All the Best Lies


Rated: R, just to be safe.

Summary: Six months after theyve slept together, things are tense between Hunter and McCall. But just as she considers joining the FBI, he winds up with a dead woman in his bed. Hunter and McCall have to figure out what happened to her before the next bullet hits one of them.

Chapter One

Later, it would seem to McCall that the story started the way so many stories did, with sex or death. But when it was over—was it ever really over?— she found it was impossible to pinpoint the actual beginning of things. Which sex, whose death—these were questions she asked other people all the time for a living, but applying them to her own life was a whole other matter entirely.

She wasn't thinking about death much at all that night, and sex only a little bit, since it was just her third date with Agent Jack Kincaid of the FBI. Technically it was perhaps the fourth date, but she didn't count the first cup of coffee because that was more of a business proposal than anything else. It seemed the local field office was having a bit of a crisis—one agent had transferred offices, one did not return from maternity leave, and a third had been unexpectedly killed in a boating accident—and Agent Kincaid apparently thought McCall would be ideal to fill one of the vacancies.

"Of course, I can't actually offer you the job," he had said that first day.

She'd raised her eyebrows. "I haven't actually asked for it."

Jack had taught the most exciting unit at her summer forensics course, the section on the newly emerging science of DNA analysis. Now he was back in the field, pressed into duty in L.A. while the local office tried to solve their staffing issues.

"Just promise me you'll think about it," he'd said, handing her his crisp white government card.

"I'll think about it."

She hadn't really thought about it, not at first, because she already had a job she loved and a partner who depended on her. Ironically, it was Hunter who had first raised the idea of her joining the FBI, months ago, that night in her bed with just hours to go before her flight. "Maybe you'll get out there and find you want an upgrade," he'd said. "Join up with Uncle Sam and grab yourself a G-man for a partner."

He'd been teasing her; she knew the tone well after all their years together, although she'd never before heard it right up against her skin in the dark. "Tempting," she had replied, teasing him as well. "I could upgrade my wardrobe. Work classified cases. I'd be a Special Agent."

Hunter had harumphed a reply and pushed her back into the pillows. "You're my special agent, and don't you forget it."

She had laughed at the time, but six months later, she wasn't feeling so special. Hunter hadn't said a word about their night together, so she had no idea what he thought about it, or even if he thought about it at all. She might have asked. Even after six weeks of forced cheer on the phone, a continent between them, she might have worked up the courage to say something if she hadn't walked back in and found Megan Malone occupying her space as if she'd belonged there all the while.

The pain had been quick and sharp, like a knife between the ribs—up close and personal.

Once Megan left, Hunter looked at her again but never quite seemed to meet her eyes. Was he feeling guilty, or was he ashamed on her behalf, that she didn't get the message? Because she'd seen the script play out dozens of times. He moved on. So did the women. Surely McCall would too.

It's not like she was pining away fro him. Sometimes, like when he was sitting across from her with his enormous feet up on the desk, noshing loudly away on some bag of green cruciferous vegetable, ignoring his half of their workload, she had to grit her teeth to keep from snapping at him: not if you were the last man left on earth.

But other times, like when they had been out in the hills with a body, just after sunset when the air got cold, and she'd shivered slightly—the barest twitch, really—and Hunter had shrugged out of his jacket and draped it around her shoulders like it was a warm hug; these moments were harder. She'd walked back in the dark with him, following his sure-footed steps, surrounded by his scent and the memories.

Still, she'd never considered leaving. Not until he did it first. Robbery needed help for three days—round-the-clock surveillance to stop a pair of armed gunmen who had been knocking over convenience stores—and Hunter had volunteered without even mentioning it to her. They'd caught the guys after only two days, and he'd come back, whistling casually, catching up on his mail. "Did I miss anything?"

I don't know, she'd replied silently. Did you?

"No," she said aloud, "I guess not."

When she had called Jack Kincaid a week after their initial meeting, he seemed surprised but delighted to hear from her. "I'd decided you weren't interested," he had said.

"I'm interested enough to hear more," she'd replied, watching the door to the precinct bullpen. Hunter was due back from the morgue at any moment.

Jack's voice had warmed on the line. "I could send you some literature," he'd said, "but I'd rather take you to dinner."

One dinner led to three, but she hadn't made up her mind about either Jack Kincaid or the FBI. The attention from both angles was flattering, and after months of silence from Hunter, she was glad to be with a man who was at least up-front about what he wanted: her.

Jack looked a little too closely related to their Neanderthal relatives to be considered conventionally handsome—there was a lot of forehead involved—but he had intense blue eyes, long tapered fingers, and a passion for his work that practically vibrated the air around him.

"Imagine a world where you didn't have to worry about unreliable eye witnesses," he was saying as the waiter cleared away their dinner plates. "In fact, imagine a world without juries at all. Criminals might wear gloves, but they can't stop the fact that they shed all kinds of genetic material at the scene of a crime. Blood, semen, hair, skin cells—all of it perfect, scientific proof of their guilt."

She took a sip of her wine and considered his words. "Is there such a thing as perfect proof?" she asked. "I don't know that I've seen it."

"Certainly not so far," he agreed. "Fingerprints can smudge. Witnesses may lie or be mistaken. Blood type analysis can only narrow the odds. I'm talking about a future where it's one simple test that cannot lie, cannot be incorrect, and can reveal the unique identity of the killer almost every time. We have the potential to eliminate human error here."

She answered with a wry smile. "There are still humans doing the investigating, right? Taking the samples and conducting the tests, that sort of thing?"

He grinned and ducked his head, acknowledging her point. "For now," he allowed. He held up a finger. "But science is working on that part," he said, and she laughed.

"I didn't realize you hand in mind to replace me with some cyborg."

He pretended to look horrified. "You? Never." He stretched over and took her hand. "I was talking about the imperfect humans."

"Mmm," she replied, a bit skeptical of the hard sell; but she didn't pull her hand away.

He ran his thumb gently alongside her fingers. "You aren't one of those women who makes a big show out of avoiding dessert are you?"

"More like a big show of ordering it," she replied, and he sat back with a smile.

"See? Perfect."

Before she could reply, her beeper went off inside her purse. She reached for it with a sigh and flashed Jack an apologetic look. "Sorry," she said. "I'm not on call but…"

He held up his palms. "I know how it goes."

"Order me something with chocolate," she said, still feeling hopeful. The callback number was not one she recognized. Maybe it was even a mistake.

She found a pay phone by the restrooms and dialed the number from her beeper. It had barely rung once when Hunter's voice answered. "McCall?"

He sounded tense, like she caught him in the middle of something, and she checked her memory again: no, they were not supposed to be working tonight. "It's me," she replied. "What's up?"

There was a weird pause, strange enough to make her turn her back to the chatter emanating from the restaurant. The silence on his end stretched out; it was like he was physically having to dig for the words. Finally, he spoke: "My mother died."

"Oh, no." She shut her eyes as the pain in his voice washed through her. "What happened?"

"Heart attack this afternoon," he said. "I just talked to her two days ago, and she was fine."

"That's awful." She stroked the wood paneling next to the phone. "I'm so sorry, Rick."

"Yeah." He cleared his throat. "I, uh, I'm not sure why I called you. It just seemed like I should tell someone."

He sounded uncertain, and her heart squeezed inside her chest. For years, she had been that someone, no question. "I'm glad you did. Where are you? I can—I can come find you."

"No, no." There was another awkward pause. "It's Friday, you were out…"

"I want to," she insisted. "Please. You shouldn't be alone."

"Alone," he repeated strangely, as if testing out the word. "No. I'm fine, really. Go back to your evening. We'll talk soon, ok?"

She shut her eyes. That's how he had closed nearly all their conversations when she was in Quantico. Talk soon. They had spoken plenty, but she wasn't sure they had ever talked. "Right," she said tightly. "Soon."

"See you."

"Rick wait—"

A thousand things she might have said. She heard him stop short on the other end, felt him breathing as he waited. Maybe she could find the right words to keep him from disappearing...

"I'm so very sorry about your mom," she finished lamely.

"Yeah. Me too." And with a click, he was gone.


Los Angeles was a cruel place to die, Hunter had decided years ago, even before he had started working homicide and seen the putrid, stinking aftermath of a couple hundred corpses. Three hundred sunny days a year, Mother Nature's perpetual beach party in full swing, meant your deathbed was shared with gawky tourists, plastic starlets, and long-haired surfers—12 million people in total, all of whom were having a better time than you.

In her rosewood casket, Francesca Elena Dominico Hunter would have rivaled any of Hollywood's grand dames, with her softly curled hair, her Patrician nose, and her smooth, pale skin. She looked much younger than her 62 years, and Hunter couldn't quite believe they were putting her into the ground. Don't you ever mess around with these cancer sticks, she had told him when he was a boy, lighting one cigarette from another like it was a magic trick.

He'd tried a few, snuck them from her purse after his father died, and back then the acrid taste had suited him just fine. But for whatever reason, the tobacco genie never got inside him the way it had with his parents. Outside of Hunter himself, it was the one thing they'd had in common forever: both had carried around a pack of Luckys, smoking 'em right up until the day they died, too young.

I could sure go for one now, though, he thought, looking around his crowded living room. He didn't need the nicotine so much as he wanted an excuse to get the hell out of there. He had La Familia on one side and the cops on the other, each group clustering at one end of his house and casting a suspicious gaze at the other. Hunter, as always, was left in the middle, making his own way and living by no one's rules but his own. This, not his checkered past nor his chosen profession, was why neither group wholly trusted him.

"Hey," said a voice from behind him.

He turned to find her, the one person in his life who was willing to stand with him in the middle. "Hey."

McCall touched his arm. "How are you holding up?"

He tugged the collar of his pressed white shirt, ironed with a hint of starch, the way his mother had taught him. "Feels like high noon at the O.K. Corral in here."

She smiled, but he was willing to bet she was carrying too. You'd be crazy not to. She nodded in the direction of the far window, where an old man with a cane was holding court. "Is that who I think it is?"

Hunter didn't have to look. "Homer Dodd." Homer was small-time now, but he'd been larger-than-life twenty-five years ago in the Hunter family kitchen. Back then, Homer had told stories of the year he hit .450 playing AA ball in the Yankee organization. He didn't mention what he'd else done with the bat once he was no longer playing ball.

"Your mom had some interesting friends."

Hunter picked up his scotch-on-the-rocks and sucked a cube into his mouth. "These aren't friends. These are vultures."

He took his drink and stalked out onto the deck. It got late early these days—winter was just two weeks away—and the sun was sinking toward a blood-red sea. He crushed another cube between his teeth, watching the light fade away. Thank God it was almost over, this excruciating day, the last time his mother was above ground, the last day he would see her.

"Ricky," she used to say after his dad was killed. She would sit on his bed at night and stroke his hair, and even though he was long past too old for this, he would let it happen. "Tell me you love me."

"I love you."

She had needed those words so badly, and he'd been glad to give them. But for some reason, he had never been able to say them to anyone else since.

He swallowed the last of his drink and set the glass on the railing. Behind him, the door opened, and he heard McCall approach. Go away, he thought, rubbing his face with his hands. Like him, she didn't belong here. The people inside knew versions of him he'd never wanted her to see. His dad had died, and they'd gotten out, he and his mother. They were clean. Homer Dodd was just another name on a rap sheet now.

"It got chilly out here," she said, wrapping her arms around herself.

"I just needed some air."

"You don't need to make excuses to me."

"Don't I?" He looked sideways, checking with her the way he might glance at the sun to measure time or distance. The sun itself set her awash in amber light, making her glow with a warmth he could almost touch. Men were always trying to make art of his partner, and he chortled every time. When you're drooling against the side of the car on a stakeout, that's when I'm going to whip out my sketchbook, he would tell her.

Of course she was pretty. But this was beside the point, and so the besotted Romeos with their pastels and their oils always failed. They captured her image but nothing more.

There was a time he might have explained his theory to her, but not now, with alcohol in his blood and his entire past crammed to bursting within four square walls. Start talking and you never knew what might come out. Go away, he thought again, before I say something I regret.

"I think it looks like people are getting ready to leave," she said, peering over her shoulder. "I stay to help clean up."

"You don't have to do that."


She got no further because a woman came walking out of the shadows and right up onto the deck with them. "Rick," she said, sounding a little breathless. "I heard about your mom, and I'm sorry I'm late. I had to work and couldn't get away any sooner."

"Lucy." He drew up straight. "What are you doing here?"

Her eyes were as blue as he remembered, but the blonde was straight out of box now. "I told you. I heard about your mom. I wanted to…to tell you how sorry I was. She was a real sweet lady."

His brow furrowed. "She couldn't stand the sight of you," he said bluntly, and she blinked for a second. Then she laughed.

"Okay, yes. She hated me." She smiled and touched his arm. "But that's only because I stole her baby boy."

Hunter felt his face flush, and he suddenly remembered McCall was standing there, watching this whole exchange. "Uh, Lucy Salvato, this is my partner, Dee Dee McCall. McCall, meet Lucy. We went to high school together."

"About a million years ago," Lucy said cheerfully as she shook McCall's hand. She peered in the windows. "Hey, is that Uncle Dom in there? And Homer too?"

"Gang's all here," Hunter muttered. He wished like hell that he had another drink.

"You mind if I go say hi?" Lucy asked.

He made a helpless gesture. "Be my guest."

The door banged shut behind her, and he found McCall watching him with obvious curiosity. "She seems nice," she volunteered after a moment.

"I haven't seen her in twenty years." Since that night on the beach, the same beach where she'd first let him kiss her. Maybe that was why she'd picked it as a place to end things. Lucy always did have a sense for theater. Never call me again, she'd said, with no real explanation, and he'd hated her so much right then that this order suited him just fine.

"I haven't the slightest idea what she's doing here," he told McCall. "I wasn't kidding—Mom hated her guts. It was Dad who liked her, and she was nowhere to be seen when he died." Long forgotten anger flared in him, like flash paper.

"It was a long time ago." McCall reached for him but then dropped her hand before making contact. "Maybe she wasn't ready to face you then."

He hummed a reply and looked inside his house to where Lucy stood, chatting with Uncle Dom, lined up properly on one side of his past.

Later, everyone had gone but the two women. McCall was true to her word and stayed behind to clean up, and Lucy, apparently with nowhere else to be, was happy to help as she chattered away with stories about the past. "Oh my God, one time, Ricky and a couple of his buddies moved my car," she said as she accepted a wet bowl from McCall. "I about had a heart attack."

Hunter was leaning on the counter, nursing a third scotch and only half paying attention.

"They snuck over in the middle of the night and just…took it! It was a cute little white VW Beetle, brand new, and I had worked my ass off waitressing to help pay for it. I got up in the morning and found it gone! We were just ready to call the police, when my little brother spotted it halfway down the block."

"Oh yeah? What else did he do?"

"Hmm," Lucy said, toweling off a serving platter. "Once he got suspended for a day for putting white shoe polish on the toilet seats in the girls' bathroom."

"Hunter!" McCall turned to him aghast.

"It wasn't me, I swear."

"Boy, we had some times," Lucy said, all nostalgic. He took another sip and wondered what she remembered about their days on the beach.

McCall surveyed the kitchen with a sigh. "I think that's all of it."

"Thanks," he said reflexively. "To both of you." They all stood around awkwardly for a minute, and then McCall took a deep breath.

"I guess I should get going…"

Lucy flushed. "I thought I might stay for a drink—if that's okay. We haven't talked in so long."

Whatever, Hunter thought. Of the two women, Lucy was far by far the less dangerous for him to be around at that moment. "I'll walk you out," he said to McCall.

Outside, the moon was emerging from the ocean like an old man from the bath. Hunter scuffed his shoe on the wooden deck. "Thanks again for everything."

What he meant was, there were fifty people in his house today related to him by blood, but she was his only family. But he could never tell her this. There was a lot he wasn't telling her these days. Of course, she was keeping some secrets of her own. There was a new man in her life; he'd seen the signs enough times over their four years together to know what was going on. Usually, she told him about the guy about two days after he'd figured it out on his own, but it was weeks now and she hadn't said anything. The longer she was silent, the more afraid he was to ask. The idea that she might be the first one to move on had honestly never occurred to him.

"Are you sure you'll be okay?" she asked, trying to meet his gaze.

"Yeah, sure." He straightened to prove his point. McCall looked unconvinced.

"Call me if you need anything," she said.

He reached out and touched her face, just for a moment, because they both knew: he wouldn't call.

Back inside, he found Lucy, nee Lucia Donna Salvato, had helped herself to his liquor cabinet. Her loose ponytail had sagged a bit during the frenzy of cleanup, and he noticed for the first time that she appeared to be wearing a cocktail dress to his mother's funeral. They sat together on his couch and she removed her heels.

"I wasn't surprised to hear you'd become a cop," she said, slouching like she was the teenager from his memories. "You were always coming to my rescue. You remember when Doug Gleeson tore up all those posters I'd made for homecoming? You held him upside down by his ankles until he turned blue and agreed to pay me back every cent, plus interest."

Hunter smirked. "I remember."

"And you remember when Amanda Tolliver told my parents I was going with her family to Santa Barbara for the weekend, but really I was staying with you?"

Hunter shifted uncomfortably. Their first time. His first time. Of course he remembered. But then three months later, she'd dumped him cold without any explanation.

Lucy took his hand gently in hers. His skin prickled outward from her touch. "You remember," she said softly. "You remember how you said that you wanted to marry me?"

He'd been sixteen. He'd said a lot of really stupid stuff back then.

"Do you remember?" she asked again, and there were tears in her eyes. "Because I can never forget."


Funerals, forgive the irony, always made her sleep like the dead. It was emotionally exhausting even when she didn't know the deceased, and watching Hunter bury his mother, aching for him but being unable to say so, had taken every inch of her reserves. McCall took a quick shower and fell into bed, asleep as soon as she hit the pillow.

This was why it took her longer than usual to realize her phone was ringing. She groped for it in the darkness, feeling around blindly until at last the noise stopped. "Hello?" she said, her eyes still closed.


"Hunter," she said, instantly more awake. She squinted at the clock and saw the time read just after four a.m.. "What's going on?"

"I need you to come over here right now."

"Now?" She understood how grief could hit you like a rolling stone in the middle of the night, but her bed was warm and toasty and it would be light again in just a few hours…

"Now. Make sure you aren't followed."

This sent a chill through her, and she sat up straight. "What's going on?"

"Just get here soon, will you?"

She threw on the closest available clothing and hurried to her car. His tone suggested Code 3, but the order not to be followed said no lights or siren. Fortunately, traffic was light and she was able to make good time. The horizon was just beginning to brighten when she slid the car to a stop in Hunter's driveway. No lights were on in the house, and she saw no obvious sign of disturbance.

Cold, wet air greeted her, and she realized she'd forgotten a coat. Cautiously, she went up the stairs, the creak of the wood beneath her feet too loud for the otherwise quiet morning. She reached for the doorknob and startled when the door flew open to reveal Hunter standing there in boxers and nothing else. He had a gun in his hand, but it wasn't police-issue. Her heart rate picked up a notch.

"Hunter?" He motioned for her to get inside, but his face was unreadable in the gray light. He peered out into the murky gray territory behind her and then shut the door.

"What's going on?" she asked in a low voice.

"This way," he said. "Don't touch anything."

She followed him to the back of his house, to the narrow staircase that led up to the bedrooms on the second floor. Partway up, she smelled it: gunpowder. She withdrew her own piece on instinct.

At the door to the bedroom, Hunter stopped and reached around to flick on the light switch. Then he moved aside so she could see: a woman, naked but tangled in the sheets, her head surrounded by a halo of blood and feathers.

"Oh my God," McCall breathed. It was the woman from before. Lucy. The metallic scent of blood now filled up her senses and she knew immediately there was no hope. The dead always smelled the same.

"I went to shower downstairs so I wouldn't wake her," Hunter said grimly. "This is what I found when I got back up here." He gestured with his gun at the bed.

"Hunter…" A thousand different possibilities flew through her head, all of them bad. What the hell happened?

"I checked the place. It's clear."


"Not that I saw."

She blew out a shaky breath. "You've got to report it."

"No shit I have to report it." He was tense, anxious. She didn't blame him. They were standing in a room full of dynamite.

"If this happened while you were in the shower," she said, "someone was waiting for that tiny window of opportunity. Someone, somehow, got in here with a gun and—"

"They didn't bring a gun."


He nodded at the bed. "Take a closer look."

She didn't want to look. She didn't want it to get any worse than it already was. But somehow she forced herself to step forward, closer to the grisly scene, and when she saw it, she froze in horror. There, in the sheets, lay Hunter's police-issue revolver.


Chapter Two

"…completely and summarily fired."

"Hmm?" McCall was standing with Charlie Devane outside of Hunter's beach house, but she wasn't paying much attention to what the Captain was saying. Instead, she watched as the crime scene investigators trooped in and out of Hunter's house, carrying bits of evidence away with them, like ants raiding a picnic.

"Are you getting this?" Charlie asked her, and the edge in his voice forced her attention back to the conversation.

"Fired," she said. "Captain, you wouldn't really do that to him. You have to know he didn't do this."

Charlie frowned. "Not him—you. Hunter is suspended with pay pending the outcome of this investigation. You are to go nowhere near it."

"What? I—"

"Nowhere near it," he repeated forcefully. "Your interference will not help him here. I'm going to be watched from above on this as it is, and we're all going to be signing off reports to IA at every turn. This case belongs to Bebinger and Ruiz. If they ask you questions, you will answer them, but apart from that, you are to stay clear."

McCall glanced over to where Hunter was talking to Mark Bebinger and Renee Ruiz—the only other male/female team in their division. No doubt he was answering questions he'd had to ask of others a thousand times before. Without really thinking it about it, she started to drift closer so she could hear what they were saying.

"McCall!" She looked back over her shoulder at the Captain. "Did you hear anything I just said?"

"Stay out of it," she repeated with a short nod. "I heard you. But I still have to give my statement…"

Charlie gave her a look that was somewhere between defeated and disgusted, like he knew every bit of what was to come but couldn't figure out how to stop it. The scene was already threatening to spin out of control. At the outer ring, back into the street, was a row of cars and vans—news people, onlookers, anyone angling for a better view. The next ring belonged to the cops, a mix of black-and-whites and unmarked vehicles, punctuated at the end with the Coroner's van. Finally, crowded in Hunter's narrow driveway, was the epicenter: his car and hers. She couldn't have left even if she'd wanted to; there was no way to move.

And where did Lucy's car go, she thought to herself. She looked at Bebinger and Ruiz, wondering if they had thought to ask the question, or if maybe she should ask it for them. Devane could hardly fire her for that.

Hunter was in his defensive posture, arms folded and jaw set in a hard line. She inched closer until she stood somewhere near his right elbow, and Bebinger acknowledged her presence with a frown. He was a smart cop—smart enough to know that any sort of outside stabilizing presence was not going to help the interrogation of his suspect.

"So how long were you in the shower?" Bebinger asked.

"I told you," Hunter replied. "Ten or fifteen minutes."

"And what time did you start the shower?"

Hunter rubbed his head with one hand. Clearly they had been over this already. "Around three forty-five."

Ruiz was taking the notes. McCall couldn't see what she was writing, and she knew she wouldn't be able to parse it anyway. Ruiz had been a secretary before becoming a cop, and she used dictation shorthand when recording witnesses' initial statements. She was fast, accurate, and deadly with her pen: there were at least three guys sitting on death row, convicted with their own words as read into the official court records from Renee Ruiz's notebook.

McCall was anxious on Hunter's behalf, just watching Ruiz track every last thing he said. Don't say anything stupid, she willed him silently.

Bebinger kept his tone neutral as he persisted with the questions. "So do you usually shower at three forty-five in the morning?"

"I shower whenever I feel like taking a shower," Hunter replied evenly.

"Before you said it was a little after three-thirty," Ruiz said, looking back in her notes. "Would you like to amend that to three-forty-five?"

"No, I would not like to amend it. I would like to go on record as saying I consider 'a little after three-thirty' and 'three-forty-five' to be essentially the same damn time."

McCall tensed as he got snappish. Of course they all knew the routine: ask the same questions over and over, look for inconsistencies in the story, and then keep pushing until you get to the truth. In Hunter's case, she wasn't sure the truth was going to help him.

"Let's go back to the girl for a second," Bebinger said, and just the words conjured up Lucy's image, pale and still in Hunter's bed. Chronologically, Lucy Salvato was no girl; she had to have been about Hunter's age because they'd gone to high school together, but somehow the word 'girl' seemed better suited to the coltish, sad-eyed woman McCall had met the night before. "You broke up with her in high school?" Bebinger asked.

"She broke up with me. It was more than twenty years ago."

"And you hadn't seen her since."

"I saw her in school for a while afterward, yeah. But then my dad died, we moved, and I did not see her again until she walked up onto my porch yesterday evening."

"And you were there when she arrived?"

McCall was so intent on following Hunter's narrative for missteps that she didn't notice at first when Bebinger trained his questions on her. "Oh," she said, when she realized they were all looking at her. "Yes, I was there."

"Ms. Salvato was alone at the time?"

"As far as I could tell." She decided she would not volunteer her confusion about the location of Lucy's car; the safest play was to answer only the questions put to her and hope like hell she did not contradict anything Hunter had said in the process.

"How did she seem to you?"

Nice. Out of her element. A little lonely. "Uh, she seemed fine." The other detectives just waited, like they were expecting more. McCall straightened her shoulders. "I didn't know the woman," she said. "I have no idea what she was usually like."

Hunter made some sort of noise that sounded like agreement, as if he didn't have any idea either. Bebinger and Ruiz took her through the entire evening, from the clean-up in the kitchen and the drinks Hunter and Lucy had consumed to the moment she had left them alone together.

"Was Ms. Salvato intoxicated at the time?" Bebinger wanted to know.

McCall glanced at Hunter but he wasn't looking at her. He was staring over Ruiz's head into the distance. "I, uh, I couldn't say."

"What about your partner? Was he intoxicated?"

She remembered the scotch in his hand and his slightly watery gaze. I never should have left you, she thought. "I couldn't say that either," she said, and Bebinger looked annoyed for a second.

"You've been partners for years and you're telling me you couldn't tell if he'd had too much to drink?"

McCall looked at the pen hovering over Ruiz's notebook. "I saw him have two drinks," she said carefully. "That's all I can tell you."

"Right," Bebinger noted, an edge to his voice. "So you left, and then you," he said, turning his attention back to Hunter, "you and Ms. Salvato continued your conversation. At some point, you retired to the bedroom—for sex."

McCall felt herself flush and looked at the ground to hide it. Hunter said nothing. The silence stretched out for a long moment, and then Bebinger blew out a long breath.

"Listen," he said, softening, "we hate this just as much as you do, you know? But we gotta ask the questions."

Hunter still said nothing. Ruiz was flipping through her notes. "Here's the question you should be asking yourself," she told Hunter. "If everything you have said is correct, and you didn't know Ms. Salvato was coming to see you, and you didn't plan to sleep with her, and you weren't in the habit of showering at three-thirty or three-forty-five in the morning—how did the killer just happen to find her here and seize this itty bitty window of time?"

McCall watched Hunter's face as he absorbed all of this. "I don't know," he said finally. "I guess it's your job to find out." He pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket and opened it before handing it over to Bebinger.

"What's this?"

"A list of everyone who was in the house yesterday. You wanted to know how the killer could've arrived so conveniently. Maybe he never left." He nodded at the handwritten note. "I took the liberty of starring everyone I know who's been arrested for felony assault or worse."

"Lotta names here," Bebinger said as he looked over the list.

Ruiz leaned over to look too. McCall saw the way Bebinger felt her interest and tilted the paper, seemingly on instinct, so that his partner could read with him. McCall wondered idly if they were personally involved—neither had a wedding ring—but then kicked herself mentally for the speculation. She hated the rumors when they were directed at her, all the male cops assuming that of course she'd slept with Hunter, and you know, if that were the case, then maybe they could be next in line. She'd thought at one time that it would be the worst thing, to sleep with Hunter and have everyone find out about it, but once it had actually happened, no one was really the wiser, and she found out she didn't give a crap what everyone else thought anyway. Only one person's opinion mattered to her at all, and he wasn't saying anything.

"Homer Dodd?" Ruiz said, jerking McCall's thoughts back to the present. "He was killing people for a living at one point, wasn't he?"

"He's an old man with bad knees now," Hunter said. "I don't think he could've climbed the stairs in ten minutes, let alone killed someone and disappeared off the property."

"This guy has two stars," Bebinger said. "Arnie Newman."

"The men on that list, most of 'em have some sort of record," Hunter said. "But Arnie's the only one I busted personally. He beat up a girlfriend of his pretty badly around ten years ago. The girl didn't want to testify, so Arnie got off with a slap on the wrist."

"Must've made for some awkward Thanksgiving dinners," Ruiz remarked.

"We'll check it out," Bebinger said as he pocketed the list. "We'll check out everything, and then we'll be in touch."

"Can't wait," Hunter said shortly. He took out his sunglasses and put them on.

The other detectives walked back toward the house, and Hunter watched them go. Then he glanced down at her. "Sorry you got pulled into the middle of all of this," he said.

She said nothing because at that moment, the men from the Coroner's office emerged with Lucy's body, zipped up and carried on a stretcher. McCall hesitated for a second before touching Hunter's arm. "I'm sorry about your friend," she said.

"Yeah." He tore his gaze away from the van. "She wasn't a friend. She was…she was just someone I used to know."

"Then why…?"

He squinted in the direction that Ruiz and Bebinger had gone. "They were right. I had too much to drink. She was there. I spent all day thinking about the past…" He shook his head. "I tell you what, I would take it back in a second if I could."

That, McCall thought as she looked around at the chaos, was the understatement of the century.

"What are you going to do now?" she asked.

He gave a half shrug. "I was going to drive up to my mom's place and get some of her stuff. I guess I can still do that much. After that, I plan to find out what the hell went down in my house last night."

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. "You can't work this case, Hunter. If Charlie hears that you're anywhere near it, you'll get fired."

"I could go to prison, McCall. You think a little thing like job security is important to me right now?"

"Everyone knows you didn't do this."

Hunter scanned the crowd. "I wouldn't be too sure on that. Besides, we both know that the best suspect is often the one you can convict. Well, I'm about signed, sealed and delivered right now."

She bit her lip. He wasn't entirely wrong in his assessment of the current situation. "Okay," she said, trying to look casual. There were fifty different law enforcement personnel and a bunch of reporters there to watch their every move. "Where do you want to start?"

Hunter looked alarmed. "Uh-uh. No way." He started walking away from her. "You go home. I'm not going to let you risk your career over this."

"If not this, then what?" she demanded, trailing after him.

