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Pinned down behind his car with someone shooting at him from across the street was not how Omega Sector agent Derek Waterman had planned to spend his afternoon. He wasn't exactly sure how he had planned to spend his afternoon, but this was definitely not it.
Derek slid closer to the ground as a bullet whizzed past his head and shattered the concrete behind him.
Whoa. Too close.
The saving grace in this situation was at least the entire block was empty of any innocent bystanders. No upstanding citizen had much reason to be in this section of West Philly. The less upstanding citizens had exited when Derek and his team had shown up, obviously law enforcement, and the shooting had started.
"Uh, what exactly was the intel you got on this place again, Derek?" Jon Hatton asked from where he was also pinned down a few feet away. Although highly trained in weapons and combat as all Omega Sector's Critical Response agents were, Jon was primarily a behavior analyst in the Crisis Management Unit.
"What's the matter? You having problems remembering how to use your weapon, Jon? Too much analyzing, not enough action in your life?" Liam Goetz, the other team member, smacked his gum and grinned. As a member of Omega's Hostage Rescue team, no one ever asked Liam if he remembered how to use a weapon. Liam had pretty much been born with one in his hand.
"I'm just asking to see if there is any sort of plan here besides hide behind the car until the bad guys run out of ammo," Jon responded. "Which, at the rate they're shooting, should be sometime next week."
True, the number of shots being fired at them seemed to be dwindling. The people in the building obviously weren't trying to kill Derek and his team, just keep them pinned. But damned if this entire situation wasn't starting to piss Derek off.
The empty apartment building across the street gave the enemy the tactical advantage. That advantage wasn't something Derek, as the lead tactical team specialist of Omega's SWAT generally gave up.
But the intel they'd received on this location had required an immediate response. Time for tactical analysis hadn't been available. Thus, the taking cover behind their SUV as the bullets flew by their heads.
Derek had moved in on this location so quickly because it had been the first substantial lead pertaining to a terrorist attack on Chicago two weeks earlier. A bombing that had killed or injured over five hundred people.
None of the leads Omega had followed up on until nowand there had been hundreds of themhad provided any useful intel. Each location had been totally cold.
Another bullet flew by. This location definitely wasn't cold.
"All right, to hell with this." Derek looked over at Liam. "Jon and I will lay down cover-fire. You head around to the back of the building."
Liam was grinning like an idiot. He loved this sort of thing, danger be damned. "Now you're talking."
Derek nodded. "Remember, we need them alive, if at all possible."
"Hey, it's me!" Liam actually winked at them. "I wouldn't hurt a fly."
Derek rolled his eyes and heard Jon groan under his breath as Liam made his way down the line of abandoned cars parked on the street. Still using their SUV for as much cover as possible, Derek and Jon began firing their weapons toward the abandoned building, hoping to draw any return-fire back at them and away from Liam.
But there were no shots at all coming at them from the house.
Derek looked over at Jon. "Again."
Using the hood to brace his arm, Derek fired three shots at the house while Jon did the same from the rear of the vehicle. Still no return-fire. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Liam make it across the street at the side of the building. No shots were fired at him, either.
The bad guys weren't in the building anymore; they must be on the run. Whoever had been shooting at them just a few moments ago was Omega's best lead in Chicago's terrorist attack. They were the only lead. And now they were about to get away.
"Move in, but be careful," Derek said to Jon as they made their way forward, weapons still raised.
Derek was reaching for the knob of the door, Jon covering him from a cross angle when they heard a rapid burst of gunfire from the back of the building where Liam had been heading.
Both men backed out of the doorway and sprinted around the building without a word. Each of them knew that getting inside was secondary to helping Liam if he was under fire. As they rounded the building, Derek was relieved to see Liam unharmed, chasing a suspect farther down the road behind the apartment building. Derek and Jon continued running to catch up with them. Helping capture a known suspect was better than sticking around for what may or may not be in the house.
