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Cross & Crown

Abigail Roux

  Chapter 1

  Etective Nick O’Flaherty climbed out of the Dunmarked car and took the opportunity to stretch his back as he looked around the chaotic downtown crime scene. Gawkers were lined up at a checkpoint near a narrow side-road intersection, even though it was barely sunup. An ambulance sat with its lights off near the storefront. Uniforms milled around, waiting for the coroner to show up.

  “Hey, Tommy,” Nick said as one of the uniforms approached him. “How’re your girls?”

  “Same as always, Detective, running the show. How’s your first week back off desk duty?”

  “Blissfully boring. What’ve we got?” Nick asked him.

  “Looks like a smash and grab gone wrong. Old bookstore.

  Shop’s all busted up. Two dead. ”

  “IDs?” Nick asked as he pulled a pair of latex gloves from his coat pocket.

  “One’s the shop owner. We’re still waiting on the ID for the other. But there’s something else you got to see. ”

  Nick’s partner joined them, brushing against Nick’s shoulder. “Something besides the dead bodies?”

  The officer nodded. “Good morning, Detective Hagan.

  Yes, we got a witness. ”

  “Hallefuckinlujah,” Nick muttered as he followed.

  “Don’t thank your lucky stars just yet. ”

  Nick repressed a groan as Tommy led them toward some evidence tags in the middle of the road.

  “This is where they found him,” Tommy said.

  “In the road?” Nick asked.

  “On the ground?” Hagan added.

  “Yes, sirs. Thought he was another body at first. ”

  “Where is he?” Nick asked.

  “Hospital. ”

  Hagan smacked Nick on the arm. “That’s why they gave us this one. So you could go question him and not fuck up a crime scene. ”

  “Hey,” Nick grunted.

  “You’re the people person who donated half his liver to his dad,” Hagan said. “You take the easy part, I’ll go get coffee. ”

  Nick grunted as his stocky partner trundled off toward one of the trucks. Hagan and his love affair with coffee were a bane of Nick’s existence.

  Nick glanced around the scene again. The front windows of the store had been busted out, probably shattered by the gunfire. Two bodies were sprawled on the sidewalk in front.

  Shelves of books inside had been toppled, the interior a mess of old tomes. Dust motes floated in the floodlights. Standing behind the barricades was a mass of onlookers.

  Nick sighed heavily and scanned the crowd. He didn’t see anyone who looked like they might be trying to offer information, just a bunch of people with nothing better to do than gawk as the sun rose. Then his eyes landed on someone who looked familiar. Tal , broad shoulders, dark hair. He was wearing sunglasses, and his turned-up coat col ar hid some of his face.

  But Nick thought he recognized him. He started toward the barriers. “Garrett?”

  The man ducked his head and disappeared into the crowd.

  Nick trailed to a stop. Zane Garrett would not have ignored Nick’s greeting. Nick had obviously been mistaken.

  When Hagan returned with two steaming cups of coffee, they climbed back into their unmarked, and Nick dumped his coffee into the street before closing the door and heading off for the hospital to check on their witness.

  Hagan’s coffee, and apparently his patience along with it, were reaching the dregs when they finally found the room their witness had been moved to after his MRI and CT scans and whatever else they’d put the poor guy through. An officer was on the door, and a nurse was in the room checking the man’s vitals.

  He was sitting on the edge of his bed, a blanket around his shoulders. He had his head down. His hair was light and wavy, and he had a day’s worth of stubble. There was a bandage on his neck that seemed to stretch up into his hairline. He was wearing jeans and a blue cardigan, and his shoulder was covered in blood. He certainly wasn’t dressed for midnight acrobatics like a robbery, and though his current state spoke of more than just one bad night in a row, he didn’t ping Nick as an addict.

  Nick slid his suit jacket aside to show his badge before approaching the witness. “Morning, sir,” he said.

  The man looked up. He was haggard, with circles under his eyes. But he was handsome regardless, with eyes that were an unnervingly clear blue. And he seemed confused and scared. Nick couldn’t really blame him.

