The 13th Hourby Richard Doetsch
A mesmerizing thriller -- told in reverse! The 13th Hour is the story of a man given the chance to go back in time in one-hour increments to prevent a vicious crime from destroying his life.
Nick Quinn is being held in jail, accused of the murder of his beloved wife, Julia. He knows she's dead; he saw her bloody corpse, shot in the head at/b>/i>… See more details below
A mesmerizing thriller -- told in reverse! The 13th Hour is the story of a man given the chance to go back in time in one-hour increments to prevent a vicious crime from destroying his life.
Nick Quinn is being held in jail, accused of the murder of his beloved wife, Julia. He knows she's dead; he saw her bloody corpse, shot in the head at point-blank range. The police tell him they found the murder weapon with his fingerprints on it in the trunk of his car. Nick is confused, grief-stricken -- and completely innocent.
At 9 p.m. on July 28, a gray-haired gentleman visits Nick in the police interrogation room and asks him a simple question: "If you could get out of here, if you could save her, would you?" He hands Nick a golden talisman that allows Nick to go back in time, one hour at a time, for a total of twelve hours. With each hour that Nick travels back, he finds more clues to the identity of Julia's real killer, but he also discovers that his actions in the past may have unexpected repercussions in the future.
In his race against time to save the woman he loves most in the world, Nick will find that friends become enemies, old loyalties are tested, and Julia's murder is part of a larger scheme that has its roots in greed and vengeance. Nick has the ability to save Julia, the chance to put his own world in balance, but he is venturing down a precarious route. If he hasn't set things right by the thirteenth hour, his desperate attempts to save Julia's life may lead to a far greater catastrophe than he could have ever imagined.
A surprising and utterly original thriller, The 13th Hour is pure page-turning suspense -- full of double crosses, cliffhangers, and shocking revelations.
- Atria Books
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- SIMON & SCHUSTER
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Read an Excerpt
You are not mistaken as you turn to the next page and find Chapter 12.
The chapters of this book are in reverse order and are to be read that way for reasons that will become evident upon your journey.
The dark-haired man slid the exotic, custom-made Peacemaker across the table. With a frame of polished bronze with gold accents, its ivory grip inlaid with precious stones, it was unlike any other weapon produced in the nineteenth century, a six-shooter crafted in 1886 that had been lost to time, forgotten by history, spoken of in collectors' circles as myth.
As with many of the finest pistols of the day, intricate etchings appeared along the stock and seven-and-a-half-inch barrel. But these etchings were unique -- religious texts drawn from the Bible, the Koran, and the Torah, expertly rendered in an elegant calligraphy: The gate that leads to damnation is wide -- To hell you shall be gathered together -- Yet ye bring wrath -- Darkness which may be felt -- Whoever offers violence to you, offer you the like violence to him. The sayings were rendered in English, Latin, and Arabic, as if the gun were a weapon of God designed to strike down the sinner.
Crafted for Murad V, the thirty-seventh sultan of the Ottoman Empire, it had supposedly disappeared from existence in August 1876 when he was deposed for insanity after only ninety-three days of rule.
"Dual action," the man said as he picked up the weapon in his gloved hand. "You don't see many like this. In fact, I dare say this is one of a kind."
Ethan Dance handled the gun with reverence, as if it were a newborn baby. His sleepy, bloodshot eyes scanned the intricacies of the weapon, his latex-encased finger running about the gunmetal and gold in appreciation of the Colt pistol's craftsmanship. He finally laid it down and reached into the pocket of his wrinkled blue blazer.
"Looks like the same religious fervor was scratched into the ammunition." Dance laid a bullet on the table, silver, forty-five caliber. It, too, was etched, the casing wrapped in a flowing Arabic script. "There were five left in the cylinder. They're silver, you know, not sure why, its not like there were werewolves running around Istanbul in 1876. Then again, the pistol was designed for a madman."
Nicholas Quinn sat across from Dance, silently looking at the weapon. He could smell the fresh oil on its workings, a hint of sulfur residue in its chamber.