He halted and she nearly bumped into him. "I appreciate the offer," he said as he turned to face her. "I do. But they just carted one woman out of here in a body bag, so I really don't think you standing here next to me right now is the healthiest idea for you."

"So—what? You're going to go charging off to shake down everyone at the funeral yesterday and this will make the killer confess? You think they won't see you coming a mile away? I wouldn't be worried about my safety here, Hunter. You were the one with a killer in your house last night."

He shook his head, denying her arguments. "Can't risk it."

"It's my risk," she said. "And you need me—I'm the one who's allowed through the precinct doors." She nudged him. "Besides, we're still partners, right?"

He chuffed a laugh. "For now." Frowning, he took off his sunglasses and peered down at her. They looked at each other for a long moment. "Okay," he said at last. "Partners."

McCall looked around again, conscious that they were still being watched. If Charlie even suspected what they were up to, he'd probably fire them and have them thrown in jail for obstruction, just to drive home the point. "Okay," she said, "then what's our first move?"

"If you were Ruiz and Bebinger, where would you go next?"

She considered a moment. "Victim's house. Try to talk to her close friends or family."

"That's right. So we're going to start with where she worked—a night club called The Sting Ray."

"Didn't they have a shooting last year?"

"You see why they're first on the list."

"I'll talk to Marty Fleischman over in Vice, see what he knows about the place." A discreet inquiry ahead of Ruiz and Bebinger would not likely show up on Devane's radar. "I've got something else to think about, too," she said. Off his curious look, she explained: "Where's Lucy's car?"

Hunter did the same thing she had done, and looked around at the crush of cars surrounding them.

"I don't see any vehicles unaccounted for," McCall continued. "So if someone dropped her off here…"

"Someone else knew she was here." He almost smiled at her, shaking his head, bemused.

"What?" she asked, a little indignant that he seemed to be surprised.

"Nothing. I'm just real glad you're on my team."


Hunter drove the forty-five minutes to his mother's apartment with a paper cup of coffee in one hand and the steering wheel in the other. He knew the route so well it would be easy to switch to autopilot, but he coached himself to pay attention. He'd looked away from his life for a few short hours, and the entire thing had gone straight to hell.

"How could you have not heard the gunshot?" Bebinger had wanted to know.

Hunter had been standing in the downstairs shower, half hung-over, water rushing past his ears. But really, he hadn't heard much of anything that day. So sorry. What a terrific lady she was. After a while, he'd tuned everything out.

He glanced in his rearview mirror to see if he was being followed. If he'd been Ruiz and Bebinger, he might have put a tail on him, just to see if he'd do anything incriminating. He half hoped there was someone back there watching so he could show them what a good boy he was being. Maybe then they'd get bored and go away.

He saw no obvious signs of being watched, however, and no one turned into the apartment complex after him. He dug out his spare key to his mother's place and jogged up the steps two at a time. She'd lived in the same economical one-bedroom unit for the last ten years, but it was never home to him. He hadn't even spent a night on the couch. Still, the sight of her things made him ache—the well-kept floral sofa with her hand-sewn accent pillows, the antique end table, the newspaper sitting folded open to the crossword puzzle on the kitchen table.

He looked down at her familiar handwriting and stroked the newsprint gently. I'm in a hell of a mess here, Ma, he thought. He was almost glad she wasn't around to see it. After everything his father had put her through, Hunter had vowed never to be an embarrassment himself.

He straightened up and left the newspaper where he'd found it. Eventually, the whole place would have to be cleaned out, but for now, he needed only her financial account information. He went to search through the small desk she kept in the corner of her bedroom, feeling like an interloper the whole time. There was never any need for him to be back here; they ate their meals together in the warmth of the kitchen. He tried to ignore the scent of her perfume and the blue silk robe lying across the end of the bed.

His mother kept neat records, so he found her checkbook and bank account information easily. Only when he stood up to leave did he notice something odd on the bedroom floor—a pair of men's brown slippers partially hidden under the bed. He knelt to investigate further, but there was nothing else to see: the underside of the bed was neat as a pin. Frowning, he went into the bathroom and checked the medicine cabinet, where he found shaving cream and a men's razor.

"Who the hell are you?" he asked the can of shaving cream. He'd had dinner once a week with his mother, and talked to her by phone more often than that, but she had never once mentioned anything about a man in her life.

Hunter went back to the desk and rifled through it some more, this time looking for clues to the mystery man's identity. He found birthday cards she'd saved from friends and family; a few old pictures; receipts from a new TV and VCR combination she had purchased six months ago. There was nothing to reveal the man his mother had known well enough to invite into her bed, and it was plain by now that she had not cared for Hunter to know him.

Defeated, he sat there surrounded by his mother's things, but they were silent as her grave.


The name Marty Fleischman conjured up a nice Jewish boy from the Bronx, but the man who pulled up on his flaming red '79 Shovelhead had a scruffy goatee, a sleeve full of ink on his arm and three stud earrings in his right ear. Both McCall and the ponytailed waitress from the café stopped what they were doing to watch him park the bike and amble over to the skinny outside table where McCall sat. "Nice ride," she said as he took off his sunglasses.

"Purrs like a tiger," he agreed. "You should let me take you out sometime."

"Maybe. Sometime."

He flashed her a grin and spread his hands. "I've got all day."

"Yeah, well, I don't," she said, gesturing at the seat across from her.

Marty touched the arm of the waitress, who was still ogling. "Get me a coffee—black—would you please, sweetheart?"

She nodded and hurried off, and McCall shook her head as Marty lowered his considerable frame into the narrow wooden chair. "It's 1987 now, Fleischman," she said. "You don't call the waitresses 'sweetheart' anymore."

He stretched across toward her, and she could smell him—sweat, cologne and leather. "You can," he replied, "if you really, really mean it." The waitress returned with his coffee, and they said nothing until she had disappeared from earshot again. "I don't get up before noon for just anyone, McCall," he said eventually. "What do you need?"

"I need to know everything you've got on a nightclub called The Sting Ray."

"Everything? That's like—an encyclopedia."

"So give me the highlights."

He sighed. "The place is bad news. Shootings, stabbings, dope deals. About a year ago, one of their girls went missing. Tony Sacco, the owner, said she left after her shift and he had no idea what could have happened to her. Her car turned up eight blocks away, stripped for parts, but there was no sign of the girl. She had two cats she adored and her apartment was untouched, with her suitcases sitting right there in the closet. This wasn't some planned disappearance."

"You think the owner did something to her, Tony…?"

"Sacco," he supplied. "Beats the crap out of me. He's a POS with a rap sheet that reads like an instruction manual for 'how to be a punk', but it's mostly small-time stuff. There are bigger, badder dudes that go in and out of that place all night long. Could've been any one of them that got to her." He hesitated. "So I'm presuming this little fishing trip we're on has to do with Hunter, am I right?

McCall's pulse picked up but she did her best to keep a straight face. This was the problem with using other detectives for clues—they were always looking for clues of their own. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, save the wide-eyed innocent act for someone who hasn't seen the news," he said, taking up his coffee cup. "Or better yet, save it for Devane. He's going to have your ass if he catches you working Hunter's case."

"So he won't catch me."

"Ballsy. I like that in a woman." Marty eyed her over the rim of his cup. "What's the connection to the Sting Ray?"

She hesitated. To get something, you had to give something. "The victim worked there. I don't know if there's any connection between that and what happened to her, but we have to start somewhere."

"We? Hunter's in on this too?"

"Wouldn't you be, if it were you?"

"Hey, I know better than to lie down with anything that comes crawling out of that club."

McCall let that go for the moment. "Tell me more about this other woman who disappeared."

"Like I said, it was about a year ago—late November. Her name was Sandra Pham. She was twenty-four and pretty but already had a lot of miles on her. You know the type. She was in the system early, raised half by a series of foster parents and half by a mother who loved the bottle more that she loved Sandra. Sandra herself loved blow, and a lot of it. She was busted for possession twice and solicitation three times, the last arrest about eight months before she disappeared. One theory says she went off to get high, OD'ed and ended up in a ditch somewhere, and I can't prove it isn't true."

"Okay, thanks. I appreciate the help, and if I find out anything that might be related, I'll be sure to let you know." She took out her wallet to pay for their coffees.

"You're not thinking of going in there," Marty said with a frown.

"It's a lead—gotta check it out."

"Dee Dee…" He paused until she looked at him. "Be careful, okay? Be very careful. If our little conversation here is on the money, there's already two dead women connected to that place. You go in there, you're going to find nothing but trouble. Don't let it follow you home."


The only person to follow her home was Hunter. He was waiting downstairs in her living room as she worked in the bathroom on her transformation. The auburn wig was itchy, but it would have to do. She had on a black leather miniskirt that she swore was getting shorter with each passing year, as well as a red spandex top and a wire taped strategically inside her bra. Dee Dee McCall made enough money now to be able to afford high-end cosmetics, but her alter ego would have been working with drug-store brands, so she dug around in the back of the drawer until she found an old cheap palette of purple eye shadow.

Satisfied, she tugged down the skirt once more and went to face Hunter. "Well?" she asked from the top of the stairs. "What do you think?"

He frowned up at her. "I don't like it."

"Really? I can change…"

"No, not the outfit. This whole situation. I don't like the idea of you going in there alone."

"Hunter, we've been over this," she said as she carefully negotiated the stairs in her high heels. "I have to go by myself if we want to learn anything at all. If the murder is at all related to this club, then you might as well just announce your presence at the door. Plus, if we go in as ourselves, asking questions, then it would take about two seconds for the story to get back to Devane, and then where would we be?"

"Cooling our heels in an eight-by-ten cell," he said with a sigh.

"Exactly." She picked up her jacket to go, but Hunter hung back, sulking and slouching. "Look," she said, "I'm just going in to get a feel for the place, right? Nothing fancy this time around. And you'll be able to hear me the entire time."

"Yeah, and if anything goes down, I'll be sitting outside in my car with a real nice view of the front door."

"Nothing's going down." It was past 10pm, and she'd been up since around four; she didn't have the energy to take on a room full of mobbed-up, coked-up, well-armed felons. If all went well, she would blend in with the scenery and then disappear with no one the wiser. "Okay," she said, taking a deep breath. "I look all right then?"

He eyed her as he reached for his jacket, which was slung over the back of her sofa. "You look like Ginger."


"No, from Gilligan's Island."

She rolled her eyes. "It'll have to do. Let's go before I fall asleep in these shoes."

"Ten-four, little buddy," he said, but at least he opened the door.

They drove across the city to The Sting Ray, where Hunter parked a discreet distance away from the club. He took up his binoculars and eyeballed the front door. "The place is hopping," he reported. "Who says crime doesn't pay?"

"Save my seat," McCall said as she prepared to leave.

"Wait." He stopped her with a hand on her arm. "Be careful, all right?"

"I'm always careful," she assured him breezily, but he did not loosen his grip. "Hunter…"

"Any sign of trouble, and you're out of there," he said. His eyes were dark in serious in the low light. "I mean it. I'm willing to risk a whole hell of a lot to get out of this mess, but I am not willing to risk you. Understand?"

She looked at him for a moment. "Yeah, okay."

"Okay," He gentled his hold and then gave her a squeeze. "And thanks."

"I haven't done anything worth thanking me for yet," she said, trying to lighten the mood with a smile.

Hunter remained serious. "Yeah, you have." He nodded at the door. "Go on, will you, so we can get out of here and get some sleep."

She left the warmth of the car for the chilly evening, her heels clicking on the pavement as she walked the long half-block toward the club. She could smell it and hear it coming, as a mixture of music and cigarette smoke billowed out from the open door. The thump, thump of the repetitive bass line seemed to match her increased heart rate as she crossed the dark threshold.

Inside, the music was even louder. The place was clearly not meant for conversation. A hundred or so frenzied bodies pressed together on the dance floor, moving as if one living being in time with the beat. The strobe light flashed periodically, illuminating the smoke in the air.

McCall threaded her way around the back perimeter, working in and out of the small groups of onlookers. Even in the dim light, she counted no fewer than five men who were carrying—the bulges noticeable beneath the form-fitting clothes. Nearer to the bar, there were stand-up cocktail tables with mirrored surfaces, apparently designed to echo the one long mirror behind the bar. It was offset with a frame of blue neon, and two busy bartenders in black T-shirts with white sting rays on the front.

There was a balcony against one wall, and she could see shadowed figures up there moving behind the frosted windows. Offices, maybe. Perhaps Tony Sacco himself was up there. McCall looked around but she didn't see an obvious staircase, so it had to be in back someplace.

She ordered a Cosmopolitan at the bar, from the younger, skinnier guy, who gave her a curious gaze. His hair was shaved on one side and long on the other. She used her hair to obscure her face as she accepted the drink; bartenders were better even than cops at remembering faces, and she didn't especially want to be remembered.

She took her drink and went to stand against the wall, out of the way, where she could observe the action. Women in tight T-shirts and short skirts ferried drinks back and forth to the tables. McCall didn't pay them much attention until a pair of them passed close by, one hissing at the other, "She was shot by a cop!"

McCall tracked the two of them with her eyes, watching as they continued some heated conversation off to the right side of the bar. She had no way to determine what was being said, so she glanced around to make sure no one was watching her, and then sidled closer. She got as close as she dared—about five feet away—but she could still only make out fragments of conversation.

"—told her she was being an idiot."

"You don't know—"

"Tony said she'd pay."

"—wonder what else she told him."

McCall tried to press her luck by getting even closer, but the blonde one with the big pink lips noticed her presence. "Can we help you?" she said, her tone plainly suggesting she did not in fact wish to render any assistance.

"Uh, just looking for the ladies' room," McCall said.

"It's that way," the blonde told her, indicating the back of the club.

"Okay, thanks." McCall was forced to walk away.

She wandered in the direction of the bathrooms, dodging drunk or high people as she went. One guy fell into her and tried to cop a feel in the process. "Excuse me," she said, and put her heel down on his foot. He limped away, cursing her, and she continued on with her mission. Maybe she could find the staircase back here.

The hallway to the bathrooms was dark and stank like hairspray and marijuana. She drifted further in, past the doors and away from the blaring music, to where a heavy black curtain hung at the end of the hall. Nothing dangerous, she'd promised Hunter. But there was no way to get anything more without looking a bit deeper.

She bit her lip and raised her hand to part the curtain.

"Can I help you?"

She jerked around at the touch of a hand on her shoulder. Standing there, blocking all the light, was an enormous, muscle-bound man with heavy-lidded eyes and a thick shock of dark hair. "Oh, sorry, just a bit disoriented I guess," she replied. "Lost my way."

He did not move to let her pass. "You looking for something?"

"Me? No."

"Because I was watching you out there, and you seem like you might be looking for something." He reached out to touch the sleeve of her blouse with one finger. "Pretty lady, all by herself—I thought, maybe she's looking for a date. But then I find you back here where you are not supposed to be." He nodded at the white sign on the wall next to the curtain that said EMPLOYEES ONLY. "So now I'm thinking, maybe you're looking for trouble."

Easy, Hunter, McCall thought. She forced her tone to be light. "No trouble," she said. "I'll just be going."

"What's your name?" the man asked, as if she hadn't spoken.

"My name?"

He waited, not amused or charmed by her in the least. She was starting to squirm. "Everyone's got one," he said flatly.

"Uh, it's Ginger," she said. She hoped Hunter would read that as an A-OK sign.

"Ginger," he repeated. "That's nice. I'm Jake. I'm in charge of security here."

"Oh, wow," she said, making big eyes at him. "That's great. I feel more secure already."

"Oh yeah?" He was still blocking her path. "I'd feel more secure if you could tell me what you were doing poking around back here…Ginger."

She thought fast. "Well, you were right—I am looking for something. I'm looking for a job. I thought maybe there was a manager I could speak to…?"

"Manager doesn't take drop-in appointments," he said.

"Maybe I could come back then," she replied brightly. He looked at her closely, and she could feel him trying out whether to believe her. When his position softened, she knew she'd convinced him.

"You know, Ginger, this might be your lucky day." He reached out and fingered the end of her hair. "We just happen to have an opening."

McCall had a sudden flash of Lucy, dead in Hunter's bed. "Oh yeah?"

"Maybe you could come by tomorrow afternoon. Say…after three?"

McCall didn't get to reply, because the walkie-talkie on Jake's belt went off. The voice that crackled through the line was urgent: "Jake, we got cops at the door."

Jake snatched up the walkie-talkie. "Stall 'em. I'll get Tony." He walked off without a backwards glance, but McCall wasn't especially relieved. She followed a moment later, pausing at the door to the hall. Cops, the guy at the door had said. Probably not Hunter.

She carefully merged into the crowd, keeping her head down as she worked her way back toward the front door. She halted about ten feet away and risked a quick look. Shit. There were Ruiz and Bebinger, loitering at the gate, looking annoyed at the bouncer. McCall flattened up against the wall and tried to figure out her best move. There had to be a back door out of here somewhere.

She barely had time to consider it before the Detectives were on the move, heading right for her. A wig and some makeup were not going to be enough disguise to fool them. Desperate, she turned half toward the wall and held her breath, her heart pounding in her ears.

Ruiz passed so close that the sleeve of her coat brushed McCall's arm. But whatever they were looking for at the club, it wasn't her, and so they didn't even slow down as they passed.

McCall exhaled in thankful reprieve when they disappeared into the crowd. Then she quickly disappeared herself.


Hunter stood, barefoot and bleary-eyed, waiting for the coffee to finish dripping into the pot. It was almost one in the morning, hardly the best time for this, but he'd needed something to do with his hands while she showered away the nightclub grime. He'd poured two mugs by the time she appeared, fresh-faced and wearing pajamas. She looked less artful with all the makeup gone, but younger and softer somehow. He knew, if he looked, he would find a tiny constellation of three freckles beneath her left eye. But he only knew they were there because of the one morning he'd been near enough to kiss them, and it didn't seem likely she would let him get that close again.

"Coffee?" she said, sounding grateful. "Hunter, I think I love you." He smiled as she caught herself. "I mean…"

"Relax. I know it's the caffeine monkey talking." He handed her a mug.

"I have cookies around here somewhere," she said as she opened a cabinet door.

His stomach rumbled at the news. He hadn't eaten a thing all day. McCall retrieved the chocolate-chip cookies and set them out on a plate, which they took to her living room. He sank into the sofa with a groan while she sat cross-legged on the other end. "You don't have to do this, you know," he said.

"Eat this cookie?" She paused with it halfway to her mouth. "I'd like to see you try and stop me."

"No, I mean you letting me stay here. I can find a motel."

"Please," she replied, waving him off. "It's no big deal. Plus, this way I can keep an eye on you."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Make sure you don't run off and do something stupid."

He sighed and reached for a cookie. "I think I've done enough stupid stuff for right now," he said.

McCall suddenly wasn't looking at him anymore. "You mean Lucy," she said eventually.

"Yeah, Lucy."

"Why'd you guys break up—back then?"

He rubbed his face with one hand. "You know, I'd tell you if I could, but I have no idea what the hell happened. One day, everything was perfect, and the next, she wanted nothing to do with me. I know at the time I pressed her for answers but she wouldn't talk to me. She seemed…I don't know, really upset, like I'd hurt her somehow, but I swear I hadn't done anything—not as far as I know."

He remembered how unfair it had felt. She'd made all the decisions, and he had no say in the matter. We're over, it's done, good-bye. So maybe, just maybe, when she'd reached for him the other night, he might have felt a niggling of satisfaction that he was getting the last word: See. You were wrong.

It sure as hell didn't make him feel proud anymore.

"The girls at the club made it sound like she sought you out deliberately," McCall said. "Like she had something to tell you."

He'd searched his fuzzy memory already and come up empty. "I don't know what it could have been. We talked about family, about people from school. She mentioned her job but she didn't say anything specific about it. Nothing that seemed like it might have gotten her killed." He leaned back into the overstuffed cushions and closed his eyes. "I don't know. I don't know why she would have come all that way to tell me something and then never said whatever it was she came to say."

McCall was quiet for a moment. "Maybe she just didn't have the chance," she said finally.

Hunter kept his eyes closed. "My mom was seeing someone."


"Some guy. I don't know who. I found his slippers and bathrobe and shaving stuff when I went over to her place today." He pushed forward again and looked at McCall. "She never said a damn thing to me about him. There were guys before—I met them and knew them—why would she keep this one a secret?"

"I don't know. Why do you think she did?"

"I have no idea." He paused and looked at the floor. "I thought you might have some special insight—you know, given that you're doing the same thing."

She froze for a second; he could see it out of the corner of his eye. "Excuse me?"

"The guy you're seeing." He risked a quick glance at her. "Were you ever going to mention him?"

"Hunter, please."

"Please what?"

"It's really late. Can we not do this now?"

"I don't know, McCall, my life is pretty full these days, what with being wanted for murder and all. I thought maybe you could pencil me in for a few minutes here. How long could it take to tell me the guy's name?" He sounded petulant, but he didn't care. He'd kissed her good-bye at the airport and waited anxiously for six weeks for her to come home, but the woman who'd turned was distant and remote. She had stolen his best friend.

"His name is Jack," she said. "Are you happy now?"

He scowled in return. "Overjoyed. Delighted. Positively effervescent."

"Great," she said flatly, and picked up her mug. She stalked off into the kitchen.

When she was gone, the fight drained out of him. McCall was about all he had going for him right about now, and he ought to know better than to rankle her. He went and found her in the kitchen, where she was bracing herself against the sink. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked her, and her shoulders sagged.

She shrugged but didn't turn around, so he took a step closer. "I don't know," she said eventually. She faced him and folded her arms across her chest. "I guess I figured you wouldn't care."

He furrowed his brow. "Why wouldn't I care about you?"

The question hung there between them for a long moment. "I don't know, Hunter—why wouldn't you?" She sighed and gestured toward the spare room. "I put towels on the bed if you need them. I'll see you in the morning, okay?"

"Sure. I'll just clean up here."

She left and he busied himself washing the mugs and rinsing the cookie plate. He switched off the coffee pot and hit the lights on his way out. It was then he noticed McCall hadn't made it all the way upstairs. She was curled on one end of the sofa, asleep. Maybe she'd been waiting to say something further to him.

He scratched the back of his head and considered waking her. But they were both exhausted, and he didn't want to argue anymore that night. Besides, he knew sleep for her was like an elusive animal in the woods—always just beyond sight. Not too long ago, after the Fredericks' disaster, he had lain right in her bed with her. She had been in and out of the bed repeatedly, checking the locks and the security system over and over again. After the fifth time, he put an arm gently across her middle to hold her down.

"The doors aren't going to change if you check them a hundred times over," he had said. "You know they're locked."

She had turned her head away, silent.

"What's it going to take for you to feel safe again?"

Her answer, when it came, was a whisper in the dark. "I don't know."

Back in the present, Hunter found a blanket and covered her up. Then he knelt down close, close enough to feel her breathing, and sure enough, there they were: three freckles. He reached out a fingertip toward her but stopped just short of making contact. Sweet dreams, he told her silently.

His knees creaked as he rose up, and he switched off the light on the end table. The bed was calling a siren song to him but he ignored it for a just a few minutes longer. First he had to check the locks.


She was still in her pajamas and robe when the doorbell rang at 9:30am. Jack was on the other side, holding a manila envelope and a paper sack. "I hope you don't mind me dropping by unannounced," he said. "I brought bagels from this Jewish bakery I discovered down the block, and they are 100% the real deal."

"Hi," she said, and forced a smile. "Normally, I'd say yes…"

"So say yes." He stepped inside and kissed her cheek, just as Hunter started down the stairs from her bedroom wearing a towel and nothing else. "Oh," said Jack, backing away from her. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize—"

"No, wait. It's not what it looks like."

"You must be Jack," Hunter said.

"He's my partner," McCall explained, her hand on Jack's arm to prevent him from leaving. "He's just staying here with me for a few days, and I have just one shower…"

"You don't owe me any explanations," Jack said carefully.

"You haven't seen the news?" McCall asked.

He looked puzzled. "No, I've been holed up at the office. What's going on?"

"You explain," Hunter told her. "I'm going to find pants."

"We'd better sit down," McCall said, and led Jack to the couch. She gave him the brief headlines of what had been happening over the past two days. Hunter returned, still buttoning his shirt, before she'd had a chance to recap the entire story. The men nodded at each other, and McCall reluctantly made the introduction she had wanted to put off as long as possible

"Jack, this is my partner, Rick Hunter. Hunter, this is Agent Jack Kincaid of the FBI."

"Sorry about your trouble," Jack said. "What a thing. I hope you have a good lawyer."

"Lawyers are for guilty people," Hunter replied.

"I was thinking last night about DNA," McCall said. "Maybe if we could find genetic evidence from the killer, we could prove Hunter didn't do it."

"Maybe." Jack looked from one to the other, as if he were afraid to say more.

"What?" McCall asked him.

"Well, from the sounds of things, if you go looking for DNA, what you're going to find is Sergeant Hunter's. It may hurt him more than help him."

"But if there is DNA from someone else, wouldn't that prove he didn't do it?"

"It would prove someone else's genetic material was at the scene, but it wouldn't say anything about guilt necessarily. His gun, his bed, his ex-girlfriend." Jack shook his head. "I'd be talking to that lawyer."

"I guess maybe we still need old-fashioned police work after all," McCall said, unable to keep the disappointment from her voice. If DNA science wasn't going to be enough to clear Hunter, nothing short of finding the actual killer and getting him to confess was liable to do it.

Jack touched her arm. "Tell you what I can do. I can run your victim through the national databases and see if anything shakes loose. It might not yield anything, but we always start there with our cases."

"That would be great, thank you."

"Just let me make a phone call." He handed her the envelope he'd brought with him. "This is the application we'd talked about."

He left to go use the phone, and McCall put the folder aside, away from Hunter's prying eyes. It was of course too late. "Application?" he said.

"It's nothing."

"The hell it's nothing. Apparently you're being courted by the FBI, in more ways than one. No wonder you didn't say anything."

"It's not like that," she protested. "I just…I haven't made any decisions. I'm just exploring my options."

"Options," he repeatedly steadily. "That's what our partnership is to you now? An option?"

Her cheeks went hot. "I am just taking my cues from you."

"What does that mean?"

"It means…" She shut her mouth because Jack was reentering the room.

"Okay," he said, looking at his notes. "Lucia Salvato—age 39, no current wants or warrants. She was arrested on a DUI seven years ago, and then again last spring. She also did six months for check kiting back in 1982. Otherwise, she seems clean, if a bit unstable. The computer had twelve different addresses for her in the last four years."

McCall looked at Hunter as he took this information in, but his face gave nothing away. It didn't seem like the FBI computers were going to be helpful. "Thanks," she told Jack, "for trying."

"There's one other thing," he said, his voice a little funny. "When did you say you and the victim had dated?"

"Twenty…no, twenty-three years ago," Hunter replied.

"Because Lucia Salvato had a daughter," Jack said. "Her name is Sabrina Salvato, and she's twenty-two years old."


Chapter Three

McCall left Hunter inside her house as she walked Jack out to his car. The bright December sunshine belied all the discussion of murder and mayhem, and she felt a twinge of regret for the lost alternate universe, the one where they got to drink coffee and eat bagels and talk about the excitement of the FBI. Her current kind of excitement was much more stomach-churning. "I'm sorry about dragging you into the middle of this," she said as they lingered near his sedan, "but I appreciate your running Lucy Salvato's name through the computers. You've been very helpful."

He made a non-committal noise and squinted past her. "You know, I didn't want to get into this back in front of your partner, but the Bureau is going to want to start interviewing for the open positions soon—maybe even next week. If you want to be considered, you'd need to move quickly."

"Jack." She took a deep breath. "I'll look at the materials you brought—I promise I will—but I can't make any sudden moves right now, not with everything that's going on. You must understand that?"

"I do," he conceded with a short nod. "Your loyalty to your partner is admirable, but—"

"It's not just loyalty," she interrupted. "It's part of my job. He's being set up and someone has to get to the truth."

"What if this is the truth?"

She blinked in surprise. "What do you mean?"

"I mean," Jack said, "what if it's not a frame?"

"It is." She enunciated both words carefully. "Hunter would never do something like this."

Jack looked toward her house and then back again. "You know him best, obviously, but with that closeness, you also lose objectivity. You say he would never do this. Do what? Kill someone? I had the computer pull his records too, Dee Dee, and that gun of his has a lot of bodies on it. He's killed before, and often."

"In self-defense or in defense of others—including me."

Jack frowned, but his posture softened. He shook his head. "I'm not here to sit in judgment."

"It sure sounds like you are."

"You could be right—maybe it's a great frame. It would be one for the record books, that's for sure. And if this new wrinkle proves correct, and the victim was also the mother of his child…" He broke off with a sigh. "Your partner, even if he's innocent, is looking at a big fall here. All I'm saying is—don't let him drag you down with him."


According to Jack's information, Sabrina Salvato worked at a greasy spoon across town. McCall figured they would have to be delicate in their approach, maybe look into her background some more before actually talking to the girl, but Hunter already had his coat on by the time she returned to her house. "I've got a hankering for pancakes," he said. His gaze flicked over her. "You coming?"

She thought about arguing with him, perhaps suggesting they could really stand to learn more about this girl before barging in at her workplace. But it was his life on the line, and possibly his kid. He got to call the shots. "I'm coming," she said with a sigh.

They took his car, and Hunter drove with determined purpose, hovering just over the speed limit, weaving in and out of city traffic like the professional he was. He stopped just short of actually running the siren. She held tight to the side of her door around the corners and shot him worried glances every few seconds. He had to feel her looking, but he avoided anything approaching eye contact. His elbow sat casually draped by the window, but his shoulders were set stiff and his hand clenched the wheel.

"So," he said after miles of tense silence, "your boyfriend thinks I'm guilty, doesn't he?"

"He's not my boyfriend." She hoped he didn't notice that she'd failed to correct the other part. Before he could say anything further, she changed the subject. "So what's our plan here? Just go in there and ask whether she knows anyone who might have wanted to kill her mother?"

"That's what we would do in any other situation," he replied.

She resisted pointing out the fact that their current situation was far from ordinary. "We don't even know what she looks like." Normally they would have a full background check and a driver's license photo by now, but McCall didn't dare pop by the station unnecessarily for fear of running into Ruiz and Bebinger.

"She's a waitress," Hunter replied. "All we have to do is find the one with 'Sabrina' written right about here." He indicated his chest where the nametag would go.

Or we could just look for the one who could have Rick Hunter for a father, McCall added silently. Hunter had said nothing further on the subject, but she knew he had to be wondering. The pieces sure seemed to fit. A teenage girlfriend who suddenly and dramatically dropped contact. A baby born eight months later. And perhaps even a reason why Lucy Salvato would show up at his mother's funeral all these years later. Years on the homicide beat had taught McCall that the unexpected death of someone you knew often had a way of making you realize your own clock was ticking. Maybe Lucy Salvato wanted to tell Hunter about Sabrina's parentage while she still could. Maybe she had regrets about keeping the secret. After all, Rick's mother might have been her daughter's grandmother too.

