An overzealous decision by Cleveland Police Lieutenant Stacy Tavitt leads to a botched undercover investigation, leading to Stacy being attacked and her unconscious body dumped into the frigid Cuyahoga River. Six months later, Stacy’s first case back from medical leave involves the murder of Cleveland Browns football player Devon Baker. With little forensic evidence connecting anyone to the crime, Stacy sets out to find the killer. As Stacy comes very close to unraveling the tangled threads of the case, the killer wants her, and those close to her, to suffer for another impulsive decision she made in the line of duty. The killer just may be more familiar to Stacy than she realizes.
|Publisher:||Black Rose Writing|
|Edition description:||First Printing ed.|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.01(h) x 0.80(d)|
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From the west dock of the Flats, Stacy could see nothing.
The old melting mid-March snow piles that made travel in Cleveland nearly impossible for weeks took on a brown look as city snowplows and road debris from the Innerbelt Bridge replacement gave the once pristine snow a sickly, pale shade of brown.
Stacy stepped to the left of a puddle that was rimmed by streaks of fresh mud. The second Saturday in March had been a warm one in the city, but the temperature did not come with sunshine. Instead, Cleveland had been hit with toggling days of warmth and biting cold. Two warm days swept up the cold air resonating from the snowpacks piled up around town and that created thick fog which hung around places like the Cuyahoga River and the Flats. A good, soaking rain had pummeled downtown earlier that morning, and Stacy could feel the standing water on the dock pooling around the legs of her black pantsuit and creeping into the bottom of her flat shoes.
Straining to look ahead, she rested against the faded stucco-brick of the Goodtime III tour boat office. The Goodtime boat was gone, and so were the staff and passengers, but another boat had pulled into the dock on the West Bank of the Flats. That boat is what Stacy needed to see.
She checked her watch. It had been nearly fifteen minutes since she radioed dispatch from her car and told them about the arrival of the boat, but all she heard was the water lapping against the dock walls and the faint sounds of cars whirling over the George V. Voinovich Bridge into the city. The metal bells from the buoys at the mouth of the river near the channel into Lake Erie clanged faintly as the churning lake tossed the buoys around.
The Cleveland Division of Police Narcotics Unit had been waiting for the boat to dock, but could never manage to find it unattended. Stacy and her colleagues in the Robbery/Homicide Unit became involved in the stakeout when their informant, Jamal Harris, had gone missing for nearly a week without contact with the department. Stacy and her unit feared the worst.
Stacy had retraced the last known whereabouts of Jamal Harris. When his girlfriend Yolanda came into the police station last week frantic and panicked, Stacy and her boss, Captain Diana Bannister, knew there was a problem. Jamal had told them the only person he talked to more than the police was Yolanda. Stacy had made it clear to Jamal that the conditions of his employment as an informant meant checking in daily with their unit, or else the money would stop and his criminal record would remain. Yolanda was ready to give birth to their first child any day now, and Stacy and the Captain knew that Jamal would not just stop calling Yolanda so close to the important moment.
Stacy decided to go back to where Jamal had last phoned into her office, near the dock on the west side of the Flats, waiting for the boat to arrive. She decided not to wait any longer.
She leaned flat against the side of the building and removed her Glock 22 from the small-of-the-back holster. Pressing herself flat against the building, the fog swallowed every distant object around the river and the Flats. The thick fog nearly hugged her body as it provided her cover.
Stacy could make out the faded red light flashing from the masthead light of the boat. A flag stuck in between the main mast and the antennae near the bridge hung loosely against the pole. She let in a deep breath. She would slide along the flat surface of the boat office wall until the flickering light grew darker. In the distance, a man yelled. Stacy stopped advancing and retreated back along the wall. Another man hollered back and Stacy could make out the first man throwing his head back, laughing in response. It was a raspy, full-throated laugh and not the type of response someone would give if they knew someone was following them.
Stacy listened and waited for more sounds. She peeked around the edge of the boat office wall and could see two shadows moving on and off of the boat. The fog had worked its way into every crevice on the boat, but each time the men took a step, the boat listed to the right, nearly scraping the edge of the dock before rocking back to the left into a more stationary position.
Jamal had told Stacy that the boat always docked at night and that men got on and off of the boat and feverishly moved boxes into a small warehouse near the end of the dock. Although Jamal had not been able to get close enough to see the contents of the cargo, the fact that they moved quickly under the cloak of darkness seemed suspicious.
Stacy wondered if the two men had kidnapped or even killed Jamal. Maybe Jamal had seen the boxes and he was silenced for it.
Something slammed against the dock. Stacy thought she heard a metallic sound echo through the box and off of the concrete dock.
"Damnit, you careless fuck, be careful."
"Sorry, man. I'm not used to moving during the day with all of this fog." Stacy felt the muscles in her throat tighten as she listened.
"Just move it. We've got to get this loaded and get out of here before someone sees us."
Stacy took three long steps and made it to edge of the boat office. As she took another step, one of the men looked in her direction.
