Book One: Into the Fire
By Patrick Hester
© 2010 All Rights Reserved
Warnings for strong language, violence & smart assery
There’ve been a lot of days in my life where I’ve had to stop and ask myself, Why? Why did I get out of bed? Why didn’t I listen to that little nagging voice in the back my head that was telling me to stay home, snug in my fuzzy slippers and warm kitty pajamas? The same voice telling me that all the signs were there, the planets had aligned just so, and today, Samantha Kane, today was going to be a bad day.
This was such a day.
I winced. It wasn’t just the shouting; although that was bad enough, I’m actually used to people shouting at me (it’s a long story called my life). No, it was the fact that my captain had just kicked open his office door like a scene out of a bad 80’s movie, letting it fly back to crash into the bookshelf behind it. A few little things I’d never noticed before came crashing down and scattered across the floor. I carefully stepped over them as I followed him into the office, one of the few with a window on this floor and with a fairly decent view of the Rocky Mountains. There was only the lightest dusting of snow up there. In late October, you expect to see a bit more powder, but we’d had a dry summer and the winter wasn’t looking to be much better. At least, that’s what the too cheery blond girl had been saying on the television out in the squad room.
“Shut the door!” he bellowed, and I complied quickly, taking the wooden chair in front of his desk and sitting, my hands in my lap. I don’t do meek. At least, I don’t do it well. I can swing faux penitent well enough to fool most nuns and priests back in my parochial school days, but that’s about as far as my skills go. I’m pulling it off today because I’m nervous as hell and, well, penitent. The situation is pretty uncomfortable. Honestly, I’m off my game. I don’t know what else to do with my hands, so I alternate between my lap and the arm rests. I’ve been in trouble before, plenty of trouble, but not like this. This time, I screwed up so bad a man might die. Might be dead already, for all I know.
And all because I couldn’t let something go.
He’s mumbling now; I can just barely make it out. The serenity prayer? Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference…
This can’t be good.
Thomas King is easily twenty years my senior; gray was just starting to come in at his temples, the rest of his curly hair remained dark and his chocolate-colored skin revealed nothing of his age. He had a barrel for a chest and long legs; he stood at least a head and a half above me with these huge arms that looked like they belonged on a wrestler. The sudden image of him dressed in brightly colored spandex did not help my calm. He remarked once that he kept in shape by chopping wood for himself and his neighbors. Staring at those biceps I could believe it.
Which brings to mind another thing which damages my calm – those muscles are perfect for crushing Sam to death, now that I think about it. I’ve never considered my captain as being a particularly violent man but the bookshelf could sing a different tune.
That’s me, by the way, Samantha Kane, but I go by Sam. I guess I should mention that I’m a detective with the Denver Police Department. This is my third week as a detective but I’ve been a cop for six years. I started off on patrol like my father, following in his hallowed footsteps. More on that later.
Captain King, my captain, the man who used to give me piggy-back rides in my parents’ backyard, paced behind his desk. No more praying. I could see that his face was flushed and I wasn’t sure if it was anger, frustration or some combination of the two. I had that effect sometime. There is a long list of people who have, at one time or another, found themselves frustrated or angry as a result of their interactions with Samantha Kane. I’m surprised there isn’t a support group or club or something. Maybe a Facebook fan page. I should probably look that up.
Either way, I didn’t need to be a psychic to know that something bad was about to come spewing in my general direction. A twinge ran up my arms and I realized that I’d taken a death grip on the wooden chair’s arm rests. I hadn’t even noticed how hard I was grasping the seat on either side of my legs until I eased up a little and pain shot right up through my fingers. I stared at them for a second, noticing the dried blood there for the first time. My partner’s blood. On my hands. Beneath my nails. I could see spatters of it on my jeans, too. Probably more on my shirt, in my hair… I shuddered.
Captain King was staring at me. How long, I’m not sure. I’ve known this man all of my life. To think that I could be the cause of that look in his eye, that level of pure disappointment –
“Can you, please, explain to me what in hell you were doing in that apartment building last night?” he asked me suddenly, quite softly. I’d expected him to yell some more, to rage, maybe start throwing stuff. Stuff I can handle. Somehow, this quiet tone? It was worse. I started to speak, but nothing came out. I cleared my throat and tried again.