"What does something like this cost? Fifty, one hundred thousand?" Dance picked it up again, rolled out the cylinder, spinning it like a western lawman. "This gun was just a rumor, no record of ownership for 130 years. Where do you find something like this? On the antique market, black market, the hush-hush just-between-us market?"
Nick sat there in silence, his mind spinning.
The door opened, and a gray-haired man in a blue suit poked his head in. "Need you for a second, Dance."
Dance threw up his hands. "Kind of got some stuff going on."
"Well, life sucks out loud. With the plane crash, it's the two of us, Shannon, and Manz for the whole place. So unless you want to get back down to that field and start sorting through mangled bodies of women and children, you'll get your ass out here."
Dance slammed the cylinder back up into the gun, spun it once for effect, and held it up, looking down the barrel as if he were aiming at an imaginary target.
He laid the gun back in front of Nick and looked at him a moment before grabbing the lone silver bullet.
"Don't go away," Dance said as he walked out, closing the steel door behind him.
Nicholas Quinn finally inhaled, as if he were taking his first breath in three hours. He did everything he could to hold back his emotions, tucking the news in the farthest corner of his mind, knowing that if he let it run about it would eat him from the inside out.
He was dressed in the muted blue and gray Zegna sport jacket Julia had given him two weeks earlier for his thirty-second birthday, freshly pressed, looking as if it had just come from the tailor. He wore it over a light green polo shirt with his jeans, pretty much his uniform for casual Friday. Nick's dark blond hair was on the long side, in need of a cut, one that he had been promising Julia he would get for the last three weeks. His strong face was handsome and unreadable, a trait that had proven invaluable in business and poker. No one could see through his eyes to the truth in his heart, except for Julia, who could always read his thoughts from just the curve of his lip.
Nick looked around the small, confined room, a space clearly designed for the purpose of creating anxiety. There was the single metal table, the ornate, bejeweled gun upon its lime-green Formica surface; four extremely uncomfortable thick metal chairs, his ass already numb after fifteen minutes; a white; wire-caged clock hung by the door, the time approaching 9:30. The walls were bare but for a giant white board on the near wall, three colored markers hanging from a tattered shoelace off a corner. On the opposite side of the room sat a two-way mirror, which not only allowed observation by whoever stood on the other side but also created a feeling of paranoia for whoever sat in this room wondering how many people were watching, assessing, convicting you before a plea had even been entered.
An intense agony began to strangle Nick's heart. Everything in his world had stopped. His emotions had been wrung dry over the two hours before he got here. A swirl of questions and confusion dominated his thoughts.
For the briefest of seconds, he thought he could smell her, Julia's essence, as if it somehow lingered upon his soul.
Nick had gotten home at three this morning after a fourday whirlwind business trip around the Southwest, so exhausted he didn't even remember getting into bed. But he did remember waking up.
As he had drifted into consciousness, he looked directly into Julia's blue eyes, which were filled with love. She had been gently kissing him, drawing him up from whatever dream held him tight, coaxing him back into the world.
She wore nothing but an Eric Clapton T-shirt, which remained on for only three more seconds, tossed to the floor to reveal a perfect body. She was nearly as fit at thirty-one as she had been at sixteen, her breasts firm, her belly tight with just a hint of a six-pack. Her forever long legs were tan and lithe. She was of Spanish, Irish, and Scottish descent, and there was a classic beauty to her face, her high cheekbones and full lips turning the heads of most men when she walked into a room. Her large blue eyes always grew more alluring during the summer when her skin tanned to a light golden hue, with a hint of freckles rising up on her nose.
Julia straddled Nick, leaning down to lightly kiss his lips awake. Becoming lost in her tangle of long blond hair, the smell of lavender and her natural essence filling his mind, Nick's dream of moments earlier was coming to life.
They made love with the heat and excitement of first love, lost in each other's arms, hands roaming each other's bodies, kisses and warm breaths trailing skin. Their passion had rarely waned, even after sixteen years. And it was never merely sex, despite the preternatural lust they felt for each other, there was always the selfless abandonment, each delaying fulfillment in deference to the other, each concerned with the other's pleasure above his or her own, it was always making love.