Hunter pulled the car into the small parking lot, where he grabbed the last remaining space. It was Sunday brunch time, and Los Angelinos were hungry for pancakes. The tantalizing smell of bacon fat emanated from the short, square building, and McCall remembered she had not eaten very much over the past few days. She hoped the interview lasted long enough for her to get a real breakfast.

Hunter charged in without holding the door for her—another sign of how distracted he was—and so she trailed behind, still concerned about where this was going. Together, they stood near the entrance and scanned the busy restaurant. The place was decked out for Christmas, even if the decorations were a little tired, with sagging tinsel and cardboard snowmen adorning the windows. Waitresses in blue smocks bustled from booth to booth, and every table seemed to be crammed full of families. Dishes clanked. Children yelped and giggled. Every so often the kitchen crew hit a bell to indicate another plate was up. McCall had trouble making out any of the nametags from this distance, and she saw Hunter was squinting as well. "I can't tell," he muttered finally, just as a beleaguered, round woman with frizzy hair stopped in front of them.

"Two for breakfast?" she asked, with exactly no expression in her voice.

"We'd like a table with Sabrina Salvato," Hunter said, still looking beyond this woman to the others waiting tables.

"Might be a wait," the woman replied flatly. She turned around to look and then sighed. "Must be your lucky day. Looks like she has a table opening up. Just give us a second to clear it, ok?"

Five minutes later, they were seated in a brown pleather booth, with a chipped, imitation Formica table between them. Coffee cups were already on the table upside down, and McCall righted hers hopefully. Hunter's attention was on the waitresses, his eyes alert but his face otherwise giving nothing else away. Beneath the table, though, she could feel his leg jiggling.

Finally, there was a waitress heading their way. She had her head down as she approached, coffee pot in hand, so McCall could only see the woman had a slim, athletic build and a dirty-blonde ponytail. "Hi," she said, turning over Hunter's coffee cup and starting her routine. With her left hand, she took out wrapped pieces of silverware and set them on the table. "What can I get for you?"

The girl still hadn't made eye contact. Hunter frowned, and McCall used that split second of indecision on his part to take the lead. "Sabrina Salvato?" she asked.

"Yeah?" The sound of her name made the girl freeze and look up. McCall froze too, because there were Hunter's blue eyes, looking back at her. "Can I help you?"

McCall recovered enough to fish out her ID. "I'm Sergeant McCall and this is my partner—"

"I know who you are." The young woman was looking at Hunter with some horror.

Oh my God, McCall thought. She knows.

"You're the guy who killed my mom." Sabrina took a step back, still clutching the coffee pot.

"No," Hunter said swiftly. "I did not do that."

"I've seen the news." Sabrina glanced over her shoulder, apparently deciding whether or not to flee.

"The news can be wrong," McCall replied. "And look—he hasn't been arrested, right? That has to mean something."

Sabrina shot her a look. "All it means is that cops look out for their own."

"I didn't kill your mom," Hunter said. "But I am trying to find out who did."

She snorted. "Sure you are."

McCall had to admire her gumption. She wasn't sure she would have been sassing a seasoned homicide detective—let alone one suspected of murder—at the tender age of twenty-five. "If you'll just sit down a second, we'll explain what's going on."

She glanced from Sabrina to Hunter, to see if either of them had noticed what was obvious to her—which was that they were undeniably related. She'd spent more than three years looking at Hunter's face day in, day out, and she recognized not just the eyes but the brow line, the ears and the chin.

"I'm working," Sabrina said. "And I have nothing to say to you."

"Then you can sit and listen," Hunter told her. "We can wait for your break."

Sabrina hesitated, and so McCall pressed their case. "You want to find out what really happened to your mom? So do we. That's why we're here. Give us ten minutes, and if you don't like what we have to say, we'll leave and not bother you again."

The girl checked her watch. "My break's not until one," she said.

"We can wait." Hunter sat back in the booth, visibly relaxed now that she'd agreed to talk.

"Fine," Sabrina said with a sigh. "I'll come over then."

"Perfect, thank you," McCall replied. "In the meantime…" Sabrina turned back around. "Could I get a number three?" McCall indicated the plastic-covered menu.

Hunter made a face at her. "You're eating? Now?"

"Yes, and so should you." She smiled at Sabrina. "Make his a number one, over-easy on the eggs."

McCall ploughed through her bacon, sausage, and pancakes as though it were her last meal, while Hunter ate three bites of egg, two bites of wheat toast and picked at his fruit salad. Finally, she put her fork aside and risked a look at him. "Sabrina seems nice enough," she said.

Hunter scowled. "She thinks I killed her mother—and I guess who could blame her. The story doesn't go so good for me, does it? Everyone thinks I'm guilty as sin."

"Not everyone," she said mildly, and Hunter looked at her, really looked at her, for the first time since they had left her house.

"No," he conceded. He fiddled with the edge of his paper napkin. "You've been more certain than anyone that I'm innocent—more certain even than me."

She raised her eyebrows. "Even you?"

"Imagine it was you," he said. "It's the middle of the night and you're groggy, maybe not remembering things so well. It's dark, you stumble to the shower. You get out and find a dead body in your bed, with your police issue 9mm lying there, still smoking. What would you think?"

She could conjure the horror of the moment easily enough, could imagine the sheer impossibility of the feeling, because how could someone who had been warm and alive in your bed just minutes before be suddenly lying there with her face half blown to bits? "I'd think I was going crazy," she said softly, and he agreed with a short nod.

"You feel crazy and you start to wonder…maybe you are crazy. Maybe you're even crazy enough to…"

"No," she insisted. "You did not do this."

He considered for a moment. "No, of course not," he said finally, and then he almost smiled. "But it helps that you're so sure."

She almost smiled back, but at that moment, Sabrina reappeared at the table, sans coffeepot, her arms folded defensively across her middle. "Okay, I've got fifteen minutes," she said. "What is it you want from me?"

McCall slid over to make room. "Why don't you sit down so we can talk?"

The girl hesitated for a long moment before taking the very edge of the booth, practically hovering as though poised to flit away again. Hunter's brow furrowed as he studied her. "I am very sorry about what happened to your mom," he said.

She shrugged, indifferent. "It's not like it was a huge surprise."

"What do you mean?" McCall asked gently.

"The kind of life she led—there was always some kind of trouble hanging around her. She drank too much and spent her time with men who were no good for her." She shot Hunter a pointed look. "Mimi always said she'd end up dead in a ditch somewhere if she didn't mend her ways."

"Mimi?" Hunter asked.

"Her mom. My grandma. She's the one who really raised me. Now she's the one who gets to plan the funeral." Sabrina picked up a napkin and started shredding it, bit by bit. "But you don't care about all

that. You say you didn't kill my mom, but you were right there when it happened. If you don't know who did it, what makes you think I do?"

"The trouble you say used to hang around your mom," Hunter said, "what was the most recent kind?"

Sabrina paused her rending of the napkin. "That's easy—Tony."

"Tony Sacco?" McCall asked.

"I don't know his last name. He was her boss at the club where she worked. They were on-again, off-again on the side too. He'd hit her, she'd swear she was done with him, then the bruises would go 'way and he'd come around with flowers and promises that it would be different now. She took him back every damn time."

"What did they fight about?" Hunter wanted to know.

"He was jealous of any man that would even look at her. She had to wait tables in that skimpy outfit–an outfit he gave her—and then he would go ape shit if a guy smiled at her too long. It was her fault for flirting with them, according to him. He was a first-class, grade A, punk asshole. But she's the one who kept going back for more." Sabrina's anger and disgust suggested this was a pattern that had existed for years.

"Did he ever threaten to kill her?" McCall asked.

"Sure, probably about once per day and twice on Sundays. When I first heard what happened, I figured he'd finally done it." She looked from McCall to Hunter and back again. "Is that—is that what you think happened? You think Tony killed her?"

"We're looking into all possibilities right now," McCall replied.

"Is there anyone else besides Tony you think might have hurt your mom?" Hunter asked.

Sabrina's eyes narrowed in thought and she looked around vaguely. "Not that I can think of. We weren't exactly close, you know? I mostly heard from her when she needed something—money, a place to crash. She'd promise to pay me back but she never did, and I needed the money for school, you know? I'm studying nursing." Her chin rose, defiant. "Mom said she'd wanted to go into nursing once, but I was actually doing it. She said she was proud of me. But she wasn't so proud that she wouldn't take twenty bucks from my wallet without my permission." She glared at Hunter. "That's who you went to bed with, you know: someone who would steal from her own kid."

Hunter took the barb without any change in expression. "What about her friends? Anyone in particular we should talk to?"

"She didn't have friends. Or if she did, she used them too until they weren't friends anymore."

There was an awkward pause and then McCall cleared her throat. If he wasn't going to ask it, she would. "What about your father?"

"He's dead. Killed in Vietnam before I was born."

McCall looked quickly at Hunter to what he thought of this news, but his face gave nothing away. "Did she tell you his name?"

Hunter flinched a bit, and Sabrina gave her a funny look. "Bill Drummond. Why would you even care about this? It's ancient history."

"No reason," McCall said. "We're just trying to get a complete picture of your mom's life."

Sabrina gave a heavy sigh. "You know those famous abstract paintings where the guy just dribbled paint on it over and over, like a kindergartener would do?"

"You mean Jackson Pollock?" McCall asked.

"Yeah, him. Well, you want a picture of my mom's life, that's what it looked like: one big mess."

Sabrina's break was over, so Hunter and McCall paid their bill and left. They got into the car, and Hunter put on his sunglasses but did not start the engine. The silence dragged out for several minutes before McCall couldn't take it any longer. "What did you think of her?"

"I think it sounds like Lucy wasn't winning any Mother of the Year awards." He inserted the key and turned on the car.

McCall twisted a bit in her seat so she could watch his face. "I know, but…what about what she said regarding her father?"

"I knew Bill Drummond from the neighborhood. He was two years ahead of us in school and linebacker on the football team. As I recall, he was killed during the war."

"Hunter." She was starting to get a little impatient with him. "You didn't think that Sabrina seemed—well, a little familiar?"

He frowned at her. "Sure, she looks just like Lucy, back when I knew her."

"She looks like you!"

"What? No." His eyes were on the rearview mirror. "I think your boyfriend's little report has you seeing things."

"He's not my boyfriend. And how could you have missed the similarities? That girl has your eyes, your forehead, and your ears."

He grabbed one of his earlobes and gave a tug. "Nope, my ears are exactly where they should be."

"Ha ha, funny." She folded her arms. "I can't believe you can make jokes about this."

He checked the mirror again. "Well, I'll tell you what isn't funny. I think we're being followed."

"What?" She turned to look.

"Silver Mercedes about six cars back. We're too far away to get a look at the driver."

"You're sure it's a tail?" There was no way it was the cops. The department barely shelled out for a working Chevy, let alone a fancy imported car.

"Not sure," Hunter said. "But we're going to find out." He abruptly picked up the pace and changed lanes to the left. McCall watched the mirrors too, now, and sure enough, the Mercedes gained speed with them, closing the gap to four cars. "Can you see the driver?" Hunter asked her.

She turned in her seat again. "Looks tall, probably male. I don't have a good visual. If you can get it to move lanes again, I can try to read the plates."

"Your wish is my command," Hunter replied, and the Dodge slipped neatly between two cars on the right.

McCall caught the beginning of the plate—2MP-before the Mercedes's plates disappeared from view again. "I only got a partial."

"Well, try again if possible," Hunter said, leaning forward in his seat as he hit the gas once more. "I want to see how committed this guy is."

McCall hung on tight as the car found a new gear; she was still riding half backwards as she tried to make out the rest of the tag number. Hunter wove the car in and out of traffic, and the Mercedes mostly followed. McCall got two more numbers off the plate, but she couldn't see the driver. "Looks like he's wearing a hat," she reported. The glare from the midday sun made it hard to see through the windshield.

Hunter said nothing but slowed the car for an approaching yellow light. The Mercedes followed suit. At the last second, Hunter accelerated through the intersection, leaving the other car trapped in traffic at the red light. He drove one block more and made a sharp turn. At the first strip mall, he pulled into the parking lot and turned the car around so they were facing the street.

"He had to see us make that turn," McCall said. Half the stores were closed since it was Sunday, so the parking lot was not exactly full. They were not hidden at all.

"That's what I'm counting on." They waited for several minutes, idling, but the Mercedes didn't show. Hunter glanced over at her. "Not so committed after all," he said.

"I got most of the plate," McCall replied, reaching for the radio. "It should be enough to get a hit." She relayed the make and model along with what she knew of the tags from the Mercedes. As they waited for a response, she eyed Hunter. "He followed us from the restaurant?"

"Pulled out right after us," he replied.

"Huh. Didn't seem like the kind of breakfast place you'd pick if you could afford a Mercedes."

The radio crackled to life again. "The plate comes back registered to a Jonathan A. Dodd of Citron Drive in Los Angeles."

McCall radioed back their thanks. "Jonathan Dodd—that's your little assassin friend, isn't it? The one who made his living with a baseball bat?"

"Yeah, that's Homer." He rubbed his head with one hand.

"How is he mixed up in all of this?"

"I don't know. But I sure as hell am going to find out."


He was in that exhausted state where he vacillated from numb to wired at any given moment, but as Hunter pulled his car out of McCall's driveway, he felt guilty more than anything else. He wasn't in the habit of lying to her, but this visit to Homer Dodd was one he had to make on his own, and there was no way he would have been able to convince her that he should be paying house calls to a convicted killer all by his lonesome, even if the guy was over seventy by now.

To McCall, Homer Dodd was a collection of words on a rap sheet; to Hunter, he'd been the large guy cracking jokes and beers with his dad in the kitchen. Homer had all the best stories—about women, about playing minor league ball, about keeping book for his Uncle Vinnie. Sure, he'd laughed a little too loud at his own jokes and sucked in a paunch he hadn't thought anyone else noticed, but Hunter had hung on his every word. It was only later, when Vinnie turned up dead and Homer was a suspect, that he'd realized Homer's brash, friendly demeanor hid a lot more than fifteen extra pounds.

Who says crime doesn't pay? Hunter wondered to himself as he steered his car through the well-manicured Brentwood streets. Homer's sienna-colored bungalow was modest by neighborhood standards, but Hunter could never have afforded it on a cop's salary. He saw no sign of the silver Mercedes out front and the house seemed quiet as he walked up to the stoop. It was a long couple of minutes before a young Hispanic woman wearing an apron answered his knock. "Yes, may I help you?" she asked in accented English.

"I'm here to see Homer," he replied.

"He is expecting you?"

"No, but he'll see me."

The woman looked him over cautiously and decided not to argue. "Who should I say is calling?"

"Rick Hunter."

She disappeared and returned in under two minutes. "Mr. Dodd is outside by the pool. This way."

Hunter found Homer on a lounge chair, with the Sunday paper in his lap and what looked like a Bloody Mary in his hands. He was poolside but not dressed for swimming. Homer had a full head of white hair, but the thick sweater and chinos—overdressed for the mild afternoon—gave away his advancing age. He smiled easily at the sight of Hunter, but there was no warmth behind it. "Ricky, what a surprise."

"Well, I figured if you were so curious about my day calendar, I'd drop by and fill you in in person." Hunter took off his sunglasses and peered down at the old man. "Save you some gas."

Homer spread his hands in an expansive gesture. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"You're following me and I want to know why."

"Following you?" Homer frowned for the first time and set aside his drink. "No, you got the wrong guy. I haven't been following you. Hell, I haven't left the house in two days."

"Do you own a silver Mercedes?"

"You know I do or you wouldn't be here askin' me about it." Hunter folded his arms and said nothing, and eventually Homer sighed. "Yeah, I own a silver Mercedes. But I haven't been driving it. I don't drive much of anywhere these days." He motioned at his knees. "Can't work the pedals like I used to."

"Your car was tailing me this morning."

"Oh yeah?" Homer lifted his bushy eyebrows as if this was news to him. "You go anywhere interesting?"

"If you're not driving your car, then who is?"

"I loan it out to a bunch of different people." He retrieved his drink and stirred it with the celery stick before taking a sip. "I don't always keep track of who's who, but the car always comes back home eventually."

Hunter was long past the days when he believed Homer's stories. "That's a load of bullshit. Who was driving your car? Because as of now, as far as I'm concerned, it was you, and so you're the one I'm going to take downtown for questioning."

"Ah-ah." Homer wagged a fat finger at him. "I read the papers, Ricky," he said, lifting a section of newsprint from his lap for emphasis. "I know you're on the outs with the boys in blue right now. You've got a body on you—that poor little girl from down the block. What was her name? Oh, yeah. Lucia. Sweet kid, as I recall." He looked right at Hunter, his gaze almost predatory now, and Hunter wondered how he'd never seen the monster under the mask. "But then you'd know more about that than I would. You were crazy about her, as I remember it."

Hunter remembered it too, remembered all of it as those memories came rushing back: hot summer nights with Homer and Vinnie and his Dad, smoking and laughing in the backyard with the others, while the women peeled and ate fruit around the kitchen table; he and Lucy, plundering the refrigerator for soda and leftover barbecue chicken before disappearing into the night, away from prying adult eyes. It was ordinary quotidian happiness, the kind he hadn't appreciated until it all disappeared when Lucy broke things off and then his father died shortly thereafter. Those faces from his memory were mostly gone now. First his father, then Vinnie, and now Lucy and his mother were dead too—all the people from those nights in the kitchen, they were slowly being reunited, one by one, underground.

He shook his head, trying to clear it, and in that moment, he regretted not bringing McCall along for the interview. She would have the objectivity here that he simply could not muster. "What—what do you know about Lucy?" he asked.

Homer shrugged. "I talked to her a bit at your mom's funeral. She said she was working, doing good. Then I saw the news about what happened to her and how the cops like you for the doer." He eyed Hunter speculatively. "Maybe you got more of your father in you than anyone realized."

It had been everyone's favorite insult for years—you're just like your father—and even now it cut him hot and quick. "You speak with such authority about my father, but I remember he had no use for you by the end." There had been arguing, days of tension, and no more laughing and drinking around the kitchen table, until one night a brawl broke out right next to his mother's display of fancy china. Homer had been thrown off the property, never to return.

"Let me tell you something about your dear old dad." Homer set aside the paper. "There were two kinds of men who did our business: the good guys mixed up in bad things because they thought it was their only option, and the bad guys who were in it because they liked it that way. Your dad? He was that second kind."

Hunter refused to take the bait. "It all looks the same from where I'm standing."

"Oh, sure," Homer replied with a chuff. "You've had that luxury 'til now, I guess. Pretend like you've risen all above us, none of that dirty family laundry muddying up your crisp, blue uniform, right? Let me tell you: your mom, she was a sweetheart, a real peach of a woman, but your father, he had the devil inside. He and I were going good there for a while, so good I didn't see the double-cross coming until it was too late. He took my half of the profits on our last deal, and when I had the temerity to object, he sent a couple of goons after me one night with baseball bats. Broke both my knees and I haven't walked right since. I am now what your father made me."

Hunter absorbed this news silently. He had no way of knowing its veracity, but the only part that mattered was that Homer believed it to be truth. "So you're out for revenge now, is that it?"

The old man cackled a bit. "Revenge? That's a good one. Sure, son, I sat around all these twenty years, just biding my time and waiting 'til you had the right girl with you so I could hobble in with my cane and frame you for murder. Nah. What your father did to me, that's ancient history now. Besides, he got his in the end, and I'm sitting here enjoying the sweet life on this lovely Sunday afternoon. That's all the revenge I need."

Maybe he was telling the truth, but Hunter had the distinct impression that watching Dominic Hunter's son twist in the wind was part of what made life so sweet these days. There was also still the little matter of the car. "Someone driving your car was following me this morning," he said, "and unless you can convince me otherwise, I am going to assume it was someone representing your interests."

"Where did you see the car?"

"Tailing me out of a diner across town."

"Maybe it was just a coincidence."

"Give me a little credit here, Homer. I'm a detective, for crying out loud—I know when I'm being followed."

"Well." Homer made a great show of thinking. "You could ask Arnie about it. I lent the car to him last week."

"Now why would Arnie be following me?"

"You'd have to ask him that," Homer said, settling back in with his paper again. "But maybe you were too young and too stupid to notice way back when."

"Notice what, exactly?"

"About Lucia. Arnie was crazy for her too."


For someone so ill adept at lying, McCall had a day chocked full of it. She was grateful when Hunter disappeared early in the afternoon, ostensibly to go get some more stuff out of his mother's apartment, because that left her free to prep for her job interview at the Sting Ray. She strongly suspected Hunter might be fibbing to her, too, but if she started asking him questions he might have some of his own. As it was, he departed in such a haste that she had plenty of time to transform herself into Ginger Thompson, complete with the auburn wig, skintight leather pants, and a hastily constructed fake ID.

She showed up at the Sting Ray at the appointed time, and her old friend Jake the security guy showed her inside. "Right on time," he said with a slight smirk. "I didn't think you'd show. I thought you were just feeding me a bullshit story the other night."

There was something possessive about the way he kept his hand on her back as they walked. "No stories," she told him. "I need a job. It's the holidays, you know?"

"Yeah, ho ho ho and all that shit." Jake sounded unimpressed. It said something about the place, or maybe just about Jake, that he was packing heat even though it was 4pm on a Sunday and the club was virtually empty.

With the house lights on, the Sting Ray was not the rocking piece of glamorous real estate it appeared to be in the late-night hours. The black dance floor was actually covered in scuff marks and the decorative silver edging on the stools was coming off in several places. There was a girl with stringy black hair wiping down the mirrored bar. She was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, rather than a skimpy waitress outfit, and McCall tried to catch her eye. If Tony Sacco had murdered Lucy, he wasn't likely to up and confess it to McCall, so her best bet of finding out the truth was from someone who might know too much and be willing to talk.

But the girl kept her eyes resolutely on her work. Jake parked McCall near a stool and gestured up at the office area. "Lemme see if Tony is ready for you. Just wait here."

McCall waited, pretending to look around in a wide-eyed manner. "This is such a cool place," she said to the girl at the bar. "It must be so great to work here."

"Yeah, it's great," the girl said flatly.

When she added nothing further, McCall tried again. "I guess I got lucky that you guys have an opening here. The other girl just up and quit?"

This question hit its mark, as the young woman stopped wiping and looked at her. "She up and got murdered."

"Oh my God, that's awful. Was it—was it here?"

"No, at some cop's place." The girl glanced up at the office, so McCall looked too. She could see two shadows in animated conversation.

"A cop?" she said, turning back around. "What happened?"

"Don't know," the girl replied, but in such a way that McCall could sense she knew more than she was saying. "Tell you what, though: the cops who come in this place, they're just as bad as the rest of 'em."

This rather confirmed McCall's suspicions that nosing around undercover was going to be the only way to get any real information at all. Ruiz and Bebinger could come in and flash their badges, but no one at the Sting Ray would say anything of practical use. She glanced up and saw that one of the shadows was on the move again, so she had just a few seconds left. "I really need this job," she told the girl in a conspiratorial, hopeful tone. "Any advice on how to ace the interview?"

The girl's shoulders sagged as she looked McCall over. "Getting in's the easy part," she said. "It's the getting out that's hard."

"Ginger," Jake said, his hard voice full of false cheer, "Tony's ready to see you now. Come on up."

He led McCall back through the heavy black curtain where they had met the other night, up a narrow staircase and to the inner sanctum. "Here she is, boss," Jake said, ushering her inside.

"Great, thanks." Tony was flipping through some mail and barely looked up.

Jake shut the door behind her, and McCall waited just inside the threshold for Tony to say something further. She was apparently less intriguing than his pile of junk ads, though, because he kept right on scanning the mail and dumping it right into the waste basket. McCall used his silence to study Tony and his office. He was smaller than she might have imagined based on the larger-than-life stories told about him—probably close to her own height—but he had a barrel-shaped chest and thick, muscled arms that bulged beneath his sport coat. Behind him on the wall was a series of photographs of himself with various local celebrities, including, McCall noted with some surprise, the Mayor.

The place was neat as a pin and impressively high tech. Tony had two computers up and humming, a sleek wall of metal filing cabinets, a fax machine, and a cordless phone. "Come," he said finally. "Sit."

McCall took a seat in a low-set leather chair on the other side of the desk. "Thank you for seeing me today," she said.

"Jake said he had a good feel about you." He let his gaze travel lingeringly over her body, but his dark eyes were coldly assessing, not appreciative. "Now that you're here, I can see why."

She felt herself flush. "It just seemed so fortunate. He said you had a sudden opening, and I need a job…"

"You have waitressing experience?"

"Years," she said, and this part, at least, wasn't a lie. College did not pay for itself.

"Let me see your purse," he said, stretching out a hand to her.

"Excuse me?" Her heartbeat picked up and she clutched the bag a little tighter.

"Your bag—let me have it." He waved his fingers impatiently. "I don't ask to see your resume but I have to know who's working for me. So hand it over or be on your way."

Reluctantly, McCall gave him the purse, which he yanked into his lap and started emptying onto his desk. Almost immediately, he had her Smith & Wesson .38 in his hand. "Well, well, well," he said, giving her a hard stare. "This is no little can of mace. What sort of trouble were you expecting here, Ginger?"

"My ex-boyfriend gave it to me," she said. "I'm a single gal, you know? Can't be too careful." Thank God she had left her shield at home.

Tony was checking to see if it was loaded, and it was. "I don't allow guns in my club."

She knew this was a lie, but went with it anyway. "I can leave it at home, no problem."

Watching him handle her weapon made her nervous, but there was nothing she could do about it without entirely blowing her cover. Tony weighed the gun in his palm as he looked at her for a long moment. "I like girls who can handle themselves," he said finally. "Some nights, it can get a little rough down there on the floor. You sure you're up for that kind of thing?"

She nodded vigorously. "I can take it."

Tony's eyes went to the clock on his wall, and McCall followed his gaze. "If you can start tonight, the job is yours—on a trial basis."

"Sure, I can do that." She figured her charade would never last longer than a few nights, if only because Bebinger and Ruiz were likely to come tromping in the door again, but a couple of nights might be all she needed.

"Mindy downstairs will get you a uniform and show you around." He put all her makeup and things back in her purse, but he kept the gun. "This stays with me," he said, his gaze challenging her to object.

She swallowed hard. "I, uh…"

"I'll keep it safe. You can get it back at the end of your shift."

McCall looked at the clock again, and Tony probably figured she was counting the hours to see if this was an acceptable deal. But in reality she was double-checking to see if she was correct in what she had noticed earlier, the tiny flecks of brown near the ceiling that only someone who had worked a hundred homicides could recognize on sight: high-impact blood spatter. The kind you got when you shot someone to death, someone who might have been standing right where she was in front of Tony Sacco's desk.

Suddenly the gun in his hands seemed much more threatening. Tony was holding it loosely, waiting for her reply. She bit her lip. "Sure," she said finally, forcing out the word. "That would be fine."


The evening started slow, but by nine-thirty the place was busy enough that it took McCall longer than most to catch onto the latest commotion. She'd been back and forth to the bar a hundred times and her feet were aching. The provocative "uniform" she'd been given to wear featured a black miniskirt and a silver spandex-and-sequin top that covered less skin than most sports bras. As a result, most of the male clientele seem to feel that she herself was also on the menu, and they helped themselves to a feel whenever they could manage. She needed all her concentration to dodge grabby hands and stumbling stoners and a half-dozen other scantily-clad women carrying their own trays of drinks.

So she only noticed something was amiss when she caught sight of Tony, down on the floor, arguing in the corner with Jake. Tony noticed her looking, and his gaze was angry. Oh shit, she thought, figuring she was made, and the fear didn't get any smaller when Tony started beckoning her closer. Jake looked equally displeased.

"I still say we leave him be or send in one of the other girls."

"No, I want this one," Tony said to Jake, almost like she wasn't standing there. "Look, she can't tell him anything because she doesn't know anything." Then he turned his attention to her. "How would you like to make a hundred dollar tip, right now?"

"Would I!" She tried to smile. "That would be awesome!"

Tony's heavy hands came down on her bare shoulders as he turned her around to face the flashing lights of the dance floor and the madding crowd. "You see that man over there standing near the bar?"

She scanned the faces, and it took her only a second to figure out to whom Tony was referring: Hunter. Jesus, what was he doing here? She was glad Tony couldn't see her face because there was no way she hid her shock at that moment. "Uh, which one?" she said, her voice unnaturally high.

"The tall one." Tony's fingers bit into her skin. "He's a cop. I want you to go talk to him. Find out what he's doing here. When you find out, you come tell me. Got it?"

"Got—got it."

Tony gave her a little shove, and she stumbled forward through the smoke and gyrating bodies in the direction of the bar. Hunter spotted her a second later, and their eyes locked. He did not look exactly happy to see her, but she pasted what she hoped was a welcoming smile on her face and continued her approach. The din of the crowd and the pounding music meant she had to get right up next to him before she could be heard. "Hello there," she said, leaning into him. He smelled like soap and leather. "Can I interest you in a drink?"

He leaned down until his face was practically in her hair. "What the hell are you doing here?" he asked, and she could feel every word against her neck.

"Working," she said, pulling back. "And I'm being watched right now, so play along, would you?"

Hunter frowned but deliberately softened his posture. "This is incredibly dangerous, what you're doing here. You know that, right?"

"Order a drink and pretend you like me."

He folded his arms. "Give me one good reason why I should."

"Well, for starters, I get a hundred bucks out of the deal." She smiled at him, but he didn't smile back, so she sighed and touched his arm. "Tony also has my gun locked in his office."

"He what!?"

"Calm down. I'll get it back." She guided him off to the side, where there was a free table near the curtain-covered wall. She would still be visible to Tony and Jake from this angle, but Hunter was obstructed from view. "There's blood spatter on the ceiling in the office," she said as quietly as she could. "Something bad went down up there. Your presence has Tony as jumpy as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, so let's just go with it, huh? Maybe he'll do something stupid."

Hunter's expression suggested that he was relenting. "What do they want from me?"

"They want to know what you're doing here. I have to report back."

"I'm trying to prevent my partner from ending up dead in a ditch somewhere."

She rolled her eyes. "I'm alive and well, as you can plainly see." She glanced back over her shoulder to see Jake and Tony hanging out in the very back of the club, still watching her intently. "What do you want me to tell them?"

Hunter thought for a minute. "Just tell them I'm here because I want to talk to Lucy's friends."

"Got it." She turned to leave, but he caught her arm.

"And while you're over there, go ahead and bring me a beer," he said with a smirk. She made a face but he shrugged. "Gotta stay in character, right...Ginger?"