“We had a lead saying our suspect was staying there and decided to check it out.”
“Did you?” He leaned forward against the desk, looking down his nose at me. I tried really hard not to pull back but it was hard. “You were emphatically told, that you were no longer on this case. So, you had no reason to be following up on any leads or tips. Those should have been logged for the detectives who are actually assigned to this case to follow up on. You should have been working on the string of pawn shop break-ins you were assigned. Rookie.”
I winced again. Technically, everything he’d said was true and accurate. We had been told that we were off the case and not to pursue any more leads. But then a tip came in; a possible eye witness saw our suspect enter the apartment building. No idea how long he’d be there or what he was up to, and there was nothing in the computer about who’d been assigned to the case, just an error message every time I searched. Time was of the essence. Then, when we arrived, another tenant recognized the photo we had from the surveillance camera, told us the guy lived there, gave us his apartment number. Everything was falling into place.
The guy was a suspect in a convenience store robbery-turned-murder investigation – homicide! That was the big time! If we could break that case…
I looked up into my captain’s face, a thousand weak excuses ready on the tip of my tongue, only to find that he was frowning at his door.
A single knock. A man stepped into the room.
He wore a dark brown trench-coat, tied in front and bundled up all the way to his neck as if he were freezing, despite the unusually warm October weather. On his head rested a hat that matched the coat and looked like one of those old style hats Indiana Jones sported in the movies. It cast his face in a shadow, and kept me from seeing his features all too well. In the crook of his arm, he held a couple of thick folders.
“Tom,” said a gruff voice that spoke of too much whiskey and cigarettes. Or maybe he had a cold. Given the smoky air that surrounded him, I figured it was the former. Given the coat done up to his neck, I considered the latter.
“Jack,” my captain said. I turned back. He hadn’t moved but all the color had drained from his face. “What brings you down here?” he asked. Was he scared? Who could scare Tom King?
“Transfer,” he said, tossing a folder onto the desk. Curious, I turned to look at this man who had not only upset my boss, but had distracted him from yelling at me – not exactly a bad thing. I could see his face now, angular with a sharp nose and keen, dark eyes. His chin was covered with stubble like he hadn’t shaved in a bit, and he definitely smelled of smoke and something else that I couldn’t put my finger on, something a little acrid and sour. There was a bit of brownish hair peeking out from beneath that hat he wore, and his skin was pale, if not outright pallid. Another tick in the ‘this guy might have a cold’ column.
He smiled at me. I didn’t smile back.
“What if she declines?” That smile deepened. They were talking about me? Eyes wide, I turned back to my captain.
“Transfer? What now?” I asked. I don’t think I would’ve gotten more attention if I’d jumped up on the desk and started screaming. As it was, neither man seemed to be paying any attention to me. They were too busy staring each other down and discussing me as if I weren’t in the room.
“Signatures from the Chief of Police, the Mayor and the Governor, Jack?” captain King whistled through his teeth. “You’ve been busy.”
“I like to have all my ducks in a row,” the other man, Jack said. I was still waiting for an explanation of what the hell was going on.
“A two-person task force?” captain King snorted. “You work alone, Jack. Always have.”
“Always is a bit of an overstatement. I felt this was the easiest way to go. She gets to keep her badge, continues to get paid and call herself a cop, but she works for me and does what I tell her to do.”
“Wait a second-” I said, my heart hammering in my chest. Transfer? Task force? Suddenly, my whole future was shattering before my eyes.
“I have a responsibility to my officers, Jack. To protect them.”
“You and I both know that the powers that be will want a head to roll for last night’s… incident. If she’s with me, they’ll consider that punishment enough. I can protect her now. You can’t.”
“Hold on,” I stood up. “What is going on here? Who are you?” Neither man looked at me.
“I don’t know, Jack.”
“I promise you, Tom. She’ll be safe with me.”
What the hell? What the hell?!
After a long pause, my captain sighed. “Samantha Kane, meet Jack Mayfair.” He stared at Jack Mayfair. “Your new boss.”
Mayfair smiled and nodded. “You’ve been reassigned, Detective Kane. You’re with me now. I trust you were done here, Tom?” he asked. He held his hand out for the folder to be returned.
