The Rookie Club: Dead Center - novelonlinefull.com
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He choked out the name. "Natasha." He grabbed her hand and she pulled away. With nothing to hold onto, Tim collapsed to the floor, sobbing.
Jamie looked down at her darkened hands. Devlin's blood. Natasha Devlin's blood was on her hands.
She gasped for air.
Natasha Devlin was dead.
Hailey Wyatt stood at the perimeter of her children's room and watched them sleep. Camilla was almost five, a head full of brown curls and the untamed personality to match. Ali was three, straight dark hair, an even temper, and a smile as bright and as quick as a bolt of lightning. Both had their mother's brown eyes. Camilla lay sideways in her bed, facedown. Curls covered her face. Ali was on her back, arms straight beside her. So different. Hailey leaned into the doorjamb, gripped her coffee cup. G.o.d, she loved them. Felt her heart expand like a balloon when she watched them. Especially asleep. No bickering, no whining. Just her sweet beauties.
It was nearly seven fifteen. She had woken at five. They'd be up soon. Thankfully for them, they had their father's sleeping genes. Hailey turned, walked into her bedroom. She pa.s.sed her husband still asleep in bed. A larger version of Ali. Calm, sweet, peaceful. She was the restless one.
In the bathroom, she swallowed the last of her coffee and set the cup on the white tile. She started the shower, glanced in the mirror. Let the robe slip off her shoulders and stepped into the steaming water. She could never pick one. No one would ever suggest it. She could love them both. Different but equal. Camilla for her cunning, Ali for her sensitivity.
Mothers weren't supposed to admit a preference for one child over the other but, of course, they felt them. For her, it depended on the day. How much energy she had to expend, how much time she needed for herself.
Camilla was more helpful, better at doing what was required of her. Typical of the first child. Planning for a family dinner or working around the house, Camilla trailed her like a shadow, asking how she could help. She would sit and fold clothes or set the table, wash lettuce for a salad, any little task Hailey asked. As long as she could sit beside her mother and talk. But she expected the attention in return. Demanded it. On days when Hailey wanted the world to float along peacefully, unruffled like a feather falling in gentle wind, Ali was easier. Frustratingly carefree at times when there were tasks to be done, Ali never demanded.
She let the water run down her back. Hoped the steam would clear her head. Shampooed, soaped. No one ever said you could love only one child. In moments, one might be easier than the other. So why did they say you could love only one man? Because Hailey Wyatt loved two.
Just then, the shower door clicked open. John stepped in, naked. He wrapped his arms around her waist. Kissed her neck. Groaned.
"You're up," she said.
"Not by choice. Your phone rang."
He tucked his face into her neck, held her from behind.
"The dinner go okay last night?"
He groaned again. Sounded like a yes.
"You answer my call?"
She turned around, kissed his cheek. "I'd better go find out what's up."
He pulled her close, held her, ran his palms across her b.r.e.a.s.t.s. Coddled them. "How about a sick day?"
She smiled, relaxed against him. The water sprayed over their shoulders. "Rain check?"
"It's not raining."
She kissed his lips, softly. "How about an early night tonight?"
He pressed back. "Deal."
She stepped out of the shower, toweled off, and put her robe back on. Her phone was on the bedside stand. It started to ring again before she reached it.
Captain David Marshall's voice was as groggy as John's had been. "Homicide at 850 Bryant." The award ceremonies had gone long last night. She'd left long before they were over and when she left, Marshall had been holding a drink in his hand. Collar loosened, eyes a little narrow, the drink was brown liquor-Dewar's if she had to guess-on ice. It hadn't been his first and she was guessing from his voice that it wasn't his last either.
"Homicide at the station?" she repeated. "Did dispatch call you?"
He didn't answer her question. "They need you ASAP. Crime guys are already there."
She glanced at the clock. "It'll take an hour." At least the CSU would secure the scene.
"As soon as you can."
The line broke and Hailey frowned. Homicide worked in rotation. If her name was next, she got the next call, whatever it was. Normally, though, the call came from dispatch, not her captain. A homicide at the department. If it was an officer, he would have told her... wouldn't he?
