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Authors: Elizabeth Lowell

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BOOK: The Color of Death
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The door to Kennedy’s office
was yanked open before Sam could even knock.

“Good morning,” Doug said neutrally to Sam.

But the SAC’s eyes both apologized and warned.

“It’s morning,” Sam agreed. He ignored Sizemore and nodded to Kennedy. “I understand you want to talk to me.”

“I sure as hell do. It’s one thing to have a CI. It’s another thing to deliberately sabotage a crime strike force investigation.”

“I haven’t.”

“Like hell you haven’t,” Kennedy shot back. “For three days you’ve concealed information from me.”

“That’s not correct,” Sam said evenly. “The Bureau gives me the right to keep a CI’s identity secret.”

“Not when keeping a snitch under wraps makes a crime strike force look like a horse’s ass!”

No matter who was right, Sam couldn’t win a bureaucratic pissing contest with his SSA. All he could do was try to stay in a position to protect Kate. Which meant that he had to find a way to tell
Kennedy the bad news about leaks in such a way that he didn’t go ballistic.

Yeah. Sure. That would happen right after Sam ate coal and shit diamonds.

“Her life has been threatened,” Sam said, keeping his voice calm and professional. “Given the murders that have taken place already, keeping her identity a secret was SOP.”

“Standard operating procedure, my ass.” Kennedy scrounged in the desk drawer for his last cigarette.

Doug picked up the lighter and waited. When his boss found the cigarette, the lighter would be ready. A small thing, but maybe it would take some of the fire out of Kennedy’s temper.

The lighter clicked. Kennedy took a hard drag.

“Just when were you going to tell me?” Kennedy asked sarcastically. “When the case was closed?”

“I would have told Doug if and when I got a positive DNA match on the blood in the rental car trunk and Lee Mandel.”

“What rental car?” Sizemore and Kennedy asked as one.

“The one Lee Mandel drove from the airport and somebody else likely returned to the airport a day late.”

“Why wasn’t I told about this?” Kennedy asked.

“Because I won’t know it’s true unless and until I get a DNA match.”

“If there was blood in the trunk of the rental car, it could have come from a badly wrapped pot roast,” Sizemore said with a shrug. “Big fucking deal.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Sam agreed. “That’s why I wanted to wait for the labs.”

Doug took a cautious breath and began to think his career might survive. The help from Sizemore was unexpected, but in this business you took aid and comfort where you found it.

Kennedy treated himself to another steadying drag on the cigarette. “Tell me what else you have.”

“The trunk wasn’t forced,” Sam said. “If Mandel didn’t do the job
himself, it was done by someone sophisticated enough to record the electronic key code and make a duplicate.”

“So what?” Sizemore said. “How does that help us in Phoenix, where we have mutts popping trunks and shooting in the parking lot?”

“The cowboy in the parking lot had a duplicate key that he’d already made,” Sam said. “He didn’t reach for the tire iron until he thought he’d made a bad key. If the courier hadn’t run back out, the cowboy might have pulled it off. He’s a real pro. Who’s to say that the same thing didn’t happen in Florida, except that Mandel was killed, stuffed in the trunk, and hauled off for swamp burial?”

Sizemore grunted.

Kennedy said, “What does this have to do with a gem-swapping con artist? Is she good for it?”

“No,” Sam said quickly. “She’s the woman who cut the Seven Sins—seven very expensive sapphires—that Mandel was carrying when he disappeared. She didn’t believe he’d stolen them, so she’s been following the gem circuit, waiting for the goods to turn up. Purcell had one of them. She swapped it for a synthetic, took the real one home, and matched it with her working photographs. No doubt about it. Purcell had a stone that had last been seen with a missing courier. She swapped the stones again, because she’d never been trying to steal, just to identify what had already been stolen. I caught her after she’d replaced the original.”

“How did Purcell get the stone?” Kennedy asked.

Sam had to admit that the SSA had good investigative instincts. He understood linkage in a way Colton never would. “We’re checking that out right now.”

“What do you have,
right now

“A pawnshop in Little Miami, a blonde with big fake tits, and a pawnshop owner who swears he never touched the stone. Said owner has family in L.A. who would be able to put the stone in circulation.”