McCall pulled free and went back to where Tony and Jake were waiting for her, and she repeated the story about Hunter looking for Lucy's friends. Tony looked at Jake triumphantly. "You see? I told you I sent the right girl. He's trying to pump them for information." He chewed his thumbnail for a minute, and McCall watched in distaste; the guy had on a $400 suit but it wasn't enough to cover ugly boyhood habits. "Go back over there," he ordered her eventually. "If you can find out exactly what kind of information he's looking for, there's an extra hundred in it for you."

"I haven't even got the first one yet," McCall said with a pout. It was a risk, pushing for the money like that, but if she seemed as though she wanted this assignment, they might start to get suspicious.

Tony scowled, but he dug out his wallet and handed her a newly minuted hundred dollar bill.

"Whoa," she said, her eyes wide. "You're not messing around."

"Now get going," he said, thumbing a gesture at Hunter. "Give him plenty to drink. Whatever it takes to get him to talk. As far as you're concerned, you've got one customer—understand?"

McCall scurried off to the bar, where she fetched a beer and took it back to Hunter. He had found a seat at the end of one of the black velvet benches that ran the length of the wall, and McCall took the spot next to him. "I'm supposed to pump you for more information," she said, glancing over to see if her bosses were still watching. They were.

"Hmm," Hunter said as he swallowed a sip of beer. "And what am I supposed to be doing?"

"I told you," she replied. "Pre—"

"Pretending to like you," he broke in, and she realized then he was teasing her. He took another swig of beer and nudged her with one knee. "I dunno. Could be a stretch."

Mindful they had an audience, she leaned into him and put a hand on his denim-covered thigh. "I'm willing to work at it," she said as she scratched lightly with her nails. Hunter sucked in a short breath, and she smiled in satisfaction. "See?" she murmured near his ear. "I think you like me better already."

"Your determination is admirable. I'll give you that much."

"I don't think it's my determination that you're admiring," she said, noting that his eyes were drifting downward to the shadowed valley between her breasts. It was dark; there wasn't much he could see amid the flashing strobe lights, but she felt the heat of his gaze on her body.

Hunter made a murmuring noise that might have been agreement. "Does your boyfriend know you run around dressed like this?" he asked, and he stroked the naked skin above her hip. The sensation made her shiver, closing her hand around his thigh.

"I told you," she said against the side of his face. "I don't have a boyfriend." They were supposed to be flirting for show; their lives practically depended on it. But it was hard to think straight when his hand ran down her leg and his fingertips brushed the hemline of her very short skirt.

They had barely touched each other in months, and now here they were pressed up almost skin-to-skin in a dark corner of a skanky nightclub. It was both horrifying and delicious and she couldn't seem to stop stroking his leg. "I'm not sure I believe you," Hunter said. He had begun tracing random lines on her inner thigh. "I might need…convincing." At the word, he tugged her off balance, and she landed right on that rock hard thigh, causing what was left of her skirt to ride up in the process. She was pretty much sitting on him in her underwear now.

She put her palms on his chest and ran them down slowly, her fingers teasing between them at the edge of his jeans. His hands tightened on her rear end and he pressed his lips to the side of her neck. "You don't…you don't play fair," she managed to get out as he started rocking his leg against her in a subtle rhythm. She was supposed to be using him for information, and instead he had turned her into a flushed, throbbing mess. "Hunter…what is you want from me?"

"I want." His voice was low and rough, but his hand was gentle as he drew her head down toward his. She held her breath, sure he was going to kiss her, but instead he rested his forehead on hers. His breath feathered across her cheek. "I want what I've always wanted."

Her nails pricked into his biceps and she squeezed her eyes shut. "And what is that?" He never said and she couldn't guess anymore.

"I want…"

"Ahem!" The loud voice behind her made them both jump, and she clambered off his lap to find Tony standing there, looking as imperious as he could for a man who was perhaps five-foot, eight inches tall. It helped that Jake was backing him up. "You want a lap dance, Sergeant Hunter, I suggest you try down the street. We don't offer that sort of thing here."

McCall looked at the floor as Hunter rose from the couch. "I don't want to dance with your girls, Mr. Sacco. I just want to talk to them."

"They're busy," Tony said flatly.

"This one sure wasn't," Hunter said, nodding at her.

"She is now," Tony snapped. "Get back to work."

McCall had no choice but to walk away and leave Hunter with the two men. She tried to get glimpses of them as she worked her way through the crowd, but there was no way to make out what they were saying. The conversation only lasted a few more minutes, and then she saw Hunter heading for the door. Her body still tingled where he had touched her, and she felt such a mix of emotions as she watched him go: regret that they'd been interrupted; distress at how close they'd come to losing themselves while on the job; relief that he was, despite his misgivings, at last backing her play, and that her cover was safe.

For now.


It was after midnight when she stepped out of the steamy shower and into a fluffy peach towel. She was exhausted but also still exhilarated from her evening at the club. They had made Tony Sacco plenty nervous, and the tell-tale stains in his office suggested he might have more than one murder on his hands. It about killed her that she was going to have to go work her usual job at the precinct tomorrow instead of following up on the leads they had found.

She put on pajamas and a robe and went downstairs for a drink of water to go with the ibuprofen she'd already procured from the medicine cabinet. She stopped short when she found Hunter on her couch, reading through the FBI application. He looked up and saw her but said nothing. After a moment, she marched past him into the kitchen, where she ran the water and swallowed her pills. Her neck and shoulders had shooting pains running through them, the result of spending eight hours on her feet in high heels, just months after major surgery to remove a bullet from her back.

The things I do for you, she told him silently as she looked at the swinging kitchen door. It was plain he wasn't going to come after her, so she sighed and went back out to her living room. He had put the application back on the coffee table but otherwise had not moved from his spot. "You'd be great at this," he said without turning to look at her.

It was rare he paid her a sincere compliment; their exchanges were typically teasing or laced with sarcasm. She took a couple of steps closer, drawn by his understated tone, and then he did shift so he could see her. His expression was earnest. "I can see why Jack wants you to apply," he said.

"I haven't made any decisions." She reached back to rub her neck with one hand. "I mean the timing is terrible, with everything that's going on…"

"Don't hold back on my account."

"Hunter." He had to be crazy if he thought she could walk away right now.

He was frowning at her. "Your back is bothering you?"

"It's not so bad," she replied, quickly dropping her hand from her neck.

He motioned for her to join him. "Come here, let me help."

"That isn't necessary—"

"Get over here, will you? I want to talk to you about something anyway."

This sounded ominous. Hunter never wanted to talk. Wary, she crossed the rest of the distance between them and took a cautious seat on the sofa next to him. He gently turned her so he could have access to her neck. "What is it?" she asked, bracing herself for bad news. The tension did nothing to help her pain.

"Jeez, you are tense." He reached under her robe to start a gentle massage with his fingers. It immediately felt so good that she bit back a moan of relief and pleasure. She'd shown him how to do this once, and he remembered it perfectly, every time.

Hunter cleared his throat as he worked on her. "I just wanted to say…what I want…what I've always wanted…is for you to be happy."

She stiffened to mount a protest or a reply, but he shushed her and redoubled his massage.

"If it's Jack or the FBI or whatever…then okay. If that's what you want, you should have it."

"I told you—"

"I'm not finished yet."

So she waited, but he didn't say anything for a long minute. He simply kept releasing the pain from her body, replacing it with a spreading warmth that crept up the back of her neck. When his thumbs edged under her collar to brush across her bare skin, she did moan, just a bit, and the words slipped out before she could stop them: "That feels so good."

They both froze, and she knew he had to be remembering the same thing she was: the last time she had said those words to him. Hunter jerked his hands from her body.

"I, uh…anyway, I wanted to apologize to you."

She blinked in surprise but didn't turn around to look at him. "For what?" she asked softly.

"For, you know, what happened. What happened with us before you went to Quantico."

All the tension came rushing back as she sat up ramrod straight. For months, she had wanted this conversation, had in fact prepared about two dozens versions of it in her head, in which she was alternately playful, understanding, casual, or—if she were feeling particularly honest—hurt and confused. Here she was exhausted practically to the point of falling over, half out the door to the FBI, and he wanted to discuss things…now? "What do you mean, apologize?" she asked tightly, her head bowed.

She felt him shift further away from her. "It's just—I wasn't myself that night. I—I let things get carried away in a way they shouldn't have, and I want you to know I'm sorry. It was completely my fault. And if that's the reason you feel like you need to go, I just thought I should tell you first: it won't happen again. I promise you."

Oh, God. So here at last was the truth. She'd thought there would be nothing worse than the months of silence, but in the moment, this was decidedly more awful. He was sorry. Not sorry for the after part. He was sorry it had happened at all, and this was what he had been afraid to tell her. How completely and utterly mortifying. Hot tears stung her eyes, and she desperately tried to squeeze them back. "Oh," she said. "Okay."

"Yeah?" He sounded relieved. "So we're all right then?"

"Of course." She felt him pat her shoulder, and she about leapt off the couch. "I'm going to bed now," she said in a rush, not really looking at him as she fled the room. "Good night."


Upstairs in the dark, alone her bed, she swiped at the silent tears that ran down her cheeks toward the pillow. Well, she told herself, at least now you know.


Chapter Four

Her kitchen might as well have been a time machine. Hunter usually tried hard not to think about his night with McCall because any sort of recollection brought up all manner of inappropriate feelings, but the memories always came back anyway at the most unexpected times—like once when the air conditioning went out in his car, so she'd opened another button on her blouse. It wasn't enough to see anything more than a hint of skin, but now his mind could cheerfully supply the rest, and did so, with vigor. He'd been so good for so many years, keeping his eyes and hands to himself, but one little slip-up, and suddenly his stupid brain had its own ideas.

For example, like now, in the kitchen. Here they were again, him at the stove trying not to burn the eggs, and her rushing around trying to get ready. She was leaving only for work this time, not scampering off for a six-week trip to the opposite coast, but the weird mix of feelings—guilt and gratitude, with a dash of uncomfortable intimacy—was almost precisely the same.

He'd apologized last night, and he hoped like hell she knew he meant it. He couldn't begin to explain his behavior to her because he didn't really understand it himself; only a real heel would take his best friend out on her wedding anniversary and end up putting the moves on her. No wonder she hadn't wanted to say anything to him afterward. If she decided she wanted to run off and join the FBI, he would have only himself to blame.

Trapped again in the kitchen, he avoided looking at her, which wasn't hard because she seemed to be making a special effort to stay out of his way. Only when breakfast was on the table and they were seated together did he force himself to glance in her direction. She was dressed in neatly pressed work clothes but she looked tired, with dark smudges beneath her eyes, which he supposed she'd earned because she was essentially working two jobs. This, too, was his fault, and guilt stabbed at him again, sharp and quick. "Maybe you should take the day off," he suggested. "Call in sick."

"I'm not sick," she said shortly, and took up the mug of coffee he'd set out for her.

"I know, but you could use some rest."

She made eye contact with him at last. "Hunter, if I call in sick, Devane is going to show up here personally to take my temperature. You and I both know if I don't go in there today, just like always, he's going to know something fishy is going on."

Hunter frowned a bit as he conceded her point. "I suppose they did make him Captain for a reason."

Her phone rang, but McCall ignored it in favor of a piece of toast. Hunter raised his eyebrows at her.

"Aren't you going to get that?"

"It's my mother, probably wanting to discuss Christmas. She can discuss it with the machine for now because I don't have the time or the energy."

Christmas, he thought. Right. The rest of the world was shopping and decking the halls and normally his partner would be up to her ears in tinsel by now. "Bah humbug?" he asked her before taking a sip of his own coffee.

Her shoulders slumped a little as she considered her answer. "No, it's just…it's been a year, you know?"

Yes, of course he knew better than anyone. He'd had to watch, utterly helpless, as she fought for her life with a bullet in her back. Then he'd held her while she wept, bruised and broken, with a serial rapist handcuffed on her floor. Either encounter could have been the end of her, so he mostly felt relief that she was sitting there now with him at all.

"Take the day off," he said again, softer this time. "I'll handle any fallout with Charlie."

"No," she replied, straightening up. "The bloodstains in that office mean someone was killed there, and we know it wasn't Lucy. So we're talking possibly two murders that Tony Sacco is responsible for—we can't just let that go." She checked her watch. "Speaking of going…I'm going to be late."

"Okay." He didn't like this new arrangement, the one where his partner went to work without him. "Be careful."

"I'm always careful." She paused from clearing her breakfast dishes. "But then again, I'm not the one being set up for murder," she said, and then she regarded him more closely as she appeared to consider this fact. "What are you doing today?"

"Me?" He was going to hunt down Arnie Newman and the silver Mercedes, but there was no way he planned to tell her that. "I figure I'll go to my mom's place and pick up some more of her things." He smiled a bit, hoping to sell the story. "Talk about your Christmas kitsch—she's probably got Santa's entire village stashed away in that apartment someplace. She used to start decorating the place about mid-November. I don't know what I'm going to do with it all."

He hadn't really stopped to think about it; for the first time ever, he would have nowhere to go on Christmas. Hunter drained the rest of his coffee and went to set his empty mug in the sink. To his surprise, McCall didn't immediately move away at his approach this time. She let him stand next to her as she busied herself with rinsing their cups. "The first year is the hardest," she said finally, not quite looking at him. "Especially around the holidays. Just…hang in there, okay?"

He swallowed back the sudden rush of emotion. She was close enough to touch but he didn't dare reach for her. His mother was gone. Someone else in his family was possibly framing him for murder. McCall was all that he had left, and yet the only choice he had with her was to set her free. "You'd better get going," he said, sniffing hard as he picked up a dish towel.

She hesitated for a moment, but then her shadow vanished from in front of him. "Consider me gone."


McCall had been right to be concerned, because Devane was waiting to pounce on her the moment she walked through the bullpen door. "McCall?" He waved at her from the door of his office. "Can I see you a minute?"

Hunter's story was front-page news and every cop on the beat wanted in on the action, if only vicariously, so the entire precinct halted to watch her cross the floor to the Captain's office. Charlie noticed too and gave them all a scowl before the shut the door forcefully behind her.

"How's Hunter doing?" he asked more gently when they had lost their audience.

She sat cautiously in the wooden chair in front of his desk and tried not to look like she was hiding anything. "He's not great. I mean, how would you be?"

Charlie looked grim. "Yeah, I know it's tough, and it may get tougher. Forensics came back on Hunter's revolver this morning. His are the only prints on the gun, and the bullet the M.E. took out of Lucy Salvato is a match to the weapon."

"He didn't do it, Captain."

"You may know that, and I may know that, but proving it just got a lot harder."

"Do Bebinger and Ruiz have any leads?" she asked, gripping the sides of the chair as she braced herself for the answer. "Any leads that aren't Hunter?"

"You know I can't tell you that."

"Then are we done here? I have work to do."

His frown deepened. "You know, you don't look so good."

"My partner's being framed for murder. It's kind of put a damper on my beauty routine."

"McCall…" He took a deep breath, and she could see the tension was weighing on him too. "We'll figure it out. I promise you."

She was exhausted and stressed, but even still, she knew better than to say aloud what she was thinking: the cops with the highest solve rate in the department weren't even on the case. At least not officially. "Right, okay," she said, hoping she sounded like she believed him. "Now may I go?"

"Go," he said grudgingly, nodding at the door with his chin. "And if any of the rank-and-file out there give you a hard time, send 'em to me."

"I can handle it."

"Hmm. I'll be watching anyway," he said, and she knew his message was more of a warning than a reassurance.


Hunter could tell he was getting close to Arnie's low-rent apartment complex as the passing houses grew smaller and closer together. The neighborhood was dilapidated and dreary, with storefronts headlined by faded signs and bars on the windows. People here lived a peculiar American brand of poverty in which all the money went into their cars. They couldn't afford landscaping or a paint job for the peeling front steps, but the late-model Chevys in the driveway gleamed like the Pacific in the sun.

Hunter was seeking a car, so he checked Arnie's parking lot first. The cars in the area might be relatively new, but they weren't overly expensive; a Mercedes would stick out like a sore thumb. Hunter parked his own utility Dodge and cruised the cars on foot, back and forth across the cracked asphalt until he had seen everything the lot had to offer. There was no sign of Homer's car.

Hunter scratched the back of his head and looked around, figuring it was possible Arnie had parked the Mercedes elsewhere, maybe even in a locked garage. He was contemplating his next move when Arnie himself showed up, jingling keys and whistling. He stopped short at the sight of Hunter.

"Hey, cuz," Hunter said, with exactly no familial affection. "Looking for your missing Mercedes?"

"Rick. What the hell are you doing here?" Arnie's surprise had devolved into an hostile mask.

"I figured I'd drop by and save you the trouble of tracking me down."

"Track you down? Why would I want to track you down?"

"You tell me," Hunter said evenly. "You're the one following me."

"I don't know what you're talking about. I was just on my way to the store." He put a hand on his hip, and Hunter could see he was carrying.

"Homer Dodd says he lent you his silver Mercedes," Hunter said. "The same silver Mercedes that was following me downtown yesterday."

Arnie laughed without humor. "Homer is an old man who says a lot of stuff that ain't true, and you ought to know that better than anyone. You and me, we were raised on his bullshit stories, remember?"

"Yeah, but I kind of think he's telling the truth on this one."

Arnie's face grew hard again. "Yeah? You see a Mercedes around here anyplace?"

"I see you've got keys in your hand right there," Hunter said, nodding at him. "I also see you're wearing a leather coat that probably retails for close to a grand." The brown leather jacket was supple as butter and hung down past Arnie's hips. "Where are you getting your money these days, Arnold?"

"It was an early Christmas gift."

"Yeah? From who?"

"From Santy Claus," Arnie said with a sneer, and he tried to push past Hunter. Hunter stopped him with one firm hand. "Don't you fucking touch me!" Arnie pulled free with a jerk and scrambled back out of Hunter's reach.

"I thought we could mix things up today," Hunter said, his voice low and hard. "I'll follow you around for a change. How would that be?"

"Go ahead and try it. I'll just call my local precinct and tell them the killer cop is harassing me. Betcha they'll toss your ass straight in the can."

Arnie was right about that, but Hunter tried not to show it. Instead, he parried and used a different thrust. "Homer said you had a thing for Lucy Salvato. Said you were jealous of my relationship with her way back when."

"Lucy Salvato was a used-up whore," Arnie said. "It's your business if you want to waste a bullet on her."

Hunter grabbed him by his expensive leather jacket and yanked hard, until they were nary eye to eye. "Someone else killed that girl," he said. "Someone who was in my house that night. Homer likes you for the job, and I'm wondering if maybe he's right. Old grudges, they die hard, don't they."

"Homer fingered me?" Arnie actually looked surprised by this news. "Old man's gone loco. Shit, Ricky—put me down, would ya? I got nothing for you on this one."

Hunter tightened his hold. "I'll ask you again. Where is the car?"

The glint returned to Arnie's eyes, and Hunter felt his hopes burst, because this meant Arnie felt he had the upper hand again, despite the fact that he was currently pressed up against the back of a Buick. "I told you—I don't know what you're talking about." He wrested free just enough to jerk his hand up, where he released the keys so they dangled next to Hunter's face. "But you're welcome to check out my POS Ford."


McCall stifled a yawn against the back of her hand and tried to concentrate on the typewriter in front of her. The print kept blurring before her eyes. I either need glasses or about twelve hours of sleep, she thought. She had angled herself away from Devane's office, but she could practically feel his eyes on the back of her neck, so she was determined to put on a convincing show. She had been working non-stop for more than four hours like a good little worker bee.

Her phone rang and she groped for it without looking up from her typing. "Homicide, McCall."

"McCall? It's Marty. I've got a little something for you on that matter we talked about the other day, but I figured you wouldn't want me dropping by to share it."

Just the mention of her covert investigation caused her to break into a guilty flush. She pressed the phone closer to her ear and kept her voice down. "You figured right," she said. "Where are you?"

"I'm outside in the park across the street. Bring a coffee and come find me." He clicked off without another word, so McCall risked a glance at the Captain's office. His door was partially closed, and he appeared to be in the middle of an engrossing phone call, so she got up as casually as she could and went to the coffee machine. She helped herself to a paper cup's worth and then went outside in search of Marty Fleischman.

The day was sunny but unseasonably chilly, and she wished she'd thought to bring her jacket. She crossed the street and looked around in vain for the biker-cum-detective with the greasy hair and studded earring. She was so intent with her scan that she didn't notice the Santa Claus until he was right up on top of her. "Hi," he said, and she startled for a second before she recognized him.


"I only have a few minutes," he said. "I'm late for my annual gig at the Fuller Street shelter."

McCall was touched. "You'd better watch it, Fleischman—your tough-guy image is in serious jeopardy here."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm a real mensch. My nonna would roll over in her grave if she could see me dressed like this, especially on the sixth day of Hanukkah." He eyed the coffee cup. "Is that for me?"

"If that's for me," she said, nodding at the large manila envelope that he had in his gloved hand. They made the trade, and McCall shivered, momentarily sad to be giving up the warmth of the coffee. "So what's in here?" she asked as she studied the outside of the envelope.

"Everything we have on the disappearance of Sandra Pham. I figure if you're working the Sting Ray now, you'd better know all the details."

She froze momentarily at his words. "What do you mean, working the Sting Ray?"

He made a 'give me a break' gesture. "Dee Dee, please. I got eyes and ears all over the place in this town."

She hesitated but sensed he wasn't out to bust her. "So long as you keep your mouth shut."

"Would I be here helping you like this otherwise?"

"No," she admitted, and she laid a hand on the red fur suit covering his beefy arm. "Thanks," she said. "And happy Hanukkah."

He harumphed. "Merry Christmas."

McCall returned to the station and peeked in at Charlie, who was still on the phone. Then she took the folder with her to the one place he couldn't follow: the ladies' room. In the stall, she hung her purse on the hook and leaned back against the tile wall to study the file. The lighting was poor, so she dug out her pocket-sized flashlight and read the meager reports. About a year ago, Sandra Pham had worked her usual shift at the Sting Ray and then vanished sometime afterward. Boyfriend at the time Tony Sacco was questioned several times, but he claimed he was at the club and then home in bed, alone.

Not much of an alibi, McCall thought. But without a body, the cops hadn't had anything solid to go on.

She read further, until a familiar name in the witness statements made her draw up short. Lucy Salvato. She'd been working at the club with Sandra Pham the night the other girl went missing.

"I saw Sandy sweeping up in the back hall around three-thirty in the morning," Lucy had told the investigating officers. "She said she wanted to get out of there soon because her cat had a vet's appointment first thing in the morning. But she seemed fine to me. I must've been in the kitchen when she left because I didn't see her again."

Lucy reported no usual events from the evening.

Nothing like a gunshot in the office, McCall thought to herself as she kept digging through the file. At the end were pictures, gruesome ones, depicting a badly beaten Sandra Pham. Her left eye was swollen and her cheek had an angry red bruise on it. There were also finger marks on her neck.

McCall checked the information on the pictures and discovered they were from Pham's medical file, obtained only after her disappearance. The date stamp said they'd been taken three months before she'd gone missing, and there was a terse E.R. report that spelled out the awful details: multiple lacerations and contusions, probable concussion, victim declines to contact the police. McCall had seen this story play out too many times before. The women kept going back for more until one day the beating went too far, and then the cops were called in at last.

She studied the glossy pictures of Sandra Pham's injuries. It looked like the person who had beaten her was probably right-handed, but that was ninety percent of the population. She squinted at the close-up of Sandra's face and thought she saw an unusual marking on the girl's cheek, right in the middle of the red, swollen blotch.

McCall fished out her small magnifying glass for a closer look. Yes, the mark seemed to be an imprint of some sort, maybe from a ring. She angled the picture so it caught as much light as possible. The indentation was possibly an initial. It was scrolled, in fancy lettering, but to McCall, it looked exactly like the letter T.


Not wishing to be a complete and utter liar, Hunter did make the trek to his mother's apartment to pick up some more of her things. There was a limited amount he could manage, though, since he had nowhere to put the stuff: his house was still decorated with crime scene tape. He unlocked his mother's front door, but halted right on the threshold as soon as it swung open. The place had been completely trashed.

The hairs on his neck stood up, and Hunter withdrew his backup piece. Cautiously, he stepped over the mess at the door and started a search of the place. No one was inside. Heart pounding, he stood in the middle of the disarray and reholstered his weapon. Whomever had done this was in a hurry and not particular. The sofa cushions were slashed, stuffing scattered like snow. The drawers, every one of them, were removed and turned over. The family pictures were smashed to pieces and the frames broken apart. Whatever the intruder had been searching for, it wasn't large.

Gingerly, Hunter began poking through the rubble, trying to guess whether anything obvious was missing. He knew that burglars sometimes watched the obituaries and looked for opportunities to loot the estate, but his mother lived in a one-bedroom apartment and had nothing of value. What's more, her TV and VCR were still in place, suggesting that robbery was not the motive here.

Hunter lowered himself to the arm of the sofa and held his head in his hands. He felt like he was trapped in a Hitchcock movie where the hero suffered one baffling calamity after another. Nothing made any sense. A week ago, his mom had been kibitzing with her bridge club and he'd been hunting down killers with McCall. Now his mother was dead, her apartment ransacked, and Hunter was off the force, likely to be be charged murder at any moment.

"Help me out here, Ma," he said to the empty room. "Who did this?"

But it was his father's voice that echoed back to him, from all those years ago: "You want to find out who crossed you? Then you go one step further than he did. The man who has everything only keeps his riches if he is willing to risk all of them."

Hunter had little left to risk. But he did still technically have his job, the one that had saved him back when his father died and he might have turned out like Homer or Arnie or the rest of them. His family fixed problems with broken knees and concrete shoes, but Hunter had another way. He went out to his car and popped the trunk, where he found the basic forensic kit he carried with him everywhere.

He took out a pair of latex gloves, fingerprint powder, tape and a bunch of index cards, and returned to his mother's apartment. "All right, you son of a bitch," he said as he rolled up his sleeves. "Who are you?"


Dodge manufacturers had clearly not considered all the needs of the modern American woman, McCall concluded, trying to avoid the steering wheel as she wriggled into her barely-there Sting Ray girl uniform. It didn't help that Hunter was sitting there in the passenger seat, watching her every move. "Can I help you?" she asked as she adjusted the tight tube top over her breasts.

"I'm just wondering where we're going to put this," he replied, holding up the wire.

She looked down at the scraps of sequins and spandex and agreed he had a point. "Skip it," she said lightly.

"Oh no. Either this goes in with you or I do."

"Hunter, we agreed: you can't go back in there again. Two nights in a row is pushing it."

"Then it's time to get creative," he said, waving the wire at her.

"Fine," she said with a sigh. "Maybe if it starts around back?" She sat forward and tried to hold still as he slipped his fingers—and the wire—under the back of her skimpy top. It was dark and he was practically on top of her, crammed as they were in the front seat of her car. His breathing seemed overly loud as he concentrated on attaching the wire beneath her shirt. She wasn't wearing a bra, and Hunter had to be aware of this fact, given that his fingertips were dragging across her bare skin. Her face flushed hot and she hid it in the crook of her arm. "Are you almost finished?"

"There's not a lot of room to work with here."

She sucked in a breath as his hand went around the side of her ribcage toward her chest. In another moment, he would have rounded second base. "Enough," she said, pulling away. "I've got it from here."

Wordlessly, he handed her the tape and she finished securing the wire between her breasts. "Well?" she said, patting it down. "Can you see anything?"

"It's pitch black here." He reached over and felt along her sternum. "I think you're good."

"Good. Just remember—you stay out here."

"Right," he said, but he didn't sound happy about it. "What's your plan then?"

She was studying her reflection in the rearview mirror to make sure the wig was still on straight. "I don't know exactly. Maybe try to get a look at Tony's hands and see if he's got a ring with his initial on it." She had shown Hunter the file Marty gave her, and he agreed with her about the T.

"Just don't get too close," he said as she pulled out her lipstick. She could feel his eyes on her as she put on a fresh coat. "At worst, he's a murderer. At best, we know he gets his kicks out of hitting women."

"Don't worry." McCall smacked her lips together and stashed away her makeup. "This one hits back."

She left Hunter in her car and yanked ineffectually at her short skirt as she headed for the club. Inside, the place was mostly dark again, with the blue lights on as they were poised to open soon. Mindy was wiping down glasses and stashing them under the bar. "You want to give me a hand here?" she asked McCall.

McCall glanced up at Tony's office. It was lit but she couldn't tell if he was inside. "Sure," she said, joining Mindy behind the bar. She took up a dish towel and started wiping the condensation from the glasses. "Is the boss here tonight?" she asked in a hopeful tone.

Mindy scowled. "What do you care if he is?"

"Oh, no special reason. Just wondering if he was usually around." When Mindy said nothing, McCall pressed further. "He seems really nice."

"Ha! Yeah, he's real nice." Mindy looked at her through black-rimmed eyes. "Take my advice: stay away from Tony."

"Oh," McCall said. "Are you and he…?"

"Oh my God, no," Mindy replied, looking aghast. "That bastard creep comes near me and he gets a piece of this." She reached down and removed a switchblade from her boot.

"He's—he's that dangerous?"

Mindy looked like she wanted to say more, but she decided against it. "Just trust me when I say you should stay away from him, okay? He's bad news." She regarded McCall again. "And while you're at it, stay away from the cop, too."

"What cop?" McCall hoped she sounded casual.

"The one you were cozying up to last night. I don't know if you realized it, but he's the guy who killed the last girl to wear that uniform."

McCall winced inwardly. She hadn't realized she was wearing Lucy's clothes. "He what? He killed someone?"

"Don't you ever watch the news?"

"My TV is broken."

"Well, let me give you the headline: he shot her." Mindy nodded, satisfied with herself.

McCall was quiet a moment as she considered her options. "He didn't seem like the type," she said eventually. "And if he shot her, why isn't he arrested?"

Mindy gave a short, bitter laugh. "Oh, honey. They do all sorts of shit to us, and they always get away with it. Lucy was the same way, you know—thinking that the next guy coming down the pike was going to be the right one, Mr. Nice Guy. I told her to stay away from the cops, but she said she knew one of the good ones. She left her shift early that night to go talk to him, and look where it got her: six feet under."

"You saw her that night?" McCall's heart rate picked up again as she realized Mindy might have the answer of how Lucy got to Hunter's house, if only McCall could figure out how to ask the question.

"Walked out that door at seven and never came back," Mindy said. She returned to her work, wiping the glasses and setting them up.

McCall stood there thinking for a long moment. "What if Lucy was right? What if that cop is one of the good ones?"

Mindy halted with her dishrag in midair, and she appeared to consider the suggestion seriously. "Well then he'd better stay away from here," she said grimly as she started wiping again. "Or whatever got Lucy, it'll get him, too."