And as they lay entwined, in the afterglow of the moment, the sheets in a ball at their feet, they both lost sense of time, of where they were, of whatever worries they faced in the coming day, taking comfort in each other's embrace.
With the sunlight dancing upon the white pillows, Nick finally rose from the bed, stretching his toned body to full alertness, and caught sight of the small table on their porch.
Despite her own lack of sleep from too many hours at the office, Julia had risen to prepare breakfast and set the wrought-iron table on the private, second-floor deck just off the sitting room. There was bacon, eggs, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and skillet cake, all fixed and silently carried up from the kitchen as he'd slept.
In nothing but underwear and T-shirts they ate as the sun began its climb in the summer morning sky.
"Special occasion?" Nick asked, alluding to the meal.
"Can't I just welcome you home?"
Nick smiled. "After that first course, a dry bagel would have been more than enough."
Julia smiled back, her look warm and caring, but there was something else there, a hesitation in her eyes.
"What did you do?" Nick asked with a chuckle.
"Nothing." But her voice and the slight dimple rising on her cheek said otherwise.
"We have dinner with the Mullers tonight at Valhalla," Julia said quickly.
Nick stopped eating as he looked up. "I thought we agreed we were staying home."
"They're not so horrible." Julia smiled a disarming smile. "I really like Fran. And come on, Tom's not that bad."
"When he stops talking about himself. If I hear one more word about how much money he makes, or what kind of car he just bought -- "
" -- He's just insecure. Think of it as a compliment."
"How could I possibly think of his yammering as a compliment?"
"He's trying to impress you; he obviously cares about your opinion."
"All he cares about is himself." Nick cleared his plate, placing it on the large serving tray. Julia grabbed the remaining dishes, stacking them atop his.
"I thought we made plans together, not for each other," Nick said.
"Nick." Julia grimaced. "We couldn't get reservations until 9:00."
The moment was suddenly lost as a tension grew between them.
Julia picked up the tray and walked to the door. "It's Friday night; I just wanted to go out."
And she slipped back inside the house, leaving Nick standing there alone.
Nick walked inside, through the sitting room and into his bathroom, shutting the door, turning on the shower. He stepped in, hoping the cool water would wash away his suddenly foul mood. He hated wasting time with superficial friends, those whose thoughts never ran deeper than the menu.
Fifteen minutes later he was dressed in his favorite Levi's and a polo shirt and walked back into the room to find Julia dressed and heading for the door. She had transformed from his sexy wife to a businesswoman in a black skirt, Tory Burch shoes, and a white silk blouse. She picked up her purse, throwing it on her shoulder, and looked at him.
"I think we should cancel," Nick said calmly, in an almost pleading voice. " I really just want to be home."
"You'll be home all day," she said.
"Yeah, in my office working, trying to finish my report," Nick said a little too quickly.
"Why don't you work out? Go for a run. Relieve some of that stress. I really want to go out tonight. It will only be two hours, we can even skip dessert."
"Like that will make the evening any more bearable." His dismissive tone came out as a challenge.
"Just do it for me," Julia said as she walked to the door. "You never know, it might turn out to be a good time."
"What about me? I've been on too many planes to count, and we both know how much I love flying. I'm lucky to know what state I'm in."
"I don't want to."
"Nine o'clock." The anger was beginning to show in her voice as she walked out. "I'm late for work."
"Fine," Nick exploded, his voice echoing through the room and down the hall.
Her only response came ten seconds later with the slamming of the back door, the thud shaking the whole house.
It was the first time in months that a morning had ended badly. The days were always supposed to start with hope and optimism before being pulled into an abyss by the trials and tribulations of work.
And all at once he regretted his rage, regretted parting at odds over something so trivial as a dinner date. There was always tomorrow, there was always Sunday. He tried her on her cell phone but there was no answer, and rightly so.
The lights of the interrogation room flickered on and off, the windowless space falling in and out of a pitch-black dark before the overhead fluorescent light settled back into its pale dim glow.
"Sorry about that," Dance said. "The generator's been running over nine hours now. It's seen better days."