Kennedy nodded. “Nail it down. And be sure to put everything—names, dates, witnesses—in a report with a copy to Ted. He’s real well connected in L.A. Might as well save the taxpayers some money.”

“I’ll get on it as soon as I have the report,” Sizemore said.

“Fake tits,” Kennedy said. “Is it some kind of drag queen? A courier laying a false trail?” He flipped quickly through the file. “Here the tits are again. And here.”

“Mandel was supposed to have left for parts unknown with a blonde with big tits on one arm and the package under the other, right?” Sam asked Kennedy.

Kennedy looked at Sizemore, who shrugged.

Sam flipped through the Mandel file and pulled out the sheet he had highlighted. “According to this witness—whose name, by the way, seems to be lost—Mandel was keeping company with said blonde. Someone, again unnamed, saw a couple that might match the Mandel-blonde description leave a car at the airport rental agency.”

“So?” Kennedy said.

“Lee Mandel is gay.”

Kennedy looked at the end of his cigarette and then at Doug, who shook his head, silently telling his SSA that it was news to him too.

“Give me that file,” Kennedy said.

Sam handed it over.

There wasn’t any small talk while Kennedy read through the file with the speed and intensity of man who has seen a lot of files like it. When he was finished, he wasn’t smiling.

“I see a lot of stuff that wasn’t in my file,” Kennedy said.

“The moment your file is updated, Kate Chandler is nominated for the lead role in a turkey shoot,” Sam said.

“Says who?”

“The last time the FBI’s Mandel file was updated,” Sam said, “she got a threat on her answering machine—stop pushing on the Mandel case or die. Mechanical voice distorter. The lab is working on it, but nothing has come back to me yet.”

Kennedy didn’t take one second to get to the bottom line. He gave Sam a narrow-eyed glare. “Where’s the leak?”

“I don’t know.”

“Guess,” Kennedy said flatly.

“Someone on the crime strike force,” Sam said.

Doug braced himself for the explosion that would end Sam’s career, and probably his own.

Twin blazes of color appeared on Kennedy’s cheekbones. He opened his mouth to tell Sam what a miserable piece of shit he was.

But Kennedy hadn’t gotten where he was by ignoring all inconvenient facts—just most of them. Some of those unhappy facts had a way of biting you on the ass if you ignored them. The line of Sam’s investigation was shaping up to be a career breaker.

Or, handled the right way, a career maker.

The silence was punctuated by the subtle sounds of a man smoking, knocking ash off, smoking some more. Thinking fast and hard and mean.

Sam’s cell phone rang. He looked at the caller ID, answered, and listened. It didn’t take long. He punched out and faced Kennedy.

“It wasn’t a pot roast,” Sam said.

“Mandel?” Doug asked.

“No doubt of it. Local law enforcement will begin searching the favorite dumping grounds for bodies. After five months…” Sam shrugged. “Flesh gone, bones scattered by tide, storms, and predators. We might get lucky, find something, and have closure for Mandel’s family, but I wouldn’t put money on it.”

Sizemore shook his head. “I hate those swamp jobs. Worse than cremation for evidence.”

Everybody looked at Kennedy.

“All right,” Kennedy said, standing up. “Here’s the way it’s going to be. That file gets updated and it gets updated right now, along with a full summary by Special Agent Groves of where he has taken the investigation and with what results, tentative, imaginary, or solid. I want it all.”

Sam nodded.

“Include a summary of your conversations with your CI,” Kennedy said. “You can leave her name out of it.”

“That won’t be enough to keep her safe,” Sam said. “Whoever is
behind these murders isn’t stupid. They’ll connect the dots very quickly. And then they’ll try to kill Kate.”

“Does your snitch have any more information that’s not in the file?” Kennedy asked.

Sam heard what wasn’t said:
If you’ve wrung the snitch dry, who cares what happens to her?

“My CI isn’t your average mutt,” Sam said, stepping into Kennedy’s face. “She’s the kind of victim that would make Tawny Dawn light up like a Christmas tree. You want to look bad on the six o’clock news—as in seriously fucking stupid? Cut my CI loose. I guarantee the result will destroy your career.”