Several hours passed in a haze of smoke, sweat and alcohol. McCall's feet were killing her, and she hadn't seen a glimpse of Tony all night. Every so often, a shadow would pass in front of the frosted window of his office, so she assumed he was on the premises. It was looking like he wasn't going to put in an appearance with the riffraff this evening, however, so the night might end up a bust unless she could figure out a way to talk to Mindy some more. She still had not devised an indirect way of inquiring about Lucy's transportation; any sort of obvious questioning would set off all sorts of alarm bells with Mindy.

She was trying out different conversational gambits in her head when Danielle pressed a keychain into her hand. "We need another box of napkins from the supply closet. Can you get them?"

McCall was happy enough to have any excuse to go poking around in the back hallway. She took the keys but bypassed the closet in favor of the heavy curtain at the end of the hall. It was too dark to see much of anything, and she wished she had a flashlight with her. Just as she was drawing back the curtain, a voice rasped in her ear. "We meet again."

"Jake!" McCall squirmed away but he followed her, pressing forward until he had her backed up against the wall. "I was just getting some napkins."

"You were snooping where you shouldn't be," he said, his voice reproachful.

"No, I was just confused, that's all." She tried shifting to the left, but he caged her with his body.

"Seems you get confused a lot." He stroked her cheek with one finger. "Maybe I could help straighten you out."

"Sure," she said, trying to keep her voice steady. "Show me the supply closet?"

"I'll show you everything you need to know." He inched closer, his fetid breath on her face. He smelled like beer and breath mints, and she realized with a rush of fear that he had followed her down this hall. Suddenly the dim light from the exit seemed very far away.

"I have to get back to work," she said, pushing at his chest.

"Not if I say you don't." His hand reached under her skirt and squeezed her ass, and she gasped with alarm.

"Tony—Tony will be mad."

He laughed at the mention of his boss's name. "Tony? Tony knows this is one of the perks of my job," he said, jerking her even closer, tight enough that the rough denim of his jeans scraped against her bare thigh. "'Sides," he added. "We won't be gone long."

"I think you have the wrong idea," she said. "I have a boyfriend."

"I don't care. I saw you with that cop the other night. Maybe you want to give me a private lap dance too."

"That was just business," she said, turning her face away from his. "It was two hundred bucks, nothing more."

"You want money? I got plenty of money." His hand started sliding up her ribs, and in a second, he was going to find the wire.

"I want," she said, "to get back to work." She kneed him in the groin, hard enough to dislodge him, and exhaled in sweet relief as he doubled over in pain.

"Bitch," he grunted. "You'll pay for this."

McCall escaped back out into the crowd, her heart still hammering inside her chest. She threaded her way back to the bar, where Mindy was serving up drinks. The girl took one look at McCall and pushed a water at her. McCall drank it down gratefully and set the glass back on the mirrored surface. "I see why you carry a knife in your boot," she said, but Mindy was no longer looking at her.

McCall followed Mindy's gaze beyond the crowd to the door, where Hunter was standing, clearly looking for her. She bit back a curse and went to go get him. If she could get him back outside before Jake saw him, maybe everything would be fine. "What are you doing?" she asked, pushing him toward the door. "We had an agreement!"

"It sounded like trouble," he said as they both fell out into the cool night air.

"I had it covered!"

"How am I supposed to know that when I am sitting in the car?"

"You're supposed to trust me!" She blew out an angry breath that stirred the bangs from her forehead.

"I do trust you. It's them I don't trust."

McCall heard the door opening behind her, and there she was, chatting up a cop where anyone could see. She grabbed Hunter and made a split-second decision to try to save her cover: she kissed him. Shock flickered though him as her mouth connected with his, but like a true partner, he picked up the improvisation quickly enough. One large hand slid down her body to cup her bottom and the other threaded into her hair.

She felt someone watching, but she kept her eyes closed and her arms wound tightly around Hunter's broad shoulders. They kissed with soft, parted mouths. She was shaking, but it was from adrenaline, not passion. Hunter held her so close she nearly came out of her shoes.

She heard the door fall shut again, and Hunter pulled his mouth from hers, breathing hard. They still clutched each other tight. "Who was it?" she said.

"Don't know." He nuzzled her temple, and this time she did flush at the intimate contact. "They're gone now."

She stepped out of his embrace and righted her clothing. "I, uh, I should get back in there."

He nodded, looking a little dazed. "Yeah, okay. Holler if you need me, then."

She waited with her hand on the door and watched him amble off down the street into the shadows. When he was out of sight, she touched her swollen mouth briefly and smiled before going back inside.

Her smile did not last long. She was walking around the edge of the dance floor, dodging the onlookers, when a hand shot out of nowhere to grab her arm. "Got you," Jake said with a growl.

She twisted but he held her fast. "Look, I told you—"

"We're going to go see Tony," he yelled at her over the noise from the speakers. "You can tell him all about your boyfriend."

McCall glanced back at the door as Jake started dragging her toward the rear of the club. She decided she wouldn't summon Hunter just yet. "Great, I'll tell him how you treat the staff," she said, still struggling to regain control of her arm.

"Honey, I'm the nice one."

His fingers tightened on her arm so hard that she knew they'd leave marks. Jake hauled her down the hall, behind the curtain, and up the stairs to Tony's office. He burst through the door without knocking and shoved her in front of him, like a cat presenting a mouse. Tony was standing in front of an open, white lacquered armoir, adjusting his tie with the aide of a full-length mirror. He turned at their entrance, and he did not look pleased.

"Sorry about the interruption," Jake said, huffing. "I caught this one swapping spit outside with that cop, Rick Hunter. Figured you'd want to know about it."

Tony narrowed his eyes at her. "Is this true?" he asked.

McCall forced herself not to look at the bloodstains on the ceiling. "Uh, he showed up here again, and I…" She swallowed hard. "I thought maybe I could get some more information for you."

"Boss, I'm telling you—"

Tony held up his palm at Jake. "And did you?" he asked McCall. "Get any more information?"

She tried to think of something, anything to tell him. "He wanted to know if you own a gun," she said finally, and Tony stiffened noticeably.

"What else did he say?"

"Uh…" She shifted, stalling for time. "He said…there was a girl who went missing from here. Her name was Sandra."

"What?" This time Tony was frowning in Jake's direction. "You didn't tell me he was interested in Sandra."

"I didn't know! It's old news. 'Sides, you'd think he had his hands full right about now."

"What else?" Tony demanded, shifting his attention back to her. "What did he want to know about Sandra?"

"Nothing." She held up her palms. "That was it. I'm sorry if I did something wrong. I thought, you know…maybe there would be more money in it."

"There isn't." Tony's tone was steely. "You stay away from him from now on, understand?"

"I understand."

"Now get back to the floor."

McCall didn't need to be told twice to escape the room with the blood in it, but as she made haste for the door, she couldn't help but notice that the open armoir held suit coats, a tie rack, and a silver plate of jewelry—including rings.


By the time she pulled her car into her driveway, the electronic clock on the dash read half past three in the morning. The neighborhood was dark and silent, as anyone with sense had been in bed hours ago. If she was lucky, she might get three hours of sleep before she had to be at work again—her real job this time. First, she had to peel off her Ginger Thompson attire and try to shower the nightclub grime from her body. The thought of the hot spray was enough to force her out of the car and up the walkway.

Hunter trailed after her. "I don't think you ought to go back there," he said.

"Hunter…" She stopped on the stoop and rubbed her eyes with one hand.

"You had a couple of close calls tonight, and Tony's getting suspicious."

"How else are we going to get a look at his rings?"

"We'll figure something out. Something that doesn't involve you getting manhandled by some slime ball in a nightclub."

"Oh, you aren't all that slimy," she said, aiming for teasing, but Hunter frowned and hunched inside his coat. "Hunter. I'm kidding."

He looked at the ground and scuffed his shoe against the cement. "Listen, I just want to say I'm sorry about—"

"Oh my God," she broke in. "Hunter, I swear, if you apologize again for kissing me, I am going to have to shoot you."

"What are you talking about?"

"I get it, okay? You're sorry. You regret everything. Message received! I only did what I did tonight to try to save my cover. It's not like I'm harboring any secret romantic fantasies, so you can relax. You're off duty. You no longer have to pretend to like me."

That last bit was a little much, she knew, but she was exhausted and freezing and angry and sad. Hunter looked perplexed.

"I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about," he said finally. "But as I was trying to say," he continued taking a deep breath, "I am sorry I dragged you into this mess. I'm sorry you're working two jobs, that you have to deal with creeps putting their hands all over you, and that I'm taking up space in your guest room. I'm sorry I've ruined your Christmas."

Oh, she thought. Oops.

He took the keys from her hand and opened her front door. Then he reached around inside and flicked on a switch. Light steamed out from the bay window into the dark night, and she saw a Christmas tree standing in her living room, bedecked with red ribbons and a zillion tiny white lights. It was beautiful. She blinked back tears and covered her mouth with one hand. "You did this?"

They were standing mere inches apart on her front steps. "I don't have to pretend," he said softly. He smiled as he stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers. "I like you."

Warmth spread out from where he touched her, and she resisted the urge to grab his hand and hold it there. "Oh yeah?" she asked. "How much?"

He took his hand away, but there was a still a slight smile on his lips. "Probably more than I should," he admitted.

She searched his face, wondering what the hell she was supposed to do with this new information. She certainly hadn't imagined the conversation from the night before, the one where he'd apologized for sleeping with her and said he wished he could take it all back. "Rick, I…"

She stopped almost on instinct alone, because there was a dark car inching down her street, almost gliding in slow motion. No one should be out at this hour. No one should drive this slowly.

Hunter was just beginning to turn to see what had caught her attention when she saw it, a shiny glint of metal lit by the warm light of her Christmas tree.

"Gun!" she yelled. She felt him shove her hard towards the ground, and then they were falling, falling, as the shots shattered the quiet night.


Chapter Five

She couldn't see and she couldn't move. Her heart clanged against her ribs like a steam engine in overdrive, and she could taste blood in her mouth. Dimly, she was aware of a buzzing sound that seemed loud but also far away, like it was coming at her down a long, dark tunnel. She lay with her cheek on the cold, gritty pavement, waiting for the pain to start, but she didn't feel anything. It was so dark. No, no, no, she thought. Not again.

She couldn't remember the last shooting, which had occurred only a few feet away on the other side of her front door. She'd awoken in the hospital with her life totally altered and no memory of how it happened. I didn't see his face, she'd said at the time. And again, later, when Bigfoot pulled her down her stairs. I didn't see his face. Her dreams were filled with them, these faceless monsters, evil men who had been so close to her that she could still feel their hot breath on her neck.

"Are you okay?"

The buzzing noise was Hunter, she realized as his voice came into focus. He was yelling at her, but she had no idea where he was. "Hunter?"

"Yes," he said, naked relief in his voice.

"Where are you?"

"Here." He touched her arm, and she jerked at the contact. She could move and feel again, and the realization made her open her eyes—at which point she understood why she'd been unable to see. She sat up, slightly shaky, and started picking the dead leaves out of her hair. "You're all right?" He still sounded worried.

"Yes, I think so." She felt little beyond the zing of the adrenaline humming through her veins, but at least all her limbs seemed to be functioning as normal. "You?"

His eyes were dark and shining in the low light. "Yeah." He touched his shoulder. "My jacket's ripped, though."

"I didn't see his face," she said, the words automatic now.

"Me either." He reached over to take her hand and help her up. "At least you saw the gun, huh?"

She wasn't entirely sure that her legs would hold, but she let Hunter tug her to her feet. She felt dizzy and disoriented standing in her own front yard, and her breathing was still unsteady. The car with the gunman was long gone, and the night was quiet again. "The keys," she said, looking around for them vaguely.

"Still in the door. C'mon, let's go." He nudged her toward the house, but she cast a last look back at the street before complying. Inside, Hunter locked the door again and set the alarm system, but they did not move beyond her entryway. "You're sure you're all right?" he said, looking her over in the filtered light from the Christmas tree.

"Just some skinned hands and knees," she said, holding out her palms for inspection.

Hunter's touch was tender as he examined the superficial cuts. "Let's get you cleaned up, huh?"

She was still in too much shock to make any protests as he propelled her gently toward the stairs and up into her peach-and-white bathroom, with its floral wall paper and fluffy bath rugs. The room was small enough that they had to stand almost on top of one another. Hunter, dressed in denim and leather and smelling like gunpowder, nearly scraped his head on the ceiling. He leaned across her body and ran a stream of warm water into the sink.

"Doesn't look too bad," he said as he held her hand under the water. Her palms stung as the tiny bits of dirt and concrete washed away.

"It's fine," she said, pulling free from his touch. "It's not even bleeding anymore. I'm just going to take a shower anyway."

Hunter did not grasp the hint to leave. He put his hands on his hips. "We sure made someone nervous, didn't we?"

She removed the wig and started unpinning her hair. Hunter watched unabashedly in the mirror. "The question is who," she said.

"Most likely someone who followed us from the club. You definitely can't go back there now. It'd be suicide."

Her eyes met his. "You don't know it was the club."

"And you don't know it's not. Look at how close he got, would ya?" He indicated the tear in his jacket where the bullet had ripped through, close to his bicep. "You really want to give him a second shot?"

She squinted at the rip as she dried her hands. "Let me see that." She slipped her fingers into the hole, and sure enough, the tear went all the way through the lining. When she took her hand out again, her fingertips were wet with blood. "Hunter, you're bleeding."


Together, they took his jacket off, and he turned toward the mirror to inspect his wound. His blue shirt was stained dark red. "Shirt too," she said firmly, and so he took everything off until he was standing bare-chested in front of her. She winced at the cut, which was more of a burn, really, but it measured half an inch wide and was still oozing near the center. She fetched a clean washcloth, which she wet thoroughly before pressing it to his arm. "I guess we know who they were aiming for," she said grimly.

"We don't know anything."

"It's your arm," she pointed out.

He frowned. "Yeah, and you know what else was right by my arm? Your head."

She swallowed with difficulty and returned to her task. "The bleeding has stopped," she said as she eased the towel away from his skin, "and I don't think you need stitches."

"Of course I don't need stitches," he scoffed. "It's barely a scratch."

"Okay, fine, tough guy," she said, pushing him toward the door, her smarting palms against his warm, naked back. "Then leave me in peace so I can shower."

She shut the door behind him and was preparing to lean against it, when he stuck his head back in. "Uh, you don't happen to have a Bandaid, do you?"

Wordlessly, she went to the medicine cabinet and retrieved a box of bandages, which she thrust at him as she shoved him back outside once more.


In the shower, the hot rushing water drowned out all the violence in her head, but once she was clean and dry, the house was silent and she was alone with the echo of gunfire and the sharp, flinty feeling it produced. She bypassed her bed and instead curled up on one end of the sofa, the spot closest to the Christmas tree. The lights were still on, creating a soft glow and scrub-brush shadows across her living room floor. You would need an alternative light source and a much closer look to pick up the faint bloodstains that were engrained in the wood, one by the door where Suzie had died and one just beyond where McCall had nearly joined her. Ghosts haunted her this Christmas, of the past, the present, and a future she could not quite see.

"Hey." A long shadow fell over her and she looked up to see Hunter standing there, regarding her with a frown. "You should be in bed."

"So should you."

"I don't have to be at work in a few hours," he said as he took a seat next to her on the couch. There was a moment of silence and then he cleared his throat. "Are you…are you doing okay?"

"Of course," she said, bristling. They had both been shot at; why should she be the one to fall apart?

"All right, got it," he said as he held up his hands defensively.

He relaxed back into the cushions without another word, and she eyed him with a bit of jealousy. He seemed just fine, of course, no worse for wear. He never was. He had at least as many outward scars as she did, but he managed to keep any related emotions tied up and neatly packaged, whereas she was left with flashbacks so real they took her breath away. He could go to bed with her and think nothing more of it, but she felt emotionally stripped, naked like a peeled grape.

Too many feelings, all of them huge and messy. It would be better to be like Hunter, even if she resented him for his lack of emotional processing. He got off so easy, and he probably didn't even know it. Ho-hum. Just another day of sex and violence. La dee da. Anything good on TV tonight?

She glowered and huddled further inside her robe. Hunter regarded her for a moment. "Are you angry at me for some reason?" he asked eventually.

"Why would I be angry?"

"I don't know. That's why I'm asking."

She shifted to face him. "It really doesn't bother you—getting shot at like that?"

"Of course it bothers me. I'm going to find the SOB responsible and make him pay."

She rolled her eyes. He made it sound so easy. "Right. Find the culprit, throw lock him up, move right on to the next one, no muss, no fuss."

His brow furrowed. "Well, yes. That's the job, right?"

"I'm not talking about the job!" Damn it, there was that stupid emotion creeping into her voice again. She could control everything in her life except for her goddamned feelings. "I'm talking about—you go through life, doing these things, and they never seem to come back on you."

"What things?" He looked genuinely puzzled. "Ducking out of the way of a hail of bullets? What would you have me do?"

"Not the ducking, the shooting." She grabbed his injured arm and held it out as evidence. "You could have been killed! And the other night, with Lucy, what if you hadn't been the shower? What if whoever it was broke in and shot you too?"

"But they didn't," he said calmly.

"But they could have." Here, she gathered, was the difference between them: Hunter only worried himself with what was; she worked herself into knots over what might have been. "Has it occurred to you that if you hadn't gone to bed with her, none of this might have happened?"

Hunter went rigid. She'd landed her blow, but it didn't give her the satisfaction she'd been seeking. "Of course I've thought about it," he said softly as he pulled away from her. "I've thought about it every day. If there were any way to take back that night, I'd do it in a heartbeat."

She winced at his words because he'd said the same thing about her. But, she supposed, to Hunter they were probably very similar: just some old friend he happened to fall into bed with one lonely night. "More regrets," she said tightly, her eyes trained on her lap.

"Oh," he said, and she heard both surprise and understanding in his voice. Hunter might not be Mr. Emotional but he was a smart man with a keen memory. "No. I mean, yes. But not like that." He reached for her tentatively but she shrugged off his touch. Hunter shifted closer, effectively trapping her between his body and the couch cushions.

She squirmed away. "Hunter…"

"Shh." She felt his lips against her head. When he spoke again, his voice was low and intimate. "I think you have to regret any sort of evening that ends with a dead body, but it was a stupid choice even if things hadn't turned out that way. Of course I hate what happened to her, and that it happened in my home, in my bed, where she should have had every reason to be safe. I don't know my involvement had anything to do with her death, but I wish like hell there had been some way to stop it."

She squeezed her eyes closed, feeling a bit ashamed that she had called him on it at all. Of course he would be aghast at what happened to Lucy. Who wouldn't be? "Rick, I'm sorry."

"I'm not done yet," he told her, giving her a slight squeeze. "I loved Lucy when I was a kid. When I didn't even know what love was. We were sixteen and thought we'd live forever. We were stupid, like all kids are stupid. When she showed up at my place that night, I looked at her, and I could sort of remember what it was like back then, but it was…" He trailed off, as if searching for words. "It was like those feelings happened to someone else. Like we were characters in a book I'd read a long time ago."

"Then why did you go to bed with her?"

He sighed. "My mom was gone. The house was too quiet. We'd had a lot to drink and I guess I wanted to see if I could feel…something. Anything." He blew out a long breath. "But I mostly felt sick and stupid, and that was before what happened. Like I said, I made a poor choice."

She bowed her head. She supposed that's what she was too, a poor choice. "I see."

He was quiet for a long moment, but then he gathered her closer against him. She remained grudging about the contact but did not pull away. "With you, I regret the timing and the way I…the way I broke a promise to myself that I wouldn't do that to you—to put you in the position of having to say no, or…"

"I didn't say no."

"I know, but…"

"But what?" She turned so she could see his face, and he loosened his hold.

He shrugged. "You're leaving," he said finally. "I think that says it all."

She felt confused, her tired head aching. "I thought you'd be happy. I thought you wanted me to go."

"What? No. I never, ever said that. I know I didn't."

She hugged herself. "You didn't have to."

"Hmm." He reached between them and felt for her hand, which he squeezed upon finding it. "Well, let me be clear: I hate the idea."

With those words, she could finally admit it to herself: she hated the idea too. "Oh," she said, feeling her cheeks turning pink. "I thought…I mean, after what happened, I thought… you know, that you didn't want me anymore." She didn't mean sex, but of course that's how it sounded.

Hunter looked at her without replying for a long minute, and her words just hung there between them. "I want you more than anyone," he said finally, and she exhaled sharply in relief because she could tell: he didn't mean sex either.

He tugged her back toward him, and she went willingly this time, curling against his side as he wrapped both arms around her. She could close her eyes at last; he was warm and solid and always so much bigger than her fears. The sound of the gunfire in her head was replaced by Hunter's steady beating heart, and she inhaled deeply, relaxing for the first time in days. He nuzzled hair and her hand fell low around his waist to the hem of his T-shirt. He started a slow sweep of her spine with his palm, a gentle pressure that made her sigh with pleasure.

"This is another regret," he murmured as he kept up his slow caress.

"Hmm?" With her eyes shut, she realized how tired she really was.

"We didn't get more time for this."

They'd had all night, and she had savored every moment. "How many hours did you want?" she asked him sleepily.

He settled deeper into the cushions with her. "Oh, that's easy," he said against the top of her head. "All of them."


When Hunter awoke on the sofa, the gray light of dawn was just creeping around the edges of the window blinds, the birds beginning their morning songs, but inside the house lay quiet and still. He blinked in the semidarkness as he assessed his situation. His neck ached from the odd angle created by the overstuffed couch pillows and his arm stung where the bullet had grazed him, a reminder of how he'd ended up in this particular spot. He did not move right away, though, because McCall was asleep against his middle, curled up with an afghan and his ribcage.

He smiled down at her and shifted just enough that he could reach the ends of her hair with his fingertips. He sifted through the strands in an absent gesture as he waited out the relentless ticking clock. She would be late for work if she didn't get up soon, but he hated the idea of waking her and sending her back out through a door that was pockmarked by bullets. It was safe here, or at least it felt that way, cocooned as they were in blankets and silence. The world outside had stripped him cruelly of his family, his job and his home, but he could maybe live with all of it if he got to keep just this much: his partner and a tiny sliver of peace.

Of course, he considered, this was probably the least safe place in the world for her, sleeping next to him; the last woman this close to him was cooling in the city morgue. "Hey," he said softly. He dragged his knuckles gently over McCall's back, rubbing her through the terry cloth of her robe, but she did not stir. Might have to bypass the coffee and go directly to the NoDoz today, he thought grimly as he sat up.

The motion woke her, and she jerked upright, wild-eyed like a startled animal. "What time is it?"

"Quarter to seven," he said, stretching at last. "You have time." Even as he said the words, he worried they were running out of it. Drive-by shootings. Blood spattered ceiling. One woman dead, another missing. He and McCall dealt with this kind of chaos all the time, but they usually had the law and the support of the LAPD behind them. This time, they were walking farther and father out on the tightrope together, and he could no longer see the end in either direction. "I'll make the coffee," he offered, because at least that was an attainable goal.

"I'm going to need mine by i.v. today," she muttered as she got up to go change.

Ten minutes later, they sat at her kitchen table with hot, steaming mugs of coffee. He studied her with a furrowed brow as she took a careful sip roughly every four seconds, as though on autopilot. "What?" she asked finally.

"You've only got one earring on," he said, touching his own lobe for emphasis.

She laid her head on the table with a groan. "I am way too old for this."

"Look on the bright side," he said as she straightened up again. "Your days dodging the octopus hands at the Sting Ray are over. You can go to bed at seven p.m. tonight if you wish."

"Wouldn't that be nice," she said into the rim of her cup. She swallowed another sip. "But I was thinking…"

"No," he said automatically, shaking his head. "You're not going back there."

"Not tonight, no. But the girls have said Tony isn't around usually during the afternoon, when they do the set-up and stuff. If I could just get in there quickly, I could get a look at his rings and—"

He put up a hand. "No! It's crazy. Do you remember a few hours ago when someone tried to kill us, someone who probably followed us home from that place?"

"Will you just listen a second?" she said as she pushed his hand back down. "Right now, we've got nothing on Tony Sacco that's of any use. Probable blood spatter on the ceiling, but we don't even know that much for sure. Maybe he had a weird coffee spill or something. The point is, we have nothing we can use right now even for leverage. If I can check that plate of rings he has in his office, and one of them has a T carved in it…well, that's enough for a warrant, right there. I could be in and out in under ten minutes."

Hunter rocked back in his chair as he took in what she was saying. Of course he wanted to nail Sacco. Part of him just wanted to get the guy in a dark alley somewhere and shove him up against a brick wall so hard that his fancy pants split in two. But McCall was talking about a legal way to get the dirt bag, the kind that good cops had worked years of their lives to find, and so they'd be crazy to pass that opportunity up. Except…

"Here's what we do know for sure," he said finally as he righted his chair once more. "Sandra Pham and Lucy Salvato both worked for Tony at the Sting Ray. One's dead and the other's probably dead. There has got to be a way to prove it that doesn't involve you putting on the same uniform they wore and walking in their shoes—because we've seen exactly where that path leads."

Her shoulders slumped a little at his response because she recognized the truth of his words. "You may be right," she said.

"Damn straight I'm right. And if you need any more convincing, we can go dig a couple of slugs out of your front door."

She winced. "Don't remind me. But we still have to find a way to get a look at those rings. One is going to match, I'm sure of it."

"We'll think of something."

She drained the last of her coffee and picked up a banana for the road. "I've got to run."

"Wait a sec," he said, stopping her with a hand on her arm. "I have something for you."

Despite her fatigue, she brightened. "Oh yeah?" she asked, and he suppressed a smirk. The woman did love presents. Unfortunately, this wasn't the good kind, at least not yet.

She went to retrieve her missing earring while he went to the spare room, where he retrieved the small stack of fingerprinting cards he had collected the day before at his mother's apartment. McCall looked intrigued as he handed them to her. "I need you to run these," he said.

"Where are they from?"

He hesitated. "My mom's place," he answered, and her eyebrows rose. "When I went over there yesterday, I found someone had trashed the place pretty good. They were looking for something, something small, but I have no idea what it was or if the search was successful. I pulled a bunch of prints that may or may not be useful."

"You think it was that guy—the one your mom was seeing?"

Hunter didn't want to think that, but the idea had occurred to him. "I don't know. The stuff I found when I was there the first time suggests he, uh…that he had intimate knowledge of the place. Why would he need to trash it?"

"Maybe she was hiding something from him."

"Maybe. She sure as hell was hiding something from me." He nodded at the cards she held in her hands. "I need your help figuring out what it is."

McCall looked at them too, and her face held some skepticism. "Yeah, well, you know the Latent Print boys are running a backlog as it is. If this doesn't have some sort of high priority case number attached to it…"

He clapped a hand on her shoulder and started walking her toward the door. "You're resourceful. I'm sure you'll figure something out."

"You owe me."

"Dinner's on me," he said, opening the door for her. He glanced immediately to the street, but it was quiet.

"Dinner? You're cooking?"

"Yeah," he said, and pantomimed a phone to his ear. "I'll make pizza—complete with the cardboard box and everything."


McCall dragged herself into the precinct and made a beeline for the coffee machine, figuring she was going to need a steady stream of the stuff to make it through the day. At this point, she'd been working on three-to-four hours of sleep a night for nearly a week, and she had definitely hit the wall. It was just as well her little side gig at the Sting Ray was coming to a close, but she wished like hell there was a way to get to Tony Sacco's rings first. She supposed she could think up some brilliant plan—but not until she'd had about fifteen hours of sleep.

She started to lower herself into her chair, but her fanny hadn't even hit the padding when her name rang out like a shot through the station. "McCall!" When she turned to look, she saw Charlie was standing in the door of his office, stony-faced, and he beckoned her with one finger.

She stood up slowly, prolonging the inevitable, because it was clear from his expression that the house of cards was about to come tumbling down. If Marty knew she was working the Sting Ray, other cops probably knew too, and…well, she figured she'd be joining Hunter on suspension in a few minutes, and that's if she were lucky. At least then I'll be able to get some sleep, she thought as she crossed the threshold to Charlie's office. "Captain?" she said. "You wanted to see me?"

"Sit," he said, practically hissing the word. She sat. "I just got off the phone with a Detective Ron Trammell from over in Hollenbeck." He paused to give her a moment for a reaction, but the name meant nothing to her. This conversation was not really playing out as she had envisioned. "Trammell is investigating a shooting that took place outside the Blue Plate Diner last night."

At the name of the restaurant, the brain fog that had clouded her head all morning evaporated in a flash. "Shooting?"

Charlie looked at the notes on his desk. "Sabrina Salvato—apparently she was a waitress there. Salvato, I thought, gee that name sounds really familiar. But Trammell's inquiry got routed to my desk is because—for some reason—this girl was walking around with your card in her coat pocket."

"Is she dead?" McCall asked, and held her breath for the answer. Please say no, please say no.

"She survived the scene and was taken to the hospital," he replied, and she sank back in her seat, weak with relief. "That's all I know." He leaned across the desk. "Suppose now you tell me all you know. This Sabrina Salvato—she's got to be related somehow to Lucy Salvato, yes?"

"She's her daughter," McCall said reluctantly.

"And you know her—how?"

"I've only met her once. We had a short conversation in the restaurant where she worked, and I haven't seen her since."

Charlie frowned, looking at his notes and back at her, obviously trying to make some sense of what was going on. "What did you talk to her about?"

"Who might have wanted to kill her mother," McCall said after a beat. She lifted her chin, daring Charlie to reprimand her, but he just folded his arms.

"And did she have any ideas?"

"Yeah, Lucy's boyfriend, Tony Sacco, but…uh, I was under the impression that Ruiz and Bebinger were already investigating him." When Charlie didn't correct her on that, she sat forward again. "Captain, I have to go tell Hunter about this."

"Sit down," he ordered as she tried to get up. "Hunter's officially on leave, remember? He's not on the 'need to know' list right now."

"In this case, he is," she insisted.

"Look, I am trying to keep my patience here, in the face of what appears an awful lot like willful insubordination, and I get that sidelining Hunter on his own case is not making the two of you happy, but—"

"She's his daughter," McCall blurted out, and Charlie froze in mid-bluster. She could feel her face turn pink. "Maybe," she added, somewhat lamely. "We don't know for sure."

There was a short, terrible silence, and then Charlie slowly rubbed his face with both hands. "Call him," he said gruffly, as though making an impulsive decision. Then he took a deep breath. "And I'll call Trammell, Ruiz and Bebinger, and we can all have a party together at the hospital."


