Club: Dead Center Part 15

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Both women fell silent.

Chapter 17.

Hailey had spent the afternoon in the lab with Roger. There was only one photograph of Natasha on the memory card in Marchek's camera. While the camera was easily a decade old, the memory stick, stamped by the factory in China, was made last October. No other memory card was found in Marchek's home. If another existed, it was stashed in whatever hiding place held his rape kit and the evidence they needed to convict him.

Roger's tech team worked for two hours to enhance the image. They needed something more to help them identify either the man himself or the car, which would lead them to the man's ident.i.ty. In the end, the best they could do was confirm that the photo was of Natasha; Hailey had known that immediately. In her hand, Natasha held the small, engraved trophy that she had received at the awards banquet that evening. It was for her role in leading a ma.s.sive cross-departmental training effort. The presence of the trophy confirmed that the photo was taken the night of the awards banquet-the same night Natasha was killed.

The car and the man in the background were still unidentifiable. Hailey had even called in the rookie Mackenzie Wallace in hopes that she might have recognized the car from that morning. But no luck. And worse, Hailey's captain had denied her request to bring Marchek in again. Taking a photograph of someone was not illegal. Until they had some evidence that connected him to an actual, he remained a free man. Roger was turning his attention to the mold he'd made of Tim Worley's head injury with the hopes that it might lead them somewhere.

Hailey and Jamie Vail had also drafted a memo to go out to the division captains in an attempt to compile a list of men Natasha was recently involved with. To say it was going to be an awkward request was an understatement. The request to air dirty laundry, even in the pursuit of a killer, was not going to be popular. The case demanded truthful disclosure, but some of those men were married. They weren't going to want to come forward and admit to infidelity much less infidelity with a woman who had been murdered. And more public embarra.s.sment was the last thing the department needed. Plus, from what she knew of Natasha, it was going to be a lengthy list.

Exhausted from the day, Hailey had almost considered skipping the Rookie Club dinner tonight. But she'd convinced Jamie to go and she wasn't going to give her an excuse to miss another one. Hailey was clearing the piles from her desk in preparation for leaving when Buck walked into the department. It was the first time she could remember him coming into her department and the sight of him gave her an uncomfortable start.

"Inspector, Wyatt."She nodded.

"I'd like to discuss the Devlin case with you if you've got a minute." He nodded to the small, windowless conference room in the corner of the department.

She considered denying him but decided against it. Refusing IA was on level with refusing a captain. It would garner suspicion. Buck knew that and she was certain he'd used it to his advantage. "Of course," she agreed. "Unfortunately, I've got only a couple of minutes. Let me get the file."

He waited while she found the binder she'd started on Natasha's murder and followed him into the conference room.

He let her pa.s.s and shut the door behind her, leaned against it. "You've been ignoring me."

She crossed her arms without sitting. "You were there that morning-at her murder scene. I found out from Jamie Vail. You said you didn't know anything about it. Why didn't you tell me?" She put her hand up, lowered her voice to a whisper. "I don't even care now. I don't want to talk about this now. I'm on my way out."

"Going home?"

She shook her head. "Rookie Club dinner."

"Can we have a drink after?"

She closed her eyes, shook her head. "I don't think so." She walked to the door.

He took her arm, pulled her close.

She let him hold her for a moment, then pulled gently back. "I can't have you lie to me, Buck. There's too much at stake. I won't let you ruin my career."

"You think that's what I was doing?"

She shrugged. "It doesn't matter if that was the intention. It can't happen again."

With that, she pulled the door open and walked back into the department.

Jamie Vail stood propped against Hailey's desk. She eyed Hailey, then Daniels.

Hailey forced a smile. "You ready?"

"Ready but not excited," Jamie said.

Hailey nodded. She knew Jamie hadn't been to a Rookie Club dinner since Natasha and Tim.

"Thanks for the update," Daniels said.

"No problem. I'll follow up tomorrow." Hailey waved as he left, her chest tight with Jamie's eye on them.

Jamie said nothing while Hailey packed up her stuff and locked her desk.

"Everything okay?" Jamie asked when they were in the hall.

She didn't trust herself to meet Jamie's gaze. "Same old bulls.h.i.t."

Jamie nodded, said nothing else. Hailey noticed she wore makeup now. The dark circles under her eyes looked lighter than they had only a few hours earlier when they had searched Marchek's apartment. A dusting of blush added depth to her cheeks and a subtle shimmer shone on her lips. When she glanced up, Hailey saw even her eyes seemed brighter.

Outside, the rain was more like heavy mist. Hailey pulled on her trench coat, tied the belt. She wished she'd brought a hat. The wave in her hair went nuts with moisture. "You hear anything from the DA on Marchek?" She still held out hope that they would find a way to put him behind bars, despite how little evidence they had.

