Authors: Wendy Byrne
Old assassin habits kicked into gear, and Max took off in the direction he'd seen the three head. They couldn't have gotten far. His heart pumped as that killer instinct that would always reside in him rose to the surface. He spotted three figures who looked about the right size. All wore jeans, gym shoes, and hoodies. Juveniles, he'd guess.
If they were the ones, they were no longer running. Instead, they had huddled together under a streetlight near one of the subways. There was arguing between the three, evidenced by raised voices and shouting. But everything about them matched what'd he'd committed to memory.
Before he could get too close, they spotted him and dispersed, two going one way and one taking off on his own. One of the twosome turned and fired a gun, missing him by a couple of feet, which only spurred Max on. He couldn't capture all three, so he went after the closest one.
The kid wore a black hoodie pulled tight and covering his hair. Jeans and a pair of gym shoes gave him the advantage over Max's dress boots. But he had vengeance on his side and was closing the gap between them.
The kid stutter-stepped and glanced behind him. "Liar."
Just another few feet… Max reached with his left hand and snagged the hood of the kid's sweatshirt. The kid tried to wiggle free. When that didn't work, he unzipped it, slipped it off his shoulders, and threw it to the ground.
Max surged closer before tackling him. His body hit the sidewalk, and the resultant pain rattled his bones. But he managed to hold on while the kid tried to squirm away. "Why?" The word rasped from his throat.
Max grabbed the kid by the T-shirt and yanked him to a standing position. Both their breaths were labored as they stared at each other. A million thoughts exploded inside Max's brain, most of which centered on a past he'd hoped to outrun.
Before he could formulate words to put together the thoughts, a blue-and-white screeched to the curb ten feet away. "What's going on here?" The cop got out of the squad car and lumbered over. "Let the kid go."
Max worked his jaw. He refused to look at the cop, instead keeping his focus on the kid.
"I said let the kid go." The cop pried Max's fingers off the kid's T-shirt.
"He and his friends killed somebody near the Museum of Modern Art." His voice sounded more like a growl, even to him.
"Both of you, turn around. The detective working the scene can figure this out."
"There's nothing to figure. I saw what happened. And they killed my friend," Max said as the cop clinked cuffs onto both of them.
"I didn't kill anybody," the kid said as the cop ushered them into the backseat of the squad car.
"Then why the hell did you run from me?" Max couldn't think rationally when the weight of guilt over what had happened to Damon seemed to overshadow everything else.
"Tell it to Detective Collini." The cop closed the doors and got behind the wheel. Before he started up the car, he relayed information via some kind of computer system inside.
Being stuck in the back of a cop car with a kid who just killed his friend would have made most men irate. Instead, Max became calculating.
He stared at the kid as he cowered against the door. If he had to guess, the kid was sixteen or so. With his short black hair, no tattoos, and no gang colors, he looked like he came from a respectable middle-class family. That didn't mean he wasn't involved, only that he didn't have any of the obvious signs.
But he was at the time and place of the shooting. That meant he was involved somehow.
The gravity of the situation revisited as Max spotted the red ambulance lights whirling. Five cop cars along with an unmarked car were double-parked outside the museum. His stomach roiled in anticipation of what was to come.
Questions he didn't want to answer. Questions that made the guilt rise inside his chest until he wanted to scream.
The cop came around and opened Max's door, assisting him out before he went to the other side to get the kid out. He escorted them through the crowd toward a woman who currently had her back to them, talking to someone and jotting down notes. As if she had eyes in the back of her head, she spoke without even turning around. "Separate the two of them. Bring the juvenile to the other side of the building and keep the gentlemen that chased him down here. And take off his cuffs."
Finally she turned her attention toward Max. The hint of familiarity clanked around his brain. He'd seen her before.
She had long, dark, curly hair that came to the middle of her back and a take-charge attitude. She wore a Yankees sweatshirt, a pair of jeans, and tennis shoes. He guessed her to be around five foot seven, slender, and somewhere around thirty years old. Judging by the deference with which the other cops were treating her, he'd guess she must be the detective in charge.