She dressed quickly and when John emerged from the shower, she was nearly ready.
"You got one?"
He frowned but didn't speak. John didn't understand her job. She'd never wanted to do anything else. He'd known that when they dated. When they married. When they decided to have kids. It was reasonable that the job didn't make sense to him. Sometimes it didn't even make sense to her. Doing it just felt right. It wasn't reasonable for him to ask her to stop doing it. He rarely said anything that directly. Raised by a career politician, John was great at saying things that he could insist were innocent comments even when they both knew better. He had never suggested she quit her job but more and more, it felt like that was exactly what he was asking.
He crossed the room, stopped in front of her. He fingered a lock of hair, tucking it behind her ear. "Early night, right?"
"Promise. Have the girls call when they're up." She pocketed her phone and unlocked her holster and gun from the safe in their bedroom closet. She peeked in the girls' room one last time and was in the car by 7:40.
Traffic coming in on Highway 80 was already bad, so she used her lights to warn people aside. By the time she reached the bridge, she had a caravan on her tail, like racing cars trying to take advantage of the leader's tail wind.
Her phone rang again as she was crossing over Treasure Island.
"Hey." The voice she heard now had been up for hours.
"You already at the station?" she asked.
"Not much to do at my house alone."
That was clearly a dig. "Buck-"
"I know. Asked and answered."
Buck never said anything he didn't mean. She switched lanes, pa.s.sed a slow-moving Mercedes.
"When can I see you?" he asked.
"I caught one. At the Hall. Know what's going on?"
"No idea." He paused. "Any chance for tonight?"
Guilt. "I don't think so."
"I wish it could be different," she said. It was true, but she wasn't sure how.
"It could be," he countered.
He laughed. "I always know I'm in trouble when you use my given name. Like my mother."
"Got to tell it like it is. Call me when you get in." He hung up without saying good-bye. When they were apart for too long, he grew sullen, cool. It made him seem like another person to take care of. She tried to explain it to him once, that she couldn't take care of another person. She'd fallen for him because he was strong, unwavering, but he wasn't. No one was, really. Some people just looked that way from first glance. What she'd seen was honesty and she appreciated it. Still. Adored it for him, but it made the relationship complicated. Too complicated.
Under a blanket of gray clouds and a shroud of guilt, Hailey crossed the bridge. Always guilty. For John. For Buck. For Camilla and Ali. For everyone except herself. She had it all. If only there was a way to make it work. But there wasn't. She knew there wasn't.
At 8:20 Hailey exited the freeway at Civic Center. When she reached the street entrance to the police parking lot, it was cordoned off with bright yellow crime scene tape. She pulled perpendicular to the tape, put the car in park and scanned the faces. Dozens of them. Most from the department.
Her stomach clenched. Christ. A murdered cop. There were too many people for anything else.
The police captain of the district that included the station was there. Captain Linda James stood with a younger woman Hailey didn't recognize. The other woman was thin and tan with long legs. A model from a Lands' End catalog.
Linda waved. Hailey looked past them, making a mental list. A half-dozen people from the crime lab. Beyond them, Jamie Vail stood alone, smoking. Several discarded b.u.t.ts littered the asphalt around her feet. If possible, she looked worse than she had the night before. Rail thin as ever, the cropped cut of Jamie's hair that had once seemed manicured now looked s.h.a.ggy. Her hair had fewer highlights, and the cheeks Hailey once remembered as being covered with golden freckles were sallow.
Jamie stood ramrod straight, the veins in her neck taut, one leg behind the other like a runner ready to take off.
Hailey got out of her car as James approached, the younger woman behind her.
"Who was it?" Hailey asked, looking over at the two uniformed officers who guarded the car.
Hailey's gaze immediately traveled to Jamie Vail.
Linda nodded. "She showed up less than an hour ago. I told her."
Hailey looked back. "Surprised?"
Linda shrugged. "I think so, but I wouldn't put money on it."