He settled back in his chair and tilted his head. "You a Yankees or Mets fan?"
Nick just stared at him, amazed that he would ask such a question, considering everything going on.
"Jeter just hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Red Sox, six to five." Dance shook his head, seeing Nick's lack of interest, and reached into his pocket.
A second man had joined them and had yet to say a word. His chair was tipped back against the wall as he pushed a few strands of out-of-place hair from his face. Detective Robert Shannon was an unfortunate stereotype, his muscled body crammed into a black short-sleeved shirt two sizes too small, accentuating his arms and chest. His black Irish hair was slicked back, and there was a small scar on his chin. His slate-blue eyes were angry, accusatory. He was spinning an old-fashioned billy club in his hand, tossing it back and forth like a miniature baseball bat, as if he were some beat cop out of 1950s New York. Nick couldn't help thinking the guy was already convinced of his guilt.
Dance pulled a small Dictaphone from his pocket, held it out, and hit play.
"Nine-one-one emergency?" a woman's voice sang out.
"My name is Julia Quinn," Julia's whispered voice said. "Five Townsend Court, Byram Hills. You have to hurry, my husband and -- "
The phone clicked off. "Hello," the operator said, "Hello, ma'am?"
And Dance clicked off the recorder.
"She made that call at 6:42," Dance said. "May I ask where you were?"
Nick remained silent. Not out of defensiveness but because he was afraid that if he spoke he would break down. Hearing Julia's voice only magnified his pain, the suffering that infused his heart.
He knew exactly where he'd been at 6:42; he was still in his library working, he had been there most of the day except for grabbing a few Cokes and Oreos from the kitchen.
The gunshot had startled him from his concentration, his hearing grew suddenly acute, and, as if he had been on some delay, he finally bolted up from his chair. He ran out through the living room, through the kitchen, to the mudroom, where the back door to the garage hung wide open.
He couldn't understand why Julia had left the door open again. He saw her purse on the floor by the coat hooks where it usually hung, its contents scattered on the floor. And as he crouched to pick it up he finally saw the blood dripping down the white wainscoting, his eyes trailing it down to see her black skirt, her long leg, her foot in its yellow Tory Burch shoe sticking out by the back stairs, her body, her face concealed by the lowest steps.
And in that moment, all the air left his lungs as he collapsed to the floor. Shaking uncontrollably, he rubbed her leg, calling to her, whispering her name, knowing she would never answer him again.
After a minute, his heart all but dead, he finally looked up, to see his best friend standing over them with tear-streaked eyes. Nick released her leg and rose to his feet. Marcus laid his hands upon Nick's shoulders, holding him back from advancing toward Julia's upper body, putting all 220 pounds of what was once muscle into keeping him from a sight that would haunt him till the end of days.
As Nick fought his best friend to get near his wife, a scream of anguish finally poured forth, filling the small room before dissolving to silent tears, the sounds of the world falling away to nothing as the reality of the moment set in.
They waited at Marcus's house next door, silently sitting on the front steps for over an hour before they heard the sirens announcing to the neighborhood that something horrible had happened. It was a sound that would be with Nick forever, for it was the soundtrack to his tragic loss and the prelude to the unthinkable nightmare of accusations that were about to begin.
The gray-haired man stuck his head into the room, again. "His attorney's here."
"That was fast," Dance said.
"The wealthy don't wait," Shannon said, speaking for the first time, as he tipped his chair forward and stood up. His eyes bore into Nick as he headed for the door.
"Let's go." The gray-haired man waved his hand, ushering the two policemen out.
The door closed with a loud clang behind them but reopened not thirty seconds later; Nick's heart hadn't even had a moment to slow.
The man walked in as if he owned the room, tall, polished, with an air of wisdom and calm that displaced some of the terror that had enveloped Nick for much of the last several hours. His hair was dark, flecked with gray, silver highlights at the temple; his eyes were sharp and focused. His face was weathered from life, character lines etching the tanned skin about his eyes and forehead. He was dressed in a double-breasted blue blazer and sharply creased linen pants, his yellow silk tie set off against a pale blue shirt, all of it combining to display a man of refinement and taste. He even smelled rich.
