Under his breath, he muttered an obscenity. “We’ll probably find out some jackass let off firecrackers.” Nonetheless, his hands were tight enough on the wheel for his knuckles to show white. If this was a legitimate call, it would give his mother nightmares.
Beside him, Nell Granstrom said in an odd voice, “I hear the dispatcher claims the woman was…‘mewling in fear.’ Her words. She was under her desk, whispering. Dispatch could hear bang, bang and yells.”
He shot her a disquieted glance. “Where’d you get this?”
Her shoulders moved. “Another dispatcher in the women’s locker room.”
Hugh swore again and forced his attention back to the road. Adrenaline surged, taking him to that hyper state any cop knew well. “Do we know how many shooters?” he asked.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her shake her head. She was looking tense, craning her neck to see ahead where a cordon was already being set up. Hugh wondered if she was scared. He hadn’t heard rumors about her cracking under pressure, but any time a guy had to hook up with a new partner, he wondered. Especially when that new partner was a woman who liked to understand the psychology of the scumbags she arrested, who had sympathy because of their tough beginnings.
She and Connor would get along fine, he thought. His brother had abandoned police work for graduate school at the University of Washington in psychology. Having finished his master’s degree a year ago, Connor McLean now counseled kids, specializing in those who’d been sexually abused.
Hugh figured people more interested in the complex inner life of victims or perps than in justice probably belonged out of uniform. Connor had been a good cop, but he’d always had worrisome leanings. The way he’d met his wife had toppled him right over. It was just as well he was off the force.
The convoy had slowed to a crawl, using the middle lane to bypass the blocked civilian traffic that clogged the streets. Downtown had turned into a circus of honking horns, yelling commuters, blaring sirens and flashing lights.
One of the officers on the scene waved Hugh to a place inside the cordon. He and Granstrom got out and crouched behind the back bumper, weapons drawn. They weren’t alone. Forty cops or more, all heavily armed, were ready to go in.
If some idiot had set off firecrackers, he was going to be damn sorry.
The Joplin Building housed The Greater Northwest Insurance Company, Windermere Real Estate and a title company. Greater Northwest took up the top four floors of the stylish six-story building erected in the twenties and remodeled for new tenants just a few years back. Hugh couldn’t hear any gunfire over the sirens and shouted voices out here. Sunlight glinted off windows. The July morning was already hot, and he was sweating in the vest.
Becoming impatient, tension building to an unbearable pitch, he rose to a bent-over position. “I’ll go find out the word,” he said, relieved to have an excuse to leave his new partner.
She nodded, her frowning gaze trained on the Joplin Building. Irrationally, he was annoyed that she didn’t seem to like to look at him any more than he did at her.
He hadn’t gone two steps before orders came down the line that SWAT team members were moving in, and other officers were to play backup. Dispatch said the woman on the phone thought the gunman had left or killed himself. She hadn’t heard shots for the past four or five minutes. She’d been advised to stay under the desk and keep quiet.
Going back to crouch again behind his car, Hugh said tersely, “We get the side door to the north. Let’s move.”
Two teams of ten cleared the first two floors, checking empty offices, evacuating the silent, dark, locked rooms where terrified secretaries and computer entry clerks huddled. They were sent scuttling down the halls and out the exit doors to run sobbing for the police cordon.
The two teams formed again at the north and south staircases that led up to the third floor, where The Greater Northwest Insurance Office’s reception area was. Hugh led one group, which moved silently up the north staircase, pausing at the steel door painted with a large numeral three.
At his nod, Granstrom yanked it open and he went in, weapon at the ready. The long hallway was eerily silent. Four doors down, a body lay sprawled halfway out. It was a woman in a white blouse soaked with blood, her eyes wide and staring.
Nobody said a word, but Hugh felt the wave of shock. His father had died like this, some crazy opening fire and taking out a bunch of people at the bank. Hugh remembered his mother’s grief and impotent anger at a failed police investigation better than he did his father. Yellowed newspaper articles collected in a scrapbook had been his childhood bible.
Thou shalt be a cop, and do it better than it has been done.
He gave his head an irritated shake. He was on the job, no place for emotion.
Granstrom covered him when he went into the first office. Empty.
The second one, she went into first. He heard a whispered imprecation as he followed. He couldn’t even blame her. The man behind the desk had taken multiple shots to the face. The result was hideous.
In the next office he heard a sound. “Police. Come out,” he said in a taut voice.
A sob was muffled. Silence built, thick enough to make air hard to breathe. Terror did that.
Hugh and his new partner exchanged a glance.
“We’re police officers,” Granstrom said, her voice soft. “You’re safe now.”
Still silence. Then the door to a metal cabinet quivered, inched open. A woman, face soaked with tears, stared wild-eyed from a fetal position inside.
Nell Granstrom gently drew her out and ushered her from the office. A backup team led her away.
The next hour had a nightmarish quality. They found body after body, all shot. Weapons had been discarded as the ammunition was spent. An AK-47 lay in the hall, an M-2 carbine converted into a full automatic weapon was just outside the elevator on the fourth floor. The smell of death was sickening, the wounded, keening in agony, more upsetting than the dead. Each grisly new sight overlaid the last. His mind took snapshots he knew he’d never be able to discard: the way the blood beaded and pooled on the oatmeal-colored berber carpet, the look of a man shot in the face, the whimpering primal terror of a young woman being helped outside, the blank, shell-shocked expressions on the faces of his fellow cops. And the sounds…God, the sounds. The screams, the bubbly breaths torturously dragged into a ruined chest, the tiny rustles or whimpers that gave away survivors.
Hugh had seen terrible deaths on Highway 101. The worst was a whole family—mother, father and two kids—killed by a drunk driver who hit their little foreign car head-on. But the drunk hadn’t killed them one at a time, looking into their eyes, soaking in their fear. He hadn’t meant to hurt anyone.
Someone here had meant to hurt as many people as possible. He hadn’t cared about the widows he made, the kids who would grow up without a mother or father.
Hugh and Nell did their job grimly, silently, not stopping long enough to react or think, because they might not have been able to go on. He kept expecting to see a dead face he knew. What if some of the cops had family or friends who worked here?
On the fifth floor, they found no injured and only two bodies, the first just outside the elevators with a single small caliber hole in his temple. A Beretta lay near the middle-aged man in a business suit. In one of the first offices another worker was dead, sprawled over his desk as if he’d been standing behind it. This one had been killed by a handgun as well. Had the shooter been running out of ammunition? Hugh wondered. He’d expended a firestorm to get this far. Where was he?
A rustling sound brought Hugh whirling to face a partition. Damn it, he was getting careless. He jerked his head, and Granstrom silently circled the room to where the movable partition met the wall.
Standing behind a metal filing cabinet, Hugh said,