  “I’m Detective O’Flaherty. This is Detective Hagan. Were you hurt this morning, sir?”

  The man stared at Nick for a few seconds, his eyes glazing over. He blinked and focused his attention back on Nick.

  When he spoke, his accent wasn’t local. It was so far from local that Nick couldn’t begin to place it, other than he sounded a little Southern and a little British. It might have even been fake. “They said I was shot in the head. ”

  Nick could think of nothing to say to that. He glanced at the nurse for confirmation.

  “He took a glancing blow. It knocked him unconscious, but didn’t penetrate the skul . And I told you to stay in bed,” she said, forcing the witness to recline and covering him with a sheet.

  Nick gaped at her. “Jesus. ”

  The witness cleared his throat and fiddled with the sheet, obviously uncomfortable.

  “What’s your name, sir?” Nick asked him.

  “I don’t know. ” He looked back at Nick, his expression sincerely distressed.

  Nick sniffed and scratched at his chin, not sure whether to be annoyed or concerned. Either the man was exceptionally good at stonewal ing, or he had a serious case of traumatic amnesia. “All right. Can you tell me what happened this morning?”

  “No, I’m sorry. I don’t remember. I don’t know. ”

  “What do you know?”

  “I know I got shot in the head. ”

  “You don’t remember anything?”

  The witness winced. “No. ”

  “You don’t remember your name. ”

  “No, Detective. I’m sorry. ”

  Nick nodded and carefully patted the man on the shoulder. He turned to his partner, who stood near the doorway. Hagan had both eyebrows raised, his jaw working back and forth. Nick excused himself, and he and Hagan moved into the hal way, leaning their heads close to talk.

  The officer on the door offered what little he knew. “He’s got no ID on him. Nothing; looks like whoever shot him thought he was dead and picked him clean. ”

  Hagan huffed. “So not only do we got a witness who’s got no idea what happened, he’s got no idea who he is?” He barely restrained an incredulous laugh. “That’s not a witness, it’s another motherfucking crime. ”

  Nick glanced over his shoulder through the door, to the man on the hospital bed. “No ID, no memory, shot in the head in the middle of a gunfight outside a robbery of a used bookstore. What. The. Fuck. ”

  “This ain’t a robbery,” Hagan said with a grunt. “You don’t shoot three people for an old book, I don’t care if it’s the Gutenberg Bible. ”

  Nick nodded. “You realize this guy could be the doer. ”

  “You think he’s faking?”

  “He’s either a very lucky witness who lived through this, a perp who legit can’t remember, or he’s faking. ” Nick shrugged.

  “You were spec ops. You were trained to lie and shit. Can you tell if he’s lying?”

  “Yeah, but if he’s faking, he’s damn good at it, ’cause I’m leaning toward believing him. ”

  They both turned to the witness again. He was once again sitting in bed with his head hanging and his eyes closed. His hands were trembling as they clenched at the blanket in his lap. The n
urse had left him.

  “What do we do?” Hagan asked.

  Nick was at a loss. Did they treat the man as a witness or a suspect? “Either way, if he’s a perp or he’s a witness, he’ll need someone on him,” he finally said.

  Hagan patted Nick’s shoulder. “Great. You go break the news to him, I’m going to get some coffee. ”

  Nick glared after his partner as the man lumbered off toward the nurses’ station. He took a deep breath to steady himself. It wasn’t his first case back since his surgery, but it was his first case back from behind a desk. He hadn’t been dealing with people lately so much as paperwork.

  The witness looked up when Nick approached, and tried to straighten his shoulders, but they slumped again, probably under the weight of his injury and exhaustion.

  Nick’s heart went out to him, and he had to fight to keep his attitude professional. “I’m going to have this officer stay with you in the hospital until they release you. Keep an eye on you. Then he’s going to bring you the station to talk with us a little more. That sound okay?”

  The man nodded, then winced and brought his hand up to his bandage. “You think I’m in danger?”

  Nick chewed on his lip for a second. “It’s a real possibility, I won’t lie. ”

  “It’s also a possibility I shot those people, isn’t it?”