Jamie shook her head. "Captain told me he didn't think the picture was enough. Circ.u.mstantial at best. Doesn't prove Marchek was with Devlin at the time of death. Doesn't prove he'd ever even interacted with her. In fact, the presence of another person in the car suggests he wasn't involved in her death. Captain says it's more like an alibi than evidence of guilt."

Hailey sighed. "I got a similar line from Marshall."

She glanced over. "We can't find a speck of evidence that Marchek was inside her office. The print on the department sign proves he was there, but the station hallways are open to the public. The print itself isn't enough without something linking him to the crimes. And we have nothing on Osbourne, either. He's immaculate, but he's got to have his stuff somewhere."

Hailey nodded. "I put a call in to get a list of storage units within a five mile radius so we can disseminate a photo."

Jamie didn't respond.

Justice sometimes moved way too slow for her liking.

"You still meet at Tommy's?" Jamie asked, pulling up the hood on her windbreaker.


"Still drink well margaritas?"

Hailey smiled. "Not much has changed."

"Everything has changed," Jamie said, sounding almost breathless.

Hailey nodded. "That, too."

The ride was quiet. Hailey always looked forward to this night, to the combination of these women. Most were intensely pa.s.sionate thinkers, and the dinners reminded her how the police department's struggle against crime brought out the strongest will in people.

But it wasn't an especially happy bunch, either. Most of them had dealt with great trauma in their lives-personal as well as professional. Divorce, alcoholism, and suicide were rampant among police officers, and the women were not immune.

Hailey acknowledged that she was among the luckiest of them for the stability of her home life. And for the fact that she had an existence completely separate from police work. Many officers married other officers, which compounded the difficulties of the job. Escaping work became almost impossible. But she also knew the strong communal spirit that was shared with two people in the same business. With Buck and John, she had both. It was perfect. She thought about Buck, wondered what she'd do, knew she'd try to make it work. She wasn't ready to let go. How she wished she were.

These women should have been enough. The Rookie Club served the same purpose as a professional organization. There were other professions where like-minded people sought out the company of those in their same situation-doctors, lawyers, artists, writers. Those situations didn't match theirs. Not in intensity, or in the evil of what they saw, the most grotesque side of human nature.

Maybe doctors were closest. They, too, faced issues surrounding the delicacy with which questions of life and death were handled. With cops, it was the most extreme stresses that came out of nowhere, where split-second decisions had to be made and carried out then defended in months upon months of follow-up investigation. Some investigations lasted years. Cases and cop decisions, especially bad ones, were discussed for decades.

When decisions that had been made under tremendous pressure were later deemed "bad," everyone chose a side. Those times, it always felt like it was the women against them-the bra.s.s, the captains, those who occupied the chief's attention, the men. Because of those experiences, cops-male and female-learned that it was easier to divide into groups and sort each other out, trust only who you had to, speak freely only in that company because you really never knew who would be called to speak against you until it happened. In those situations when things went sour, cops were frequently called to testify against their own partners-the very people to whom they'd entrusted their lives. When it happened, neither officer had any choice in the matter.

For Hailey, the Rookie Club had always been the obvious group from which to choose the most trustworthy candidates. Part of that was a game of odds. The chances were always good that, because there were so few women and so many men, those who were called against her would be male. Therefore, the ones to confide in should be female.

The Rookie Club had been in existence for several years before Hailey joined the force. When she first heard about it, she was surprised that it was still around. Things like that had a tendency to lose steam after a while. But not this. Somehow the word about a woman band of law enforcement officers kept a steady stream of new members.

Her first Rookie Club dinner, Hailey had come with Shelby Tate, now an a.s.sistant medical examiner. Hailey had been a rookie with her first DB-dead body-and a h.e.l.l of a floater case. At the time, Shelby was brand-new in the medical examiner's office. Neither had fared all that well that day. When the autopsy was over, they'd agreed to shower twice and get a drink. They'd ended up at the Rookie Club dinner.

Hailey parked a block from the restaurant-half in a red zone-and put the visor down. On the drive over, Hailey had asked about Emily Osbourne. She was certain Jamie was still thinking about her. Emily would survive, Jamie had said. The word she'd used was "survive."

The two women walked toward the restaurant without speaking as though offering a moment of silence for those who wouldn't survive and for the survivors who would never be the same. She knew why Jamie didn't say, "She's okay" about Emily Osbourne. She wasn't.

Chances were, even when the physical wounds were long healed, the emotional ones would remain. Emily Osbourne would likely think about those moments-her terror, the pain, the humiliation-most days. For the rest of her life. Their job was to help the victims survive the physical wounds long enough to get a chance to try to heal the emotional ones. Hailey knew there were casualties in that process like anywhere else.

