|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)|
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By Dee Henderson
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Dee Henderson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSTOPPING AT THE MALL to pick up a cut-glass vase for his sister's birthday, a mystery novel for his day off, and a few items needed for the house had seemed like a good idea an hour ago, but Luke Granger was still short two items on his shopping list, and he had no desire to try another store.
The lady clutching two Bergner's shopping bags and the hand of a three-year-old girl looked worried. "There's a woman in the restroom who needs help. She asked me to find mall security."
He was city police and off duty, still in uniform after a day in court; she was close enough. "Anyone else in there?"
He nodded and crossed the corridor into the hallway with pay phones and restrooms. A cleaning-service cart sat outside a door marked Utilities. He pulled it over to block the entryway to the women's restroom. "Police officer coming in," he called in warning. He walked through the sitting area with four chairs and a stroller station and into the lavatory area.
He saw the lady: early forties, sick, her face alabaster white, the counter doing more to hold her upright than her legs. He turned, set down his purchases, and returned with a curved-back and cushioned chair. "Sit down, ma'am."
He shut off the water streaming over her hands in the basin and eased her back into the chair. She wore a white tailored blouse and black dress slacks, the retailer version of a uniform, and they were no longer neat or straight. He wondered at sexual assault even as he stripped off his jacket and bundled it around her to deal with the chill he could feel. He was a big man, broad shouldered and tall, and the jacket swallowed her slim frame.
"His eyes were caramel, cold." A shudder rippled through her body.
"Okay." He swept hands down her midsection looking for the source of the smeared blood on the front of the sink counter. Blood darkened her slacks at the right thigh, but it hadn't soaked through the fabric from a wound.
"Bressman's jewelry, the storeroom."
His gaze shot to hers.
"They're all dead. I checked."
He briskly closed his jacket snaps up to her neck. "Stay right here."
She gave a jerky nod.
He left her there.
* * *
Luke walked into Bressman's Jewelry. The sign turning above the front display counter advertised 30 percent off diamond pendants this week only. No salesclerks were in sight. He walked around the counters and into a small back office, then turned down the narrow hallway that paralleled the public restrooms. A door moved back and forth in the breeze of the overhead air conditioning, and a radio tuned to a country station began a new song; nothing else spoke of life.
And because he was a cop, he stood. The horror took a good minute to wash through his system as he cataloged the killings. Four store staff herded back here and shot as a group, the blood splatter staining the storage shelves. The youngest looked to be barely out of high school with her makeup perfect and her nails painted a soft pink. A lady his mother's age had been shot in the head. The store manager and a third sales associate, both middle-aged men, had died in front of a holder for gift boxes. The blood hadn't attracted more than a couple flies yet: ten minutes? twenty?
The fact it had been done in his town, within his reach, and as deputy chief of police he hadn't been able to prevent it, chilled his anger to a hard, sharp edge. Luke reached for his radio. "55-14."
He recognized the dispatcher's voice in the brief answer. "Janice, there's a multiple 187 at Ellerton Mall, Bressman's Jewelry." He mentally ran through the list of detectives on duty. "I need Connor, Marsh, Mayfield, and St. James. Tell them minutes matter."
"Yes, sir. Priority calls are going out."
"Assign a band for this case."
He switched over his radio frequency.
"Emergency Services?" Janice asked.
"Dispatch forensics code orange to the scene and alert the coroner. I'll need forty officers pulled in. Locate as many as you can in-house, tap the Westford district, and then start calling men back to duty. Marsh will be handling assignments on scene. Where's Paul Riker right now?"
"His schedule shows a Q&A with print journalists."
"Have someone pass him a message. I need him on scene."
"I can handle it, sir."
"Good. I'm code four."
Footsteps had him turning. Two mall security officers, both hurrying.
"Stay up front." Luke left the door swinging in the air-conditioned breeze and walked back to the showroom. "There's been a shooting. How many security officers does the mall have on duty?"
"Okay. I want the two of you to close this storefront. Parker, once the gate is locked, I want you to sit at the side entrance to this store. No one but Brentwood or Westford officers enter or you won't be employed tomorrow, you understand?"
"Richards, I want you to get the other two mall guards and start working the parking lot starting at this entrance. I want a list of license-plate numbers for every vehicle on the lot."
They stood there.
They rushed to bring down the security gate, pulling the first panel from the ceiling to cover the main section of the store entryway.