"Stay with them," Derek told Jon, then made a sharp turn. He would run down a parallel side street and try to cut off the runner. He forced more speed out of his legs.
As he made a sharp turn around the next group of buildings, Derek saw the perp slowing down with Liam only a few yards behind him, Jon just beyond that.
It was obvious Liam was going to catch the guy at any moment, and the perp knew it, too. He fired his weapon at the Omega agents behind his back in some haphazard fashion without even stopping his run, but the bullets didn't come anywhere near either of them.
Derek turned again and began running toward them.
"Stop!" he called out to the man, and saw distress wash over his face. The man stopped running altogether, sliding to an awkward stop.
"You're under arrest," Derek continued between breaths. "Place the gun on the ground and put your hands on your head."
The man turned around, frantically looking for another way out, but didn't put his gun down. All the Omega agents gripped their weapons tighter. Nobody wanted to shoot this suspect, he was too important. But they would if necessary. Especially if he turned his weapon on them rather than where it currently lay in his hand pointing at the ground.
"Put your weapon down," Derek repeated. He nodded toward the ground with his forehead, as the man turned back in his direction. "Do you understand? All we want to do is ask you some questions."
That wasn't entirely true, but Derek just wanted to get the man's gun out of his hand.
The man nodded and Derek eased his finger off the trigger just the slightest bit. But then, almost as if it was in slow motion, and before any of them could react, the guy brought his gun up to his own temple and fired. He crumpled to the ground, dead instantly.
Derek's curse was vile. Jon rushed up to the man and crouched down to take his pulse at the wrist, but Derek knew it was too late.
Their best leadtheir only leadhad just blown his brains out rather than be taken into custody.
He looked over at Jon and Liam. "We need to call this in. Omega and local PD."
Liam already had his phone out. "On it."
"Okay, stay with the body until they get here." Derek turned back toward the house. "Jon, let's go see if there's anything in the house. Maybe we'll get lucky."
They hadn't gone more than a few steps before they smelled it. Smoke, coming from the building the potential terrorist had just vacated.
If possible, Derek's curse was even more vile. A burned house would destroy all possible evidence. The poor dead guy had probably just been a decoy to lure the Omega team away so whoever was left could start the fire.
Jon and Derek sprinted back to the house. Smoke was pouring out of the windows. If they were going to be able to salvage anything useful, they'd have to do it in a hurry. As safely as possible, Derek opened the back door, throwing a latex glove onto one hand to grab anything that might be useful for the investigation. Then he took off his jacket to use as a filter over his mouth.
Inside, everything was in flames. Whoever had been here had used some sort of accelerating agent, probably gasoline, to make the place burn more quickly. Bending low under the smoke, he and Jon made their way farther inside.
They'd been in the house less than a minute, squinting their way through the smoke and heat, when Jon pulled on Derek's shoulder, gesturing back toward the door. Jon was right. This was too dangerous. They needed answers about the terrorist attack, but it wasn't worth either of them losing their lives.
Derek saw a few pieces of some sort of computer hardware sitting broken on the floor. He crawled to them, wincing as his hand was burned picking up the more substantial pieces and placing them inside his jacket pocket. Jon was pulling on him again and Derek could feel the hairs singeing on his arms from the heat. It was time to go.
As they rushed to get out, Derek saw something just under the layer of smoke lying near the edge of the kitchen table. It looked like some sort of communication device, or maybe some sort of drive, about half the size of a cell phone. Derek pushed Jon toward the door, then dropped to his hands and knees to crawl to it. The smoke was now too heavy to remain upright. Derek smelled the putrid stench of burning flesh just before he felt pain on his shoulders and back. He was too close to the heat and it was burning his skin. He grabbed the device and wrapped it in his jacket, then began crawling for the door.
Or at least he hoped he was crawling in the direction of the door. He could no longer see in the smoke. Breathing was becoming damn near impossible. Derek kept crawling forward.
