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Colorado Springs, Colorado
"I think about it a lot," Eileen said. "That's only natural, I guess."
"What's it?" Gerri Matthews asked, leaning back in her armchair. "Shooting Teddy Shaw, or seeing what he did to Jeannie Bernowski?" Gerri's clipboard rested comfortably on one knee but her pen dangled, point up, in her relaxed hand. Her relaxation was a ploy, Eileen thought, just like the exquisitely shabby little room, like her kindly face, like the delicious smell of the hot tea she served in thick pottery mugs. Gerri was the court-appointed psychologist for shooters. Cops who killed. Six years on the force, and Eileen Reed had finally joined the ranks.
"What?" she asked Gerri.
"Shooting Teddy, or seeing Jeannie?" Gerri repeated patiently.
"Shooting him, of course," Eileen said.
"Okay," Gerri replied. She was forty and looked a weathered twenty-five. Perhaps it was all the bike riding, she'd said during their introductions. Or perhaps because she and her husband didn't have children, and thus she always got a good night's sleep. This was said with a twinkle and a chuckle as irresistible as a little girl's. Gerri had sandy blonde hair and dark blue eyes, and she dressed in clothes that looked so comfortable they could be pajamas. On a plump woman they would have looked awful, but on Gerri's spare little frame, her baggy pants and shapeless pullovers looked terrific. Eileen wanted to like her immediately, and felt her ears pull back like a horse about to bite. Everything felt different since fourdays ago, when she'd shot Teddy Shaw.
"Do you have dreams about Jeannie Bernowski?" Gerri asked calmly.
Eileen closed her eyes momentarily, and the death scene unrolled in front of her. The backs of her eyelids had developed a sort of VCR-like capability, it seemed, and whenever she closed her eyes she was treated to what was now the number-one movie in her head.
"No, I remember Teddy," she said.
It was a fine summer night in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The mild night air blew through Eileen's open car window, carrying with it the scents of summer roses, recently mowed lawns, and sun-heated pines. The breeze felt good in her hair and against her face. One thirty in the morning on a Tuesday. There was no one else on the roads.
Eileen was on her way home after filing a report on a homicide, an easy one. She'd stayed late so she could take off Friday and Monday, thus giving her a four-day vacation. She'd planned to spend it in the mountains with Joe Tanner, her boyfriend. There was a persistent rumor that the Pike National Forest held the remains of an F-16 crash. The plane crashed twenty years ago and was seen only by the occasional hiker, or so the story went. No hiker had come forward admitting they'd seen the wreck, but the story persisted. The ghost of the pilot was said to haunt the plane, since he had never been buried and was, it was said, still strapped into his seat. Since the plane was never found, it was supposedly still full of equipment, including missiles and ammo for the dead pilot's pistol. It was the Flying Dutchmen of mountain wrecks and a juicy target. The fact that the plane probably didn't exist only fueled Eileen's desire to find the thing. She was excited about the adventure and happy to get away from the city.
Eileen was so wound up, in fact, she gave in to an impulse. The city seemed to be completely asleep and the night air was intoxicatingly warm. She turned off the main road and into the Briargate Subdivision, a housing community with long, curving streets. She clicked off her headlights. After a second or two of terrifying darkness, the night world sprang up around her. The houses were dark, and her car made little sound at thirty miles per hour. When she was seventeen this was one of the favorite sports of the high-school ranch-kid crowd. Driving at fifty miles per hour down moonlit Wyoming highways, they would turn off the headlights and laugh and yell their favorite lines from Star Wars. Driving without lights was unearthly and scary and fun, and Eileen hadn't done it for years.
"So that's why Teddy didn't hide from you," Gerri said.
"Yeah," Eileen said. "I didn't exactly put that in my report, you know."
"Of course, and as you can see, I'm taking no notes," Gerri said. "I'm a psychologist. You can tell me anything, and it will go no further than this room."
"You said that already."
"I'll say it until you believe me, chum," Gerri said comfortably. "Now tell me what happened next. You've set the scene. I can see it in my mind."
"I saw Teddy—a man—walking from a house carrying a large gym bag. He was walking very quickly and his van was running. But the van was at the curb and the driveway was empty, and there were no lights on in the house. That all added up to a robbery. I had just turned the corner in a long swooping curve. I knew the street was a long, straight one, so that was going to be my run at the Death Star ventilation tube."
Eileen looked sharply to see if Gerri was laughing, and she was. But there was nothing mocking in Gerri's face. She was just laughing.
"Use the force, Luke!" she said.
