Read an Excerpt
Catch a Shadow
By Patricia Potter
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2008 Patricia Potter
All rights reserved.
ATLANTA SEVEN YEARS LATER
"Hit-and-run, Highland and North Avenue." The dispatcher's voice echoed in the close confines of the ambulance, sending an adrenaline rush through Kirke Palmer.
She hit the Respond button and reported they were two blocks from the location, then signed off.
Her back stiffened, and her pulse pounded. She hated hit-and-runs, but still that rush titillated. It brushed away the weariness from a long, frustrating day as she mentally went over the steps for major trauma. After a year as an emergency medical technician, then three as a paramedic, she'd memorized the protocols, but like a pilot, she went over the checklist on every call.
Hal, her partner, turned on the siren and drove the ambulance like a demon. She usually tried to drive, but she'd been emotionally exhausted by the last call, an abused child they'd barely kept alive on the trip to the hospital. Kirke doubted she would ever forget the boy's eyes. The emptiness in them as if he'd known nothing but cruelty in his young life.
In the years since she'd completed training as an EMT, she'd tried to build a shield around her emotions to keep her from caring too much. She'd been warned about that. Build defenses or burn out. She was thirty-three and on her second career. She didn't want a third. Not anytime soon. But the kids got to her.
She didn't have to look at the map. Hal knew exactly where to go. She knew the location as well. She'd been there enough, first as a reporter and now as a paramedic. Manuel's Tavern was a landmark in Atlanta, a gathering place for the famous as well as the blue-collar worker.
She glanced at her watch. Four p.m. Three more hours before their long shift ended. Already today, she'd seen too many forms of human mayhem. An arson where two people were badly burned. A bicycle rider struck by a speeding car. Head injury. No helmet. He'd died at the scene. A gunshot wound. Then the toddler with multiple fractures and third-degree burns.
The ambulance screeched to a stop. The street was completely blocked. Kirke jumped out with their two bags and dashed toward the gathering crowd, while Hal backed the truck and tried to maneuver closer to the accident site.
The crowd opened a pathway for her. As she approached the victim on the ground, a man knelt next to him. A Good Samaritan? A doctor? Before she could see his face, he stood and disappeared among the sightseers.
One less problem. Good Samaritans were often more hindrance than help, delaying her as she tried to move onlookers back.
The victim lay bleeding in the street. White male. Probably in his late thirties. She checked vitals. Thready pulse and blood pressure dropping. He was bleeding out from multiple wounds, including a steady stream pouring from a jagged wound on his arm where a bone jutted out. He was conscious, though. Eyes open and focusing. But his color was poor. Body sweating.
First things first. Stop the bleeding.
She took a tourniquet from her bag and started to wrap it around his arm. He knocked it from her hands. "No," he moaned. "No."
"I'm Kirke, a paramedic," she said softly in the most encouraging tone she had, even as she tried again to tie the tourniquet. A small artery was torn. She had to stop the bleeding before anything else. "What's your name?"
He pushed the tourniquet away and reached toward her. Then she noticed a bloodstained envelope clutched in his hand. He tried to thrust it into her hands.
"No," she said. "I can't take it."
He started to thrash wildly. "Envelope. Take it."
The man's agitation was dangerous. Nothing was going to placate him except taking the envelope from him. She took it and shoved the envelope into her pocket. She would turn it in at the hospital.
"Give ... to Mitch Edwards. Tell him ... Dallas ..." He grasped her hand. "Swear."
"I'll give it to the police," she said. "They'll find your friend."
"No. You! No police."
Blood trickled from his lips.
Desperate to get him to cooperate, she nodded.
"Swear," he insisted again, then blood rushed down her patient's mouth.
"I swear," she said just as Hal arrived. They both worked to suction the blood before he drowned in it.
She looked at her watch. They were nearing the end of the ten-minute scene time. They were supposed to be on their way by then.
Hal caught her glance and nodded. They immobilized the victim's spine and moved him onto a stretcher, then loaded him into the ambulance. His eyes remained open, and he was silent, though she knew the pain was agonizing. She got in the back with him as Hal drove. As the siren wailed and the ambulance threaded its way through the heavy traffic, she checked his vitals again. His color had worsened, and he was having difficulty breathing. She administered oxygen and started an IV.
He pushed away the oxygen mask. "Envelope," he said again in a choked voice.
That damned envelope.
"I have it," she said. "It's safe." What could be so important that it might be his last thought? He said nothing about family. She hadn't even been able to get a name from him.
"What's your name?" she tried again.
He looked at her blankly, the blue of his eyes fading.
