Authors: R.J. Jagger,Jack Rain
Nick Teffinger, the 34-year-old head of Denver’s homicide unit, emerged from a deep unconsciousness to find he was behind the wheel of his pickup truck in the driveway. The ache in his body indicated he’d been there all night. Streetlights still burned but the first taste of dawn was starting to beat the night away.
He shifted his six-two frame.
The movement set off hammers inside his skull and pitched his stomach into a typhoon churn.
He was on the wrong end of a serious night of drinking.
Last night was a blur.
He remembered beers and shots of Tequila and his hands up the skirt of a curvy little raven-haired thing in a shadowy booth in the back corner of D-Drop.
What was her name?
He couldn’t remember.
He didn’t remember leaving.
He didn’t remember driving her home.
The light inside the cab wasn’t much but it was enough to tell something was wrong with his hands. On closer examination it turned out to be blood. His hands were bloody, not with fresh blood, with dried blood. He couldn’t see or feel a wound. The pattern appeared to be more as if he’d handled something bloody.
Then his peripheral vision noticed glass in the passenger seat. It looked like a beer bottle with the bottom broken off, leaving a jagged edge.
The jags were thick with dried blood.
It was as if the glass had been stabbed into someone’s gut.
His heart raced.
What did he do?
He opened the door, got out and hung on for a heartbeat to get his balance. His feet wobbled. He was still half drunk. The nausea in his stomach climbed up his throat. He swallowed it down, closed the door and headed for the front steps.
At the front of the truck he found something he didn’t expect; the front end was smashed in on the passenger side. The headlight was busted out. The quarter-panel was crumpled. The bumper was dented.
He must have hit something.
He didn’t remember what.
He didn’t remember how.
He didn’t remember where.
Get the truck out of sight.
Right or wrong, that was his thought—
Get the truck out of sight.
He got back in the cab, punched the opener and watched the garage door rise. The garage was full. In the left bay sat the ’67 Corvette. In the right bay sat an eclectic miss-match of boxes and junk. He pulled the ’67 out onto the street, got the Tundra inside and closed the door.
He forced himself to drink a full glass of water to get the sandpaper off his tongue, then made his way to the front steps to see if the morning paper was there.
He brought it to the kitchen table and went through it page by page to see if there were any reports of a hit-and-run last night, or someone being run over.
If there was, he didn’t spot it.
That didn’t mean it didn’t happen.
It could have happened but not early enough to make the print.
He headed for the bathroom and washed his hands. The dried blood turned red under the faucet and pooled in the bottom of the sink before twisting into the drain.
His prior inspection had been correct.
There were no wounds.
He stripped out of his smoke-ridden clothes and spotted blood on his shirt and pants. There were no injuries to his body. It was exhausted and hung over but otherwise intact.
A book of blue D-Drop matches fell out of his shirt pocket. On the inside handwritten in blue ink was the name
followed by a 303 telephone number. Now he remembered the name of the touchy young squeeze of last night; it was
The glass of water in his gut ached with sickness.
He vomited long and hard until he had nothing left but a dry heave and a chest soaked in sweat.
Then he curled up naked in the bed under a sheet and closed his eyes.
The room spun.
Teffinger woke Sunday afternoon not feeling good but not feeling like wormed-over death on a stick either. The worst was behind him. By tomorrow morning when he needed to work, he’d actually be functional. He drank coffee, swore he’d never tie one on like that again as long as he lived, and checked the web for any updates on local hit-and-runs.
He found nothing.
Maybe he’d hit a pole or a barrier.
He inspected the front end closer and found no foreign paint, remnants of clothing or anything else of use.
Outside the day was nice.
He opened the front door, got a slight breeze filtering through the house and then sat on the front steps with a topped-off cup of coffee. Three houses up, at the end of the street in a dirty turnaround, a woman sat behind the wheel of an older model Mustang, something in the vintage of the mid to late ’60s. Her face was stuck in a magazine and largely hidden under a baseball cap and oversized shades. Still, she looked familiar. Teffinger went inside and silently pulled her in through a pair of Bushnell AutoFocus binoculars.
She was an attractive woman in her late twenties.
He’d definitely seen her around somewhere before.
What was she doing up there?
Occasionally someone parked there and headed off for a hike into the open space. Maybe someone did that and she was waiting for them to return.
Although it was possible, Teffinger’s gut told him otherwise.
She was there because of him.
He exhaled, deciding, then topped off his coffee, filled a second cup, stepped out the front door and walked towards her.
She picked up his movement within the first few steps but didn’t start the vehicle or make an effort to leave. Teffinger went over to her window and handed the cup through.
“I thought you might want this,” he said.
She hesitated, then took it and said, “Thanks.”
Her hair was thick, yellow-blond, long and wavy, almost a ’50s style, very sexy. Ample cleavage peeked out from behind a button-down red blouse. Below that was a short white skirt riding up dangerously high on account of the way she was seated. Tennis-play legs stuck out, defined and tanned.
Teffinger looked around.
She took a sip.
“Yes it is.”
“It’s a good day to spy on someone,” he said.
“Every day’s a good day for that.”
“I’ve seen you around town.”
“I think you know.”
“Because you’ve been following me?”
She slipped her sunglasses off.
Her eyes were the sexiest thing Teffinger had ever seen.
“Yes. You were bound to notice sooner or later.”
“And now I have.”
“Right, now you have,” she said.
“So what now?”
She took a sip and said, “This is good coffee.”
“Glad you like it,” he said. “So now that you’re busted, what happens now?”
“Busted?” she said. “Getting spotted is all part of the plan. Everything is on course.”
