Night shadow, p.3
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       Night Shadow, p.3

         Part #2 of Night Tales series by Nora Roberts
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  haunted him those first few weeks. But on the mornings he suffered from the nightmare, he was tempted to curse the skill and dedication of the medical team that had brought him back.

  They hadn’t brought Jack back. They hadn’t saved his parents, who had died before he’d even known them. They hadn’t had enough skill to save his aunt and uncle, who had raised him with unstinting love and who had died only weeks before he had come out of the coma.

  Yet they had saved him. Gage understood why.

  It was because of the gift, the curse of a gift he’d been given during those nine months his soul had gestated in that gray, liquid world. And because they had saved him, he had no choice but to do what he was meant to do.

  With a dull kind of acceptance, he placed his right hand against the pale green wall of his bedroom. He concentrated. He heard the hum inside his brain, the hum no one else could hear. Then, quickly and completely, his hand vanished.

  Oh, it still existed. He could feel it. But even he couldn’t see it. There was no outline, no silhouette of knuckles. From the wrist up, the hand was gone. He had only to focus his mind, and his whole body would do the same.

  He could still remember the first time it had happened. How it had terrified him. And fascinated him. He made his hand reappear and studied it. It was the same. Wide palmed, long fingered, a bit rough with callus. The ordinary hand of a man who was no longer ordinary.

  A clever trick, he thought, for someone who walks the streets at night, searching for answers.

  He closed the hand into a fist, then moved off into the adjoining bathroom to shower.

  ***

  At 11:45 a.m., Deborah was cooling her heels at the twenty-fifth precinct. She wasn’t particularly surprised to have been summoned there. The four gang members who had gunned down Rico Mendez were being held in separate cells. That way they would sweat out the charges of murder one, accessory to murder, illegal possession of firearms, possession of controlled substances and all the other charges on the arrest sheet. And they could sweat them out individually, with no opportunity to corroborate each other’s stories.

  She’d gotten the call from Sly Parino’s public defense attorney at 9 sharp. This would make the third meeting between them. At each previous encounter, she had held firm against a deal. Parino’s public defender was asking for the world, and Parino himself was crude, nasty and arrogant. But she had noted that each time they sat in the conference room together, Parino sweated more freely.

  Instinct told her he did indeed have something to trade but was afraid.

  Using her own strategy, Deborah had agreed to the meeting, but had put it off for a couple of hours. It sounded like Parino was ready to deal, and since she had him cold, with possession of the murder weapon and two eye witnesses, he’d better have gold chips to ante up.

  She used her time waiting for Parino to be brought in from lockup by reviewing her notes on the case. Because she could have recited them by rote, her mind wandered back to the previous evening.

  Just what kind of man was Gage Guthrie? she wondered. The type who bundled a reluctant woman into his limo after a five-minute acquaintance. Then left that limo at her disposal for two and a half hours. She remembered her baffled amusement when she had come out of the Justice Building at 1 o’clock in the morning only to find the long black limo with its taciturn hulk of a driver patiently waiting to take her home.

  Mr. Guthrie’s orders.

  Though Mr. Guthrie had been nowhere to be seen, she had felt his presence all during the drive from Midtown to her apartment in the lower West End.

  A powerful man, she mused now. In looks, in personality and in basic masculine appeal. She looked around the station house, trying to imagine the elegant, just slightly rough-around-the-edges man in the tuxedo working here.

  The twenty-fifth was one of the toughest precincts in the city. And where, Deborah had discovered when she’d been driven to satisfy her curiosity, Detective Gage Guthrie had worked during most of his six years with UPD.

  It was difficult to connect the two, she mused. The smooth, obstinately charming man, with the grimy linoleum, harsh fluorescent lights, and odors of sweat and stale coffee underlaid with the gummy aroma of pine cleaner.

  He liked classical music, for it had been Mozart drifting through the limo’s speakers. Yet he had worked for years amid the shouts, curses and shrilling phones of the twenty-fifth.

  From the information she’d read once she’d accessed his file, she knew he’d been a good cop—sometimes a reckless one, but one who had never crossed the line. At least not on record. Instead, his record had been fat with commendations.

  He and his partner had broken up a prostitution ring that had preyed on young runaways, were given credit for the arrest of three prominent businessmen who had run an underground gambling operation that had chastised its unlucky clients with unspeakable torture, had tracked down drug dealers, small and large, and had ferreted out a crooked cop who had used his badge to extort protection money from small shop owners in Urbana’s Little Asia.

  Then they had gone undercover to break the back of one of the largest drug cartels on the eastern seaboard. And had ended up broken themselves.