"They already took most of you, eh?" the man said in a deep European-sounding voice as he pulled out a metal chair and took a seat across from Nick.
Nick stared at the man, confusion filling his eyes.
"Your wallet, keys, cell phone, even your watch," the man said, looking at the pale stripe on Nick's bare wrist. "They slowly strip your identity, then they take away your heart, and finally your soul, until you'll say whatever they want you to say."
"Who are you?" Nick asked, the first words he had spoken inside the confines of these walls. "Did Mitch send you?"
"No." The man paused, looking about the room, assessing it and Nick at the same time. "With the case they have against you, an attorney is the last thing you need. He'll charge six hundred an hour, give you a bill for half a million, and make you feel like you owe him as you sit in your prison cell doing twenty-five to life."
Nick stared at the elegant man, even more confused. "Mitch is on his way. I've got nothing to say you."
The man nodded, exuding calm, as he laid his arms upon the table and leaned forward.
"I understand the crippling grief you must be feeling. It's horrible that they don't even allow you a moment of mourning before they start trying to steer you into a confession." The man paused. "When did justice start to become about winning and losing, an us-against-them mentality, instead of the revelation and uncovering of truth?"
Nick looked the man up and down.
"Have you seen the file on you, their case?" the man said. "It's detailed; I doubt they'll even offer you a plea deal."
"I didn't kill my wife," Nick finally said.
"I know, but that's not how they see it. They see motive, the weapon," the man said, casting his eyes at the gun sitting in the middle of the table. "They're hoping for a confession to avoid the extra paperwork."
"How do you know?"
"They'll spend twelve hours slowly wearing you down getting you to confess to avoid the weeks of meeting with the DA for months of trial preparation." The man paused. "You'll be convicted, spend the rest of your days in prison, mourning the death of your wife, always wondering what really happened."
"So, if you're not an attorney, why are you here?"
The man's warm eyes remained fixed on Nick as he took a deep breath, his chest expanding before finally exhaling.
"You can still save her."
Nick stared back at the man, the words not making sense. He leaned closer for clarity. "What?"
"If you could get out of here, if you could save her, would you?"
"She's dead," Nick said with confusion, as if the man were unaware of the fact.
"Are you sure?" the man said, looking more closely at Nick. "Things aren't always what they seem."
"Are you saying my wife is alive?" Nick's voice cracked. "How? I saw -- "
The man reached into the inner breast pocket of his Ralph Lauren jacket, pulled out a sealed letter, and slid it across the table to Nick.
Nick looked at the two-way mirror.
"Don't worry." The man smiled. "No one is watching."
"How do you know?"
"They're busy with the plane crash. Two hundred and twelve dead. This town, like your life, has been turned on its head."
Nick felt his world spinning, as if he were in that twilight between waking and sleep where the mind is peppered with incongruous images and thoughts that desperately try to coalesce into a coherent notion.
He looked down at the envelope and slid his finger under the glue flap --
"Don't open that now." The man laid his hand upon Nick's.
"Wait until you're out of here," the man withdrew his hand as he leaned back in the chair.
"Out of here?"
"You've got twelve hours."
Nick looked at the clock on the wall: it was 9:51. "Twelve hours for what?"
The man pulled a gold pocket watch from within his jacket and flipped it open to reveal an old-fashioned clock face. "Time is not something to waste, a particularly true statement in your case." The man closed the watch and handed it to Nick. "Seeing you're short one timepiece, and the pressure you're under, you'd best hold on to that and keep an eye on the hour hand."
"Who are you?"
"Everything you need to know is in that letter. But as I said, don't open it until you're out of here."
Nick looked around the room, at the two-way glass, at the decrepit steel door. "How the hell am I supposed to get out here?"
"You can't save her life if you're in here."
"What are you saying? I don't understand, where is she?"
The man looked at the clock on the wall as he stood up. "You better start thinking how you're getting out; you've only got nine minutes."
"Wait -- "
"Good luck." The man tapped the door twice. "Keep an eye on that watch. You have twelve hours. In the thirteenth hour all will be lost, her fate, your fate will be sealed. And she'll have died a far worse death than you already think."