"Officer Teems said you know the victim. Is that true?" She didn't bother to look him in the eye as she asked the question. Instead, she kept her nose buried in that notebook she scribbled in.
"Yes." Emotion clogged his throat as he fought through the words. "Damon Rice. I was…talking…to him on the phone…when…" Max drew his hands through his hair as a whole host of emotions he didn't want to think about swirled through his brain.
His gaze was riveted on the scene to his left, where the paramedics were working over Damon. Maybe he was wrong. Hope sprang for the briefest of seconds inside his chest. "Is he alive?"
She glanced at him for the first time when she spoke. "I'm afraid not." Her voice had a detached edge to it, but her eyes held a hint of compassion. "Why did you leave the scene like that?"
Max shook his head. The unemotional tone in the woman's voice unnerved him as much as it pissed him off. "Let me get this straight. You're giving me attitude instead of thanking me for tracking down one of the punks who's responsible?"
"Careful, Mr.…" She glanced up from her notes to stare at him. "I'm sorry—I didn't catch your name." She gave him the once-over and grimaced.
"Max Shaw." He folded his hands across his chest and stared back at her. "I'm not sure where the officer took the kid. But he should be your focus, not me."
"Last I checked, I was running this investigation, not you." She rolled her eyes. "Now why don't you tell me what you saw so we can get to the real facts of the case instead of you jawing at me?"
Max closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. What happened to Damon was his fault. Just like with his siblings. If it weren't for him, they wouldn't have become ensnared in Petrovich's web. What was the adage? He needed to keep making the same mistake until he figured out the solution.
He needed to focus.
Somebody was after him. Were they after his siblings as well? He couldn't speculate right now.
Questioning what he'd done to deserve this kind of retribution was a no-brainer. He'd killed a couple dozen people. He'd like to blame Petrovich, but there must have been something in him that allowed him to be okay with it.
He clicked off his list of the hits he'd perpetrated during his tenure with the man. Retribution could be coming from a relative from any number of victims. It wouldn't be difficult to find him, even though he'd been in the United States for nearly eight years now.
It didn't matter. Apparently somebody had decided it was payback time.
Hearing his name called brought him out of the machinations going on inside his head. The sooner he found the guilty party, the better.
"Yes." He focused on the detective, who looked at him like he was a wad of gum she wanted to scrape off her shoes.
"I'm confused. The guy who was killed was Max Shaw. That's what it said on his name tag."
He pointed a shaky finger to the body the paramedics were covering in a bag. "I told you. That's my friend Damon Rice. He attended a benefit as me tonight."
"Why's that?" She had her pen poised over that damn notebook.
"I had a playoff ticket for the Rangers and asked him to go in my place." He was already tired of her questions, especially since he'd secured one of the culprits and she was letting the others get away.
"I still don't understand."
He drew in a deep breath as patience became a dwindling commodity. "I wasn't going to go, so I offered to let him go in my place. He accepted. Why aren't you asking your officers to go after the other two who got away?" His breath remained labored as he struggled between adrenaline and despair to right his emotional rollercoaster.
"You're sure the one you caught is one of the three men who did this?"
"Yes." He narrowed his gaze. "If you won't do your job, let me."
"And what is it you do, Mr. Shaw?" Without waiting for him to respond, she continued, "Are you a federal agent?"
He ground his molars together. "No, I'm a trader on Wall Street." He wanted to tear his hair out, or maybe hers, because his blood wouldn't stop pumping full throttle through his body. "You're letting them get away."
"Why the hell should I calm down? My friend was murdered, and you're standing around writing in that notebook of yours instead of going after the bad guys. If this is how you normally solve cases, I can't believe you're still a detective."
"I won't tell you what stocks to buy and sell, and you won't tell me how to run a murder investigation."