“Yes.” She drained what was left in the cup and handed it to him. Then she started the engine, slipped the shades down and said, “Got to run.”
“One question before you leave,” he said. “Why are you following me?”
“I’ll tell you what. If you can spot me again, I’ll answer that question.”
She blew him a kiss.
Then she was gone.
Teffinger made a mental note of her license plate number and then made a call when he got back in the house. The plate belonged to one Neverly Cage who lived on the near east side of town, in the 1300 block of Washington.
The vehicle was a 1968.
“Nailed it,” he told himself.
He logged into the department’s database, punched in her name and got nothing.
He drank another cup of coffee and then dialed the handwritten number on the inside of the matchbook, the one for Rain.
The phone rang three times and dumped into a voice mail.
“Hey, it’s me, Nick,” he said. “Give me a call.”
He wasn’t in the mood to play cat and mouse but he wouldn’t have time tomorrow, so he ate a slow bowl of cereal and then hopped in the ’67 and headed for Neverly Cage’s house. The houses had no driveways but an alley ran behind the backyards and that’s where most of the owners parked.
Teffinger spotted the Mustang in a makeshift carport that looked like an affront to every building code known to man. He parked away from it in case it came down, then circled around to the sidewalk, walked up an uneven brick path and knocked on the front door.
When the woman answered Teffinger said, “I spotted you again. So now I get to find out if you’re someone who holds your promises.”
The woman hesitated, then pushed the screen door open and said, “Come on in.”
The place was cluttered and crammed.
The walls were close and the windows were small.
A fan blew but cross-ventilation was negligible.
The woman’s skirt was off and the red blouse had been swapped for a T that hung down past her ass but not by much. One wrong bend and she’d be flashing. Teffinger made an effort to keep his eyes up.
“So how long have you been following me around?”
He raked thick brown hair back with his fingers. It immediately fell back down over his forehead.
“Sure. Why not?”
She poured two cups and they ended up sitting on the front steps.
“To answer your questions, four months give or take.” She held her hand out to shake and said, “My name’s Neverly Cage, by the way. But I assume you already know that.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Four months,” he said. “That’s pretty impressive. I’ve had people follow me that long before, but they were all people I owed money to. I don’t owe you money, do I?”
“Your eyes are two different colors. One’s blue and one’s green. I’ve never seen that before.”
“One of my many flaws.” He took a noisy slurp. “So Neverly Cage, why have you been following me around for four months, give or take?”
“It relates to Decker Zero.”
The words pulled up a memory so vivid that Teffinger felt he was actually there.
It was last July.
The sky was dark and moonless and dripped with a steady black drizzle.
The world was nothing but shadows and shapes.
Teffinger was in the Tundra, parked with the engine off in the old abandoned warehouse district down by the South Platte. A curvy little thing named Brooklyn was with him. She was wildly drunk and her skirt was hiked up to her waist. Teffinger had his lips to hers and a hand between her thighs when something strange happened.
The shadowy shape of naked woman ran past.
She was shouting.
She was frantic.
“What the hell?”
Then a man ran past, chasing the woman.
He wore clothes.
In his hand was a knife.
The next moments were a blur. Teffinger was out in the weather, running through the dark with every molecule of force he had, shouting, “Stop!”
By the time Teffinger closed the gap, the man had the woman on the ground. One hand gripped her hair with an iron fist. The other held a blade to her throat.
Teffinger stopped five steps short and said, “Let’s everyone calm down.”
The man said nothing.
“Help me!” the woman said.
Teffinger didn’t move.
“Just back off,” he said. “I’ll let you go.”
“Just back off and go home. No one’s going to hurt you.”
Suddenly the man’s arm moved.
The woman gargled and went limp.
Then the man ran.
Teffinger charged after him.
The gap closed and he got a punch to the back of the man’s head.
They both went down.
In that split second Teffinger got a look at the face.
It was someone he knew.
It was a guy named Decker Zero.
Then a punch landed to his head with the force of a freight train and colors exploded inside his skull.
What followed was uneventful.
The woman was dead.
They never found out who she was. To this day she was still Jane Doe.
The scene produced no circumstantial evidence.
They found no fibers, no fingerprints and no other evidence. They never found the woman’s clothes. They never figured out where she had been before suddenly emerging in the shadows.
Decker Zero didn’t show up at his house for over two weeks. When he did, people were waiting for him. Right now he was in custody, waiting for trial.
That was scheduled for next week.
He shook off the memory, looked at Neverly and said, “What about Decker Zero?”
“I work for Silke Jopp,” the woman said.
Teffinger knew the name and knew it well.
She was a bare-knuckles criminal defense attorney reputed to be Denver’s best, with a string of high profile notches in her belt.
She was defending Zero.
“So what do you do for Silke Jopp?”
Neverly ran a finger down Teffinger’s arm.
“I get dirt on you,” she said. “What do you think?”
It made sense.
The prosecution’s entire case was built on Teffinger’s testimony. If the defense could discredit him, they could win.
“So how’s that going for you?” he asked.
“To be honest it was pretty bleak,” she said. “All that changed last night, as I’m sure you’re aware.”
Monday morning Teffinger got up before dawn, jogged under the streetlights until he ran out of air, and then headed to work in the ’67 while the Tundra stayed silently hidden in the garage. He had a bowl of cereal in his lap, a spoon in his right hand and a cup of coffee in his left, steering with his knees and heading east on the 6
Avenue freeway. The sun lifted off the horizon and blinded him as best it could. He searched around for sunglasses for a few heartbeats before remembering he sat on them last week.