The door opened and the man slipped out, leaving Nick sitting alone. He stared at the envelope, tempted to open it. But he quickly tucked it, along with the gold watch, into the breast pocket of his jacket, knowing that if they were found he would never know what the man was talking about.
The man had offered no other information, no name, no explanation for how Julia could be alive.
Nick had seen her body, though he had not looked upon her face, as Marcus had held him back, protecting him from her image, her beauty stolen by the gunshot that ended her life. But he had held her leg, seen the clothes she'd worn when she left for work this morning.
There was no question it was Julia. She had called to him when she'd arrived home, but she didn't enter the library where he worked, knowing not to disturb him, knowing he was trying to finish a major acquisition analysis stemming from his week's travels and that if he didn't finish before they went out for dinner, he would be working the weekend.
He could still hear voice; it was the last time she called his name. And the guilt rained down on him: He had ignored her not just because he was immersed in work but because he was still angry about having to go out for dinner.
Nick reached into his pocket and drew the letter halfway out, but the words of warning echoed in his head. He tucked it away and thought of the man's eyes, filled with such conviction, such honesty, such sense of purpose.
Where all hope had been wiped from the world, this man had reignited it. Nick couldn't imagine how Julia could be alive but...if there was even a glimmer of hope. If there was any chance of saving her...
...he would have to find a way out of this locked room and station.
Grief and confusion had been replaced with possibility and purpose. Escaping from an interrogation room, a police station, was an inconceivable, improbable, foolhardy task, but...
Nick looked at the door, two inches thick, a heavy deadbolt as a lock. There were no windows or other doors. He looked at the white board, the clock on the wall ticking towards 10:00 p.m., and then his eyes fell on the ominous two-way mirror. He stared at his reflection sitting alone in the bleak, humid room in the uncomfortable metal chair, the deadly Colt Peacemaker in the center of the table, and he smiled...
The window was made of glass...
Detective Ethan Dance stepped back into the interrogation room. The thirty-eight-year old detective's perpetually sleepy eyes stared at Nick as he threw a file on the table. His white JC Penney shirt was half untucked, while the bulge of his holstered pistol distorted his off-the-rack blue blazer.
"Before Shannon comes back into the room, you want to tell me what really happened? I mean," Dance opened up the file with his latex-gloved hand and looked inside, staring at a photo, which he concealed from Nick's eye, "what drives someone to do this? Was it the money?"
"Money?" Nick asked in genuine confusion. "How dare you."
"Well, I'm glad to see you have a voice."
Nick glared Dance, his eyes falling on the bulge in his jacket where he could just see the butt of Dance's gun poking out.
"I'm sorry." Dance paused in sympathy. "She was a beautiful woman. May I ask when you spoke last?"
"We had a fight this morning," Nick said, his eyes briefly looking at the clock.
"Dinner with her friends."
"Mmm, I know how that goes. You sit there, she and her girlfriend are lost in conversation while you're left with the husband, who you have nothing in common with. My ex-girlfriend dragged me to the Jersey Shore for a weekend at her friend's house, rained the whole time, I was stuck in the house with an asshole while they went shopping, felt like arresting him for subjecting me to his boring life. I've hated the Jersey Shore ever since."
Dance was good, trying to win Nick over with sympathy and commonality, but Nick wasn't so stupid as to fall for it.
"Did you talk after that?" Dance continued.
"No, I was busy all day; conference calls and paperwork pretty much consumed me. And I know she was up to her ears in issues."
"She was an attorney?"
"Why do you ask a question you already know the answer to?"
"Sorry, force of habit." Dance closed the manila folder and laid it ominously on the table, next to the Colt Peacemaker. "Was she in her office all day?"
"Not sure," Nick said abruptly.
"You didn't speak?"
"She called a few times but I ignored the calls."
Dance said nothing as he looked at Nick.
"Childish," Nick said. "I know, but Jesus -- Why are we talking about this? Someone killed my wife, dammit, and it wasn't me!"
Nick's voice echoed in the room, seeming to linger for minutes as the conversation changed direction.