"That's right," Eileen replied and couldn't help but smile. "Keep on target! All the great lines. I swooped around the corner in full Rebel Alliance mode and there's Teddy Shaw with little Alice Gherkin in his bag—although I didn't know that then, of course."
"But you knew there was something going on."
"Oh, yes," Eileen said grimly.
The man didn't see Eileen at first, because he was very nearly at his van. He had almost made his snatch, and his whole focus was getting to his vehicle. Besides, she didn't have her lights on. Teddy Shaw would die with a petulant look on his face, the look of a little boy who was beaten at a game where the other side hadn't played fair.
Eileen flipped her lights on and aimed her car at the burglar, her mood changing in an eyeblink from vacationing lover to police officer. She expected him to run for his van, and perhaps even to have to chase him down, but her perceptions were all wrong. This was not a burglary. The man dropped the bag—which fell to the ground and bulged in a funny shape, a shape that was familiar and unidentifiable at the same time, a shape that was somehow horrible—and drew an enormous contraption from his long coat. The contraption looked like a homemade bazooka, a monster black muzzle with a tiny handle on the end,
Eileen stamped on the brakes and threw her car into a skid and ducked, and the windshield blew out of her beloved Jeep Cherokee with a coughing sound. There was no boom of a gunshot. At thirty miles per hour, Eileen was stopped in four seconds of skid, four very long seconds. She had time to consider her choice of weapons. She had a Sig Sauer 239 in a shoulder holster, 40 caliber with seven rounds in the magazine, cocked and locked for quick firing. She also carried a .38 Ladysmith in an ankle holster, a revolver with five shots. She decided on the Ladysmith since she was bent double underneath the dashboard anyway. The Sig Sauer was too hard to reach.
As her car stopped, she rolled out the door, keeping her Jeep between the shooter and herself, dropped to the asphalt, and aimed at the feet on the lawn from underneath her car. A low slung car wouldn't have given her line-of-sight, but her Jeep was fairly tall.
"Police!" she shouted, and the Jeep's side window blew out. There was no time to do anything else. Instinctively, she made sure the black bag was not going to be hit by gunfire and pulled the trigger three times.
The feet disappeared in a black burst of blood, black like an old movie because there wasn't enough light for her eyes to register color. The man fell down as Eileen rolled to the back of her Jeep. She leaped to her feet and stepped out from behind her car, gun held steady, hoping the man was clutching his ruined feet and not his gun. The man still had his weapon. The bazooka Eileen had seen was an ordinary .357 revolver with a homemade silencer on the end, made of a perforated cardboard tube stuffed with cotton. The cotton was now on fire but the man didn't seem to care. He was trying to bring the gun up and aim it at her, and in a microsecond more, he was going to get there.
Eileen fired the gun twice more—Tap! Tap!—and she was out of bullets. A tiny black mark appeared in the man's forehead and another one pinned itself on his chest. Eileen dropped her Ladysmith to the grass and pulled her Sig Sauer from her shoulder holster. One click of the safety and she was armed again.
The man leaned backward slowly, like a child's punching bag with a hole in it. The bazooka-like silencer continued to burn. Teddy settled to the grass, no longer looking much like a human being, no longer alive. Eileen stood blinking, suddenly aware of her racing heart, her lack of breathing, the stink of gunfire, and the richer stink of blood. She gasped and her arms started to tremble. Looking around, she saw nothing, no one else. The van still idled at the curb. The back door was open.
"This is the police!" she shouted. "Come out with your hands up!
There was a response from the van. A tiny, squealing sound, like a rabbit when it is struck by a hawk or a fox. Eileen sidled along the side of her Jeep until she could get to the passenger-side door, keeping the back door of the van and the very dead man in her sight. She fumbled out her cell phone and called for backup.
"Then you decided to look in the van," Gerri said.
"I did," Eileen said. "I should have waited, but there was that tiny little sound. Maybe a bullet had ricocheted and I was listening to someone dying. I had to see."
"Nobody came out of the house? None of the neighbors?"
"A .38 makes a popping sound, not a big boom. The .357 makes a good-sized noise, but Teddy built that stupid half-ass silencer. The windshield made the most noise. Lights started to come on in a few houses, but my backup arrived before anyone came out of their houses. Besides, the whole thing had taken maybe thirty seconds."
"So you looked in the van," Gerri said, and took a measured sip of her tea.
Eileen took a sip of her own tea and sighed. The tea was herbal, light and sweet and dainty. A little girl's drink.
