Authors: Wendy Byrne
"What's your problem, man?" the guy said and dared Max with his gaze.
First Max noted the gangster tattoo teardrop outside the guy's eye. He'd either killed before or had been raped in prison. Didn't matter. For right now, the guy's hands were trapped inside his pockets, where Max spotted what looked like an outline of a gun.
His heart sped up as they neared the end of the escalator. This was going to get tricky.
"Who sent you?" Max grumbled.
"This dude is crazy," the guy said to anyone who would listen, which pretty much amounted to zero. This was Manhattan. Nobody wanted to get involved.
"What's in your pocket, then?"
The guy's eyes went wide before he straightened his shoulders as they approached the end of the escalator. "You need to watch who you piss off."
When they hit the end of the tread, Max hit the guy with a solid right then left. He was probably ten or so years younger than Max but had some formidable street-fighting skills as he hit Max with an uppercut. They crashed into a display case before he tackled Max and brought him to the ground. The gun in the guy's pocket came out and skidded along the floor out of reach. A collective gasp traveled through the crowd, and he suspected somebody called 9-1-1. It wouldn't be long. And he needed information. Quick.
No doubt the onlookers were shocked at a guy in a Hugo Boss suit getting down on the ground with a guy who wore a sweatshirt and baseball cap. Leverage was impossible on the ground. They exchanged punches. Blood oozed into his mouth when the guy landed a hit to Max's jaw.
A whistle sounding, along with shouting, broke into his awareness. The guy used the opportunity to skirt through the crowd and run through the door. Max took off after him but lost him within a few blocks once he hit Third Avenue.
No doubt camera phones had captured the moment for prosperity. He could only hope it wouldn't lead to some kind of charges being leveled against him. He rolled back his shoulders and continued walking down the street before he snatched a cab for a ride into Brooklyn. He'd seen that guy before. He was betting that was where he might get some answers.
Once again he hung out by the school, letting his duties as a trader fall to the wayside for a couple of hours. He kept his phone open for any alerts from Amanda, but he planned on getting the job done from afar for the foreseeable future.
The lunch bell went off, and the students piled outside, gravitating to local fast food places. Seconds later Mick appeared, his hands stuck into the black hoodie covering his blue shirt and tie. Max waited outside when Mick ducked into a small grocery store.
While he waited for the kid to come back outside, he took in the scene. Everyone in the neighborhood seemed to be engaged in normal lunchtime activities on a beautiful spring day—moms walking babies in strollers, teens chatting in groups while they munched on food. Nothing seemed unusual.
At least until he spotted her. She wore tight black jeans and a loose-fitting sweatshirt top, with a hoodie covering her hair. The good detective was in disguise and spying on her own brother. If she weren't so focused on her brother, she would have spotted Max long ago.
He examined her body language and spotted anxiousness in the way she fidgeted as she watched the storefront. Based on that alone, he knew this wasn't about her brother picking up a sandwich for lunch. Did they run numbers out of there? Or were they selling drugs out of the place? Maybe there was something else going on there he wasn't privy to.
Before he could contemplate the matter any further, the kid rushed outside and started running. His sister charged after him, and Max brought up the rear.
The detective caught up with her brother about a half block from the school. She was doing that finger-pointing thing at him. The way the kid's head kept shifting back and forth as if looking for something or someone made Max believe the kid was scared of something besides his sister.
She grabbed the kid's arm. He shook her off and jutted out his chin. Even still, his expression remained a mixture of fear and anger. Her expression and body language told Max her nerves were frayed. Something big had happened, but at this point he could only speculate.
Every time the kid went to walk away, she'd grab his arm and yank him back toward her. It seemed that neither of them was willing to let the other have the last word—or maybe he wasn't responding to the questions she asked.
Finally, a bell rang at the school, and kids loitering outside made a beeline for the door. Mick did the same after a few more words from his sister, accompanied by yet another pointing-finger gesture.