"The person—this Mitch Edwards—how do I find him?" she tried again. Perhaps the friend could tell the police and hospital staff whom to contact.
"Mili ... Virgini ..." The word died on his lips, and he lapsed into unconsciousness. The monitors showed his heart failing. Kirke started CPR.
The ambulance roared up to the emergency entrance, and they rushed the patient inside. After giving what information she had to the emergency room staff, she started on the paperwork as Hal flirted with one of the nurses. He was a good-natured teddy bear of a man who was both compassionate and gentle. Kirke liked him immensely and felt lucky to have him as a partner. She was also amused by him. Hal was happily married, but harmless flirting was part of his nature.
When she finished the paperwork, she didn't want to leave, not until she knew about her patient's condition. "Why don't you check on our patient while I clean out the ambulance?" she said to Hal. She wanted to know the victim's condition without appearing unduly interested.
He agreed readily enough. As a paramedic, she was senior to his designation as an emergency medical technician, but she always traded the chores: driving, cleaning the ambulance, paperwork. It made for a good working relationship, especially because there was still some prejudice against women in the fire department, even paramedics.
She returned to the ambulance and started to clean out the back. They might well have another call before returning to the station. She started to wash the blood from the floor of the ambulance.
Her eyes caught something on the floor that shouldn't be there. A wallet. It hadn't been there earlier. Either she or Hal always cleaned the interior after a call.
She picked up the wallet and opened it, looking for a name.
A driver's license and one credit card. A lot of cash in big bills. She made a note of the name on the driver's license, then took the wallet inside to the nurse's station. She hesitated for a moment. She should give them the letter as well.
Yet the man was so insistent that it not go to the police.
You're breaking rules.
But it was only a letter. And she had to admit that her old reporter's instincts still lingered, despite the fact her outspokenness had cost her a job at the Atlanta Observer. She'd always been compelled to solve puzzles.
More important, she'd given her oath, even though it had been partly coerced.
Closing and locking the back doors, she noticed a dark sedan with tinted windows in the drop-off zone. Hadn't she heard someone among the witnesses mention a dark sedan with tinted windows? She couldn't see the front to tell whether there was any damage.
She glanced around for a security officer as she started to approach the sedan to take a better look.
The car sped away. She couldn't make out the license plate, but she didn't see any damage. An overactive imagination, she thought. Someone had probably been dropped off.
Still, a chill ran through her. She'd heard a bystander at the accident scene tell police that it had looked as if someone had deliberately run down the victim.
Hal returned from checking on their patient. He shook his head at the question she knew was in her eyes. "He's not good. They want to try to find family," he added in a matter-of-fact voice that belied the feeling in his eyes. It was one reason she liked him so much. He cared. He hadn't burned out yet.
"I found his wallet in the ambulance. His name is Mark Cable."
"At least he won't die a John Doe," Hal said.
No. Someone would mourn him. Someone named Mitch Edwards. Someone he'd tried so hard to reach.
Her radio sounded. Another call.
"Are you clear?" came the dispatcher.
She looked at her watch. Another hour on the shift. "Yep."
"We have an elderly woman down five blocks from you. She's a diabetic."
"We're on our way."
"Let's go," she said to Hal. He was all business now, and he took the wheel. She turned back to her immediate problem. The envelope felt like an anvil in her pocket. Why hadn't she told Hal about it? Or the hospital staff?
But deep inside, she knew why. She hoped with all her heart Mark Cable would survive, and she could return the envelope to him.
He'd been so frantic about it.
She realized then she was emotionally committed. She would protect the letter for him. If he didn't survive, if she hadn't been able to save Mark Cable, she would find Mitch Edwards for him and make good on her promise to him.CHAPTER 2
TWO HOURS EARLIER
Freedom, Jake Kelly knew, was elusive. His was, anyway.
His heart pounded faster as he waited across the street from the tavern he'd been directed to. Every second that passed could send him back to hell.
This was worse than any mission he'd had. He had no intel, no control, no backup. Certainly no expectation of success.
Nearly seven years in Leavenworth bred desperation. Seven years in a high-security prison for a crime he did not commit. Six days out, and he still felt those walls closing in on him, squeezing the very life from him. His world for too long had been a cage large enough only for a hard cot and a toilet.
And he was at risk of going back because of an enigmatic phone call that could well be a trap.
He stepped out of his rental car and into the shadows of a building. He hadn't forgotten how to blend into his environment.
He glanced down at his watch. Five minutes until the meeting time.
He'd been here an hour. Upon arrival, he'd made a quick trip inside the tavern, studied the interior. Then he'd driven around until he found a parking spot where he could watch the front door. Not the back, but the parking lot there stayed full.