"Shit," she mumbled to herself and crouched behind a round, metal drum trashcan. Her heart pounded inside her chest and she could feel the jacket of her pantsuit become wet under the arms.
She leaned over the lip of the trashcan and the men went back to their walking on and off the boat. With a closer look, Stacy could see two men: one tall and thin and the other one stocky and smaller clutching boxes against their chests as they entered the warehouse.
Stacy waited for a second. She looked back and still no backup had arrived. Her partner Austin Cerrera would love the tension of this situation as he always loved surprising criminals and catching crimes in process.
"I got all of the light ones," one of the men called to the other. "The heavy ones are all that's left. Help me carry them."
Both men returned to the boat. Two long beats passed and Stacy couldn't detect any movement or voices.
The warehouse had a small window that faced her and a small door in the front that opened near the boat's bridge ladder. The boat appeared small and resembled a tug boat. The back of the warehouse didn't rest right against the retaining wall that separated the pedestrian lookout spots of the Flats with the dock. Stacy deducted there must be a back entrance into the warehouse.
Stacy pressed her lips tightly against her face. She had so many questions and was completely unsure what she would find and see if and when she got inside the warehouse. If Jamal was on the boat or the warehouse and was in trouble, she would be his only hope.
She squinted through the fog and charged ahead. The right toe of her shoe nearly got caught in a crack in the concrete. She drug the foot forward and kept moving. Her breathing grew heavy and thick and every muscle in her arms and legs constricted. She felt like a tightly pressed ball of energy ready to explode.
As Stacy passed the window of the warehouse, the front door had been pushed all the way open. The fog curled in between the groves of the rusted hinges. Stacy could make out a pad-lock dangling from a rusted hoop near the door handle. Her mind raced. If a pad lock was on the back door, she had no way to get in and would probably be seen by the two men.
She heard one of the men stirring on the boat and couldn't wait any longer. She took two long strides and made it to the back of the warehouse. As she suspected, the door had a padlock at one time, but today it was missing.
Stacy waited for another moment to pass. Without hearing the voices or movements of the men, she reached up and pulled the door open. The rusted hinges on the door squealed. The sharp sound temporarily broke the silence. Stacy waited. She could hear the dull thud of boxes being dropped by the men onto the deck of the boat, so she opened the door further.
To avoid more noise and detection, Stacy weaved through a narrow opening between the door and the wall. A burst of hallow hair coursed around her as she entered. The warehouse was dim and dusty and the crates that lined the room created elongated shadows that streaked across the floor. Several high powered assault rifles and machine guns rested against the boxes sitting closest to the front door of the warehouse. A low-hanging single light bulb hung down from the rafters.
Before she could drink in the scene any further, one of the men from the boat charged into the room. Stacy fell behind a small box near the back door, scraping her knee against the splintered wooden floor.
The man must have heard something. He snorted and stopped moving. Stacy heard him pick up one of the rifles and pull back on the handle. Stacy bit down on her lip so hard it started to swell. She didn't breathe, although every muscle in her body was telling her to scream and charge the man.
A beat passed. Then another. Finally, the man rested the butt of the rifle against the floor and began sliding some of the crates across the room. Stacy slowly got to her knees, tucking her legs under her. The slight elevation in height allowed her to peer over the small box.
The lid of one of the crates had some loose. The man had bent over the top of the box, trying to reseal it. Stacy could make out what looked like the edges of a plastic bag protruding from the box and streaks of white powder running down the sides.
Stacy waited to see if the man would move. He slurred something inaudible under his breath. Stacy waited and then made her move.
She leaped from behind the crate and kicked the man in the calf. He groaned and as he instinctively pulled himself upright, Stacy stuck the nose of the Glock into the nape of his neck.
The man was fat with round shoulders and flabs of skin hanging off the back of his arms. The glock rested in between fleshly folds of fat that ringed the back of his neck. He smelled like sweat and cigarettes.
The man wheezed and breathed heavily.
"Reach up and close the door."
The man didn't move. Stacy cocked the trigger. "Do it or you'll get shot."
Stacy hoped the other man hadn't heard the disturbance. In the hollow filled light of the dock, she detected no movements. The man did as instructed and closed the door.
"Where's Jamal Harris?" Stacy hissed, her voice barely above a whisper.
"I don't know any Jamal Harris, bitch."
Stacy pressed the end of the gun deeper into his neck. "Wrong answer." From her right, Stacy thought she heard some rustling behind some boxes.
Perhaps the other man had sneaked into the warehouse through another door? She waited a long beat. The man she was pointing her gun at shuffled his feet.
"Bring your hands, slowly, behind your back." The tone of her voice grew hard, and the tonal shift got the man's attention. He moved his hands back quickly. They were round and thick, and resembled small hams. The skin on them was chapped and chafed. Stacy clicked handcuffs around his wrists.
"Where is Jamal Harris?" she repeated.
"You a cop or something?"
"Maybe," she said, "but I don't have to be anything to pull this trigger and splatter your brains all over the dock."
The man swallowed hard. Stacy watched the fat neck folds wiggle as they glistened with sweat.