"So it says here," Dance tapped the manila folder, "you have a license for a nine-millimeter Sig-Sauer."
"Where might that be?"
"In my safe, where it has been for the last six months. Julia hates guns." Nick hated the irony.
"So you do know how to shoot?"
"You don't buy a car unless you're licensed to drive."
"No need to be a smartass."
"No need to treat me like an idiot, like I killed my wife."
"I'm trying to help," Dance said.
"Listen, if you were trying to help me you'd be out looking for the real killer."
"Fair enough. If you didn't do it, you've got to talk to me, if we are to have any hope of catching who did do it."
"So you believe it wasn't me?" Nick said with a sense of hope.
"Well, the thing is this," Dance said, pulling over the gold- and brass- plated Colt Peacemaker, "this gun here is covered in fingerprints."
"But no one has taken my prints yet," Nick said, his voice thick with confusion as he threw his hands up.
"Actually, we got them off your wallet and cell phone, I did it myself." Dance paused. "And they were a spot-on match. So you're going to need to be real clear as to how your fingerprints and only your fingerprints are on this gun."
Nick sat there, his mind spinning. He had never seen this gun, let alone touched it. In fact, he hadn't picked up his own gun in six months, and that was with his friend Marcus Bennett at his buddy's shooting range. He hated guns for the incredible power they placed in one man's hand, the power of life and death at the fingertip of anyone capable of pulling the trigger.
"I should also add," Dance continued, "ballistics isn't back yet, probably won't be for a few days with everyone working the plane crash, but your watch had explosive residue, gunpowder consistent with bullets. So if your story is factual, lay it on me, and if you're about to make something up, it's time to get real creative."
Shannon stepped into the room, locking the door behind him. "I would suggest real creative." His high-volume words laid bare the fact he had watched the whole exchange from beyond the two-way glass. "And feel free to look at the center of the mirror, right into the camera. It's always so much better at helping relate to the jury."
Nick was once again lost, the brief hope he had thought he saw in Dance obliterated by Shannon's entrance. He glanced up at the clock: 9:56.
With volatile force, Shannon slammed his billy club onto the table, shocking not only Nick but also Dance.
"Cold-blooded murder," Shannon said. "Plain and simple. You don't need to tell us a thing. We've got it all in that folder, everything we need for a quick and easy conviction -- "
"Let's take a break," Dance interrupted, trying to calm Shannon. He leaned back on his chair, raising it up on two legs.
"No. A woman is dead," Shannon shouted. "She didn't get to take a break. I don't care if she was your wife or not. I want answers. Was she fucking someone else and you found out? Were you fucking someone else and she found out?"
Nick's eyes went wide with rage.
"Yeah, I see the anger rising up in you. Come on, do something," Shannon taunted him. "Use the same fury you struck out at your wife with. All this spit and polish, Italian clothes, foreign cars, minimansions in suburbia, it's all just window dressing for your dark heart. You're no different from the bum in an alley who guts a hooker."
Nick was doing everything he could to restrain himself, his muscles tensed, his blood racing.
"She was fucking some guy and you killed her." With a sudden crash, Shannon again smashed his billy club onto the table. But this time the force startled Dance, to the point where he lost his balance on the two legs of his chair, falling backward while desperately trying to grab the table.
Shannon's outburst, the loud, shocking crash of the club against the table, pushed Nick over the edge. His wife was dead, he was being accused of her murder, and this Detective Shannon questioned his and her honor.
In the heat of confusion as Dance continued to fall backward, his sport coat flopped back, exposing his nine-millimeter in his shoulder holster, the butt of the gun protruding. Nick stepped past the point of no return and snatched the gun from Dance's holster with lightning speed.
Nick thumbed off the safety of the Glock as his finger wrapped the trigger; his muscle memory ran true and on reflex. That he hated guns didn't mean he'd forgotten how to use one. He spun the off-balance, tumbling Dance into a headlock and jammed the barrel against his head.
Dance's gloved hands flew up in panic, desperately grabbing hold of Nick's forearm.
And the moment spun out of control.