Luke walked over to the east wall of the display area and took down the sixth framed picture. His witness looked better in her official photo. Kelly Brown. It didn't sound like a forty something's name. Her hair had changed-it was now a couple inches longer and a shade darker auburn-but the blue eyes were the same.
He kept the photo and walked the display cases. Nothing appeared disturbed. A robbery with multiple murders and no jewelry taken? How much would be here in inventory? A hundred thousand? More? Do you have a special sales area, Kelly Brown? Rings, watches, the necklaces that would cost a year of my salary? You were wearing no jewelry today, not even a ring. That surprised me. The cash register also appeared untouched.
Luke looked up as the first officers he had requested began to stream in. Connor was in the lead with his partner, Marsh, towering over him a step behind. Connor was all of five nine, wearing the black jeans and sweatshirt he favored for days working the streets. Marsh, at six four, still looked like a hungover drunk after too many days staking out alleys, and the dark shadows under his eyes were more pronounced than normal. Luke considered them to be among the best officers in the department, even though neither would like to hear that commendation repeated in public for fear they would end up in management one day.
"What do we have, Boss?"
Luke pointed to the back hallway. "I'm leaving the scene to you, Connor. Marsh, you're coordinating the officers coming in to assist. I've got a witness to deal with. I need names and addresses of the victims fast, because I'm not seeing robbery as the motive. We're still in the first hour, so light a fire under everyone."
"Keep the traffic on channel four. As soon as Riker arrives, page me. The press is going to be a problem with this one."
Trying to clear the mall of all shoppers wasn't a workable option, and sending a SWAT team searching for the shooter in a crowded mall would only end up with public panic and injuries. The shooter had come in, herded store staff to a back storage room, and shot them there. The scene presented said the shooter had left without trying to attract attention, and the timing of the shootings said he was already gone. For now they would work it outward from the shooting scene and try not to amplify the problem they faced.
Already a crowd of shoppers was slowing, stopping, and asking questions of each other. Luke walked through them and around the corridor to the restrooms. The cleaning cart remained where he had left it. Luke stepped around it and into the ladies' restroom.
The chair sat in the lavatory section, empty but for his folded jacket. "Ma'am? Kelly Brown?"
He left the lavatory and walked through the stalls. The restroom was empty. She'd left. As shaky as she had been, she'd still managed to leave.
He walked out of the restroom and looked around the corridor. She wasn't watching the officers at the store, propelled there by the awfulness of what she had seen. There wasn't a need to run, Kelly. You were safe now.
"I need an address and a vehicle make for Kelly Brown, early forties. Give me any DMV records close to the name and age registered in the city." He started the trace and then flipped through the phone book to locate the main Bressman store. He tore out the page. Five branches. Why this one?
Luke reentered the jewelry store and moved into the small office area; the hallway had begun to fill with forensics people.
Connor looked up from a file. "Your witness?"
"Skipped. And from the sound of it, she saw the shooter. I've got a trace running for her car now. Anything here show ad dresses, phone numbers of the staff?"
"I've got customer information-jewelry repair and special orders-but the best I've done so far on the staff is an index card taped by the phone. The main store has all the personnel files. I've got an officer bringing them over."
Luke checked the index card. Just first names, but only one Kelly. He touched his radio. "I need a reverse lookup on a phone number." He read it off and got an address back. "She's close by; I'm heading over there. You're good here?"
"The photos and phone numbers give me a place to start, and forensics has a priority to tell me the weapon used. I'll have preliminary inventory confirmed in twenty minutes. Right now you're right; it looks like everything is here."
"Former staff, recent firings-this types as a workplace shooting, not a robbery. Station a patrol car and officer at the other Bressman stores; there's no reasoning yet for why this branch. Let's make sure it's not simply the first."
"Marsh had the same thought; he's got officers on the way to the stores now."
Luke stopped at the restroom to retrieve his jacket and his purchases from an hour ago. He headed toward his sedan. He could send other officers, but Kelly was spooked enough, and what she had seen was their strongest lead right now.
The trip took seven minutes, three of them spent idling at red lights. He turned on Amber Road. He wasn't sure he would personally like to live this close to where he worked. He slowed as the house numbers counted down to the address he sought and he stopped: an old two-story red brick with a massive front porch and a narrow lot. The oak tree in front towered above the house and shaded the yard. No vehicle was in Kelly Brown's driveway, and a slow drive past showed the garage had a blown over trash can rolling back and forth in front of the door, suggesting she hadn't pulled through into the garage.
He touched his radio. "10-2."