The waiting area outside the intensive care unit was clean but spartan, with nothing on the walls but an anonymous painted seascape that could have been anywhere in the world with sand and water. There was the usual selection of utilitarian beige-pink padded chairs, a muted TV playing some daytime talk show, and a smattering of well-thumbed old magazines. Detectives Trammell, Ruiz and Bebinger sported matching paper cups of coffee from the machine down the hall, and McCall eyed them with longing from her spot across the room, where she stood between Hunter and Charlie for round two of "What the hell is going on here?"

"So tell me exactly what the doctor said," Hunter was saying. Absent any obvious kin, the staff at Cedars-Sinai had apparently opted to take "highest ranking officer" as their designated contact person, and thus Charlie got the update on Sabrina's condition.

"The bullet that entered her chest collapsed one lung and nicked an artery, which they have repaired surgically. She's stable and sedated and her odds are looking pretty good at the moment since she made it through the surgery. The bullet that went through her hand shattered two bones, and that's going need further surgery."

"Assuming she survives," Hunter muttered when Charlie didn't complete the thought on his own.

"She got lucky," Charlie said. "Someone heard the shots and called it in right away."

"A witness?" McCall asked quickly.

Charlie's gaze went to the other detectives across the room. "Doesn't sound like much, but they're running it down. Before we go over and talk to them, I need to know exactly what the situation is here—and I mean everything." When Hunter and McCall looked at each other but didn't say anything, he frowned and put his hands on his hips. "I can't protect you without knowing what you're up to," he said. "So let's hear it."

McCall glanced at Hunter, trying to read him for a cue. This was his life on the line, so she was willing to play it however he wanted, but his face was inscrutable. "We talked to Sabrina once," he said finally, "about who might have wanted to hurt her mother. We obviously had no idea Sabrina herself might be a target."

Charlie was quiet a moment. "McCall said…she said Sabrina might be your daughter."

Hunter shot McCall a "thanks a lot" look, and she made a helpless gesture. "What did you want me to say?" she said. "It was the only way he'd let you be here."

"She's right," Charlie added. "Keep talking."

"There's not a lot to add," Hunter said wearily, rubbing his head with one hand. "Sabrina was relatively convinced I killed Lucy, but she likes Tony Sacco as a runner-up. You say the shooting went down around 1 a.m.?"

"The 9-1-1 call came in at 1:07," Charlie replied.

Hunter took a deep breath, "That's about two-and-a-half hours before someone took a shot at McCall and me," he said.

"What?" Charlie bellowed so loud that the entire room turned to look. McCall braced herself for the onslaught. "Someone shot at you? And you didn't report it?"

"Well, uh, Captain, this morning when I got in, I didn't really have a chance to do anything before you summoned me into your office, and…"

"Oh, cut the crap," he said, scowling at her, and she shut up in a hurry.

"It was around three-thirty last night," Hunter continued. "Someone tried a drive-by outside of her house. The car was a dark sedan, but we didn't get a make, let alone a plate number. No ID on the driver." He reached into his back pocket and dug out what looked like a sandwich bag with a bullet in it. "But I took this out of McCall's front door this morning, and I'd lay even odds it matches the slug taken from Sabrina during surgery."

"Why? Why would someone want to kill you and Sabrina?"

Hunter shrugged. "Maybe she was right about old Tony."

"All right, well." Charlie inhaled deeply and cast another look at the waiting detectives, who were starting to mill about with more purpose, getting closer to the private conversation in the corner. "I can't stall their questions any longer, so I'll refrain from asking just why you two were outside McCall's house at three-thirty in the morning."

"Just getting some air," Hunter replied, deadpan.

McCall looked at the floor to avoid saying anything. If he wasn't going to mention their little charade down at the Sting Ray, she sure as hell wasn't going to bring it up. Charlie waved over the other detectives, and the group exchanged pro-forma handshakes and wary glances. "It seems these two," Charlie said, clearing his throat, "might have been next on your shooter's list last night."

"What do you mean?" asked Trammell. He was an older guy, nearing retirement, and he had the pot belly to prove it.

Hunter handed over the slug in the baggie and explained about the attempted drive-by. He threw in Tony Sacco's name for good measure. Bebinger's expression remained neutral, but there was a steely undertone in his voice when he said, "Checking our work on this one, are you, Rick?"

Hunter held up his palms. "You want Tony Sacco, go get him. No one would be happier than me to see you nail him for Lucy—and for Sabrina."

"You can be sure we'll talk to him," Ruiz said.

"Use small words," Hunter replied. "I hear he's pretty stupid."

"Go now," Charlie said quietly. "Bring him in for questioning."

"He'll just lawyer up," Ruiz protested. "And we've got nothing to charge him with."

"You don't need to charge him," Charlie told her. "Just shake him a little, see what comes loose."

"Fine," Bebinger said, and Ruiz halted her protests. "We'll drag in Sacco, but I doubt he'll say anything all that useful. He's been questioned for murder before and it never seemed to go anywhere."

"I don't care what he says," Charlie answered, slowly and deliberately. "I care where he parks. Make sure none of the spots on the street are open, just the space near the side exit—you know, the one everyone parks in anyway despite the fact that it's illegal to leave less than twenty feet of clearance."

"We never enforce that," Bebinger said.

"Never until today," Charlie agreed. "Let's dare Sacco to park there. If he takes us up on it, we have him towed."

A slow smile spread across Hunter's face. "And then we don't need a warrant to search his car," he said, with appreciation at the genius of the plan. "That's pretty clever, Captain."

"Only if it works." Charlie motioned to Bebinger and Ruiz to get going, but Ruiz pulled something out of her pocket. It was an envelope, like the kind that might hold a greeting card.

"Just a second," she said, looking at Hunter. "When we heard you were going to be here, we decided to bring this along." She handed him the envelope, and McCall shifted slightly so she could look too. She saw it was addressed to Lucy Salvato, and the postmark was several months earlier.

Hunter looked at it a moment without saying a word and then he pulled out the card from inside. It was a black and white shot of a puppy playing among some dandelions, and when Hunter opened it, the inside showed no preprinted greeting. Instead, there was only a handful of shaky written words: "Dear Lucy, I'm so sorry. Francesca."

McCall looked up at Hunter's face for a reaction, but he seemed to be reading and rereading the brief message, as if searching the page for more.

"That's from your mom, right?" Bebinger said, and McCall saw he was watching Hunter closely too.

"Where did you get this?"

"Lucy Salvato's nightstand," Ruiz told him. "Any idea what it means?"

Hunter was quiet for a moment, but then he shoved the card back inside the envelope and handed it back to them. "None," he answered. "Sorry."

There was an awkward beat as they all stood there, the other detectives plainly not believing him but being unable to press the matter. "Okay then," Bebinger said, "we'll go invite Tony Sacco down for questioning and hope he doesn't take a taxi."

"I'm going to have to supervise that little visit," Charlie said a moment later, his gaze on the departing agents. Trammell had also ambled away for another cup of coffee, apparently intent on sticking around for a while. Charlie fixed his glare on Hunter. "Can I trust the pair of you to stay out of trouble in the meantime?"

"Yeah," Hunter said, glancing at the door the ICU ward. "But Captain—maybe Sabrina ought to have some protection here, don't you think? If the guy finds out he botched the shooting he might try again."

"I'll see what I can do." He looked from Hunter and McCall. "But apparently Sabrina wasn't the only one getting shot at last night. You watch your backs, you hear me?"

"I'm going to hang around here," Hunter said. "See what she says when she wakes up."

McCall scratched behind her ear and declined to offer her next move because she hadn't figured out yet what it was. Charlie either didn't want to know or forgot to ask, because he left without interrogating her further. This left just her and Hunter standing alone in the waiting area. She touched his arm lightly. "You doing okay?"

"Hmm?" He seemed absorbed in his own thoughts. "Oh. Yeah, I'm all right. It sounds like she's going to be all right, doesn't it?"

"Sure," she said gamely. "She'll be okay." There was a pause and she tried again. "It could be hours before she wakes up, though. You should go home and try to get some sleep."

"Nah," he said, shrugging her off. "I couldn't sleep now anyway. I'll stay here. But you—you should go. Get some rest."

"If I'm going anywhere, it's back to work. I still haven't passed those fingerprints to the lab boys yet."

Hunter snorted. "Don't go back just on my account. I think we have bigger problems now than a ransacked apartment."

He fell silent again, still watching the doors of the ICU, and she wondered if she should say anything more. "That card your mom sent…"

"Yeah, how about that, huh? Weird. Mom never liked Lucy much, but it's not like she was outright mean to her or anything. I can't imagine why she'd be apologizing to her after all these years."

McCall could think of a reason, but it seemed like Hunter's brain didn't want to go there. "Do you think—do you think maybe she knew about the baby? About Sabrina?"

Hunter looked down and scuffed his foot against the worn gray carpet. "I think there's a lot I don't know," he said finally. "And my mom isn't around anymore to ask about it. I'd like to think that if…if she was writing that to Lucy because of Sabrina, because that baby was…" He swallowed hard. "Because that baby was her grandchild…then I'd like to think she'd maybe drop me a note about it too, you know? I was her own son." He looked right at her for the first time since they'd all arrived at the hospital, and she could see the pain etched in his face. "Where the hell was my card?" he demanded in a hoarse whisper. "Where was my apology?"

"I don't know. I'm sorry." McCall hugged him fiercely, her cheek against his chest, where she could hear the thundering of his heart. He clutched her with all the force of his anguish, as if he were drowning and she were the only thing keeping him afloat. She stroked his warm head. "I'm so sorry, honey." She said the words over and over because he deserved them, hollow as they might be, coming years too late and from the wrong woman entirely. She'd shoulder as much of his pain as she could, because this is how they were together, the two of them, seemingly always in crisis but never both at the same time. He'd done more than his fair share of holding her up over the past year, patching her up good as new so that she was ready now to be the strong one.

"What if it's true?" he said against the top of her head. "What if she's mine?"

She smiled even through her tears, and she hugged him tight. "Then she's one lucky kid."


McCall left Hunter at the hospital with the purest of intentions: she was going to visit the precinct long enough to drop off the prints and then head back to her place for a nap. But she stopped at her desk long enough to check her messages, and while she was standing there, she heard a commotion behind her and recognized immediately the sound of Tony Sacco's voice.

"Half an hour," he said loudly. "That's all I'm giving you."

McCall ducked away on instinct, protecting a cover she didn't need anymore. Only when she thought about it, as she was pressed into hiding a tall filing cabinet, she realized this was the perfect opportunity. Tony was occupied here at the station for at least a half an hour, probably more. She could slip back into her Ginger Thompson persona long enough to drop by the club, visit Tony's office and check out his ring collection.

Hunter will kill you, she thought, closing her eyes as she imagined his angry response. But he had risked just as much for her, and more, and this really seemed like a foolproof plan. Ruiz and Bebinger would keep Tony in the box as long as possible—plus then they were having his car towed. She would have all the time in the world to go through his office at the Sting Ray, and she really only needed ten minutes.

Her decision made, she kept her head down, just in case, and hurried out to her car. She stopped at a gas station and used the dingy, digesting bathroom to transform herself once more into Ginger Thompson. She didn't have a ton of time, so the wig looked a little ratty, but she figured half the girls working for Tony were strung out on one substance or another, so she would blend right in.

Inside the Sting Ray, the house lights were on, but the atmosphere was still dim, given the heavy curtains over the windows. Mindy and a skinny blonde girl dressed in ripped jeans were stacking the chairs on top of tables in preparation for mopping the sticky, grungy floor. "Hey," Mindy called when she spotted McCall. "You want to give us a hand here?"

McCall cursed mentally and shot a look toward Tony's darkened office on the second floor. "Uh, sure. I'm not really supposed to be here yet, but I lost an earring last night and thought I might find it here." She crossed to where Mindy was working and began helping her upend the chairs and stools.

"What did it look like?"

"Um, big silver hoop. My mom gave 'em to me for Christmas last year, or I wouldn't really care." McCall was only half paying attention to the conversation, just enough to look for a way out of it so she could get down to business into the office.

"Haven't seen anything like it. But you can check the lost-and-found box if you want."

"Yeah, I'll do that," McCall replied, still somewhat distracted. "Is Tony around?"

Mindy laughed without any humor as she picked up a stool. "Nah, he got rousted again. They've got him down at the cop shop, but don't worry—he's always back in time for the opening."

"What did they want with him?"

"Like I would care. Tony's the kind of guy who's up to six illegal things before breakfast, you know what I mean? It's better not to look to close or ask too many questions."

McCall halted. She wondered about Sandra and Lucy, and whether they might have had questions of their own. "Or what?" she asked. "What happens if you ask too many questions?"

Mindy gave her a look that suggested she was already on thin ice. "Well for starters, you know that uniform you have? The girl who used to wear it disappeared a year ago and hasn't been seen since. Walked out after her shift one night and never came back."

"What makes you sure she walked out?"

Mindy drew up short, blinking at her with mascara-lined eyes. "What makes you give a damn?"

McCall made a split-second decision. Tony was gone. She was out of here in a few minutes anyway. "It's my job to give a damn," she said, pulling out her ID just far enough that Mindy could see it.

The girl sucked in a breath and shrank backwards like McCall had suddenly caught fire. "You're a cop?" she said, part fearful, part angry. McCall could see her thinking back on every conversation they'd had, wondering if she was going to get hauled downtown like her boss.

"I'm trying to find out what happened to Sandra and to Lucy," she said, her voice low and urgent. "If you know something, now's the time to talk."

"Why? Are you going to bust the place?"

"Because how many of Tony's girls have to end up dead or missing before someone stands up and says 'enough!'?"

Mindy gave her bitter laugh again. "You want a hero, you came to the wrong place, lady. We got more villains than saints in this joint. You say that you're paid to give a damn? Well, I'm the opposite. My job is not to know any of the stuff that goes on around here, and I'm fucking brilliant at it."

McCall assessed her coolly. "You know enough to carry a knife in your boot."

"That's just being smart."

The girl went back to stacking chairs, seeming to dismiss her, but McCall trailed after her. "Listen to me: you want to get Tony? You want to make it so you don't have to put up with his crap anymore? Tell me anything you can about what happened with Sandra and Lucy."

"Your cop friend, he killed Lucy."

"He didn't," McCall said steadily. "Why do you think my colleagues have Tony in for questioning downtown?"

Mindy hesitated, looking doubtful for the first time. Then she turned her back again as she resumed her work. "I can't help you," she said. "I don't know anything."

But McCall remembered the question she'd been holding back: "The night Lucy was killed, you said she left a little early. Did you see her go? Do you know what car she was driving?"

"Lucy didn't have no car," Mindy said derisively. "She took the bus most days. That or bummed rides off the rest of us."

"Did she bum a ride that night? Maybe from Tony?"

Mindy's eyes flicked over her. "I don't know. Maybe."

"Is there anyone who might have seen Lucy leave? Please, Mindy, it's important."

"I have no idea, okay? I was at the bar, doing my job like always." McCall slumped a little at the answer, because this was probably her only shot at clearing up the mystery. "Hey," Mindy added. "I'll ask around, all right? Maybe someone else knows."

"Thank you," McCall said, smiling for real. "I would appreciate that."

"Don't get all slobbery on me," Mindy warned. "It's like I told you—the girls who survive here, they're experts in not seeing stuff they're not supposed to."

McCall nodded, but she'd been around to know this line was bullshit: if you wanted to survive in a place like the Sting Ray, you had to keep your eyes open all the time—how else would you be ready to use that knife in your boot? She let the matter drop with Mindy and went to the back to find the stairs to Tony's office. If the ring matched like she expected it to, maybe they wouldn't need a witness after all. Sandra Pham's bruised and bloodied face, stamped with the identity of her killer, would be all the proof required.


Hunter stood outside Sabrina's room, chewing his thumbnail and watching as Detective Trammell got the first crack at her. The girl had been awake for only a short while, and of course, getting her statement about the attack had to take first priority. Hunter could not see her face because Trammell's ample body blocked his sightline. He was stuck instead reading the flickering numbers on the heart monitor. As long as it was still going, he figured that was a good sign.

After a few more minutes, Trammell emerged with his notebook still in hand. "She didn't see the guy's face," he told Hunter. "Parking lot was dark, she was going to her car when she heard a noise, turned around, and—wham! The shooting started."

Not a surprise, Hunter knew. He and McCall hadn't gotten a good look either. "Mind if I talk to her?" he asked.

Trammell shrugged. "Suit yourself. I'm out of here."

Hunter waited until the other man walked away before he slowly pushed open the door to Sabrina's room. His gut seized up immediately and his mouth went dry. The antiseptic smell, the gray walls, and the constant hum of the machines—it was just like those awful days with McCall last spring. He had to force himself to move forward.

Sabrina was lying with her eyes closed, pale as her pillow, with an oxygen tube under her nose. Hunter rolled up a chair and took a seat next to her but did not say anything. I'm sorry I didn't see this coming, he told her silently.

After a moment or two, he dared to stretch out one finger and touch the back of her hand, which he found reassuringly warm. He stroked her again, gently back and forth, because he couldn't seem to help himself.

When she opened her eyes, he jerked his hand away. "Great," she said, blinking at him owlishly. "More cops."

"I'm not officially a cop right now," he told her. "You remember—you read the papers."

"Then what are you?" Her voice was barely a whisper.

"I'm—I'm here to help." It was an optimistic spin, and she didn't seem convinced.

"Do you know who shot me?" she asked, fixing him with her blue gaze. He had to admit he did not, and she turned her head away again. "Then you can't help."

He felt huge and foolish, sitting there amid all those machines with nothing useful to say or do, but so far, she hadn't kicked him out yet, so he remained rooted to his chair. After a while, she spoke again, more to the wall than to him.

"You knew my mom when she was a kid?"

Hunter sat up straighter. "We went to school together," he said, smiling a little at the memory. "She was the prettiest girl in the whole class." Maybe it wasn't historical fact, but it was true enough, and he wanted to give Sabrina something, even if it was just a kind word, "You know, you look a lot like her."

She turned her head back with surprising quickness to glare at him. "I'm nothing like her."

His stomach curled up again because he knew this feeling too well, the desire to be nothing like the parent who'd begat you. It's not like he could preach the gospel of forgiveness here. "Okay," he said slowly. "I get that. I've spent the last twenty-five years trying to prove I'm not my father."

She looked at the ceiling as she considered this. "Who were you trying to prove it to?" she asked eventually.

He gave a chagrined chuckle, because no one had ever asked him before, forcing him to find an answer. But there was an obvious one. "I guess—myself."

Sabrina's eyes drifted closed again. "And do you believe it now?" she asked, her thin voice floating between them.

The truth was he had to answer the question for himself every day, and most nights, he could hit the pillow feeling satisfied he'd proven himself to be his own man, but even then, he knew the battle would start anew with the alarm clock in the morning. "Sure, sure I believe it," he said aloud, but Sabrina was sleeping again, so he was the only one who heard the answer.


Of course the door to Tony's office was locked, but McCall make quick work of that little barrier and let herself inside. The place was quiet, cloaked in shadow, but neat as always. Not surprisingly, the white armoire had its own lock, so she had to pick that, too. The force of Tony's cologne, clinging to his clothes, hit her as she opened the doors. She started going through the drawers one by one until she found the jewelry.

She withdrew the plate of rings, and set it down so she could get the miniature flashlight from her purse. She placed the bag at her feet and got right to work, examining the rings one by one for any sign of an engraved initial. There were at least a dozen candidates. "You sure do love to sparkle," she remarked wryly to the absent Tony.

She put down the fourth ring—no luck yet—and was about to pick up the fifth, when she felt it: a sudden presence behind her. She was just about to reach down for her gun when a cold, hard hand, clamped over her mouth. "Looky here what I caught," breathed a voice near her ear.

She recognized his smell, and the feeling of him pressed right up against her. Jake. Her skin started crawling but she forced herself to remain calm.

"I was right about you all along, wasn't I?" he said. "You're nothing but trouble. Good thing I know how to deal with trouble." She felt the sharp press of a large knife against her back and tried not to squirm. "Let's you and me get out of here."

He started dragging her backwards, keeping her off balance, and her heart raced with fear as she considered her options. Elbow to the ribs? Bite the hand over her mouth?

He had her jaw clamped shut, his hands surprisingly strong, but then the full feel of it sunk in: there was a hard piece of metal biting into her lip. Jake wears a ring, she realized with a flash of panic, inwardly, she began to scream.


Chapter Six

ake used the force of his hand over her mouth to drag her back out of Tony's office. He had an iron grip, strong enough to stifle her breath, and in his other hand, he held the sharp edge of a knife right up against her ribs. She could feel every inch of it through her Ginger-Thompson-skimpy blouse as his ragged breathing rasped near her ear.

She had been in this situation before, when time slowed down as her thoughts sped up, racing through all her mistakes and looking for any hope to correct them. She'd put down her gun and now he had it. She'd told no one she was here. Jake was big and fit and armed—and shoving her down the narrow metal staircase. "Move," he ordered, giving her a push so hard she stumbled in her spiky heels.

Think, think, think. It was hard to hear anything in her head but the pounding of her own heart. She couldn't outrun him, not in these shoes. He caught her by the back of her neck as they reached the bottom of the stairs.

McCall glanced at the slice of light coming through the heavy black curtain beyond—her path out into the club and possibly to safety. It was twenty-five feet away but felt like a mile. The DJ had started up the music, testing out his set for the night. Mindy and the other girls were all on the other side of that curtain, but even if she screamed, no one would hear. "Where are we going?" she asked Jake, trying to sound as calm as she could.

He didn't give her a verbal reply but yanked her away from the curtain, deeper into the darkness. This was the back area of the club, the place she'd been trying to get a closer look at for the past three days, but it was too dim for her to make out anything more than stacks of boxes. A red EXIT sign came into view around the bend, and her heart lurched to her throat. She knew instinctively that if she set foot off the property with him, she was dead. "Listen, Jake, you're making a mistake here."

She halted, but he pushed her again. "Shut up. Keep going."

"I'm a cop. You really think I'm here alone? If I don't get back out there in five minutes…"

"I said shut up!" He added the point of the knife to his shove this time, causing her to gasp. The EXIT sign was getting closer. She licked her lips and thought again about running. At least then she would have a chance…

As if reading her mind, he grabbed her arm and twisted it behind her back. He held the knife in his teeth and bent them both towards the floor. She had no idea what was happening until he tugged up the edge of the worn, industrial-grade carpet. Underneath was a door. It creaked as he opened it, and her stomach bottomed out as he nudged her to the gaping black maw. "In," he said, his voice steely.

She swallowed once and took a risk. "No." Probably none of the others had said that before.

Jake gave a low, humorless chuckle and squeezed her arm so hard she had to bite her lip to keep from crying out in pain. "Then I'll slit you open right here," he said, dragging the knife across her belly. "Makes no difference to me."

She weighed her options. On the one hand, it clearly did make at least some difference, or he wouldn't be trying to force her down in the hole. On the other hand, there was blood spatter on Tony's ceiling. Clearly location of the kill was not his highest priority. "Mindy…Mindy knows where I am," she said. "She knows I'm a cop."

"Oh yeah? You think that little whore is going to come save you?" The words were curious but his tone was mean. "Who the hell do you think tipped me off in the first place? I won't say it again: get down there. Now."

McCall had no other choice: she went.


Visiting hours had come to a close, so Hunter reluctantly left the hospital because there was nothing more he could accomplish by sitting in the uncomfortable waiting room while Sabrina slept. She didn't have anything useful to say about her shooter, and he was of no use to her. He sat in the shadows of his car for a moment and rubbed his face with both hands. The girl had not minced words about Lucy's miserable performance as her mother, and so what was Hunter supposed to say to her: Hey, I might be your dad? Sorry I'm about twenty-three years too late.

Jesus, when he thought about his inept fumbling with Lucy in the backseat of his car, how damn excited he had been the first time she let him take her panties off—if only there were a way to go back in time to tell his teenage self that there would be plenty of other girls, many more panties, a lifetime of them in rainbow technicolor satin and lace. Slow down. And for crying out loud: use the goddamn rubber.

Wearily he started up the engine and began the drive back to McCall's house, his thoughts still mostly with Sabrina, whom he'd left lying pale and vulnerable in her hospital bed. It was bad enough that he and Lucy might have made a kid; once she'd showed up, they'd done nothing to protect her. Hunter hoped the police detail Charlie had assigned to the ICU was enough to discourage any second attempt by their mystery shooter.

It was dark early now, and the shortest day was coming soon, the year about to die. Hunter worried they might all go out with it. Out of habit, he checked the passing headlights around him for any sign that he was being followed, but he saw nothing of concern—at least until he got to McCall's place and noticed her car was not in the driveway.

The place was dark and silent from the outside, and he found no trace of her inside either. With a frown, he picked up the phone without even first taking off his jacket. He dialed her number at work, but after several moments, it rang through to the desk sergeant. "Manny, it's Hunter—is McCall around?"

"McCall? Nah, she left ages ago."

Hunter checked his watch. "How many ages? Be specific."

"I don't know—a couple of hours? Maybe more."

"Huh. Hey, listen—do you guys still have Tony Sacco down there?"

"Nope, he left too. Long time ago."

The first prickle of fear started to creep up Hunter's spine, but he kept his tone neutral. "Thanks," he said, and hung up the phone. He circled the house once for any sign of a note or other indication of where McCall might be, but he found none. Their last exchange suggested she was going to work for a bit and then home for sleep.

Hunter's eyes fell on the folder Jack Kincaid had left behind on McCall's coffee table. Maybe she'd decided to have dinner out, he reasoned. He rifled through the papers until he found Jack's contact information at the local Bureau. A few seconds later, Jack himself was on the line, and Hunter's stomach tightened further.

"It's Rick Hunter," Hunter said by way of introduction. "I'm trying to find Dee Dee, and I thought she might be with you." The fact that Jack was at his office at 7:30pm suggested the odds were not high that McCall would be there with him.

"I haven't talked to her two days," Jack said, and Hunter heard the creak of a leather chair on the other end of the line. There was a pause. "You have reason to be worried about her?"

Hunter remembered the crack of the shots whizzing past them just the night before. "Yeah, I'm afraid I do," he said grimly. "Sorry to have bothered you. I'm going to go find her."

"Wait," Jack blurted, and to his own surprise, Hunter waited. "Do want some help looking?"

His first instinct was to say no. McCall was still his partner, at least for now, and the last thing he wanted was to waste time on some bureaucratic turf war. But she was one person in a city that was 469 square miles big, so Hunter swallowed back every one of his objections along with his pride. "Sure," he said finally as he stared out the nearest window into the black night. "Help would be great."


It was a fallout shelter, McCall realized as she hit the bottom of the concrete room. Jake was on her again in an instant, jerking her around like she was a rag doll. He flicked a switch and a single, naked bulb illuminated the room. She saw what looked like a folding card table, a couple of chairs, and at least ten kilos of cocaine. "Boss needs me to get this ready," he said as he secured her wrists tightly behind her back with a roll of duct tape. "I'll deal with you after."

He started pushing her forward again, and she realized there was a second door—a heavy metal one. Jake yanked it open and shoved her inside the smaller room. It was hot, narrow and oppressively close, with another single lightbulb hanging overhead; possibly the place was originally meant for food storage. But gooseflesh broke out over McCall's body as she realized it wasn't a pantry now: it was an abattoir. The place stunk to high heaven of blood, sweat and other human secretions. The walls and concrete floor were stained with reddish brown smears that showed various degrees of fading, a sure sign that more than one person had died where she was now standing.

"You scream," Jake said, holding up his knife in front of her face, "and I'll gag you. No one can hear you down here but me anyway, you understand me?" He smirked. "So you can just save your screams for later."

He slammed the door shut, and McCall stood there alone. It was so quiet she could hear the sound of her own heightened breathing. The only sign of the raucous nightclub overhead was the faint vibration of the concrete walls. A couple of hundred people would soon be up there, dancing and drinking—walking on her grave.

She forced herself to calm down and think. The tape imprisoning her hands was thick and fast; she couldn't move her arms at all. The cell itself was completely bare, with nothing at all she could use as a weapon, even if she could loosen her bonds enough to swing one. Think again,s she ordered herself as she paced the tiny room of horrors. Her arms ached. The small cut on her side stung from where he'd pierced her with the knife—a small preview of the terrible pain to come. On top of everything, her feet hurt from the stupid heels; she'd be faster and less vulnerable in bare feet, but of course, her alter-ego Ginger wouldn't have been caught dead in sensible shoes, and so McCall had to dress to look the part.

The shoes. She stopped short and looked down at the sharped, spiked heels at the end of her feet, and at last, a plan began to form.


Of course the first place Hunter went was the Sting Ray. He'd told her it was crazy dangerous to go back there, and she had theoretically agreed, but he wouldn't put it past her to try one last Hail Mary while good old Tony was wrapped up down at the precinct. Hell, it's what he would've done. He burst through the doors, prepared for a fight, but Tony's bouncer/security goon was nowhere to be seen. Unfortunately, neither was McCall.

Hunter pawed through the gathering crowd, dodging drinks and gyrating bodies as he worked his way to the bar. The tattooed little slip of a girl serving up drinks pretended not to see him for a moment. "Hey," he said, leaning in across the mirrored surface. Then louder when she didn't respond, "Hey!"

She fixed him with a mascara-ringed glare. "Wait your turn, buddy."

"I'm looking for…" Shit, what was her name? "For Ginger," he said as it suddenly came back to him.

"She's not here." The girl turned her back on him and picked up a bottle of vodka, but Hunter lunged far enough to grab her arm.

"Where is she?"

"Paws off," the girl growled, wresting free. "I don't know where she is. I haven't seen her all day."

Hunter's panic ticked up a notch as he backed off the girl. If McCall wasn't here, she could be anywhere, and he had no idea where he should look next. He glanced up at Tony's office and saw the light was on. He could go up and shake the guy until his teeth rattled but that would produce the goon and there was no guarantee that Tony would tell him anything. The goddamn techno music pounding through the air was making it hard to think.

He was still trying to figure out his next move when Agent Jack Kincaid of the FBI showed up. Hunter was almost glad to see him. "What's going on?" Jack hollered at him over the din of the music. "Any sign of Dee Dee?"

Hunter shook his head. "Bartender says she hasn't been here."

Jack cast a skeptical eye at the girl, who scowled at them at turned away again. "You believe her?"

"Don't know. I'd have bet money she'd come here, but maybe…" He thought of being followed, of the guy who'd taken shots at them the previous evening. "Maybe she never made it."

"Is that the owner upstairs? Tony Sacco?"

Hunter saw a shadow moving around in Tony's office. "Yeah, I think so. We had him in for questioning downtown earlier today."

"Questioning for what?"

Hunter's answer was grim. "Murder."

Jack glanced back up at the lighted windows on the second floor, and a gleam appeared in his eyes. "Then I say we start with him—ask him a new round of questions."

Hunter was a bit surprised. "You don't want to wait for a warrant?"