  Nick stared at him, shocked again by the man’s strange mix of perception and vulnerability. “That is also a possibility, yes. ”The witness rubbed a trembling hand over his face. Nick placed a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to offer comfort.

  The man reached up and gripped his fingers hard. He didn’t raise his head or say anything. He just seemed to need the contact.

  “It’ll be okay,” Nick whispered. “We’ll figure this out. ”

  “So, we got the shopkeeper’s daughter coming in to try to ID the body,” Hagan told Nick, returning from the station break room with two cups of coffee. They’d been partners for almost three years and Hagan still couldn’t remember that Nick didn’t drink coffee.

  Hagan set the cup down in front of him, steaming and giving off a sickeningly strong smell.

  “Throw that away,” Nick ordered.

  “Whatever. You’re welcome. ” Hagan sat and chucked his feet up on the desk opposite Nick’s. They were set up facing each other. Nick glared at the coffee cup, then his partner.

  Hagan gave him a toothy smile. “What else we got working?”

  “Prints are going through the system for the other victim, and the amnesiac witness. ” Nick held up a photograph from the crime scene. “Aside from the fact that the perps apparently riffled the bookshelves and made a damn mess of everything, the only things that seem to be missing were in this display cabinet. ” He set it down and slid it across to Hagan. “Don’t get your coffee near that. ”

  “Yes, Mother. ” Hagan picked it up, sipping his coffee as he studied the photo of the display case. The glass doors were intact, the wood unscathed. Whatever had been inside hadn’t been under lock and key. “I mean, what else does a bookstore display besides books?”

  Nick shrugged. “I’ve seen some where they have antiques on show. They’re usually just for atmosphere, though, nothing worth a motherfucking heist. ”

  Hagan raised an eyebrow from behind the rim of his coffee cup.

  “Yeah. Heist. Everything we have here is looking like a pro job. The security was disabled, there’s no sign of forced entry, and since the shopkeeper bled out where he fell on the sidewalk, it’s probable he wasn’t supposed to be there and the robbers literally ran into him on their way out and panicked. ”

  “That’s a lot to infer from what little we have. ”

  Nick shrugged. He’d always had a knack for seeing crime scenes lay out. He never denied that he could be wrong, but he usually wasn’t.

  “One more odd job for this one, one of the dead guys had a bag under him. They found it when they moved the body. It had four books in it. ”

  “From the shop?” Hagan asked.

  “We can only assume until the daughter gets here to ID them. They’re all old, too. ”

  “Just old? Or old as balls?”

  Nick barked a laugh before he could stop himself. “The latter, I assume. Three early nineteenth century, one dating to the Revolutionary War. We can probably assume they were in that display case along with whatever objects were taken because everything else was just trashed, not stolen. ”

  “So, you’re a bookshop owner and you have this display case set up with rare books,” Hagan mused.

  “Uh huh?”

  “The objects you’d put in there for atmosphere would be related to the books, right? Somehow?”

  “In my world they would be,” Nick agreed. He pondered it briefly, then nodded and called over one of the uniformed officers working nearby. “Do me a favor, bud, put out some feelers to city pawnshops and dealers, stay on the lookout for artifacts dating from 1750 to 1820. They might be stolen. ”

  The officer nodded and headed off.

  Hagan scowled at the photo again. “Was the case wiped clean? Why would they wipe it down if they were wearing gloves?”

  “They didn’t. Get this. Best the Crime Lab can tell, they wiped the motherfucking dust off the case to ruin the outline of whatever objects were there. ”

  “Covering their tracks, or . . . ?”

  “I guess. At least slowing us down. Shouldn’t be hard to find out what was in there, though,” Nick said, still staring at the photos of the crime scene. He absently reached for the cup on his desk, taking a sip before remembering it was coffee.

  He turned his head and spit it out into the trash can, coughing and gagging as Hagan laughed at him.

  “Motherfucker,” Nick grumbled. He tossed the coffee cup into the trash and glared at his partner again.