So far, no one seemed familiar. No one looked around as if searching for someone.
He thought about walking away, but hope was a mighty force. He recalled every word of the phone call that came five days after his release. His phone had just been installed one day earlier in the modest, furnished apartment he'd rented.
He'd figured, when the phone rang, it was his supervisory officer—one of only two people who had the number.
"Kelly? Jake Kelly?" came a male voice on the phone.
Jake hadn't recognized it. It certainly wasn't the man who now controlled his life.
"Yes. Who is this?"
"Never mind that. I have a message for you," the voice continued. "This is it. My client says he knows what happened in South America. He wants to meet with you at a tavern at 602 North Highland in Atlanta on Tuesday. Four p.m. Back room. Left corner table. Don't be followed."
"Who is your client?" Jake asked, not trying to mask his sudden hope.
The caller hung up.
Jake had checked the caller ID: Unknown Number.
He suspected he wouldn't discover more, even if he had resources to pursue a search. Instead, he jotted down every word. His memory, except for the day that eluded and haunted him, was good, but he wanted the conversation, such as it was, as it had been said.
"He knows what happened in South America ..."
He glanced down at his watch again. Every movement of the minute hand made his freedom more precarious.
He was on supervised parole, required to report in once a week and subject to unannounced checks. He was forbidden to leave the state of Illinois. He was a fool for risking violating his parole, but this might be his only chance to clear his name, to get some justice for Chet and Ramos and the others. And himself. He'd been abandoned—no, condemned—by those he trusted, by the government he'd served to the exclusion of everything else. He'd lost all faith in anyone but himself, and even that was wobbly at best.
He'd tried for the last seven years to discover what had happened in South America. His letters—and those of his attorney—had gone unanswered, queries always blocked by national security walls.
All he knew was that while he was recuperating in a hospital, someone found a half a million dollars in a bank account that led back to him, an offshore account he'd never opened. He'd been charged with stealing both the cash and diamonds his team had carried on that last mission.
He'd also been suspected of murdering his teammates for money. Chet. Ramos. Del. Adams. The army had sought to charge him with that, but they could find no bodies. There was only the offshore account, the missing cash and diamonds, and four missing men. That had been enough for a conviction of theft. His own wounds had been self-inflicted, the JAG prosecutor had charged. Never mind he'd nearly died from them. The army had lost five million dollars, and it needed someone to blame.
The memory of what happened that afternoon had never come back to him. Major head trauma often caused amnesia that wiped away events that immediately preceded the injury. But he was no ordinary person. He was trained to observe anything and everything and catalog it to memory. The failure to remember the events was like a cancer inside him.
The phone call promised to fill that gap, and the bait had been irresistible. But he couldn't dismiss the possibility that it was a trap. Someone had spent great deal of money to see him convicted. They might well be displeased that the government had made a deal to protect some very sensitive information.
His watch, the cheap one he had bought for fifteen dollars, said four o'clock.
He looked around. The bar was obviously frequented by a cross section of people. Men in business suits, students with book bags, laborers in dirty overalls all pushed through the doors.
Why here? Why Atlanta? Why not Chicago? Two reasons came to mind. The person who'd hired his caller was afraid. He didn't feel free to travel. The second was that the individual knew Atlanta and how to get around the city. But Jake didn't, and the location made him wary. Yet the invitation had beckoned like a flame to a moth. He'd been helpless against its lure.
There was a third reason: a trap to lure him back to prison.
He leaned against the wall, but his eyes didn't stop searching the street. Nothing suspicious, but then the tavern might be loaded with bad guys. Or good guys "doing their jobs" which, at the moment, could mean hauling him in.
For a moment, he looked upward. The sky looked brighter without bars dividing it, and the trees—God, it was good seeing trees again.
Then his concentration returned. Since he had not been told to wear anything special, he could only suppose his contact believed he would either recognize him or find him at the designated table.
More importantly, would he—Jake—recognize the other person? A member of the team? One of the two whose bodies he hadn't seen? He'd considered that. Coldly. Unemotionally.
He continued to study every individual who approached the tavern. If any of his team were alive, then they must have been a part of the ambush and theft. It also meant they would have been in hiding with new identities. Probably new facial characteristics, especially if they came back into this country. But it was difficult to disguise the essence of a person: the way you moved, the set of a chin, mannerisms you never recognized in yourself.
Maybe the call didn't come from one of the team but from someone in Special Forces. Someone who'd believed him—maybe even knew something—but couldn't come out in the open. That was the most desirable scenario but not the most likely one.
Excerpted from Catch a Shadow by Patricia Potter. Copyright © 2008 Patricia Potter. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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