"Then do your damn job instead of focusing on me." He growled and tried to intimidate her with his size. But that wasn't happening. Based on the way she carried herself, he got the sense that this woman didn't back down. Maybe ever.
"I've sent some officers in that direction. They'll see what they can find."
He swore and shook his head. "I could have had them."
"Or you could have been killed as well."
He couldn't shake off the thought of his part in Damon's death. He should have gone to the benefit himself, and none of this would have happened. While he might be a little rusty, he could have taken on the three of them without much trouble. "Let me go."
"Not on your life. I can't have you going off like some kind of vigilante. That's not the way we do things around here."
"Maybe that explains why the NYPD murder conviction rate is in the toilet."
"Good one. But the same is not true for me." Her voice softened, but her steely gaze didn't lessen. "I understand your frustration, but nobody goes off half-cocked on my watch." She drew the hair away from her face with a clip she pulled out of her pocket. The memory of seeing her before bubbled into awareness.
A couple of months ago he'd spotted her through the open doors of a room opposite from the one where he'd been attending a charity event. Standing on the stage in a long red dress that hugged every inch of her body to perfection, she was difficult to ignore.
"Hey, Phil, do you know what's going on in that room?" He pointed across the hall to where he'd spotted the babe in the red dress.
"Some sort of police benefit, I think."
"That woman's a cop?" He gave her one last look and shook his head. Prior to that second, he'd had every intention of running into her sometime tonight and taking her out for a drink or two. "Are you sure?" A cop and a former assassin would never work, even if it were only for drinks and a roll in the hay.
"I'm pretty sure they all are. Melissa warned me when I booked the room that we needed to be on our best behavior tonight."
"Why is it that all the cops I ever run into are named Guido and are about a hundred pounds overweight?"
Max remembered that night all too well.
* * *
Gianna Collini had heard the name Max Shaw before. He always seemed to get his pic in the society pages of the paper. And maybe that meant he thought he could run her investigation. But it didn't work that way. There were plenty of wealthy people in Manhattan. That didn't mean he or anyone else could tell her what to do and when to do it.
She shook her head. Save her from rich socialites thinking they knew about what she should and shouldn't do. In her opinion, they watched too many
Law & Order
episodes for their own good. They all thought crimes got solved in an hour, like on TV. Not a one of them knew much beyond being a pain in the ass twenty-four seven. She'd be shocked if this one didn't complain to the mayor about the way she did things. Nine times out of ten, people in this guy's social stratum were BFFs with the mayor.
Nights were never slow in Manhattan, but this took the cake. Her brother, Michael, or Mick, as she usually called him, wasn't answering her calls, which put her in a bitch of a mood. He was sixteen now, and she'd nearly finished her mothering role with him, but the last couple of years had been brutal. He'd started hanging around with the wrong crowd, and she was up to her eyeballs trying to keep tabs on him.
Now this Wall Street bozo thought he could tell her what to do. She knew his type. He thought his money and cuteness was the magical elixir to make him know everything. She cut the guy a break only because he looked like hell. His friend's death was hitting him hard.
"Okay, let's start over again. What do you know about what happened to Mr. Rice?"
"Damon is…" He cleared his throat. Emotion evidenced itself in his tight jaw. "
my friend. We were talking on the phone when I heard him getting hassled. I—"
"What did you overhear, Mr. Shaw?" There were pieces of information missing, and he wasn't saying.
"I can't remember the exact words. Something like 'take my money,' or something to that effect." He drew his fingers through his hair.
"Is that all?"
"That's all I can remember. I was on my way to meet him for drinks when I spotted the scuffle and came running."
She took in his attire. Dress shirt and tie, dress pants, wool overcoat. Not a jersey peeking beneath his coat. His Bruno Magli boots cost more than she made in a week. Not the way she or anyone she hung with dressed for hockey games.
"I don't get it. You're at a Rangers playoff game that's gone into overtime, and you randomly call your friend to meet him for a drink instead of finishing up the game? Something about that scenario stinks, if you ask me."