“Is—is he gone?” The man’s voice cracked.
“Please come out where I can see you.”
After a long pause, a disheveled man in the ubiquitous white shirt and tie edged around the partition. Sweat dripped down his face and his gaze darted around the room. He flinched at the sight of his colleague.
“God!” he whispered. “I heard the shot….”
“Did you see the shooter?” Granstrom asked.
He shook his head. A sob wracked his body. “I hid. God help me, I hid. I should have tried to do something.”
“Unless you were armed, there wasn’t anything you could do,” Granstrom said quietly. “Hiding was smart. Now, sir, I’m going to ask you to exit the building. Officers in the hall will take you down.”
After one last shocked look at the corpse, he stumbled out docilely.
Granstrom rejoined Hugh, her face set. “Sixth floor, here we come.”
He grunted. “I can hardly wait.”
Thou shalt do it better, but he hadn’t. None of them had, or history wouldn’t have replayed itself.
NELL SWAYED, almost falling out of the booth onto the tavern floor. Her new partner saved her, his grip drawing her back to his side.
He was a good guy, she thought woozily. A really good guy. Today they’d gone through hell together. Or was it yesterday? She couldn’t remember. Just like she couldn’t remember why she’d hated him yesterday. Or was it the day before?
Didn’t matter. She laid her cheek against his arm. She’d been wrong. Hugh McLean was the best man ever. She nodded solemnly and tipped slowly forward toward the tabletop.
“Whoa,” he said, setting her upright again.
Best man ever. She could tell he felt the same. Why else would he keep putting his arm around her? Maybe they’d stay partners forever. A vague image of them chasing a bad guy, both of them toddling along with walkers, struck her as hilariously funny. She told him, and pretty soon he was laughing, too. Both of them howled until they were crying and lying in the corner of the booth, with her half atop him.
Their drinking mates, Officers Redding and Gardner, gazed at them in bleary approval.
“Don’t know wha’ was so funny,” one of them remarked. “But it musht have been real good.”
The other nodded solemnly.
Nell and Hugh laughed harder.
“I think I want to go home,” she tried to say, but it came out all slurred.
Up close, his blue eyes were brilliant. Maybe a little bloodshot, she thought critically, but then they’d both been awake for…almost a whole twenty-four hours. She thought. She was trying very hard not to remember why.
Some part of her knew she was going to be very sorry tomorrow that she’d had so many beers. But right now she didn’t care. So what if she got sick, Nell thought defiantly. It was better than…Well, than something. She didn’t let herself think what.
“Me, too,” he agreed. “But whosh gonna drive ush home?”
Her forehead furrowed in thought. “We could go get in the car,” she suggested.
“Okay.” He didn’t move, and she continued to lie comfortably on him. “You feel good.”
She thought about that, too, and nodded. “I feel good. You’re right. But howz…how do you know?”
“You feel good here—” he squeezed her butt “—and here—” his other hand cupped her breast. “Thash how.”
“Oh.” She listened to his heartbeat. “You feel good, too. Right here.” She laid a hand on his chest. She used to not like him, but he’d always had a good chest, broad and well-muscled and, she knew now, hot to the touch.
“Lesh go to the car.” He heaved them both upright. “Good night, good morning, good day,” he told Redding and Gardner. Enunciating clearly, he added, “We’re going home.”
“Don’t drive drunk,” Redding said, which set them to laughing so hard Gardner was banging his forehead on the table.
They wove their way among tables of cops, some coming on shift and drinking coffee, staring incredulously at the others. The parking lot was dark, but paler light tinted the skyline. Dawn. Last dawn, she’d been heading into the station to find out who her new partner would be. By 8:30 a.m., he and she had been in the squad car, lights on, heading to…
A barrage of images flickered behind her eyelids. Pools and splatters of blood. Body bags. Faces contorted in agony. A faceless…
No! She stopped dead and said carefully, “Maybe I need another beer.”
“We’re going to the car,” Hugh reminded her.
“Oh.” They were, weren’t they? That’s why they were standing in the middle of the parking lot. “Where’s the car?” she asked.
He frowned and turned in a slow circle. “Don’t know.”
“I have a car,” Nell said. She did remember that much. They’d returned to the station and left separately, in their own vehicles, they and a dozen others agreeing to meet at the Green Lantern after their debriefing to drown their hideous day.
“Where?” Hugh asked.
She thought. “Don’t know. Let’s jush…just look.”
They found his in the alley, next to the Dumpster. He produced keys from his pocket and unlocked the Explorer, boosting her into the passenger side. His hands lingered on her bottom, a pleasant sensation.
Inside, he pushed the automatic lock. “Can’t drive,” he said, after gazing in apparent perplexity at the ignition and dashboard.
“No,” she agreed.
“Got a blanket in back.” He looked delighted at the recollection. “We could sleep.”
She was getting sleepy. Very sleepy. Only, every time her eyelids closed, she saw…She widened her eyes. “Maybe,” Nell said doubtfully.
Cuddling sounded nice. “You feel good,” she told him.
He hoisted her between the seats. Her hips got stuck, and while he was pushing his thumbs exerted delicious pressure between her legs. She almost pretended to stay stuck.
He fell on her when he followed. Crushed on the seat, his weight on her, Nell contentedly wrapped her arms around him. After a while, his mouth moved on her cheek. “Feel good,” he murmured.
“Mm-hm,” she agreed.
Somehow his lips found hers. Normally she didn’t like the taste of beer on a man, but now she tasted of beer, too, so it was all right. This was a good kiss, slow, sweet, exploratory. She was able to close her eyes and think about the sensations his lips and tongue created in her instead of seeing those images she prayed she could forget.
The tinted windows of his Explorer created a dark, private world, a bubble enclosing just the two of them.
The kiss heated, and she tugged his shirt free from his pants and reveled in the sleek contours of his back. Muscles danced under her hands. She liked provoking a reaction. When she moved her hands around to his chest it was even better.
He had unbuttoned her shirt, she discovered with approval. He was making pleased sounds at the sight of her bra, a tiny scrap of lace that helped her feel feminine even in the unbecoming uniform styled and cut for men. She worked at unbuttoning his shirt while he suckled her breasts.
Nell was beginning to feel somewhat less fuzzy. A new urgency replaced the lazy abdication of responsibility. But when her hips pressed up against his, there was a clanking sound and she cried, “Ouch!” when something sharp-edged dug into her thigh.
“Damn,” he muttered, and pulled back. He looked down at her, his face taut