  Was that what was so fascinating about him? Deborah wondered. That it seemed the sophisticated, wealthy businessman was only an illusion thinly covering the tough cop he had been? Or had he simply returned to his privileged background, his years as a policeman the aberration? Who was the real Gage Guthrie?

  She shook her head and sighed. She’d been thinking a lot about illusions lately. Since the night in the alley when she’d been faced with the terrifying reality of her own mortality. And had been saved—though she firmly believed she would have saved herself—by what many people thought was no more than a phantom.

  Nemesis was real enough, she mused. She had seen him, heard him, even been annoyed by him. And yet, when he came into her mind, he was like smoke. If she had reached out to touch him, would her hand have passed right through?

  What nonsense. She was going to have to get more sleep if overwork caused her mind to take fantasy flights in the middle of the day.

  But somehow, she was going to find that phantom again and pin him down.

  “Miss O’Roarke.”

  “Yes.” She rose and offered her hand to the young, harried-looking public defender. “Hello again, Mr. Simmons.”

  “Yes, well …” He pushed tortoiseshell glasses up on his hooked nose. “I appreciate you agreeing to this meeting.”

  “Cut the bull.” Behind Simmons, Parino was flanked by two uniformed cops. He had a sneer on his face and his hands in cuffs. “We’re here to deal, so let’s cut to the chase.”

  With a nod, Deborah led the way into the small conference room. She settled her briefcase on the table and sat behind it. She folded her hands. In her trim navy suit and white blouse she looked every inch the Southern belle. She’d been taught her manners well. But her eyes, as dark as the linen of her suit, burned as they swept over Parino. She had studied the police photos of Mendez and had seen what hate and an automatic weapon could do to a sixteen-year-old body.

  “Mr. Simmons, you’re aware that of the four suspects facing indictment for the murder of Rico Mendez, your client holds the prize for the most serious charges?”

  “Can we lose these things?” Parino held out his cuffed hands. Deborah glanced at him. “No.”

  “Come on, babe.” He gave her what she imagined he thought was a sexy leer. “You’re not afraid of me, are you?”

  “Of you, Mr. Parino?” Her lips curved, but her tone was frigidly sarcastic. “Why, no. I squash nasty little bugs every day. You, however, should be afraid of me. I’m the one who’s going to put you away.” She flicked her gaze back to Simmons. “Let’s not waste time again. All three of us know the score. Mr. Parino is nineteen and will be tried as an adult. It is still to be determined whether the others will be tried as adults or juveniles.” She took out her notes, though she didn’t n
eed them as more than a prop. “The murder weapon was found in Mr. Parino’s apartment, with Mr. Parino’s fingerprints all over it.”

  “It was planted,” Parino insisted. “I never saw it before in my life.”

  “Save it for the judge,” Deborah suggested. “Two witnesses place him in the car that drove by the corner of Third and Market at 11:45, June 2. Those same witnesses have identified Mr. Parino, in a lineup, as the man who leaned out of that car and fired ten shots into Rico Mendez.”

  Parino began to swear and shout about squealers, about what he would do to them when he got out. About what he would do to her. Not bothering to raise her voice, Deborah continued, her eyes on Simmons.

  “We have your client, cold, murder one. And the state will ask for the death penalty.” She folded her hands on her notes and nodded at Simmons. “Now, what do you want to talk about?”

  Simmons tugged at his tie. The smoke from the cigarette Parino was puffing was drifting in his direction and burning his eyes. “My client has information that he would be willing to turn over to the D.A.’s office.” He cleared his throat. “In return for immunity, and a reduction of the current charges against him. From murder one, to illegal possession of a firearm.”

  Deborah lifted a brow, let the silence take a beat. “I’m waiting for the punch line.”

  “This is no joke, sister.” Parino leaned over the table. “I got something to deal, and you’d better play.”

  With deliberate motions, Deborah put her notes back into her briefcase, snapped the lock, then rose. “You’re slime, Parino. Nothing, nothing you’ve got to deal is going to put you back on the street again. If you think you can walk over me, or the D.A.’s office, then think again.”

  Simmons bobbed up as she headed for the door. “Miss O’Roarke, please, if we could simply discuss this.”

  She whirled back to him. “Sure, we’ll discuss it. As soon as you make me a realistic offer.”

  Parino said something short and obscene that caused Simmons to lose his color and Deborah to turn a cold, dispassionate eye on him.

  “The state is going for murder one and the death penalty,” she said calmly. “And believe me when I say I’m going to see to it that your client is ripped out of society just like a leech.”

  “I’ll get off,” Parino shouted at her. His eyes were wild as he lunged to his feet. “And when I do, I’m coming looking for you, bitch.”

  “You won’t get off.” She faced him across the table. Her eyes were cold as ice and never wavered. “I’m very good at what I do, Parino, which is putting rabid little animals like you away in cages. In your case, I’m going to pull out all the stops. You won’t get off,” she repeated. “And when you’re sweating on death row, I want you to think of me.”