"Drop it," Shannon screamed, as he drew his gun, fell to a knee, and pointed it straight at Nick's head.
"You don't understand, neither of you understand, she's alive," Nick yelled, sounding like a madman, his eyes jumping back and forth between Shannon and the clock. "My wife is alive."
Shannon and Dance exchanged a quick look.
"Listen," Dance said calmly, despite the gun at his head. "Put down the gun. I know what you must be feeling -- "
"Bullshit," Nick shouted over Dance. "You have no idea what I'm feeling."
" -- losing her and all. Let us listen to your story. If someone else killed her, let us catch him. All this is going to do is send you to the morgue. There's no death penalty for killing your wife, but for killing a cop...it's a capital offense, they'll execute you for that."
"You don't understand, my wife is alive. I've been set up. I need to get out of here." Nick dragged Dance backward toward the two-way mirror.
"Put your gun down," Nick yelled at Shannon.
"Not a chance," Shannon shouted back.
Nick look at the clock: 9:58. He thumbed back the hammer of Dance's nine-millimiter Glock pistol, the click startling Dance.
"Bob," Dance yelled looking at Shannon. "Do it."
"Do it," Dance yelled. "You're not playing chicken with my life."
Shannon's eyes were defiant, but he complied.
And Nick instantly aimed the gun behind him at the glass and pulled the trigger, the gunshot sounding like a cannon as the two-way mirror shattered into a thousand pieces, revealing a small, dark room, a video camera in the center trained on them. Nick cocked his arm forward and tucked the gun back up against Dance's chin, scorching his skin with the hot barrel.
"Are you out of your mind?" Dance screamed.
And Shannon was back on a knee, his retrieved gun in his hand, aimed square at Nick.
"Look at me." Shannon's voice became eerily calm, his gun remaining fixed on Nick as he picked up the manila folder and poured a handful of eight-by-ten pictures out onto the Formica surface.
"Do you see these?" Shannon said through gritted teeth, picking them up one by one, shoving them toward Nick, inches from his face.
There were twenty in all, from various angles, in full color. The blood was thick, nothing like what Nick expected. It wasn't like TV or some movie, where the blood repulsed, but deep down your stomach stayed calm knowing it was just the trickery of Hollywood. These images were real, and they pulled Nick in. As much as he tried to avoid doing so, he looked at each and every picture: at the floor, at her clothes, at the black skirt she was wearing when last he saw her; at her ring finger, at the wedding band he had slipped on in St. Patrick's, and finally at her face, or what was left of it.
The left side was gone, the eye missing, the temple and forehead shattered, but the right side...It only took the sight of her blue eye, the hazel specks dancing there under her blonde eyebrow, to convince him. The dead woman staring up at him was his wife.
And in that moment, the confusion rose. The scream in his head, the manifestation of his bleak reality. Julia was dead.
"I'm going to count to three," Shannon said. "I don't give a fuck if you shoot Dance, I'm going to kill you right here in front of the running videotape, fully justified in my actions."
Nick pressed the gun harder up into Dance's chin, the detective's grip about his forearm tightening in nervous response. And Nick realized Dance's right ring finger was missing, the vacant finger of the latex glove flopping about like an errant hair.
Nick looked up at the clock on the wall, the second hand ticking toward the top of the hour.
"One," Shannon whispered.
"This can't be," Nick said in desperation as he looked again at the pictures, wishing it was all a dream, wishing he was someone else so he could escape his now dead, hollowed heart. The pain in his soul was unbearable, as Julia's decimated image stared back at him. He tried to avert his eyes --
"Two," Shannon's voice was louder this time. There was no question of his threat.
"I need to get out of here," Nick said, an unnatural calm over taking him. "You don't understand, I can save her." But nothing made sense, not Julia's death, not this impossible situation. How could he save her if she was already dead? But the tone of the man's voice was still fresh in his ears, "You have twelve hours."
And Nick watched as the hammer of Shannon's gun slowly drew back.
But before the hammer struck home on the back of the copper cased bullet, before it exploded out of the barrel...
...the world fell into darkness. Copyright © 2009 by Richard Doetsch
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