In order to find out if what just went down had anything to do with his search for Damon's killer, Max needed to confront her head-on. He came out of his hiding spot and stood in the middle of the sidewalk, arms crossed over his chest.
Maybe he should be more uncomfortable about falling back into the saddle of his former life. If it weren't brought about by Damon's death, he might feel good about the easy transition.
"Nice disguise, Detective."
With a sense of distraction playing so clearly across her face, he wasn't surprised she would have missed him if he hadn't said something. Although he hadn't known her long, he couldn't help but know that was out of character for her.
Her gaze traveled toward his face rather than the sidewalk. She swallowed and straightened her shoulders. "My brother said you've been hassling him. Do I need to file a restraining order?"
"Don't take it out on me if your brother did something to piss you off—like maybe meet with a local thug by the name of Anthony Falcone?"
"How did you…" She gave him one of those
eat shit and die
stares. "I can handle myself. In fact, I'll take out my gun and shoot you if I have to. But leave my brother alone."
"I haven't been bothering your brother. But you and I both know he's in this mess up to his eyeballs. If I trail him, I have a better chance of figuring out who's responsible for my friend's murder."
"As I keep telling you, that's a job for the police."
"Why should I put my faith in them when it appears you don't have any faith in them yourself?"
"Because otherwise there would be anarchy."
"I don't know—sometimes a little anarchy is warranted if you—"
He didn't finish his thought when the sound of squealing tires reverberated in the quiet street. Instinct brought up the hairs on the back of his neck as he spotted the car barreling toward them. He grabbed her. She grabbed him. They both dove for cover when bullets started to fly.
They landed together in a small patch of grass between two buildings. He popped to his feet and offered his hand to help her up. That was when he spotted the blood dripping down the side of her face.
"You're bleeding." He touched her temple.
"I'm fine. See if you can get some plates." She swatted at his hand and tried to rise to a sitting position.
"Give me your gun." He held out his hand.
She slapped it back. "I'm not giving you my gun. Now go."
Too much time had lapsed, but he did as instructed, without success. Dark car, passenger-side window rolled down, man with a baseball hat and teardrop outside his eye. Yep, he'd seen that guy before.
After the break-in and the knife attack the other night, this was bad and getting worse. It was like he had a giant dollar sign on his head. He had to wonder if there was some kind of bounty on him and this was a bad-guy free-for-all to get to the prize, namely him. If so, he was not doing well. A drive-by could not be a coincidence. No way.
Locals had started to filter onto the sidewalks while sirens wailed in the background. Maybe one of them had seen something. But if they did, would they suddenly have memory problems?
Sirens blaring, two cop cars screeched to the curb. He figured things were only going to get a whole lot worse. The first guy to get out of the squad car looked like he'd taken a double dose of testosterone.
"What happened here, sir? Gangbangers?" He looked at Max for an answer, which was probably the guy's first of many mistakes.
Collini flipped out her badge. "Detective Collini, NYPD. The suspects were driving a dark-gray Ford Taurus. I imagined it's been abandoned. Send units toward Flushing. If they kept the car—which they've probably already ditched, but if they haven't, they would get on the 278. I counted only six shots." When the guy stood staring at her, she raised her voice. "Now, officer."
He ran to his squad car and called it in.
Her normally olive complexion had a pasty look. Based on the plant of her hands outside her knees, she was thinking about standing.
"Don't get up. They're long gone." Max tried to keep her seated at least until the ambulance arrived, but she brushed off his attempts. "You're going to pass out."
"Never." Despite her words of conviction, she didn't fight him off when he helped her to her feet.
"You're bleeding like a stuck pig." Blood oozed from beneath her hairline and trailed down her cheek. "You probably need stitches." He pulled the handkerchief out of his breast pocket. "Let me see if this will help."
When he went to press it against her forehead, she stopped him. "That thing probably costs more than I make in a week. It's silk. You'll have to toss it."
He ignored her protest and held the fabric to the source of the bleeding. "Believe me, I'll manage."