"You don't need one." Jack flashed a grin. "You're not a cop, and me, I'm just along for the ride. I can't be held responsible for your actions."

Instinctively, Hunter felt for the backup piece he'd holstered on before charging out the door. If Tony had hurt McCall even a little bit, Hunter wasn't going to be responsible for his actions either. "Works for me," he said, and the two of them moved for the stairs.

Tony Sacco looked shocked when they burst through the door, but his surprise immediately gave way to anger. "I'm calling my lawyer," he said, picking up his desk phone. Hunter batted it away.

"You can call Timbuktu for all I care, as long as you tell me where my partner is first."

"I don't know what you're talking—"

"Dee Dee McCall!" Hunter roared. "You know her as Ginger Thompson. She's missing, see, and that seems to happen a lot around here."

"He's crazy," Tony said, appealing to Jack for help. "You see he's crazy, don't you?"

Jack just shrugged and picked up a paperweight from Tony's desk. "Then I'd suggest you tell him what he wants to know, so he can be on his way."

"I know my rights! I'll sue you both—I'll have your badges! I'll go all the way up the chain and get your bosses thrown in jail."

Jack still didn't seem concerned. "He's got no boss at the moment." For emphasis, Hunter took a step closer to Tony, who flinched backward in fear. "As for me, if you want to go all the way to the top, my boss goes by the name President and he lives in a big house in Washington, D.C.. I don't think you want to be getting him out of bed for this, do you? All we're asking you is a simple question."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Tony said. "There's your answer! I haven't seen that bitch since I threw her out of my office a couple of days ago."

Hunter eyed the blood spatter on the ceiling and repressed a shudder. "Where's your mouth-breathing doorman this evening, Tony? I haven't seen him anywhere."

This question made Tony blink, a quick flash that made Hunter want to turn to his partner to check—there, did you see that? we made him nervous—but of course his partner wasn't there. Jack's face gave nothing away, and Tony had recovered. "You mean Jake? He called in sick."

This was B.S., Hunter was sure. "Sick, huh? Must be catching. You make me sick, too."

"I'd like you to leave now," Tony said coldly. "Both of you." He bent down to retrieve his phone. "Or I will call my lawyer—and the cops too."

"Rick." Jack nudged Hunter's arm and tilted his head toward the door. "Let's go, huh? We can always come back."

"Not without a warrant," Tony said as he straightened his tie.

Reluctantly, Hunter followed Jack back outside to the noise and smoke of the club. "He's lying," he yelled to Jack over the voices and blaring music. "Jake's not sick, but he's not here and McCall is missing. I don't like it."

"I don't like it either," Jack hollered back. "That's why we're going to go make a house call."

They took Hunter's car, lights and sirens all the way, despite the fact he wasn't technically supposed to use them. Hunter drove with one hand, weaving in and out of traffic as he used the other hand to call in the cavalry—even though it meant pulling Charlie out of the shower. "Captain, I can't reach McCall, and I'm worried something's happened to her. I've got Agent Jack Kincaid of the FBI with me, and we're going to check out a guy by the name of Jake Timmons. He's the muscle for Tony Sacco down at the Sting Ray, and it seems he didn't show up for work tonight."

"FBI?" Charlie asked. "What's their interest in this?"

Hunter glanced at Jack's face, saw the tight set of his mouth and the determination in his eyes. "Call it personal," he said to Charlie. "Listen, Captain, we're checking Jake's condo but there's no guarantee at all he's going to be there. I need an APB for his car, a gold Oldsmobile Cutlass, and while you're at it, you probably want to issue one for McCall's car as well."

"You got it. You want me to send some black-and-whites over to meet you?"

"Couldn't hurt."

"Done. Let me know what you find out, okay? I'll be waiting."

Hunter clicked off the radio without saying good-bye, and the two men sat in tense silence for a few minutes. "We'll find her," Jack said eventually.

"Of course we will." Hunter gripped the wheel tighter. The image of Lucy sprawled bloody and naked in his bed haunted him. Sandra Pham had disappeared and was never seen again.

"Dee Dee is smart and resourceful," Jack continued. "She'll be okay."

Quit talking about her, Hunter wanted to snap. You don't know anything about her. But Jack was the only guy out here helping him, so he held his tongue. "Figures Tony boy would farm out the ugly part of the job," he said as he hunched over the wheel. "Wouldn't want to get his pretty hands dirty."

"You really think she went back to that club?"

He knew. He knew it in his gut. "It's the only lead we've got right now."

Jack was quiet for a long moment. "Did you guys ever follow up with that girl—Sabrina?"

"Yeah." Hunter rubbed his head with one hand. "She's in the hospital after getting shot last night."

"Holy shit." Jack sat up straighter. "You get the shooter?"

Hunter shook his head and briefed Jack on the events of the previous evening. Jack let out a low whistle and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Just what the hell have you guys stumbled into here?"

"Wish I could tell you," Hunter replied, and he eyed the other man. "Maybe you should've taken your own car, though. Bad things keep happening to those who get too close."

To his credit, Jack didn't look swayed. "Speaking of close…" He hesitated a moment. "That girl, Sabrina—was she yours?"

"Don't know that either," Hunter said tightly.

"You could. You know, if you wanted." Hunter glanced at him, and Jack explained. "DNA analysis would tell you for sure. All you would need is a blood sample from both of you."

"Yeah, well." Hunter cleared his throat. "I've got bigger problems at the moment, you know what I mean?"

He turned the corner to Jake Timmons's street and saw that the black-and-white units had beaten them to the scene, lights swirling as the cars idled by the side of the road. Hunter stopped his car, and the uniformed officers stepped out to greet him. "All's quiet as far as we can see," one of the guys reported.

"Wait here," Hunter said to them, and he and Jack walked up the stairs to Jake's front door.

"No sign of the Oldsmobile," Jack noted as he looked around the area. Hunter cupped his hands over his eyes and peered in the narrow window by the front door. It was dark and quiet inside. He jiggled the knob on the door, but it was of course locked. He was contemplating knocking the door down when Jack touched his arm. "I don't think they're here."

"No," Hunter said, disgusted.

"Let me make a couple of calls," Jack said. "Maybe he's got family around or access to other property in the area."

Before Hunter could reply, the radio in his car crackled to life. He bounded down the stairs and reached in to answer the call. "L-56, go."

"Hunter," Charlie's voice came over the line. "Patrol found McCall's car. It's parked a block from the Sting Ray, but no sign of her. As for Jake Timmons, his car is right there in the parking lot behind the club."

Of course. They'd been right under his nose all along. "We're rolling," Hunter said, and he had the car in motion before Jack even closed his door. Cops had been after the Sting Ray for years, looking for a legal way to bring it down, but Hunter didn't give a shit about wants or warrants at this stage. He was prepared to bring down the very wrath of God on the place. By the time he was done, Tony Sacco would be left with ashes and a couple of studs, but Hunter was not leaving this time without his partner.


In the shelter, McCall carefully judged the angle of the door before lowering herself to the filthy, gritty floor. She grimaced as she pressed her shoulders against the blood-stained wall and considered the irony of her surroundings. Someone had designed this place to save lives, but Tony and Jake had turned it into a makeshift slaughterhouse. If her plan did not work out, she would probably be among the dead. One chance. One shot. She had to land the blow perfectly or there was no way she could beat him to the door.

She waited for ages, until her whole body ached from the tension. The vibrations from the wall seemed to travel up her spine, making her feel skittish and wired. The heavy pounding bass was stripped of any melody or tune; it echoed like approaching footsteps inside her head. Thud. Thud. Thud. At one point, she heard angry voices from the other side of the door, but they were too muffled for her to be able to make out any words. She remembered Mindy and her insistence not to ask too many questions, and McCall wondered if maybe that was what went wrong with Lucy and Sandra. If they'd found out about the drugs, or the bloody underground killing field, maybe Jake and Tony had decided to keep shut them up for good.

She forced herself to take slow, steady breaths. The longer she sat there, the more likely it was that Hunter would notice she was gone and come looking for her. Jake could sit out there with his cocaine for the rest of the night as far as she was concerned.

It was cold, and she shivered, although maybe that was fear. Sitting in someone else's blood had a way of making you feel your own mortality. She'd been almost dead so many times she couldn't even count, but usually there was no time to think about it until it was over. Death was a shadow, a memory, something that haunted her dreams; it was not supposed to be this awful stench and grimy floor and walls as thick as a tomb. Please, she thought, blinking back tears. Not like this.

She leaned her head back against the wall. Thud, thud, thud. The relentless beat shook the place like a living, breathing heartbeat, like an approaching predator breathing down her neck. Thud, thud. Faster, faster. Closer and closer.

But then suddenly, it stopped.


Hunter had no idea what the official capacity was on the Sting Ray, but he was pretty sure they were over it. The house lights were on, the place crawling with cops. The spandex, sequins and makeup looked garish and out-of-place now amid the all the law-and-order. The freak-show patrons were making disgruntled noises of protest as the uniformed officers herded them outside. No one was going very far until Hunter had searched the place from top to bottom.

He started with Tony Sacco. This time he had half the LAPD and Captain Devane standing there with him, and Charlie had brought a warrant. Elsewhere, Jack Kincaid was on the phone, looking to get the FBI involved in a more official capacity.

"I'm going to ask you one more time," Hunter said, stepping right into Tony's face. "Where is my partner?"

"Ask all you want. My answer hasn't changed. I haven't seen your partner." Tony's expression had a slight smirk, like he'd been here before and expected to beat the cops one more time. He had some sort of ace-in-the-hole.

Hunter grabbed the guy by the throat. "Think harder."

Tony made a gurgling noise and flailed his arms. "I—I'm telling you…I don't know."

"Captain?" The guy coordinating the search of the club reappeared, and his expression was bleak. "We've cleared the place top to bottom. No sign of Timmons or Sergeant McCall."

"Where is she?" Hunter shouted again. He had Sacco off the floor by now, his grip so tight the guy couldn't have answered even if he'd tried.

"Hunter!" Charlie's voice was sharp. "Enough! We'll find her."

But Hunter did not let the guy go. Tony was turning a satisfying shade of purple.

"Hunter!" Charlie grabbed him this time, and Hunter reluctantly let Tony drop back to the floor, where he semi-collapsed in a choking, gasping mess. Hunter turned away, too frustrated to even look at him.

"He knows, Charlie. He knows exactly where McCall is!"

"Yes, and that's why choking him to death is a bad idea." Charlie turned back his Lieutenant. "Search the place again. Do it now." The guy ran off to do as ordered, but Charlie frowned. "We have to consider the possibility she's not here," he said to Hunter. "Maybe they took a different car."

Hunter glanced from the frightened waitresses lined up against the wall, picking their nails and scuffing their heels, to where Jack was at the bar phone, yakking to God-knows-who. "If they left, we're going to need someone to start talking," he said, "because they could be anywhere by now."


In the hole, McCall felt a first flash of hope. The music had come to a sudden halt and not resumed. Something strange was happening up above, and it was possible this was a good thing and help was on the way. I'm down here, she said silently. Please.

But when the door opened, Jake was on the other side, looming over her. He had the knife in his hand and an odd expression on his face. "Looks like we're going to be stuck down here a while, you and me. I thought of a way we could pass the time."

Over my dead body, McCall thought, but aloud, she said nothing.

"Aw, come on, sweetheart. Don't be like that." Jake narrowed his eyes even as he gave her a leering, twisted smile. "You might like me once you get to know me."

McCall again said nothing, and Jake's smile vanished.

"Get up," he snapped at her. "Now."

She remained with her back against the wall. This was it. Her one chance. "No," she said, lifting her chin as she braced for action.

"Then I'm just going to have to come make you."

Jake lunged at her, and she forced herself to wait until he got up close, to the exact perfect angle. Then she recoiled her legs like a snake and struck him in the eye with the point of her right shoe. She felt it connect, the slip of his eyeball squishing under her foot. Jake screamed in agony and fell off to one side.

Breathless, she scrambled to her feet and went for the door. Having her hands tied at her back slowed her progress, but she managed to get around him and reach the ladder. "Help!" she hollered, in case anyone above could hear. She had to kick off the shoes to work the ladder, grabbing each metal bar with her toes. "Help!"

There was a growl from behind her, and Jakes hand closed over one foot. He yanked her back down onto the floor, twisting her ankle in the process, but she barely felt the pain. She looked up at him and saw blood streaming down the side of his face. What she didn't see was the knife. "You're going to pay for that," Jake said as he descended over her. His massive form blocked out all the light. "I'm going to feed you both of those fucking shoes, one at a time, and then I'm going to slit you like a fish."


Hunter paced frantically, chewing his thumbnail. He should be doing something, going somewhere to look for her, but he had no idea which way to run and so he remained stuck where he was, rooted to the last spot he was sure she had been. Where would Jake go? Where would he take her? The last girl, Sandra, she'd never been recovered at all.

"Charlie, we've got to do something here!"

"I know. I know." The Captain looked as frazzled as he was. "We've got units still at Jake's house, in case he shows there. I've sent a team to Tony's place as well. We're doing everything we can."

"It's not enough!" He took out his keys, prepared to charge out into the night. He didn't know where he was going, but it was better than sitting around the club, doing nothing. "I can't stay here. I've got to go out and look for her."

"Hunter, wait!"

It wasn't Charlie yelling this time; it was Jack. He still had the phone in his hand.

"This place was built in 1951," Jack said. "The original plans called for a bomb shelter."

Charlie's eyes went so wide, Hunter could see the whites of them from all the way across the room. "Search again!" Charlie hollered, but Hunter didn't need be told.

He was already on the move.


McCall turned her head enough to see the door to the death room, where the knife lay gleaming on the threshold. There was no way to reach it from where she lay. "Please," she said, squirming as Jake tightened his hold on her. "You don't want to do this. You'll never get away with it. The music stopped because there are cops upstairs."

"You think I don't know that?" His bloody eye dripped onto her chest. "I'm down here in a murder scene with a shitload of blow. No way I'm walking away from this. No. But I can make sure you go out with me."

He raised his free hand to strike her just as the overhead door started to open. The sound distracted him just long enough for her to get in a good whack: she kneed him sharply to the groin, and his grip slackened enough that she could roll away.

"McCall?" Hunter's voice floated from above.

"Down here!" Her fingers were almost numb from being held behind her back, but she managed to grab the knife and scramble to her feet.

Jake knew the jig was up. He shot her a death glare as Hunter appeared and pushed him to the ground. "You're under arrest," he said, his foot planted squarely between the guy's shoulder blades. He shot her a concerned look. "Are you all right?"

She was shaking so hard now she wasn't sure she could answer. "Y-yes."

Other officers appeared down the ladder after Hunter, including Charlie, who took control of the arrest on Jake Timmons. After all, Hunter technically had no authority. He crossed to McCall and took the knife from her hands, wordlessly handing it over for evidence. A shudder passed through her as she got a really close look at the blade for the first time. That was her blood smeared on the tip. "You're sure you're all right?" Hunter asked her in a low voice as he worked to free her hands.

The tape stung as he ripped it free. She flexed her fingers. "Yes, I'm okay." She looked at Jake, now handcuffed on the ground. "He has the ring, Hunter. It was a J, not a T. He's the one who beat up Sandra. Probably killed her too."

"He's not going to hurt anyone anymore," Hunter said, smoothing back her hair. He gave her a small smile. "His face looks worse than Sandra's did. I assume you did that?"

She hoped he lost the eye. It still wouldn't be enough to be even, not with all the blood spilled on the floor and the walls down here. "Shoes," she managed to say at last. She'd started shaking again and couldn't seem to stop. "Not just for beauty. Weapons of mass destruction."

He chuckled and held her against his side. "We'll be sure to have your closet duly registered, then."

She said nothing, but closed her eyes against the carnage around her and held on tight.


Later, he was awake in the middle of the night again, like the coyotes that howled in the canyons. Hunter was too tired to howl. His body cried out for rest, but he was determined to stick it out at the hospital with his two women—one still in intensive care and the other getting checked over by the E.R. docs. Because no matter what the blood test said, if indeed he took one, he was already starting to think of Sabrina as his in some form or another. She was all alone and shot full of holes. Someone had to look out for her.

McCall, well, he'd thought of her as his for years, but he wasn't sure he'd ever made that clear to her, or if it even mattered anymore. There was no way he was leaving her alone either.

He used the time McCall was being examined to slip away to the ICU to check up on Sabrina. It was a relief to see the uniformed cop awake and alert by her door. Hunter gave him a nod and entered the shadowed room. Sabrina was asleep, still hooked up to a heart monitor and an oxygen tube, but to his untrained eye, her color actually appeared to be a bit better. He pulled up a chair to sit for a few minutes.

She must have heard the scrape of the legs along the floor, because she opened her eyes. Hunter winced at disturbing her. "Sorry," he whispered. "It's just me."

"You're still here?" She sounded both surprised and a little touched.

He nudged her hand with his own. "More like 'here again.' We arrested Tony Sacco tonight."

The beeping on her heart monitor increased. "You did? For mom?"

"Not exactly." He hesitated. "Tony was running drugs out of the club. Did your mom know that?"

She shifted slightly, and her brow wrinkled as though she were in pain. It made his heart hurt. "I don't know," she murmured at length. "She never said. We—we didn't talk much these last few months."

Sudden tears glistened in her eyes, and Hunter kicked himself mentally for even raising this stuff with her right then. "Shh," he said, taking her hand. "Don't worry about it. Just rest, okay?"

But Sabrina must have had a little of her father in her, because she wouldn't let the questioning go. "Why would Tony want to shoot me too?" she asked.

"We don't know for sure he did. The officer is still outside your door, just to be safe. But it's possible Tony was afraid your mom told you about what was going on at his club. He might have viewed you as a loose end."

Her lips curved in a wry smile. "Feelin' pretty loose right now," she said. "These are good drugs."

Hunter allowed himself to smile in return as he took in the I.V. pole by her side. It was good she got some relief, but he'd feel a whole lot better when it was gone. "I should get going," he said. "Let you rest." He paused, unsure of what more he should say. "We can talk more tomorrow or the next day, when you're feeling up to it."

Her blue eyes fixed him. "Is that when you're going to tell me?" she asked, and the hairs on his neck stood up.

"Tell you what?"

She swallowed with effort, and when she spoke, her voice was hoarse. "That you're my father." Hunter froze, trapped in the moment, and she released him by turning her head and looking away. "Sorry," she muttered. "I just figured one of us should put it out there."

"What, um, what made you say that?" He couldn't even manage the words.

She rolled her eyes in a way that would make McCall proud. "You grew up with a mom and dad, right?" He nodded, and she nodded with him. "So then you knew. You knew where you came from. You could look at them and see your eyes, your nose, your hands. I didn't have a dad. I could see my friends' fathers, growing up, the way they'd stand together and you could tell they were related just from the angle of their bodies. My mom told me that story about Bill Drummond being my father when I was a little kid and started asking questions. She gave me his picture and everything. I spent years looking at that picture and trying to see my face—anything that might be similar at all. There was nothing. But then—then you walked in."

Hunter bowed his head, hiding the truth a little too late.

Sabrina sounded fatigued, but she kept going. "I didn't see it right away. But I'm used to checking, you know? Guys of a certain age. If my Bill wasn't my dad, then someone else was. I'm always on the lookout because maybe he was still in the area. Then when you said you knew my mom in high school…" She gave a sigh. "Even an idiot can do that kind of math."

He found his throat had closed up, making it hard to speak. "I, uh, I didn't know," he said at last. He blinked to chase away the tears. "Your mom left without a word. I never knew she was pregnant."

Sabrina nodded as though she'd expected as much. "My mom, she lied a lot."

Hunter wanted to protest. The Lucy he had known was sweet and funny and full of light. She'd liked gardenias and horses and could drive a stick shift better than any boy in the neighborhood. But Sabrina hadn't known this Lucy, and he hadn't known the one who had failed out of motherhood faster than any algebra class. Whatever had happened to turn Lucy from one girl into the the other, he and Sabrina were trapped on either side of it, looking at each other across the divide.

"There's a test we can take to be sure. A blood test. If…if you want."

"Do you?" She looked at him again with those blue eyes, the same ones he saw in the mirror every morning. It took his breath away.

"Yes," he said, finding he meant it. "I do."

"Then let's do it. As long as you're sure: whatever the results, you tell me the truth."

"The truth. I promise." He had to get going now. McCall would be waiting. "Right now, I've got to get out of here before the doctors have me thrown out for bothering you. Is there anything you want? Anything I can get for you?" He hovered anxiously over her bed. How the hell did he even begin to make up for twenty-three lost years?

She considered a moment, her eyes closed. "I'd love some water," she replied finally. "I'm so thirsty."

"One water, coming up," he said with relief as he reached for the nearest plastic cup. It was small, but it was a start.


McCall limped up to her front door with Hunter practically clucking behind her like a nervous hen. "You should have taken the crutches," he said.

"I don't need crutches," she said, and it came out more grouchy than she intended. "It's a very mild sprain, that's all."

She was exhausted and sore and filled with longing for her big, soft bed, where she planned to sleep for at least the next twelve hours. They had kindly let her shower at the hospital, as desperate as she had been to wash off the grit and the feel of other people's blood against her skin. Redressed now in clean hospital scrubs, she wanted only to crawl beneath the sheets and forget that the whole day had ever happened.

"Okay, tough guy," Hunter said as he opened the door for her. "I'll just get you a shot of whiskey and a bullet to bite."

She ignored him and hobbled into her living room. "The prescription-strength ibuprofen I got at the hospital will do nicely, thank you." She'd taken a pair already and they had definitely dulled the worst of her pain. Even still, she eyed the staircase up to her bedroom with some trepidation. Her throbbing ankle did not welcome the idea of the climb.

Hunter saw her looking because he shrugged out of his coat and approached her. Before she could protest, he had scooped her off her feet. "You don't have to do this," she said, even as she looped her arms around his shoulders.

"Too late, I'm doing it," he replied, and she was too tired to object further.

He took the stairs slowly and with great care. She relaxed a little, finally safe again as the horror of the day started to recede into the background. As it eased, there was room for a new memory, one she had been deliberately denying herself for months: the last time he had carried her up these stairs to her bedroom. They'd been kissing at the time, and her cheeks warmed at the thought. His mouth was just inches away now, the perfect place for kissing, if she just turned her head a bit like this…

Hunter made some low noise in his throat that sounded like approval, and his mouth moved closer. She closed her eyes, felt his breath on her face, and her lips parted in anticipation.

"Oof!" He grunted as his knees hit her bed. They had arrived at their destination, and Hunter set her down gently. It felt good to be among the soft, fluffy pillows, but she missed his warmth and the strong feel of his arms around her. She looked up but his face was hard to read in the semi-darkness. The only light was coming from street lamps outside and the living room below. "Oh, here," he said, moving to put a pillow under her sore ankle. "Is that better?"

"It's fine."

"I can get you some water if you want. I'm an expert at that now."

"I don't want any water."

He scratched the back of his head, apparently unable to look at her. That's how she knew he'd felt it too, those heady memories. "Then I should let you get some sleep…"

"Rick." She waited until he looked at her. "I don't want anything. I just want to talk to you." Her heart, already through the wringer today, picked up again at even the first hint of this conversation. So much was on the line here. It's why she'd never said anything the first time. She had to get it out now, even exhausted as she was, because in the light of morning she was sure she would chicken out again.

Hunter looked wary. Part of her wanted to hug him in sympathy, the other part wanted to thump him with a pillow—hard. Here she was, with a busted ankle, doing the difficult work of initiating this conversation, and all he had to do was sit there and take it like a man. Which, she supposed, was the problem.

"Relax," she said, scooting over to make room for him. "It's just talking. I think you can handle it. Or would you like me to get you a shot of whiskey and a bullet to bite first?"

"Har har," he said as he kicked off his shoes to lounge next to her. "Okay, here I am. You can talk now."

"Oh, thank you," she replied wryly. "I appreciate the permission." Unfortunately, now that she had the floor, her mind went blank and her tongue seemed to swell in her mouth. Dammit, she'd talked to this man all day long for years. She could make it through one more conversation. "About…about what happened between us," she said, and he stiffened straight away, as though prepared for actual blows. She took a deep breath. "I don't have any regrets."

There was a moment of shocked silence as he absorbed this. "You don't?"

"Well, the last few months haven't been entirely fun," she allowed as she picked some imaginary lint off the bedspread between them. "But that night? No. It was…nice."

"Nice?" Now he sounded appalled. "I thought it was maybe a little better than nice!"

An embarrassed giggle escaped her as she blushed and shook her head. Men and their pride. "It was very nice, okay?"

"Nice," he grumbled to himself settling back into the pillows. "Nice is like—a leisurely afternoon stroll in the park with your grandmother. Or, you know, 'How was your apple pie today, sir?' "Oh, it was nice.'"

"Pie?" She looked at him, and he gave an exaggerated shrug.

"You're the one who used the word 'nice.' Nice is a word for pie."

She considered. "Well, you can rest assured I liked your pie."

A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "You did?"

She rolled her eyes. "Sure. I went back for seconds, remember?"

He held up three fingers. "Thirds," he said, and then she was blushing again. She hugged a pillow to her chest and hid her face it for a long moment. When she looked up again, Hunter was peering at her with an expression that was both apologetic and tender. "When I said I had regrets," he said finally, "I just meant…that night, it just seemed like everything was wrapped up in what happened to Steve. I know you were missing him, and it felt like…it felt like I took advantage."

She thought about what he was saying for a long moment and chose her words carefully. She knew what she wanted to say to him, but if it came out wrong, she risked scaring him away for good. "You didn't take advantage," she said, and he looked a little hopeful. Maybe she should just stop there before she made things any worse. She swallowed with effort and pressed on anyway. She'd almost died a few hours earlier; surely, she could survive this conversation.

"I wasn't missing Steve," she said at length. "At least not in the way you think. Yes, I loved him, and yes, of course, I wish he hadn't died. But he is gone and there is nothing that anyone can do to change that. I'm grateful I got a chance to know him, to be with him. I miss what we had together."

"I know," Hunter said softly. It was his turn to pick at the bedspread.

"No, I don't think you do." She sighed. "I was nineteen when I met Steve. He was my first really serious boyfriend." Hunter looked surprised. These were details she hadn't shared with him before. "I married him very young because I thought that's what you did when you were in love. Then he was killed a few years later, and it was awful. But I guess…I don't know. Once the initial shock wore off, I guess I also thought that eventually I'd meet someone else. Get back out there, find another great guy." She shrugged. "Turns out, it's a lot harder than it sounds. I got lucky the first time around, and I was young enough that I didn't realize how lucky."

Hunter was listening, but he looked a little puzzled. This was the scary part.

"Anyway, that night—any night now, when I think about Steve—it's more of a sadness for what we had, what we lost. I'd been thinking that maybe I was never going to feel those things again." She had stopped looking at him. "That I would never have that sort of…connection." Hunter had gone completely still, and she could tell he understood where she was going with this. She cleared her throat and forced herself to keep talking. "Then, um, with you, it was a little bit like the same thing, because of the years we've been together…because of the way we care about each other." She got a little teary. It wasn't coming out exactly right. She almost gave up but Hunter reached over and squeezed her hand.

She sniffed and gave him a watery smile.

"Anyway, all I wanted to say is that it gave me hope. That it could be like that again—not necessarily with you, but with someone. Someday."

He shifted so that he could hold her, and she put her arms around him with relief, glad to have it out there at last. Hunter didn't seem to be running for the hills, so maybe it was going to be all right after all. "That's all I wanted to tell you," she said into his shirt. "You know, before."

He kissed the top of her head. "You're really so much better at this than I am," he said, his voice low and tender. "That's all I wanted to tell you—before."

She replied with a sleepy laugh. She really was so very tired. She rested a few minutes against him, lulled by the steady beating of his heart. Then Hunter's voice came as a rumble against her cheek. "Me or someone else, huh?" he said, nudging her.

"Mmm." She couldn't keep her eyes open.

"I'm looking around," he continued. "I don't see anyone else here."

Her eyes popped open again but she didn't move. Surely he wasn't suggesting…? He gave her a gentle squeeze.

"I'm okay with that if you are," he said, cupping the side of her face. She took his hand and held it there, too overwhelmed to speak.

"I'm okay with that," she whispered finally.

"Good." He kissed the bridge of her nose. "Then let's get some sleep."


It was afternoon before they woke, but they started the day with coffee, just like always. Hunter looked annoyed as he sipped from his mug. "I don't understand why I'm still suspended," he said. "Sure, Lucy's case isn't officially cleared, but no one can possibly think it was me anymore, can they?"

"No one who knows you ever did," she replied, laying a hand on his arm. "Just give it a day or two—Jake will turn on Tony or vice versa, and then we'll start getting the details. One of them is bound to talk."

She had a plan to possibly hurry the chatter along, or maybe save the D.A. from having to make a deal with either one of those scum balls, but she didn't want to get Hunter's hopes up just yet.

"You're supposed to be taking it easy," he said, turning his frown on her. "Not heading in to work."

"I have to give an official statement. Besides, my ankle hardly hurts at all this morning. I told you it was nothing serious."

Hunter's expression told her he thought this was so much bullshit. Nothing serious. She hadn't almost died or anything. "You're done with this case," he told her. "Right?"

She stalled by taking a long sip of coffee. "Sure. It's not like Charlie would let me within a hundred yards of Tony or Jake right now. I'm going to have to testify, no matter how this shakes out." This was all true enough. Bebinger and Ruiz had Tony and Jake all to themselves right now, but by the time the analysis was finished on the nuclear fallout shelter, McCall was reasonably certain that half the department would want a turn in the box with the Sting Ray boys. She cared not a whit for them, anyway, but there was one cage she wanted to rattle real hard.

"I guess I'll go see Sabrina," Hunter said. "Maybe swing by my mom's and start on the clean-up."

Right, the burglar who hadn't stolen anything. "Still no idea on that one?" she asked him.

"Waiting on those prints." He shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe it was really just some punk who reads the obituaries."

He didn't sound convinced, and neither was she, but she had to get going. She kissed his cheek. "'l'll be back in two hours. Stay out of trouble."

"But trouble's what I'm really good at."

"Two hours," she said, her tone one of warning. "I've had enough trouble this week, and so have you."

At the precinct, it took some wheedling to get Charlie to sign off on her idea, but eventually, she wore him down. It was her personal risk that ultimately bagged Tony and Jake, and Devane was thankful—at least in those moments he didn't want to wring her neck himself. So this was how she found herself seated in an interrogation room across from Mindy Jahovic, who looked distinctly less badass when she was stripped of her leather and makeup.

She gave McCall a sullen look and folded her arms. "I don't have to talk to you."

"You don't," McCall conceded. "But right now, you're looking at a list of charges as long as your arm. If even half of them stick, you're not going to see the outside of a prison cell until you're seventy-five."