"DMV records for Kelly Brown at that address show only one vehicle registered, a Honda Odyssey, plates alpha-bravo-nine- two-five."
Luke circled the block and saw no sign of her vehicle. He parked on the street. Picking up his jacket, he slipped it on. He lifted the collar closer to his face and caught the faint trace of her perfume. A lady's scent: welcoming, a touch elegant. He walked up the sidewalk to her front porch. Mail jammed the mailbox, and potted plants lined inside the front window. Lights were off. He rang the doorbell and opened the screen door to also knock. "Ms. Brown, Kelly, please come to the door. It's Officer Granger."
He didn't get an answer.
He walked around the property and knocked on the back door. The house appeared locked and quiet.
He hadn't seen her purse in that lavatory, and she hadn't re-entered the jewelry store. If she wasn't home, then where? He touched his radio. "Connor, get the mall security guard Richards on the radio. Check if a Honda Odyssey is still in the mall parking lot. Plates are alpha-bravo-nine-two-five."
Luke checked windows around the property, but what he could see of Kelly Brown's life were plants, books, one bowl in the draining rack beside the sink, and a jacket lying over the back of a chair. He checked the mail and found it all addressed to K. Brown or Kelly Brown. She lived alone.
"The vehicle is parked in section G, aisle five."
"Tell Richards to keep an eye on it. Have you found any purses in the office?"
"No. There's a locker in the storeroom that may be for coats and such. I'll check just as soon as forensics gives me access."
"I'm on my way back to you."
He had left her at the mall restroom. If she didn't have her purse, she didn't have car or house keys, and she would have no cash beyond what she might have slipped into her pocket. But if she'd worked at that mall branch for three years, as the photo indicated, she likely had friends on staff at other stores. Lack of keys or cash wasn't going to slow her down. And if she was running scared-come on, honey, the last thing I want to do is go knock on the doors of your friends and leave them worried when I can't tell them for sure you're okay.
She'd seen the shooter well enough to know his eye color. She hadn't been killed. The two facts were incongruent. Some one she knew? Someone she recognized on sight? Then why hadn't she just said his name as the person who shot her co workers?
Kelly Brown, I need to find you or you need to find me, and it has to be soon.
Luke parked beside responding squad cars at the mall and walked back inside. Marsh had set up shop east of the jewelry-store entrance in a small storefront available for lease, officers streaming in and out with information and new assignments.
Luke handed Marsh Kelly's photo. "I need a canvas of the mall, staff at the stores, anyone who has seen her or knows her. She's going to be wound pretty tight, so have me paged rather than approach her if someone spots her. She may have already left with a friend, so also be asking at stores for the names of who got off duty in the last hour and a half."
"You'll have it." Marsh passed the photo to the officer behind him. "Thirty duplicates, color. Tom, get me another stack of mall maps to mark store assignments. What's the latest count on the mall security tapes?"
"Nine scanned so far," Tom replied. "They just brought down another six."
"Your witness is going to turn out to be our best lead on the shooter. The initial interviews of those around the jewelry store are coming up dry, and the security tapes from the store and mall aren't offering much."
Luke suspected that too. "She saw enough to give us the shooter-I'm convinced of that. Stress that 'do not approach' when she's spotted; have me paged."
Luke stopped beside the mall security guard Parker. "Does the mall have a regular bus stop?"
"One by the movie theater and the other by Sears. The blue bus line stops at both every thirty minutes."
Luke headed over to the movie-theater entrance. The bus was on time. He stepped aboard, confirmed the driver had been on this route the last two hours, and got a negative when he de scribed Kelly Brown.
Luke stepped back off. It had been a long shot. He flagged down a mall-security patrol car and got in beside Roberts. "Show me the van I tagged." As they drove the lot, Luke flipped pages in the license-plate list. They'd been recorded by section. "Three hundred cars, give or take?"
"Yes. The lot can hold seven hundred, and we've been under half most of today. That's it." Roberts came to a stop behind the vehicle.
Luke got out. The windows showed him two white shopping sacks on the passenger seat and an open soda in the cup holder. Nothing suggested she had been back to the vehicle; nothing suggested someone else had carpooled with her to work. "I'll walk from here."
Roberts nodded and returned to recording license plates.
Had Kelly headed out into the parking lot only to change where she was going when she realized she didn't have her keys? Had she tried for a cab ride to a friend's who could pay the bill for her?
Excerpted from The Witness by Dee Henderson Copyright © 2006 by Dee Henderson.
Excerpted by permission.
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