Hands reached from in front of him, grabbed him under the armpits and dragged him out of the building and into blessed clean and cool air.
"You are one stubborn son of a bitch," Jon murmured to him as he dragged Derek down the three steps onto the ground.
"I'm okay," Derek wheezed out, crawling a few more steps before sprawling on the ground. The pain in his back and shoulders was uncomfortable, but not excruciating. His lungs, though, felt seared. Both men lay, watching the building burn for long minutes, Derek's lungs finally feeling a bit of ease as he continued to breathe clean air. Eventually he could hear the sirens signaling the firefighters' arrival.
"I hope you got something in there," Jon told him, obviously hearing the sirens, too. "Because the only thing that destroys evidence quicker than fire"
"Is extinguishing it," Derek finished for him. Water, foam, the firemen themselves. All were hell on evidence.
"I think I might have gotten something important." Still lying in the mostly dead grass of a lawn that hadn't seen proper care for decades, Derek explained about the communication device. "We need to get it back to the lab so Molly can try to recover information from it."
Jon snickered. "Uh, o-o-okay, D-Derek." The stuttering was completely for show.
Sitting up, Derek rolled his eyes. "Shut up, Jon. She's not that bad." Derek knew he shouldn't try to defend Molly Humphries, the forensic lab director. Yeah, the pretty pathologist tended to get a little tongue-tied around Derek. But the more he tried to defend her to his colleagues when they mentioned itwhich was as often as damn possiblethe worse everyone teased.
Jon smiled. "Hey, you know I like sweet Molly as much as anyone. But I have to admit that watching her go from the most intelligent scientist I know to a blushing, stammering schoolgirl around you is one of my favorite pastimes."
"Shut up, Jon," Derek repeated. "Just focus on the case."
Jon was wise enough not to say anything else about Molly Humphries.
Both Jon and Derek were seen by paramedics as they waited for the firefighters to finish their job. Derek was decreed as suffering from first-degree burns on his shoulders and smoke inhalation, but didn't require further medical attention. As he and Jon watched the firefighters work diligently, neither held out much hope of finding any further evidence. They would still check.
Liam joined them once local law enforcement came to pick up the body of the guy who had shot himself. Liam had taken the dead man's prints and his weapon, as well as a sample of the man's DNA. The body would be delivered to the Omega morgue later. All the items Liam had collected would go straight back to the lab.
A dead suspect, a burnt building and a few broken pieces of possible evidence. All in all a pretty terrible day. Definitely not any closer to solving the terrorist attack on Chicago. And Derek knew they were going to get chewed out again for it. Govermentaltype bigwigs all the way up the food chain were demanding answers for the bombing. Derek was scheduled to provide an update to a committee via teleconference in just a few hours.
Derek wasn't looking forward to that. Especially not now, with nothing to show.
Derek's only hope now was that Molly, with all her magic in her lab, could salvage something out of this mess. Molly had saved Derek before. He prayed she could do it again.
Molly Humphries caught a look at her shoes as she carried an armful of case files across the lab to her desk. How she hated her sensible shoes. They were flat, unimaginative and
well, just sensible. Plain and brown.
That her shoes were a symbolic reflection of her personal life was not lost on Molly.
She had no idea why the shoes were offending her so much on this particular day, when she'd been wearing them every day for over six months. They'd faithfully seen her through long weeks at the lab where she'd sometimes put in sixty or seventy hours a week. Her shoes got the job done, gave her no cause for complaints and never drew attention to themselves for the wrong reasons.
Oh man, the metaphors just kept coming, didn't they?
She should be thankful for her shoes now, for their comfort and sensibleness, since she'd already been on her feet for ten hours, and the day wasn't close to over. Molly loved her job as director of Omega Critical Response Division's main forensic lab here in Colorado Springs. Her work was challenging and fulfilling. Molly excelled at it, both as one of the leading pathologists in the country and as supervisor of the dozen people who worked daily in the lab.