"Hey, I didn't kill no one, and you can't prove I did."

"I don't have to prove you did anything but look the other way. You're going down as an accomplice to kidnapping, attempted murder, and murder."

"I didn't kill anyone! I didn't know about the bomb shelter."

McCall wasn't sure she believed her, but it hardly mattered. "I suggest you start talking and tell everything you know," she said. "Tony and Jake are looking at hard time regardless, but the D.A. would look a lot more kindly on you if you were to help him build a case."

Mindy said nothing, just sat there in stony silence. McCall waited a beat and then tried for the information she had come for: the mystery that had been bugging her from the start.

"The car that picked Lucy up the night she was killed. You said you could find out what it was. Did you?"

Mindy shrugged one shoulder. "What's it to you?"

"You mean: what's it to you," McCall corrected her. "I can either testify for you or against you, Mindy—which is it going to be?"

The girl searched her face to see if she was serious. "You'd help me? Even after I told Jake about you?"

"If you help me right here, right now, I will help you. You have my word." Mindy hesitated, and McCall leaned across the table. "You said one of the girls saw Lucy leave that night. Who was it, and what did she see?"

Mindy sighed. "I don't need no other girl for the story. I saw her myself, when I was out having a smoke. It was the same car that was always picking her up: a silver Mercedes."


The sun was already hanging low in the sky again by the time Hunter reached his mother's apartment complex. This was the price of getting out of bed at two in the afternoon, but he and McCall had desperately needed the sleep. If he were honest with himself, he needed about two more days of it before he could even begin to contemplate doing anything else with her in bed, and he expected she probably felt the same. It seemed like years since he'd slept a full night.

So he was yawning as he put the key in the lock, already imagining a delicious future where he was tucked back under the blankets with McCall in his arms. The door swung open and he stepped into the disarray that he'd left sitting there the last time. Cleanup was going to take forever.

"Hello, Ricky."

Hunter whirled and found Homer Dodd sitting in what was left of his mother's favorite arm chair. He had a revolver pointed squarely at Hunter's chest. "Homer—what the hell are you doing?"

"Put down your gun, Rick. I know you've got one." Hunter didn't move, and the old man looked irritated. "Do it or I'll shoot your kneecap off. You know I'm good at that."

Carefully, Hunter withdrew his piece and set it on the nearby counter. "What's going on here, huh?"

"I'm looking for something," Homer said. "Something that's been owed me a long, long time. I've looked and it ain't here, so you and me, we're going to take a little ride."


McCall left the interrogation room intent on heading directly back to her desk to call Hunter to tell him what Mindy had relayed about the silver Mercedes. It was no sure thing that Lucy's killer was the driver, but he had to be on the suspect list. Tony and Jake both had motive, but the driver of the Mercedes had opportunity. He knew where Hunter lived and that Lucy was with him because he'd dropped her off there the evening of the funeral.

In the hall, a uniformed officer stopped her briefly. "Sergeant McCall, the lab boys sent this over for you," he said, and handed her an inter-departmental envelope.

She opened it as she walked the rest of the way, although her mind was still mostly engaged with the new lead. The fingerprints from Hunter's mother's place were small potatoes at this point, but she figured if there was news on that front she could pass it along when she called to tell him about the car.

The results on the page were so shocking she bumped into her desk. Seven prints had a match; all of them to Jonathan Vincent "Homer" Dodd.

McCall didn't bother to sit down. She reached for the phone and tried Hunter first at her place, and then at his mother's when she got no answer the first time. Francesca's answering machine picked up and an eerie feeling passed through McCall at the sound of the dead woman's voice. She hung up without leaving a message and next tried to reach Hunter through his radio: no response.

She bit her lip for just a second before charging into the Captain's office. "I think Hunter may be in trouble," she said by way of introduction.

Charlie's face was lined with fatigue, and he was possibly still wearing the same clothes he'd worn the day before, when he'd helped pull her out of a make-shift slaughterhouse. "Why do you say that?" he asked, leaning back in his chair.

"He was supposed to be cleaning up at his mother's apartment today—an apartment that someone systematically shredded last week. Hunter printed the place, and the prints came back to Homer Dodd."

"Homer Dodd? As in the Homer Dodd—hired killer?"

"That's the one."

"Isn't he in a nursing home somewhere? He was active back in the 60s."

"He's young enough to fire a gun." She gave him a brief recap of their run-in with the silver Mercedes, registered to Homer, along with Mindy's statement that it may have been the car that picked Lucy up on the night of her murder.

"Worth following up on, I agree," Charlie said when she was finished. "But I've heard nothing here that suggests Hunter maybe in any danger."


Charlie frowned. "Look, I don't have to tell you the kind of stress he's been under with this whole investigation. Last night, the story started to turn in his favor a little bit—maybe he's just off somewhere blowing off steam."

"He wouldn't do that. Not without telling me."

"You're really so sure of that?"

She paused to search herself. Hunter had always been a bit of a loner, this was true, and a couple of weeks ago she wouldn't have been at all sure—his behavior had been mystifying her for months. But she had fallen asleep last night under the weight of his arm and awoken many hours later to find him still with her, looking every bit as happy and terrified by this prospect as she had felt herself. Her cheeks warmed with the memory and she cleared her throat. "I'm sure," she said, making sure to look the Captain in the eyes as she said it.

Charlie held her gaze for a long moment, but she felt the instant he decided to believe her. His shoulders sagged almost imperceptibly; another one of his officers could be in danger. He reached for his phone. "What's the address on his mother's place? We can have someone go over there and check it."

"Great, let me know what they find." She was out of her seat already.

He paused with phone in hand. "Where are you going?"

"I'm going to check on Homer Dodd."


"Ride?" Hunter was initially not feeling very threatened by Homer Dodd, despite the fact that the man was holding a gun on him. It felt more like an elaborate practical joke. "What kind of ride are you talking about, Homer?"

"To wherever the money is," Homer said, rising somewhat awkwardly from the chair. Those bad knees were another reason Hunter was having difficulty taking Homer seriously.

"What money?"

"My money," Homer replied with a sneer. "The money your dad stole from me twenty-three years ago."

"I do not know what you're talking about," Hunter said, because it was the truth. "Put that gun down and explain it to me."

"You're the last one standing, Ricky. It's got to be you. I searched this place top to bottom. I hit Lucy's place—even Sabrina's—you're the only one left."

At the mention of Lucy and Sabrina—one of whom was dead from a gunshot to the head, and the other of whom was lying in a hospital bed with a bunch of bullet holes in her—Hunter's skin prickled with a sensation he recognized too well: he was standing in the presence of a killer. Not an old, retired, hired gun. No, someone still in the hunt.

Hunter eyed the barrel of the gun pointing at his chest and wondered if he could take the old man.

"Don't even think about it," Homer told him flatly. "I got bad knees but my hands work just fine. I've got a whole fan club down at the firing range."

"You killed Lucy, Homer?" Hunter asked softly.

The old man's nostrils flared but he didn't answer. "Where's the money?"

"I've got about sixty bucks in my wallet," Hunter replied. "You're welcome to it. Beyond that, I haven't the faintest clue what money you're talking about."

Homer gave a humorless chuckle and shook his head. "You were a little shit back then, and I see things haven't changed. You came and went as you pleased, bringing your friends and pretty girls through that big kitchen, eating all your mother's food, driving that nice new car your daddy bought you—never stopped to think real hard about where that stuff came from, did you? Naw, of course not. Not you. You kept your ignorance so close that you went and joined up with the po-lice, thinking you were just like them. But you and me, we know the truth about where you came from, don't we? And I bet the boys in blue knew it too. I bet they weren't too surprised to see you end up with a dead whore in your bed."

"Lucy wasn't a whore," he said, even as he realized he didn't know for sure.

"You think I give a crap about her?" Homer's voice turned hard again. "This isn't about her. It never was. It's about—where the hell is my money? Your dear old dad, rest his soul, he double-crossed me out of a couple million bucks and then had the nerve to die before I could kill him for it. We ran the guns all the time—gun were easy—but then he got word that one of our guys from down south wanted to ship more than guns. Smack, and lots of it, if we could find the right buyer. Your dad didn't know smack about smack, but I had some connections. He needed me. But then two days before it's supposed to go down, he tells me the supplier is spooked and wants to call the whole thing off. 'Let me talk to him,' I said, but your dad said no, there was nothing we could do. Then I hear a couple of weeks later the deal did go through just as it was planned. Your dad just decided to cut me out and keep a little extra for himself."

Hunter digested this information for a moment. "Even if all of that is true, it doesn't change the fact that I can't help you: I don't know anything about any deal or any money."

"He got iced before he could spend it. It has to be somewhere. Four million dollars doesn't just up and disappear!"

"Maybe your sources were lying to you, Homer. Maybe there was no deal."

Anger flared, hot and bright, in Homer's narrowed eyes. "Oh, there was a deal, all right, because I worked my ass off to make sure it'd go through with no problems. I had plans for that money. It was the biggest one-time score we were ever going to see. But half wasn't enough for Domenico Hunter. That SOB went and took it all."

"Then he took it to his grave."

"Ain't you heard, Ricky? You can't take it with you. That means your mother ended up sitting on a cool four million bucks."

Hunter was beginning to piece together the story. "And you figured you'd come around, romance her a little, and she'd just tell you where it was?"

"She was a sweet lady, she really was. Nick didn't deserve a woman like that. I knew if I gave her enough time, she'd see things my way. Turns out time wasn't on my side."

"Look around you," Hunter scoffed. "This is a builder-grade one-bedroom apartment. There's a box of coupons sitting in there on the kitchen counter. She shopped out of the Sears catalogue and drove an eight-year-old Buick. You think she was some secret millionaire?"

"I think maybe, unlike your father, she didn't want to touch it on account of she knew where it came from—out of my hide."

"That's a pretty rich theory. Too bad you don't have a shred of evidence to back it up."

Homer shrugged. "That's where you come in. You're the detective, right? You find the money, or else I shoot you."

Hunter figured if he'd killed Lucy and tried to kill Sabrina, there was no way Homer would let him walk away, no matter what he did or didn't find. "You're going to shoot me anyway. Why should I help you?"

"Think of it as a few more hours that you get to breathe oxygen. Now get to the detecting—where did your dad put that money?"

Hunter still doubted there was any money. His mother had never breathed a word of it, although he was learning she had kept a lot of other things to herself. But four million dollars? That was a hell of a secret. His mother had taken his dad's death as a cue to distance herself from the family; they'd moved and started over together and money had been damn tight. His senior year he'd eaten mostly peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. The idea that his mother had sewn patches on her clothes and reused paper towels while sitting on millions of dollars was hard to accept. Besides, where would she even put it?

Hunter looked around at the disarray in the apartment. Homer had slit the couch cushions, like they might have been stuffed with money. He'd turned out the silverware drawer, for Christ's sake. You could fit maybe sixty cents in there on a good day. For four million dollars, you'd need a…

"What?" Homer demanded suddenly.


"No, don't feed me that crap. It's not nothing. You thought of something just now. What was it?" When Hunter didn't say anything, Homer waved the gun at him. "Listen, I got nothing left to lose here, you understand me? I'm getting my money or I'm gonna die trying, and I don't care who all I gotta take with me."

"Tell me the truth. Did you kill Lucy?"

Homer hesitated just a moment, and then he gave a short nod. "Had to be done. Your mom died and all of a sudden she comes sniffing around—maybe she knew about the money too."

"And how on earth was she supposed to know about that? She was a kid back then."

"Because your father was fucking her, that's how come!"

Hunter stiffened as though he'd been shot. "What?"

Homer was disgusted. "Like I said: you were ignorant. Now let's get back to the matter at hand, which is where the hell is my money?"

Hunter, still reeling, rubbed his head with one hand. "There's a storage unit."

"Your mom didn't have one. I asked her."

"It was still in my father's name. At least that's how it was years ago. I don't know if it's even still there."

"I say we go find out, and you'd better hope it is."

Hunter eyed the gun again. He envisioned driving to some sketchy, out-of-the-way storage place, only to have Homer shoot him in the head for his troubles, and really, who would know? McCall knew he was supposed to be over at his mom's place today, but she wasn't expecting him back for hours yet, and no one had any idea that Homer was running all over town shooting people. Jesus, how had he missed this? "Why waste the gas if it's not worth it?" he said, trying to sound reasonable. "Let's have our fingers do the walking first." He reached over and pulled down his mother's thick phone book, hoping he could even remember the name of the place once he saw it.

Homer hovered while Hunter ran his finger over the names on the page. "Is it there or ain't it?" he snapped finally.

"I think it was maybe this one." Hunter tapped "Self Secure," and reached for the phone.

Homer stepped forward with the gun. "No funny business. I want to be able to hear."

Hunter had in fact been counting on it. "I'll route it through the machine, okay? Put it on speaker." He hit the button to broadcast the call, but he also arranged it to record the whole thing. "Yeah, hi," he said when someone picked up. "Is this Self Secure on Rutlage Road? My mother just passed away recently, and I'm trying to determine if she had a unit there. It may have been under my father's name—Domenico or Nick Hunter." Hunter waited while the guy on the other end went to look this up.

"We have one unit under Domenico Hunter," the guy confirmed. "But you would have to provide some proof of ownership. The key, for example."

"Right. The key. No problem."

Across the room, Homer scowled. Hunter hung up the phone.

"I have no idea where the key is."

"Never fucking mind the key," Homer said as he waved the gun toward the door. "Just drive over there. If you can find the unit, I'll provide the entrance."

Hunter took the keys Homer tossed him, the ones he assumed matched the elusive Mercedes. The place was thirty minutes away, so he had just that long to figure out some sort of escape plan—or magically come up with four million bucks.


McCall knocked on the door to Homer's condo, but when no one answered, she went around to the sliding patio doors and picked the lock there. His place was quiet, neat, and more modern-looking than she might have guessed for a man on the wrong side of sixty, especially one who had spent fifteen years shut off from pop culture in Folsom prison. There was a white shag rug on the living room floor, a glass coffee table, and a large, splattered black-and-red abstract painting on the wall that vaguely reminded her of a crime scene. No wonder he liked it.

But there was no sign of Homer or Hunter anywhere. She figured 'what the hell' and picked up the phone to try Hunter at his mother's place again, but as she held the receiver, she decided to try the last number dialed first. The phone rang through to Cedars-Sinai, where Sabrina was being treated, and McCall didn't bother with her second call at that point.

She ran back to her car and picked up the radio, just as the dispatcher came on the line. "L-57, I have Captain Devane on the line for you."

"Put him through."

"McCall," Charlie said a minute later. His tone was tense, clipped. "Black-and-white went by Hunter's mother's place. They found his car but not Hunter. The place was trashed, just like you said. I don't like the way this feels."

"I'm en route." If his car was there, then Hunter had been there too not long ago. If she had any hope of picking up his trail, the best place to start was the last place he'd been. "Captain, Homer Dodd may have been checking up on Sabrina Salvato. I don't know what the connection there is, but given the circumstances, you might want to beef up her security."

"Done. Anything else?"

"Yeah, put an APB out on Homer's Mercedes. I didn't see it at his place."

"You got it. Let me know what you find at the scene, okay?"

The scene. McCall's blood went cold at the realization that this is what they were talking about here—a crime scene that involved Hunter being separated from his car. Moving the victim to a new location automatically lowered the chances for survival, but she wasn't going to allow herself to think about that just yet. She was constructing an alternative narrative in her head: if Homer had killed Lucy, he'd had ample opportunity to kill Hunter at the same time, but he had not. This suggested there was a reason to keep Hunter alive, and maybe whatever it was, it could still be working in Hunter's favor. Homer had torn Francesca's apartment to bits, so he was clearly looking for something. McCall just hoped he hadn't found it yet.

The boys in the black-and-white were still on site when she arrived, screeching to a halt with her cherry light still rolling. They had been idling against their car but straightened up at her arrival. "Nothing new?" she asked them, a little breathless. They shook their heads. The small parking lot was otherwise quiet and mostly empty. No sign of trouble. "Did you search the place?" she asked, squinting towards the stairs.

"No, just poked our heads in. It was pretty clear no one was around."

McCall went to check for herself. She had met Francesca Hunter exactly twice and found her to be outwardly warm and friendly. She'd favored flowing tops in vibrant colors, laughed often, and smelled like perfume and faint traces of the cigarettes that had probably sent her to an early grave. Her appearance had been put-together and neat-as-a-pin, not a hair out of place, so the poor woman would no doubt be entirely dismayed to see the wreckage now decorating her cozy apartment.

McCall picked her way through the mess, anxious for any sign that Hunter had been there recently. What she found was his gun lying on the kitchen counter, and her panic increased a notch. He would never have left his weapon willingly, so any slim hope she had that he had just wandered off for a walk in the hills or something vanished immediately. Hunter was unarmed and in deep trouble.

She turned around amid the chaos, desperate for a sign. Whatever Homer had wanted, he hadn't found it here. "Come on, Rick," she pleaded with the empty room. "Where did you go?"

There was of course no answer. But it was right then that she happened to notice the red light flashing on the answering machine.


Hunter had to sign in at the gate to get them onto the lot with the storage units. Homer had put the gun away long enough for Hunter to complete the transaction with the clipboard, but he'd been clear in the car: he didn't care how many people he had to shoot at this point to get to the money. If Hunter didn't want to add to the body count, he'd keep right on cooperating.

"So where is it?" Homer asked as they drove slowly around the deserted lot looking for the right unit. He was starting to sound a little antsy.

"I haven't been here in twenty-five years," Hunter replied. "I'm just hoping something looks familiar."

"Figure it out soon, would ya?"

"You've been waiting twenty years," Hunter said, eyeing him. "What's five more minutes?" He figured the longer he stalled, the more likely it was that someone caught on to what was happening and came after him.

"Cute. Real cute. Let me tell you, the thought of this money got me through some real long nights on the inside. The money and the look on your father's face right before I put a bullet between his eyes. I had to settle for doin' his wife instead, and I gotta say, that was pretty damn sweet. Not four-million-dollars sweet, but your mom, she knew her way around the bedroom."

Hunter clenched the wheel a little tighter but did not rise to the bait. Instead he changed the subject. "What you said about my father and Lucy Salvato…"

Homer gave a crooked grin and licked his lips. "Shocked you, huh? I can't believe you didn't know after all these years. Your mom sure as hell did. A wife might be able to overlook the occasional bit of side action, but when the girl turns up pregnant…well, that's cause for a reckoning. I'm kinda surprised she didn't off the old man herself."

"He got her pregnant?" Hunter said the words more to himself than to Homer. The guy was busy rewriting his whole family history, and Hunter felt dizzy trying to keep up. Lucy had loved him. Lucy wanted to marry him. And the whole time she'd been sleeping with his father?

Homer seemed to read his thoughts. "Your dad, he took what he wanted from other people, whether they were willing to give it or not. That's why I'm here—to get mine back. Can you find this place or not?"

Hunter peered out over the windshield at the end unit at the end of the road, which seemed the best fit to the vague memory print he carried in his head. "I think that's it."

"Great. There's a set of bolt cutters in the trunk. Grab 'em and let's go."

Grimly, Hunter got the tool and broke the padlock on the door while Homer held the gun at his back. When Hunter raised the metal door up, he saw he was in the right place—back in his childhood with his father's favorite high-backed chair, his grandmother's old dresser, and the big mirror that had hung in the upstairs hall. The place was dim and musty, with a layer of grayish brown dust coating everything. There were boxes of who-knows-what, a couple of rolled-up rugs, and a bunch of his father's old sporting gear from when he organized the company baseball league. What he didn't see was four million bucks.

"Well?" Homer demanded, urging them deeper into the unit. He coughed deeply as the dust hit him full-force.

"I don't know. I don't see anything." Hunter worked his way through a bunch of junk—an old mannequin, some yard tools, a few more boxes of what looked like dishes and pans.

"It's got to be here. It's got to be." Homer's breathing was ragged and over-loud in the cramped space. "Look harder."

"I don't see—" Hunter said again, and stopped short. There was a set of suitcases at the very back, two large ones and three smaller ones.

"What? What is it?"

Homer crept up a little too close. Hunter jabbed him with an elbow to the face, and the old man fell backwards, stumbling over the rug. He hit the ground ass-first, and the gun went skittering out of his hand onto the pavement outside. Hunter could tell from the wet coughing noises Homer was making that he'd probably broken the guy's nose.

He went to step over him to get the gun, but Homer made surprisingly quick recovery. He kicked Hunter hard in the crotch, and while Hunter doubled over in pain, Homer grabbed for his old friend: the bat.

He swung once from a seated position, and Hunter, still wheezing, had enough presence of mind and agility left to duck out of the way. Homer used the delay to get to his feet and try again. "I told you," he said, blood running down his face. "I don't care what I have to do to get that money."

Hunter ducked again as Homer swung wildly, so hard the air whistled. Homer might be older, but years of experience with the bat and a terrible blinding rage gave him almost super-human strength. Hunter was trapped, backing up deeper and deeper into the storage unit to avoid Homer's blows. They were both panting, Homer snarling with each advance. "It's mine! Understand? Mine!"

He yelled the last word as one of his blows connected with Hunter's ribs, thereby knocking all the wind out of him. Hunter gasped and fell to one side. He put his hands up to defend himself, and the bat came down hard on his forearm, sending a shattering pain up into his shoulder. He grabbed whatever he could—a tool, a book—and threw them in Homer's direction, but they barely slowed the man down. Homer screamed again as he took out Hunter's left knee. The force knocked Hunter to the ground, and he braced himself for unconsciousness as Homer stood over him, the bat raised toward the ceiling.

"Police! Freeze right there!"

Hunter went weak with relief at the sound of her voice. He wasn't going to die here.

Homer froze, the bat still in the air. He had blood dripping from his chin now and a crazed, desperate look in his eyes.

"I won't tell you again," McCall said. "Put the bat down—now."

Hunter sat there, breathing hard, watching Homer run the odds. "It's over," he told him. "You lost."

"Not yet," the old man said. He glanced at the suitcases that lay just beyond Hunter and fingered the bat again, testing the grip. "You know something, Ricky? Right now, you look just like your dad."

He started the downward swing, aiming for Hunter's skull, and Hunter barely had time to close his eyes before the shot rang out. Homer screamed and fell forward into Hunter, writhing in pain. McCall had hit the back of one bad knee.

Hunter shoved Homer aside roughly and got to his feet. His body ached all over, but at least he could stand. He limped awkwardly toward McCall, who gave him a worried look. She still had her weapon trained on Homer. "Are you okay?" she asked.

"He killed Lucy. Probably shot Sabrina too."

"I figured. But why?"

Hunter rubbed his sore arm with one hand. He could hear sirens approaching in the distance. "It seems he was intent on eliminating any of my father's heirs."

"Heirs?" She looked confused. "Heirs to what?"

"Gimme your bracelets." Hunter took her set of handcuffs and secured Homer, who was coughing and moaning on the floor.

"Let's get him out of here," McCall said, wrinkling her nose at the smelly storage unit. "Backup's right behind me."

"Just a sec. I want him to see this." Hunter stepped over the writhing man and hefted one of the larger suitcases. It felt like it might be stacked with gold, it was so heavy.

McCall apparently wanted to see too because she stepped deeper into the unit. Hunter put the suitcase on top of the dresser and unzipped the top. Rows of sweet green cash in neat little bundles lined the case from end-to-end. "Well, I'll be," he said as McCall blinked in surprise. "Seems the old man was right."

"Whoa," McCall said. "What is that—a million?"

"There should be four here, if you can believe this scumbag," Hunter said. He picked out one bundle of cash and smacked Homer on the head with it.

"Your mom had millions hidden away in here?" McCall's eyes were wide. "And she never said anything? Why?"

There was a lot he would never know, never had the chance to ask, but he knew enough about his mother to be able to answer this one. "Because she knew it for what it was," he said, and cast a look down at Homer, who was covered in blood from head to toe now. How many of his victims had he left the same way? Hunter tossed the cash back in with the rest of the pile. "It was blood money."


The next day, McCall sat in a plastic hospital chair, feeling pleased but slightly out of place as Hunter caught Sabrina up on some of the latest events. She hadn't seen the girl since that day in the restaurant, what seemed like a lifetime ago now, when they hadn't known who she really was. The final answer would come from the DNA test—Jack was kindly here to supervise an expedited verdict—and Hunter and Sabrina had matching bandaids on their arms from the blood draws. But it was the other ways in which they matched—their blue eyes, the same furrow in the brow, the way they tilted their heads at an identical angle when they were thinking—that warmed McCall and made her realize it hardly mattered what the eventual DNA results said.

"So he shot me because he thought I had four million dollars?" Sabrina was saying. "Don't I wish!"

Hunter and McCall traded a look. They hadn't yet told her the money was real.

"Or that my mom was sitting on four million bucks," Sabrina continued. "She scrounged for every dollar she could get. If she had millions, she'd have set herself up nice in Beverly Hills or something."

"Well, it turns out the money was sitting in a storage locker for the past twenty-some years," Hunter said, and Sabrina's eyes widened.

"Holy shit!" She clamped a hand over her mouth. "Sorry."

McCall hid a smile. Like she suspected, the DNA wouldn't matter. Sabrina was already behaving like Hunter was her dad. The girl's face took on a look of concentration as she tried to parse the family tree.

"So…your mom had it all this time? In a storage locker? No offense, but she must've been crazy."

"Maybe so," Hunter agreed with a sigh. "I guess Self-Secure Storage lives up to its name if you can keep that kind of money hidden for more than twenty years."

"Wait a second." Sabrina struggled to sit up higher on the pillows. She was out of the ICU, getting stronger, but the chest injury still made it difficult for her to move. "Self-Secure Storage? That's where you found the money?"

"Yeah. Why?" Hunter was doing that furrowed brow thing they both shared.

"Because I have a key to that place. My mom sent it to me a couple of months ago. She said I might need it one day."

McCall blinked in surprise and Hunter sat forward. "Lucy had the key? And she gave it to you. But how…?"

"The card," McCall said quietly. "The one from your mom." Lucy, I'm so sorry. It was blood money, all right, and Francesca Hunter was trying to make amends.

"Wow," Hunter murmured, looking bemused.

Sabrina was stunned, tears in her eyes. "I don't understand. My mom, she knew what it was? And she gave it to me?"

"I don't know what she knew," Hunter said. "But it's possible. What I don't get is that Homer Dodd tore your place up looking for that key and he never found it."

Sabrina smiled and blinked back her tears. "It's in my car," she said. "In the glove box, along with the note. He would've been standing ten feet away from it the night he shot me, and he never even knew it. Life's funny sometimes, huh?"

"Hilarious," said Hunter, deadpan. He turned to McCall. "We'd better send someone over to pick up that car."

She patted his arm. "I'll take care of it," she said. "You stay here."

Outside in the waiting room, she found Jack loitering around, apparently looking to talk to her, and she was grateful for the opportunity. She had seen the initial reports from the night of her rescue, and she knew that without Jack's help, she would have been one more victim on the Sting Ray floor. "How's she doing?" he asked, nodding in the direction of Sabrina's room behind her.

"Getting better. Thank you for helping to expedite the DNA test. It will mean a lot to both of them to have a real answer." The hard part would come later. DNA could tell you if someone was a blood relation, but it couldn't define what they mean to you. That, you would have to figure out on your own.

"Happy to do it," Jack said. He coughed briefly. "You were right to stick by your partner. I'm sorry for doubting his story."

"It was a pretty incredible story," McCall allowed. "I don't know if I'd have believed it myself if I didn't know Hunter as well as I do."

There was an awkward pause as her words hung out there between them. It was case closed, in more ways than one.

"We're starting the interviews after Christmas," Jack said. "There are a couple of good candidates, but I bet I could still squeeze you in…"

McCall waited just a beat—she could remember the electricity in the classroom over the summer when he'd talked about DNA's future role in crime solving. Every LEO in the room immediately recognized the immense possibility. But she also remembered how long the days had seemed without Hunter there to talk to, how the best part about learning new stuff was sharing it with him. "No, thank you," she said. "It's tempting, but I'm exactly where I need to be right now."

"Understood." Jack's smile didn't quite meet his eyes. "Call me if you ever change your mind."

They exchanged a perfunctory peck on the cheek and then he was gone. McCall checked her watch and figured she should call to have Sabrina's car impounded—apparently it was evidence, even if the evidence was only that Lucy had loved her more than her daughter had ever known. McCall found a pay phone and made the call.

When she returned, she found Hunter coming out of Sabrina's room. "She's sleeping again," he said by way of explanation. "But I think she's doing better—don't you?"

McCall nodded and looked up at him. "How are you doing?" He sported some pretty impressive bruises from his encounter with Homer Dodd, but it was the inside she was more worried about: he'd lost his mom, been accused of murder, discovered some ugly truths about his family, and, oh yeah, nearly been killed. She'd gently tried to talk to him about it, but so far, he wasn't biting.

Indeed, he deflected again as they began a slow walk toward the exit. "I'm just glad they've cleared me—and my house. I can go home now and quit bugging you."

His words stung a little. The circumstances of his stay were awful, of course, but she had enjoyed having him with her, and she'd thought just maybe he'd felt the same.

"I have to do one important thing first, though."

She kept her eyes trained on the ground so he wouldn't see her disappointment. "What's that?"

"I have to buy a new bed. There's no way I'm sleeping in that old one."

She chuffed a reply. "Yeah, you have a point."

"So you'll come then?"

Confused, she stopped walking. "Beg your pardon?”

He stopped too and turned toward her. "To pick out a bed," he clarified, as though she were a little slow on the uptake.

Oh. A bed. Relief, and yes, a twinge of excitement went through her as she realized what he was saying. She tried to keep the delighted smile off her face. "Me? I get a vote?"

He was also trying not to smile. "Yeah," he said, slipping an arm around her shoulders. "You get a vote. Just remember I hold the ultimate veto."

"Hmm," she mused as they walked. "Four million dollars buys a LOT of bed."

"Oh, no," he replied, shaking his head vigorously. "I'm not touching a dime of that money. Whatever comes back to the family, it's Sabrina's, fair and square."

"I suppose that makes sense," she said with a sigh. "But you would have to admit—it would be nice to get a little something for your trouble out of this."

"I did get something," he said as they reached the door. Ever the gentleman, he used his good arm to pull it open for her. Outside, their future waited in the warm sunshine, but she hesitated on the threshold, waiting for him to complete his thought. "I got you," he said finally. "And that's priceless."

He widened the door a bit more, and with a smile, she walked through it.



Is it ever really over?! Turns out, this time, not really. ;) There is a separate, short follow-up that has all the mushy, sexy stuff not covered here. It is found here under "Long Winter's Nap."

Thanks to Robbie and to my long suffering editor Amanda for beta help along the way. Any remaining errors are mine alone. Thanks to all of you for reading!

© syntax6 2015