“Wait a minute-my partner? My cases?” I realized that my voice had gone into high-pitched girl stratosphere zone. Blushing, I took a breath and tried to calm down. “I have this string of break-ins-“
“No longer your concern,” Mayfair said. “You will be working out of a different office altogether, with me. Tom?”
“Sam, I’m sorry,” he looked down at the paperwork, shaking his head. “There’s nothing I can do. She’s all yours.” He handed the folder back to Mayfair, who ruffled around in it for a minute, then handed King a stack of papers. “Your copies.”
“Wait! Just like that? How can this happen? What the hell is going on?”
“You’re with me, Detective Kane.” Mayfair spun around and was out the door before I could say another word. I looked at my captain, my former captain, a question on my lips – but he simply shook his head ‘no’ and nodded towards the door.
“Good luck, Sam. And be careful.”
What the hell just happened?
# # #
I caught up with Mayfair just as he stepped into the old elevator. My head was swimming. I stepped in after him and looked him up and down. Like my former captain, this man was taller than my five-foot-nine self, standing at least six four. He was pale enough to easily be mistaken for someone with the plague and thin enough to drive the idea home. It didn’t help that he was long, tall, and lanky, ‘built like a runner’ was what my dad would’ve said. There was a hollowness to his cheeks that I hadn’t seen when I looked at his face before; maybe it was the elevator light that brought it out, I don’t know. Despite it being easily eighty degrees outside, he wore a scarf around his neck and that trench-coat that was done all the way up to his chin. As soon as he entered the elevator, he shoved his hands deep in the coat pockets as if he were freezing his ass off. Again, I wondered if he were ill. It would explain a lot.
“Lieutenant John Mayfair,” he said as the doors closed. Reaching over, he pressed the button for the garage. With a smile, he flashed his badge. “Most folks call me Jack.”
Lieutenant Mayfair. I filed that away for future reference, noting that the badge looked beat up as hell before he returned it to his pocket. He did have a rank. How had I never seen or met him before? I knew just about everyone in the Denver PD; hell, most of them have been to my parents’ house for barbecues and football Sundays. “Samantha Kane, but everyone calls me Sam. Look, who the hell are you and what the hell just happened?”
“I am a specialist. You’ve been transferred to a new task force created in the early morning hours by special grant of the Chief of Police, Mayor and Governor. You should be honored to be chosen. I only take on the best. We work out of a different office, by the way. You’ll like it, very homey. Do you have a car?”
“Yes. Don’t you? Look, how could I be transferred just like that? Shouldn’t I get a choice?”
“Yes, I have a car, but it’s not here. I expedited the paperwork given these are very special circumstances. I only deal with very special circumstances,” he winked at me. “And yes, you do get a choice. Your choice is to come with me or not to come with me.”
“Well then,” I said, a little mollified. “I choose not.”
“If you wish, that’s certainly an option. Have your desk cleaned out by five. The duty officer will accept your badge and weapon. Have a good life.”
The elevator dinged, the doors opened, and Jack Mayfair stepped out into the garage, leaving me standing there and staring at my own reflection in the mirrored elevator wall. My red hair had seen better days. It was hanging loose about shoulder high and looking like rats had built a nest, ten of them, maybe twenty. My mouth was wide open, which I snapped shut so I’d stop looking like a fish out of water. I looked heavy to my eyes, but as my ex often said, I simply had curves in the right places. I tried not to see the blood stains on my blue jeans or the ones on my light coat and the short beneath. A part of me wanted to burst out laughing maniacally, just let this day push me over the edge and lose my mind, because this was the day my partner had been put in the hospital and I, I was apparently getting transferred against my will. None of it made a lick of sense.
Instead, I sucked it up and took off after Jack Mayfair. “Wait!” I shouted as I scrambled to catch him. Turns out, he was a slow walker and hadn’t gone that far yet. Lingering, maybe? Waiting for me? “What does that mean?”