"Yeah, I looked in the van. And there was Jeannie Bernowski, whose face had been on every telephone pole and in every supermarket in town for a week. I knew her instantly and I was just flat out amazed. Do you know how often we get a kid back alive?"
"Not very often," Gerri said.
"Statistically speaking, never. I remember the whole Heather Dawn Church search. That little girl was snatched from her bedroom during the early evening, and they had helicopters from Fort Carson combing the Black Forest that very night. Finally, a year later, they came across her bones. That's what everyone expected for poor little Jeannie. If a child isn't snatched by a parent, their chances are slim and none. And Slim left town," Eileen added. She grinned a hard and unmirthful little grin.
"And yet there she was," Gerri said.
Eileen made a diving roll past the back doors of the van, getting a nightmare glimpse of the horror within. The van was running and the interior light was on, which gave color to the blood. There was a little figure huddled against one wall, and some sacking and other materials were puddled on the floor. Nothing large enough to hide a man or woman. Eileen wasn't going to have to shoot anyone else. She climbed to her feet. The little figure looked vaguely human, but her one flashing glimpse didn't give many details.
She walked to the doors and looked inside, gun still held at the ready, and there was little Jeannie Bernowski. There was no one else in the van. In the distance, sirens warbled briefly as her backup negotiated some red lights. Jeannie raised her head slowly, sensing someone, but her eyes had no more sense than a gutted doe. She was covered with bruises and worse. There was quite a bit of blood. She was handcuffed to a steel bar welded to the side of the van. On the other side of the van, another steel bar waited.
Eileen looked back toward the black bag. She took two long steps away from the van and bent over the bag. She had time to marvel at the warmth of the breeze, the stars, the beauty of the Colorado night. Then the zipper came open with a long buzzing sound and a choking smell of ether and there, duct tape firmly over mouth and eyes, was six-year-old Alice Gherkin, unconscious.
"So what made you go back to the van?"
"I don't know," Eileen said. "But that wasn't very popular with Captain Harben. I crawled up in that van like my brains had run right out my ass—that's what Captain Harben told me, anyway—and wrapped the little girl up in my arms."
"Captain Harben didn't approve," Gerri said, and laughed.
"Captain Harben did not approve," Eileen said. "He chewed me out good, he did. Disturbing a crime scene. Destroying evidence. Et cetera."
"But she was talking when the ambulance got there, that's what the report said."
"She's a tough girl," Eileen said. "He'd done a lot to her, but he hadn't killed her. Inside, or outside."
"Now you're a hero. But you got that way by killing someone."
"Teddy Shaw," Eileen grimaced. "I know. So fix me, Gerri."
"I have no magic wand, Eileen." Gerri smiled, glancing at her watch. "And our session is over for today."
"I have to come back?" Eileen asked in dismay. "I thought this was just—you know."
"What, for show?" Gerri asked. "No way, lady. You're mine for at least two months. Maybe more. Once a week, my tea, your choice of flavors."
The sun was setting over Pikes Peak when Eileen walked outside. Gerri's office was in an old Victorian house, surrounded by gorgeous elm trees and lilac bushes and stuffed full of psychologists and social workers. Eileen paused and took a deep breath, smelling the warm earth and the flowers that grew in lovely hundred-year-old beds. A woman hurried up the walk past her, her head down and dark sunglasses failing to cover the fading remains of a spectacular beating. Eileen stood for a few moments more, her hands in her pockets, listening to the door open and close and the distant sound of voices. Next week, same place, same tea. And eventually, if Eileen wasn't careful, Gerri was going to figure out the places where she had lied.
Posted December 9, 2008
There once was a man who wanted to be President of the United States more than anything else in the world. He became a Senator, but lost when he ran for the top office. Jacob Mitchell does not give up his dream. Instead, he receives an appointment as Director, Ops 12E at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. He now controls a machine that causes earthquakes and successfully tests the device in the Colorado Springs area. <P> Police Detective Eileen Reed, liaison to the Air Force, visits the base when someone finds one of Mitchell¿s men dead in an apparent suicide. However, the victim was murdered because he was going to reveal Mitchell¿s intentions with the earthquake machine. Eileen and her partner investigate the case as if a murder occurred. Soon they start honing in on Mitchell and his diabolical plan. <P>Anyone who previously read GROUND ZERO, the first Reed tale, will recognize many of the secondary characters returning for a thrill a minute ride. This includes the sexy Joe the boyfriend, Lucy the CIA analyst, and Eileen¿s partner Dave. They add depth and color, but even more significantly ground the suspense thriller to the believable plot. Bonnie Ramthun provides her fans with a sure shot best seller. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 17, 2011
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