  “Murder two,” Simmons said quickly, and was echoed by a savage howl from his client.

  “You’re going to sell me out, you sonofabitch.”

  Deborah ignored Parino and studied Simmons’s nervous eyes. There was something here, she could smell it. “Murder one,” she repeated, “with a recommendation for life imprisonment rather than the death penalty—if you’ve got something that holds my interest.”

  “Let me talk to my client, please. If you could give us a minute.”

  “Of course.” She left the sweaty public defender with his screaming client.

  Twenty minutes later, she faced Parino again across the scarred table. He was paler, calmer, as he smoked a cigarette down to the filter.

  “Deal your cards, Parino,” she suggested.

  “I want immunity.”

  “From whatever charges might be brought from the information you give me. Agreed.” She already had him where she wanted him.

  “And protection.” He’d begun to sweat.

  “If it’s warranted.”

  He hesitated, fiddling with the cigarette, the scorched plastic ashtray. But he was cornered, and knew it. Twenty years. The public defender had said he’d probably cop a parole in twenty years.

  Twenty years in the hole was better than the chair. Anything was. And a smart guy could do pretty well for himself in the joint. He figured he was a pretty smart guy.

  “I’ve been doing some deliveries for some guys. Heavy hitters. Trucking stuff from the docks to this fancy antique shop downtown. They paid good, too good, so I knew something was in those crates besides old vases.” Awkward in the cuffs, he lit one cigarette from the smoldering filter of another. “So I figured I’d take a look myself. I opened one of the crates. It was packed with coke. Man, I’ve never seen so much snow. A hundred, maybe a hundred and fifty pounds. And it was pure.”

  “How do you know?”

  He licked his lips, then grinned. “I took one of the packs, put it under my shirt. I’m telling you, there was enough there to fill up every nose in the state for the next twenty years.”

  “What’s the name of the shop?”

  He licked his lips again. “I want to know if we got a deal?”

  “If the information can be verified, yes. If you’re pulling my chain, no.”

  “Timeless. That’s the name. It’s over on 7th. We delivered once, maybe twice a week. I don’t know how often we were taking in coke or just fancy tables.”

  “Give me some names.”

  “The guy I worked with at the docks was Mouse. Just Mouse, that’s all I know.”

  “Who hired you?”

  “Just some guy. He came into Loredo’s, the bar in the West End where the Demons hang out. He said he had some work if I had a strong back and knew how to keep my mouth shut. So me and Ray, we took him up on it.”

  “Ray?”

  “Ray Santiago. He’s one of us, the Demons.”

  “What did he look like, the man who hired you?”

  “Little guy, kinda spooky. Big mustache, couple of gold teeth. Walked into Loredo’s in a fancy suit, but nobody thought to mess with him.”

  She took notes, nodded, prompted until she was certain Parino was wrung dry. “All right, I’ll check it out. If you’ve been straight with me, you’ll find I’ll be straight with you.” She rose, glancing at Simmons. “I’ll be in touch.”

  When she left the conference room, her head was pounding. There was a tight, sick feeling in her gut that always plagued her when she dealt with Parino’s type.

  He was nineteen, for God’s sake, she thought as she tossed her visitor’s badge to the desk sergeant. Barely even old enough to vote, yet he’d viciously gunned down another human being. She knew he felt no remorse. The Demons considered drive-bys a kind of tribal ritual. And she, as a representative of the law, had bargained with him.

  That was the way the system worked, she reminded herself as she stepped out of the stuffy station house into the steamy afternoon. She would trade Parino like a poker chip and hope to finesse bigger game. In the end, Parino would pay by spending the rest of his youth and most of his adult life in a cage.

  She hoped Rico Mendez’s family would feel justice had been served.

  “Bad day?”

  Still frowning, she turned, shaded her eyes and focused on Gage Guthrie. “Oh. Hello. What are you doing here?”

  “Waiting for you.”

  She lifted a brow, cautiously debating the proper response. Today he wore a gray suit, very trim and quietly expensive. Though the humidity was intense, his white shirt appeared crisp. His gray silk tie was neatly knotted.

  He looked precisely like what he was. A successful, wealthy businessman. Until you looked at his eyes, Deborah thought. When you did, you could see that women were drawn to him for a much more basic reason than money and position.

  She responded with the only question that seemed apt. “Why?”

  He smiled at that. He had seen her caution and her evaluation clearly and was as amused as he was impressed by it. “To invite you to lunch.”

  “Oh. Well, that’s very nice, but—”

  “You do eat, don’t you?”

