Chapter Three

Elliot grabbed a cup of coffee and a bagel from the break room then went to his desk. Beaumont still worried him. He couldn’t figure the captain’s fondness for Beaumont. Beaumont was sharp on theory, but he was no good in the field. He’d gotten them into trouble a few weeks back. He and Elliot had tracked down a meth lab operator who’d decided to take out the competition, his brother. When the suspect reached for his weapon, Beaumont hesitated just long enough for three of the guy’s associates to come rushing out of a back bedroom. Elliot had been forced to act, killing one of the suspects and dropping another. He wound up with a short hospital stay and a reprimand for using excessive force. He didn’t mention Beaumont’s error in the report.

Tossing the bagel, Elliot picked up the coffee and leaned back in his chair. He sat in a cubicle that served as an office in the bull pen that played host to the homicide squad. To Elliot’s left was a computer monitor, and in front of him one of the half walls lined with notes he’d stuck there. There was a five-drawer filing cabinet on his right that served not only as a storage area, but a barrier as well. When he leaned back, the action left him exposed, outside the protective mass of the filing cabinet. Beaumont sat across the aisle in an identical, mirror-imaged cubicle. He glanced over only to see Beaumont leaning back as well, staring at him with a blank look on his face.

Elliot sipped his coffee. Within a few blocks of the department, a victim of murder had been left in the street, but Elliot’s thoughts were elsewhere. The small town of Porter was in another lifetime, but from that murky past a cold finger had reached out and touched him. He closed his eyes, conjuring images of Carmen Garcia. The sight of her in that pale yellow dress with her dark eyes sparkling had nearly taken his breath away.

My parents are gone, Kenny. Stay with me tonight.

Nerves crawled in Elliot’s gut at the memory. He drained his coffee and crushed the cup. He looked up to see Captain William Dombrowski leaning against the filing cabinet, staring at him. “You got a minute?”

Elliot followed Dombrowski into his office, stopping behind the chairs in front of the desk. Dombrowski gestured for Elliot to sit while he studied him with intense gray eyes.

“What’s on your mind, Captain?”

Dombrowski lit a cigar then watched a stream of smoke curl toward the ceiling. “I hear you were pretty shaken up this morning.”

“Who told you that?”

“It doesn’t matter. I need my cops sharp, impartial. If you’ve got a problem, I need to know about it.”

Elliot didn’t like what he was hearing. Dombrowski’s concern seemed way out of proportion. “I don’t have a problem. Maybe someone else does.”

“This isn’t the first time I’ve had complaints about your behavior, and they’ve all been recent. This isn’t like you. What’s going on?”

“There’s nothing going on.”

Dombrowski pushed back from his desk, his chair protesting from the burden of his weight. “Come on, kid. It’s me you’re talking to.”

Elliot rubbed his temples. He and Dombrowski had worked a couple of cases together when they were both detectives. Dombrowski had been captain for less than six months and he was probably just as uncomfortable as Elliot was. Elliot glanced at a bookcase by the wall. Alongside an array of law books sat a hand painted ceramic mug and a plaster imprint of a small hand, things Dombrowski’s kid had made him. “I haven’t been sleeping well,” he said. “Nightmares, that sort of thing.”

“Work related?”

Stay with me tonight, Kenny.

“I’m not sure. Probably not.”

“Well, I’m a little more inclined to think that it is. You had a close call last month.”

“It wasn’t that bad.”

“Jeez, Elliot. You were shot. There’s no shame in being shaken up over that. Maybe you should take some time off.”