“Are you threatening me?”


Sam met Kennedy’s furious glance, held it, and waited. After a long, tight time, Kennedy nodded.

“All right, Groves. We’ll do it your way. Hide her name or put it in bold face in the file. Put it on the nightly news for all I care.” Viciously Kennedy stubbed out his cigarette. “As of now, you’re responsible for keeping your CI alive.”



“One man isn’t enough to—” Sam began.

“I’ll be sure to explain that to Tawny Dawn,” Kennedy said, “while I wring my hands on camera about federal budget cuts and rising crime.” He smiled thinly and faced an imaginary camera. “Just think, this lovely young woman and her valiant FBI escort would still be alive if not for a stingy Congress and a penny-pinching—”

Sam was already out the door, running for his car and the woman who had trusted him with her life.

“I want your report in two hours,” Kennedy yelled after him.

Sam’s only answer was the kind of hand signal that would have gotten him fired if Kennedy hadn’t already figured out a better way to get even.

Doug turned to Kennedy and said, “At least put in for witness protection for the CI.”

“She’s a snitch, not a witness,” Kennedy said.

Sizemore shrugged. “Hey, Doug. Save the taxpayers a dime and stop worrying. She’s living in a fortress.”

“What do you mean?” Doug asked. “And how do you know?”

“I went there. She’s wired to a local alarm company. She’ll be fine.”

“Against a murderer who works for the Bureau?” Doug retorted.

“We don’t know that,” Kennedy shot back. “Right now, it’s a possibility, that’s all. Just a lousy possibility.”

“Christ, man, we’re talking about a woman’s life,” Doug said.

“Maybe. And maybe Sam Groves is leaking info through his CI to make us look bad,” Sizemore said.

“Do you really believe that?” Doug asked, astonished.

Sizemore shrugged. “Like your boss said, lots of possibilities, and right now that one is as good as any other. Groves isn’t a team player. He’s got an ax to grind with the Bureau.”

Kennedy laughed shortly. “This time the son of a bitch can grind it on his own thick skull.”

“What if Sam is right?” Doug said.

“Then we’ll nab the perp,” Kennedy said. “If Groves isn’t right, his ass is fired and he gets the blame for every foul-up so far. Either way, it’s win-win for me.”

“SOP,” Doug said through his teeth.

“You have a problem with that?” Kennedy asked.

“Would it make any difference?”

“To me, no. To you?” Kennedy shrugged. “You want to get fired along with him, be my guest.”

“You’re not the only one with friends in high places,” Doug said. “Don’t threaten me.”

“You want a pissing contest?”

“I don’t want a dead CI on my conscience.”

Kennedy smiled coldly. “Then you better pray your pet agent is as good as he thinks he is.”




Under cover of her eyelashes,
Kate looked up from her polishing wheel and glanced toward Sam, who was sitting at a table along the wall, working at her computer. He’d started to work right after he showed up on her doorstep hours ago with a bunch of files and a grim look around his eyes. He hadn’t said much in the way of hello then.

He hadn’t said anything since.

Whatever he was working on had turned him into a man who radiated the kind of barely leashed fury that made people wary on a primal level.

Without warning he hit the send key, shoved back from the computer, and glared at the screen like he was thinking of putting his fist through it.

“Finished?” she asked.

He grunted.

“Mind if I check my e-mail?” she asked.
It’s my computer you’re using, after all.

“Oh, yeah, I’m finished,” Sam said.
Now I can go from bad to worse
Jesus, I really don’t want to be the one to tell her about Lee.
“My SSA can print out as many damn copies of my report as he wants. All he has to do is remember to open his e-mail.”

“You muttered something about a fax when you first got here,” she said.

“Fuck the fax. It’s time the Bureau entered the twenty-first century.”

Kate let out a breath. “You ready to tell me what happened?”

“I thought you wanted to check your e-mail.”

“It will keep.”

Abruptly, Sam stood up. “I work for a prick.”

“Um, okay. That makes some days worse than others. Anything else I should know?”