"What's in the boxes?" she asked.
He said nothing.
"What are you moving?" Stacy looked down at the granules of powder that dappled her shoes. "Drugs? This warehouse belongs to Inman Shipping, and the Cleveland Port Authority doesn't allow boats to dock here during the day, so clearly the two of you are moving something that nobody else is supposed to see."
"Fuuuck," the man drawled. "You are a cop."
A loud banging against the door interrupted their conversation. "Don, I got the other boxes secured. We got any more?"
Stacy stepped back, centering her weight on the balls of her feet and widening her stance, readying herself for a confrontation. "Tell him to get back on the boat."
The man wiggled and resisted. Stacy boxed his ear. Don let out a tight yelp. "Do it or I'll bust your eardrum," she threatened.
Don smacked his lips. With a shaky voice, he called out, "I'm finishing up in here. Get back on the boat!"
"Good, Don," Stacy said soothingly. "You're doing just fine. You and I are going to walk onto that boat together. I want to see how many drugs and guns are on that boat and find Jamal Harris."
Stacy pushed Don towards the door and opened it. Don tried wiggling his wrists free of the handcuffs. Stacy didn't care. The more he squirmed, the more the metal would dig into the skin on his wrists.
The door opened and the fog flowed in. Stacy squinted for a moment as her eyes adjusted to the milky-white light bathing the boat dock. From the distance, the wailing sounds of police sirens fractured the silence, sending a burst of excitement through Stacy. Backup was coming.
"Nice and slow, Don. If you take one step too far or try to run from me, they will be the last steps you take."
Don sauntered onto the dock. The bridge ladder had been pushed to the side in favor of a narrow crosswalk near the front of the boat. Don and Stacy would be able to board easily using the crosswalk. Once Don stepped onto the ship, the shift in weight sent the boat listing to the right and scraping against the boat dock.
Stacy climbed on behind him. The deck appeared clear, and Stacy looked around it in quick bursts, trying to gain a visual of the crates or maybe Jamal. The fog was thicker as it rose up from the river and settled around the deck. Stacy couldn't tell what was a fog-induced shadow and what was an actual object.
Stacy knew that Don knew the boat better than her, so she grabbed him by the elbow to stop his movements. She heard a noise. At her feet, a bright red life buoy had fallen from the wall near the bridge.
She held Don's arm and waited for the sounds of movement. Behind her, the police sirens drew closer. Stacy released her grip on the elbow and stuck the gun harder into Don's neck, indicating it was time to move forward.
They took two more steps before Stacy collided against something cold and hard. Don stepped ahead and Stacy put her hand in front of her, grabbing the object. They had run into the bridge ladder. Stacy looked up as Don's shadow faded away.
"Hey —" Something crashed into the side of her face, and her vision went black.
The next thing she felt was someone dragging her by the arms across the deck. The chipped, jagged-edged planks of the boat tore into her clothes and the skin on the small of her back.
Stacy tried screaming, tried muttering a sound, but her head throbbed with a resounding pain. She tried speaking again, but the synapses in her brain wouldn't formulate any words. The pain in her head and neck was so excruciating that she wanted to throw up.
"What do we do?" She recognized the voice. It was Don's partner.
"I don't know, but do you hear those sirens? The cops are coming."
"Fuck, man, I knocked out a cop?"
Don gave a sadistic laugh. "Appears so."
Those words made the pain in Stacy's face worse. She tried moving and screaming, but she only managed to mumble something she didn't even recognize.
"Do it now, Jimmy. Before she comes to. Then get me out of these handcuffs. I'll fire up the boat and we will speed down the channel into Lake Erie before the cops show up."
Stacy felt the weight of her body rock and shake. She felt weightless as the other man scooped her up from the boat deck and lifted her up.
Then, a sense of relief and freedom came for Stacy. For a moment, the pain in her head subsided, replaced with a sensation of listless flight.
She managed to open her eyes as her face crashed into the icy water of Cuyahoga River. Stacy belted out a scream, ingesting several gulps of icy water before everything went black again.
Stacy woke up with a gasp, pulling out the nasal cannula from her nose.
As she heaved and wheezed for breath, Stacy shook her head, realizing the stinging irritation in her lungs would pass. The pounding in her chest, created by a heart that had been charged into action after some time of inactivity, felt like it would burst from her sternum.
Time always stood still in those moments. The only fracturing of that stillness occurred as Stacy tried collecting her thoughts and asking herself a series of questions. Stacy knew questions, and she asked hundreds of them each week. But these questions took on a more urgent meaning when it involved sleep and breathing.
Stacy knew today was a weekday, but what day? what time? How long had she been asleep? Stacy racked her mind for answers as the splashes of pain in her lungs began to subside.
A narrow beam of sunlight sliced through an opening in the window blind, bathing a small patch of the bamboo flooring of the bedroom with light. When she had climbed into bed earlier, completely exhausted, the pale moon had been peeking at the city from between the stars.
Excerpted from "Code for Murder"
Copyright © 2017 Eliot Parker.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
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