“Look, Detective – may I call you Sam?” he asked. I nodded. ‘Samantha’ was what my parents called me when I was in trouble. They managed an inflection that conveyed disappointment and guilt in equal measure. It grated. Saa-man-thaaa. How did that song go? ‘It doesn’t matter what I say, as long as I speak with inflection…’
He stopped walking and looked me in the eye. “You disobeyed orders and continued to investigate a case that had been taken up the food chain to detectives who handle very special situations. You were expressly told not to touch that case anymore, and you did it anyway. Now, as a result, your partner lies in a hospital bed with a dozen tubes going in and out of his body and has a giant machine breathing for him. All in the hopes that he’ll stay alive just long enough for his body to do that thing our bodies do; heal. Not a great chance of that, but, hey – you gotta hope. After all of that, what did you think was going to happen to you? Medal of commendation?”
I was stunned. Yes, I knew I’d screwed up. Yes, my partner wasn’t doing so well, I knew it was all my fault, and I knew I’d have to pay a price for it, but, I thought, well, I thought disciplinary actions, sure, maybe even suspension without pay or something; maybe riding a desk for a couple of years, but fired?! I felt a rising tidal wave of panic threatening to wash over me.
“Face it, Detective,” he began walking again. “You’re lucky I want you in my task force at all.”
I pushed the panic down. Swallowed. I turned to say something smartass, and found that he was standing next to my 2002 Ford Escort on the passenger side. Had he already known about my car before he asked?
“Nice car. Ford,” he frowned. “I never did like a Ford. I’m a Chevy man.”
“Yeah? So where’s your car?”
“I didn’t bring it.” He tried the door and found it locked. “I prefer alternative transportation most of the time. Easier on the environment.”
Great. Eco nut. Not that I don’t do my part; I recycle my beer bottles. Piles and piles of them. “Look, I appreciate that you want me in your task force, I do.” Standing in front of my car, I did the best I could to stare him down. “But there has to be an appeal process, something that I can say or do to get my real job back!”
“Nope. Sorry. It’s my way or the highway.” He tried the door again. “Power locks?”
I’m a girl. The breasts give it away every time. But I’m also a cop, a detective now for three weeks. I don’t cry, not when I’m in front of another cop, no matter what an ass he is. All of them, from the first day I put on the uniform and started walking a beat, did everything they could to get me to cry, and I took all the shit they dished out, and I never once gave them the satisfaction of seeing me so much as tear up. I wasn’t about to start today in front of a man I didn’t even know. For the male cops, female cops come in two varieties; the crying, simpering, useless waste they don’t want riding in the car with them and the stone-cold bitch that nothing touches (so she must be a dyke). I’m the latter to most of them, but I like boys well enough. I just don’t tell them that I like boys and when I cry, when I really need to, I do it once I’m back in my own home behind a locked door with the curtains pulled and a god-damned cold beer in my hand. I was feeling that need right now, but I pushed it aside along with the fear and pounded it down into a dark hole in my brain where it couldn’t touch me. Deep breath. Resolve face.
I stomped to the driver’s side door (okay, so maybe I hadn’t managed to pound all of my emotions down as far as I would’ve liked) and pushed the button on the keychain. I got in and slammed the door for good measure. Mayfair had to shove the seat all the way back to accommodate his long legs, and he still looked a little uncomfortable, but what the hell? I also turned the air conditioning on, which made him frown at me. My day just got shitty, so could his.
“Take a left out the garage, Broadway and Sixth area. I’ll tell you more when we’re in the neighborhood.”
“You want to tell me, maybe, who the fuck you are and what I’m getting into?”
“Of course. Since you asked so nicely.” That almost made me stick my tongue out at him. Almost. Decorum, Sam. Professionalism. Resolve face. “Mine is a very elite squad, only called in on the most difficult cases involving the strangest of situations. Do you mind if I smoke?” he asked as he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his coat pocket.
“Yes. I do.”
He sighed. “Pity. Everyone used to smoke, you know?”
“Right. Most of them are dead now. You were telling me about your squad?” Didn’t the captain say he worked alone?
“Hmmm?” He returned the cigarettes to his coat pocket and pulled his coat close around him as if it were the dead of winter and not a sunny day in October in Denver. “Oh, yes. Very special unit. Very elite. I take only the best candidates. You should be very proud.”
“I am. Very proud. Can hardly contain myself. So, why me?”
“Well, that’s easy enough. Why don’t you tell me about the ghost you saw last night? Oh, red light.”
“What? Shit!” I slammed on my brakes, the car skidding and sliding towards the intersection. I hadn’t even seen the light change.
How the hell did he know about that?