Sam didn’t want to tell her what had happened in Kennedy’s office any more than he wanted to tell her about her half brother. But there wasn’t any choice. It was her life.

And he was about to punch a big hole in it.

“I just updated your half brother’s file,” Sam said levelly.

Kate braced herself against the worktable and waited.

“The DNA match was right on,” Sam said. “It was Lee’s blood in the trunk of his rental car.”

She closed her eyes and said, “No mistake?” Then she looked at Sam. “None?”

He touched her hair, then let his hand drop, not trusting himself. He wanted her so bad he was having trouble standing up straight. That wasn’t what she needed now. She needed a cop, not a lover with a woody.

“I’m sorry,” Sam said. “There’s no way to be absolutely positive unless we get lucky in the swamp or screw a confession out of his killer. That said, I have to tell you if Lee’s alive, it will be the first time in my career that blood found in a trunk led to a happy reunion.”

She bit her lip, blinked fiercely, and said, “I have to call Mom.”

“I’ll do it.”

“No, I—”

“It’s easier coming from a cop,” Sam cut in roughly. “The family can get angry, yell, swear, cry, let it all out. They can’t with you.”


“After I’m finished, I’ll hand the phone to you.” He touched her cheek lightly. “Please, Kate. It will be easier on everyone.”

Reluctantly, she nodded her head.

Sam hesitated, but there wasn’t any help for it. He needed her, and he needed her thinking, not crying. “Before I call, get me McCloud’s number, the one you used to report your progress with the stones.”

“How did you know?” she asked dully.

“The man had a million bucks invested. It stands to reason he’d want regular reports.”

She went to her computer and opened an address file.

He looked at her bent head and the tight line of her shoulders and wished there was something he could do that wouldn’t make her feel worse.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

She nodded and scrolled through names on the screen.

“I mean it,” he said.

“I know.” Her voice was hoarse. “It’s just…” Her shoulders moved almost impatiently.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s just that being sorry doesn’t change anything.”

She looked over her shoulder at him. “It changes my opinion of the FBI. Or at least some of them. One of them. The best one. You.”

Sam gave up and opened his arms. Kate stepped into them and held on, held on hard. Then she let grief wash through her.

“My head knew that Lee wasn’t coming back,” she said when she could talk again. “Yet I couldn’t help hoping, can’t help asking…God, Sam, are you sure?”

“As sure as I can be without a body.” He brushed his lips over her cheek, the corner of her eye, tasted tears, and felt his own throat close. “Kate, I don’t think Lee’s remains will be found,” he said roughly. “I’m sorry. I know in some ways it would make it easier, give closure, but the swamp and five months make finding anything a very long shot. Do you understand?”

She nodded, took a ragged breath, looked up at Sam. The concern she saw nearly made her cry all over again. Somehow, some way, she had slipped under the cop’s guard and touched the vulnerable man.

She stood on tiptoe, kissed him gently on the lips, and said, “Thank you.”

His mouth turned down at one corner. “For what? Fucking things up from start to finish?”

Her smile trembled, but it was real. “For being honest, for caring, for being here when other men would have grabbed their career and run for the hills. For being Sam Groves.” She cleared her throat. “A good man. Very good.” Her fingertips touched his lips. “I’ll get McCloud’s number for you.”

Sam watched the stiff line of her back and neck as she bent over the computer. He wanted nothing so much as to hold her again, to protect her from a world that ate innocence as a snack before moving on to a more satisfying meal of violence and death.

You can protect her better as a cop than a man.

Too bad he wanted to be both with her.

“This is the number,” Kate said. “Want me to write it down?”

Sam gave the highlighted number a glance, which was all it took for him to put it in his own personal memory bank. “I have it. Check your e-mail while I call your parents.”

She flinched, nodded.

“I can do it here or in the living room,” Sam said.

“Living room.” She looked straight at him. “I trust you to be as good with them as you were with me.”

His fingertips traced the line of her jaw, touched her lips, and then he turned away to make the kind of call every cop hates.

There was no good way to tell parents their son was dead.

BOOK: The Color of Death
3.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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