"I'm sure you can," she grumbled. "But it's just a scratch." She steadied herself with a grip on his arm. "Probably good you didn't catch them. What were you going to do, throw one of your Bruno Magli shoes at them?" She rolled her eyes. "And your fancy suit is ripped." She pointed to a spot near his elbow. "If you're going to get down and dirty, you can't dress like a fancy pants. I think you better head back where you belong, reaping a small fortune on the misfortune of others, and leave the detective work to me."
Max couldn't help but smile. "Okay, Ms. High and Mighty Detective, what do you think that was all about, then? Why was somebody trying to gun us down on the streets of Brooklyn?"
"Us? I'd say it was you." She tilted her head to the side and eyed him. "I could have sworn I heard you say something under your breath, like you'd seen the shooter before. Matter of fact, I heard there was some kind of trouble inside Bloomingdale's with a guy in a very expensive suit. Do you know anything about that?"
"It's Bloomingdale's. There are probably plenty of men that fit that description."
"I'm sure there'll be a video from the store I can access. Care to change your answer? Because to my way of thinking, you've got a target on you. I'd love to know why."
So would he
. He tried not to gulp and show his anxiousness. Maybe he was out of practice, since she kept a steady eye on his throat. "Why would you think that?"
"Because I still can't make sense of the kill shot on Damon." She sucked in her lip as if she regretted the words as soon as they slipped out.
"Did you know Damon had an altercation with someone from work just the other day?"
"Why would I? You know I've been pulled off the case. Congratulations, you now have Dumb and Dumber—as they call them around the station—working it." She closed her eyes for a second and drew in a breath.
"You're not going to do anything girly and faint on me, are you?"
"Good to know. I'd like to flag the cops to get the paramedics to check you out, but I'm afraid if I let go of your arm, you might do a face plant."
The discomfort of her vulnerability showed in her scowl. "You're trying to change the subject. You still haven't answered my question from the other day. How did you and your siblings get a fast ticket to immigration when you came to New York eight years ago?"
"I still don't know why you can't let that go, especially now that you're not even working the case."
"Maybe because your siblings do some kind of work that has yet to be defined. Maybe because rumor has it you were jumped outside your fancy digs the other night. Maybe because trouble seems to be following you, Mr. Shaw, and that's a big red flag for me. Maybe you need to be in protective custody if this is how it's going to be for you." She placed her hands on her hips. "So that begs the question, just what are you into?"
Unease slithered down his back, but rather than give in to it, he ignored it. "Long walks in the park. Good food. A nice bottle of wine. Front-row seats to the hot new play on Broadway. Were you going to ask me out on a date, Detective? Do you want me to go on to give you some ideas?" This cat-and-mouse thing was getting tedious, but he had no intention of giving her more information that he had to. This was his issue. His problem. And the less others knew about it, the better.
"That's not what I'm talking about and you know it. Why are you trailing my brother?"
"I think we've already covered the subject, and frankly, it's getting a little boring."
"How do you know who Anthony Falcone is?"
Before he could respond, the paramedics walked over and looked at her wound.
"You need some stitches, ma'am. We're going to need to take you to the hospital," the paramedic said.
She sighed and pointed her thumb toward Max. "He'll bring me. I hate ambulances."
Max chuckled while she made a face at him. "I'll take care of her."
"I'll need you to sign some paperwork releasing us of liability."
"No problem." She did as instructed, and the guys went back to their ambulance.
"I believe we have to finish our discussion."
"Which we can do on the way to the hospital." He ushered her into a cab and settled in next to her. Maybe if he gave her a little, she'd be more forthcoming. He figured it might be worth a shot. "I was in Brooklyn the other afternoon and spotted your brother going into Falcone's house. Don't know what was going on, but it involved a lot of yelling and screaming. And Mick had a bloody nose when he walked out. I take it he didn't mention that to you during your nightly dinner chats?" Playing the guilt card wasn't fair, but he'd done it anyway.