  He was laughing at her. There was no mistaking it.
“Yes, almost every day. But at the moment, I’m working.”

  “You’re a dedicated public servant, aren’t you, Deborah?”

  “I like to think so.” There was just enough sarcasm in his tone to put her back up. She stepped to the curb and lifted an arm to hail a cab. A bus chugged by, streaming exhaust. “It was kind of you to leave your limo for me last night.” She turned and looked at him. “But it wasn’t necessary.”

  “I often do what others consider unnecessary.” He took her hand and, with only the slightest pressure, brought her arm down to her side. “If not lunch, dinner.”

  “That sounds more like a command than a request.” She would have tugged her hand away, but it seemed foolish to engage in a childish test of wills on a public street. “Either way, I have to refuse. I’m working late tonight.”

  “Tomorrow, then.” He smiled charmingly. “A request, Counselor.”

  It was difficult not to smile back when he was looking at her with humor—and was it loneliness?—in his eyes. “Mr. Guthrie. Gage.” She corrected herself before he could. “Persistent men usually annoy me. And you’re no exception. But for some reason, I think I’d like to have dinner with you.”

  “I’ll pick you up at 7. I keep early hours.”

  “Fine. I’ll give you my address.”

  “I know it.”

  “Of course.” His driver had dropped her off at her doorstep the night before. “If you’ll give me back my hand, I’d like to hail a cab.”

  He didn’t oblige her immediately, but looked down at her hand. It was small and delicate in appearance, like the rest of her. But there was strength in the fingers. She kept her nails short, neatly rounded with a coating of clear polish. She wore no rings, no bracelets, only a slim, practical watch that he noted was accurate to the minute.

  He looked up from her hand, into her eyes. He saw curiosity, a touch of impatience and again, the wariness. Gage made himself smile as he wondered how a simple meeting of palms could have jolted his system so outrageously.

  “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He released her and stepped away.

  She only nodded, not trusting her voice. When she slipped into a cab, she turned back. But he was already gone.

  ***

  It was after 10 when Deborah walked up to the antique store. It was closed, of course, and she hadn’t expected to find anything. She had written her report and passed the details of her interview with Parino on to her superior. But she hadn’t been able to resist a look for herself.

  In this upscale part of town, people were lingering over dinner or enjoying a play. A few couples wandered by on their way to a club or a restaurant. Streetlights shot out pools of security.

  It was foolish, she supposed, to have been drawn here. She could hardly have expected the doors to have been opened so she could walk in and discover a cache of drugs in an eighteenth-century armoire.

  The window was not only dark, it was barred and shaded. Just as the shop itself was under a triple cloak of secrecy. She had spent hours that day searching for the name of the owner. He had shielded himself well under a tangle of corporations. The paper trail took frustrating twists and turns. So far, every lead Deborah had pursued had come up hard at a dead end.

  But the shop was real. By tomorrow, the day after at the latest, she would have a court order. The police would search every nook and cranny of Timeless. The books would be confiscated. She would have everything she needed to indict.

  She walked closer to the dark window. Something made her turn quickly to peer out at the light and shadow of the street behind her.

  Traffic rolled noisily by. Arm in arm, a laughing couple strolled along the opposite sidewalk. The sound of music through open car windows was loud and confused, punctuated by the honking of horns and the occasional squeak of brakes.

  Normal, Deborah reminded herself. There was nothing here to cause that itch between her shoulder blades. Yet even as she scanned the street, the adjoining buildings, to assure herself no one was paying any attention to her, the feeling of being watched persisted.

  She was giving herself the creeps, Deborah decided. These little licks of fear were left over from her night in the alley, and she didn’t care for it. It wasn’t possible to live your life too spooked to go out at night, so paranoid you looked around every corner before you took that last step around it. At least it wasn’t possible for her.

  Most of her life she had been cared for, looked after, even pampered by her older sister. Though she would always be grateful to Cilla, she had made a commitment when she had left Denver for Urbana. To leave her mark. That couldn’t be done if she ran from shadows.

  Determined to fight her own uneasiness, she skirted around the building, walking quickly through the short, narrow alley between the antique store and the boutique beside it.

  The rear of the building was as secure and unforthcoming as the front. There was one window, enforced with steel bars, and a pair of wide doors, triple bolted. Here, there were no streetlamps to relieve the dark.

  “You don’t look stupid.”

  At the voice, she jumped back and would have tumbled into a line of garbage cans if a hand hadn’t snagged her wrist. She opened her mouth to scream, brought her fist up to fight, when she recognized her companion.

  “You!” He was in black, hardly visible in the dark. But she knew.

  “I would have thought you’d had your fill of back alleys.” He didn’t release her, though he knew he should. His fingers braceleted her wrist and felt the fast, hot beat of her blood.

 
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