Jamie Vail had a reputation as a loose cannon in the department. Some rumors suggested she was dangerous to those around her. Some of the higher-ups agreed. But Jamie's captain, Ben Jules, was a fierce defender. Jules was no pushover and Jamie was no kiss-a.s.s. Hailey knew that no matter what anyone thought, Jamie was as dedicated a professional as they came. And she was d.a.m.n good at her job. If she wasn't, she never would have lasted after the shooting incident.
And Jules wasn't alone. Anyone who had seen Jamie with her victims knew she was as good as they came. That didn't always mean stable and easy. Most of them knew that, too.
James stepped aside and motioned the other woman forward. "This is Mackenzie Wallace. She found Natasha. She's one of mine-a rookie-came to get an evidence file from upstairs."
Mackenzie nodded, said nothing. She had long straight brown hair that hung in a clean line across her shoulders and a shorter line of bangs that covered the tops of arched brows. Her eyes were a dark brown with flecks of gold. They appeared large against her olive skin. Despite her height, she looked young to Hailey, especially her eyes. Like a child taking in all new sights, most of them terrifying. Hailey wondered if it was because of the body she'd found or if Mackenzie Wallace always looked a bit overwhelmed by the world around her.
Hailey flipped open her notebook. "What time did you find her?"
"Just before three a.m. Maybe two fifty-five."
It was almost eight thirty. "And no one's been out before me?"
"There was someone else," Mackenzie said. "A tall man with blondish gray hair. Nice-looking."
Hailey searched for a match in Homicide but failed. "In uniform?"
She shook her head. "Suit."
"What did he do?"
"Made a few calls on a cell phone and then when the crime scene team came, he left. I never talked to him." She glanced at Linda. "I tried to, but he sort of waved me off."
Hailey couldn't make anything of it. She focused back on the crowd. "Can you hang around a bit? I want to hear more, but I need to check in."
"Sure," Mackenzie said.
"I've already gotten a call from the chief on this," Linda added. "It's going to be ugly. Everyone knew her-she was popular." Linda's lips thinned into a straight line at the word 'popular.' Hailey guessed that was the chief's choice of words to describe Natasha and not hers.
Hailey thought about Natasha. They'd been friends once-sort of. They'd joined the department around the same time. Not in the same academy cla.s.s, but close. Back then, there weren't many women. Hardly any, actually. Hailey had found a group she liked and tried to get Natasha to hang with the women.
Natasha had mostly pa.s.sed. Said she preferred male company. Rumor was, Natasha had had plenty of it-from the seniors in the department all the way down to the newly initiated rookies. Married, divorced, single, it hadn't much mattered. And she'd pretty much gotten away with it. Even when she'd been caught in bed with Jamie Vail's husband and Jamie had unloaded her weapon-nine rounds-into the wall behind the bed, Natasha had emerged unscathed. At least until now.
Hailey wasn't one to pa.s.s judgment. Life was complicated. People, too. What they wanted or needed, and why, was up to the individual to sort out. What bothered her about Natasha's lifestyle was that made for a long list of suspects in her murder. If the rumors were to be believed, Natasha had split up more marriages than Jamie Vail's and those that had survived her weren't always the best for the experience. That meant a lot of people with a grudge against Devlin. Take those old grudges, add a big party, alcohol and Natasha flitting about, and someone might just have decided that enough was enough.
Hailey ducked under the yellow tape and studied the car where Natasha had been found. She pulled on a pair of small, purple latex gloves and pulled the car door open. Blood on the pa.s.senger side seat and headrest. Natasha had been there. A small plastic vase was stuck to the dash. In it, a single, fabric red rose. In the middle console were several lipsticks, a bluetooth ear piece, a tin of Altoid mints. Nothing incriminating. Hailey stepped away to let a CSU tech finish doc.u.menting the inside of the car.
Hailey found Sydney Blanchard and waited while she gave directions to one of her techs, a man holding a small handheld vacuum used for sucking up hair and fibers from the scene. When Sydney looked up, she gave Hailey a wide smile.
"Looks like a blow to the head," she said brightly, a short blond curl falling into her eyes. She pushed it away with the back of her forearm and then turned and started pointing. "But the real mess is upstairs."
"What do you mean?"
"Primary crime scene is her office."