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Donovan McCormick tossed the case file to the coffee table. The folder slid across the well-polished cherry wood, bunching the Irish lace doily into a wad. With a muffled groan, he closed his eyes and eased onto the couch. The butter soft leather cradled him in much-needed comfort. He accepted it, nuzzling his head deeper while he draped his arm over his eyes.
Still, nothing could erase the horror of the day's events. Nothing ever would.
This was supposed to be a cut-and-dry operation. After months of guarding Angelo Torrelli, the job was nearly complete. All that was left was to take the government's key witness to the courthouse to testify.
But the agency hadn't reckoned on the ingenuity and determination of the man on trial. They didn't doubt that Carlo Torrelli would have his own son murdered, but they didn't believe he'd have the deed committed on the courthouse steps. The media coverage alone should have been enough to prevent that.
For the last seven months, Donovan and five other agents had been by Angelo's side constantly, living with the man at the Beverly Hills home of his mistress, actress Kitty Dupree. They'd gotten to know the couple well. Too well. Too personally–like family. They even shared the couple's joy in the announcement that Kitty, at age forty-five, was expecting a child. Maybe that's where they'd gone wrong. The closeness had made them lazy.
But Donovan would have sworn none of them ever lost sight of the reason the men were there–to protect Angelo from assassination. If Carlo struck, this was where he'd do it. They were careful, so careful. Nothing left to chance. Until today.
Donovanand Matt Carlson stayed behind with Kitty while the other four agents escorted Angelo and the United States attorney to the courthouse. Donovan, Matt, and Kitty saw the whole thing on the news. The cameras caught it all. Everything happened so quickly, but then, as Donovan knew well, murders usually did.
One minute they were ascending the steps of the courthouse; the next they were dead, all of them–Angelo, the attorney, and the four agents. The assassins acted so quickly the agents never had the chance to draw their weapons. It was a wonder the news people and bystanders escaped injury. The killers were precise. And it was all committed under the guise of a drive-by gang shooting.
Donovan's and Matt's first reaction was silent shock. Outrage and grief followed quickly if not as silently. And finally the horrible realization they too could have been killed sank in.
Donovan pinched the bridge of his nose in an effort to keep his grief in check. His friends were dead. Wives, children, girlfriends, and parents had had their worlds shattered. It was senseless…so senseless.
Memories of Judy's murder assaulted him, and he banished them as fast as he could. He had enough to contend with now without thinking of that.
Matt Carlson walked into the vast library-study and folded his long body beside Donovan on the sofa. Donovan allowed himself a smile. Next to Matt's six-feet-one-inch, all of his friends were a hair shorter–little buddies he liked to tease. Only that morning… His smile faded.
This quiet room of book-lined walls had become their headquarters since their arrival, and now it was sanctuary.
"You call your folks?"
"Yeah," Donovan mumbled. There was comfort, relief, at seeing his old friend. As if he still had contact with the world as he knew it. "They were pretty shook up and relieved I was okay. I thought Mom would never stop crying."
"I called Barb." Matt buried his face in his hands. "She's in hysterics. Screaming and pleading with me to quit. God knows I'd love to oblige her, but with two kids to support, how can I?"
"Yeah. I know how she feels. I felt the same way after Judy was killed." Saying those words weighed his voice.
Matt dropped his arm, but kept his eyes closed. "Don't start getting morbid on me."
"Why shouldn't I? After all, it wasn't you who watched your wife's brains get blown out." Hate and agony spilled out, no matter how hard Donovan tried to push the horrifying images aside.
"Cut it out. You get like this every time we lose people you're close to. I hate it. It happened six years ago. Snap out of it and quit feeling sorry for yourself."
A little cold-hearted, but Donovan knew Matt was just trying to protect him–if only from himself. "This time I thought for sure we had Torrelli. He was this close to jail." He measured a minute distance with his thumb and forefinger. "I want him locked up."
Copyright © 2004 by Catherine Snodgrass