"You'll get him," Hailey a.s.sured her, breaking the silence as they reached the door of Tommy's.

"He'll make a mistake eventually," Jamie said, nodding. "They always do." The words sounded like something of a pep talk and Hailey felt certain Jamie aimed it at herself. The belief that the system worked-that the perpetrators would be punished for their crimes-was the only thing that kept them in this job. Otherwise, the fight wasn't nearly worth the tremendous effort, the low pay, the long hours, and the constant evidence of human cruelty that were their daily existence.

After seeing the photograph of Natasha at Marchek's house, though, Hailey wondered if there would be a higher toll before Marchek was stopped. She tried to set the thought aside as she walked through the doors of Tommy's. The restaurant was already packed as they weaved through the throng of Friday-night bar goers.

Hailey reached the back table where five women were already seated. It was a table of very powerful women. Most were nearly forty, a few older. They'd been on the force long enough to be jaded, but they were still there, braving the fight. As Hailey looked around the table, she saw the marks of battle in their lined faces. Cameron Cruz had a greenish bruise on one side of her neck that Hailey suspected was from one of the ma.s.sive rifles she wielded in her job as a sharpshooter.

At the moment, she was in the middle of a story. Arms raised, head t.i.tled as though she were aiming a rifle, Cameron was animated. Whatever had happened, Hailey guessed it had ended well. Across the table, Shelby Tate and Linda James were attentive as Cameron recounted some small victory.

Sydney Blanchard sat next to Jess Campbell from Immigration and Naturalization. Jess looked heavier than the last time Hailey had seen her. Her eyes red. She clasped an empty beer gla.s.s in two hands.

"Margarita," Hailey said when the waitress came by. "Rocks, salt." She slid into the chair next to Linda.

Jess ordered another draft, sliding her empty pint gla.s.s toward the waitress.

Sydney pushed an empty gla.s.s toward Hailey, pointing to the half-full pitcher of margaritas on the table.

Over the years, Hailey had seen the Rookie Club change and grow, shrink and almost fall apart. A few times there were only three or four of them. It had been six months or so since she'd seen Jess Campbell, and Jess looked worse for the wear. Her shuttered gaze also suggested she might be on more than her second beer. They would make sure she got a ride home. It wouldn't be the first time someone had over-indulged at a dinner.

Jamie appeared with a gla.s.s of what looked like c.o.ke in one hand. She raised her hand and said h.e.l.lo then took a seat to Hailey's left. Settled at the table, she looked back over her shoulder, brow furrowed.

Hailey leaned in. "Everything okay?"

Jamie glanced at her, then back into the crowd. "I thought I saw someone."

Hailey narrowed her gaze. "Who?"

"I'm sure it's nothing," Jamie said, shrugging her shoulders in a way that looked more like a shudder than a casual motion.

When the waitress delivered new drinks, Jamie was the first to raise her gla.s.s. "To Natasha Devlin."

All eyes were on her.

"She didn't deserve that kind of an ending."

Gla.s.ses raised, clinked.

"First one down," Jess said.

Hailey nodded. Christ. A dead cop. The first of their group to die. She hadn't thought of that. Cops died. Regularly. Not just on the job but from what Hailey always considered were side-effects of it. Heart attack, driving, accidents, suicide...

A crowd in the far corner roared, their laughs like the erupting of distant applause. The women officers remained silent.

Finally, Jess spoke up. "I always thought if we lost one, it would be in uniform, you know." She shook her head, took a big swallow of beer.

Hailey searched for a way to break the silence, to give Natasha the kind of send-off she would have appreciated. Or at least to ease the tension.

"Did you guys hear about the case where Natasha went undercover?" Cameron interjected.

"As a prost.i.tute, right?" Linda asked.

Cameron nodded. "Man, she had ten cops drooling all over her. And the perp didn't even put up a fight. He would've followed her all the way up to Folsom and right into a cell."

They laughed.

"She actually got a date that night, right?"

"No way. With a john?"

Cameron laughed. "No, another cop."

Linda nodded. "Right. It was-"

"Steve Stilwell," Jess chimed in.

Linda shook her head. "Right. G.o.d, he was in love with her. Used to show up at roll call with a different-colored rose each day."

Jess nodded. "Guys in his unit called him 'Lovewell.'"

"That lasted-what-a week?"

Cameron nodded. "Three days, I think. Then she was on to Charlie Parker."

Linda nodded. "She collected phone numbers like lint."

"She loved the attention," Cameron agreed. "She never settled down."

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The Rookie Club: Dead Center Part 15 summary

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